Saturday, April 29, 2006

Knussen wins Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize

Oliver Knussen, British Composer of Where the Wild Things Are, Awarded $100K Nemmers Prize

From OperaNewsOnline - April 24, 2006

Oliver Knussen, the British composer and conductor who wrote the operatic adaptations of Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are and Higglety Pigglety Pop! as part of a double bill, has been awarded the 2006 Nemmers Composition Prize by the Northwestern University School of Music. The Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Musical Composition, which carries with it a purse of $100,000, is given biennially to "classical music composers of outstanding achievement who have significantly affected the field of composition," according to the school. In 2004, the inaugural prize was awarded to American composer John Adams. The selection committee behind the prize cited Knussen for "his uniquely focused, vibrantly varied music and his total embrace — as a profoundly influential composer, conductor and educator — of today's musical culture." In addition to the monetary prize, Knussen will have one of his works performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra during its 20007-08 season. The prize also carries a residency at Northwestern University's School of Music. "I am thrilled to be named recipient of the second Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Musical Composition, and would like to thank all concerned for this great and generous honor," Knussen said in a press release issued today. "I look forward particularly to developing a fruitful collaboration with the students and faculty of the Northwestern University School of Music, which I have visited in the past with pleasure, and to broadening my acquaintance with the extraordinary cultural resources of the Chicago area — a place which was for many years, my maternal family's home." Born in Glasgow in 1952, Knussen's father was the principal double bassist of the London Symphony Orchestra, the same organization with which he would make his conducting debut at the age of 16, leading his own "First Symphony." Later studies at Tanglewood fostered the creation of several works, including his Second Symphony, "Hums and Songs of Winnie-the-Pooh," "Océan de Terre" and "Ophelia Dances, Book 1," which have found homes in the repertories of orchestras around the world. During the mid-'70s, Knussen returned to the United Kingdom while the composition of additional works, including "Trumpets," "Coursing" and his "Third Symphony," solidified his position as one of the international forerunners of modern symphonic composition. His "Third Symphony," composed from 1973-79, has received more than 70 performances in Europe and America under conductors including Vladimir Ashkenazy, Andrew Davis, André Previn, Simon Rattle, Esa Pekka-Salonen and Gunther Schuller. The double-bill resulting from Knussen's collaboration with Sendak, originally commissioned by the Glyndebourne Festival Opera, has also been performed on stages in Amsterdam, Minneapolis, Chicago, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Nuremburg, Munich and New York City. In 1983, Knussen was appointed to the artistic directorship of the Aldeburgh Festival, and from 1986 to 1998 served as the coordinator of contemporary music activities at the Tanglewood Music Center. From 1990-92 he held the Elise L. Stoeger Composer's Chair with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. In addition 1994 saw his honorary acceptance into the American Academy of Arts and Letters made him an honorary member.


Oliver Knussen Wins $100,000 Composition Prize

By Vivien Schweitzer
From PlaybillArts.com - 25 Apr 2006

Northwestern University announced yesterday that Oliver Knussen is the 2006 winner of the $100,000 Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Musical Composition.
The biennial award (which John Adams won in 2004) honors composers "who have significantly affected the field of composition." Knussen was praised by the anonymous, three-member selection committee for his "uniquely focused, vibrantly varied music and his total embrace—as a profoundly influential composer, conductor, and educator—of today's musical culture."
One of Knussen's works will be performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra during the 2007-08 season; he will also visit Chicago for a residency at Northwestern's School of Music.
Knussen was born in Glasgow in 1952. His father was principal double bassist of the London Symphony Orchestra, with which Knussen made his conducting debut at age 16, leading his own First Symphony. He studied composition with John Lambert, and later at Tanglewood Music Center with Gunther Schuller. His talent was recognized early in such youthful works as the Second Symphony, awarded the Margaret Grant Prize in 1971, and Ophelia Dances, Book 1, the 1975 Koussevitzky centennial commission.
Works composed after returning to the U.K. in 1975 include the Third Symphony, which has been led by conductors such as Vladimir Ashkenazy, André Previn, Simon Rattle, Esa Pekka-Salonen, and the composer himself. During the 1980s, Knussen collaborated with children's-book author Maurice Sendak on the operas Where the Wild Things Are and Higglety Pigglety Pop.
Knussen is a frequent guest conductor, appearing with the Chicago Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, Boston Symphony, and Los Angeles Philharmonic. In the U.K., he served as conductor laureate of the London Sinfonietta, and has led the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, the London Philharmonia, the BBC Symphony, and the City of Birmingham Orchestra.
In 1995 Knussen signed an exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon to conduct 20th-century music, including his own works.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Gospel of New Music, According to the Violinist Midori

