Friday, December 01, 2006

PREMIERE://Benjamin's first opera in Paris

British composer's 20-year opera quest ends with Paris premiere

By Angelique Chrisafis
From the Guardian, Saturday November 25, 2006

He has been dubbed a British Mozart, a child prodigy who began composing at the age of nine and at 20 became the youngest composer to have a work performed at the Proms.
But George Benjamin, one of Britain's most enigmatic and important contemporary composers, has sometimes been painstakingly slow with his eagerly awaited creations, often spending four years on one piano piece.
Now, after what he calls a "20-year quest" to compose for opera, Benjamin has broken into the genre, with a 35-minute operatic reworking of The Pied Piper of Hamelin, which had its world premiere in Paris this week.
Into the Little Hill, an opera for two singers and a small ensemble, opened at Paris's Opéra Bastille and will play for two more afternoons at Théâtre de Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines near Versailles. "Excellently performed, it is as demanding as it is dumbfounding," said Le Monde's music critic.
Benjamin, 46, is feted in France where, aged 14, he studied at the Paris Conservatoire under the composer Olivier Messiaen, who described him as his favourite pupil. "In some ways this feels like a homecoming," Benjamin told the Guardian between performances.
The story of a politician who makes a mysterious pact with a stranger, Into the Little Hill is a collaboration with the playwright Martin Crimp, whose libretto is largely made up of single syllable words. "I've been looking to do something theatrical for 20 years, but I never found a collaborator and a way to do it until now," Benjamin said, describing Crimp's text as "seething with emotion".
He wrote the opera in six months, which he described as "astonishing speed according to my usual habits".
"It's compact. It's not a full-scale symphonic opera. I didn't want that," he added.
"It's The Pied Piper of Hamelin updated in a very subtle way. It's not a light little children's story, it's a terrible story of betrayal and deception, of music and its power. This is very much a reflection on the nature of music and its purposes."

The piece, commissioned by Opéra France's Festival d'Automne, will have its first performance in Britain as part of Liverpool's European capital of culture programme in 2008.


By Andrew Clements
From the Guardian, Saturday November 25, 2006

For almost 20 years, George Benjamin has been thinking about composing an opera. In that time there have been plenty of rumours of him collaborating with leading playwrights, but it is only now that he has found the right person to work with: the British dramatist and translator Martin Crimp. What they have produced, the "lyric tale" Into the Little Hill, premiered under the banner of the Festival d'Automne in Paris, is as entrancingly beautiful as anything Benjamin has written.
It is a slender, deceptively simple piece, lasting only 40 minutes and scored for just soprano and contralto (Anu Komsi and Hilary Summers, both outstanding) with 15 instrumentalists from Ensemble Modern conducted by Franck Ollu. The piece has barely enough dramatic trappings to qualify even as music theatre and while it probably could be presented more lavishly than Daniel Jeanneteau's staging in the Opéra Bastille's amphitheatre, it is the very economy of means - the action is played out around the ensemble, with the two singers sharing the narration and playing all the roles with a minimum of props - that gives the work its elegance and poetic power.
Crimp's equally spare libretto retells the centuries-old story of the Pied Piper. A minister seeking re-election promises the people he will rid their country of its rats, even though he knows they do no harm. A stranger, who has no face, offers to lead the rats away in exchange for money. A bargain is struck and the rats disappear, but when the minister is re-elected he reneges on the deal, saying the money has been better spent on "barbed wire and education", and the stranger leads the children away to the light "inside the little hill".
If the political resonances are clear enough Crimp never labours them, while the deftness of Benjamin's vocal writing weaves it into a spell-binding piece of storytelling. Each role is effortlessly characterised: the minister's delivery clipped, matter-of-fact; the stranger's soprano lines spiralling ever higher. All are wrapped in the most luminous score, subtly coloured by basset horns, cornets and a cimbalom, and later by banjo and mandolin too, while the stranger's seductive music is given to a solo bass flute snaking through the textures.
If composing for the stage has opened up new areas of expression for Benjamin, the result is more ravishing than anyone could possibly have imagined.

Friday, November 24, 2006

PREMIERE://George Benjamin's Into the Little Hill

World premiere of King's composer's first opera

From Huliq.com - 22 November, 2006

Into the Little Hill, composed by George Benjamin, the internationally renowned composer and conductor and Henry Purcell Professor of Composition at King's, premieres in Paris tonight (22 November). The opera marks the centrepiece of a retrospective of Professor Benjamin's works by the 35th Festival d'Automne.
The opera is a collaboration between George Benjamin and the English playwright Martin Crimp. The lyrical tale is based on an old story of a pact made between a statesman and a bizarre stranger before an election, and the consequences suffered when, once elected, the statesmen does not honour his promise. The opera is written for two voices with the multiple parts sung by Anu Komsi and Hilary Summers. Franck Ollu conducts the Ensemble Modern orchestra.
Commissioned by the Paris Festival d'Automne and other partners, there are two further performances of Into the Little Hill at the Opera Bastille, Paris. The Festival d'Automne was created in 1972 by Michel Guy, Georges Pompidou's Minister of Culture and has become a world-renowned celebration of new music, theatre, visual arts and dance. The opera will tour to Amsterdam, New York, Frankfurt, Liverpool and Vienna over the next two years.
Since George Benjamin's appointment as the Henry Purcell Professor of Composition in 2001 he has had a number of celebrations of his work. The London Symphony Orchestra devoted a series of nine concerts throughout their 2002-3 season to Professor Benjamin's music, entitled BY GEORGE! There have also been major retrospectives of his work in Brussels, Tokyo, Berlin, Strasbourg and Madrid.
He first came to public prominence when his work Ringed by the Flat Horizon was performed at the BBC Promenade Concerts in 1980. His other acclaimed works include A Mind of Winter, At First Light, Antara, Upon Silence, Three Inventions, Viola, Viola and Palimpsest.
Professor Benjamin has recently been awarded the fourth Roche Commission. The commission, from healthcare group Roche, is for work from outstanding composers of contemporary music. The world premiere of this composition will be performed on 30 August 2008 as part of the Lucerne Festival Summer in Switzerland.
The Festival d'Automne, a not-for-profit organization, commissions and presents original and experimental work not previously produced in France. It provides access to non-western cultures by featuring major presentations from a variety of different countries.

Further performances of Professor Benjamin works during the Festival d'Automne include:
George Benjamin, Three Intentions and At First Light, and Wolfgang Rihm Gedrängte Form performed by the Ensemble Modern conducted by George Benjamin. 27 November, Opéra national de Paris – Bastille / Amphithéâtre
George Benjamin Palimpsest and Dance Figures, Alexandre Scriabine Poème de l'extase, Maurice Ravel Daphne et Chloe – 2nd suite performed by the Orchestre de l'Opéra national de Paris conducted by George Benjamin. 19 December, Opéra National de Paris – Bastille

PREMIERE://Casken and Bryars in Huddersfield

By Lynne Walker
From The Independent - 22 November 2006

Huddersfield's Contemporary Music Festival has had a sticky time of late with this, the 29th festival, curated by the third consecutive director in as many years. But its future now looks more certain under the artistic leadership of Graham McKenzie. The highlights of the 50 or so events this year included a retrospective of the music of Morton Feldman - the quiet American who rarely turns up the volume and many of whose intricate pieces challenge the listener's attention span.
Feldman himself suggested that taking an hour and a half in the whole of someone's lifetime was not too much. It certainly didn't seem a moment too long in the performance of his last completed work, Piano, Violin, Viola, Cello (1987), in St Paul's Hall by three members of the Smith Quartet, joined at the piano by John Tilbury. Slowly evolving patterns of sounds and silence characterised by a delicacy of form, combined to create a diaphanous soundworld.
Earlier in the day, in the Town Hall, Thomas Zehetmair conducted the Northern Sinfonia in music by Gyorgy Ligeti, alongside two world premieres. John Casken's orchestral song-cycle, Farness is a glowing setting of three poems by Carol Ann Duffy on the subject of a loved one far away. In "Penelope", Casken weaves the vocal and viola lines seamlessly into the rest of the instrumental texture. When the solo roles are given such refined expression - Patricia Rozario an expressive and eloquent vocalist, Ruth Kilius an incisive violist - the result is no patchwork quilt.
Theatre Cryptic and Paragon Ensemble opened the festival in the Lawrence Batley Theatre with Gavin Bryars's new cantata The Paper Nautilus - in which the sea's depths surface to a libretto by Jackie Kay. Angela Tunstall (soprano) and Alexandra Gibson (mezzo) made a big splash as the two airy soloists, finally paddling across Pippa Nissen's luminously watery set. Cathie Boyd's production had some moments of haunting beauty, while Garry Walker shaped the music expertly, the instrumentalists bringing out the dynamic and rhythmic subtleties of Bryars's aqueous score.

