Daniel Lozakovich. Photo by Johan Sandberg

Sunday, October 11, 2020

West Wycombe Chamber Music Festival | Fermata #1 – George Frideric Handel, Jean-Philippe Rameau, Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Johannes Brahms, Ludwig van Beethoven, Ivor Gurney – Lawrence Power, Vilde Frang, John Myerscough, Pavel Kolesnikov, Tim Crawford, Annabelle Meare, Simon Crawford-Phillips, Alexander Sitkovetsky, Timothy Crawford, Timothy Ridout (HD 1080p)

I'm delighted to welcome you to the 2020 West Wycombe Chamber Music Festival! We are so excited to share with you what we have been working on over the past month – as I mentioned here before, for obvious reasons we were unable to present the festival this year with live audience. However I feel this has presented us with fascinating challenges and questions... How do we recreate the energy and soul of our special festival on film? How should we programme without the energy of an audience to help and influence a performance? All questions that need answering. I feel privileged to have been joined by some truly magnificent artists on this voyage of discovery – you can discover them all here on the website and our social media channels throughout October.

A Fermata is arguably the most powerful musical device available to a composer, within which the most special, unexpected moments can take place. It can magically suspend time, it can invite wild Improvisation or it can simply invite silence... I hope these films recreate in some small way the soul of our special festival during this hiatus. Enjoy.

We have all felt a felt a collective grand pause over the past six months but this sadly continues for most performing artists all over the world today – it means so much to me that we were able to present these artists in this special way. Thanks again for your loyalty and trust during this creative endeavour. Inevitably, we have incurred more costs than usual presenting these films without the usual ticket revenue. If you enjoy these Festival films and want to support us we would be so grateful for any donations. Not only will it help to fund this year’s festival, but also help to secure future years.

I so look forward to seeing you in 3D (!) next year for our tenth anniversary...

Lawrence Power
Artist Director WWCMF

George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) / Johan Halvorsen (1864-1935)

♪ Sarabande for Violin and Viola [02:10]*

Vilde Frang, violin
Lawrence Power, viola

Vilde and Lawrence In Conversation at the George and Dragon pub

Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764)

♪ Pièces de Clavecin en Concerts: La Cupis & La Forqueray (1741) [14:20]

Lawrence Power, violin
John Myerscough, cello
Pavel Kolesnikov, piano

Intermission: Lawrence Power, John Myerscough and Pavel Kolesnikov chat

Recap from the 2019 Festival:

Grażyna Bacewicz (1909-1969)

♪ Piano Quintet No.1 (1952) [28:15]

i. Moderato molto espressivo
ii. Presto
iii. Grave
iv. Con passione

Tim Crawford, violin
Annabelle Meare, violin
Lawrence Power, viola
John Myerscough, cello
Simon Crawford-Phillips, piano

String Quintet ‘Souvenirs’

Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber (1644, baptised-1704)

♪ Battalia À 10: Presto (1673) [37:53]

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

♪ String Quintet No.1 in B flat major, K.174, Allegro Moderato (1773)

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)

♪ String Quintet No.2 in G major, Op.111, Adagio (1890) [49:08]

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

♪ Fugue for String Quintet in D major, Op.137 (1817)

Ivor Gurney (1890-1937)

♪ 5 Elizabethan Songs, "Sleep" (1912), arranged for solo viola and string quartet by Richard Birchall (2018) [58:10]

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

♪ String Quintet No.1 in B flat major, K.174, Allegro (1773) [1:01:05]

Alexander Sitkovetsky, violin
Timothy Crawford, violin
Lawrence Power, viola
Timothy Ridout, viola
John Myerscough, cello

Church of St Lawrence, West Wycombe, UK, October 8, 2020

(HD 1080p)

* Start time of each movement

Thursday, September 03, 2020

Czech Philharmonic launches 125th season to capacity audiences

The season will launch on 23 September with a programme of Shostakovich and Mahler

The Strad — September 1, 2020

Having already given a concert to an audience of more than 500 (on 24 June) at Sychrov Castle outside Prague, the Czech Philharmonic has announced that it will be launching its 125th season to capacity audiences on 23 September. The programme will open with Shostakovich's Piano Concerto No.1 with pianist Daniil Trifonov and trumpeter Selina Ott, and close with Mahler's Symphony No.5. The second of these concerts will be broadcast live and streamed internationally on Mezzo Live HD and

A day later, on 25 September, the Czech Philharmonic and its chief conductor Semyon Bychkov will travel to Vienna to present the same programme in the first of three concerts this season at the Wiener Konzerthaus.

