Wednesday, April 01, 2020
Sunday, March 29, 2020
|Krzysztof Penderecki at the Krakow opera house in 2008. Photo by Jacek Bednarczyk|
The Guardian — March 29, 2020
Polish musician won numerous awards, scored The Exorcist, and was admired by rock stars
Leading composer and conductor Krzysztof Penderecki has died at the age of 86 after a long illness, his family announced this morning.
The Polish-born Penderecki was a major figure in contemporary music whose compositions reached millions through celebrated film scores, which included for William Friedkin's The Exorcist, Stanley Kubrick's The Shining and David Lynch's Wild at Heart.
Penderecki's stated aim as an avant-gardist in the early 1960s was to "liberate sound beyond all tradition", and his emotionally charged experimental 1960 work Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima, for 52 strings, brought him to international attention and acclaim when he was only 26. Over a long career he has also written operas, choral works and concertos, and won multiple awards, including four Grammys, most recently for best choral performance in 2016.
One of his best known fans is Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood, who collaborated with the composer in 2012. "His pieces make such wonderful sounds", said Greenwood. "I think a lot of people might think his work is stridently dissonant or painful on the ears. But because of the complexity of what's happening – particularly in pieces such as Threnody and Polymorphia, and how the sounds are bouncing around the concert hall, it becomes a very beautiful experience when you're there. It's not like listening to feedback, and it's not dissonant. It's something else. It's a celebration of so many people making music together and it's like – wow, you're watching that happen."
Penderecki had been tested for coronavirus after his carer was diagnosed with the illness, but the composer's result was negative, his daughter Beata Penderecka said.
Krzysztof Penderecki obituary
By Keith Potter
The Guardian — March 29, 2020
The Polish composer and conductor Krzysztof Penderecki, who has died aged 86, was an outstanding representative of musical modernism's success in the 1960s. From the early 70s he became equally emblematic of the subsequent failure of so many of that modernism's principal pioneers to sustain a lifelong career without abandoning their original principles.
In Penderecki's case, that appeared to mean the substitution of his early trademark emphasis on sound itself, the innovative textures of his choral and orchestral music replacing themes and tonality as the basis for musical construction, with a more lyrical and Romantic style that seemed more like a continuation of 19th-century compositional concerns than a radical reappraisal of received materials.
The composer's earlier manner reached its apogee in the St Luke Passion for two vocal soloists, reciter, three mixed choruses, children's choir and orchestra; its world premiere took place in March 1966 in Münster Cathedral.
As the German critic Hans Heinz Stuckenschmidt put it: "A large ecclesiastical choral work, composed by a representative of the new music in socialist Poland, performed for the first time in a centre of West German Catholicism, in the former bishop's seat of the daring anti-Nazi Graf von Galen [a prominent critic of the Third Reich when bishop of Münster during the 40s]: this gives occasion to a variety of thoughts". Many performances worldwide of the Passion took place over the next few years.
Penderecki's later approach is perhaps best exemplified by the First Violin Concerto, written in 1977 for Isaac Stern; by the Polish Requiem for four soloists, chorus and orchestra (1984, revised in 1993), many sections of which are dedicated to individuals or mass martyrs from Polish history; or by the Credo for five vocal soloists, chorus, children’s choir and orchestra (1998), in which Bach and Polish sources are encountered in a broadly 19th-century harmonic idiom.
|Krzysztof Penderecki, Gdańsk, 2008|
Composition studies with Artur Malawski and Stanislaw Wiechowicz at the State Higher School of Music (now known as the Academy) in Kraków (1954-1958) led to his being appointed a teacher of composition there himself. This was only five years after the death of Stalin; and, despite the advent of the Warsaw autumn international festival of contemporary music in 1956, communist rule in Poland discouraged modernist tendencies.
Penderecki himself was then still writing music essentially neoclassical in style, and in 1958 it must have looked as though the young composer was set for a safe but dull career of merely local significance.
In the following year, however, came a rise both to sudden maturity and to fame surely as swift as that experienced by any composer at any period. Penderecki had, anonymously, as its terms required, submitted three works to a competition organised by the Union of Polish Composers.
When his name turned out to be on the scores winning all the top three prizes, the works involved – Strophes, Emanations and Psalms of David – all immediately became well-known in European avant-garde circles, and commissioners of new works quickly beat a path to his door.
The reasons for Penderecki's increasing popularity during this time clearly lay in the fact that his reliance on sound itself, rather than on melody or harmony as such – an approach that came to be called "sonorism" – was allied to a highly expressive manner that quickly resonated with listeners beyond the avant garde, promising to create a new public for contemporary music.
The works that Penderecki now began to write – deploying sound masses including unusual instrumental and vocal techniques, and combining conventional and more graphic methods of notation – extended this coupling of experimental sound-world and immediacy of expression to develop a texture-based language of assertive individuality.
In the St Luke Passion, the use of chant, recitative and chorales, not to mention the BACH motif (using German note-names, B flat-A-C-B natural) and occasional major triads, helped to make it famous as an instinctively dramatic reworking of a genre familiar from the baroque period. The work was also very timely since, despite emerging from communist Poland, it expressed a spirit of post-second world war reconciliation. Penderecki's Passion became regarded as a kind of avant-garde counterpart to Benjamin Britten's War Requiem, premiered only four years before it.
An expressive approach to new materials and means such as Penderecki's found contemporary parallels in the outputs not only of other Polish composers such as Henryk Górecki and, to some extent, Witold Lutosławski, but also in those of Iannis Xenakis and György Ligeti. Part of the broader agenda here was a concern to find a way forward that addressed the problems of musical structure and comprehensibility raised by the so-called total serialism of such composers as Pierre Boulez and Karlheinz Stockhausen, and that yet retained a radical attitude to musical materials.
West Germany, in particular, opened its doors to Penderecki in the 60s: the publisher Hermann Moeck and Heinrich Strobel – a radio producer who also ran the Donaueschingen Music Days – were soon prominent champions. It was not long before Penderecki was showered with awards, both in that country and elsewhere.