PREMIERE://Stucky, Saariaho and Dalbavie build upon Debussy

What Would Debussy Do? Three Composers Have Ideas

By Anthony Tommasini
From the New York Times - November 20, 2006

In 1915 Debussy began a project to compose six sonatas for diverse instruments. Ill with cancer, he lived to complete only three of them: the eclectically scored and delicate Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp; the restless and deceptively humorous Sonata for Cello and Piano; and the elegant, rhapsodic Sonata for Violin and Piano, finished in 1917, the year before his death.
A few years ago Carnegie Hall asked three composers — Steven Stucky, Kaija Saariaho and Marc-André Dalbavie — to, in a sense, complete Debussy’s project as part of the pianist Emanuel Ax’s adventurous Perspectives series. The premieres were given at Zankel Hall in 2004.
On Friday night at Alice Tully Hall, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, which signed on to the project during its planning stages, presented the three new works in the ideal context: interspersed with Debussy’s sonatas. Debussy sounded more daringly modern by the company he kept. And for all their differences, the vibrant new scores did seem inspired by Debussy.
Debussy intended to compose a sonata for harpsichord, oboe and horn. In his alluring “Sonate en Forme des Préludes,” Mr. Stucky took on the challenge of writing for this mismatched combination of instruments. To prevent the modest harpsichord from being overwhelmed, he uses it mostly as an instrument of color and texture. From the opening movement, “Broken Chords,” the harpsichord part abounds in arpeggios and cascades of passagework: the sonic equivalent of needle showers. Against this blurry backdrop the oboe and horn converse, sometimes ruminatively, sometimes in burly debates.
In Ms. Saariaho’s viscerally compelling five-movement work for piano, viola and cello, titled, in English translation, “I Feel a Second Heart,” she evokes forces moving in close proximity. Two movements are fraught with violent, searing clashes among the instruments. But in the quizzical final movement the force fields Ms. Saariaho evokes are the beating hearts of a mother and her unborn child.
Mr. Dalbavie’s “Axiom” for piano, clarinet, bassoon and trumpet proved an eruptive yet organic work. It begins with thunderous descending octaves in the piano, which provoke the other instruments to action. Yet the tumultuous musical materials become increasingly refined and specific as Mr. Dalbavie explores them in music of shifting moods, pungent harmonies and milky colorings.
Though there are too many fine performers to cite, special mention goes to Gilbert Kalish, who did double duty, playing the harpsichord in Mr. Stucky’s piece and the daunting piano part in Mr. Dalbavie’s work; the fearless young pianist Inon Barnatan in Ms. Saariaho’s trio; and the cellist Gary Hoffman, who excelled in the Saariaho and in Debussy’s cello sonata, for which he was joined by the dynamic pianist Jeffrey Kahane.

PREMIERE://Collabarative effort from Schwantner et al

Musica Viva returns to its roots in 'Made in Germany'

By Jeremy Eichler
From boston.com (The Boston Globe) - November 20, 2006

Music Viva's concert on Friday night was aptly titled "Made in Germany." It was the first of two German-themed programs, but the title also had a reflexive ring to it, since the ensemble's own name was, in a way, made in Germany as well. When Richard Pittman founded the group in 1969, he was inspired by the Musica Viva concert series that the German composer Karl Amadeus Hartmann founded in Munich in the wake of World War II.
The mission of the original series was to rebuild Germany's musical life, which, like its cities, lay in rubble after the war. Partly thanks to the infamous Nazi hatred of modernism, that progressive tradition in music enjoyed a certain cultural prestige in the post war years and received lavish governmental funding. The political cache of the avant-garde has since faded, but high modernism is still thriving in Germany, more so than just about anywhere else.
Two composers for Friday's concert, York Höller and Wolfgang Rihm, are products of this tradition , and their respective works -- "Ex tempore" (in its East Coast premiere) and "In Frage" (in its US premiere) -- were each highly challenging pieces, fractured in form and severe in style. Of the two, the Rihm made the stronger impression, with its violent interjections, eerie unison passages, and final muted viola solo that suggested a lone voice after great hardship, gasping for expression. The Höller, even after a second reading on the same program, remained more elusive and forbidding.
But by far the evening's highlight was the premiere of "Four Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke," a collection of brief Rilke settings that Boston Musica Viva commissioned from four local composers: Martin Brody, Shirish Korde, Peter Child, and Joseph Schwantner. The poet's lyrical verse apparently proved a generous muse as these were four handsome works of vivid color and individuality.
Brody set the fragment "Muzot: October, 1924" with quivering tremolos, delicately tinted woodwind lines, and a repetition of the final word "Abschied" ("farewell") as if to end with a question mark. Korde's setting of "Moonlit Night" captured the poem's silvery mood through evocative arabesques in the violin and high , undulating vocal writing over pulsating strings. Child's setting of the fragment "You Don't Know Nights of Love?" mirrored its soft sensuality with piano filigree and inventive percussion effects. And the final setting, Schwantner's "Assault Me, Music," departed from the tender mood of what had come before, with more jagged, rhythmically driven instrumental writing and powerfully etched vocal lines.
Elizabeth Keusch was the brave soprano in the difficult Rilke settings, as well as in the early Kurt Weill work "Frauentanz, " singing with a focused tone and sensitive musicianship. The hard-working, versatile ensemble, under Pittman's keen direction, played with precision, relative polish, and poise.

PREMIERES://Gubaidulina, Boulez and Previn writing for Mutter

Mutter still takes her music seriously

By David Perkins
From boston.com (The Boston Globe) - November 14, 2006

Every so often, Anne-Sophie Mutter says, someone finds a quote she gave an interviewer a decade ago about retiring early, and she has to explain herself all over again.
Since she is among the world's great violinists, one of the few with the big, round tone of such old masters as Zino Francescatti and David Oistrakh, as well as a beautiful woman in her prime, retirement would be news. An interviewer on the French-German TV channel Arte picked up the old quote last month, asked her about it anew, and got this response, according to MusicalAmerica.com: "Yes, yes, I said it. It is my plan to stop when I reach my 45th birthday." (That would be June 2008.) "Nevertheless, it is not the precise date which counts."
So is she really retiring? "Not true. I'm sorry to tell you that. It was a total misunderstanding," she said by phone yesterday. Mutter was in Chicago, on a tour that brings her to Symphony Hall with a program of Mozart sonatas tonight. "I was trying to make the point that I take music seriously," she said. "I don't want to go onstage out of habit. I want to take time to learn and enjoy my music, and sometimes it takes me a long time."
If there isn't publicity-mongering in this vagueness, it certainly can't hurt a career like Mutter's to have people speculating about its end. In fact, all the evidence points the other way. In Chicago, she was looking over a concerto written for her by Sofia Gubaidulina. Mutter will premiere it with Sir Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic in August, then repeat it with the Boston Symphony under James Levine next fall.
"I only have the violin part, and without harmonization it's hard to get a clear picture of it, but it seems to be one long movement, and as I expected it's extremely intense and colorful," she said. "I'm already finding places I'm falling in love with."
Mutter will also perform the world premiere of Sir André Previn's double concerto for double-bass and violin in April with the BSO under Previn, her former husband. A Previn double concerto for violin and viola is in the works, perhaps to be unveiled, she says, on Previn's 80th birthday in April 2009. And Pierre Boulez has promised her a violin concerto.
Mutter has sprung back from dark times. Her first husband and the father of her two children, Detlef Wunderlich, died of cancer in 1995. In 2002, she married Previn; they were divorced in the summer but continue to collaborate. "I've known André for many decades, and I've always been his greatest fan. I've never known someone that gifted," she said. "We stay very close friends, and I will play many more of his pieces."
Mutter has spent the Mozart anniversary year performing Mozart concertos and sonatas, to the accompaniment of CD releases by Deutsche Grammophon. It's also the 30th anniversary of her debut at the Lucerne Festival, where she was discovered. Can you have too much Mozart? "A musician can never get tired of him, and the violin repertoire covers such a large life span," she said. "In our recitals, Lambert [Orkis, her accompanist] and I arrange the Mozart sonatas from three different periods of his mature career, so that you have this great crescendo of compositional imagination."
Next season Mutter will focus on concertos, and the season after that she will do more chamber music, including string trios with two favored partners, violist Yuri Bashmet and cellist Lynn Harrell.
And it's important to remember there's a world beyond music.
"I was recently teaching one of my Korean students, an incredibly talented girl, who was starting the Debussy sonatas," she said. "And after the first few bars, I didn't know where to start with her, to explain how different French music is stylistically. So I broke off the lesson and went with her to a museum and showed her the French impressionists. That clicked. You need to get out of your shell."

PREMIERE://Satoh's Hashi IV

Covering Feldman, Garland and the Beatles

By Mark Swed
From calendarlive.com (LA Times) - November 14, 2006

Aki Takahashi, who made a rare Los Angeles appearance at REDCAT on Sunday night, is an elegant pianist with an incandescent tone and the patience of a saint. When she brings into being an exquisite, weightless chord and allows it to slowly die out, radiant overtones linger amazingly long in the air like an unforgettable supernatural scent. She is — no surprise — a friend of meditative, abstract, poetic composers in her native Japan and the world over. But she has her quirks. In 1989, she began her "Hyper Beatles" project, persuading John Cage, Kaija Saariaho, Pauline Oliveros, Alvin Lucier, Tan Dun, Terry Riley, Toru Takemitsu and 40 other unlikely experimentalists, East and West, to make arrangements of Beatles songs for her. Takahashi's REDCAT recital was her first local appearance since 1985, when she participated in the world premiere of Morton Feldman's Piano and String Quartet, written for her and the Kronos Quartet and now a classic in the modern chamber repertory. The Beatles were on the agenda Sunday. So was Feldman. But the big work of the evening was the first American performance of Peter Garland's entrancingly peculiar "Waves Breaking on Rocks (Elegy for All of Us)."Written for Takahashi three years ago, the 35-minute score was inspired by the deaths of four of Garland's friends — a poet, playwright, photographer and the composer Lou Harrison.
Garland is a composer from Maine whose career and musical style have been a continual trek southward. He studied at CalArts when it opened in 1971, headed to Santa Fe and then Mexico. Although Garland has since returned to Maine, "Waves" was written in Oaxaca, Mexico, and its style might be considered a kind of Postmodern, Post-Minimalist Copland. It has the feel of the big sky and broad plains. Harmonies are generously consonant, chords spaced to give the feeling of openness. Neither time nor space is a worry. The music has a slow and steady gait, as if determined to be aimless.And, like a sunset over a mesa, "Waves" is ravishingly beautiful. Harrison is remembered in a sweet, churchy Virgil Thomson style. Rising parallel chords near the end are, I suppose, the sound of splashing waves. And is that a faltering "I've Got Rhythm" re-harmonized and slowed down to a new hypnotic rhythm?Garland added a small, Ivesian violin echo to the Harrison movement, and the violinist at REDCAT was composer Marc Sabat, whose unpredictable, mechanical "Nocturne" opened the program.Two 10-minute pieces were tributes to Takahashi's lustrous tone. In Feldman's early "Extensions 3," individual notes became quietly transfixing events. In Somei Satoh's "HASHI IV," which received its world premiere Sunday, complex chords floated erratically. Hashi, Somei wrote in his note, is the dark bridge of innumerable magpies over which, in Japanese legend, the dead use to cross over in the journey from this world to the next.
The Beatles arrangements by Oliveros ("Norwegian Wood"), Akira Nishimura ("Because"), Carl Stone ("She Said She Said") and James Tenney ("Do You Want to Know a Secret" and "Love Me Do") was more a bright bridge of doves, an inspiring crossing over from one musical realm to another.
None of these composers do what you'd expect. Tenney, the CalArts modernist who died earlier this year, is here a hipster. Oliveros, a master of meditative art, becomes a Minimalist. The exquisitely abstract Nishimura turns into a flashy Liszt. Stone, an innovative computer composer, adopts a craggy piano keyboard style. In each case, the Beatles sounded born anew.
EMI needs to make widely available Takahashi's four long-out-of-print CDs of these arrangements once released in Japan (and now selling for hundreds of dollars on the collectors market). We don't all have the patience of a saint.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