Earlier in the month on 4 and 5 September, Bychkov and the Czech Philharmonic will open the 2020 Dvořák Prague International Music Festival with an all-Dvořák programme featuring the Cello Concerto performed by the Czech Philharmonic's Cello Principal Václav Petr and the New World Symphony.

Among the highlights of the season will be the launch of a new annual concert on 17 November, commemorating 1989's Velvet Revolution; the continuing recording cycle of all of Mahler's Symphonies; the world premières of works commissioned from Bryce Dessner, Detlev Glanert and Thomas Larcher; concerts in Slovakia and Spain, and a European capitals tour with concerts in Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam and London.

In addition to Bychkov's concerts with the Czech Philharmonic, there will be performances from the orchestra's Principal Guest Conductors Jakub Hrůša and Tomáš Netopil. And, continuing the Czech Philharmonic's opera in concert series which launched in 2016 with Janáček's Jenůfa conducted by Jiří Bělohlávek, Sir John Eliot Gardiner will present Janáček's The Cunning Little Vixen in November and Netopil, Martinů's Ariane in December.

The country's handling of the coronavirus has allowed the Czech Philharmonic to present concerts since the beginning of lockdown. In addition to three benefit concerts streamed live internationally and raising funds for hospitals, the charity ŽIVOT 90 and the People in Need Foundation (Člověk v tísni), at the beginning of June, the Orchestra launched a summer-long series of chamber concerts in collaboration with the Czech Chamber Music Society.

Bychkov says: "We are impatiently looking forward to welcoming you back to our Rudolfinum and every other venue in which we will perform. However devastating the crisis of the moment is, it is also an opportunity for all of us to assess how we live and how wecan start living better. For us musicians, it means making even better music than ever before".


Thursday, August 13, 2020

Francis Poulenc's Drunken Angels

Illustration by Eleni Kalorkoti

In the composer's masterly songs, the solemn and the sensual collide.

By Alex Ross

The New Yorker — August 10, 2020

At the end of 1940, after Paris had fallen under German occupation, the spectacularly refined French composer Francis Poulenc made a musical setting of Guillaume Apollinaire's poem "Sanglots", or "Sobs". Poulenc was in no way a political artist: although he steered clear of collaboration with the Nazis, he also held back from an active role in the Resistance. Still, it is difficult not to hear the song in the context of the time, particularly when it arrives at its wrenching conclusion:

And nothing will be free until the end of time
Let us leave all to the dead
And hide our sobs

"Sanglots" is the last of five songs in a cycle deceptively titled "Banalités". In a demonstration of the stealthy power of Poulenc's art, the grouping swerves from merry, irreverent vignettes to a near-fathomless sorrow. In "Sanglots", the words "Et rien" ("And nothing") are set to a plunging F sharp octave, with "Et" emphasized to the point that it becomes a cry from the heart. With the next words, "ne sera libre", the vocal line leaps back up the octave and then descends the slightly narrower interval of the major seventh, landing on G natural, which clashes against the F sharp minor tonality. The harmony then softens from minor to major, with a D sharp adding an almost sentimental sweetness. Poulenc makes the prospect of apocalypse seem like a respite, a moment of grace. The sobs of the title hardly register, vanishing into a melancholy haze.

"Sanglots" emerged during a season of doom-laden music: in a prisoner-of-war camp in Germany, Olivier Messiaen was writing the "Quartet for the End of Time", which finds its way to a state of ethereal bliss. But Poulenc may not have been thinking solely about the war: he had, after all, been waiting to set "Sanglots" for some time. Rather, the song evokes a consuming descent into an inner world of memory and regret. Earlier in the poem, Apollinaire writes, "This is the song of the dreamers / Who tore out their heart / And held it in their right hand". Then: "Here are our hands that life has enslaved". Seldom have such complex, cloistered feelings been captured in music of such gasping beauty. With Poulenc, these wonders of compression are almost routine.

