Tuesday, January 24, 2017
By the time to read this the season will be over. So here are the parting shots divided in two articles each covering five events. A Monday benefit concert provided the unexpected pleasure of witnessing a piano recital by one of the remaining great veterans: the Brazilian Nelson Freire, an old friend of this theatre, in his middle seventies still a redoubtable virtuoso of magnificent technique and style. Presented by Dar Cultura, Fundación de Acción Social de Jabad, Freire gave a masterclass, so to speak, in his traversals of two fundamental Nineteenth Century Sonatas: Brahms´ Third, Op.5, and Chopin´s Second, Op.58. The Sonatas were played with scrupulous respect for the composers´ indications, readings of marvelous continuity, tonal beauty and control, which revealed the transcendent quality of both composers at their best. Before Brahms, some Bach (an Organ Prelude) arranged by Siloti; and before Chopin, Freire´s ideal way with the music of Villalobos: the beautiful Prelude from Bachianas Brasileiras Nº4 and three pieces from "A prole do bebé" ("The baby´s family"). Encores: a lovely performance of an especially expressive Chopin Mazurka (Op.17/4) and a brilliant one of Grieg´s "Wedding Day in Troldhaugen", one of his most joyous pieces (he lived there). The penultimate concert (Nº 14) of the Buenos Aires Philharmonic was one of the best. We had the revelation of a talented conductor, Carl St Clair, and the best Argentine pianist of his generation, Nelson Goerner, playing Tchaikovsky´s First concerto with amazing firmness. St Clair is a Texan disciple of Bernstein and in his early sixties (I believe) he conducts with the intensity and concentration of his mentor. His career has had two very different high points: Principal Conductor in Weimar and in Berlin´s Komische Oper; and for twenty years the PC of the Pacific Symphony; plus guest conductor with a host of first-rank orchestras. And he has recorded all the Villalobos symphonies. He started with what may be a local première, Bernstein´s "Slava!", subtitled "a political overture", a 4-minute dazzling homage to the composer´s great friend nicknamed Slava, cellist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich, revered here in both capacities. Why political? Because his being named PC of Washington´s National Symphony was a way to recognize both his musical talent and courageous anti-Stalin attitude; and at the time the Cold War was still on. St Clair made the Phil sound like a top rank USA orchestra. Goerner, as unassuming and non-charismatic as ever, played a supervirtuoso concert with such aplomb and exactness that one could only hear open-mouthed at such a display, always very musical; in some passages the only thing lacking for perfection was the mercurial hobgoblin touch of Argerich. And St Clair galvanizing the Phil to offer Goerner the right give-and-take and rhythmic strength he needed to shine as he did. The encore was a beautiful performance of Chopin´s Nocturne Nº15, Op.55/1. St Clair talked to the audience after the interval, an impassioned defense of Shostakovich´s Tenth Symphony as the expression of his pent-up suffering during the Stalin years. And the conductor then proceeded to prove it with an enormously concentrated and beautifully played performance of what is arguably the composer´s most important symphony. The impact of this great work in St Clair´s reading was one of the great moments of the year. He should come back. An unfortunate medical delay allowed me to hear only the second part of Leonid Grin´s concert with the Phil (last of the season, Nº 15). So I missed Weber´s "Oberon" Overture and Tchaikovsky´s Concerto with the Phil´s concertino Pablo Saraví, but I could hear a thrilling interpretation of the best Glazunov Symphony, Nº 5 (1895), warm, melodic and admirably structured music. Grin is Ukrainian, a disciple of Kyril Kondrashin, now in his early sixties. He has held posts at Saarbrücken, Tampere (Finland), San José Symphony (California) and currently at Santiago de Chile. Two decades ago he visited the Phil repeatedly. His solid métier and natural empathy with the Russian repertoire provided an exhilarating ending to the symphonic year. The special interest of the National Symphony´s concert at the Blue Whale conducted by Christian Baldini was the inclusion of essential Sibelius: his last Symphony, Nº7 (1925), rarely done here; just one vast movement of consumate organic cohesion dominated by an unforgettable trombone theme, it crowns the career of the most eminent Nordic symphonist. After good performances of two standards (Beethoven´s Violin Concerto with the National´s concertino Luis Roggero and Sibelius´ "Finland"), Baldini showed his insight and fine technique in the Seventh, abetted by a great trombone player and a responsive orchestra. The final concert of the National Symphony was conducted by the Chilean Francisco Rettig, much appreciated as a Mahlerian. He closed the season with some of Mahler´s extraordinary Lieder with orchestra, certainly the best in history. The orchestral work and Rettig´s sensitive conducting gave much pleasure, but alas, the baritone Luciano Garay showed a startling decline of his vocal means both in the wonderful "Songs of a wayfarer" ("Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen") and in the songs allotted to him in the endlessly varied "Des Knaben Wunderhorn" ("The magic horn of youth"). Mezzo Alejandra Malvino was her reliable, musicianly self both in her participation in "DKW" and in the "Rückert Songs" that end with a marvel, "Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen" ("I have retired from the World"), though more volume came amiss at several points. A sour note: the unacceptable policies of having no comments on the hand programme and even worse, no subtitles; this is the CCK´s fault, not the NS´, and I hope it is revised next year. For Buenos Aires Herald