One of the first of these, a Unesco prize, went to his most famous early composition before the St Luke Passion, his Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima (1960). Written for 52 strings and originally known as 8'37" (the work's length), Threnody is classic early Penderecki: its vividly unconventional writing for massed strings, including quarter-tones, tremolos and multiple glissandi, allied – after the composer changed the title – to highly emotive and political subject matter.
This combination would serve him well both at this period and later. Indeed, just as the highly expressive, sometimes programmatically charged, approach of other early works such as Polymorphia for 48 strings (1961), with its thunderously concluding C major chord, or the Dies Irae for three vocal soloists, chorus and orchestra (1967), which commemorates the dead of Auschwitz, was subsequently carried over into the more conventional sound-world of Penderecki's output from the 70s onwards, so the potentially incompatible range of musical materials to be found in some of his 60s compositions can sometimes be detected in his output too.
The Polish Requiem and Credo offer two contrasting approaches here: the former incorporating 60s sonoristic effects, the latter more consistently conventional in idiom.
More rigorously modernist commentators soon criticised Penderecki's scores of the 60s for cheap eclecticism, producing "effects-without-causes" music.
Subsequently, his move into what was often called "neo-Romanticism" supplied them with fresh ammunition, as the view of Penderecki as a "sheep in wolf's clothing" appeared vindicated. Now that most of the more obviously avant-garde surface aspects of his music had largely disappeared, thematic and tonal underpinning could show through, unencumbered by any remaining equivocations about expressing musical and extra-musical ideas as approachably as possible to a public for whom most contemporary music remains anathema.
Yet those early works, which at the time struck so many as so arresting in their dramatic challenge to convention, now seem – for some listeners at least – shallow, simplistic, or even opportunistic. Penderecki's subsequent manner, meanwhile, retained the endless chromatic melodic sequences and tritones of the earlier manner in the context of a thematic tonality that could now prove simply banal.
A notable example is the Second Symphony, subtitled the Christmas Symphony (1980), with its quotation of the carol Silent Night: this seems inadequate to the task of handling the religious and political meanings with which it is often charged. Some would argue that the composer had long since proved to be a spent force.
Penderecki's later, as well as his earlier music, retained some champions, however; both before and after the imposition of martial law in Poland in December 1981, the composer's works were adopted as a representation of the struggle between church and state. This did not stop Penderecki from maintaining links with the Polish political establishment in the years immediately after 1981, something that his compatriots Lutosławski and Górecki – the latter also directly linked, like Penderecki, with the Solidarity movement – refused to do.
Works such as the Te Deum for four vocal soloists, chorus and orchestra (1980) – dedicated to Cardinal Karol Wojtyla of Kraków, who became Pope John Paul II in October 1978 – and the Polish Requiem – both of which quote old Polish hymns – should be understood in this light.
Other signs of Penderecki's acceptance included the number of leading international soloists who premiered works by the composer, among them Mstislav Rostropovich, for whom the Second Cello Concerto (1982) was written, and Anne-Sophie Mutter, for whom both the Second Violin Concerto, subtitled Metamorphosen (1995), and the capriccio for solo violin solo, entitled La Follia, premiered in 2013, were composed.
Four operas – beginning with a suitably lurid Devils of Loudun (1969), based on a book by Aldous Huxley – received prominent performances, if not very many productions in the UK. Parts of this work, as well as his String Quartet and Kanon for Orchestra and Tape, were used on the soundtrack to the film The Exorcist (1973); and Penderecki's music featured in films including Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (1980), David Lynch's Wild at Heart (1990), Alfonso Cuarón's Children of Men (2006) and Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island (2010).
The most recent of the composer's eight symphonies – subtitled Lieder der Verganglichkeit (Songs of Transience), for three vocal soloists, chorus and orchestra, a 50-minute choral symphony in 12 movements setting 19th- and early 20th-century German poets – was completed in 2005 and revised in 2008.
Penderecki also worked frequently, and internationally, as a conductor – including, notably, of the music of Dmitri Shostakovich as well as his own. He was rector of the Krakow Academy (1972-1987), and taught at Yale University (1973-1978).
He is survived by his second wife, Elżbieta Solecka, whom he married in 1965, and by their son and daughter; and by a daughter from his first marriage.
|Krzysztof Penderecki conducting his oratorio "Seven Gates of Jerusalem"|
at the Winter Palace, St Petersburg, in 2001. Photo by Dmitry Lovetsky
Friday, March 27, 2020
|Photo by Jess Brohier|
The Strad — March 20, 2020
The 12-year-old is also the youngest ever winner at the Menuhin Competition
Decca Classics has announced its youngest ever signing, to 12-year-old Australian-Chinese violinist Christian Li. The first release on his debut recording is "La Ronde des Lutins" (Dance of the Goblins) by Antonio Bazzini, for violin and piano, and further tracks will be released throughout 2020.
Li came to international attention in 2018 when he became the youngest-ever winner at the Menuhin Competition, jointly winning (with Singaporean violinist Chloe Chua) the Junior first prize in Geneva when he was aged ten. Last year he made debuts with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra at the Sydney Opera House and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl. This year he is scheduled to perform at the 2020 Australian Festival of Chamber Music with British cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason in August.
Speaking about his debut recording, Li said: "I’m so excited to have signed to Decca Classics just after my 12th birthday, and to be releasing my very first recording! I love playing the violin, and really hope you enjoy listening".
Helen Lewis, executive producer at Decca Classics, said: "Christian's musicianship and technical mastery of his instrument at such a young age is truly astounding, and all of us at Decca look forward to supporting him on the exciting journey ahead".
Li was born in Melbourne in 2007 and began learning violin at the age of five. In 2014 he won first prize in the Golden Beijing violin competition in China, and in 2017 he received first prize in the young artist violin category of the Semper Music International Competition in Italy. He went on to give solo and chamber music performances as part of the Semper Music International Festival and Summer Academy, and was also selected to perform at Carnegie Hall Isaac Stern Auditorium as part of the American Protégé Showcase 10-year Anniversary concert.
In 2019 he performed with the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra at the Sydney City Recital Hall and the Melbourne Recital Centre; he also gave UK debut recitals at the Cheltenham, Harrogate and Gower International Festivals and performed in Tel Aviv and Norway.