By Meline Toumani
From the New York Times - April 23, 2006

People who don't listen to classical music tend to share that fact as an apology, as if they were confessing that they didn't floss regularly or didn't send Christmas cards last year. But among classical music enthusiasts, there is an equally predictable yet more defiant tendency: a distaste for contemporary music and a sense of irritation, not remorse, that anyone should feel pressure to like it.
So it was surprising to see 150 people gathered in a hall here last weekend, at 10 a.m. on Saturday, to spend an entire day exploring two questions: "How did it happen?" and "Why did it happen?"
The "it" was the 20th-century trend toward music that was atonal, rhythmically unpredictable, melodically hard to remember and altogether strange sounding: music that was not "classical" in a Mozartean or Beethovenian sense yet was still, broadly speaking, part of the classical music world.
The event was a symposium on contemporary music, initiated and directed by the violinist Midori and presented by San Francisco Performances. Midori is touring seven American cities this month with a program of works written from 1979 to 2000, the years she considers the blossoming of her musical consciousness, and the symposium was designed as a primer for the concert she will be giving here at the Herbst Theater on Thursday (after performing the program at Zankel Hall in New York on Tuesday).
Ticket buyers were encouraged to sign up for a sort of new-music boot camp — a day filled with lectures, discussions, demonstrations and master classes — so that when they arrive at the concert, they will have some idea what to make of the music of Judith Weir, Isang Yun, Alexander Goehr, Gyorgy Kurtag and Witold Lutoslawski.
The symposium in San Francisco was part of a major effort to advocate for contemporary music, an undertaking through which Midori is redefining not only her own career but — she hopes — the entire modern listening experience and, ultimately, the quality of contemporary music itself.
If this sounds ambitious, it may help to recall that this is the same Midori who in 1986, as a 14-year-old, became an instant legend when she took the stage at Tanglewood to perform Leonard Bernstein's "Serenade" under his baton and soldiered through two broken strings to a stunning finale.
But for all the celebrity that has surrounded her in the two decades since, her focus as a mature musician has been not on promoting herself but on reaching out to others. At 20, she created Midori and Friends, a music education organization that has become a cornerstone of music instruction for students throughout New York City. More recently, she developed Partners in Performance, a concert network bringing world-class shows to small towns throughout the United States. And she has taught, dividing her time between the Manhattan School of Music and the University of Southern California.
This fall, she will settle full-time in Los Angeles to direct the university's new Midori Center for Community Engagement, a clearinghouse for musical outreach activities, ideas and training.
Now, at 34, Midori has begun commissioning new music in a joint initiative with the violinist Vadim Repin. She has also decided that as a musician and teacher, she has to do more than simply perform contemporary music. She has to persuade everyone, from reluctant arts administrators to confused audience members, that there is a good reason to listen.
Recently, over breakfast at a Greek diner on the Upper West Side of Manhattan where she has conducted countless meetings and interviews over the years, Midori explained her passion.
"It excites me that I live in the same world as these composers," she said. "We're breathing the same air. The things I'm experiencing are things they're expressing through their music."
Midori requires her students at the Manhattan School to play contemporary compositions. "They've heard Bach and Beethoven so many times that even if they've never heard a particular piece before, they already know what it should sound like — or they think they know. But when they play new music, they have to figure it out themselves. It teaches them to listen and to think about what they are trying to say. Everything is more deliberate."
But the first problem, she says, is getting arts organizations to take risks — not just creative risks but financial ones.
"There are three questions a concert organizer will ask when you want to perform a contemporary music composition," she said. "First, how long is it? Second, does it have a tune? And third, what else can we put in the program to compensate?"
Ruth Felt, the president of San Francisco Performances, appreciates the importance of new music, but she acknowledged that Midori's celebrity makes all the difference.
"Midori is a star," Ms. Felt said, "and that brings people in who would otherwise not take a chance on this music." Ms. Felt said that Midori offered her all-contemporary program with a 50 percent discount on her performing fee. "This music doesn't sell tickets," Ms. Felt said, "and she knows that. But she believes in it."
Midori first tried a large-scale new-music education program last year in Japan. She held an all-day symposium in Tokyo, mailed DVD's to ticket buyers in advance of the concert, provided scores for review and distributed tickets by lottery to 160 of the 600 people who applied to attend the day of lectures and demonstrations.
She has also filled her Web site, www.gotomidori.com, with essays about contemporary music, interviews with composers on her program and an offer to answer e-mails from curious listeners.
But in San Francisco, Midori has a secret weapon: Robert Greenberg, the music historian in residence of San Francisco Performances who is perhaps best known as the teacher behind the popular mail-order course "How to Listen to and Understand Great Music," available from the Teaching Company. Mr. Greenberg's manner onstage is a sort of cross between Crazy Eddie and your favorite college professor. He has a local fan club, which numbers close to 900 people, who gather for his Saturday Morning Talks about classical music, presented by San Francisco Performances.
But even for Mr. Greenberg, who usually lectures about more traditional fare, the symposium was an experiment. He began with a warning and a promise: "Strap yourselves in," he said from the stage. "When we leave this room today, we will be equipped, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually, to deal with Midori's concert program."
Then he played a clip from Verdi's 1871 opera "Aida," followed by a segment from Peter Maxwell Davies's 1969 composition "Eight Songs for a Mad King."
"How did we get from a conception of the human voice as the ultimate vehicle for lyric beauty," he asked, "to one where vocal textures are used to reflect extreme psychotic states?"
As Mr. Greenberg summarizes it, composers from about 1550 to 1910 spoke a common music language. Music relied on consistent patterns of rest, departure and return: the progression from the root of the musical key to the dominant chord of that key, through any number of modulations and eventually back to the root. The ears of even the most casual Western listeners are attuned to this grammar, whether they know it or not.
But it was inevitable, Mr. Greenberg told the audience, that composers would eventually have to test altogether new languages. Hence Arnold Schoenberg's experiments with a structure in which each tone had equal importance, leading later composers to develop their own "self-referential languages," resulting in a kind of musical tower of Babel.
"It would be foolhardy to think that mere familiarity will make this music 'entertaining,' " Mr. Greenberg said. "But this is our music, the music of our time. Maybe we should even be a little proud."
Midori joined him onstage to play samples of the work as he described it. But unlike Mr. Greenberg's manner of connecting with students, validating their confusion with jokes about the strange sounds they were hearing, Midori's tremendous enthusiasm seemed at times a bit too air-tight to allow for the frustration of the hapless listener. Her most persuasive strategy, not surprisingly, was her exquisite rendering of the music itself.
Here the importance of the performer in contemporary music became clear. Instead of serving as a vessel, faithfully carrying well-loved songs, intact, to an expectant audience, the artist is a kind of translator. The intensity on Midori's face, and in her body, as she played Kurtag or Lutoslawski, persuaded the listener that there was something to be discovered. True, understanding a music's intensity by proxy is not the same as getting it by intuition, but it's a start.

Peter Maxwell Davies' "The Golden Rule" for Queen's 80th

Birthday service tribute to Queen at 80

From the Telegraph - 23/04/2006

The Queen has been praised for giving the nation "heart" during a special service of thanksgiving to mark her 80th birthday.
Hundreds of people filled St George's Chapel in the precincts of historic Windsor Castle to celebrate her landmark age.
The Queen's actual birthday was celebrated on Friday with a mix of public and private events - a traditional Royal walkabout and a family dinner hosted by the Prince of Wales for his "darling Mama".
But today the focus was a Christian service, taking account of the Queen's role as Head of the Church of England, a position she views as deeply important.
The Rt Reverend David Conner, the Dean of Windsor, paid tribute to the monarch's "sense of calmness, serenity and stillness" in his sermon at St George's Chapel.
He singled out the Queen's Christian faith, saying it was the "very bedrock" of her life.
"On this particular St George's Day, in St George's Chapel, family and friends and neighbours have gathered to join in thanksgiving for the birthday of our Queen," Bishop David told the congregation, which included senior royals, friends of the monarchy and staff.
"As we do so, I have a hunch that every one of us will be expressing gratitude, for some kind of encouragement received as we have tried, in our ordinary lives, to be decent and to care.
"Your Majesty, not so much through word as by unselfconscious good example, you encourage us; you give us heart."
Among the 700 guests were former prime ministers Baroness Thatcher and Sir John Major, Earl Spencer, the brother of Diana, Princess of Wales, and the Agha Khan.
A special birthday prayer written for the occasion began the proceedings in the ornate 15th century chapel as voices of the choir filled the historic building.
An anthem by the Poet Laureate Andrew Motion was also performed. "The Golden Rule", written as a birthday tribute, was sung by the choir and set to music by the Master of The Queen's Music Sir Peter Maxwell Davies.


Tribute to 'steadfast' Queen

From the Daily Mail - 23rd April 2006

The Queen's enduring qualities of constancy, serenity and her ability to give the nation "heart" were praised at a special service of thanksgiving to mark her 80th birthday.
The Right Reverend David Connor expressed the country's "gratitude" to the Monarch as the Royal family, dignitaries and other guests gathered together in St George's Chapel in the precincts of historic Windsor Castle.
The senior cleric, also Dean of Windsor, paid tribute to the Queen's "sense of calmness, serenity and stillness" telling the congregation during his sermon: "...I have a hunch that everyone of us will be expressing gratitude, for some kind of encouragement received as we have tried, in our ordinary lives, to be decent and to care.
"Your Majesty, not so much through word as by unselfconscious good example, you encourage us; you give us heart."
The congregation listened intently to the dignified and solemn service of readings and hymns in the historic chapel which began with a birthday prayer written to mark the Queen's milestone year.
During the thanksgiving service an anthem called The Golden Rule, by Poet Laureate Andrew Motion, was featured, set to music by the Master of the Queen's Music Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, and sung by the choir.
The Monarch, wearing a pale sky-blue coat and matching hat with orange trim, sat at the head of the congregation next to the Duke of Edinburgh with the Prince of Wales, Duchess of Cornwall and Princes William and Harry further along the pew.
Among the 700 guests were former prime ministers Baroness Thatcher and Sir John Major, Earl Spencer, the brother of Diana, Princess of Wales, and the Aga Khan.
Also present was Princess Michael of Kent, who is at the centre of reports in the News of the World today that she shared a romantic break in Venice with a Russian millionaire toy boy. Her spokesman has denied that the 61-year-old princess is having an affair with furniture tycoon Mikhail Kravchenko.
The Queen's actual birthday was celebrated on Friday with a mix of public and private events - a traditional Royal walkabout and a family dinner hosted by the Prince of Wales for his "darling Mama".