From its origins as a coarse dance instrument to a symbol of courage and defiance, the cello has inspired so many of the west’s greatest composers and performers“Why write for a violin when there is the cello?” asked Rachmaninov. There is something peculiarly lovable about the cello, with its tenor radiance, narrow waist, gleaming shoulders and back of flaming maple: to play it you must embrace it, and its resonating chamber rests upon your heart. Rostropovich captured that warm physical connection when he recalled that as a tired boy he would lie the cello on its side and “squeeze my backside into the carved dip near the f-holes”. Dvořák said that its upper register “squeaks and the lower growls”, but for Ernest Bloch it was a voice “vaster and deeper than any spoken language”.For Anthony Trollope it was “the saddest of instruments”; indeed, it has acquired the role of chief mourner, a long way from its beginnings as a dance-band bass. It was a cellist who performed at the memorial for the Paris terrorist attacks in 2015, and another, Yo-Yo Ma, who commemorated the 10th anniversary of 9/11, with solo Bach. Think of Elgar’s famous concerto, or Fauré’s funereal Élégie: the instrument is now synonymous with sorrowful eloquence. Continue reading...
A day after Moscow announced it was naming a square for Mstislav Rostropovich, St Petersburg unveiled a plaque to his wife, the soprano Galina Vishnevskaya, on the apartment building where they once lived. Both of their daughters attended the ceremony. Nice to see them getting recognition after decades when they were whitewashed out of Russian music history. Nice to see the two cities competing for their legacy.
The tenth anniversary of the death of the great cellist and the ninetieth of his birth in March-April 2017 will be marked in Moscow by the dedication of a square in his name, close to the House of Composers. The square, at the junction of Yeliseyev and Bryusov streets, already features a bust of the greatly beloved master.
From its 2011 beginnings in London’s bustling concert scene, the classical music series ASPECT embraced presentations that integrate classical music programs in a specific cultural framework. With its syllabus of accompanying talks surrounding its traditional classical music programs, examining everything from composers’ lives and the historic relevance of their works, to connections between musical expression, art and poetry, the not-for-profit foundation became widely frequented, especially within London’s large community of actively engaged amateur musicians. ( Photo credit: Andy Filimon – Irina Knaster surrounded by collaborating artists ) A brainchild of Russian-American culture devotee and former pianist Irina Knaster, the series has now – parallel to Irina’s move to New York – found a new musical home at Columbia University’s Italian Academy. The series’ New York debut on October 5th featured a sold out one-off concert, exploring little known links between Mozart and Bach, whose works were performed by stellar artists. Violinist Dmitry Sitkovetsky, cellist Sergey Antonov, violist Dov Scheindlin and pianist extraordinaire Ignat Solzhenitsyn collaborated in various combinations with remarks interjected by Yale’s renowned professor, musicologist Paul Berry to the evening’s thematic: “Bach and Mozart, a lasting influence.” Clearly caught up in his calling, his elucidations might have fared better with a little less lecturing from the page, but his remarks were informative and thoughtful; if perhaps a little too academic for most of the audience members’ tastes. Any disappointment, though, was more than made up for by the stellar musicians who performed with great excellence and passion. Also delightful was the socially openhanded reception in the venue’s substantial foyer following the concert; many of the attending audience members knew some of the musicians, the organizers, or each other, and the crowd’s chemistry and enjoyment clearly evidenced the value of one of ASEPCT’s attractions: a cohesive, active community of musical people and fans of the artists. The attendance of Dmitry Sitkovetsky’s famed mother Bella Davidovich, renowned as one of Russia’s iconic pianists and teachers, was a special bonus, and it did not take long for her to become surrounded by a flock of former students and admirers. An important facet of the series’ inspiration though lies in its alliance with musicians who are not necessarily favored by mainstream audiences. Says Knaster: “Many of the greatest musicians are not interested in or just not invested enough to create a huge PR following around them, but they are the true ‘bread and butter’ musicians, dedicated to music for the sake of music. They devote every minute of their time and effort to their work, learning new repertoire, teaching and well, playing with musicians they enjoy working with already, not necessarily looking out for opportunities that will further their own careers. For me, those are the real kind of artists who deserve support and these are the kind of artists that should be featured in the series.” Knaster’s criterion for choosing performers for her series is neither following in-demand “young and sexy” performers, nor is she exclusively looking for artists who are hugely renowned. She says, “even though artists that have an interesting following are geared to bring along some attractive collaborations, every concert is different. Sometimes programming is conceived around a specific artist; sometimes artists bring a whole concept or a specific presentation along.” Thematic choices of the series have been open ended themes, like “Composers on Composers,” Musical Capitals,” “Great Muses,” or” Words