I've been holed up in Poulenc's world on account of two absorbing new books: Roger Nichols's "Poulenc: A Biography" (Yale) and Graham Johnson's "Poulenc: The Life in the Songs" (Liveright). Both do justice to a composer who has often been overshadowed by the giants with whom he shared the early and mid-twentieth century. He was no originator, like Schoenberg or Stravinsky, nor did he possess Britten's or Shostakovich's command of manifold genres. He was, however, a composer of rare gifts, particularly in the setting of sacred and secular texts. As the decades pass, he grows in stature, and his aloofness from musical party politics matters less.

Nichols, a British scholar who has written about Debussy, Ravel, and Messiaen, gives an assured overview of Poulenc's life and work, applying a light touch that is appropriate to the subject's man-about-town façade. Poulenc was born in 1899, into upper-middle-class comfort; his father was the co-owner of a family chemical company that eventually morphed into the giant firm of Rhône-Poulenc. When the composer was in his teens, he fell into the eccentric orbit of Erik Satie, who had a great influence on his early style. Poulenc was a core member of the enfant-terrible collective promoted by Jean Cocteau as Les Six. His first triumph was the explosively tuneful ballet "Les Biches", which the Ballets Russes premièred in 1924.

Poulenc's life story is customarily organized around a central epiphanic event: his visit, in 1936, to the shrine of the Black Virgin, in Rocamadour, in the South of France. The composer seems to have experienced that pilgrimage as the beginning of a spiritual awakening, one that led to an extraordinary series of religious and religiously themed works: the "Litanies of the Black Virgin", the Stabat Mater, the Gloria, two sets of motets, and his only large-scale opera, "Dialogues of the Carmelites". These scores rank with the most formidable religious music of the twentieth century, on a par with that of Stravinsky, Messiaen, Ustvolskaya, and Pärt, although their intimate, confiding mode of address occupies a category of its own.

While Nichols, in his retelling of the Rocamadour episode, does not deny its significance, he qualifies it a bit. Poulenc had been raised a Catholic, and religiosity had been smoldering in his work all along. Therefore, Nichols writes, the experience marked “the reappearance of something long hidden beneath worldly cares". Complicating the picture is Poulenc's disorderly love life, which consisted of many fleeting gay encounters, a few longer-lasting attachments with men, and a mysterious assignation with a woman that yielded a daughter. This activity may only have intensified after the religious turn, leading to psychological conflicts. Johnson, in his study of the songs, speculates that the composer suffered from sexual addiction, and that an inability to see his partners as social equals consigned him to loneliness.

Both accounts undermine the popular image of Poulenc – carefully cultivated by the man himself – as the epitome of Parisian suavity and ebullience. He was, in fact, a turbulent, even tortured character: sometimes arrogant, sometimes self-castigating, sometimes lovable, sometimes impossible. That complexity only adds to the interest of the music. The critic Claude Rostand famously commented that Poulenc was a combination of "moine et voyou" – monk and rogue. Many of the composer's works fall cleanly into one category or the other, but some of the strongest fuse the two personalities in one. The Organ Concerto (1938) interlaces brimstone dissonances with rollicking fairground strains. The Gloria (1959-1960) exudes an almost scandalous joy, as if a crowd of drunken angels were dancing down the boulevards.

Illustration by Neale Osborne

Graham Johnson is a veteran British pianist and accompanist who has made himself indispensable to the art of the song. His most significant achievement is a forty-disk recorded survey, with more than sixty singers, of Schubert's complete Lieder, for the Hyperion label. He has also published a Schubert-song companion, which runs to three thousand pages. Johnson's devotion to Poulenc is scarcely less intense. In the nineteen-seventies, he worked closely with the French baritone Pierre Bernac, Poulenc's favorite collaborator, and acquired an encyclopedic knowledge not only of the songs but also of the milieu from which they sprang. In 2013, Hyperion released Johnson's complete survey of the Poulenc songs. His new Poulenc book is a greatly expanded version of the already lavish and lively program notes that accompanied the recordings.