Li studies with Dr Robin Wilson, Head of Violin at the Australian National Academy of Music in Melbourne and plays a 3/4 size violin made by Dom Nicolo Amati in 1733, on loan from Reuning & Son Violins Boston, and a rare 19th century bow made by Pierre Simon, on loan from Florian Leonard Fine Violins, London.
Antonio Bazzini (1818-1897)
♪ The Dance of the Goblins (La Ronde des Lutins), Scherzo fantastique, Op.25 (1852)
Christian Li – All the posts
Sunday, March 15, 2020
Gustav Mahler: Symphony No.8 in E flat major “Symphony of a Thousand” – Meagan Miller, Ricarda Merbeth, Eleonore Marguerre, Claudia Mahnke, Gerhild Romberger, Nikolai Schukoff, Boaz Daniel, Albert Dohmen – Maîtrise de Radio France, Choeur de Radio France, Choeur philharmonique de Munich – Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, Orchestre National de France, Jukka-Pekka Saraste (Théâtre Antique d'Orange, July 2019, HD 1080p)
Under Jukka-Pekka Saraste's baton, the Maîtrise de Radio France, the Choeur de Radio France, the Choeur philharmonique de Munich, the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France and the Orchestre National de France, and the soloists Meagan Miller (soprano), Ricarda Merbeth (soprano), Eleonore Marguerre (soprano), Claudia Mahnke (mezzo-soprano), Gerhild Romberger (mezzo-soprano), Nikolai Schukoff (tenor), Boaz Daniel (baritone) and Albert Dohmen (bass) perform Gustav Mahler's Symphony No.8 in E flat major ("Symphony of a Thousand"). Filmed in the Théâtre Antique d'Orange, France, on July 29, 2019.
Chorégies d'Orange (The Orange Festival) is held every summer at the old 9000-seat Roman amphitheatre in Orange. The festival, dating from 1869 and the oldest festival in France, is celebrating its 150th anniversary with a special performance of Gustav Mahler's Symphony No.8, using an exceptionally large orchestra. Although the performance will not reproduce Mahler's original orchestration, it nevertheless means using the 24 first violins which the composer originally requested for the first performance of this work in Munich in 1910.
Gustav Mahler (1860-1911)
♪ Symphony No.8 in E flat major "Symphony of a Thousand" (1906-1907)
i. Hymnus "Veni creator spiritus"
ii. Final Scene from Goethe's "Faust"
Meagan Miller, soprano..........Magna Peccatrix
Ricarda Merbeth, soprano..........Una poenitentium
Eleonore Marguerre, soprano..........Mater gloriosa
Claudia Mahnke, mezzo-soprano..........Mulier Samaritana
Gerhild Romberger, mezzo-soprano..........Maria Aegyptica
Nikolai Schukoff, tenor..........Doctor Marianus
Boaz Daniel, baritone..........Pater ecstaticus
Albert Dohmen, bass..........Pater profondus
Quentin Guérillot, organ
Maîtrise de Radio France (conductor: Sofi Jeannin)
Choeur de Radio France (conductor: Martina Batič)
Choeur philharmonique de Munich (conductor: Andreas Herrmann)
Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France
Orchestre National de France
Conductor: Jukka-Pekka Saraste
Video director: Andy Sommer
Théâtre Antique d'Orange, France, July 29, 2019
Symphony No.8 in E flat major, Symphony by Gustav Mahler, known as "Symphony of a Thousand" for the great number of performers required, vastly more than were needed for any other symphony to that time. The work premiered September 12, 1910, in Munich to thoroughly favorable notice. With its massive performer requirements, Mahler's Symphony No.8 is not frequently performed; it is, instead, reserved for grand and celebratory occasions, though the composer's own correspondence suggests that this is exactly how he intended the work to be heard.
Mahler's Symphony No.8 might have been his last. A superstitious man, he noted that two previous important Viennese symphonists, Beethoven and Schubert, had both died after completing nine symphonies; he believed that he, too, could not survive beyond a ninth. Therefore, he intended to stop at eight, that is, with the composition of this particular symphony. Although he did eventually write more symphonic works, at the time that he created this piece, it was seen as a final statement, as the last symphony of a man who excelled in the field. Thus, it had to be the most magnificent of all.
After a full year of work, interrupted only by encroaching heart disease (he had been diagnosed with subacute bacterial endocarditis) and conducting duties both in Vienna and in New York City, Mahler produced a musical marathon, a ninety-minute symphony scored for a large orchestra with organ, adult and children's choirs, and eight vocal soloists. The myriad performers brought to the new symphony its nickname, "Symphony of a Thousand"; indeed, its premiere performance featured 1,028 performers, including an orchestra of more than 100, three choruses, and the vocal soloists.
The work's philosophy is as vast as its population. As Mahler described it to a friend, "Imagine that the whole universe bursts into song. We hear no longer human voices, but those of planets and suns circling in their orbits". The symphony is cast in two expansive sections. The first is based on the ancient hymn for Pentecost, Veni creator spiritus, which begins, "Come, creator spirit, dwell in our minds; fill with divine grace the hearts of thy servants". Such a text, though of sacred origin, can also be interpreted artistically; it is impossible to be certain which way, if either, Mahler intended.
For the symphony's second half, Mahler turned to a more recent source, though one still steeped in spirituality. Here, Mahler set the final scene from Part Two of Goethe's epic drama-in-verse, Faust. This is not the familiar portion in which Faust sells his soul to the devil in return for youth and love; rather, Part Two takes place decades later when Faust's earthly misadventures have at last come to an end, and the devil is seeking to take possession of his recruit. He fails, losing Faust to the angels, and in the final scene, the one that so enraptured Mahler, the angels and other spirits are ascending to heaven with Faust's redeemed soul.