Service pays tribute to the 'serene' Queen

From the Guardian - Monday April 24, 2006

The Queen's enduring qualities of constancy, serenity and her ability to give the nation "heart" were praised yesterday at a service of thanksgiving to mark her 80th birthday.
The Rt Rev David Connor expressed the country's "gratitude" to the monarch as the royal family, dignitaries and other guests gathered together in St George's Chapel in the precincts of Windsor Castle. During the service The Golden Rule, written as a birthday tribute by the poet laureate, Andrew Motion, and set to music by the master of the Queen's music, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, was sung by the choir.


Hundreds hail 'Elizabeth our Queen'

By Laura Roberts
From the Scotsman - 24-Apr-06

THE Queen's enduring "calmness, serenity and stillness" were praised yesterday in a thanksgiving service held at Windsor to mark her 80th birthday.
More than 700 guests and nearly 40 members of the Royal Family listened attentively to traditional blessings, lessons and prayers led by the Dean of Windsor, the Right Rev David Conner, in St George's Chapel.
Among the congregation was Princess Michael of Kent, who last night denied speculation that she is having an affair with a Russian furniture tycoon 21 years her junior.
The accusations, published in a Sunday newspaper, threatened to overshadow the celebration on St George's Day, but Princess Michael, accompanied by her husband, Prince Michael of Kent, and their son, Lord Freddie Windsor, smiled as she sat in the second row of the chapel behind Prince William.
The princess, 61, was photographed while on a trip to Venice with Mikhail Kravchenko and pictured kissing and holding hands. The pair stayed at the Cipriani Hotel in a private apartment for four nights from 30 March.
Simon Astaire, the spokesman for Princess Michael, last night denied there was any romantic relationship, and said: "It is a warm friendship, that is all." He claimed they met in Venice to discuss plans for new textile designs, after being introduced at a textile fair in Moscow late last year.
Yesterday, the Queen, wearing a Stewart Parvin duck egg blue silk outfit, sat in the front row during the service, next to the Duke of Edinburgh.
The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, who had their marriage blessed in the chapel last year, were in the same pew along with princes William and Harry. Several rows behind sat Princess Diana's brother, Earl Spencer. One of the few notable royal absences was the Queen's granddaughter, Zara Phillips.
Other distinguished guests included Baroness Thatcher, Sir John Major, Sir Edmund Hillary and King Constantine and Queen Anne-Marie of Greece.
"Elizabeth our Queen" was praised in the sermon by the Dean of Windsor for her calmness, serenity, steadfastness and stamina. He also paid tribute to her strong Christian faith.
The congregation heard an anthem written by the poet laureate, Andrew Motion, and set to music by the master of the Queen's music, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. It was described as more sombre in tone than uplifting.
During the service, a collection was taken, during which the Queen produced a crisp note from her handbag and placed it into the bag - disproving the widely held belief that she doesn't carry money.
The service ended with a rendition of the national anthem by the congregation, and crowds braved the rain to watch the guests file out on to Windsor Castle's precinct.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Kaija Saariaho's 'Adriana Mater' in Parijs in premiere

Overleven in een wereld waar vrede een droom is

Door Margot Dijkgraaf
Uit NRC Handelsblad - 15 april 2006


De opera 'Adriana Mater' van componiste Kaija Saariaho en schrijver Amin Maalouf vertelt het wrange verhaal van een vrouw die een kind baart van haar verkrachter.

Kaïn of Abel? Moord of verzoening? Dat zijn de vragen in Adriana Mater, de nieuwe opera van de Finse componiste Kaija Saariaho, waarvoor de Frans-Libanese schrijver Amin Maalouf het libretto schreef. In een niet nader genoemd land in oorlog wordt de jonge Adriana verkracht door Tsargo, een dorpsgenoot die zijn macht ontleent aan het wapen dat hij draagt als soldaat. De oorlog heeft van deze simpele ziel een bendeleider gemaakt: was hij eerst dronken van alcohol, nu is hij dronken van macht. Negen maanden later baart Adriana een zoon. Hem vertelt ze dat zijn vader in de burgeroorlog als held is gestorven. Pas op zijn vijftiende hoort Yonas dat men hem een leugen op de mouw heeft gespeld.

Het eenvoudige, heldere verhaal van Maalouf werd, in de minimalistische regie van Peter Sellars, een hedendaagse klassieke tragedie. Zwart en uitzichtloos is de situatie van Adriana, donker en angstaanjagend de muziek van Saariaho. Het grote, onzichtbare koor lijkt in de enorme Opera de Bastille van alle kanten op je af te komen.

Saariaho specialiseerde zich in Duitsland in avant-garde. Ze zette haar onderzoek naar elektronische mogelijkheden in de muziek voort bij het IRCAM (onderzoeksinstituut voor akoestische muziek) in Parijs, en dat merk je. Onthecht, onaards, etherisch is de compositie die ze maakte en tegelijkertijd dreigend, vol crescendo's, slagwerk en donkere blazers. Bij tijd en wijle hebben de vier solisten, die al lamenterend hun verhaal doen, moeite het 90-koppige orkest te overstijgen, zeker omdat ze van Sellars slechts een enkele maal recht de zaal in mogen zingen. Ieder van de vier solisten heeft een eigen toon.

Adriana, geweldig gezongen door de Ierse mezzo-sopraan Patricia Bardon, houdt haar ingehouden emotie tot het einde vol en dwingt daarmee groot respect af; haar zuster (de Noorse sopraan Solveig Kringelborn) klinkt vol zelfverwijt, de Deense bas Stephen Milling is een meesterlijke vertolker van de dronkelap Tsargo, terwijl de jonge Canadese tenor (Gordon Gietz) barst van klinkende verontwaardiging.

Verder blijft het angstaanjagend leeg in het immense, bizarre decor van George Tsypin, dat afhankelijk van de belichting nu eens lijkt op een verlaten poollandschap, dan weer associaties oproept met een Noord-Afrikaanse nederzetting in de woestijn. Twee grote halve bollen gloeien op en doven weer. De muren brokkelen af naarmate de verwarring groeit en wanhoop van de dolende mens toeneemt - en dat doen ze voortdurend. Adriana vraagt zich af of ze een moordenaar of een verzoener heeft gebaard, haar zuster verwijt zichzelf dat ze er niet was in de fatale nacht, de angst voor terugkeer van de verkrachter beheerst het hart van de vrouwen.