PREMIERE://Rihm's Das Gehege

Soprano's Bare Breasts Fail to Save Friedkin's Munich `Salome'

By Shirley Apthorp
From Bloomberg.com - Oct. 30, 2006

By the time her stepfather Herodes starts sucking Salome's naked breasts, it is clear that nothing will save William Friedkin's Munich staging of the 1905 Richard Strauss opera about the petulant veiled princess.
Director Friedkin, better known in cinema circles ('The Exorcist', '12 Angry Men') than in the opera world, piled on obscenity and indecency to depressing effect in his production of 'Salome'. Friedkin's second-ever opera staging read like a dreary catalog of beginner's errors, the most blatant being the assumption that nudity on the opera stage is the same thing as eroticism.
This was a big event for the Bavarian State Opera. ``Salome'' formed the second half of a double bill, preceded by the world premiere of Wolfgang Rihm's ``Das Gehege'' (``The Enclosure''). Yet even the birth of a brand new opera by a doyen of German composition took second place to the real event: Kent Nagano's arrival at the helm of the Bavarian State Opera.
The Californian star conductor, whose trademarks are a flick of his well-conditioned mane of hair and a gift for glassily transparent orchestral sound, succeeds Zubin Mehta and his clever offsider, Peter Jonas. He has a lot to live up to. Mehta produced plush Wagnerian sounds from the orchestra, while Jonas packed houses with slick productions. Nagano has chosen to fly the flag of hip modernity, and this was his mission statement. It is a pity that his team could think of nothing newer than nudity.

Looming Horror

In fact, ``Das Gehege'' is not a bad piece. At just over 30 minutes, it is the perfect length for a contemporary opera. Rihm has set a scene from German intellectual Botho Strauss's 1991 play ``Final Chorus,'' a deconstructive work about the fall of the Berlin Wall.
The scene is a hysterical monologue for a frustrated woman who frees an eagle in order to kill it. Strauss had the German heraldic bird in mind, but Rihm's setting opens it to wider associations. Both text and score enter erotic and psychological territory. This could be the perfect companion piece to Schoenberg's ``Erwartung'' or Sciarrino's ``Lohengrin.'' There is a constant sense of underlying horror.
Rihm has woven a complex, beautiful score, firmly rooted in German tradition, full of allusions and onomatopoeic effects. You hear flapping wings, shrill bird calls, pounding heartbeats, the memory of a dance. Gabriele Schnaut sings the work's single role with violent dramatic commitment. The results are loud and not at all seductive.
Hans Schavernoch's single monumental set of refrigerator- white arches serves both productions. Petra Reinhardt dresses Schnaut like a governess with a side job in lingerie, and an actor playing the eagle in a silent role wears a Halloween bird suit. Friedkin lets Schnaut sing most of the part perched near the front of the stage, staring at Nagano.
Popular though it has become to hire film directors for the opera stage, enough failed experiments have proved that the two genres have little in common. Singers stand rigid and helpless in the footlights, falling back on a narrow repertoire of stock gestures, and age-old cliches are unwittingly regurgitated.
This was nowhere more apparent than in Friedkin's inept and ugly ``Salome'' production. This time, Reinhardt's costumes blended Nativity play with cheap fashion catalogue, and Friedkin let the singers stare so fixedly at Nagano that they seemed to fear he might disappear if they looked anywhere else for longer than three seconds. Wilde's tale of the disturbed, spoiled princess and her fatal demand for the head of John the Baptist on a silver platter was presented like a college musical.

Lifting Veils

Unable to create any plausible erotic tension between Alan Titus's musty, uncharismatic Jochanaan and Angela Denoke's neurotic Salome, Friedkin had his soprano simply strip. She danced her own Dance of the Seven Veils, just as embarrassingly as any less slender and lissome singer might have done, and then let Herodes (sung like a Disney caricature by Wolfgang Schmidt) tear off her top and lick her nipples.
Denoke overacts as if her life depends on it, and after a certain point it's impossible to watch. Listening is also hard. The role is too big for her, and the strain tells as the evening wears on. She swoops up to her high notes and hoots when the going gets tough. The range of expressive color is narrow, and the basic sound is unlovely.
Nagano conducts ``Salome'' as though it were ``Der Rosenkavalier,'' all delicacy and sweet clarity. That has a charm of its own, though it isn't enough to give this work the garish, twisted horror it needs. Nagano generates tension through a sense of inexorable forward motion, yet studiously eschews the grotesque. It is hard to get excited about what he does, though the opening-night audience gave all participants warm applause.


Critics hail inauguration of Nagano era in Munich

By Arthur Kaptainis
From The Gazette - Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Many of the reviews are in, and most of them are very good. Kent Nagano, known in eastern standard time as the music director of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, has been warmly (if in a few cases cautiously) welcomed as the music director of the Bavarian State Opera, by far the largest house in Germany and one of the major temples of the operatic world.
Authorities swarmed in from all over the unified nation and beyond to witness the Friday night inauguration of the Nagano era, a double bill of Richard Strauss's pulse-quickening Salome and the world premiere of Wolfgang Rihm's intensely symbolic one-act opera, Das Gehege (The Enclosure).
Nagano shone confidence under the spotlight Friday, and when the house lights went up, he basked in a steady stream of applause from the audience, satisfied with what they had heard.
Nor did they object to what they had seen. The performance will go down in the annals of opera as one of the few recent productions in Germany not to be vociferously booed.
"There are always protests, normally against the director," Ulrike Hessler, the marketing director of the company, conceded on Saturday. "But yesterday, nothing. It was all positive."
But the bulk of the scribblers, based on a sampling of reviews yesterday, were underwhelmed by the stagecraft of William Friedkin, the ex-wunderkind U.S. filmmaker best remembered for The French Connection and The Exorcist - even though Salome (Angela Denoke was the statuesque soprano) ends up topless at the end of the Dance of the Seven Veils and endures a nipple nibble from Herod (the tenor was Wolfgang Schmidt). Of greater interest to the critics was Nagano's work in the pit.
"The state orchestra sounds totally different," wrote Markus Thiel yesterday in the popular-press broadsheet the Munchner Merkur. "It's more open, more agile, quicker in reacting, more discreet in sound groups, more like a bright, silver ray."
Reinhard Brembeck of the classier Suddeutsche Zeitung made similar observations in a review headlined Pathos-free zone, a complimentary turn of phrase that, like many in German music criticism, turns a little sour in translation.
"After these years, this orchestra suddenly sounds interesting to the last detail."
Like most critics, Thiel and Brembeck contrasted the ana-lytic Nagano style with the more robust approach of his predecessor, Zubin Mehta. (It is an interesting if not widely acknowledged fact that a former MSO music director in Munich is being replaced by the current MSO music director.)
"He stresses the modernity of the score," Brembeck wrote, referring to Nagano's take on Strauss's Salome. "Which leaves behind the romantic."
Still, both writers wondered whether something in dramatic thrust had been sacrificed at the altar of clarity.
Julia Spinola of the influential Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung was ambivalent, recognizing the "debussynah" (near-to-Debussy) sound Nagano wished to cultivate but arguing that the Bavarian State Orchestra (which accompanies the opera company and competes in Munich with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Munich Philharmonic) hadn't quite achieved the desired transparency.
Peter Uehling, however, threw caution to the wind in the Berliner Zeitung. "We were not happy that he went, and we know why," he began, referring to Nagano's decision to give up the Berlin-based Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester in favour of double duty in Montreal and Munich.
The critic was impressed by Nagano's bold decision to couple Salome with Das Gehege, which asks a solo soprano (the full-bodied Gabriele Schnaut) to cavort with, then devour, a skull-headed eagle (comparisons with the relationship of the former west and east Germanys are not discouraged).
Uehling commended the "great agility" of the orchestra and the precision of Nagano's approach to Strauss's score. Heavens, this conductor even understands that "fragmentation" is sometimes necessary to maintain "balance in the whole structure."
He concludes: "In a musical way, the Bavarian State Opera is in store for great new times."
And in a dramatic way? Peter Hagmann, in the Neue Zurcher Zeitung, a respected Zurich daily, spoke for many when he dismissed the "embarrassing realism" of the staging. Like many of his colleagues, this critic used Nagano as a stick to beat Mehta and praised the musical presentation.
"It is clear in what direction musical theatre in Munich will go," he wrote, perhaps expressing hope that with Peter Jonas, a British provocateur, no longer in Munich as intendant (managing director), Nagano will shift the emphasis back to music from the sensational postmodern stagings that characterized the Jonas-Mehta era.
"The majority of the audience will hope for that and expect that from him," Sibylle Seyser, a longtime Munich opera enthusiast, said of Nagano. "In one review, I read that he was in the middle between being modern and traditional.
"And that is a good thing."


