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Mstislav Rostropovich

Monday, June 26, 2017


Norman Lebrecht - Slipped disc

June 4

What went right at the Queen Elisabeth cello competition?

Norman Lebrecht - Slipped discThere was very little international coverage, the website was the worst of any major competition and the results were published in the dead of night. Yet, despite losing several crowd-pleasers at the semi-final stage, there seems to be a feeling that the Brussels competition did most things right. Here’s an assessment from one of the TV commentators, the cellist David Cohen, exclusive to Slipped Disc. An insider’s testimony into the first Queen Elisabeth Cello Competition by David Cohen Yesterday I was in Belgium, my native country, and I was so happy to be making the TV commentaries for Musique 3 during the first ever Queen Elisabeth Cello competition held in Bruxelles’s beautiful Palais des Beaux Arts. Let me start by sharing with you how proud I feel of my country for having finally agreed, after decades of pleading from leading cello teachers in Belgium and around the world, to finally add the cello as a category to the Queen Elisabeth International Competition. Why was it not possible sooner? The competition’s most influential director, Le Comte De Launoy, felt it was his duty to respect her Majesty’s wishes of the categories she had specifically instructed to be used. They also happened to be her favourite instruments: violin, voice, piano and composition… not the cello. But since the passing of this great and benevolent music lover, the competition was able, after the collapse of the last Rostropovich cello competition in Paris, to take a chance and add the cello as another category to the competition. As a child, I so often dreamed that this pinnacle of music competitions would finally open its doors to my instrument… The cello has always been important in the Belgian music making. The influential school of Belgian cello playing (Servais, the Paganini of cellists) is well documented. Yesterday was the finale of this well organised competition. Like a well oiled engine, after weeks of early rounds, the tradition of seven days of seclusion, including all technical devices, was imposed, allowing the 12 finalists to learn the compulsory piece specially composed by Toshio Hosokawa. They were shown the score seven days prior to the final round in the confines of the Chapelle Reine Elizabeth, a private music institution just outside of Brussels. I awoke yesterday to find my social media busy with posts, comments, tweets and likes about the different candidates who had already performed and were awaiting the prize announcements this evening. It was a real frenzy out there with a big buzz; the candidate with rings and long hair who dropped his bow (no thanks to the conductor for kicking it! accidents do happen to everyone), the candidate who broke her strings, the candidate whose late parents pleaded with his teacher to look after him (both teacher and student ended up present at the final… the former was playing, and the latter commentating for the RTBF). There was some controversy with regard to the poor variety of concertos being performed for the finale. There were 6 Shostakovich concertos, 4 Dvorak concertos and 2 Schumann concerto. Also disappointing was the lack of Belgian competitors, with countless articles in the newspapers about their absence. Although Shostakovich’s first concerto has more of a “Wow!” factor (especially the ending), I wished someone would have taken the risk of doing the Barber, Lutoslawski, Dutilleux, or even the Prokofiev Sinfonia Concertante. These last few days and weeks reminded me of my time as a competition junkie and how juggling studying, performing concerts and hopping from one competition to another ruled my life as a young musician. As Bartok famously once said, “Competitions are for horses”. In a horse race, there is a definitive winner. It is impossible to be so black and white in music. In tennis as we all know, there are clear points to be gained, but in a music competition, we try to quantify something which is in it’s very essence, unquantifiable. Each competitor receives points from each jury member, and in the Queen Elisabeth (to keep bias at bay), apparently the highest and lowest scores are thrown out for each competitor. What we then see is an illustrious line-up of averages. But the question is; how does one judge these young musicians, especially when the likeliness of these jury members to ever actually sit in the audience of one of these young musicians future performances is quite slim? I say it’s the public that matters, and that is why I was always more interested in winning the Public’s prize in an international competition. This, because these were the people to whom I was and would be ultimately playing for, and knowing the Belgian audience as well as I do, they are the ones that really matter. Having listened to some of the semi finals, I was saddened, but not surprised, that many incredible young musicians were taken out in order to place in the finals some admittedly very fine instrumentalists, but some of whom arguably had less musical individuality. Time will tell us which one of these magnificent and so deserving young cellists will make it long term on the international scene or if they will face the fate of so many before them. For my part, I wish them the absolute best this musical life has to offer. It is impossible to tell which one of these competitors will go where, do what, and who will fulfil a boxed up star-studded future we have in mind for them. Often times, it is the ones who seemingly do not succeed early, who are the ones that actually push through in the end. Other times, it is very close to what the jury decided. And other times still, it is exactly the upside-down version of the prizes awarded. The reality is that there is no ranking. As wise and illustrious as this jury was, no one has a crystal ball. Competitions are a means to an end, rather than a goal to be conquered. They should be used to gain priceless experience, push ones self through massive pressures, present ones self on an international platform which would be hard to come by through other means and ultimately, to find ones true voice through it all. Each competitor, to whom I had the pleasure of listening, had something special, truly unique and I sincerely wish them the very best for their futures, which will all no doubt be rich, varied and a completely personal journey, of which the Queen Elisabeth Competition has been a multi faceted and illustrious stepping stone.

