Monday, January 30, 2006

Juilliard School's Annual Focus! Festival

The Juilliard Focus (Loud and Clear): 'Let's Hear It for the New'

By Jeremy Eichler - January 30, 2006
From the New York Times

A typical New York concert might offer a single new work quickly chased by a Beethoven symphony or a Romantic violin concerto. The Juilliard School's annual Focus! festival, which opened Friday night at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater, takes a less cautious, more concentrated approach: a full week of concerts packed with nothing but contemporary fare.
Its director, Joel Sachs, is a longtime presence on the new music scene, a diminutive man with open ears and a deep commitment to music of the moment. Subtitled "New and Now," this year's Focus! festival spans six programs filled entirely with works composed in 2005. It doesn't get much more contemporary than that, nor, in this case, more international. The programs form a kind of burbling polyglot conversation among composers from Japan, China, the Netherlands, Puerto Rico, Uzbekistan, Indonesia, Argentina, Azerbaijan, New Zealand and New Jersey. There are plenty of the usual suspects represented but also at least one composer whose music has never been performed in the United States.

And lest anyone fear that the forces of globalization are creating some kind of musical Esperanto, the four works in Friday night's concert could hardly have been more different, beginning with the Japanese composer Akira Nishimura's artfully tangled Chamber Symphony No. 3, "Metamorphosis." As the title suggests, Mr. Nishimura's work is a study in gradual free-form transformation, a process he approached through a willful disunity of materials, a carefully plotted chaos. Anxious string tremolos coalesce around a hushed downward slide; short proto-melodies gesture toward bolder statements only to recede quickly into a subterranean ferment.
Guus Janssen's Concerto for Three Clarinets and Ensemble was a sharp contrast, with its emphasis on full-frontal virtuosity. The able student soloists — Vasko Dukovski, Moran Katz and Ismail Lumanovski — played fast riffs spiced with klezmer and Balkan influences, but their lines, partly improvised, did not always sit comfortably with the orchestral accompaniment. Mr. Janssen is himself an improvising pianist, and his work sought to bridge the disparate kingdoms of jazz and strictly notated classical music. At times, however, the work seemed to reinforce their distance.
The Chinese composer Jia Daqun showed a delicate sense of line and a fine ear for orchestral timbre in "Three Images From Wash Painting." But the evening's most vivid statement came from Roberto Sierra's "Bongo+," one of six works that Juilliard has commissioned for the festival as part of the school's centenary celebration. Mr. Sierra, a Puerto Rican composer who studied with the impish modernist master Gyorgy Ligeti, achieves a seamless link between the traditional orchestra and a battery of Afro-Caribbean percussion instruments, including bongos, congas, maracas and guiros, complemented by xylophone and marimba. The brilliant solo part was divided between two talented Juilliard percussion students, Jacob Nissly and Eric Roberts, who along with the New Juilliard Ensemble gave it an electric performance.

The parade of new work continues tonight with music by Augusta Read Thomas, Derek Bermel, Ursula Mamlok and Mario Davidovsky. Tomorrow features the Australian composer Matthew Hindson's "Didjeridubluegrass"; Wednesday brings "Court Studies" from Thomas Adès's recent opera "The Tempest" and the Fifth String Quartet of Donald Martino, who died last month. Thursday features "Honk" by Frederic Rzewski, and on and on. Don't expect stylistic or thematic connections; Mr. Sachs only promises the new.

The Juilliard School's Focus! festival runs through Friday.

Mark-Anthony Turnage featured in The Scotsman

Inspired by Francis Bacon, Miles Davis and all that jazz...

Kenneth Walton - 30-Jan-06 02:25 GMT
From: The Scotsman

MARK-Anthony Turnage is the last person you'd associate with soppy, romantic gestures. He is, after all, the ultimate rude boy of classical music whose late-1980s opera Greek, complete with post-punk rock influences and enough offensive language to cause severe apoplexy among the prim Kensington set, was nothing less than a direct assault on the "stifling, snotty atmosphere" of traditional opera-house culture.
His hatred of Thatcherism manifested itself in probably the most aggressive of musical voices to emerge at the time; a language singed with brassy abrasion and, as an extension of that, his 1996 jazz collaboration Blood on the Floor laid bare, in uncompromising musical terms, the destructive realities of a drug culture that had led to the death of his own brother, Andrew.

Yet today Turnage is, apparently, a man who secretly writes birthday love songs for his wife-to-be. Hidden Love Song is premiered tonight at London's Queen Elizabeth Hall and is the first new work arising from his residency with the London Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO). The "hidden" aspect comes from the fact that he had to conceal its composition from fiancée Gabriella Swallow, a cellist and composer who, he says, "would have known exactly what I was up to had she seen it. I had to pretend I was writing something else".
That was a year and a half ago - the couple got married this September - and until today Swallow has only seen the score, never actually heard it. She'll finally discover tonight what it's all about. The thematic material is based on a cryptogram of her name - a common device in Turnage's music - and makes allusions, in the rhythmic patterns of the music, to WH Auden's poem Lay your sleeping head, my love.

But this latest work is about more than just one of Turnage's passionate love affairs. His other great obsession - the instrument that gave his early music its trademark aggression - is the saxophone. It was the main focus of last year's premiere by soloist Joe Lovano and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra (SCO) of Turnage's A Man Descending, the saxophone concerto he wrote as an "opposite twin" to Vaughan Williams's A Lark Ascending.
In Hidden Love Songs, the saxophone is once again the principal protagonist. Martin Robertson is the soloist in tonight's premiere. "Characteristic violent eruptions" do occur, the promotional blurb promises. So nobody should be fooled by the "love song" thing. In any case, I can't imagine Turnage doing gushy sentiment.
Away from London, and closer to home, it is Turnage's jazz-loving side Scottish audiences will witness first-hand over the next two weeks, in a Turnage residency with the SCO and BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra (SSO).
This Saturday, in the Old Fruitmarket venue in Glasgow's refurbished City Halls complex, Martyn Brabbins conducts the BBC SSO in a performance of Blood on the Floor while a week later in the same venue, and also Edinburgh's Usher Hall, Stefan Asbury directs the SCO in the UK premieres of Scorched.
The common element in both these works is Turnage's collaboration with guitarist John Scofield, one of the greatest names in the contemporary jazz scene. His influence on Turnage has been pivotal, borne out in the title of Scorched, which derives from the words SCofield ORCHestratED.
The roots of that work - a mesmerising suite for jazz trio and orchestra - go back to Turnage's infatuation in the 1980s with the music of Miles Davis, whose guitarist at the time was Scofield. And Blood on the Floor represents a part of a reverential journey that ultimately led to the creation of Scorched.
Turnage, in response to a commission from the prestigious Ensemble Modern, originally wrote the earlier work as "a sour ten-minute opener", its title inspired by a Francis Bacon painting. Bacon had already been the inspiration behind his grizzly 1989 orchestral work, Three Screaming Popes. "I felt drawn to the sensibility of his paintings, their bleakness and colour," he says. But no sooner had Blood on the Floor received its successful premiere in 1993, than Turnage was under pressure from the Frankfurt-based Ensemble to expand it into a full-length concert work. Enter saxophonist Robertson, jazz drummer Peter Erskine and Scofield, whose input transformed the work into a nine-movement suite fusing hard-core jazz with Turnage's gutsy orchestral style.
It also forged an artistic collaboration that, to this day, fills the composer with awe. "Scofield could work with anyone he wants," says Turnage. "After these gigs, he's off to work with the great Vince Mendoza, for goodness sake!"
But the respect was mutual. As a thank-you for working on the extended Blood on the Floor, Turnage hit upon the idea of arranging one of Scofield's compositions for orchestra, to be performed as a tailor-made encore at the 1996 premiere. Inadvertently, he had planted the seed for a collaboration that would meet the requirements of a subsequent commission from Frankfurt Radio, designed to pull together the resources of its house symphony orchestra and big band. Scorched was the funky and dramatic result.
As with Blood on the Floor, it features jazz combo and orchestra, thus the notable presence alongside Scofield in these Scottish performances of Partitucci, Erskine and Robertson, who takes the saxophone lead in the earlier work. The outcome of such a collaboration is not, as you might expect, some anaemic exercise in fusing diverse musical genres. If anything, Scorched super-sensitises each of the individual styles - Turnage's orchestral re-workings of Scofield are unmistakably his, visceral, pungent and explosive; pure jazz surfaces when the trio emerges alone, underpinned by Scofield's typically angular and sardonic influence. Yet the overall impact is one of cohesion.
Such ambivalence sits comfortably with Turnage. "I'm often pigeon-holed as someone who straddles the division between jazz and classical styles," he says. "Personally, I don't see the division. Look at my CD collection and you'll find Scofield next to Shostakovich."
And as for the love songs, Turnage may have mellowed in his personal life, but musically he's still a loose canon.

The BBC SSO performs Blood on the Floor at the Old Fruitmarket, Glasgow, 4 February, 9pm. The SCO performs Scorched at the same venue, 10 February, 8pm; and the Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 9 February, 7:30pm. Scofield, Partitucci and Erskine will be appearing in an exclusive jazz programme of their own at Perth Concert Hall on 7 February.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Roberto Sierra's New Missa Latina