It was not everyday material for a symphony, and Mahler was wary of how it would be received, but he need not have worried. The premiere in Munich on September 12, 1910, with additional performers recruited from Vienna and Leipzig, was greeted by a 30-minute standing ovation from an audience of 3,000. That the composer had spent the past several years in New York City leading both the Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic, and that his health was known to be tenuous, might have contributed to the favorable reception. However, it is undeniably a masterful piece of craftsmanship, benefiting from Mahler's years at the helm of symphonies and opera companies alike and his genius at mustering the grandest of performing forces.
These performing forces included not only the usual suspects and the aforementioned organ, but also four harps, celesta, piano, harmonium, mandolin, and an offstage brass ensemble – in addition to an abundance of brass in the orchestra itself. Woodwinds are also supplemented, with everything from piccolo to contrabassoon, and the percussion section includes glockenspiel, bells, tam-tam, and triangle, for a wealth of musical timbres. Mahler had spent the past two decades conducting orchestras, and he knew well which of those resources best suited the moods he had in mind.
The symphony opens with resplendent organ and chorus. Orchestral support, particularly from brilliant brass, further reinforces the celebratory mood. Reflective moods will appear, as Mahler makes use of his numerous vocal soloists, often shifting quickly from one to another. However, orchestral color is never long neglected; it has a principal role to play not only in support to the chorus and the specific meaning of phrases of text, but also in transitional instrumental passages, in which the orchestra serves to continue driving the musical motion forward.
Even more expansive is the symphony's second, Faust-derived portion. Here, a spacious orchestral introduction first haunting, then increasingly bold in character, sets the stage for ghostly lines from the male chorus evoking a forest scene. Male solo voices begin to speak of Faust's rapture in coming to God, with orchestral parts often surging in expression of those visions. Women's voices and those of the boys' chorus Mahler generally reserves for choirs of angels, though even here, he does not neglect his orchestra. When the women are singing of breaking away from earthly burdens, Mahler includes a violin solo, nimble or flowing in turn. One might suppose it represents the soul on the wing, and in later portions of this half of the Symphony No.8, the violin again returns to the spotlight; Mahler has not declared in the scoring that there is specifically a solo violin, but that is the ultimate effect.
That Faust, despite his adventure with Mephistopheles is now welcomed to heaven, is made clear with the "Neige, neige" scene. Here, it is not the French word of that spelling, which would imply snow, but rather German (after all, the text author was Goethe); in that language, it is a verb form for "approaching". The soul that here welcomes Faust is that of Gretchen, whom in the drama's earlier half, Faust had so wronged, though Mahler underscores her joy at seeing Faust again with graceful strings and light-hearted woodwinds. It is just before the "Neige" passage that the mandolin makes its brief appearance, in a serenade-like scene as three female souls are absolved of their sins; much the same effect could have been achieved with pizzicato orchestral strings, but Mahler had a more specific aural vision.
For the symphony's closing ten minutes, Mahler chooses to alternate between peaceful rapture and glorious grandeur. Had he indeed ended his symphonic career at this point, as evidence suggests was his intention, one could scarcely imagine a more resplendent way to draw down the curtain.
Source: Betsy Schwarm (britannica.com)
Gustav Mahler: Symphony No.8 in E flat major "Symphony of a Thousand" – Manuela Uhl, Juliana Di Giacomo, Kiera Duffy, Anna Larsson, Charlotte Hellekant, Burkhard Fritz, Brian Mulligan, Alexander Vinogradov – Simón Bolívar National Youth Choir of Venezuela, Niños Cantores de Venezuela, Schola Cantorum de Venezuela, Schola Juvenil de Venezuela – Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela, Gustavo Dudamel (Caracas 2012, HD 1080p)
Wednesday, March 11, 2020
Peter Serkin performs Robert Schumann's Waldszenen, Op.82, at the Bowdoin International Music Festival, Studzinski Recital Hall, in Brunswick, Maine, United States, on July 29, 2018.
Schumann's Waldszenen ("Forest scenes") is a cycle of fragments, written in a matter of days over New Year, 1849; it was his last major cycle for solo piano. The forest that it explores was a subject close to the heart of any self-respecting Romantic, be they writer, poet, artist or musician. Its appeal lay in its contrast: nature at its most beautiful but also an unknowable place. But there's more to it than that, for it is not simply about "nature" per se but the notion of man's position within that wilderness, and indeed how engagement with such a thing could in turn affect man's own view of himself; the external as a means of examining the internal, in other words. Certainly, in Waldszenen this is no objective foray into the woods but a very personal reaction to this imagined landscape; and equally striking is the sense that each piece represents just a shard of a larger experience, an aural snapshot, if you will.
On the whole it is the more bucolic aspect that Schumann explores, though these pieces are not without darker shadows. And while they may be technically fairly straightforward, their changeability calls for the quickest of reactions and a wealth of subtle nuance.
All seems well in the first number (Eintritt, "Entry"), its gently murmuring theme welcoming us into the forest in the most benign manner possible. The energetic Jäger auf der Lauer ("Hunters on the lookout"), horn calls aplenty, gives the lie to the idea that Schumann – beset by personal demons by this point in his life – had lost his compositional way, and there's a delightful mock-seriosity to the throwaway ending. The mood switches again in the next two pieces, Einsame Blumen ("Lonely flowers") and Verrufene Stelle ("Place of evil fame"), tinged in turn by sadness and then a persistent unease that is only banished by the rollicking Freundliche Landschaft ("Friendly landscape"), which is followed by a study in consolation and reassurance, Herberge ("Shelter"). With No.7, the famous Vogel als Prophet ("Bird as prophet"), Schumann seems to reach almost proto-Impressionistic realms, its central chorale-like section lending it an almost sacred gravitas. We return to compositionally safer, more pastoral territory with Jagdlied ("Hunting song"), which presents an image of the play of horses' hooves and the jolly red coats of the hunstmen, a notably child-friendly vision. With Abschied ("Farewell"), the innocence of the opening seems to be regained as we bid the forest a poignant farewell.