Nagano and a new era for Bavarian opera

By Alan Riding
From the International Herald Tribune/The New York Times - October 31, 2006

This city's love affair with opera, now more than 350 years old, has survived the fires that regularly razed 18th- and 19th- century theaters as well as regime changes, revolutions, two world wars and, most recently, the reduction of crucial subsidies from Bavaria's regional government. In that context a change of command at the Bavarian State Opera can hardly be deemed traumatic.
Yet over the last 13 years Munich's opera house has enjoyed such prestige under Peter Jonas's leadership that his retirement as general manager has inevitably raised questions about the future. Further, coinciding with Jonas's departure this summer, Zubin Mehta wrapped up eight years as general music director and passed the baton to the American conductor Kent Nagano, most recently music director at the Los Angeles Opera.
The opening of the 2006-7 opera season here on Friday, then, was also the beginning of a new era, if one not yet clearly defined.
Famously possessive of their opera house, this city's music lovers turned out in force for their first taste of things to come. To judge by their enthusiastic response, they left reassured.
For his first performance as music director Nagano turned to friends for support. He invited the American filmmaker William Friedkin, with whom he had worked in Los Angeles, to direct a new production of Richard Strauss's Salome'. And to open the evening he asked the German composer Wolfgang Rihm, whose orchestral work he has performed, to create a one-act opera, which Friedkin also directed.
The idea behind Rihm's 35-minute work, 'Das Gehege' (The Enclosure), was to evoke the spirit of "Salomé," and he did so with a story adapted from a play by Botho Strauss that does just that.
A woman, sung by the soprano Gabriele Schnaut, discovers a caged eagle, danced by Todd Ford. Infatuated with its beauty, she releases it and begins to taunt it. When the eagle turns on her, she kills it.
As the curtain falls, she stands alone, covered in blood.
"Salomé" of course ends no less violently. Salomé, sung by Angela Denoke, is driven to erotic distraction when she is rejected by the imprisoned Jochanaan, or John the Baptist, sung by Alan Titus.
Wolfgang Schmidt's Herod promises her the world if she will perform the dance of seven veils for him. She does so (ending up topless here), then demands Jochanaan's head. Disgusted by the sight of Salomé kissing the dead prophet's bloody lips, Herod orders her death, and in this production she too is beheaded.
Both productions and all the singers, with Denoke singled out, were warmly received, but the welcome given to Nagano was perhaps most significant. The audience here consists of regular operagoers - 30 percent attend more than 20 performances a year - with strong views and no reluctance to make them known. They also know that Nagano will influence what they hear in the coming years, and for the moment they appear to have given him a vote of confidence.
This season Nagano will also conduct a revival of Britten's "Billy Budd" and a new production of Mussorgsky's "Khovanshchina," as well as a new opera, "Alice in Wonderland," written by the Korean-born composer Unsuk Chin. And like "Das Gehege," this new commission came about at Nagano's initiative: Chin was resident composer at the Deutsche Symphony Orchestra in Berlin, where Nagano was also music director until recently.
For Nagano, a 55-year-old Californian of Japanese extraction who first made his name in Europe at the Lyon National Opera in France, this year has brought two critical career moves: he has not only swapped the Los Angeles Opera for the Bavarian State Opera but also left the Deutsche Symphony Orchestra to become music director of the Montreal Symphony.
"For me the idea of holding two posts in Germany did not seem like the right thing to do," he said in a recent interview. "I couldn't see how one could avoid a conflict of interest. If you secure a sponsorship, to whom does it go? If you secure a recording agreement, to whom do the recordings go? It seemed to me that this situation was very open to misunderstandings."
That said, the attraction of the Bavarian State Opera was not hard to see. With 2,100 seats, its home, the early- 19th-century National Theater, is Germany's largest opera house. The company also boasts Germany's biggest opera audience (580,000 last season), the most productions (40) and performances (350) per year, and the richest budget ($100 million). The opera company or its orchestra also performs in the Prince Regent Theater and the Cuvillies Theater, although the latter is currently closed for renovation.
No less important are the kudos won by the opera house during the Jonas years. Jonas, who formerly ran the English National Opera, made his mark both by encouraging directors to take daringly fresh looks at opera evergreens and by introducing composers who had been neglected (Handel and Monteverdi) or had never been much performed here (Britten and Janacek).
Perhaps unsurprisingly, choosing his successor proved complicated.
Around the time Nagano was appointed in late 2003, Christoph Albrecht, former head of the Dresden Opera, was chosen to take over from Jonas this year. But in 2005 his contract was abruptly rescinded - reportedly because of differences with Nagano and opera house executives - and Klaus Bachler, director of the Burg Theater in Vienna, was named in his place. Bachler takes over in 2008.
For the moment Nagano and three other executives are temporarily running the company. And through 2008 Nagano plans to work intensively with the Bavarian State Orchestra, which also performs independently of the opera house. He has already created a new October festival that focuses on symphonic and nonoperatic choral work.
More daringly, he also expects stage directors to conform to his philosophy that, as he puts it, "opera is musical theater and not the other way round." And he added, "It begins with a score written by a composer."
Thus, under Nagano, Jonas's view of opera as a "director's theater" may well lose ground to that of a "composer's theater." But once Bachler takes over, power will shift to him. Only then will the opera house's post-Jonas profile be firmly shaped.


By Tim Ashley
From the Guardian - Friday November 3, 2006

William Friedkin is so closely associated with film that we tend to forget he has also been directing opera for nearly a decade. His latest production is a double bill for the Bavarian Staatsoper, which juxtaposes Strauss's Salome with Das Gehege (The Enclosure), a disturbing new monodrama by Wolfgang Rihm.
Both works examine themes of sexual rapacity that find inevitable parallels in Friedkin's films The Exorcist, Cruising and Jade, while Das Gehege replicates Salome's emotional trajectory. Setting a bizarre fable by Botho Strauss, it depicts a woman's obsession with an eagle, which she releases from its cage in a zoo, only to taunt and eviscerate it when it fails to respond to her deranged longings for companionship. Their relationship examines Germany's attitude to its catastrophic 20th-century past, though Friedkin plays down the political resonances in favour of how predator and prey become psychologically indistinguishable. As the Woman, Gabriele Schnaut emits sounds of feral stridency over the savagely beautiful eruptions that conductor Kent Nagano draws from the orchestra
The Eagle, played by an actor, later becomes the Angel of Death, who stalks Herod's imagination before shredding Salome's clothes during her dance, and presiding over Jochanaan's execution. Though astonishing, the production of Salome is essentially cinematic - Friedkin seemingly distrusts theatrical stillness. The moving pillars of Hans Schavernoch's set function like tracking shots that take us through the rooms in Herod's palace and down into the cistern, where Jochanaan (Alan Titus), is tied to a rocky outcrop. Angela Denoke's Salome is an iconic blond; singing like a goddess, she lives out the role with uninhibited veracity. The final scene, in which she slobbers blood down her half-naked body, is very Friedkin - but unerringly right, and absolutely unforgettable.

BIOGRAPHICAL://Michel Tabachnik in Court

Conductor faces cult death trial

From BBC News - Tuesday, 24 October 2006

A Franco-Swiss orchestra conductor has gone on trial in France for the second time over alleged involvement in the deaths of members of a doomsday cult.
Michel Tabachnik was cleared by a French court in 2001, but prosecutors appealed against the verdict. The 64 year old is being charged over the deaths of 16 people who were found in a forest in the French Alps in 1995. Prosecutors say he incited members of the Order of the Solar Temple to commit mass suicide. He denies the charge.
Some 74 members of the cult died in the 1990s. Their bodies were found in woodland clearings in Switzerland, Canada and France.
The trial, which is expected to last two weeks, is being held in the south-eastern city of Grenoble. Mr Tabachnik faces the charge of criminal association, which carries a maximum 10-year prison term.
Mr Tabachnik studied under the French composer and conductor Pierre Boulez and held orchestral posts in Canada, Portugal and France.


Doomsday cult leader Tabachnik back in court

From ABS-CBN Interactive - November 18, 2006

Franco-Swiss conductor Michel Tabachnik is due to go back on trial in France on Tuesday, four years after he was acquitted of conspiring to brainwash 74 members of the Solar Temple doomsday cult into accepting death by occult ritual.
The 64-year-old musician is now being charged with "criminal conspiracy" in relation to 16 of those cult members, three of them children, whose charred bodies were discovered in the French Alps in 1995.
On June 25, 2001, French judges cleared Tabachnik of the brainwashing charges due to lack of evidence. But prosecutors, which had accused him of playing a key role in convincing cult members willingly to go to their deaths, lodged an appeal.
The new court case, in the southwestern city of Grenoble, was expected to last two weeks.
The Solar Temple gained worldwide notoriety between 1994 and 1997, when the burnt bodies of 74 of its members were found in remote woodland clearings in Switzerland, Canada and then France.
Several of the dead had been shot in the head or asphyxiated in what were apparently ritual murders, although some are thought to have been willing participants in mass suicides.
Among the dead were the two founders of the sect, Luc Jouret and Jo Di Mambro. The two men allegedly milked followers of their money and convinced them that they must die by burning in order to attain bliss in the afterworld.
During his trial in 2001, Tabachnik admitted to belonging to the Order of the Solar Temple.
But he denied charges that his writings -- inspired by a mixture of occult, New Age and Rosicrucian theories -- had prepared the way for the cult members' deaths.
Central to the prosecution's case in 2001 was the charge that Tabachnik had taken part in meetings of the Solar Temple, held in France in July and September 1994, at which he "announced the winding-up of the group and the conclusion of its mission".
The judges concluded Tabachnik could have made the announcement to help Jouret and Di Mambro paint the subsequent murders as a spiritual ritual. But the conductor could just as easily have called for the sect to be wound up because his own philosophy had evolved, as expressed in tracts he had written at the time, they ruled.
Born in Geneva in 1942, Tabachnik studied under French conductor Pierre Boulez and earned a reputation for his interpretation of contemporary music, holding orchestral posts in Canada, Portugal and France.