Johnson is convinced that Poulenc was not only the premier French songwriter of his time – a claim that few would dispute – but also a crucial figure in the international vocal canon. I listened to the songs in the company of Johnson's book, and came away fully persuaded by his argument. He makes clear that Poulenc had a deep grasp of the often challenging twentieth-century poets he set to music – Apollinaire, Paul Éluard, Max Jacob, Louise de Vilmorin, Louis Aragon – and that he illuminated their work as startlingly as Schubert and Schumann lit up Heinrich Heine. In a discussion of "Sanglots", Johnson points out that Poulenc finds musical analogies for Apollinaire's singular structure, in which two distinct poems seem to be interwoven.

The songs encompass a huge range of moods: silly, solemn, naughty, austere, agitated, serene, joyous, desolate. When Poulenc puts his mind to it, he can knock out an indelible tune fit for Edith Piaf or Maurice Chevalier. The gloriously hummable waltz in the 1940 song "Les Chemins de l'Amour" ("The Paths of Love") is one that you will swear you’ve heard before – and, in fact, you have, in "Der Rosenkavalier". But, Johnson notes, Poulenc changes the melody enough to make it his own: "So like, and yet suddenly so unlike: this is musical legerdemain of an extraordinarily audacious order". The composer's inclination toward seedier environments is evident in his knowing treatment of Apollinaire's "Allons Plus Vite" ("Get a Move On"), which evokes prostitutes, pimps, and johns circulating on the Boulevard de Grenelle. The song begins in a wistful evening mood and ends with a dark, driving pattern in the bass – an image of frustrated sexual compulsion, Johnson plausibly suggests.

The songs I treasure most are those in which a finespun theme runs through a cool, airy harmonic field, like a sliver of cloud hanging against red twilight. "Sanglots" is a supreme example; my favorite recording, which can be found in Erato's survey of Poulenc's complete works, is by the heartbreakingly expressive American baritone William Parker, who died, of aids, in 1993. Parker also gives a potent rendition of the setting of Éluard's "Tu Vois le Feu du Soir" ("You See the Fire of Evening"), which is itself couched in a sunset world, with warmth and chill intermingled. The final chord of C sharp minor glides into a misty, fragrant atmosphere, like Death in evening wear. Throughout his career, Poulenc was a master of endings: in place of the musical clichés of wrapping up and taking leave, he often deploys quiet shocks, which send the mind spinning through the silence that follows. Such moments confirm Poulenc's affable boast: "In the field of song I fear no one, and being the best is always very pleasant".


Illustration by Colbert Cassan

More photos

See also

Francis Poulenc: Sonate pour violoncelle et piano – Bruno Philippe, Tanguy de Williencourt (HD 1080p)

Francis Poulenc: Pièces pour piano – Alexandre Tharaud (Audio video)

Monday, July 13, 2020

Erdogan Defies World – UNESCO statement on Hagia Sophia, Constantinople

Erdogan Defies World, Orders Hagia Sophia to be Turned Into Mosque

By Tasos Kokkinidis

Greek Reporter — July 10, 2020

Turkey's top administrative court, the Council of State, announced on Friday that the 1934 conversion of Constantinople's Hagia Sophia into a museum was unlawful, paving the way for its reconversion into a mosque despite strong international opposition.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan then issued a decree to formally declare Hagia Sophia as a mosque, minutes after the Council of State annulled the 1934-dated decision.

Erdogan's decree cited the Council of State's verdict as the basis of his move for the transfer of the powers concerning the use of the Hagia Sophia to the Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet).

In a message on Twitter, Erdogan offered his "best wishes" to the Directorate.

The Turkish daily newspaper Hurriyet reports that crowds were observed to be gathering in front of Hagia Sophia after news broke out on the status change.

President Tayyip Erdogan has proposed restoring the mosque status of the sixth-century UNESCO World Heritage Site, which was central to the Christian Byzantine empire and is now one of the most visited monuments in Turkey.

The move has sparked international outrage, as well as strong condemnation from religious figures, including Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the leader of some 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide, who said a conversion would disappoint Christians and "fracture" East and West.

These are considered especially brave words since the Patriarch's seat is still within the city of Istanbul.