Composer Rides Island's Folk Current

From the Washington Post
By Daniel Ginsberg - Sunday, January 29, 2006

Every composer must confront musical modernism at some point in his or her career. The Puerto Rican composer Roberto Sierra, whose new choral work, "Missa Latina," will receive its world premiere Thursday at the Kennedy Center, moved past that forbidding style after some encouragement from the most unlikely of people.
Gyorgi Ligeti, Sierra's composition teacher in Hamburg in the early 1980s and one of the enfants terribles of the avant-garde, gently pushed the young composer away from his own style of atmospheric, tuneless music. "Having little Ligetis was not his thing," Sierra says in a phone interview from his home near Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., where he heads the composition department.
Sierra went on to create an engaging and increasingly popular corpus of music that integrates the sounds of his Caribbean home into lush, rich textures. And the upcoming Kennedy Center performance of "Missa Latina," by the National Symphony Orchestra and the Choral Arts Society, marks something of a transition in his composing career. A co-commission of the NSO and the society, the 75-minute work is Sierra's longest and most complicated, expanding on the traditional Latin Mass to deal with matters of faith, conflict and peace. Sierra hopes the score grabs the audience in a way that cerebral works of the 1960s and '70s never have.
Filled with such classic Latino elements as salsa-like rhythms, bright orchestral colors and evocative percussion, "Missa Latina" is a natural next step for the 52-year-old composer, who says he seeks "heartfelt music with a deep emotional content." In this way, Sierra recalls earlier Latin American composers such as Heitor Villa-Lobos and Alberto Ginastera, who featured sounds from their respective Brazilian and Argentine homes. Osvaldo Golijov of Argentina is perhaps the only other composer today who possesses the same command of the Latin world's unique idiom.
Though he has not entirely rejected the astringent modernist sound, Sierra treads a more melodic terrain than other Latin-inspired composers working today, which is what attracts NSO Music Director Leonard Slatkin to his work. The NSO had great success with two previous commissions from Sierra, including the orchestral whirlwind "Fandangos," which has become one of the composer's most performed works. Soon after the success of that 2001 piece, Slatkin asked the composer to write a larger choral score to help the orchestra celebrate its 75th anniversary, and later approached Choral Arts Society Artistic Director Norman Scribner to see if the society would join the commission to celebrate its own 40th anniversary.
Slatkin saw the commission as an opportunity to build a new audience. "I thought it was important to feature music from Asian and Latin cultures," the conductor says. "U.S. audiences generally have Euro-Slavic backgrounds. They don't think about music from across the Pacific or from down south. 'Missa Latina' is about connecting to audiences that will be here in the future."
The work posed special challenges for the composer, who had mostly focused on smaller chamber and orchestral scores. Sierra opted to stay away from the Requiem Mass, which has inspired artists from Mozart to Berlioz to Verdi. "I was a little worried about writing a Requiem," Sierra says. "I was too young."
During the early phases of the project in 2004, Sierra came across the texts of the Proper Mass, which supplement the core sections of the regular Latin Mass at different seasons. In a time of global turbulence, the texts' messages of calm and quiet conviction resonated with the composer. "I realized I wanted to make a statement that peace is a human issue," he says. "I think we need to aspire for peace and aim for it."
Sierra says he worked to give a strong sense of expression to each of the eventual eight movements, which took two years to complete. Yet it is in the central "Credo" where the composer believes that his view of spirituality and tolerance and their role in contributing to peace emerge most clearly.
" 'Credos' are usually very centralized," the composer says. "Everyone is shouting. Mine is very intimate. The word 'credo' enters on a soft, almost questioning, chord. My feeling is that the idea of belief is sort of an introspective question. There is more than one church and one faith."
The Choral Arts Society has been rehearsing the piece since last autumn, and Scribner praises the sensitivity that Sierra showed toward the choral writing. " 'Missa Latina' is a good, tough piece for singers," he says. "Yet there is a lot of help from the orchestra."
Sierra is unapologetic about his use of popular and folk music, saying that Beethoven and Bach, among many other composers, similarly merged popular and classical styles. Sierra sees the approach as a much-needed break from abstract modernism and a source of energy for classical music over time. "Composers of my generation needed to move away from that narrow path," the composer says. "I want structure, but I want people to be moved at a basic level."
Sierra's new concerto, "Bongo+" for drummer and chamber orchestra, was scheduled for a world premiere Friday at the Juilliard School, a week before the NSO's premiere of "Missa Latina," and he is currently toying with the idea of writing an opera -- as well as that daunting Requiem Mass. These projects are likely to further open the concert hall doors to the Latino sound world and its driving pulse that are so much a part of Sierra's artistry.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

New Cantata by Peter Maxwell Davies

From The Guardian:

Poet and music master pen birthday cantata for Queen

Charlotte Higgins - Friday January 27, 2006

The poet laureate, Andrew Motion, and the master of the Queen's music, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, have written a work together to mark the monarch's 80th birthday.
It will be the first time Sir Peter and Motion have worked together. Sir Peter has set a poem called The Golden Rule, written for the occasion by Motion, and published exclusively here. The 15-minute cantata will be followed by further collaborations, they hope. Ideas are in the pipeline for a joint piece to mark Prince Charles's 60th birthday in 2008.
The poem tackles, at the suggestion of Sir Peter, said Motion, "changes in the natural world, and people accelerating those changes, sometimes positively, sometimes not. And through those changes and in and among them, the Queen remains the same".

The piece will be performed at a service at St George's Chapel, Windsor, on April 23, and at Windsor festival in September.

Sir Peter described Motion as "very sympathetic and professional - he knows exactly what he's about". Motion said of Sir Peter: "I know and like his music and think he's doing a terrific job."
Today they jointly discuss their official roles for the first time, at the Association of British Orchestras conference in Gateshead.
Motion said that since his appointment in 1999 he had wanted to work with the master of the Queen's music, but Sir Peter's late predecessor, Malcolm Williamson, was afflicted with long-term health and alcohol problems.
"With the best will in the world, he wasn't available, in a profound sense," said Motion. But after Sir Peter was appointed in 2004, the two quickly started talking. Motion said that working with a composer in some ways eased the challenge of writing for an official royal occasion. Working with music, he said, "helps socialise it - and hooks in another audience".
Sir Peter, who as an anti-establishment figure surprised many when he accepted the position, said the royal family were "very good. I was surprised that they are so helpful and keen. They have been falling over backwards to help. I have had in-depth conversations with the Queen and Prince Charles about music.
"The Queen in particular has shown great understanding and perception. The idea she's a philistine is complete rubbish".

It is not the first time that a master of the Queen's music has worked with a poet laureate. For the Queen's silver jubilee in 1977, Malcolm Williamson set a hymn written for the occasion by John Betjeman.


The Golden Rule

The waves unfurl and change the shape of coasts,
The shrinking woods fall backwards through their leaves,
The night-horizons twist in chains of light:
The golden rule, your constancy, survives.

The language bursts its bounds and breaks new ground,
The fledgling words lay down a treasure-trove,
The speed of heart-to-heart accelerates:
The golden rule, your constancy, survives.

The sun unwinds its heat through threadbare sky
The lakes and rivers map their stony graves,
The stars still shine although their names grow faint:
The golden rule, your constancy, survives.

The black-and-white of certainty dissolves,
The single mind insists on several lives,
The ways to measure truth elaborate:
The golden rule, your constancy, survives.

The Golden Rule was commissioned by the Friends of St George's Chapel and the Windsor Festival


From The Daily Telegraph:

Cantata created for the constant Queen

By Nigel Reynolds - 28/01/2006

The Queen's two most creative courtiers have combined their skills to honour her 80th birthday. Andrew Motion, the Poet Laureate, and Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, the Master of the Queen's Music, have prepared a 15-minute cantata that will be performed for the first time at Windsor in April. Sir Peter, the unexpected choice to become Composer Royal last year, has set The Golden Rule, a new poem by Motion, to music.
The four-verse poem makes curious repetitive references - presumably unintentional - to one of Gordon Brown's twin economic allies, Constance and Prudence. In this case and in due deference to his monarch, Motion repeatedly refers to the Queen's "constancy" as the world changes.

The theme was suggested by Sir Peter. Motion explained yesterday that the poem tackled "the changes in the natural world and people accelerating those changes, sometimes positively, sometimes not, and through those changes, and in and among them, the Queen remains the same".
The cantata is the first collaboration by the pair and they are discussing ideas for a similar project to mark the Prince of Wales's 60th birthday in 2008.
But it is not a unique collaboration. Malcolm Williamson, the previous Master of the Queen's Music set a hymn written by John Betjeman, then Poet Laureate, to music for the Queen's silver jubilee.
Sir Peter, who has called himself an old-fashioned socialist and has previously been labelled a scourge of the Establishment, was an unexpected figure to succeed Williamson.
Disclosing one of his early discussions with the Queen, Sir Peter said: "The Queen said to me categorically: 'Philip and I are interested in music and we've had this terrible press. We are not Philistines'."

Foccroulle Wants an Opera from George Benjamin

From Bloomberg:

La Monnaie's Foccroulle Updates Image, Dreams of Almodovar

Anna Jenkinson in Brussels - January 25, 2006 20:40 EST

How can opera project a more up-to- date image? It's a question Bernard Foccroulle ponders often as director of the Brussels opera house La Monnaie/De Munt and the new chairman of the Opera Europa network, an organization that fosters cooperation between opera houses.
``I'm not happy with the image that opera has today because it's an old-fashioned image which doesn't fit with the reality,'' Foccroulle said in an interview at his Monnaie office, adorned with photographs of the mountains he loves. ``We work with big creators today. We have here Christian Lacroix, a famous costume designer, famous composers, directors, choreographers, video directors. We have to work on this image.''
Foccroulle says Brussels-based Opera Europa is an ideal forum to try to overcome difficulties such as financing, reaching wider audiences and adapting to changing technologies. He sees his role as chairman to help shape a vision for opera in the years to come.
``We are entering a world where this kind of art is more and more difficult to support, to defend,'' said Foccroulle, 52, a native of the French-speaking part of Belgium. Still, he says he's confident about the future, inspired by daily life at La Monnaie.

Opera Europa -- which was formed in 2001 by merging two existing organizations, European Opera Network and Eurolyrica, and has links with its counterpart on the other side of the Atlantic, Opera America -- comprises more than 90 opera houses from 28 countries. The organization provides opportunities for its members, who pay 2,500 euros ($3,025) a year in subscription fees, to meet and discuss whatever issue is top of the agenda at a given time.

Freud's Successor

Foccroulle, an organist, composer and opera director, in November succeeded Anthony Freud, who was the group's chairman for three years. La Monnaie -- the theater was built on the site of a mint -- plans, in the coming weeks, to start an idea planted by the Copenhagen opera house: an Internet forum for people aged under 28. Foccroulle hopes the idea, which has led to about 5,000 young members joining the Copenhagen club, will encourage more young people to come to the opera. The Belgian director says that events aimed at young people in which he's had an involvement are usually a ``triumph'' with the audience being ``extremely captivated.''
Opera is ``an art which speaks to the people more than they think,'' said Foccroulle, who was also appointed in March 2005 as cultural adviser to European Commission President Jose Barroso, a new post at the European institution.

`Not Elitist'

``We have to do everything possible in order that opera is not viewed as an elitist art form, to have it as democratic as possible, to have contact with schools, associations, hospitals,'' Foccroulle said.
Another tool at opera houses' disposal is the European Commission's Leonardo da Vinci education and cultural program through which Prague, Riga and Vilnius are each sending employees such as lighting and staging technicians to Western opera houses.
Eastern European countries have a ``specific culture, tradition and repertoire'' that must be retained while at the same time adapted to fast-moving times, Foccroulle said. Cultural exchanges such as those funded by the Leonardo da Vinci program facilitate this. Opera Europa then allows the opera houses to let other members know what they did successfully, where they made mistakes and what was of most use.