Swiss conductor on trial again in 1994-95 Solar Temple ritual deaths

From Canada.com - Wednesday, October 25, 2006

A Swiss orchestra conductor went on trial again Tuesday for his alleged role in a doomsday cult that lost dozens of members in ritual deaths in France, Switzerland and Canada.
A French court acquitted Michel Tabachnik of "criminal association" in the case in 2001. Prosecutors appealed and, on Tuesday, a court in Grenoble reopened the proceedings. The trial is expected to last two weeks.
Tabachnik is accused of contributing to the deaths of members of the Switzerland-based Order of the Solar Temple. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
The criminal association charge carries a maximum 10-year prison term.
While the earlier trial attracted widespread attention, only a half-dozen people attended Tuesday's trial opening. The judge said several witnesses had ignored summonses for the current proceedings.
The Order of the Solar Temple lost 69 members in mass suicides in Switzerland, Canada and France between 1994 and 1995, according to the prosecutor's office. Five others died in a second incident in Canada in 1997.
In October 1994, the bodies of 48 Solar Temple members were found in a burned-out farmhouse and three chalets in Switzerland, while five others were found in a burned-out condominium in Morin Heights, Que., north of Montreal.
They included the cult's charismatic leader, Luc Jouret, a Belgian homeopath, and another leader, Joseph Di Mambro, a Canadian. The others included the former mayor of Richelieu, Que., a Quebec City journalist and a Hydro-Quebec vice-president.
In 1995, French police discovered the charred remains of 14 victims, including three children, in a forest clearing near Grenoble at the foot of the French Alps. The 14 bodies were arranged in a star formation. Two other bodies were found nearby.
Then, in March 1997, five others members of the cult died in a house fire in St.-Casimir, Que.. Four of them died of asphyxiation in the fire, while the fifth died after having ingested a large of dose of a drug found in all the bodies.
Swiss authorities failed to establish any link between the cult and Tabachnik. However, French prosecutor Pierre-Marie Cuny accused Tabachnik of supporting Di Mambo and a French investigating magistrate decided there was enough evidence to put the conductor on trial.
Tabachnik, who studied under conductor Pierre Boulez and composer Iannis Xenakis, has led the Philharmonic Orchestra of Lorraine, France, and orchestras in Canada and in New York.


Swiss Conductor Michel Tabachnik on Trial in Connection With Cult Suicides

By Vivien Schweitzer
From PlaybillArts.com - 26 Oct 2006

Swiss conductor Michel Tabachnik went on trial on Monday (October 23) for his alleged role in dozens of ritual killings perpetrated by a cult called the Order of the Solar Temple, reports the Associated Press.
The Order of the Solar Temple lost 68 members in mass suicides in Switzerland, Canada and France between 1994 and 1995, according to the AP. In one incident fourteen members of the cult were found burnt and lying in a star formation in the French Alps.
This is the second time that Tabachnik, who studied with Pierre Boulez and Iannis Xenakis, has been on trial for contributing to the deaths of cult members. A French court acquitted Tabachnik, 61, of "criminal association" in the case in 2001, according to the AP. Prosecutors appealed and a court in Grenoble reopened the trial, which is expected to last two weeks.
Tabachnik stands accused of supporting the cult's founder and leader, Joseph di Mambo, who died in a 1994 mass suicide. The conductor has denied the charges; if convicted, he faces a maximum 10-year prison term. Swiss authorities investigating the 1994 deaths failed to establish any link between the cult and Tabachnik, according to the AP.
According to The Guardian of London, Tabachnik, whose first wife died in one of the cult's mass suicides, wept during his court appearance.
Di Mambo founded the cult in the 1980s and pursued wealthy followers, persuading them to part with their money in return for the chance to join a small elite who would be reborn on a star called Sirius. They would only reach Sirius by ritualized suicide.


Conductor on trial over cult killings in France, Switzerland and Canada

By Angelique Chrisafis
From the Guardian - Wednesday October 25, 2006

A Swiss orchestra conductor went on trial for the second time yesterday for his alleged role in a doomsday cult which lost dozens of members in ritual killings in Canada and Europe.
Michel Tabachnik, 61, a composer who has led major orchestras in Canada, Portugal and France, is accused of criminal association and contributing to the deaths of members of the Order of the Solar Temple - 14 of whom were found burnt and lying in a star formation in a clearing in the French Alps in 1995.
Mr Tabachnik was acquitted of the same charges in 2001, but French prosecutors appealed and a new trial began in Grenoble yesterday. The conductor, whose first wife died in one of the cult's ritual mass suicides, denies the charges and wept during his court appearance.
The apocalyptic cult was founded in the 1980s by a French Canadian, Joseph di Mambro, based on a mixture of medieval Templar beliefs and new age fantasy. Di Mambro courted wealthy followers, persuading them to give up large sums of money in the belief that they would become part of a small elite destined to be reborn on a star called Sirius.
Members were told they could only reach Sirius by "death voyages" or ritualised suicide. In 1994 and 1995, 68 were found dead in Switzerland, Canada and France in apparent mass suicides. Most of the bodies were found gassed or shot in two villages in Switzerland. One group was arranged in a star formation in a concealed chamber beneath a remote farmhouse in the village of Cheiry.
Later 16 bodies, including three children, were found in a clearing in the French Alps known as the Well of Hell. Fourteen had been shot in the head, laid out in a star and burnt. An investigating judge decided two cult leaders had killed the others and then themselves, but some relatives believe the perpetrators fled and were never caught.
Mr Tabachnik is accused of writing and distributed esoteric texts intended to incite members to believe their death would lead to redemption, so creating "a dynamic towards murder".
During his first trial, prosecutors said Mr Tabachnik had taken part in crucial meetings discussing the end of the cult's mission. Months later, the mass suicides took place. Mr Tabachnik denied culpability, saying he had "done nothing wrong" and had been manipulated by the cult's leaders. His lawyers said he was being used as a scapegoat by the justice system. Judges were unable to prove a link between the texts and the suicides.
This trial is expected to last two weeks.

PREMIERES://Maxwell Davies (2), Knussen and others

By Alfred Hickling
From the Guardian - Monday October 23, 2006

You don't expect decent summers in Orkney. But, according to Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, this year was particularly atrocious. He was sitting in his local inn one evening when the first shaft of sunlight broke through: the whole village immediately danced in celebration.
Maxwell Davies knew he had to capture the moment, and the result takes the form of an engaging mini-concerto for Northumbrian pipes. It is also the first classical piece expressly written for folk icon Kathryn Tickell, the woman single-handedly responsible for making a sensual art out of squeezing a bag of wind.
The piece, entitled Kettletoft Inn after the spot where the epiphany took place, witnesses the composer in one of his most genial moods. Tickell's miraculously fleet piping sounds thoroughly at home in the vivacious jigs and reels.
Maxwell Davies seems the last person you would associate with military band music. Yet Military March is actually the composer's record of taking part in the 2003 demonstration against the war in Iraq. It is a frightening, ferocious, disjointed thing which strides out purposefully but doesn't get very far before the march becomes a limp, with a broken-winded clarinet making pitchless, huffing noises of indignation.
The programme concludes with one of Maxwell Davies's masterpieces, A Mirror of Whitening Light, a savagely complex evocation of the sky and sea surrounding the composer's Orcadian croft. It is some of the most bracing music ever written: conductor Garry Walker whips up screaming woodwind textures from the Northern Sinfonia that cut right through you like an Atlantic gale.


First performances are not all of a feather

By Paul Driver
From TimesOnline - October 29, 2006

Of four premieres I attended in the past few days, the grandest was the least. For the first time, the Royal Opera has commissioned a work from a woman, the Trinidadian Dominique Le Gendre, and it was staged at the Linbury. In 2003, a 20-minute opus by her had been put on there as part of A Nitro at the Opera — a Sunday of “black operas”. Bird of Night was the title of that depiction of a girl visiting the Caribbean who enacts (in sleep) a fantasy of growing wings, and duly flies, but gets shot at. A kind of racial allegory was involved, for she has to “take off” her skin first. The compactness of the piece and its deft use of a pair of male narrators commanded attention, even if the music, on the whole, did not.
Expanded to a prelude and two acts, Bird of Night (the title remains, the original piece becomes the prelude) is a mishmash of mythology, magic and superstition, a triumph of local colour over anything that might seriously engage the attention. Where before Le Gendre wrote her own text, now she has called on Paul Bentley, the librettist of operas by Poul Ruders and a performer in West End musicals. He has served her ill by providing two or three times the volume of words that might have given her a chance of success in this generally doomed medium. It is a heroic struggle, I found, to fasten on to the action (admittedly, there are no surtitles), and not to find the feathery flutterings of young Apolline (Betsabee Haas) and her shamanistic godmother Nen-Nen (Andrea Baker) risible.
Worse than risible, the opera becomes exasperating — and that has largely to do with the music. Le Gendre’s idiom is tonal and it isn’t; tuneful but not quite; classical but wary of the classical; demotic but hardly letting rip. Rather like her librettist, her score is a hybrid of West End musical and bastions of higher theatre. It was skilfully realised by the Britten Sinfonia under the young Israeli Yuval Zorn, but only twice did my ears prick up: for a bass-flute and viola duet and a calypso-ish double-bass riff, both in Act II. The singing was creditable, though the tenor Richard Coxon’s diabolic Diego was strident. There was a noble attempt at a sextet in Act I. The 12-strong chorus impressively beat bamboo. Rae Smith’s set is a looming curvilinear ramp that could be recycled as the rainbow bridge in Das Rheingold. Irina Brown directs.
The other first performances were of works by contemporary masters. At Wigmore Hall, the Maggini Quartet introduced two of the 10 string quartets that Peter Maxwell Davies is writing for Naxos Records. The London premiere of the short, airy, single-movement No 8 — a Purcellian meditation on a galliard by John Dowland, dedicated to the Queen — was followed (after Haydn’s Op 71, No 3) by the world premiere of Naxos No 9. This is an altogether weightier business, indeed grave. Davies returns to the anti-Iraq war feeling encoded into Naxos No 3, where the In Nomine cantus firmus, often exploited by him, is the ironic vehicle for a “not in my name” protest. The six-movement No 9 relates his ever-deepening alarm at the world situation to his childhood memories of the Manchester blitz.
“Glissandi of falling bombs” are evoked by the string glissandi and exaggerated vibrato that featured in his 1969 orchestral portrait of that blitz, St Thomas Wake. To such lurid gesture is now added deliberate microtonal distortion of the space between notes. The expression mark at one point is nauseabondo (nauseating), and the movements 3-5 are burlesques of increasing blatancy. Yet the whole is among the most solidly persuasive of Davies’s recent structures. The dedicatee this time is Dame Kathleen Ollerenshaw, a Manchester personage (once lord mayor) who happens to write books on the magic squares Davies uses when composing. The Magginis played both new works superbly.
I would like more space for the UK premiere of Oliver Knussen’s 12-minute Requiem — Songs for Sue, included in a fascinating programme by the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, conducted by him at the CBSO Centre, with the soprano Claire Booth. It memorialises Knussen’s wife — a wonderful spirit, a great encourager of composers — in four settings of verse texts in three languages: an Emily Dickinson cento, Machado and Auden poems, and four lines from Rilke. The music has a neo-Bergian, perhaps Falla-like lushness, yet a miniaturist precision wholly Knussenish. The internal design of this curious hybrid of song cycle and elegy is immaculate, but the result is instant seductiveness.