Identiteit, geweld versus verzoening, zwijgen of je te weer stellen - het zijn thema's die we kennen uit Maaloufs literaire werk. Door de burgeroorlog uit zijn geboorteland Libanon verdreven, reisde hij als verslaggever naar grote brandhaarden in de wereld tot hij zich wijdde aan de literatuur. Zijn soldaat is die van alle tijden en van alle landen. Zijn geweld is het geweld dat hij van dichtbij observeerde, zijn angst is die van een mens in een wereld waar vrede een droom is, waarin de werkelijkheid de vorm heeft van de nachtmerrie. Die laat hij ons beleven.

Als de zoon hoort wie zijn vader is, zweert hij wraak en gaat hij op weg om zijn vader te doden. 'Bloed heeft geen geheugen', luidt de bezwerende reactie van zijn moeder, mater dolorosa en madonna tegelijk. Uiteindelijk spaart de zoon de vader, die, blind geworden, juist op zoek is naar de dood. De rede overwint, de liefde verslaat de haat, vader en zoon komen tot verzoening. Als toeschouwer kun je er nauwelijks in geloven. Daarvoor was Saarijana toch te dreigend, Sellars te kaal en Maalouf te tragisch.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Guillaume Connesson, Oliver Knussen and Jennifer Higdon in Scotland

Royal Scottish National Orchestra Cuts Ticket Prices for 2006-07 Season

By Vivien Schweitzer
From PlaybillArts.com - 20 Apr 2006

The Royal Scottish National Orchestra has announced its 2006-07 season, during which it will cut ticket prices and launch a new subscription scheme.
The season, the second under RSNO music director Stéphane Denève, will see ticket prices reduced at all venues where the RSNO performs. At Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, for example, tickets in the £22 bracket will be reduced to £16.50, while all tickets at Music Hall, Aberdeen, and at the Caird Hall, Dundee, will cost a flat rate of £12.50. Tickets for accompanied children under 16 will be free.
A new subscription scheme will allow customers to choose freely from among the RSNO's offerings to construct their own package.
Frenchman Denève will focus on his works of his countrymen, including Berlioz, Ravel, Bizet, Saint-Saëns, Debussy, and Dukas. In particular, Denève will highlight the music of Albert Roussel, a native of his hometown, Tourcoing in northern France. The RSNO's ongoing Roussel cycle for Naxos will continue with the 3rd Symphony.
Denève will also lead performances of Mahler, Beethoven, and Shostakovich symphonies. Contemporary works also figure prominently; the RSNO continues its relationship with French composer Guillaume Connesson with performances of his 2000 work Supernova, and performs Oliver Knussen’s The Way to Castle Yonder, Jennifer Higdon's Blue Cathedral, and, for the first time, the work of French composer Florent Schmitt.
Visiting conductors during the upcoming season include RSNO conductor laureate Neeme Järvi and Roberto Abbado; soloists include pianist Hélène Grimaud and soprano Felicity Lott.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Birthday ballad for the Queen from Peter Maxwell Davies

By Richard Brooks and Christopher Morgan
From the Sunday Times - April 16, 2006

The poet laureate and the master of the Queen’s music have collaborated for the first time to produce a happy birthday anthem to mark the monarch’s 80th this week.
Andrew Motion and Sir Peter Maxwell Davies appear to have looked for inspiration to the 18th-century imperialist anthem Rule Britannia to celebrate the enduring nature of her reign.
Instead of ruling the waves, she continues to outlive them. The lyrics of The Golden Rule, revealed here in full for the first time, have waves crashing against the shore and woods shrinking but all the time “your constancy survives”.
The Queen will hear the new anthem when it receives its world debut in a service at St George’s Chapel, Windsor, next Sunday. “It is simply that the Queen is a constant while politics and the world itself are ever-changing,” Motion said.
The service is one of the few official celebrations of the Queen’s birth in 1926. This week she is holding a lunch for those born on the same day. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is one of the few government ministries doing anything — and that is only to plant a tree on a nature reserve.
The official birthday in June will have more of a fun element with Buckingham Palace turning into a theme park with a party for 3,000 children. British embassies around the world will hold receptions.
The Queen has scaled back her future diary engagements, in keeping with a woman entering her ninth decade, and will spend more of her time at Windsor away from the hurly-burly of London.
Royal insiders say she is more interested in celebrating her 60th wedding anniversary next year and the diamond jubilee of her reign in 2012, the year Britain is host to the Olympics, than merely mark the passing of her own years.
The new work mirrors that of the poem Motion wrote to commemorate the golden jubilee in 2002. On that occasion he looked back at events of the first half-century of her reign while the Queen was praised for her constancy through change.
“It’s true that the golden jubilee was loitering in my mind,” said Motion, who has previously commemorated in poetry the Queen Mother’s 100th birthday, her death and Prince William’s 21st. “For this new work I didn’t want particularly to refer to her age of 80 as such.”
Maxwell Davies said: “Andrew and I met up last year and, yes, I think it was me who suggested that we look at the continuity of her reign and life.” He then asked Motion to write his words before he composed his music.
The full 20-minute version of The Golden Rule will be played with a chamber orchestra at Windsor in late September; Maxwell Davies is also working on another composition to be played at a BBC Proms concert in July to celebrate the Queen’s birthday.
This will be only the second time during her reign that the Queen has been to the Proms. She went first in her golden jubilee year of 2002, but gave the impression that she was not hugely fond of some of the music.
On her birthday on Friday, she and the Duke of Edinburgh will meet members of the public in an informal walkabout outside Windsor Castle. The Prince of Wales will then give a televised tribute to his mother before a dinner for the family at the newly restored Kew Palace in the evening.
When royal officials began planning for the Queen’s birthday, she told them she wanted a “low-key” family celebration and preferred them to concentrate their efforts on next year’s diamond wedding celebrations.
In diamond jubilee year, the Queen will be 86. Her mother lived to 101 and the Queen seems in remarkably good health, so it is conceivable she could break Queen Victoria’s record of 63 years on the throne. Victoria, who succeeded to the throne at the age of 18, was 81 when she died in 1901.