Source: Harriet Smith (hyperion-records.co.uk)
Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
♪ Waldszenen (Forest Scenes), Op.82 (1848-1849)
i. Entritt (Entry). Nicht zu schnell, in B flat major
ii. Jäger auf der Lauer (Hunters on the lookout). Hochst lebhaft, in D minor
iii. Einsame Blumen (Lonely Flowers). Einfach, in B flat major
iv. Verrufene Stelle (Haunted Place). Zeimlich langsam, in D minor
v. Freundliche Landschaft (Friendly Landscape). Schnell, in B flat major
vi. Herberge (Wayside Inn). Mässig, in E flat major
vii. Vogel als Prophet (Bird as Prophet). Langsam, sehr zart, in G minor
viii. Jagdlied (Hunting Song). Rasch, kräftig, in E flat major
ix. Abschied (Farewell). Nicht schnell, in B flat major
Peter Serkin, piano
Bowdoin International Music Festival, Studzinski Recital Hall, Brunswick, Maine, United States, July 29, 2018
The American pianist Peter Serkin, who has died at the age of 72, had an exceptional musical pedigree: his father was the pianist Rudolf Serkin and his maternal grandfather the violinist and conductor Adolf Busch. Serkin's musical sympathies were enormously broad, and though he played a huge amount of contemporary music he never liked to be referred to as a new music "champion", he merely felt playing the music of his time part of his role as a musician.
He entered Philadelphia's Curtis Institute in 1958, aged 11, and studied with Mieczysław Horszowski, Lee Luvisi and his own father. He made his debut the following year at the Malboro Music Festival which then led to major engagements with top-flight orchestras and conductors like the Cleveland and George Szell and the Philadelphia and Eugene Ormandy.
In 1968, aged 21, he took a break from music, moving with his wife and young child to Mexico. It was apparently hearing the music of JS Bach on a neighbour’s radio that convinced him of his need to play again. He returned and continued a major career which also included, in 1973, forming the chamber group Tashi (with Ida Kavafian, violin, Fred Sherry, cello, and Richard Stoltzman, clarinet), initially assembled to play Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time (which they performed over 100 times and recorded in 1975). Together they commissioned numerous works and recorded for RCA. (The group reformed in 2008 for a tour to mark Messiaen's centenary.)
Serkin's repertoire ranged from Bach's Goldberg Variations (which he recorded five times, the first at 18 and the last at 70) to numerous modern works written especially for him by major composers including Elliott Carter, Hans Werner Henze, Luciano Berio, Peter Lieberson, Oliver Knussen, Alexander Goehr, Tōru Takemitsu and Charles Wuorinen.
He recorded extensively for RCA, and among his finest releases were Messiaen's Vingt regards sur l'enfant Jésus ("Messiaen's harmonic colours take on a luminous quality under his fingers, the rhythmic ostinati are imperiously compelling; the dynamic range, immense, yet always within musical bounds; the total effect, overwhelming" wrote Felix Aprahamian in Gramophone's December 1976 issue), a Takemitsu programme, an album of six Mozart piano concertos with the ECO and Alexander Schneider, the Brahms violin sonatas with Pamela Frank (for Decca) and an album of music for two pianists with András Schiff (for ECM New Series). Serkin was unusual among top-flight pianists in playing on both modern pianos and period fortepianos, using a Graf instrument to record the last six Beethoven piano sonatas (for Musical Concepts).
Serkin taught at Curtis, Juilliard, Yale and, latterly, at Bard College in Upstate New York near where he lived.
It all began in May 1964, when Bowdoin College Music Department chair Robert K. Beckwith invited Lewis Kaplan to propose a concert series to take place at the College that summer. Thus the Bowdoin Summer Music Festival was born. After a successful first season of concerts, the Festival returned in 1965 with 19 students and a cadre of contemporary composers including Elliott Carter, Meyer Kupferman, George Rochberg, and Morton Subotnick. The Festival's contemporary music component became known as the Charles E. Gamper Festival, after its chief patron. In 1966, George Crumb made the first of many Festival appearances for the world premiere of his Eleven Echoes of Autumn. This solidified a tradition of commissioning and offering residencies to notable composers.
Early students who have gone on to prominence, such as Emanuel Ax and Fred Sherry, helped to cement the Festival's reputation as an attractive summer program for top musicians to hone their skills. With alumni in many major orchestras, chamber groups, and conservatories worldwide, that vibrant reputation continues.
The Festival grew rapidly as a program of the Bowdoin College Music Department through the 70s, 80s, and 90s, changing its name along the way to the Bowdoin Summer Music Festival. In 1997, the Festival became an independent non-profit organization, and in 2004 changed its name to the Bowdoin International Music Festival in recognition of its world-wide reach.
In September 2014, David Ying and Phillip Ying, members of the famed Ying Quartet, succeeded co-founder Lewis Kaplan as the Festival’s Artistic Directors. Through their leadership, the Festival engages exceptional students and enthusiastic audiences through world-class education and performances. After a competitive admissions process, over 270 students are invited to attend the Festival and study with distinguished faculty and guest artists. Audiences are invited to more than 175 free events such as student performances, lectures, masterclasses, studio classes, and community concerts.
The Festival continues to thrive, attracting record numbers of applicants, continuing to build a diverse and world-renowned faculty, and reaching thousands of music lovers across the globe.
“Remembering Peter Serkin, the Searching Pianist”
Tuesday, March 10, 2020
|Photo by Pete Checchia|
By Tom Huizenga
National Public Radio, US — February 3, 2020
Peter Serkin, a pianist who navigated a distinctive course through classical music with thoughtful interpretations of both standard repertoire and bracing new compositions, died Saturday morning, February 1, at his home in Red Hook, N.Y. at age 72.
The cause of death, announced by his family, was pancreatic cancer.
Serkin came from a prestigious family of musicians. His father, the celebrated pianist Rudolf Serkin, and his maternal grandfather, the violinist and conductor Adolf Busch, embodied old-world traditions – to reverential acclaim.
But Serkin crafted a singularly new-world approach to his career. In his early 20s, disillusioned with the pressures of lineage and tradition, Serkin dropped out from performing altogether, traveling to Asia and listening to albums by the Grateful Dead. After he returned, Serkin co-founded the chamber group Tashi in 1973 (with cellist Fred Sherry, violinist Ida Kavafian and clarinetist Richard Stoltzman), which championed new music and often performed in African-style garments.