The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kyrill of Moscow, said turning the priceless edifice back into a mosque would "threaten Christianity".

Ambassador Sam Brownback, who serves as the US Ambassador of Religious Freedom, urged Turkey recently to abandon plans to reconvert the sixth century monument into a mosque.

"Hagia Sophia holds enormous spiritual and cultural significance to billions of believers of different faiths around the world", Brownback said in a tweet two weeks ago.

"We call on the Government of Turkey to maintain it as a UNESCO World Heritage site and to maintain accessibility to all in its current status as a museum", the ambassador added.

A number of officials from the nation of Greece, as well as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Greek-American Representative from Florida Gus Bilirakis have also strongly cautioned Turkey to keep the status quo regarding the hallowed building.

The longtime Florida representative says that he has repeatedly spoken to President Trump and Vice President Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and members of the National Security Council as well as Ambassador Brownback regarding the "serious threat" of Hagia Sophia's purported reconversion into a mosque.

"We bring this up all the time", Bilirakis stated, adding that he also speaks regularly to members of the Foreign Affairs Committee on the subject.


UNESCO statement on Hagia Sophia, Constantinople

Paris, July 10, 2020

Hagia Sophia: UNESCO deeply regrets the decision of the Turkish authorities, made without prior discussion, and calls for the universal value of World Heritage to be preserved

The Director-General of UNESCO deeply regrets the decision of the Turkish authorities, made without prior discussion, to change the status of Hagia Sophia. This evening, she shared her serious concerns with the Ambassador of Turkey to UNESCO.

Hagia Sophia is part of the Historic Areas of Istanbul, a property inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage List. "Hagia Sophia is an architectural masterpiece and a unique testimony to interactions between Europe and Asia over the centuries. Its status as a museum reflects the universal nature of its heritage, and makes it a powerful symbol for dialogue", said Director-General Audrey Azoulay.

This decision announced today raises the issue of the impact of this change of status on the property's universal value. States have an obligation to ensure that modifications do not affect the Outstanding Universal Value of inscribed sites on their territories. UNESCO must be given prior notice of any such modifications, which, if necessary, are then examined by the World Heritage Committee.

UNESCO also recalls that the effective, inclusive and equitable participation of communities and other stakeholders concerned by the property is necessary to preserve this heritage and highlight its uniqueness and significance. The purpose of this requirement is to protect and transmit the Outstanding Universal Value of heritage, and it is inherent to the spirit of the World Heritage Convention.

These concerns were shared with the Republic of Turkey in several letters, and again yesterday evening with the representative of the Turkish Delegation to UNESCO. It is regrettable that the Turkish decision was made without any form of dialogue or prior notice. UNESCO calls upon the Turkish authorities to initiate dialogue without delay, in order to prevent any detrimental effect on the universal value of this exceptional heritage, the state of conservation of which will be examined by the World Heritage Committee at its next session.

"It is important to avoid any implementing measure, without prior discussion with UNESCO, that would affect physical access to the site, the structure of the buildings, the site's moveable property, or the site's management", stressed Ernesto Ottone, UNESCO's Assistant Director-General for Culture. Such measures could constitute breaches of the rules derived from the 1972 World Heritage Convention.


More photos

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Gustav Mahler: Symphony No.3 in D minor – Michelle DeYoung, Philharmonia Voices, Tiffin Boys' Choir, Philharmonia Orchestra, Esa-Pekka Salonen (HD 1080p)

Under the baton of the famous Finnish conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, the Philharmonia Orchestra, the Philharmonia Voices (Ladies), the Tiffin Boys' Choir and the American mezzo-soprano Michelle DeYoung perform Gustav Mahler's Symphony No.3 in D minor. Recorded at Southbank Centre's Royal Festival Hall, London, on October 1, 2017.

Gustav Mahler's monumental Third Symphony embraces heaven and Earth, nature and love. He deploys a huge orchestra, choirs and a solo singer to draw his listeners into a rich and compelling musical landscape.

It's a work that means a lot to us at the Philharmonia Orchestra. Back in 1983, it was the first piece we played with an unknown young Finnish conductor, Esa-Pekka Salonen. We hit it off straight away, and he's been our Principal Conductor since 2008.