By George Hall
From the Guardian - Tuesday October 24, 2006

Often regarded as the most rigorous test of a composer's skill, the string quartet medium is occupying a lot of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies's time these days and seems to be drawing out the best in him. Four years into the project, he's nearing completion of the series of 10 quartets commissioned by the record company Naxos. The Maggini Quartet unveiled the Ninth in their Wigmore concert, throwing in the London premiere of the Eighth to kick-start the programme.
The new piece is a vast, six-movement work of Beethovenian scale and ambition. A dramatic and imposing allegro supplies the trenchant opening of the piece, followed by a largo of equivalent proportions and cogency. Then follow three shorter movements - a fugitive scherzo, a small, elusive central slow movement and a parody military march recalling Berg's Wozzeck or even Shostakovich, rather than the 1940s popular songs fragmented elsewhere or the sounds of wartime bombing from Davies's Manchester childhood. The allegro finale acts as a summation. Well over half an hour long, the Ninth maintains a dynamic sense of unity and provides an intense, compelling experience.
So, on a smaller scale, does the more introverted Eighth Quartet, whose material is drawn from Dowland's Queen Elizabeth's Galliard, heard in its purest form near the close.
To the more internalised concerns of the Eighth, as well as to the fiercer power of the Ninth, the Magginis brought a technical sureness and commitment that did them and the music proud. They were marginally less successful with the remaining work, Haydn's Quartet in E flat, Op71 No 3, whose vivid contrasts and straightforward humour needed more of the emphatic attack they brought to the Maxwell Davies.


By Annette Morreau
From The Independent - 24 October 2006

"In the Ninth quartet, I've gone to places I've never been before, some I didn't want to go to..." The words of Peter Maxwell Davies in a pre-concert talk on his latest quartet, which was receiving its premiere at the Wigmore Hall. This is the penultimate quartet in his series of 10 commissioned by Naxos for performance and recording by the estimable Maggini Quartet.
Davies regards his quartets as a novel. As he puts it: "The same rhythmic patterns, themes and moronic designs are developed like characters throughout, also the same magic square matrices, and architectural structures carry over from one quartet to the next."
The Ninth harks back particularly to his Third, written in 2003, which was prefaced by Davies: "It is a privilege and a duty to comment on one of the greatest disasters of our time." In this Ninth quartet, the anger and despair of the Iraq war that informed the Third is revisited, only now Davies fears a catastrophe of apocalyptic dimensions: atom-bombs thrown by every race that wants to get the better of the other.
The Ninth is in six movements. Two places that Davies had never visited and had never wanted to were distinctive: squashed tuning, widening and diminishing particular intervals by less than a quarter tone; and a feeling of chaos. The work is structured so that the third, fourth and fifth movements reflect the first, second and sixth, the inner three working virtually as a quartet within a quartet.
Indeed, the same characters appear - the chirpy dances, the meandering, melancholy lines, the quotation of a 16th-century theme, in this case one of John Taverner's - but there is a tension, an intensity, an anger and a deceptive calm that is both disturbed and disturbing, verging on chaos.
Davies regards his Eighth quartet (receiving its London premiere) as the "intermezzo" of the 10 quartets. It picks up from the dolefulness of the Seventh's seven slow movements but is short - the right length to be accommodated with the Seventh on a CD. Davies has dedicated this work to the Queen but takes his musical cue from the Elizabethan composer John Dowland, even if structurally the string fantasies of Purcell impinge. With stratospherically high notes for the violin and a mournful intensity, it provides no balm.

INTERVIEW & PREMIERE://Knussen's Songs For Sue

'I had to write it'

From the Guardian - Thursday October 19, 2006

Oliver Knussen tells Tom Service why he read 1,700 Emily Dickinson poems in order to compose a requiem for his former wife Sue

Composer Oliver Knussen lives in what might well be Britain's most musically auspicious spot. His home is a rambling house in Snape, Suffolk, just up the road from where Benjamin Britten lived in Aldeburgh, home of the annual festival, where Knussen was artistic director for 15 years. It's also one of the most beautiful parts of England. But there are downsides to living in the country. "You see those bricks there?" he says, pointing to a stove in the chimney in his living room, "they're there because of an invasion of crows. For the past few weeks, every day when I was trying to compose, I would hear squeaking, and a dirty great crow was sitting there in the chimney. It finally worked out how to get out, by undoing a latch on the inside. You'll notice that some of the windows are less dirty than others - that's because I had to replace them when the crow smashed into them. It's very strange. You're subject to these terrible invasions of nature."
This is just one of the distractions Knussen has to deal with in Suffolk to create his music of luminous detail and distilled, concentrated power. "My music is an antidote to my lifestyle," he says, and in the midst of the piles of scores, CDs and thousands of DVDs, it's hard to imagine how he creates any space in his life, or his surroundings, to write his music. "I'm a very informal person, shall we say. I don't lead a structured life, and I'm perfectly happy to spend an evening at home, surrounded by books and scores, watching a DVD - preferably of Curb Your Enthusiasm, or similar."
Yet this private chaos belies Knussen's public status: as composer and conductor, he is as generous in the music he programmes as he is committed to creating a vibrant performance tradition for his own work. As artistic director and now conductor laureate of the London Sinfonietta, Knussen changed the face of British new music in the 1990s. He has come a long way from the teenage prodigy who conducted his first symphony as a 16-year-old with the London Symphony Orchestra in 1968. His position as doyen of British composers was cemented earlier this year when Jude Kelly appointed him one of her artists in residence at the South Bank Centre, and he takes up a post as the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group's artist in association with a concert this weekend.
Knussen's BCMG programme features a Knussen premiere, the first British performance of his requiem: Songs For Sue. It's a piece written in memory of his wife, who died in 2003, and sets four poems for soprano and 15-piece ensemble. The couple were married in 1972 and separated in the mid-90s but they remained close. No one knew more about Knussen or his music than Sue. The requiem contains music of typical intensity and concentration, but as I heard in a recording of the first performance from Chicago in April, there's something new as well. "It was a piece I had to write," Knussen says. "What sparked it off was after Sue died, there was a memorial for her in the October Gallery, and there was a pamphlet of things that people had written about her. Sandy Goehr had put in four lines of a poem by Rilke. And last year these lines kept resonating in my mind and gradually acquired notes around them. Then the question was to find other poems that would work with the Rilke."
Knussen says, "the choice of the other poems happened sort of automatically. The Machado, the second poem, which is about remembering the dead person's eyes - it's very disturbing - I found on the internet, and the Auden, If I Could Tell You, is a sort of secret message. I just knew it belonged in the piece." These are unsentimental poems to choose to memorialise a loved one - in the Machado, a man forgets the colour of his lover's eyes a year after her death, and the admonishing refrain in the Auden is: "Time will say nothing but I told you so."
The first poem is the most controversial: a composite of poems by Emily Dickinson, beginning: "Is it true, dear Sue?". "I wanted something that wasn't terribly heavy," Knussen says. "I knew what I wanted the poem to be about, but it didn't exist. I knew there were a number of Dickinson poems addressed to her sister, Sue, so one week I read all 1,700 poems of Emily Dickinson ... and I copied out about 35 of them by hand, ringing lines that I liked, and the first poem fell into place."
But this was a work that was written like no other for Knussen. "I have no idea where the notes for this piece come from. I have no rationale for them, I just wrote it straight it off the top of my head. It was very odd.
"It seemed to want to be written. For a while, as I was writing it, I wasn't sure whether it was a piece that actually ought to be let out at all, because it is very personal, and because I didn't want it to be a self-indulgent thing. But actually it's very restrained. It's not a huge work - about 13 minutes - but it's a big piece emotionally. And it says what it has to say: it's very much a piece written for family, and for people who knew Sue."
There's something even more personal about the composition of the requiem. He started sketching it in hospital last year, where he spent three months recovering from major illness, and it's the first piece he's finished since the experience. "You have a lot of time to think when something like that happens to you," he says. His appreciation of music changed completely. "In the first month or so, I found listening almost unbearable. One was so sensitised in that condition; it surprised me a great deal, but I found myself being very teary. So finally I just stopped listening to music."
When he was able to listen again, it was a revelation. "There were two pieces I listened to obsessively: the Stravinsky Symphony in C - Stravinsky is a very good person to cheer you up - and precisely the opposite, expressively speaking - the Berg Three Pieces for Orchestra. The Stravinsky suddenly became this three-dimensional object; the structure of the piece became a physical experience. And likewise the enormous density of the Berg. Listening in that kind of depth has left an enormous mark on the music I've written since. And I hope I can keep going that way."
The requiem could be a watershed piece for Knussen, in which this famously self-critical composer, who is notorious for not finishing commissions, learns to trust his instincts. And yet the essential contradictions of Knussen's life remain. "The point is, I'm a big person, I'm just physically big, and I enjoy life," he says. "I don't know whether it's extremely significant or just something that's completely unresolved inside me, but I am profoundly drawn to miniature things, and fineness of detail and precision. And I don't know what that's about. So it's been a very interesting experience to write this requiem: a very distilled kind of music in which there aren't that many notes, and not that much detail. It's something I've never done before. It's probably just growing up, you know".