Sharing Costs

Co-productions are another solution to financial challenges in a time of rising costs and limited subsidies, according to Foccroulle. Opera must ``resist'' following the U.S., he said, where fund-raising has become extremely time-consuming. ``In Europe we have a tradition which sees culture as a common value which has to be protected from the commercial market,'' he said.
Leaving the realities of financing and other practicalities behind, what would be his personal dream opera for the future?
``I am dreaming of convincing George Benjamin to write an opera,'' Foccroulle said, leaning back in his black leather armchair. An opera by the contemporary British composer ``would be sensational,'' he enthused.
And his ideal director? The filmmaker Pedro Almodovar, ``a great artist, a very sensitive person to music, dance and opera.''
``I'm always interested in seeing either new talents or big artists coming to opera for the first time,'' he said, before heading off for an evening rehearsal of ``Cosi Fan Tutte.''

South Korea to Invite Isang Yun’s Wife

From The Korea Times:

By Park Song-wu - 01-26-2006 18:16

The Isang Yun Peace Foundation said on Thursday that it will try to invite Yun's widow, Lee Soo-ja, from Pyongyang to South Korea this year as Seoul’s apology is expected to come in the near future for falsely charging him with espionage in 1960s.

The foundation, launched last year to restore the honor of dissident Korean-German composer Isang Yun (1917-1995), welcomed the announcement by Seoul’s intelligence agency that it concocted a pro-Pyongyang spy ring in 1967, in which Yun was charged unjustly.
``Lee has always said that she would come to South Korea if Seoul officially apologizes for the false charge,’’ Chang Yong-chul, the foundation’s secretary-general, told The Korea Times.
``She is now 79. She wants to see her hometown,’’ he said.

The foundation tried to invite her last year to mark the 10th anniversary of the passing of Yun and the 60th anniversary of Korea's liberation from Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule.
But Lee, who is living in Pyongyang together with her daughter Djong, 56, declined to come to South Korea, citing the lack of an apology from the government as the reason.
``We had corresponded with Lee last year and she expressed her hope to freely move between South Korea, North Korea and Germany, where the Yun family also has a home in Berlin,’’ Chang said.
Yun Tong-hwa, the composer’s 76-year-old sister who is living in Seoul, told the Yonhap news agency that ``the truth always wins.’’
``My brother suffered a lot even after returning to Berlin because many South Koreans there accused him of helping the enemy (North Korea),’’ she said. ``Even though he passed away, I am so relieved that now he is free from such false charges.’’

The foundation plans to host an art festival in Seoul in March to pay tribute to the three most suffered victims of the East Berlin spy ring case, including Yun and poet Chun Sang-byung.
Yun was a respected composer in Germany for his ability to bring Taoist philosophy and Buddhism to life in Western-style music. At the same time, he is also known as a victim of South Korea's redbaiting.

Since he left for France to study music in 1956 and moved to Germany the following year, he could never return to South Korea in his life time _ except once in June 1967 when he was kidnapped from West Berlin and brought to Seoul, tortured and then forced to make a false statement that he was working as a spy for North Korea through its embassy in East Berlin.
Yun received a life sentence, but he returned to Germany in March 1969. His release was reportedly possible thanks to the German government’s threat to sever diplomatic ties with South Korea.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Boston Symphony Postpones Golijov Premiere

From PlayBillArts.com:

By Ben Mattison - 25 Jan 2006

The Boston Symphony has postponed the premiere of a new work by Osvaldo Golijov for cello and orchestra, the Boston Globe reports.
Yo-Yo Ma was scheduled to perform the work on March 15, 16, 17, and 18 at Symphony Hall, and again at Tanglewood on August 4.
A spokesperson for the BSO told the Globe that the premiere had been postponed because Golijov has not yet finished the work. It was not clear whether the Tanglewood performance has also been postponed.
The program in March also include Ligeti's Concert Românesc and Strauss's Ein Heldenleben; St. Louis Symphony music director David Robertson is the conductor. According to the Globe, Ma will perform as scheduled, playing a different work that has not yet been chosen.
As originally scheduled, the premiere followed a busy period for Golijov, including the current month-long festival of his works at Lincoln Center.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Rattle Brings Kyburz to Amsterdam

From NRC Handelsblad (subscription):

Naar de hemel met Rattles Mahler

Kasper Jansen - 21-01-2006

De wereldberoemde Berliner Philharmoniker geven in Amsterdam drie concerten onder leiding van de even beroemde chef-dirigent Sir Simon Rattle. Niet alle concerten zijn bijzonder duur (125 euro), de veel goedkopere Matinee van de Berliner vanmiddag is ook rechtstreeks te horen op Radio 4 en wordt dinsdagavond herhaald: Haydn, Schönberg en Ravel.
Drie dagen achtereen de Berliner op bezoek, met zondag een Mozartconcert met Alfred Brendel, lijkt bijna een ongekende luxe. Maar een eeuw geleden was dat heel gewoon in het Scheveningse Kurhaus, waar de Berliner tijdens het zomerseizoen nog veel vaker optraden voor Berlijners en andere Duitsers die daar met vakantie waren. Zo was er in de Kurzaal in 1905, gedirigeerd door Alfred Scharrer, de Nederlandse première van de Vijfde symfonie van Mahler. De componist introduceerde het stuk pas het jaar daarop in Amsterdam.

Gisteravond speelden de Berliner de Vierde symfonie van Mahler, die in die aloude traditie van het spelen van nieuwe muziek werd voorafgegaan doorde Nederlandse première van Noesis van de Zwitserse componist Hanspeter Kyburz (1960).
De titel van het driedelige stuk van 25 minuten voor groot orkest, veel slagwerk, een piano en twee harpen, kan worden vertaald met 'verworven kennis'. Dat duidt dan op een eigentijdse terugblik op delen van de avant-gardistische muziekhistorie. Zo kan men in de glinstering van het golvende eerste deel iets herkennen van La mer (1903-1905) van Debussy. En in het tweede deel met een intimiderend middenstuk hoorde ik een soort herinnering aan Como una ola de fuerza y luz (1971-1972) van Luigi Nono. In het flitsende derde deel rhytmisch' is de ritmiek uiterst hectisch en complex.
Simon Rattle, steeds op dwarse wijze opkomend via de linkertrap, dirigeerde de eerste twee delen van Mahlers Vierde symfonie (Bedächtig.Nicht eilen' en In gemächlicher Bewegung. Ohne Hast. Ruhevol') in ongebruikelijk hoge tempi. Pas daarna viel hij ver terug in een extra langzaam, magisch derde deel, een statig en verheven opstijgen naar de hemel.
Hier klonk nog in een enkel wuft glissando een vleugje van Mengelbergs Mahlerstijl. Etherisch was de opkomst in de slotmaten van het derde deel van de in een engelachtig stralend witte strapless jurk gehulde sopraan Sally Matthews. In het vierde deel, het lied Das himmlische Leben, bezong ze de goddelijke muziek mild en verstild maar vooral verwonderd.

New Piece by Alastair Clarkson

From The Herald:

Hebrides Ensemble/RSAMD Sinfonietta

MICHAEL TUMELTY - January 23 2006

LATER this week, RSAMD students will join the seasoned professionals of Scottish Opera's orchestra in an academy opera production at the Theatre Royal. On Friday night, in a kind of pre-echo of this collaboration, a group of students, clearly among the academy's elite players, sat down with the peerless musicians of the Hebrides Ensemble in a remarkable coupling that resulted in some electrifying playing throughout an imaginatively-programmed event.The concert exploded into action with the premiere of Burlesque Sherbert, a new work by RSAMD composer Alastair Clarkson, and a piece with a darker undertone than its zany title might suggest.The music, for a mixed group of keyboards, winds and strings, could have been a metaphor for contemporary life: high-speed activity, experience as sound bites, and disjointed shifts in moods that were as abrupt as cross-cutting. At one point, piano and harpsichord engaged in a slightly demented duet which could have been pregnant with mischief (a right couple of wee Pucks). Then Clarkson whipped the rug out from under the feet of the music, revealing a more vulnerable underbelly, one whose slow, serious music suggested another metaphor: after the party, the reckoning. An impressive piece, scorchingly played by the Hebrides and the Sinfonietta, and conducted by William Conway with a cool head and a keen eye for detail.
Thereafter, the heart stopped in a beautiful, tender and rapt performance of Mahler's Kindertodenlieder, to which academy mezzo Alexandra Cassidy brought a lustrous tone with real contralto quality in Edward Harper's wondrously economical and telling arrangement of the heartbreaking cycle.With Ligeti's buzzing, rustling, scurrying, high-velocity Chamber Concerto as its breathtaking conclusion, this was a concert where the lines of demarcation between students and professionals were truly blurred.

The Philadelphia Orchestra Preparfing for Next Season

From the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Tone of the orchestra's '06-07 season

Listen for a little more Eschenbach - "because I like it there" - less new music, and more humor.

By David Patrick Stearns - Sun, Jan. 22, 2006

The 2006-07 Philadelphia Orchestra season will be marked by (1) an extra week with music director Christoph Eschenbach; (2) a little less contemporary music; (3) (with any luck) much more humor than usual, with an emphasis on the sometimes giggly Mozart and the mordantly witty Shostakovich.
Reasons are varied.
(1) "Because I like it there," said Eschenbach, talking by phone from Paris, where he's rehearsing Wagner's Ring cycle with his other ensemble, the Orchestre de Paris. "I'm very at ease with the orchestra and administration."
(2) "We've done a lot of that [new music] this season," he said. "Maybe it's time to relax a little bit." Yet there will be new works by Henri Dutilleux and John Harbison, plus a revised version of Aaron Jay Kernis' Color Wheel, which opened the Kimmel Center.
(3) Mozart and Shostakovich have overlapping anniversary years: 2006 marks the 250th anniversary of Mozart's birth and Shostakovich's centenary. Mozart will be represented by Eschenbach's return to the concerto repertoire as a pianist/conductor for the first time in two years, Nov. 30 to Dec. 3. Shostakovich will be represented by both of his piano concertos in the same concert played by an unlikely interpreter, the popular Andre Watts, Oct. 13 and 14.