Pulitzer-winning critic and USC professor Tim Page thinks of Serkin as something of a rebel. "He might have been likened to Rudyard Kipling's ‘The Cat That Walked by Himself’, Page tells NPR. "He chose fairly early on to explore music in his own way. He augmented his crystalline Mozart and Beethoven performances with contemporary music by Peter Lieberson, Toru Takemitsu and – especially – Olivier Messiaen." Page adds that Tashi made Messiaen's lengthy, meditative Quartet for the End of Time a calling card, performing the piece in concert halls and rock clubs, "helping turn the work into a warhorse".
|Photo by Stu Rosner|
In a 2012 interview with the Mercury News, Serkin said his penchant for contemporary music was a constant. "I've always been very interested in music that's being written today and in recent music", he told the paper. "That was true even as a child, when that was somewhat discouraged. But it was just a component in me somehow – inquisitive."
Serkin was born in Manhattan on July 24, 1947 and was given the middle name Adolf, after his grandfather. At age 11, he enrolled in the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and studied with the legendary Polish-American pianist Mieczyslaw Horszowski. By age 12, Serkin was playing concertos at the Marlboro Festival in Vermont, chamber music in New York and in Cleveland with his father in Mozart's Double Concerto.
In the early '70s, Serkin recorded two albums from seemingly opposite poles: a set of Mozart Piano Concertos and Messiaen's Vingt Regards sur l'enfant-Jésus, a two-hour set of solo pieces spanning extremes of emotion and virtuosity. Both recordings were nominated for Grammy awards, and together signaled his way forward in terms of embracing contemporary music and standard repertoire.
Serkin's love for new music resulted in new works, written for him by a wide swath of contemporary composers, from Toru Takemitsu and Luciano Berio to Oliver Knussen and Bright Sheng. He played entire recitals of works he alone had commissioned.
Later, Serkin became a sympathetic teacher, holding posts at the Mannes School in New York, at the Tanglewood Music Institute, at Bard College and at the Juilliard School, where pianist Simone Dinnerstein was one of his pupils.
"The most important lesson I took from my studies with Peter Serkin was that he didn't think there was one answer to the question of how to interpret a score", Dinnerstein tells NPR. "He was thoughtful and questioning and didn't rely on received wisdom. The lessons were investigations into the music that we made together, and by doing that he taught me how to be an independent thinker, and to be brave about following the path wherever the music led me."
Serkin's performances have been described as coming from both the head and the heart. Dinnerstein says he rarely played it safe. "I loved the inventiveness and varied nature of Peter's playing. Nothing was ever even, everything was vibrant and alive." His recording of the Brahms First Piano Concerto, with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, she says is prized for its "intimate and touching" second movement.
The last performance Serkin gave was with the Cincinnati Symphony, performing Igor Stravinsky's Concerto for Piano and Winds on March 1, 2019.
Page says Serkin's playing was always thoughtful. "He had lyricism and technique to burn, but both were invariably put to the service of a keen intelligence; there was never anything showy or ostentatious about his playing."
"His self-effacing, warm personality", Page adds, "was attested to by all who worked with him. He was not only revered and respected – he was loved".
|Photo by Don Hunstein|
Robert Schumann: Waldszenen – Peter Serkin
Wednesday, March 04, 2020
By Anthony Tommasini
The New York Times — February 10, 2020
Mirella Freni, Matchless Italian Prima Donna, Dies at 84
Mirella Freni was acclaimed for her exquisite singing in lighter lyric roles. In midcareer she also dared to explore weightier ones.
Mirella Freni, an exemplary Italian prima donna for nearly 50 years, whose voice was ideally suited to lighter lyric roles but maintained its bloom even as she took on weightier, more dramatic repertory in midcareer, died on Sunday 9 February at her home in Modena, in north-central Italy. She was 84.
She died after a long degenerative illness and a series of strokes, said J.F. Mastroianni, her longtime manager.
In the late 20th century, when opera was becoming increasingly internationalized, Ms. Freni was hailed as a last exponent of the great Italian operatic heritage.
"That tradition is ending", Plácido Domingo was quoted as saying in a 1997 New York Times article about Ms. Freni. "Mirella is the end of a chain. After that you cannot see who really follows her."
Many opera lovers acknowledged Ms. Freni's special claim on this tradition, which valued bel canto principles of producing rich, unforced sound; of shaping even, lyrical lines across the range of a voice; and of sensitively matching sound to words.
In her early years Ms. Freni won acclaim for her exquisite singing in lighter roles like Bizet's Micaëla in "Carmen", Mozart's Susanna in "The Marriage of Figaro" and Zerlina in "Don Giovanni", and Verdi's Nannetta in "Falstaff". She sang those roles with a matchless blend of radiance, lyrical ardor and girlish pluck.
With her beguiling stage presence, quiet charisma and the affecting vulnerability she could summon in her singing, Ms. Freni made Mimì in Puccini's "La Bohème" a signature part. She won international acclaim in the role in a landmark 1963 production at La Scala in Milan, directed by Franco Zeffirelli and conducted by Herbert von Karajan, who became one of her major champions.
|Mirella Freni as Joan of Arc in The Washington National Opera production of|
"Maid of Orleans" in 2005. Photo by Karin Cooper / Washington National Opera
Though vocal beauty and proper technique were central to the Italian tradition, Ms. Freni placed a premium on expressivity and feeling. Commenting on the state of opera in a 1997 interview with The Times, she said there were many young artists who sing well and move well. "But that is all", she added. "Finito! I want something deeper."
"It is important to have emotion, to live through the music onstage", she continued. "Also, the Italian singers have a special feeling for the language. Even when we speak it is musical."
Yet she steadily expanded her repertory and, as the colorings of her voice grew darker with maturity, sang more dramatically intense and vocally heavy roles, like Desdemona in Verdi's "Otello", Verdi's "Aida" and Puccini's "Manon Lescaut". She was particularly urged on this course by Karajan, who brought her to the Salzburg Festival to sing Desdemona and the demanding role of Elisabetta in Verdi's "Don Carlo".