Music and silence

By Andrew Clark
From the Financial Times - April 14 2006 16:20

At an orchestral concert in London a few weeks ago the conductor gave a little speech about each piece of music before it was performed. No advance notice had been given of this “educational” element, but it was well handled and everyone listened appreciatively.
A few days later I heard a composer prefacing a performance of his music with explanatory remarks from the platform. He spoke not about the music itself, but about the effects of sea and sky that had inspired him, thereby implanting a kind of pictorial narrative in the audience’s mind.
On another recent occasion the conductor arrived on stage to the customary applause, but instead of turning to the orchestra he faced the audience, adjusted a microphone and gave a jokey introduction to the programme. His remarks were scarcely relevant to the music, but the audience was amused.
These incidents are typical of a trend in classical music. Speaking to the audience is on the increase, especially in the UK and US. Concert-goers love it because it breaks the “glass wall” between stage and audience. It makes them feel part of the performance process; concerts are less stuffy. And when a composer is there to talk about his or her music in person, audiences are relieved to discover that these creative types do not wear horns or live in ivory towers, but are actually quite normal and sometimes vulnerable. Hearing them talk, we get a sense of their personality. It helps us understand where their music is coming from. If the music then turns out to be frightful, at least we tolerate it better.
It’s not just audiences who enjoy the speaking element. Concert promoters and orchestra managers are falling over themselves to encourage it. They advance the careers of conductors they think are good at it - despite the fact that the best platform-speakers are rarely the best interpreters of the music. The idea is that if the concert experience is more user-friendly, attendances will rise. Managements can then tick the boxes marked “education” and “access” - buzz-words in today’s consumer-led cultural landscape - and win brownie points from the politicians and funders who ultimately determine their survival.
This sort of thinking is insidious. It signifies a fear that classical music may not be sufficiently communicative or “entertaining”. No one will admit to this fear. You don’t have to explain jazz to anybody, but the implication is that you do with classical music - for reasons that are phoney. It’s not because the music is too complicated and needs elucidating. When I first attended a piano recital in my late teens, I didn’t need an explanation to be enraptured by Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin - any more than people did when it was first performed nearly 100 years ago.
The problem for classical music in the 21st century is that it is competing with the high decibel count, the simplistic beat and the narcotic effect of rock and pop, beside which it seems “boring”. No wonder it is considered a minority interest. Demystifying the concert experience is part of a desperate attempt to give it more street-cred and develop enough support to sustain it.
The trouble with speaking to the audience is that it limits the imaginative scope of the music. Listening to someone discussing a piece of music before you have a chance to hear it pre-programmes your responses. The music has no chance to communicate freely. You are left with a number of objective ideas about what to think and feel, circumscribing the subjective impressions that music seeks to create in the listener through the medium of sound.
Music begins where words end: the whole purpose is to express things that are not possible in words. The traditional concert format - uniform dress, subdued lighting, no speaking - evolved with this in mind: it’s not some silly old-fashioned ritual. It was designed to throw a cloak of impersonality over the concert process, to create a directness of communication between music and listener, to detach you from everyday discourse. That has always been part of the sanctity of a classical concert. When performers start speaking they break the spell; they prick the illusion of a transcendent force. The only exceptions are when a soloist announces an encore or - as Oliver Knussen sometimes does - the conductor decides to give an immediate repeat performance of a new piece.
But most promoters today would be embarrassed by talk of “sanctity”. The whole drift of cultural provision is away from the idea of a pure aesthetic experience. The consumer is king: heaven forbid that anyone should be required to make an effort. That explains the drive to make concerts more informal, to persuade the audience it’s all jolly.
On the rare occasions when mainstream promoters put money into new music, they like to be able to guarantee the return by converting it into an educational project, rather than risk backing an artist on his or her own terms. Most composers go along with this: it’s the only way to get paid. If you don’t conform you’re “difficult” - as Jonathan Lloyd demonstrated when he was interviewed on stage before a recent Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra performance of his Fourth Symphony. Using elliptical one-word answers he made himself absolutely clear: everything he wanted to say was in the music.
I’ve heard few concert-hall talks that made the music more meaningful. They may have made the concert experience more “fun”, in the way that Leonard Bernstein did at his young people’s events, but the idea that they deepen our understanding of the music is an illusion. You have to have a very good ear and an even better memory to be able to relate what was said beforehand to the myriad motifs, harmonies, rhythms and tunes you hear in performance. If you really want to learn more about the music, you are better off studying the programme notes before the start - or perhaps listening to a CD of the music at home.
I am not opposed to talking about music - as a music critic I use words every day to describe the musical experience - but there is a time and place for it, and this excludes the concert itself. Pre-concert talks, of the kind given by the conductor and educator Benjamin Zander, using musical examples on the piano, can enrich the concert-hall experience. Post-concert exchanges between conductor and audience, as recently espoused by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, can be gratifying - if only as a way of coming to terms with our reactions to the music and the way it was played.
The only other instance where talking has a legitimate role is when an event advertises itself as a lecture-demonstration, of the type championed by Roger Norrington: the auditorium becomes a laboratory in which the music is deconstructed, examined from various angles and put together again.
Of course, it doesn’t do to be too purist. I recall several occasions at the Cheltenham festival in the past 10 years when festival director Michael Berkeley introduced a concert from the podium. He happens to be a composer but, unlike most composers, he is also a relaxed public speaker. He thinks as a composer does, but knows what information will be most relevant in advance. Exceptionally the formula worked. But please note - it was the exception.

Esa-Pekka Salonen Says He May Write an Opera

By Ben Mattison
From PlaybillArts.com - 14 Apr 2006

Conductor and composer Esa-Pekka Salonen said in a Bloomberg News interview published today that he is in the early stages of writing an opera.
In Paris to conduct the world premiere of Kaija Saariaho's Adriana Mater, Salonen was asked about the possibility of writing an opera himself. He responded, "Actually, I'm working with a dramatist at the moment. We'll see."
Salonen, the music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, also said that he wanted to cut back on guest conducting in order to spend more time composing. "There are plenty of conductors out there," he said. "But only I can write my music."
He added that conductors in general should focus on "developing local musical life," and said that the international travels of star conductors were driven by "hype."


Salonen Bemoans Strikes, Critics; Welcomes Cindy Crawford's Bra

By Shirley Apthorp
From Bloomberg - April 14, 2006

Paris's St. Germain basks in spring sunshine on a day when, just two blocks west, rioting students have overturned a car and beaten up the driver. As riot police arrive, sirens blazing, lunchers stretch their legs at pavement tables and tip their faces to the sun.
Esa-Pekka Salonen arrives at Les Deux Magots, late and apologetic. This cafe was Jean-Paul Sartre and Ernest Hemingway's favorite hangout, and he recalls their habits with a touch of glee, adding sadly that he feels the place has lost its bohemian charm. The Finnish conductor and composer will be 50 in two years, but still looks boyish, with his mop of blond hair and fresh-pressed shirt. Boyish but tired.
``I'm an old horse,'' he says. ``I've been around and done thousands of concerts and shows. But still, you have a kind of mental buildup before a premiere. And when the air goes out of the balloon, it's just sad.''
Salonen is in Paris to conduct the world premiere of Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho's second opera, ``Adriana Mater,'' a complex work about rape and violence in a war-torn community. The first performance, scheduled for March 30, was canceled at the last minute when workers at the Opera de Paris's Bastille theater called a strike. Gerard Mortier, the director of the Opera de Paris, called Salonen with the news just as he was finishing lunch.

Drowning Sorrows

``I was just about to have my coffee and go,'' he says. ``Then Mortier was on the phone saying, `Well, there's no show tonight.' So I ordered a bottle of wine.''
Chaos ensued, with a vast audience, including some 65 representatives of the international press who had flown in for the event, being turned back at the doors.
``I'm glad I wasn't there,'' he says. ``I was trying to take it professionally. It was a very weird thing, because it was not a majority strike, and it wasn't linked to the general strike, either. This was just a small fraction of people who timed it in such a way that the whole thing collapsed. There was nothing that could be done. But I got depressed.''
The second performance went ahead. Despite an enthusiastic response from the public, the French press response was not glowing.
``Everything is political in Paris,'' Salonen says. ``To damn this opera is to take a swipe at Mortier. And here you had a Lebanese librettist, a Finnish composer and an American director coming to Paris to do an opera at the country's national house . . .''
Salonen trails into silence with an exasperated sigh and turns his attention to his coffee for a moment.