Other highlights:
Though the ailing Wolfgang Sawallisch is conspicuously absent, another former music director, Riccardo Muti, returns with a program of lesser-known works by major composers such as Schubert and Hindemith (Nov. 2 to 7). And what some people think might be a future music director, Vladimir Jurowski, returns conducting Stravinsky's The Fairy's Kiss Feb. 1 to 9, 2007. Other notable guest conductors include Ivan Fischer (Dec. 7 to 9), Marin Alsop (Jan. 4 to 9, 2007), James Conlon (Jan. 11 to 13, 2007), Valery Gergiev (Feb. 8 to 11, 2007), and Roger Norrington (Feb. 22 to 24, 2007).
Major soloists include violinist Leonidas Kavakos (Nov. 16 to 18), cellist Truls Mork (Nov. 24 to 28), pianist Jonathan Biss (Jan. 11 to 13, 2007), pianist Martha Argerich (March 2 to 6, 2007), pianist Lars Vogt (March 29 to 31, 2007), pianist Piotr Anderszewski (April 12 to 14, 2007), violinist Janine Jansen (April 20 and 21, 2007), and violinist Julia Fischer (April 27 to May 1, 2007).
The perennials are Philadelphia-based pianist Lang Lang (who opens the season Sept. 21 to 26), Watts in his usual big-fisted repertoire with Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 2 (Oct. 5 to 12), and Handel's Messiah (Dec. 10 and 12) with one of the best-known British vocal conductors in the world, Richard Hickox, who is also music director of Opera Australia.
The multiseason Mahler cycle continues with Eschenbach performances of Symphony No. 4 Nov. 16 to 28, baritone Thomas Quasthoff singing Kindertotenlieder Jan. 17 to 20, and the season finale, Symphony No. 2 ("Resurrection") May 3 to 5, 2007.
Though any Mahler symphony is fair game for live, Ondine-label recordings (the "Resurrection" especially boasts the luxurious casting of soprano Barbara Bonney), Eschenbach says the most likely candidate is the Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 6 ("Pathetique"), which he conducts Oct. 5 to 7.
As with the forthcoming release of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5, which is due in April, the disc will be filled out by Eschenbach's performances of the Tchaikovsky piano pieces, The Seasons. "I call myself a filler," he jokes.
New music includes soprano Dawn Upshaw singing Dutilleux's Three Sonnets of Jean Cassou Oct. 20 to 22, and the world premiere of the Double Bass Concerto by Harbison (author of the operatic version of The Great Gatsby) Jan. 4 to 9, 2007. The soloist will be the orchestra's Harold Robinson.
There's another world premiere, but it's a wild card: a new orchestral work by Oliver Knussen, who is one of England's most esteemed composers, but among the most notorious for missing deadlines. The piece was supposed to be premiered in the current season, and as of yet, there's no title. However, Knussen's slot is the last date of next season, May 10 to 12, 2007. Is the piece done yet? "I think so," Eschenbach said. "He promised."
The other wild card is Eschenbach in the most unlikely of repertoire: Vivaldi's The Four Seasons (Jan. 25 and 26, 2007). Though Eschenbach doesn't traffic exclusively in existential tragedy, he may be unwilling to acknowledge what a departure Vivaldi is for him. He talks about playing baroque music annually, moving on to Rameau and Purcell. He subscribes to historic performance practice, within reason: "The most important thing is diction and phrasing," he says.
There's also the element of playing more directly with small ensembles derived from the orchestra, which is partly why Eschenbach is also returning to the piano in Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 12 (K. 414) and No. 23 (K. 488) Nov. 30 to Dec. 3.
"I schedule myself these things to force me to play the piano. Sometimes, I have to leave it alone for two months, such as when I'm involved with these big productions of Wagner."
The former concert pianist admits his fingers can be rusty: "It takes two or three days [of practice] after a break, and then I love it," he says. "And it's not just for my own pleasure, but the pleasure of making music with other people... . So I keep myself attached to the piano."

The Verdehr Trio: Violin, Clarinet, Piano

From the Detroit Free Press:

The power of 3

After more than 30 years and 200 new works, the MSU-based Verdehr Trio has created a niche for its unusual pairing of violin, clarinet and piano

BY MARK STRYKER, FREE PRESS MUSIC WRITER - January 22, 2006

The wit and wisdom of the "Peanuts" comic strip often delivered profound truths about unrequited love, baseball and the perplexities of owning a beagle with an overactive imagination. But Charles Schulz also had a prescient ear for music criticism.
A strip from 1953 finds the Beethoven-loving Schroeder flipping through sheet music with Charlie Brown nearby holding a guitar-like instrument. "I'm sorry, Charlie Brown," Schroeder says. "I guess nothing has been written for piano and cigar box banjo."
If you want to play music for piano and cigar box banjo, you have to commission a composer to write it.
That gospel has governed the Verdehr Trio almost from Day 1. When the husband-and-wife team of violinist Walter Verdehr (Ver-DARE) and clarinetist Elsa Ludewig-Verdehr founded the group at Michigan State University in 1972, only a handful of works existed for the unusual instrumentation of violin, clarinet and piano. More than 30 years later, the trio has commissioned about 200 works, including pieces by such leading voices as Ned Rorem, William Bolcom, David Diamond, Wolfgang Rihm, Alan Hovhaness, Joan Tower, Bright Sheng and Peter Sculthorpe.

The Verdehr Trio has single-handedly created a new medium, establishing its instrumentation as a viable ensemble by forging a new repertoire, documenting it on CDs and videos, touring constantly and inspiring the formation of similar groups worldwide. "When we started we wanted to define the personality of this ensemble through a great variety of repertoire," says Walter Verdehr, 64. "It's a strong personality. It's soloistic for each instrument, very colorful and mercurial in the sense that it has so many possible ways to go, from very dramatic to humorous to very loud and wispy and delicate."
The Verdehr Trio is celebrating the sesquicentennial of MSU during its 2005-06 season with concerts that testify to the group's own pioneer spirit. Today's concert is an all-American affair, featuring earlier commissions by Bolcom, Tower, Jennifer Higdon, Dinos Constantinides and a world premiere by Margaret Brouwer, head of the composition department at the Cleveland Institute of Music. In April, the trio performs an all-Michigan composer concert; last fall, the group showcased international composers.

A collaborative effort

On a recent Saturday, the trio convenes in Ludewig-Verdehr's campus studio to rehearse Brouwer's work with the composer. The violinist and clarinetist face each other in the center of the room, with pianist Silvia Roederer tucked in a corner. (Many pianists have performed with the trio; Roederer, a professor of music at Western Michigan University, has filled the chair since 1998.)
Brouwer's Trio is a spunky piece, audience-friendly in the best sense, with swift outer movements full of lusty melodic dialogue, spiky rhythms and radiant colors. In the slow movement, flickering tremolos conjure dark mysteries. Brouwer, looking younger than her 65 years in a stylish scarf, boots and reading glasses, sits against a wall with her nose in the score and a pencil in hand.
Her comments are specific and technical: "At measure 74, Walter, can you play that a little more off the string -- it needs to be lighter," she says.
Brouwer also takes suggestions, altering articulation and phrasing and even a particular note played by the clarinet in one spot when Ludewig-Verdehr stumps for an alternative. The exchanges are businesslike but warm, and the feeling is that bringing a new piece into the world is hard work but fun.
"A year from now it'll really sound good," says Ludewig-Verdehr says, packing up her clarinet. "A composer is hoping for an emotional effect, and we're still counting rhythms. Maybe by next week it will be in our blood."

The Verdehrs met at MSU in 1968 when Walter joined the faculty after finishing a PhD at Juilliard. Elsa had been teaching on campus since 1963. They are an interesting couple: Walter is lanky and professorial, an impression furthered by his Austrian accent. He was born in Gottschee, an Austrian community in Slovenia, and after World War II his family lived as refugees in Graz, Austria, before immigrating to Los Angeles in 1952.
Ludewig-Verdehr was born in Virginia, trained at the Oberlin and Eastman conservatories and toured for a time with the prestigious Musicians from Marlboro. She has a spark-plug personality. The couple married in 1971, and started their trio the following year so as newlyweds they could spend more time together. Their professional and personal lives have been inseparable for 35 years.
"We argued then and we argue now," says Ludewig-Verdehr with a twinkle in her eye. More seriously, she says: "You have to really know your part or they'll be trouble. But we don't have any rules. Part of being a musician is to be passionate. That is part of the pain and pleasure of chamber music."

A storied past

The violin-clarinet-piano trio is largely a 20th-Century invention, not unlike the wind quintet, brass quintet, saxophone quartet and Pierrot sextet (descended from Schoenberg's "Pierrot Lunaire"). Still, the first works for the basic instrumentation were pieces by Jan Vanhal, an 18th-Century contemporary of Mozart. In the 19th Century, minor composers wrote a limited number of pieces. In the early 20th Century, a handful of quality works emerged, including pieces by Charles Ives, Stravinsky, Alban Berg and Darius Milhaud.
But it was the sheer force of Bela Bartok's "Contrasts" -- with its primal dance gestures, nocturnal murmurings and variegated colors and textures -- that put the instrumentation on the map. The Hungarian composer's bracingly original 1938 piece, was written on behalf of jazz clarinetist Benny Goodman, who wanted a classical piece he could perform with violinist Josef Szigeti.
Shortly before Goodman's death in 1986, he came to hear the Verdehr Trio play "Contrasts" in New York. A Mr. Goodman had requested tickets to the concert, but the group had no idea it was the great man himself until he came backstage at intermission.
"We asked him about the Bartok and he said that it was so hard technically and rhythmically that Szigeti had a hard time with it," says Verdehr. "I later heard from others that Szigeti had said that it was Goodman who had a hard time. But Benny was amazed that we could play it so well and that it had become popular."

At first, the Verdehr Trio was content to supplement the few true trio works with violin and clarinet sonatas. But by the mid-'70s, the Verdehrs grew tired of playing the same works over and over and began to commission a library. They began with colleagues at MSU, including Jere Hutcheson and James Niblock, and soon branched out in all directions, from students to lesser-known pros to leading lights.
The stylistic range has been great, from a conservative neo-romanticism to a more rugged high modernism. But most pieces fall into a mainstream idiom: more-or-less tonal and accessible. The costs have been considerable at times. The best-known composers can charge $20,000 or more for a 20-minute piece. MSU has provided the lion's share of the commissioning costs, but the trio has also received National Endowment for the Arts dollars and private funds.
The Verdehr Trio's legacy is just now coming into focus as its commissioned works gain currency and other trios begin to form on the Verdehr model. The number is still small, about 10 worldwide, but it's growing.
"They absolutely inspired us to start our group," says Maxine Ramey, clarinetist in the Sapphire Trio at the University of Montana. A former student of Ludewig-Verdehr, Ramey says that whenever her trio performs music first written for the Verdehr Trio, it comes as a revelation to other musicians.
After hearing the Sapphire Trio perform pieces by Peter Schickele and Alexander Arutiunian at a conference in Tokyo last year, Wenzel Fuchs, principal clarinetist of the Berlin Philharmonic, raced up to Ramey and said, "I cannot believe that I am a clarinetist of this stature and did not know these pieces!"
The Verdehr Trio shows no signs of slowing down. New works are in the pipeline by the pop-inspired eclectic Michael Daugherty and the rigorous atonalist Augusta Read Thomas. Composers on Verdehr's wish list include superstars John Adams, Sofia Gubaidulina and Krzystof Penderecki. Of course, there have been regrets. Composers who got away include Samuel Barber, Olivier Messiaen and Gygory Ligeti.
But overall, Verdehr says the group has been lucky, coming along at the right time when they had access to a broad menu of composers who were intrigued by the challenge of exploring a fresh medium. "It's amazing how it's taken off," says Ludewig-Verdehr. "We spawned a monster."