Friday, November 17, 2006

PREMIERE://Carter's Latest Gets Friendly Reception

By Jay Nordlinger
From NYSun.com - October 17, 2006

Elliott Carter has many friends in the music world — friends among performers — but he has no better one than James Levine. Mr. Levine programs him about as much as he does Mozart. And, in fact, Mr. Levine had both Carter and Mozart on his program Sunday afternoon. This was a concert of the Met Chamber Ensemble.
Earlier this year, Mr. Carter completed "In the Distances of Sleep," for mezzo-soprano and various instruments. It sets six poems of Wallace Stevens, and is dedicated to Mr. Levine. Sunday saw its premiere.
The work is composed with care and keenness. It has Carterian sophistication, but is not an intellectual exercise. And it always holds interest.That may seem a minor compliment: "always holds interest."Trust me, it's not.
The first song, "Puella Parvula," is quirky, jumpy, recalling Charles Ives (at least to me). Mr. Carter has the mezzo sing stately lines over busy instrumental chaos.The poem includes the arresting word "bitch," and Mr. Carter, of course, has it uttered unaccompanied.
In the ensuing song, "Metamorphosis," there is more quirkiness, as the mezzo sings "Yillow, yillow, yillow," and other funny words, amid squirmy woodwinds. The next song, "Re-Statement of Romance," is an aching, arching love song, and Mr. Carter seems, for a moment, to have become a Romantic. The work ends with "God Is Good. It Is a Beautiful Night," which sounds like its heading: nicely done.
As I've said, "In the Distances of Sleep" is always interesting, and, crucially, it is not too long. I like to quote a musician very different from Mr. Carter: Earl Wild. (And Mr. Wild, only 90, is much younger than Mr. Carter.) He says,"Music ought to say what it has to say and get off the stage."Mr. Carter's fans should love "In the Distances of Sleep," and his non-fans should like it.
And who knows what Mr. Carter will give us in the future? He is only 97.
Singing in this work was Michelle DeYoung, who did superbly. She was warm and earthy, but not impure. Her lushness was Flemingesque, you might say, and her intonation was excellent. James Levine conducted one and all surefootedly, as expected.
To begin the concert, he had played Mozart's Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor. He was joined by three principals from his orchestra, although I should specify which one: the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. (Mr. Levine is music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, too.) These were David Chan, violin; Michael Ouzounian, viola; and Rafael Figueroa, cello.
You may recall that, a week ago, Mr. Levine conducted the BSO in Carnegie Hall.His piano soloist was Daniel Barenboim, who, in fact, played two concertos. The thought occurred to me that they should do a concert in which they flip: Mr. Barenboim is soloist in one concerto, and Mr. Levine is soloist in another, with Mr. Barenboim going to the podium.
In any case, Mr. Levine is a fine pianist, and it should be a particular pleasure to hear him play Mozart.We all know what a great Mozart conductor he is. George Szell, under whom Mr. Levine worked, was a great Mozart conductor, too, and Szell was also no slouch as a Mozart pianist.But Mr. Levine was not at his best on Sunday afternoon, I'm afraid.
Who knows how much time he had to prepare? He seemed to cling to the score for dear life. If he had not been concerned merely to execute the piece, competently, he might have been able to do more with it musically. He was a bit stiff, and some notes were blunter and harsher than he could have intended. He can do much better — he proved so in a duopiano recital with Evgeny Kissin a few seasons ago — and will again.
The strings performed efficiently and with basic taste.
Later, eight strings got together for one of the most felicitous pieces ever written — Mendelssohn's Octet in E flat.The composer wrote it when he was 16. And Juilliard dean Ara Guzelimian, who was in attendance, made a wonderful point: There is an 81-year gap between Mendelssohn, when he wrote the Octet, and Elliott Carter, when he wrote "In the Distances of Sleep"!
The Met musicians played as though they worked under Mr. Levine, regularly. Led, in a sense, by David Chan, they were rigorous and stirring. No flaccidity entered in. The second movement, Andante, was dark, and kind of sweetsad.The execution was not "studio-perfect," as we say, in this movement or others. But it was good enough. The Scherzo was a little heavy, and scratchy.
And the concluding Presto, that stunning creation? It stayed basically on track, although it threatened to derail a couple of times. And it had undeniable spirit.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

FILM://Isang Yun's life as a thriller

By Brian Brooks
From indiewire.com - October 17, 2006

(...) Other planned LJ films include a political thriller about famous Korean composer Isang Yun who was charged with leading a North Korean spy ring and later tortured by South Korea's intelligence service (being developed with Germany's Pandora Film). (...) "This may be the first feature film that is shot in North Korea," said Lee about the "Isang Yun Project." LJ plans to use over 100,000 extras in Pyongyang during a location shoot for the film.

INTERVIEW & PREMIERE://Ross Edwards and his Fifth Symphony (2)

Written with the stars in mind

A composer, an author and some heavenly voices combine for an anthem to the spirit of Australia

By Angela Bennie
From SMH.com.au - October 16, 2006

There are not many Australian composers who can boast a reputed audience of 3 billion people for a performance of their work, but Ross Edwards can.
His was the music that heralded in the dawn and the new millennium, performed on New Year's Day 2000 on top of the sails of the Sydney Opera House. Television cameras beamed his Dawn Mantras, a work for voice and wind instruments (including the didgeridoo and the Japanese shakuhachi), to the 55 countries taking part in the 25-hour millennium broadcast of the new year dawning in each time zone.
Boast is perhaps the wrong word to use in conjunction with Edwards. While many Australians will have heard his music, his is not a household name. The man is quiet, unassuming. His music is intricate, complex, lambent rather than flamboyant, the kind of music Caliban must have dreamed on, full of strange sounds and sweet airs that hum like twangling instruments about the ears.
It is the sound of the Australian bush and the Australian landscape, the sea and its coastal tides, of subtle gradations and change; it is also that of the starry heavens of the southern hemisphere and of their mystery, of human thoughts and feelings swirling under their canopy.
This week is the premiere of a major new work, his Symphony No 5, The Promised Land, with a text by David Malouf performed by the Sydney Children's Choir.
The work was a commission, Edwards says. "Andrew and Renata Kaldor, who are great supporters of the orchestra and are very familiar with my work, asked me to create something that captured the spirit of Australia, something of the future.
"Andrew is a great republican, so I have tried to work the music around that theme. I asked David to write words that I could muck about with, you know, something that is almost like a chant that I can transpose the lines, use them in different ways. He came up with something that is like an anthem, a beautiful text, with subtle meanings and plays on words that are fundamentally about Australia."
The symphony is structured into five movements; within this framework, Edwards has woven a utopian vision, both spiritual and earthly, through the patterning of his motifs, sounds and musical colours, his topography of stirring crescendos, ostinatos and tidal falls of music. Other musical patternings and motifs are drawn from the cultures surrounding Australia, creating a sense of place and interchange.
The last movement reaches its climax with the children's choir singing Malouf's great anthem of hope and promise. "I use the children's fresh, innocent voices to suggest hope and the future with a sense of optimism of what might come," says Edwards. "It all sounds a little idealist, doesn't it?"

He looks uncomfortable for a moment, as if he should apologise for such a thing. "But I believe if you lose your idea of the future, one full of hope rather than despair or disillusion, then you become terribly cynical - and it is much easier then for those who are manipulating you to look at things their way to do their work.
"I mean, I guess most people would be aware that society here has changed in the past 10 years from what it was. There is a sense we don't know where it is all going. It is all a bit alarming, things we perhaps took for granted, like multiculturalism and other democratic values, seem to be being eroded."
Edwards knows about disillusion and that sense of unease about the future. At first, he was very sure. From the age of 13, he says, he knew he wanted to be a composer. "It was the scariest thing. But I knew that that was the case. And I didn't waver from that. I just knew that is what I was. I can't explain, and I didn't know why back then, either. I was just fixated on this idea, and it was extremely intense."
After his formal schooling, Edwards, now 62, studied with Peter Sculthorpe and Richard Meale in Sydney and in Adelaide, and then he took off to Europe, to study composition with Peter Maxwell Davies and later with Wilfred Mellors in York. It was there, around a time in his life one would have thought ripe for discovery, challenge and illumination, that a crippling disillusion set in.
"I found I couldn't relate to what was going on in Europe. I felt contemporary European music was going nowhere, that it was empty, without meaning. I became quite distraught about it all. I found I couldn't write that kind of music. It was something of a crisis, I think you could say, a kind of block. So I decided to wipe the slate clean, start again from base."
Edwards returned to base - Australia, and Pearl Beach, north of Sydney, where he and his family set up home for the next seven years. It was here that, slowly, painstakingly, he found his own kind of music.
"I got very minimalist, very spare," he says of that time, "without much happening. Gradually I was bringing back things - patterns and ideas - into my music, but on my own terms.
"During this period I used to go for walks in the bush and I would come back with the sounds of birds or frogs or insects. These were the patterns, the raw materials of my music, relative parts of the composition related to the rhythms. A lot of these were very contemplative pieces. This time at Pearl Beach was absolutely seminal to me.
"I have a strong conviction that music should emanate from place, or a place you are associated with. I don't like the idea of global music, which is an orthodox. I like the regional flavour to universal truths.
"And so my music is full of symbols that recur throughout my work, bits of plain chant, all sorts of environmental shapes and patterns. You know they are going to come. They always come now into my work, so I just let them come.
"All my work is part of a whole, each relates to the other in some way. So this fifth symphony is part of all my other symphonies. And all my music is … sort of me, I guess, for better or worse."