Narrative Opera

So how does he rate the opera?
``I can't separate myself from the piece,'' he says. ``Kaija is a very close friend of mine. And I've been working with this score for months now, so I can't put myself mentally outside the situation. I think it's a very strong piece. Kaija is a composer whose vocabulary is extremely focused. The harmonic language is limited and extremely precise. You hear one note and you know it's hers. That's rare these days.''
Also unusual is the clear narrative form of ``Adriana Mater,'' in a continental context where new operas are generally modernist deconstructions.
``This is not a post-modern, distanced view of the very idea of opera,'' says Salonen. ``It's an opera which absolutely believes in the art of opera, a simple story told in a linear way. It is a statement of faith in the fact that opera is an art form which can deal with big emotions and huge subjects. I'm very tired of the modernist idea that there are things you should not do because they are against the historic determinist paradigm or the Hegelian dialectical idea.''

Conducting Hype

Surely a composer with such strong views can be expected at some point to produce an opera himself? ``Actually, I'm working with a dramatist at the moment,'' he admits. ``So we'll see.''
He plans to scale down his guest conducting drastically, reducing his commitments to the Los Angeles Philharmonic, where he has been music director since 1992, the Baltic Sea Festival, which he founded in 2003, and a few select engagements.
``There are plenty of conductors out there,'' Salonen says. ``Way too much is being made of conductors and conducting. Being a conductor myself, I do have some knowledge of the empty hype that goes with this profession. But only I can write my music. There's no one else who can do it for me.''
Strong words for a man close to the top of the international conducting circuit. What exactly is he criticizing?
``The most important function of a conductor is that of developing local musical life,'' he says. ``Conductors should be what they used to be -- spokespeople for music in their home town.''

Crawford's Bra

That is a big task in a community like Los Angeles, where the brand new Walt Disney Concert Hall towers over streets crowded with homeless and destitute migrants.
``Disney Hall has been very successful in the sense that it has become our landmark already,'' Salonen says. ``There is hardly a Hollywood movie with a car chase which doesn't go past Disney Hall. There is hardly a lingerie commercial that wouldn't be partly shot in the garden of Disney Hall.
``I went to work one morning, and outside my door was Cindy Crawford in a black bra,'' he says. ``And I thought that very clearly the building is making progress in integrating itself into various layers of our culture.''

Adriana Mater is showing at the Opera de Paris on April 12, 15 and 18. Call (33) (1) 7229-3535, or go to http://www.operadeparis.fr for more information.

New songs by Paul Moravec

At Merkin Hall, Music With the Theme of Women as Patrons

By Bernard Holland
From the New York Times - April 13, 2006


The New York Festival of Song returned to Merkin Concert Hall on Tuesday night with another bundle of vocal music wrapped in an idea. The theme was women as patrons of the arts, or put another way, the composer as protégé. The program tripped happily through history, naming those who helped the musically important and letting us hear the responses they got.
There were short stops at the Renaissance (Isabella d'Este), the early Baroque (Queen Christina of Sweden), the Rococo (Marie Antoinette) and Russian Romanticism (Nadezhda von Meck). The evening lingered over the largess of newly rich American women (Winnaretta Singer, Tilly Losch, Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge and Alice Esty). A new piece by Paul Moravec, three songs called "Parables," remembered the late Anna Moffo.
There were four singers. Steven Blier, who played most of the piano parts, offered running commentary interrupted only by the music. Mr. Blier, who plays well, can also be winning with words. If perhaps there were a few too many, the festival's loyal audience ate up every one.
Mr. Moravec's songs occupied parallel worlds, and it was sometimes hard to know where one's concentration ought to settle. The vocal lines are long, ardent and well shaped. The piano parts are of a different character: intricate and full of interesting life with racing virtuoso passages, bird-like treble chirpings and tumbling harmonic progressions. The ear veered from one side to the other as if at a musical tennis match.
It was nice to hear William Sharp singing Fauré's delicate "Cinq mélodies de Venise" next to Kurt Weill's bluntly beautiful music from "The Seven Deadly Sins," here with Alexandra Montano. Henri Dutilleux's veiled little "San Francisco Night" made an appearance, as did Ned Rorem's cheerful, wriggling "Snake." Virgil Thomson's "Love Song" was interesting for Kenneth Koch's non-sequitur lyrics. Songs by Marc Blitzstein and Paul Bowles had their attractions.
Carolyn Betty's soprano is full and promising. She is young, and when the top of her voice opens up more, that touch of glare and hardness will probably go away. Mr. Sharp is a satisfying singer; and in her briefer appearances, Sasha Cooke showed a nicely developing mezzo-soprano, although the Tchaikovsky duets with Ms. Betty at the end invite the kind of full-throated emotions that are hard to keep in tune. Ms. Montano did well. Michael Barrett was the evening's other pianist.

From Finland, Magnus Lindberg's Contemporary Music Feast


By Jeremy Eichler
From the New York Times - March 27, 2006


Magnus Lindberg, the plucky 47-year-old Finnish composer, is a major presence in Europe, though his music is heard too rarely in the United States. His best works fuse intellectual rigor with a sensual richness; he draws from the brainiest compositional techniques of the postwar decades but keeps the music's stitching on the inside. Listeners are confronted with swaths of bright primary colors, sometimes-velvety timbral detail and fast-breaking instrumental lines of great virtuosity. These essential qualities came through in the all-Lindberg program performed at Miller Theater on Friday night as the final installment of this season's excellent Composer Portraits series.
In recent years, Mr. Lindberg has been painting in more subtle strokes, but his catalog includes its fair share of aggressive music, especially from the early years. Friday's program fittingly began with "Linea d'ombra" (1981), a playfully caustic snarl of a piece that Mr. Lindberg, in comments from the stage, described as a "Here I am" work written just after he completed his studies at the Sibelius Academy. Clearly, Mr. Lindberg was eager to escape from the giant shadow cast by the namesake of his conservatory, and accordingly the piece opens with a primal yawp shouted by the players onstage and ends with whispered nonsense syllables and metal chains being dragged on a tabletop. In between, the work grabs the ears with its happy chaos of jumpy conversation among percussion, flute, clarinet and guitar. You could already sense the composer's gift for taut syntax and the mischievous twinkle in his extreme instrumental writing.
The teeming "Clarinet Quintet" (1992) uses none of the shock tactics of the earlier work but is a marvel of tightly interwoven construction and brilliant virtuoso filigree, especially for the clarinet. This is no accident. Over the years Mr. Lindberg has enjoyed a close working relationship with the outstanding clarinetist Kari Kriikku, for whom he wrote the quintet as well as the adrenaline-laced Clarinet Concerto released last year on the Ondine label. Mr. Kriikku's playing sets an impossibly high standard for Mr. Lindberg's music, but Joshua Rubin, the clarinetist on Friday night, still conveyed the liberated, open-highway feel of the solo lines, albeit with reduced tonal intensity.
"Related Rocks" (1997) and "Duo Concertante" (1992) made up the second half of the program and offered still more faces of the composer's work. The former is a voraciously eclectic piece, pooling two pianists, two percussionists and electronics, and revealing Mr. Lindberg's ear for minimalist gesture and rock-style rhythmic energy. "Duo Concertante," the largest work on the program, spotlights clarinet and cello soloists (Mr. Rubin and Katinka Kleijn), their lines finely echoed and refracted by the eight-piece orchestra. Timothy Weiss conducted the International Contemporary Ensemble, whose members also served as the versatile and exacting house band for the evening's chamber works.