With the support of her second husband, the Bulgarian bass Nicolai Ghiaurov, she ventured into Russian repertory, singing Tatyana in Tchaikovsky's "Eugene Onegin" and Lisa in Tchaikovsky's "Pique Dame".
Yet Ms. Freni never lost the warmth and richness of her lyric soprano origins. Reviewing her performance in "Manon Lescaut" at the Met in 1990, The Times's Donal Henahan marveled at her longevity and excellence.
"The wonder of Mirella Freni at this stage of her career", he wrote, "is that she continues to sing Puccini with seemingly reckless ardor while preserving a surprisingly fresh and beautiful sound".
Still, Ms. Freni considered herself a judicious soprano. She could say no, even to the imposing Karajan, if she though a particular role was not right for her. She recorded Puccini's "Madama Butterfly" twice, including a film version conducted by Karajan, but never performed the role complete in a staged production in an opera house.
"I am generous in many ways, but not when I think it will destroy my voice", she said in a 2013 Opera News interview. "Some singers think they are gods who can do everything", she added. "But I have always been honest with myself and my possibilities."
She was born Mirella Fregni on February 27, 1935, in Modena, eight months before Luciano Pavarotti was born in the same town. They would become friends and colleagues.
When Ms. Freni was 5, her uncle was playing a new recording of the Italian coloratura soprano Toti Dal Monte singing a melodically ornate aria from "Lucia di Lammermoor". Young Mirella started singing along.
|Mirella Freni outside the Metropolitan Opera House in Manhattan in 2005. In later years,|
she found satisfaction in teaching. Photo by Stephen Chernin / The New York Times
"I sang all the notes", Ms. Freni recalled in that 1997 interview. "My family was amazed. But my father, who was a ‘barbiere’, like Figaro, thought it was unnatural. He slapped me – with love, of course – and said, ‘What are you doing, stupid girl?’ I was so angry, I refused to sing another note for years."
When she was 12, her uncle had her enter a national competition. Singing Puccini's aria "Un bel dì", Ms. Freni won. One of the judges, the great tenor Beniamino Gigli, cautioned her to go slowly. It was advice that she followed.
She made her professional debut in 1955 in her hometown as Micaëla in "Carmen". Following a season with the Netherlands Opera, she began appearing in major houses and festivals, including La Scala, Glyndebourne in England and Covent Garden in London.
She made her Metropolitan Opera debut in 1965 as Mimì and returned regularly to sing, among various roles, Adina in Donizetti's "L'Elisir d'Amore", Liù in Puccini's "Turandot" and a new 1967 production of Gounod's "Roméo et Juliette" opposite the star tenor Franco Corelli (with whom she recorded the opera splendidly the next year).
But she had been absent from the Met for more than 14 years when she returned in 1983 as Elisabetta in "Don Carlo", with James Levine conducting and Mr. Ghiaurov as Philip II. In 1996 the Met mounted a production of a rarity, Giordano's "Fedora", for Ms. Freni and Mr. Domingo, garnering rave reviews for both. She sang more than 140 performances with the company in all.
In 2005, at 70, Ms. Freni sang in a production of Tchaikovsky's "The Maid of Orleans" with the Washington National Opera. In May of that year the Met presented her in a gala celebrating the 40th anniversary of her company debut and her 50th year in opera. The performance was her unannounced farewell to the stage.
Ms. Freni's first marriage, to the Italian conductor and pianist Leone Magiera, also from Modena, ended in divorce. She married Mr. Ghiaurov in 1978. He died in 2004. She is survived by her daughter, Micaëla Magiera; two grandchildren; and a sister, Marta Fregni.
In later years Ms. Freni found satisfaction in teaching. After she enjoyed success with master classes at the University of Bologna, the mayor of Vignola, a town near Modena, invited her to establish a center for the study of singing there. Housed in a medieval castle, it drew students from around the world.
"They set up a little ostello" – a cozy hostel – "for the students", Ms. Freni said in a 2005 interview with The Times. "They never want to leave." She offered guidance and encouragement, but also warnings to be careful.
"They all scream", she said. "They can't give expression to the phrase. They don't give the right accent to the words." She said that she told her students over and over, "Pazienza! You must wait".
Asked whether she thought of herself as the "last prima donna", as she was sometimes called, Ms. Freni demurred.
"You tell me why I am the last of a tradition", she said. "I have done my job honestly. I have worked hard and with joy."
Sunday, March 01, 2020
|Photo by Laetitia Vançon*|
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* Laetitia Vançon, France, 3rd Place, Professional competition, Portraiture, 2019 Sony World Photography Awards
Tuesday, February 25, 2020
Karol Szymanowski: Violin Concerto No.1 – Christian Tetzlaff, Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, Susanna Mälkki
German violinist Christian Tetzlaff performs Karol Szymanowski's Violin Concerto No.1, Op.35, with the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of the Finnish conductor and cellist Susanna Mälkki (b. 1969, Helsinki). The concert was recorded in Musiikkitalo (Helsinki Music Centre), Concert Hall, on May 10, 2019.
The eighteen-month period from March 1881 to October 1882 saw the birth of three creative giants in Eastern Europe: Béla Bartók in Hungary, Igor Stravinsky in Russia, and Karol Szymanowski in Poland, who, though less renowned, deserves to be mentioned in the same breath. All three were trained in the waning days of a romantic musical nationalism; all went on to redefine this nationalism, moving from an essentially nostalgic use of folk materials to an exploration of their potential to shape an expressive vocabulary at once primitive and avant-garde. Together with writers and visual artists, Szymanowski formed part of the Young Poland movement, which, not surprisingly, offended the more conservative establishment; as a 1907 commentary in The Warsaw Courier put it: the Young Poland composers were "possessed by some evil spirit that deprived their work and stripped it of personal and national characteristics".
Szymanowski's attitude toward "national characteristics" was more nuanced: "Let our music be national in its Polish characteristics but not falter in striving to attain universality. Let it be national, but not provincial". His own lack of provincialism is not surprising; born to a wealthy family, he traveled all over Europe and North Africa. Like many artists, he found aesthetic resonance in pre-World War I Paris, reflecting after a 1914 stint: "I shall never cease in the conviction [that] a true and deep understanding of French music, of its content, its form, and its further evolution, is one of the conditions for the development of our Polish music".