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Osvaldo Golijov in New York

From Forward.com:

Celebrating a Composer Who Celebrates Multiple Cultures

By Raphael Mostel - January 20, 2006

Composer Osvaldo Golijov is being celebrated at New York City's Lincoln Center with a month-long series of performances of his works, titled The Passion of Osvaldo Golijov.

Musical America named Golijov composer of the year. His latest release, "Ayre" — based on traditional songs and poems in Ladino, Arabic and Hebrew — evokes the period of harmony between Jews, Muslims and Christians in Moorish Andalusia. The album has been nominated for a Grammy Award and has appeared on nearly all the top-10 lists of classical music critics.
Named for the medieval Spanish word for "air" or "song." "Ayre," was inspired by Luciano Berio's masterful 1964 song cycle, "Folk Songs," which inventively reworked traditional American, Armenian, Sicilian, Italian, French and Azerbaijani songs to create something at once recognizably old and new, distinctly ethnic as well as universal and classic.

Born in 1960 in Argentina to immigrant parents, Golijov was raised with mixed cultural and religious messages. His Ukrainian father was born to Jewish parents yet brought up devoutly atheist, while his mother's family, devoutly Orthodox but uneducated Jews from Romania, were careful to observe the rules of the Sabbath. One memory he has of his grandfather, with whom a 7-year-old Golijov shared a room, was waking up and seeing him praying, wearing phylacteries. He drew on this memory to compose his 1994 klezmer-inflected clarinet quintet "The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind," named for the medieval kabbalist rabbi of Provence.
Golijov learned music from his mother, who was a pianist. But his formative influence was the discovery of Astor Piazzolla, the Argentinian composer who forged music as powerful as anything by Stravinsky, but used the instruments and popular-music vocabulary of the tango. After graduation from the conservatory, Golijov felt he had to leave behind the politics of Argentina. So he went to Jerusalem to study for three years and became fascinated with Arabic music. Following that, he came to America to study with George Crumb and Oliver Knussen. After struggling to write in a "modernist" style, Golijov finally gave in to his leanings and began exploring the musical roots of his multiple cultural backgrounds.

He draws inspiration by searching other times and other places in the world, making polyglot music from very dark thoughts. His latest song cycle, for Dawn Upshaw, quotes contemporary Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish:

"I know I've died, leaving behind what isbest of what is mine in this place: my past.I've got nothing left but my guitar.Be a string, water, to my guitar,Conquerors come, conquerors go..."

This is intertwined with a 12th-century Hebrew poem by Yehuda Halevy:

"Oh God, where shall I find You?Your place is high and hidden.And where shall I not find You?Your glory fills the World."

His St. Mark Passion — one of four Passions commissioned by conductor Helmuth Rilling to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Johann Sebastian Bach's birth — is his most ambitious work in terms of stylistic range. Set in Spanish, it is a wild Latin- and African-influenced telling of the gospel story. Golijov's unsanctimonious riot of color has wowed audiences around the world. Indigenous percussion and dance are crucial elements, requiring specialized performers. The music ranges through batucada, flamenco, rumba, mambo, samba and — most dramatically — Brazilian capoeira, the chanting and unbelievably athletic dance art form that African slaves created centuries ago to masquerade their martial arts practice. One can sense the joy the composer felt as the musicians taught him how these indigenous forms work. When he started the composition, he was not familiar with all these different musical forms. But he knew what he wanted, and he trusted the musicians to teach him how to achieve it. Movingly, and typically, Golijov ends his carnival of a Passion not in Spanish but in Aramaic, with a Kaddish for Jesus.

His opera "Ainadamar" ("Fountain of Tears"), with a libretto by David Henry Hwang, is named for the fountain where Spanish poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca — one of the earliest victims of Franco's thugs — was murdered in 1936 . The fountain commemorates a woman in the 19th century betrayed by the revolutionary she was trying to protect. Lorca's first play was about this woman, who sought dignity in death. The opera's main character (created for Dawn Upshaw) is the actress who originated this role in the play. She had warned him against returning to Granada, that the political situation was becoming dangerous. But like the subject of his play, the poet insisted he had to do the patriotic thing, which was to return even if he had to face death.

Raphael Mostel is a composer. Next month, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Brass Ensemble will give the New York premiere of his "Night and Dawn," which was commissioned to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands.

Matt Haimovitz on Bartok

From The Register-Guard:

The rockin' cellist is no novelty act

By Carolyn Lamberson - Friday, January 20, 2006

Matt Haimovitz plays classical music. Cello, precisely.
While he's at home on the big concert stages of the world, he's made a name for himself playing in unexpected venues.
The Knitting Factory in Los Angeles. CBGB in New York City. The Tractor Tavern in Seattle. And Sam Bond's Garage in Eugene.
What takes this cellist and music professor to some of America's favorite rock 'n' roll clubs?
A simple quest: To bring the works of some of the world's greatest composers to a wider audience.
"A lot of this music doesn't belong in large halls. Chamber music was meant to be played in the chamber," Haimovitz said, adding that new venues and new perspectives help give classical fans a fresh take on the music they love.
"Certain routines have gotten ingrained in the classical music world."
The past two times he's played in Eugene - his shows at Sam Bond's in 2002 and 2003 generated tremendous buzz - Haimovitz focused on works by J.S. Bach and contemporary American composers - including Jimi Hendrix.
This time, his "Listening Room" tour will focus on the works and influence of the Hungarian composer Bela Bartok.

A thread from Bartok to Zeppelin

Haimovitz's latest record, "Goulash! A Bartok Infused Stew," featured three works by Bartok: Romanian Folk Dances, First Rhapsody for Violin and Piano and the suite from "44 Duos."
The album also includes Osvaldo Golijov's Oraci Lucum; Gyorgy Ligeti's Sonata for Violincello Solo; "Trans" and "Goulash" by DJ Olive and Haimovitz; a new work, "Gordun" by Adrian Pop; and "Menevse," which was written by Constan- tinople and Haimovitz.
Oh, and there's that classic opening track: "Kashmir." By Led Zeppelin.
"I'm basically saying that if you're a Zeppelin fan, I think you're going to appreciate the Bartok tracks," Haimovitz said by phone from his home in Montreal. "I think that if you really stop hearing these dif- ferent genres, my hope is that you hear Bartok"
Because in addition to bringing a new perspective to classical fans, he also hopes to introduce classical music to rock 'n' roll fans.
"I envy people who are listening to this music for the first time," Haimovitz said. "You don't have to have a Ph.D. in classical music appreciate it.
"The idea is to grow the audience in the same way that a rock 'n' roll band has to go out and do it, show by show."

Keeping classical music relevant

Not that he's performing some rock-classical hybrid. This is classical music, but it sports a contemporary sensibility that might make it attractive to rock listeners.
Bringing in those rock 'n' roll fans is a big part of why he tours rock halls. He hopes to help make classical music relevant on a larger scale.
"Growing up, I did this very abstract thing of pursuing cello," the 35-year-old Haimovitz said. "Growing up with my generation, I didn't have a sense that it was really understood or relevant to my generation, what I was doing.
"I've tried to rethink my own role as a musician, and make those audiences enjoy the music that I really love."
With him on this tour is UCCELLO, a quartet featuring Haimovitz and three of his best students from McGill University in Montreal, where he is a professor of cello. Haimovitz will open the show with a solo set, then be joined on stage by the members of UCCELLO, who also loaned their talents to "Goulash."
Haimovitz said he still loves playing concertos in big halls; one of the highlights of the "Goulash!" tour will be a show next month in the 1,500-seat Sanders Theatre at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass.
But Haimovitz said playing the small clubs lets him tinker with the set lists and connect more closely with audiences.
"I still play in the concert hall," Haimovitz said. "I love playing concertos and the drama of it, but there is something very human in the experiences that I've had in the past couple years.
"It's forced me to develop as a performer and broaden my horizon by embracing a different kind of audience."
In the past, Eugene fans have been receptive to Haimovitz's mission. He fondly recalls previous shows at Sam Bond's.
"I'm really looking forward to coming back to Eugene," he said. "There's an amazing audience there. I think it might have something to do with the Bach Festival.
"I'll definitely have to play some Bach on that show."

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Peter Eötvös: New Concerto for Aimard

From Schott:

It is with great pleasure that we announce the Premiere of CAP-KO, the new piano concerto for Pierre-Laurent Aimard on the 26 January 2006. CAP-KO has been jointly commissioned by five European orchestras to mark the 125th birthday of Béla Bartók (25.03.2006). The Premiere will feature in conjunction with musica viva in Munich with the Sinfonieorchester of the Bayerischen Rundfunks, with the composer conducting. In the following months it will be performed in Sweden, Hungary, the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Great Britain. The quizzical title CAP-KO stands for Concerto for Acoustic Piano, Keyboard and Orchestra.

A normal acoustic grand piano is used, and in addition a digital grand piano Roland KR 17 which enables the soloist to add extra notes – leading to an unusual kind of tonal virtuosity and tonal complexity - a reference to Bartók whose 125th birthday is on 25 March.

Eötvös, one of the most internationally successful composers of his epoch, is a self confessed “part-time” composer, in that his conducting is of equal importance to him. It is therefore wonderful that the Bayerische Rundfunk (musica viva), the Göteburg Symphoniker, the Koninklijk Concertgebouworkest Amsterdam, the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande and Radio France, succeeded in commissioning Eötvös. The result: a highly virtuosic piano concerto which will be performed by the first class soloist Pierre-Laurent Aimard.

The Bayerischer Rundfunk will air the performance on 26 January 2006 live on BR4 and via digital radio on Dolby Digital 5.1. It can also be heard on the 2 February on Sveriges Radio P2.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Ligeti by Reinbert de Leeuw in New York

From the New York Times:

'The Essence of Ligeti'
Subtle Revenge on Stalin and Other Facets of Ligeti's Art
By ANTHONY TOMMASINI - January 17, 2006

The program notes for "The Essence of Ligeti," the exhilarating concert series of works by the Hungarian modernist master Gyorgy Ligeti, presented by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, begin by quoting the composer's sobering words on his harrowing youth: "I did not choose the tumults of my life. Rather they were imposed on me by two murderous dictatorships: first by Hitler and the Nazis, and then by Stalin and the Soviet system."