Lindberg fans have more to look forward to this summer when Mostly Mozart presents the world premiere of his Violin Concerto, on Aug. 22.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

How pop and television damage our culture

Peter Maxwell Davies explains why 'serious music' is struggling for survival

From the Guardian - Monday April 25, 2005

The other evening, after my usual full day of writing music, I turned on BBC Radio 3 and was immediately immersed in Bach's St Matthew Passion. I felt privileged to be put so easily in touch with one of the greatest creative minds in our history, or, to be more specific, put into contact with a mind that had so singularly drawn together into one glowing, unified whole such diverse cultural threads - religious, historical and literary, alongside musical traditions of composition and performance.
I reflected that, through education, I have access to all this, even to the extent of feeling myself in a happy and complete union with the work, while at the same time regretting that the vast majority of people are unaware of this richest of possible listening experiences: not only unaware, but often actively antagonistic towards it, deeming it elitist, the exclusive domain of the elderly, or even of the semi-moribund, irrelevant to contemporary life, the product of a long-dead European white male.
Yes, I know the Bible upon which the work is based; I understand the German text; I know something of the rather peculiar Christian Protestant theology permeating Bach's work, particularly in the cantatas. And the polyphonic and baroque traditions behind the musical composition and its performance are familiar enough to enable me to appreciate efforts to create the original sound-world of the music. Most importantly, I can read music.
Successive governments have cut back on music education in state schools to the extent that music specialists have become a rarity. Not only can few teachers read or write musical notation, but the music teachers themselves are unfamiliar with the world of classical music. Can we imagine the teaching of English in circumstances where the teacher not only does not know any poems, novels or plays, but cannot read?
I do not advocate force-feeding children with a culture of classical music. One has only to think of all the people put off Shakespeare or Mozart for life after bad teaching at school. But there can be no real understanding of music without creating it. In my limited time as a schoolteacher - 1959-62, at Cirencester, in a mixed state grammar school - it became clear to me that nearly all children can improvise and compose music competently, given the minimum of opportunity. I had a school orchestra and a junior orchestra, all started very much from scratch, plus a choir of about 40, which could perform standard repertory, or be expanded to over 200 for a work like the Monteverdi Vespers.
All this would have been impossible had I not been supported by the county education authority in Gloucester, who provided the instruments, and tuition for the children by peripatetic teachers for free. It goes without saying that a more "popular" musical culture flourished in the school, too - it is both musically and spiritually demanding to improvise jazz, play pop music by ear and invent pop-style songs about the traumas of adolescence. The standard of work in other subjects was thought to be helped by all this music-making, which not only encouraged the mental and physical skills of playing and singing together but, perhaps just as significantly, helped the children's social skills.
But what happens at school or college is only a part of the story: the main influence on most people's lives now is television. With a huge choice of commercial channels, aiming to make as much money as possible out of as many people as possible in the shortest possible time, the lowest common denominator prevails. One can look at circulation figures for the "popular" papers in comparison with their so-called "highbrow" stable-mates and realise that most people leave school with a restricted active vocabulary of just a few hundred words, and that the very act of thought is thereby severely restricted. Perhaps not only our children but all of us are being educated to become good, docile consumers, so that we become incapable, or perhaps just unwilling, to question the status quo.
There is a history in folk music, and in some fairly recent pop music, of social and political criticism, but the only music most people know - pop music - has become a big business beyond anything ever imagined in the musical world, playing its part in drugging constructive, creative thinking. In rare circumstances where this music does give rise to controversy, the lyrics are even more rightwing than our more extreme politicians, inciting racial or sexual violence. It can come as a shock to realise that the majority, particularly of young people, are unaware that music can be "abstract" - that is, without "vocals" - and that a musical work can last longer than a pop single. Most could not name one living "serious" composer, nor name Britain's most celebrated composer, Purcell. And certainly they would have no conception of his time, nor his place in it, nor be able to quote a melody of his. But then, neither would these same people be able to summarise the plots of a couple of Shakespeare's plays. Ironically, they couldn't name our political parties and their leaders either - but this apathy possibly fits the agenda. Does all this matter?
I shall make two quite trivial observations that provide a little gloss on these remarks. Firstly, if there is a space between words on even seemingly high-minded documentaries, a few seconds of mindless, brittle muzak is immediately pumped out, demonstrating the programme-makers' lack of faith in our powers of concentration. Secondly, it is depressing how many guests on Desert Island Discs, whose work in their own field one admires, choose no classical music, while displaying familiarity and even erudition in other cultural fields.
I am aware that many, even in the most respected bastions of musical education, regard the very knowledge of music notation as "elitist": that classical music itself is elitist. If elitist means that a little prior study and knowledge helps towards listening and participation, then it is just that - along with any other field one could mention, from science to literature to football.
But it is only in music that these inverted snobs take this line. Such people would deny the likes of me, a working-class boy from Salford, access to some of the most wonderful, thought-defining work of our very civilisation, along with the possibility of contributing to that civilisation with any gifts with which nature might have endowed me. I will always fight for access to the best in our culture to be available to all. However, what with inverted snobs of the sort mentioned, and with successive governments demonstrating a lack of concern for cultural standards, particularly in education, it is hardly surprising that orchestras, museums and theatres should be forever struggling, strapped for cash.
Britain in the first Elizabethan age could boast a musical culture second to none in Europe. In the 17th century, Purcell was as brilliant a star as any in the firmament. At the time of Bach, we had a German import, Handel, who was first-rate, but through the times of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and into the 19th century, the musical scene here was of less interest. With the late 19th-century renaissance of British music, above all with Elgar, and into the 20th century, with Holst, Vaughan Williams, Britten etc, we can hold our heads high. And I would insist that today we are producing not only performing musicians as good as any in the world, but some of the most accomplished composers. However, when I conduct orchestras in Europe, there are always expat Brits, there because there was no job for them in Britain, or because conditions and salaries are so much better abroad. We have five opera houses; Germany has over 90, and comparison in the orchestral field is similar.
The roots of a thriving classical music scene need three nutrients: education, resources and new music. Classical music cannot become a museum culture, however tempting for some such a proposition may be. All performers, to be really alive, must be in a mutually constructive and beneficial relationship with contemporary thought and culture, and this means with real, live composers.
To my astonishment, last year I was offered the position of Master of the Queen's Music. The brief was to raise the profile of "serious" music, and providing music for royal occasions was entirely optional.
On June 6 I shall conduct a new work to mark the 60th anniversary of the end of the second world war, as part of a royal concert in Westminster Central Hall. This is my own initiative, and must be done without compromise. I have been happy to learn from works like Britten's War Requiem and works by Prokofiev and Shostakovich to help me pitch it right. There is no guarantee I shall succeed, but at my age, increasingly, I feel there is nothing to lose by making an honest effort.
Classical music is such an integral part of European culture that it should be regarded as something available to all by right. I would dearly love to be more people than just one: to spend more time performing, to dedicate more attention to music education at all levels, and even to what I think of as agit-prop for classical music. But the daemon that drives me is musical composition, and unless I spend most of my time involved in exactly that, I feel I am not fulfilling my real role as a creative human being. This is a very small matter, but, thinking again of the St Matthew Passion, perhaps it wasn't always so small, and could even be not such a small matter again.
I believe that classical music has a future - assuming we, as a civilised society, have any prospects at all. However, one must never forget that, not far into the 17th century when, with Shakespeare and Marlowe, we had the best theatre in the world, this was all destroyed by an unsympathetic government, under the influence of what we would today call the religious right.