In October 2017, we returned to this epic piece with Esa-Pekka for Mahler 3: Live from London, a live stream project watched by an audience of 126,000 worldwide.

Source: Philharmonia Orchestra (London, UK)

The Third is Gustav Mahler's longest Symphony, in six movements and lasting nearly two hours. Mahler's concept of the symphony as a world unto itself finds its complete exposition here in the highly diverse styles and elements, creating problems of continuity and coherence that he did not completely solve. The primary theme of the Third is Nature and Man's place therein, and its principal literary inspirations are Das Knaben Wunderhorn (as in the previous symphony) and Nietzsche. As in the Second Symphony, Mahler added words and voices to expand his means of expression and used material from one of his earlier Wunderhorn Songs. The original program ran like this: "The Joyful Knowledge: A Summer Morning's Dream". I. Pan Awakes: Summer Marches In; II. What the Meadow Flowers Tell Me; III. What the Creatures of the Forest Tell Me; IV. What Night Tells Me (Mankind); V. What the Morning Bells Tell Me (the Angels); VI. What Love Tells Me; and VII. The Heavenly Life (What the Child Tells Me). Ultimately, Mahler dropped the seventh movement and used it as the core around which he built the Fourth Symphony. The sum of this program represents Mahler's cosmological hierarchy at this point in his life and the Third Symphony as a whole is his most specific example of "world building" in artistic terms.

Kräftig. Entschieden. (Strongly and Confidently). This is the single longest sonata-form movement ever written. Mahler sets bizarre, primordial, and harsh brass and percussion rumblings depicting Pan's awakening in opposition to pastoral music of bird calls and light fanfares over tremulous strings and woodwind trillings. These elements are transformed into the ultimate example of Mahler's symphonic military marches. The entire movement covers a vast soundscape of imagery, from bold, assertive proclamation to harsh and grotesque fugal passages, to despairing outcries, to a lighthearted and popular sounding march tune.

Tempo di Menuetto. (Minuet Tempo). This is a light and folk-like dance movement in the style of the comic Wunderhorn Songs. It stands in sharp contrast to the weighty first movement.

Comodo. Scherzando. Ohne Hast. (Moving, Scherzo-like, Without Haste). This movement quotes extensively from Mahler's song Ablösung im Sommer (Relief in the Summer) about a dead cuckoo. Its comic vein is interrupted twice, once by a sentimental posthorn solo, and later by a dramatic outburst symbolic of the great god Pan's intrusion into the peaceful summer.

Sehr langsam. Misterioso. Durchaus ppp. (Very Slow, Mysterious, Pianissimo Throughout). Here Mahler moves into a more metaphysical realm by setting Nietzsche's "Midnight Song" in this slow and haunting movement.

Lustig im Tempo und keck im Ausdruck. (Happy in Tempo, Saucily Bold in Expression). Boys and women's voices are used here to sing this angel's song about the redemption of sin from Das Knaben Wunderhorn. Mahler imitates church bells to delightful effect in this innocent and uplifting movement.

Langsam. Ruhevoll. Empfunden. (Slow, Peaceful, Deeply Felt). A majestic and awesome Adagio concludes the Symphony in a hymn-like paean on love. It rises to a powerful climax as "Nature in its totality rings and resounds".

Source: Steven Coburn (

Gustav Mahler (1860-1911)

♪ Symphony No.3 in D minor (1893-1896)

i. Kräftig. Entschieden (Pan Awakes, Summer Marches In)
ii. Tempo di Menuetto, sehr mäßig (What the Flowers in the Meadow Tell Me)
iii. Comodo. Scherzando. Ohne Hast (What the Animals in the Forest Tell Me)
iv. Sehr langsam. Misterioso (What Man Tells Me)
v. Lustig im Tempo und keck im Ausdruck (What Man Tells Me)
vi. Langsam. Ruhevoll. Empfunden (What Love Tells Me)

Michelle DeYoung, mezzo-soprano

Philharmonia Voices (Ladies)
Tiffin Boys' Choir

Philharmonia Orchestra
Conductor: Esa-Pekka Salonen

Southbank Centre's Royal Festival Hall, London, October 1, 2017

(HD 1080p)

Keep the Philharmonia Playing: a message from Esa-Pekka Salonen

Esa-Pekka Salonen (b. 1958, Helsinki) is a Finnish orchestral conductor and composer. He is principal conductor and artistic advisor of the Philharmonia Orchestra in London, conductor laureate of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and music director-designate of the San Francisco Symphony.