Born in 1923 to a Jewish family, Mr. Ligeti was conscripted into a labor camp during the last phase of the war. In late 1945 he resumed his musical studies at the conservatory in Budapest. But in 1948 composers working in the People's Republic of Hungary were subject to the Stalinist decree banning modern music.

It was an inspired idea for this three-concert festival to begin the first program, on Friday night at Alice Tully Hall, with an example of the kind of pieces Mr. Ligeti was compelled to write in the late 1940's: "Old Hungarian Ballroom Dances" for flute, clarinet and strings. Below the surface of this genial suite of dance tunes, you detect the young composer sticking it to the Soviet cultural police with seemingly ironic touches: sour voicing of chords; excessively filigreed clarinet riffs; sturdy bass lines that turn thumpy.

Mr. Ligeti's experience of dictatorships left him with a lifelong suspicion of dogmas, which, paradoxically, saved him when he traveled to Germany in the 1950's to immerse himself in hotbeds of modernism, especially 12-tone techniques. Though fascinated by the developments he studied, he resisted being part of any camp or espousing any doctrine.

The thrilling results came with works like his Chamber Concerto for 13 Instruments (1969-70), performed on Friday after the dance suite. Here is music by a formidably intellectual composer who also has an arresting capacity for drama and a command of instrumental sonority.
The first movement begins with swirling masses of sound and squiggling lines. Yet the music never becomes some impressionistic haze of intensity. Every moment seems inevitable; every exciting sound seems so precisely rendered that it could not be any other way. In the third movement, a study in perpetual motion and obsessive repetitions, Mr. Ligeti captivates you with his ingenious ability to have multiple, seemingly contradictory things happening at once.
Lusty bravos greeted the dynamic performance of the concerto, brilliantly conducted by Reinbert de Leeuw, who returned to conduct "Mysteries of the Macabre," the supervirtuosic coloratura aria from Mr. Ligeti's audacious opera, "Le Grand Macabre," arranged for chamber orchestra and performed here by the fearless soprano Barbara Hannigan.
The male character she portrayed is Gepopo, the chief of police in the surreal land where this apocalyptic opera takes place. Wearing fishnet tights, spike heels and a leather trench coat, Ms. Hannigan was a demonic presence. But even scarier was her uncanny ability to toss off the hysterical coloratura flights and nonsensical words.
The chamber orchestra follows the singer's tortuous vocal lines almost slavishly, here couching a syllable with a gnashing chord, there providing a countermelody in whining winds, sometimes offering a fleeting moment of repose in a pensive chorale. Ms. Hannigan, Mr. de Leeuw and the players were brought back for five bows by the audience.
The rest of Friday's program won similarly enthusiastic ovations.

On Sunday afternoon, for the second concert in the series, the formidable pianist and Ligeti champion Pierre-Laurent Aimard offered scintillating accounts of four of Mr. Ligeti's visionary piano études. He was then joined by the violinist Mark Steinberg and the horn player Marie Luise Neunecker for a commanding performance of the 1982 Horn Trio. The program ended with the String Quartet No. 1, "Metamorphoses Nocturnes," composed in the early 1950's, when Mr. Ligeti was enthralled with Bartok, and performed here with keen intensity by the excellent Shanghai Quartet.

Mr. Ligeti, who is 82 and not well, is unable to be present for this important series, which ends tonight. For me, he is our greatest living composer.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Theo Verbey completes Berg's adaptation

Message from the Muziekgebouw aan het IJ:

Dutch composer Theo Verbey completed Alban Berg's adaptation for soprano and string orchestra of his own Lyrical Suite. Berg never transcribed more than three movements. George Perle reconstructed the vocal part, that Berg abandoned.

The completed piece will be premiered on Saturday, February 4, by the Amsterdam Sinfonietta conducted by Christoph Poppen. Renate Arends sings the vocal part.

AMSTERDAM SINFONIETTA
Christoph Poppen dirigent
Mikhail Ovrutsky viool
Renate Arends sopraan
  • Theo Verbey - Fractal Variations (2006, wereldpremière)
  • Franz Schubert - Salve Regina in A (1819) voor sopraan en strijkorkest, Rondo (1816) voor viool en strijkorkest
  • Alban Berg - Lyrische Suite (1926, arr. 1928/2006, wereldpremière van de complete versie voor strijkorkest, voltooid door Theo Verbey. Vocale gedeelte gereconstrueerd door George Perle)

In dit programma zal de gevierde Nederlandse componist Theo Verbey zich profileren als componist en arrangeur, met een nieuw eigen werk en de voltooiing van het werk van een ander. Alban Berg begon ooit met de bewerking van zijn Lyrische Suite (origineel voor strijkkwartet) voor strijkorkest en sopraan. De laatste delen maakte hij om onduidelijke redenen nooit af. Amsterdam Sinfonietta vroeg Verbey de Lyrische Suite te voltooien. Het wordt een van de meest virtuoze strijkorkest uitvoeringen ooit, in de trant van Schönberg's Verklärte Nacht. Berg en Verbey worden vergezeld door Schuberts delicate romantiek.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

David Harsent: Writing for Birtwistle

From The Independent:

David Harsent: The pity, and poetry, of war
David Harsent has a double life as a writer of crime fiction and an award-winning poet. He tells Christina Patterson about his taste for difficulty

13 January 2006

David Harsent discovered poetry after falling down the stairs. A dreamy ten-year old setting off for Sunday school, he decided it would be quicker to slide down the bannister. He slipped, fell 30 feet and landed on a concrete floor. It was while he was recovering that one of the "regiment of women" who made up his home life - "great grandmother, grandmother, mother, aunt" - brought him a book of stories and poems. "They were border ballads," he tells me. "I didn't really know who had written them or where they came from, but I was transfixed. I went to the library and asked if they had some more."

For this son of a bricklayer, it was the start of a passion that would never let him go, a passion that this year landed him one of Britain's top poetry prizes. Harsent's extraordinary collection, Legion (Faber, £8.99), won the £10,000 Forward Prize, was shortlisted for the Whitbread poetry award and is also in the running for the T S Eliot Prize (also £10,000), which will be announced on Monday. A good year could get even better.

David Harsent is not, in any case, a starving poet in a garret. He lives with his wife, the actor Julia Watson, in a large, semi-detached house in Barnes. It is airy and elegant, full of beautiful pictures and artefacts. "It's taken us 12 years to do it up," he explains a touch apologetically as we march up the stairs to his study. It is an attic, but a very posh one - a book-lined bastion of civilisation, with a huge desk, a cosy cluster of armchairs and a vast picture window overlooking a green oasis outside. "Sometimes you can see green parakeets in the trees," he tells me, before sinking into one of the armchairs. "They usually turn up around the cocktail hour. They are," he adds, "very loud."

It's a far cry from the flat over a post office in Princes Risborough which he and his mother escaped to, fleeing German bombs. Harsent didn't meet his father until he was six. "Even when the war was over, and other men were being demobbed, he had a year to go," he explains, as a huge cat leaps into his lap and purrs. "He was badly wounded, patched up and sent back to the frontline. When he finally came home, I was just aware of this deep-voiced, hairy-chested man coming along and messing up the house full of women I lived with."

It is also a far cry from his own first married home: "We lived in a two-up, two-down hovel in the middle of a field, with no lav and two kids, for six years. There was a little bank of three loos at the top of the garden. There were one or two severe winters and you had to take a candle and break the water trap."

It sounds, in fact, like a parody of the life of an impoverished poet, but Harsent had a day job, too. Having left school at 16 with no qualifications - the teachers were "thugs, atrocious people" - he went to work in a bookshop. He stayed for ten years. It was a colleague, the wonderfully named Henry de Beaufourt Saunders, who elicited the shy confession that he, too, was keen on poetry. "He showed me the translations he'd done of Baudelaire," Harsent confides. "I found you could write poetry about having a mistress and getting the clap. It seemed a pretty good idea to me."

It was not, however, the model of poetry he pursued. After work at the shop, and when the children had gone to bed, he toiled away at short, highly charged, ostensibly personal poems and started sending them off to magazines. "I didn't know that the poems I'd been getting rejected from the New Review I was sending to the same man at the TLS," he chuckles. "In the end, he sent me a note saying, 'I've been watching the progress of your work for some time, would you like to come and have a drink?'" "He", it turns out, was Ian Hamilton, poet and legendary editor of the New Review, whose ferocious criticism, and encouragement, played a key part in the early careers of Martin Amis, Christopher Hitchens and Julian Barnes.

It was Hamilton who persuaded him to send his poems off to Oxford University Press, who published his first collection, A Violent Country, and continued to publish him for nearly 25 years. And it was Hamilton who, many years later, made a comment that would cause a dramatic change of direction: "I sent him a copy of News from the Front [Harsent's 1993 collection] and Ian wrote me a letter about it. He said 'this book is impeccable, you know how to do it, but why don't you try lengthening your line?' So I did."

The upshot was A Bird's Idea of Flight, the first of his collections to be published by Faber. Darkly disturbing and brilliantly inventive, it is a poetic journey, told in a variety of voices, through discovery, disillusionment and death. "Uncompromising", "unnerving" and "difficult" were among the words used by the critics. Martin Amis wrote of "pleasure and surprise".
Along with the "new freedom" triggered by "this kind of loping line", Harsent discovered the joys and challenges of the dramatic sequence. As an impulse, it has always been there, but Hamilton's throwaway comment propelled it, almost literally, to centre stage. "My whole effort in poetry has been to use a lyrical vocabulary to construct a narrative sequence," he explains. "It's a fiction, of course, a sustained act of imagination."

This technical departure in his work matched some equally radical changes in his life. After a successful career in publishing - "Concorde-ing to New York for breakfast, that kind of thing" - Harsent "committed publishing suicide" by taking on a job he knew would come to grief. When it did, he decided to write a thriller.

"Poetry has a structure and a thriller has a structure," he says. "Crime fiction is the last vestige of the 19th-century novel in a way - enormous character, sin, redemption, a three-part structure. So I thought, 'I'll have a crack at that.'" The book did well and the thriller writer Jack Curtis (actually the name of Harsent's grandfather) was born. More recently, he has metamorphosed into David Lawrence ("for marketing reasons"). Curtis and Lawrence have both served Harsent the poet well.

At about the same time, Harsent received a phone call out of the blue. "Roughly speaking, it was, 'Hello, it's Harry Birtwistle. Do you want to write an opera?' 'Well, go on then' - a bit like that," he confides. "Then we met and talked and he said, 'It's Sir Gawain and the Green Night', and I nearly fainted. As he was going out of the door, I said, 'Where's it to go on?' and he said, 'The Royal Opera House', and I thought, 'Oh right, Mum will be pleased.'" Since then, they have collaborated on a song cycle, The Woman and the Hare, and on an opera called The Minotaur, scheduled for the Opera House for 2008. Not bad for a boy whose qualifications, on a recent form for a writing fellowship at Sheffield Hallam University, could only be described as "trivial".