My Classical Notes

May 28

The Tango Music of Piazzolla

My Classical Notes brings you today a review of “The Sound of Piazzolla” The individual tracks are as follows: Piazzólla: Libertango, with Alison Balsom (trumpet) Escualo Alison Balsom (trumpet) Oblivion Martha Argerich (piano) Histoire du Tango: Bordel 1900, withEmmanuel Pahud (flute) Fuga y Misterio, with The 12 Cellists of the Berliner Philharmoniker Adiós Nonino The 12 Cellists of the Berliner Philharmoniker Primavera Porteña, with Daniel Barenboim (piano) Verano Porteño with Daniel Barenboim (piano) Otoño Porteña with David Aaron Carpenter (viola) Invite no Porteño tenTHing Five Tango Sensations: Asleep, with the Alban Berg Quartett Le Grand Tango with Mstislav Rostropovich (cello) La Muerte del Angel Manuel Barrueco Los Pajaros Perdidos Philippe Jaroussky (countertenor) Concierto del angel Tango Ballet Maria de Buenos Aires Suite, with Gidon Kremer All performed by the Kremer Baltica, Kremer Musica, Coral Lirico Buenos Aires Some of the greatest names on today’s classical music scene pay Homage to Astor Piazzolla. Presented in two distinct programs, the first part highlights the most varied of influences: this is not just about the tango; there are influences from jazz and the classical traditions of Bach and Vivaldi, all brought together here. The second part combines original classical compositions – the ‘tango operita’ María de Buenos Aires, the Tango Ballet and Concierto del Angel. The recordings by Gidon Kremer and his KremerATA Baltica are a true piece of Piazzolla pioneer work. In the 1950’s when Astor Piazzolla went to Paris to study classical composition, the tango of his native Argentina was not considered fit for the concert stages of Europe; these were the sultry sounds of the street; the music of the demimonde. Luckily, the formidable composition teacher Nadia Boulanger encouraged her Argentinian pupil to draw precisely on those roots. Piazzolla at last found his true voice as a composer and bandoneon virtuoso. Today, he is considered the father of tango as we know it today, blending rhythmic vitality with orchestral textures. Twenty-five years after Piazzolla’s death, The Sound of Piazzolla confirms that the founder of Tango Nuevo left as his legacy a unique style of music that sounds just as fresh and vibrant today. Here is the music!




Norman Lebrecht - Slipped disc

May 10

Maxim Vengerov: Strads are best, but they need help

The formidable violinist writes to Slipped Disc, suggesting that tests of Strads against modern instruments are founded on false premises: My dear Friends! if I may add anything:) My first Strad I ever touched, I was 10 years old. It was 1984 and I was preparing myself for the Junior Wieniawski Competition. My teacher at that time professor Bron, helped me to get the Stradivari from the Soviet Union’s State rare instrument collection. It was Strad’s half-size unique instrument. When I took this instrument for the first time, I thought that like with a wave of magic stick, I would start making miraculous sounds. Next minute, I could not believe my ears when the violin sounded so terrible to compare to my modern instrument that I “mastered” playing at that time. I compared the two instruments playing the same piece over and over again to my father, seeking his approval that the whole Stradivari thing is a total myth!!! My Dad was working as an oboist of the Novosibirsk Philharmonic Orchestra. He was also a professional piano tuner. I shared with him my first shocking Strad experience. He smiled and said to me that I should not be disappointed. “Just learn how to play it, close your eyes, open your ears and listen to the overtones. Find that sound, find your own voice in Music, this instrument will teach you everything you need to know”. From that moment on my life in Music began… Today, I am lucky to say that I played perhaps over 40 Strads and other precious instruments like Guarneri Del Jesu. All Stradivari’s violins I have had fortune to touch, all his instruments with almost no exception are also a treasure. There is however quite a bit of work involved. First, you need a player that is willing to be flexible to go as far as to change his or her own violin technic for the violin that he or she is playing. Then, you need a superb violin maker to perform a fine tuning – an adjustment of the instrument for a player’s taste. In other words, it’s a partnership, like a trio: violin, violinist and a violinmaker. But then, the most interesting happens when you go to the concert hall! Not even during rehearsal, the ultimate test of the instrument and your ability to play it, is awaiting you together with thousands of spectators when you enter the concert stage. Only then, real work begins. The first time I played my own “Kreutzer” Strad was playing in Chicago with Rostropovich conducting me in Shostakovitch’s violin concerto. After the concert my beloved Slava asked me: Maxim, what instrument are you playing? I proudly declared: Strad, 1727, used to be owned by the legendary Kreutzer! With no hesitation Rostropovich threw at me: Change it!! It took me, and two of my violin makers Florian Leonhard and Nahum Tuch about half a year to “lift this unique violin up” to the absolute Everest. The process was a truly unbelievable roller-coaster that is hard to describe! When you play phenomenal Guarneri “Del Gesu ” violins, you can play it as you wish. The instrument will realize all your dreams and expectations about the sound, providing you are a skillful player. All those magic violins made by Antonio Stradivari I got to know, made me into a more flexible player I am today. Flexible, because when you hold Strad, you do not play it – it teaches you how to sing it, with his violins you are able to discover the magical palette of colors and more over, every day it’s a bit of another instrument. It is alive, truly mystical, like a person. Strad is my daily life changing experience! I hope it helps:) For more, do come to my concerts or get my new cd’s. They will soon be available. I will keep you posted. Best wishes to All Music lovers at Slipped Disc and not only:) Yours with love, Maxim Vengerov Read more here.



Mstislav Rostropovich
(1927 – 2007)

Mstislav Rostropovich (March 27, 1927 - April 27, 2007) was a Soviet and Russian cellist and conductor. He was married to the soprano Galina Vishnevskaya. He is widely considered to have been the greatest cellist of the second half of the 20th century, and one of the greatest of all time. In addition to his outstanding interpretations and technique, he was well-known for his commissions of new works which enlarged the cello repertoire more than any cellist before or since. He gave the premieres of over 100 pieces.



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