Esa-Pekka Salonen's restless innovation drives him constantly to reposition classical music in the 21st century. He is known as both a composer and conductor and is currently the Principal Conductor & Artistic Advisor for London's Philharmonia Orchestra. He is the Music Director Designate of the San Francisco Symphony; the 2020-2021 season will be his first as Music Director. He is Artist in Association at the Finnish National Opera and Ballet. He recently joined the faculty of LA's Colburn School, where he developed, leads, and directs the pre-professional Negaunee Conducting Program. He is the Conductor Laureate for both the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, where he was Music Director from 1992 until 2009. Salonen co-founded – and from 2003 until 2018 served as the Artistic Director for – the annual Baltic Sea Festival, which invites celebrated artists to promote unity and ecological awareness among the countries around the Baltic Sea.

Source: &

Based in London at the Southbank Centre's Royal Festival Hall, the Philharmonia creates thrilling performances for a global audience. Through its network of residencies, the Orchestra has a national footprint, serving communities across England both in performance and through its extensive outreach and engagement programme.

Founded in 1945, in part as a recording orchestra for the nascent home audio market, today the Philharmonia uses the latest digital technology to reach new audiences for symphonic music. The Philharmonia is led by Finnish conductor and composer Esa-Pekka Salonen, its Principal Conductor & Artistic Advisor since 2008. Fellow Finn Santtu-Matias Rouvali takes over from Salonen as Principal Conductor in the 2021-2022 season.

During the Covid-19 lockdown, the Philharmonia's strong digital programme has enabled the Orchestra to maintain an international presence, with streams of archive performances, educational films, and videos made at home by individual players giving an insight into the life of the Orchestra to a global audience.

The Philharmonia is a registered charity that relies on funding from a wide range of sources to deliver its programme and is proud to be generously supported by Arts Council England.


More photos

See also

Béla Bartók: Piano Concerto No.1 in A major – Yuja Wang, Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Esa-Pekka Salonen

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Barcelona's Gran Teatre del Liceu opera reopens its doors with a concert for plants

Photo by Nacho Doce (Reuters)

Nursery plants are seen placed in people's seats during a rehearsal as Barcelona's Gran Teatre del Liceu opera reopens its doors with a concert for plants, to raise awareness about the importance of an audience after the coronavirus lockdown, in Barcelona, Spain on June 22, 2020.

The Gran Teatre del Liceu reopens its doors, in which the 2,292 seats of the auditorium will be occupied on this occasion by plants. It will be on 22 June, broadcast live online, when the UceLi Quartet string quartet performs Puccini's "Crisantemi" for this verdant public, brought in from local nurseries.


Thursday, June 11, 2020

18-year-old African-American cellist Mouhamed Cisse was shot and killed amid Philadelphia race protests

Mouhamed Cisse at Camp Encore-Coda in Maine
Shooting death of ‘brilliant’ musician Mouhamed Cisse, 18, rocks a close-knit community

By Julie Shaw

The Philadelphia Inquirer — June 8, 2020

Shortly before he died of a rare bone cancer, Alex Moll told his mother he needed her to do something for his young friend, Mouhamed Cisse.

"I want you to promise me to keep him going with his music", Moll, then a 19-year-old University of Pennsylvania student, told his mother in 2013.

Moll had started teaching Cisse how to play the cello when Cisse was a fourth grader at Lea Elementary. Melanie Moll, of Greenville, N.C., said her son was so excited when he first met Cisse. "He's really talented. It's really kind of amazing to see his talent", she recalled her son saying.

The family kept Alex's dying wish, helping Cisse attend a summer music camp in Maine from 2014 to 2019, broadening his horizons beyond his West Philly neighborhood.