Clearly, Harsent likes a challenge. Like his fellow poet and autodidact Don Paterson, he likes to challenge his readers, too. Legion is a dazzling, difficult collection of dispatches from a war zone, full of stark snapshots of war's routine miseries: the "after-smell of fear/ round everything", the boy reduced to " 'residue' between the wheel and the wheel-arch", the man who "drew a hood/ over the trembling head of each blonde daughter/ and shot them where they stood".

The war is unnamed, but there are clear echoes of Bosnia, which Harsent visited several times. Originally sent by the British Council, he did readings at the Writers' Union in Sarajevo - the poet and war criminal Radovan Karadzic, he later discovered, was in the audience - and translated the work of the poet Goran Simic. There are also, he says, images of the Second World War, culled from his father's rare revelations of life at the front. And then, of course, there's Iraq. "I'm not really a political animal," he confides, "but I had this feeling when we went into that war that a step had been taken that was just irrevocable."

Legion took David Harsent by surprise. He found himself writing "these short poems that were often in voices" and "didn't know what was happening until they started to get titles". Poetry is, in any case, as he wrote in a recent article, "a matter of seepage, of slow accummulation" - a process, in fact, that works slowly for both poet and reader. It is already clear, however, that in his ninth poetry collection, this multi-talented writer, poet and librettist has written an anthem for doomed youth that is truly a testament to our troubled times.

Biography: David Harsent
David Harsent was born in Devon in 1942. He grew up in Buckinghamshire and left school at 16 to work in a bookshop. After working in publishing for many years, he embarked on a new life - under the names Jack Curtis and David Lawrence - as a writer of crime fiction. His poetry collections include Selected Poems, News from the Front, A Bird's Idea of Flight and Marriage. His new collection, Legion (Faber, £8.99), was shortlisted for the Whitbread poetry award, won this year's Forward Prize and has been shortlisted for the T S Eliot Prize. David Harsent has also collaborated on operas and song cycles with Sir Harrison Birtwhistle and written for stage and television. He lives with his wife, the actor Julia Watson, and their daughter Hannah, in Barnes.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Get Carter!

From Gramophone.co.uk:

London Gets Elliott Carter

Richard Whitehouse - January 11 2006

This weekend the BBC is devoting its annual Barbican weekend to the music of Elliott Carter, America’s senior living composer and the last active representative of a generation that includes such luminaries as Aaron Copland, Roger Sessions, Roy Harris and William Schuman.

Unlike many of his peers, Carter stayed loyal to the Modernist aesthetic he had established by the 1950s, yet he resisted the urge felt by the European avant-garde to reject the achievements of Western music prior to World War Two. What resulted is a musical idiom in which radically new approaches to harmony and rhythm are balanced by a ‘classical’ lucidity of form: a synthesis of tradition and innovation without equal in the music of the post-war era.

Get Carter! provides an extensive overview of his achievement, under the directorship of two musicians whose authority in Carter’s music is unquestioned. Having conducted numerous premieres of the orchestral works (and the recipient of two Gramophone awards for his recordings of Carter’s music), Oliver Knussen’s two concerts include works Stravinsky himself hailed as masterpieces: the Double Concerto of 1961, with pianist Ian Brown and harpsichordist John Constable, and the Piano Concerto of 1965, in which the soloist will be the young British pianist Nicolas Hodges – for whom Carter wrote Dialogues, and which Hodges has performed and now recorded to great acclaim.

The concerts on Saturday and Sunday evenings are conducted by David Robertson, recently appointed principal guest conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra. He conducts the expansive Variations for Orchestra of 1955, and A Symphony of Three Orchestras which was Carter’s controversial contribution to the American bicentennial celebrations of 1976. Also included are welcome revivals of concertos for clarinet and oboe (soloists Michael Collins and Nicholas Daniel), and the UK premiere of the recent song-cycle Of Rewaking (with mezzo Jane Irwin) – alongside works by Copland, Ives, Sessions and Bartók that Carter considers germinal to his creative development.

Chamber and instrumental music is also featured – with the Arditti Quartet, longstanding champions of Carter’s work, performing String Quartets Nos 1 and 5 (of which they gave the world premiere in 1995), and Rolf Hind performing Carter’s two most ambitious piano pieces: the Sonata of 1946 and Night Fantasies of 1980.

The Guildhall School Symphony Orchestra provides an insight into the music of Carter’s formative years, with rare performances of his Symphony and the ballet The Minotaur, while a late-evening concert on Friday sees the BBC Singers perform several of the choral works that Carter wrote extensively in the 1930s and 1940s, alongside madrigals that reflect his enthusiasm for the English Renaissance when studying with Nadia Boulanger in mid-1930s Paris.

Get Carter! provides a valuable opportunity for admirers and newcomers alike to savour the music of this seminal figure in modern Western music, with the added incentive that the composer – who turned 97 in December – plans to attend the weekend and also introduce the concerts on Friday and Sunday evening.

Get Carter! begins on January 13. For more information and ticket availability, contact the Barbican box office on 0845 120 7549.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

David Robertson: Elliott Carter at the Barbican

From the Financial Times:

A fresh take on symphonic art

By George Loomis January 10, 2006

This weekend it's a celebration of the great American composer Elliott Carter; two weeks later it's Mozart. Both are full immersion projects and together they suggest the breadth and depth of David Robertson's musical persona.

Last autumn the 47-year-old conductor, a Southern California native whose musical career took off in Europe, assumed new duties with orchestras on opposite sides of the Atlantic.
In September he became music director of the St Louis Symphony, and the following month assumed the post of principal guest conductor of the BBC Symphony.
The Barbican's marathon celebration of Carter, which includes two Robertson-led concerts by the BBC Symphony, fits handsomely under the broad brim of his contemporary music hat. From 1992 to 2000 he led Paris's formidable Ensemble Intercontemporain.
But you won't find him denigrating the Mozart 250th anniversary, which he will observe, among other ways, by participating in an All-Day Mozart Marathon at the Barbican Centre in London and other venues on the hallowed day of January 27.
For Robertson it is an occasion for new insights into a composer "who means so much to so many. His music has an extraordinary mix of the learned and the popular. In the C minor Mass, he demonstrates an almost musicological understanding of the past that sets him apart from his contemporaries. If you don't have an understanding of music before Mozart, it's hard to latch on to what he is doing. If you don't know Bee­thoven, you can't conduct [György] Kurtag."
Robertson argues so persuasively that one style informs another that his all-embracing approach seems the only sensible one. "I really wish I had time to devote to the Monteverdi operas, but I can settle for Idomeneo."

Robertson's appointment in St Louis lifted an orchestra that was in the financial doldrums and, due to the terminal illness of his predecessor, Hans Vonk, also bereft of a music director. As one of the leading American conductors of his generation, Robertson's presence in St Louis is an occasion for civic pride, especially since he accepted their offer when a vacancy was a strong possibility at another Midwest orchestra, the ChicagoSymphony.
"The orchestra has a 126- year history and plays as if it had a direct connection with the heart. The experience is never compromised by what might be a little embarrassment about what the music is expressing," Robertson said at the apartment on New York's upper east side that he and his wife, the pianist Orli Shaham, maintain.
"I spend the most amount of time in St Louis, next New York" (where his sons from an earlier marriage are in school) "and then on the road."

In 2004 he was named one of three who would regularly guest conduct the New York Philharmonic on a possible inside track to succeed Lorin Maazel in 2009.
Just what direction he takes the St Louis Symphony in depends in part on the city. "I see the kinds of programmes evolving as I learn what the community is like. I don't want to be a clothes salesman who knows it's not the right size but has a quota to meet."
Perhaps he will introduce short festivals built around contemporary composers that he programmed in Lyon when he headed the orchestra there and the city's auditorium from 2000 to 2004.
"We did Berio, Reich, Ligeti and Boulez. At first it scared the pants off people, and there were almost more performers than persons in the auditorium, but the audience became incredibly enthusiastic."

Another product of his Lyon days is Robertson's predilection for combining music with the visual arts. In a recent programme called "Seeing Debussy, hearing Monet" he drew parallels between composer and painter. "It's a lot of work to get permission from museums and to arrange for projections. But for people who are scared of the baggage of classical music, it's very user-friendly to bring in other art forms."

Clearly Robertson has answers for American orchestra administrators ever on the lookout for new ways to excite people about the symphonic art.
I mentioned that Carter, whose music has always seemed more popular in Europe than in his homeland of America, told me that an event like the Barbican's could never happen in his own country. "That's because of private funding for the arts. Where are you going to get the money? European art institutions are in an entirely different situation, which gives the impression that audiences are so much more sophisticated. No! Unfortunately, in the US we don't think that government has any responsibility for cultural matters."
Robertson's conviction that knowledge of one style sheds light on another guides his programming. In the Barbican concerts with the BBC Symphony, Carter shares billing with Bartok, Ives and Sessions. "It's often more interesting to hear the personality of a composer through his relationship with other pieces. Carter is a real 20th-century figure, with many colleagues."

Robertson's connection with the orchestra dates from his student days when he attended rehearsals after forsaking southern California to attend the Royal Academy of Music, where he studied conducting, composition and French horn.
"It's really invigorating to hear this orchestra sight-read a piece. And since they don't have a core repertory, they play Beethoven's Fifth with the same freshness that they bring to a living composer's work."

Opera is an area Robertson has neglected recently but plans to return to. He will conduct Oedipus Rex and a new opera by Ivan Fedele based on Antigone at a future Maggio Musicale in Florence; he also has plans to return to the Metropolitan Opera, where he made his debut in 1996.
"Opera takes so much time, and I'm not the type who shows up at the first stage rehearsal and says, 'No, it's all wrong!'"
Whatever he conducts, Robertson craves listener involvement.
"People think that there is one thing they should get from classical music. But it's empowering for them to realise they can look at music in their own way - rich works have all sorts of avenues of approach. And concerts are different from records. I want people to be listening, not just re-hearing."

Details of the Elliott Carter programme at the Barbican Centre, London EC2 from www.barbican.org.uk

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Seoul Phil to Take on Beethoven - and Un-suk Chin

From TMCnet.com:
Korea Times Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge By Bae Keun-min January 09, 2006

Chin Un-suk and Beethoven

The Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra has embarked on a plan to become the world's top orchestra by presenting the ``Beethoven Cycle,'' the first of many planned offerings.The orchestra is scheduled to perform all of the symphonies of Ludwig van Beethoven throughout the year. The Beethoven Cycle, supported by the Hana Financial Group, will begin Friday at the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts, featuring symphonies No. 1 through 3.