Notwithstanding Szymanowski's cosmopolitan outlook, his First Violin Concerto reveals homegrown roots. It was conceived as a vehicle for Polish violinist Paul Kochanski (though exigencies of the Bolshevik Revolution and World War I caused a change in date, venue, and soloist for the premiere) and inspired by a poem by a member of the Young Poland writers' group, Tadeusz Micinski (1873-1918):
All the birds pay tribute to me
for today I wed a goddess.
And now we stand by the lake in crimson blossom
in flowing tears of joy, with rapture and fear,
burning in amorous conflagration.
The intense, imagistic lines reveal the overlapping influences of Orientalism and French symbolism and set the stage for an intense and eclectic musical style unconfined by conventional formal procedures: "There is much that is new", expressed the composer, "but also something of a return to the old".
The Concerto's five movements are played without a pause, but there is a kind of architectural symmetry created by the alternation of three vivace movements with more relaxed ones. The opening Vivace assai establishes the central elements, an exotic landscape within which the violin plays. Celesta, harp, woodwinds, and percussion animate this landscape; the violin emerges with a slow, ethereal melody with a melodic contour based on eastern scales. "The sound is so magical that people here were completely transfixed", Szymanowski wrote to Kochanski after the premiere, adding: "and just imagine, Pawelczek, the violin comes out on top the whole time!" This is true both figuratively and literally, as the high register of the instrument shimmers above the ensemble throughout. After a dramatic orchestral buildup, we move seamlessly into the Andantino, which features lustrous cascading lines for both soloist and orchestra.
The central Vivace scherzando lasts just over a minute of perpetual motion surrounding a sweeping violin section, after which the Allegretto changes the atmosphere back to a more introspective one. This time the sinuous Oriental lines have acquired a bluesy feel. The last movement features rhapsodic solo passages that build to a spectacularly romantic climax before returning to a contemplative nocturnal world and an ending that is suggestive and a bit mysterious. Like everything else in the piece, it is highly original and leaves us certain that, whether or not we understand it completely, the work is a masterpiece.
Source: Susan Key (laphil.com)
Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937)
♪ Violin Concerto No.1, Op.35 (1916)
i. Vivace assai
ii. Tempo comodo – Andantino
iii. Vivace scherzando
iv. Poco meno – Allegretto
v. Vivace (Tempo I)
Christian Tetzlaff, violin
Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra
Conductor: Susanna Mälkki
Musiikkitalo (Helsinki Music Centre), Concert Hall, May 10, 2019
Christian Tetzlaff has been one of the most sought-after violinists and most exciting musicians on the classical music scene for many years. "The greatest performance of the work I’ve ever heard", wrote Tim Ashley (The Guardian, May 2015) of his interpretation of the Beethoven Violin Concerto with the London Symphony Orchestra and conductor Daniel Harding.
Concerts with Christian Tetzlaff often turn into an existential experience for both the interpreter and the audience; suddenly old familiar works appear in a completely new light. In addition, he frequently turns his attention to forgotten masterpieces such as Joseph Joachim's Violin Concerto which he successfully championed, and he also attempts to bring important new works into the repertoire such as Jörg Widmann's Violin Concerto, which he premiered in 2013. He has an unusually extensive repertoire and performs approximately 100 concerts every year.
Born in Hamburg in 1966 and now living in Berlin with his family, there are three things that make this musician unique, aside from his astounding skill on the violin. He interprets the musical manuscript in a literal fashion, perceives music as a language, and views great works as narratives which reflect existential experiences. As obvious as it may sound, he brings an unusual approach in his daily concert routine.
Christian Tetzlaff tries to follow the manuscript as closely as possible – without regard for "performance tradition" and without indulging in the usual technical short-cuts on the violin – often allowing a renewed clarity and richness to arise in well-known works. As a violinist Tetzlaff tries to disappear from the music – paradoxically this makes his interpretations very personal.
Secondly, Christian Tetzlaff "speaks" through his violin. Like human speech, his playing comprises a wide range of expressive means and is not aimed solely at achieving harmoniousness or virtuosic brilliance.
Above all, however, he interprets the masterpieces of musical history as stories about first-hand experiences. The great composers have focused on intense feelings, great happiness and deep crises in their music; as a musician Christian Tetzlaff also explores the limits of feelings and musical expression. Many pieces deal with none other than life and death. Christian Tetzlaff's aim is to convey this to his audience.
Christian Tetzlaff played in various youth orchestras for many years. His teacher at the Lübeck University of Music was Uwe-Martin Haiberg, for whom musical interpretation was the key to mastering violin technique, rather than the other way round.
Christian Tetzlaff founded his own string quartet in 1994, and until now chamber music is still as important to him as his work as a soloist with and without the orchestra.
The Tetzlaff Quartett received the Diapason d'or in 2015, and the trio with sister Tanja Tetzlaff and pianist Lars Vogt was nominated for a Grammy award. Christian Tetzlaff has also received numerous awards for his CD recordings, including the "Jahrespreis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik" in 2018, the "Diapason d'or" in July 2018 and the Midem Classical Award in 2017. The new Ondine recording of Beethoven and Sibelius violin concertos with the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin and Robin Ticciati is highly anticipated in autumn 2019.
Of special significance is his solo recording of Bach's Sonatas and Partitas, which he has recorded for the third time and was released in September 2017. The Strad magazine praised this recording as "an attentive and lively answer to the beauty of Bach's solos".
Christian Tetzlaff plays a violin made by the German violin maker Peter Greiner and teaches regularly at the Kronberg Academy.
Ludwig van Beethoven: Violin Concerto in D major – Christian Tetzlaff, NHK Symphony Orchestra, Paavo Järvi (HD 1080p)
György Ligeti: Violin Concerto – Christian Tetzlaff, Gürzenich-Orchester Köln, François-Xavier Roth (HD 1080p)
Christian Tetzlaff: “I think Sibelius did for his century what Beethoven did for his”