Last week, Cisse, 18, a high school student with promising talents as a cellist and drummer, was fatally shot on a West Philadelphia street. No arrest has been made. "Homicide detectives are actively investigating this tragedy", Police Staff Inspector Sekou Kinebrew said Saturday.

Police have said that Cisse was walking with a 17-year-old boy on Hobart Street near Arch about 12 a.m. June 1, when both were shot. Cisse died shortly afterward at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center. The 17-year-old was treated for a gunshot wound to the hand.

Manance Cisse, his mother, had gone to sleep about two hours earlier and at some point heard gunshots from outside, but went back to sleep, she said Sunday.

"This area is known for gunshots", said her older son, Aboubakar Cisse, 19. He said he was not at home that night because he was working in Ardmore at his job as a studio engineer.

Cisse's older brother said Sunday that he learned from his brother's childhood friend, another 17-year-old, that he, Cisse, and the 17-year-old shot in the hand were walking to a 24-hour store at 56th and Market Streets when three males with masks walked toward them, and at least one of them fired.

"I don't believe they were targets", Aboubakar Cisse said. "I believe they were mistaken targets."

He at times interpreted for his mother, who came to the United States from the Ivory Coast in West Africa in 1999.

"I'm hurt. I can't sleep now. I pray for Mouhamed", she said.

Cisse's death touched the classical music scene in Philadelphia and beyond as well as the Philadelphia School District community, with more than 1,000 people donating online to a fund for his family.

He played cello with the nonprofit Musicopia String Orchestra, a youth orchestra, from 2013 to 2019. And he auditioned and got into the Philadelphia School District's All City Middle School String Orchestra.

He first learned the cello through a Penn program called Music and Social Change, run by the university's Molly McGlone, which is how he met Penn student and musician Alex Moll in the 2012-2013 school year. Penn students went to Lea Elementary to help teach music to students. Cisse continued on with his lessons the next year when Lea got its own instrumental music teacher.

"Mouhamed rose to the top as definitely the most musically talented in the school", McGlone said Friday. "We realized how strong he was at playing the rhythms." Cisse excelled at both bucket drumming and cello, she said.

When Alex Moll died, he left $15,000 of his inheritance from his grandfather for his mother to help Cisse continue studying cello. "Music could be the thing that could get him out", Melanie Moll said her son told her.

With that money and a scholarship from Camp Encore/Coda in Maine, she sent Cisse to the camp for the last six summers, and provided him with his own cello and supplemental lessons, she said.

"He was a very special person to me and I will miss him like he was one of my own", she said, crying.

Jamie Saltman, who runs the camp with his wife, said Friday that there's been a "tremendous outpouring of grief, best wishes, surprise and shock" from people in the close-knit music community over Cisse's death.

"This kid... was snatched away from us", he said.

On Friday, 100 people participated in a Zoom memorial service for Cisse, including the principal of the U School, in North Philadelphia, where Cisse was a junior. Also joining in were faculty from West Philly's Lea Elementary, a K-8 school, which Cisse attended; family and friends; and members of the music community who knew him in Philadelphia and from the Maine summer camp.

"When I think about Mouhamed, I think about a young man that was just brilliant in so many ways", U School principal Neil Geyette said during the memorial.

He said he would get frustrated when Cisse wouldn't tell people about his secret talents. "He always wanted to keep those close to his chest", Geyette said.

The city offers a $20,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction in any homicide. Tipsters can be anonymous and call homicide at 215-686-3334 or the tip line at 215-686-TIPS (8477).


Manance Cisse holds a photo of her son Mouhamed Cisse in her West Philadelphia home.
Photo by Yong Kim

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Influential composer and conductor Krzysztof Penderecki dies aged 86 — Obituary

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
Penderecki was born in Dębica, in south-eastern Poland, the youngest of three children of Zofia (nee Wittgenstein) and Tadeusz Penderecki. His father was a lawyer, and an amateur violinist and pianist. Armenian ancestry came from a grandmother, who took the young Penderecki to an Armenian church in Krakow; this aspect of the composer's heritage was highlighted in 2015 with the premiere of a new choral work, Psalm No.3, commemorating the Armenian Genocide of 1915, at Carnegie Hall, New York.

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