In a press conference yesterday, Maestro Chung Myung-whun revealed the Seoul Phil's projects for his first year as the music director of the orchestra, including the Beethoven project.``The Beethoven symphonies are the first and the last symphonies for a large orchestra,'' Chung said. ``Starting with the symphonies and practicing and performing the pieces constantly, the orchestra will show how much it develops.''The 51-year-old conductor said a leading orchestra needs to focus not only on nurturing its musical capability but also contributing to society through music and other projects.``At the last Beethoven Cycle concert in late December, I hope to perform with North Koreans, or at least having them as chorus members,'' Chung said. ``I want to create projects, in which we perform for poor North Korean children.

''The orchestra has become the nation's first to have a composer in residence. ``It is a great pleasure to work with maestro Chung,'' said Chin Un-suk, composer in residence for the orchestra. ``I will pay more attention to introducing contemporary pieces, many of which will be premiered in Asia, than presenting my own works. I hope people will change their preconception that contemporary numbers are difficult and boring.''The 44-year-old Chin _ whom Maestro Simon Rattle at the Berlin Philharmonic in 1999 named as one of the five composers to lead the orchestra into the 21st century _ will be in charge of education programs as well as concert programs. She is expected to modernize the programs to include contemporary scores.This year, she will hold three concerts in April and October, in which representative pieces in the 20th century will be performed with her explanations about the pieces.``I plan to compose a piece for the orchestra to premiere after I wrap up the opera I am working on now,'' Chin said. ``Maestro Chung constantly asks me to give him a piece as soon as possible.''Chin, who studied musical composition under Gyorgy Ligeti in Hamburg, emerged in the international music community in 1985, when she won the International Gaudeamus Music Week, renowned musical composition competiton, while a student at Seoul National University. She embellished her reputation by winning the 2004 Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition, often called ``the Nobel Prize in music,'' for her Concerto for Violin and Orchestra.

Besides the Beethoven Cycle, the orchestra has prepared a variety of programs this year, featuring Shostakovich and Mozart numbers. What is noteworthy is the orchestra plans to meet the audiences up-close and personal during concerts at district offices in Seoul. Eleven concerts have been scheduled, eight of which will be led by Chung.The number of concerts will increase to over 100 a year from the previous average of 60. Chung will conduct at least one quarter of the concerts.Financial independence is another objective for the orchestra and several measures will be taken including mobilizing organizations such as the supporters' association, according to Lee Pal-seung, president of the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra.``The orchestra has been dependent on the Seoul city government for more than 90 percent of its annual budget. We are trying to make money for over 20 percent of the budget to lower our dependence ratio to about 70-80 percent this year,'' said Lee, who worked in the finance industry for 37 years, including heading Woori Investment & Securities.In six months, since its transformation to a foundation orchestra, the orchestra has made 600 million won in profits from 64 concerts, soaring from the previous annual average of 200 million won. ``We aim to reach 2 billion won this year,'' Lee said.The Seoul government has set aside 11 billion won to support the orchestra this year, up from 9 billion won last year. Of the expected 13 billion won expenses in 2006, some 2 billion won will come from the earnings of the Seoul Philharmonic, Lee said.However, Lee said the orchestra needs a larger budget to achieve its plan to become the world's leading orchestra. ``In the end, we need to multiply the budget by three or four times to reach 30 to 40 billion won, similar to the New York Philharmonic and the Berlin Philharmonic,'' Lee said.To enhance its re-launch, the orchestra held two auditions, changing one third of its staff musicians, and pulling down the average age of its musicians from 44 to 36. However, it still lacks 27 members to reach the 106-regular-staff level Chung believes is necessary to become a top world orchestra. The orchestra plans to hold auditions in New York next month.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Gubaiduline premiere coming

From the Philadelphia Inquirer:

David Patrick Stearns Posted on Sun, Jan. 08, 2006

Conductor Simon Rattle always creates a glamorous sense of occasion, but this winter's three-week residency with the Philadelphia Orchestra also involves his hugely talented partner, mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kozena, singing songs by Lutoslawski and Mussorgsky (Feb. 2-4 at the Kimmel Center). The wildest card of all, though, is the Feb. 15 world premiere of Feast During a Plague by Sofia Gubaidulina. The only guarantee from this Russian mystical composer is that the music will be substantial, challenging, and very, very deep. (Repeat performances are Feb. 16-18. Information: 215-893-1999 or www.philorch.org.)

Jonathan Dawe: fractal geometry in music

From The Boston Globe:

A symphony of flowers and fractals
BSO premiere highlights composer's fusion of early music and geometry
By Lawrence A. Johnson, Globe Correspondent January 8, 2006

At a recent studio session for Jonathan Dawe's woodwind quintet ''Fractal Farm," the recording engineer at one point turned in exasperation to the composer and demanded, ''Why do you write such difficult music?"
Dawe's edgy style is the antithesis of the solicitous neo-Romanticism that tends to predominate among many composers of his generation. Cast in a tough, astringent, and extremely complex post-serial idiom, Dawe's music makes daunting demands on musicians, and often on audiences as well.
The 40-year-old composer's ''The Flowering Arts" will have its world premiere at this week's Boston Symphony Orchestra concerts, conducted by James Levine, to whom the piece is dedicated. Dawe's work is the third and final BSO commission to be heard in this 125th anniversary season, following Elliott Carter's ''Three Illusions for Orchestra" and Peter Lieberson's ''Neruda Songs."
The commission may have come Dawe's way only after the original composer, Leon Kirchner, failed to finish his work in time, but it's clear that Dawe has always had fervent champions. Among them is pianist Robert Taub. Taub became the serendipitous conduit for the commission when Levine noticed a score of Dawe's Piano Concerto on Taub's piano between rehearsals.
''Jonathan has a way of creating new sounds out of old principles," said Taub, for whom Dawe wrote the concerto. ''And the new sounds are comfortable and yet engaging and adventurous all at the same time."
''His writing is challenging, but the challenges are very worthwhile and always fresh every time I come back to it. He has a unique and compelling musical voice, and I feel it deserves to be heard."
A collision of influencesIn the arduous struggle to find that voice, Dawe made a breakthrough when he discovered a congruity between early music and what's known as the Darmstadt school of hard-core serialism. ''There's a transparency of style," said Dawe. ''Emphasis on polyphony, clarity, and the idea that musical textures can be generated by structures which are not bubbling on the surface but that are deeper generators of music."
The most striking element of Dawe's individual style is the brake-squealing collision of two starkly contrasted influences. The composer draws upon structural elements of early and Baroque music and then proceeds to rigorously work out his ideas using the principles of fractal geometry.
In this daunting discipline of fractals, founded by Benoit B. Mandelbrot in 1975, a single quadratic equation can morph into infinitesimal details of Baroque complexity. Fractal geometry has spawned much inscrutable nomenclature: ''self-similarity," ''rotational arrays," and something called ''cellular automata," which sounds like a painful religious state induced by overuse of a pocket Nokia.
Yet these arcane principles, applied to early and Baroque musical models, form the brick and mortar of Dawe's own rigorous language, one that has evolved from 12-tone serialism to a more practical if no less envelope-pushing style.
In the case of ''The Flowering Arts," the French Baroque composer Marc-Antoine Charpentier provided the structural blueprint. Inspired by Charpentier's opera ''Les Arts florissants," Dawe created a modernist orchestral response, cast in a single movement of 15 minutes.
Following a brief ''overture," the various allegorical characters, music, poetry, etc., are presented in clear-cut writing for different sections. ''Discord" is represented with winds and percussion, segueing into a trio of two bassoons and contrabassoon. ''The Furies" are painted with whirling 16th notes, while ''Peace" enters in the strings with high harmonic canons supported by vibraphone and glockenspiel. An expansive chaconne forms the conclusion, running nearly half the work's length and developing the varied themes.
The score is surely a sight to behold, with fractal equations overlaying Charpentier's music. For Dawe, ''The Flowering Arts" forms a kind of representative portrait of where his music is right now. ''In many ways, I take strands as if they were 12-tone rows," said Dawe. ''You'll hear things often that are quite tonal, and then they'll move away from the realm of tonality into effects that are more abstract and atonal." In his program note for this week's BSO performances, Dawe adds that his new work also represents a broader wish for peace to triumph over the forces of discord, aided by a flowering of the arts.
Progressing backwardBorn in Boston, Dawe grew up in Katonah, N.Y., listening like most teenagers to the popular rock groups of the '70s and '80s. The seeds for Dawe's attraction to clarity and systematic rigor in music were sparked by a hearing of Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 2.
''What really struck me was not only that it had such a wonderful, incredibly varied surface," said Dawe, ''but that there clearly was a structural element that was very active."
Unlike most composers, who progress from Bach forward to Mozart and Beethoven, Dawe went backward to earlier figures, even playing the krumhorn in an early music ensemble at Oberlin College. It was during graduate study at Juilliard with Milton Babbitt that Dawe acquired his interest in fractal geometry and, as he says, ''the compositional tactics to merge the two styles in a logical way."
While Babbitt's music had its influence, Dawe said it was his encouragement and mentoring that he most appreciated. ''Even more than the mechanics of working together, it was the excitement that he would show," said Dawe. ''I'll never forget there was one piece I was writing in a kind of Schoenbergian style. After I played the opening on the piano, he just smiled and said, 'Why don't you finish that piece? That would be great.' And that's all it took to give me the confidence to plunge ahead."
For Babbitt's part, the 89-year-old elder statesman of American modernism says Dawe displayed a restless curiosity and voracious musical appetite.
''He was always seeking everything possible," Babbitt said. ''He studied everything, and we talked about every type of music you could imagine."
Babbitt notes that Dawe arrived at his unique approach as the result of much hard work and several dead ends. ''He now reconceives and reconceptualizes old works in his own very contemporary terms," said Babbitt. ''It's a very singular compositional attitude."
Married and the father of two daughters, Dawe continues to teach theory and analysis at Juilliard. He is working on ''a miniature opera" based on sketches from Vivaldi's ''Orlando Furioso," in addition to writing his Third String Quartet for the Miro Quartet.
Algorithmic complexity and Charpentier allegory aside, Dawe hopes that Boston audiences will approach ''The Flowering Arts" with a ''totally open perspective."
''It's important to me that this kind of music not be seen as a pastiche or early music with wrong notes," said Dawe. ''Because, for me, musical language is much sturdier that that, and I think it comes across that way.
''There's a deep middle ground that ties in the music of the past with these expressions of the future. And in the 21st century, that's how I deal with music."

© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company