on Music,” with performers touching on a specific angle. ( Photo credit: Andy Filimon, violinist Dmitry Sitkovetsky and Paul Berry) Sometimes it’s either the charismatic speaker who can have an enlightening impact, or the artist who connects particularly well with the audience. Thanks to the great support of the foundation’s sponsorship, Knaster has presented twenty-seven London concerts, pamphlets of each she collects in a big folder that she affectionately refers to as her ‘bible,’ flipping through the pages reminiscing, and a little bit in awe. She has received some positive press, including an article in The Strad, which she feels impacts her audiences less than it does her artists. “It’s a lot of trial and error that makes the series grow, and apparently the more parts there are to an event, the more there is that can go wrong,” she says. It is a risk, however, that the petite yet vigorous young woman, who admits to being somewhat of a perfectionist, is willing to take. “When it all comes together, it’s exhilarating,” she explains, “one of my favorite ones was actually the last concert in London; it just worked perfectly.” She refers to a concert that centered on the love triangle of Shostakovich, Rostropovich and Britten, presented by BBC’s Lain Burnside, a concert she feels had exactly the right balance of instruction, music and personal input, and also benefitted from being presented in the amazing venue, she found after trying other locations for the series concerts: Notting Hill’s recently renovated 20th Century Theatre, which fit the ideal audience of 200 that Knaster had in mind. That last London evening was also enhanced by the presence of a former classmate of Rostropovich, equipped with old photos of him with Britten. “It was just special in every aspect, but projects are likely to take on a life of their own,” says Knaster. 20th Century Theatre, Notting Hill, London, England. Clearly the orchestration of every detail becomes much more important in an overall experience that focuses on music, but does not end there. “In the concert hall, people come to listen to the music, often holding their coat on their lap and then are getting up and leave without talking about their experience much, nor connecting with others. Here, you check your coat at the wardrobe, and you hopefully come away with an all-around meaningful encounter.” Bringing the audience and the artists together, it seems the reception does fulfill an important objective, perhaps by balancing the emotional impact of the music, perhaps by affirming that audience members have become individual members of this newly-created social environment, or perhaps just by allowing that audiences continue to nourish and nosh. While Knaster counts on the help of some of her former London collaborators, especially that of her former Art Professor, Patrick Bade, as well as longtime friend and BBC producer Misha Donat, getting started in New York brings a whole slew of new players onto her team. Knaster’s versatile experiences are certainly a plus in her new endeavor. In addition to her education as a pianist, Knaster absolved a master’s program in art history and studied law, working as a corporate lawyer for an American company in Russia for many years during Russia’s phase of opening to the Western World. For personal advice, she has turned to New York’s legendary Edna Landau, co-founder of IMG and former personal manager of piano prodigy Evgeny Kissin. Edna, whose experience and endless knowledge of everything musical in the city, currently disperses career advice to conservatory students and musical talent throughout the country and knows just about every musician. It looks like even if all the kinks haven’t been ironed out before Aspect’s next concert, it won’t take another twenty-seven concerts to land Knaster’s programing in the public eye as a local institution. New Yorkers may not be able to rely on a community of amateurs as huge and engaged as that which London has to offer, but the New York music scene is quick to pick up on refined programming and solid performers, and not one to dismiss socially accommodating presentations. With political worlds separating society increasingly, perhaps New York needs an active music community more than ever. ASPECT’s next concert, titled “Romantic Vienna,” will take place on January 26th and will present works by the Austrian capital’s musical pillars that frame either end of the Romantic Movement: Schubert and Brahms. It will feature Arnaud Sussmann, violin, Paul Neubauer, viola, Rafael Figueroa, cello and Vsevolod Dvorkin, piano, emceed with an illustrated talk by BBC broadcaster Stephen Johnson. You can read more about this event and about the ASPECT Foundation at www.aspectfoundation.net.
Phillips/Les Dissonances/Grimal (Dissonances)Xavier Phillips was mentored by Mstislav Rostropovich in the last years of the great cellist’s life, and thus learned about Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No 1 from the player for whom it was written. So it won’t be surprising that Phillips makes his impact in the work by searching out its beauty rather than stressing its anger. Sometimes the pace is striking – the finale goes like the clappers – but more often it’s Phillips’s silky tone that impresses, standing out effortlessly against the orchestra. They are Les Dissonances, a conductorless ensemble led from the violin by David Grimal. Their performance of Shostakovich’s Symphony No 5 is, like the concerto, recorded live. Would the string melodies have more spontaneous ebb and flow if there were a conductor controlling them? Perhaps, but the performance is full of artfully paced crescendos, and there is convincing momentum and drama here even if the interpretation is ultimately less gruelling than some. Continue reading...