PREMIERE://Beamish' third Viola Concerto

By Rowena Smith
From The Guardian - Tuesday October 10, 2006

Like Paul Hindemith, that other violist-turned-composer before her, Sally Beamish has a special affinity for her instrument. Under the Wing of the Rock, commissioned by the Scottish Ensemble for Lawrence Power, is effectively her third viola concerto, though it differs from her previous works in being scored for a 12-strong string group instead of full orchestra.
Beamish's works tend to have a descriptive element and this new piece is no exception; here it is an old Gaelic lullaby that is said to date from the aftermath of the battle of Culloden. This, in turn, inspired Beamish to look to Celtic songs and psalms, an influence felt in the quasi-improvisatory opening viola solo, a melody with which Power demonstrated the full lyrical strength of his playing.
In contrast to the stillness of the outer sections, the central portion of the one-movement piece is a restless dance. The pastoral quality remains, however, especially when the energetic rhythms of the ensemble are counterpointed against the viola's rhapsody. Beamish is a lyrical composer, and this is gently affecting music, a quality shared with Hindemith's works and emphasised by the inclusion here of his Five Pieces For String Orchestra and Trauermusik flanking the new work.
Hindemith was in turn book-ended by Bach: a quietly stylish performance of the six-voice Ricercar from the Musical Offering and a lively Brandenburg Six, with Power and the ensemble's artistic director Jonathan Morton as opposing viola soloists indulging in some lively duels.
As a programme, it was a neatly conceived and satisfying whole; however, as the first half of a concert, it was considerable overkill. Appending Tchaikovsky's Souvenir de Florence after the interval seemed a touch superfluous, though, unless it was to provide one of the ensemble's typically charismatic finales. In that respect it rather backfired, as this was not the strongest playing of what was an otherwise excellent performance.

Friday, October 13, 2006

INTERVIEW & PREMIERE://Ross Edwards and his Fifth Symphony

Trusting in the mysterious process

Early in his career, Ross Edwards worried the music would dry up if he took a break, but now he can wait for the eureka moment.

By Matthew Westwood
From The Australian - October 12, 2006

Chasing the muse can be a soul-destroying business for a composer. All that lying in bed at night, swatting at musical ideas like so many mosquitos in a stuffy room. Ross Edwards gave up the panicked chase long ago. A composer of mature powers, he has learned to let the inspiration come, to not force the muse into service. But he has not forgotten when it was otherwise."The worst thing in the world is to get up at 4am, knowing that what you've written over the past X weeks or months isn't what you really wanted to do, and start again," Edwards says.
There were the occasions, before he took up composing full time and was still teaching, when he would anticipate clear days in which to write music, then sit staring at a blank page. There would be a huge depression, then back to teaching.
"I stopped being hypercritical," he says, before recalling how it used to be: "You write down a note, and then an hour later you rub it out and you go for a walk and come back all expectant, and write another note. It's utterly absurd. And yet that's the way I was going. Composing was the most important thing in the world to me and I had to do it properly. But there are better ways to go about it."
Edwards is the composer of consistently performed works such as the violin concerto Maninyas and the oboe concerto made famous by Diana Doherty. His piece Dawn Mantras was broadcast across the world, from the roof of the Sydney Opera House, as part of the new millennium celebrations. His music is distinctive: birdsong, insects and bush noises frequently invade his sound world; children's choirs sing secular hymns of innocence and joy; sonorous temple gongs summon the unknowable.
In some pieces, the music appears to flow as if on a river's current: such is the effect of his oboe concerto Bird Spirit Dreaming, performed from here to New York, Liverpool and Hong Kong. But there was a three-year period in the mid 1970s - a dark time the composer calls the tabula rasa, or blank slate - when the music didn't come at all.
"It was a terrible experience for me and anyone around me: ask Helen," he says, referring to his wife, with whom he has two adult children.
"I gradually started going for long walks and various patterns would occur. You'd hear the intersection of birds and frogs. I'd come back and something fresh was happening in the music based on these perceptions, which were totally subconscious."
Today, Edwards is almost too busy. His fifth symphony, called The Promised Land - it includes a sung text for children's choir by David Malouf - will have its premiere with the Sydney Symphony next Wednesday. He has recently finished a string quartet to be performed by an American ensemble, the Brentano Quartet, on a Musica Viva tour scheduled next year.
Other pieces for orchestra and small groups are in the offing, and he is collaborating on a sound installation for a proposed bridge in Canberra that will commemorate immigrants to Australia.
He answers the door of his sleekly modern house in Annandale, in Sydney's inner west, amid the barking of his yappy little dog. Bearded and sandaled, he gives the outward impression of a relaxed man. Yet there is a quiet, nervy energy about him as he fumbles making the tea and takes us up the stairs to his studio where, pinned to the wall above his keyboard, are the manuscript pages of his work in progress, a clarinet concerto. Words come tumbling out of him. Sometimes, sentences collide with each other, as one half-finishes and another begins: a counterpoint of concurrent thoughts.
"Let's take this piece, for example," he says, pointing to the clarinet concerto as a way of explaining his compositional methods. The work will be given its premiere in November next year by Melbourne Symphony principal clarinetist David Thomas.
"I knew I had enough time to do it, but I had to get it started or time would be eroded between now and the deadline, and then I would panic. So the trick was to just hang out, have the paper ready."
As his style evolved, he stopped trying to reinvent the wheel with every new work. All his pieces are interconnected, he says, because they draw on similar sources. A bird call, for example, may make an unexpected entry: "I find an event like that is very awakening, very uplifting. So I wait for those eureka moments to happen. And if you get excited about something you've written, you can proceed."
He never tries to impose form or structure on an emerging composition. There will be parameters dictated by the commission - a 20-minute duration, for example, or a piece for a triple-wind orchestra - but the substance of the piece is not predetermined. "I have a feeling - it's not an intellectualised thing - that a shape starts to evolve," he says. "I can feel what it's going to be like and I get excited about that. It's not so much a shape, just a something: I don't know what to call it. You feel the thing almost stating that it's there, a finished object, which is usually sort of long and thin."
It sounds like stream of consciousness technique, though Edwards prefers not to use that term.
"I regard it as an entirely mysterious process. And if you don't, you get into the situation of predicting what's going to happen. And that's true of life as well."
Edwards had a variety of early influences. His first composition teacher was Richard Meale, who schooled him in European modernism. He studied with Peter Maxwell Davies in Adelaide (the British composer had a residency there in 1966) and London, and with Hungarian Sandor Veress. Through his association with Peter Sculthorpe - Edwards was the elder composer's assistant in the 1960s - he was drawn into the study of Asian musical cultures at the University of Sydney music department.
"It penetrated my music," Edwards says. "But not so much the idea of appropriating the music, but being aware of it. I can't write anything now which doesn't have some reference to some Southeast Asian scale."
It's a commonplace in the cultural sphere to hear of artists pushing the barriers, of taking artistic risks, but this is invariably suggestive of a confrontation with public taste or expectation, of epater le bourgeois.
Edwards also speaks of removing obstacles but these, perhaps, are internal ones. He has consistently sought to move beyond doctrine or dogmatic thoughts, even his own.
He rejected the serialism of his early compositions and has sought a performance style for his compositions that offers an alternative to the penguin-suited conventions of the concert hall.
In the oboe concerto, for example, Doherty's performance was choreographed with bird-like steps. The performance of The Promised Land, with David Porcelijn conducting the Sydney Symphony and Sydney Children's Choir, will include effects such as a wash of red light across the stage.
The intention is not empty theatrics but to reinvest the musical experience with ritual and wonder. "I was trying to create a pre-Renaissance idea of Western music, using music from other cultures, and using my own environment," he says. "The idea of place became very important to me."
Edwards is contemplating a break from composition; not a permanent one, but long enough to allow him to take stock. The pace of commission and composition has been "incredibly intense". Still, the memory of the tabula rasa hiatus haunts him.
"I've always had this horror of it happening again," he says. "I think, if you stop, can you start again? I would like to stop and see what happens. Maybe for three weeks, three months. Maybe a little longer, just to see."

The Sydney Symphony presents Edwards's The Promised Land, Sydney Opera House, October 18 and 19.

COMPETITION://Montreal Symphony Announces Finalists

By Vivien Schweitzer
From PlaybillArts.com - 12 Oct 2006

Five candidates have been announced for the finals of the Montreal Symphony's first International Composition Prize: Britain's Luke Stoneham, France's Raphaël Cendo, Ramon Humet and Eneko Vadillo Pérez of Spain, and Canada's Paul Frehner.
The competition has thus far been held behind closed doors, but the public is invited to the finals on January 10, when the Montreal Symphony (OSM) and Jean-François Rivest, its conductor in residence, will perform the five compositions before a jury consisting of OSM music director Kent Nagano and four composers: Gilbert Amy (France), Unsuk Chin (South Korea/Germany), Peter Eötvös (Hungary) and Gilles Tremblay (Canada).
This jury, the third and final in the competition, will award the Olivier Messiaen International Prize to the winning composition, the Promise Prize to the second-place work, and the Claude Vivier National Prize to the best Canadian work.
The Messiaen Prize includes a cash award of C$25,000, a performance of the winning work by the OSM and Nagano at a gala concert during the 2007-2008 season, a radio broadcast by Espace musique (the music channel of Radio-Canada, the country's French-language network), a recording of the work on the CBC Records label and the commission of a work for piano to be performed during an upcoming Olivier-Messiaen International Piano Competition.
The Promise Prize offers a cash award of C$15,000; the Claude Vivier National Prize offers a cash award of C$10,000 and a performance by the OSM and Kent Nagano during the 2006-07 season, a radio broadcast on Radio-Canada and a CD recording on the CBC Records label.
During the pre-selection last summer, an initial jury consiting of Canadians Jean Lesage, Serge Provost and John Rea selected 92 scores for the semi-finals from a total of approximately 250 entries. The judges analyzed the scores and recordings separately.
The jury for the semi-finals was made up of five composers: France's Gilbert Amy and Philippe Manoury, the American John Eaton, Germany's Manfred Trojahn and Canada's Alexina Louie.
Commenting on the final selection, jury chairman Gilbert Amy said, "I am very happy with the international aspect of the accepted scores, since we have Spanish, French and British finalists and also a Canadian. I speak for all the members of the jury in observing the renewal, in terms of content, of the received scores. We have scores of different styles, but all of them show a mastery of the orchestra as a tool."