This is an edited extract of last night's Royal Philharmonic Society Annual Lecture given by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London. A full text of the lecture, entitled Will Serious Music Become Extinct?, is available from www.royalphilharmonicsociety.org.uk.

Richard Rodney Bennett at 70 at the Barbican

Easy to like but hard to fall in love with

By Paul Gent
From the Telegraph - 11/04/2006

Though widely admired as a composer, Richard Rodney Bennett does not have the concert profile in this country of his contemporaries Harrison Birtwistle and Peter Maxwell Davies. Why is this?
One reason, ironically, could be his success outside the concert hall. The Mr Versatile of music has achieved fame for his film scores (three Oscar nominations), jazz piano and accompanying the likes of Marian Montgomery in cabaret.
Another reason might be his declining output - in the past 20 years, he has produced only a handful of major works. But is there another reason? This concert of his mainstream classical pieces, the most recent dating from 1987, gave us a chance to find out.
The initial response must be no. These are works that seduce the ear, the opposite of the crude stereotype of "plinky plonk music". The Symphony No 3, silkily played by the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Martyn Brabbins, was warm, lush and lyrical. Bennett may have flirted with the avant-garde in his youth, but here he came across as the grandson of Vaughan Williams.
The second work in the programme, the horn concerto Actaeon, was similarly attractive. If it never lived up to the moodily mysterious promise of the opening adagio, that must have been at least partly due to the temptation inherent in all virtuoso works - and what a virtuoso the horn player David Pyatt showed himself to be - to put bravura display before depth.
Yet the overall impression was of a certain complacency; the music never seemed to strive for much beyond expertise. The two works in the second half did little to correct this impression, though the choral work Sea-Change, performed by the BBC Symphony Chorus under Stephen Jackson, did have one startling movement full of growls and shouts.
The final work, the 11-section orchestra work Anniversaries, made all the right noises, but rarely rose above the level of a dutiful, averagely agreeable late-20th-century work.
It was hard not to draw the conclusion from this concert that Bennett is a composer it is easy to like but hard to fall in love with. Perhaps, after all, it would have been fairer to include some of his more popular work - a blast of Murder on the Orient Express might have got the blood racing. It would certainly have sent us out of the hall humming.

New Alissa Firsova in Seattle

All-Russian program challenges, surprises

By George H. Pro
From the Seattle Times - Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Sunday night the Seattle Chamber Players continued their tradition of presenting daring new chamber works to Seattle audiences, with an all-Russian program of keen interest.
Pavel Karmanov is a popular composer of Russian television and cinema, and the Chamber Players opened the program with the U.S. premier of his work "Get In!" The essentially bright tonal work began with a nice forward motion that had great promise but disappointed because it never went anywhere. The two main ideas stayed on one dynamic level, creating a static effect.
A complete contrast ensued with Sofia Gubaidulina's "Quartet for Four Flutes." A fragmented opening yielded to sustained atonal clusters that mostly remained in a high register, locking in a drone-like static tension. It was not an easy work to listen to because of its lack of structure and dynamics.
As the program progressed, the material became more accessible to my ear. Alissa Firsova's "Celebration" was written in memory of Shostakovich and contains skillful writing that make colorful excursions from tonal anchors. In this world-premiere performance, the playing was exemplary; in particular, the violin's expansive lines were striking. The clarinet occasionally sounded harsh, as if the tone were being pushed toward a high dynamic level.
The surprise of the evening came in the form of the Shostakovich-approved transcription of his 15th Symphony for piano trio with percussion and celesta (arranged by the pianist Victor Derevianko). Soloist Oleg Malov, who played a preconcert Shostakovich recital, was the capable piano soloist. The piano provided both thematic material and textural fullness, and when the other instruments joined in, I could almost imagine an orchestral timbre. But the character was unquestionably that of a chamber work, with Shostakovich's ingratiating rhythmic signature. All four players gave the work a stunning performance.
The group consists of Seattle Symphony musicians Laura DeLuca (clarinet), David Sabee (cello) and Mikhail Shmidt (violin). Paul Taub (flute) teaches at the Cornish School for the Arts. Elena Dubinets serves as artistic adviser.

A difficult birth for 'Adriana'

"Adriana Mater" mirrors unsettled times in Paris

By Mark Swed
From calendarlive.com (LA Times) - April 11, 2006

From the moment Kaija Saariaho's "L'Amour de Loin" (Love From Afar) premiered at the Salzburg Festival six years ago, the wondrous medieval romance has seemed a charmed opera. But not so her second opera, "Adriana Mater," in which love is now up close and nasty. This time, Saariaho did not set out to charm, nor could much about this month's belated "Adriana" premiere by the Paris Opera be called charmed.
Although the work is hardly the disaster sniffy French critics have suggested, "Adriana" has, nevertheless, absorbed some of the troubled atmosphere of this particular April in Paris. The production was nearly undone by striking part-time technicians and stagehands, who forced a cancellation of the March 30 opening one hour before curtain. Although unconnected with the large-scale student protests over proposed new national hiring laws, the opera crew's anger over losing generous benefits that accrue after only 300 hours' work a year was a symptom of a social dissatisfaction felt throughout France right now. The presence of heavily armed riot police makes parts of Paris feel like an occupied city.

The opera did finally have its premiere April 3, and given how many "L'Amour" collaborators are back, some magic might have struck twice no matter what the external strife. The Paris-based Lebanese novelist Amin Maalouf is again the librettist; Peter Sellars once more directs; and "Adriana" has the same team for sets (George Tsypin), costumes (Martin Pakledinaz) and lighting (James F. Ingalls). Esa-Pekka Salonen, who has been a close friend of Saariaho since their college days together in the Finnish capital, Helsinki, and who conducts on the recently released "L'Amour" DVD, is in the pit at the Opera Bastille, the Paris Opera's large, modern house.
Instead of magic, though, Saariaho and Maalouf managed to uncannily reflect the times they find themselves in. Maalouf sets the libretto in an unspecified, likely Balkan country. Adriana rejects the advances of a drunken village youth, Tsargo, who joins a resistance movement. When Adriana refuses to let Tsargo into her house to use the roof to monitor men attacking the village, he forces his way in and rapes her. Seventeen years later, Adriana's son, Yonas, learns the truth about his father, who he had been led to believe died a war hero, and tells his mother that he will find and murder him. Needing to know whether her son has inherited his father's violence, whether he is a Cain or an Abel, Adriana doesn't stop him. But Tsargo, when Yonas finds him, is blind and pathetic. The son cannot kill.

On the surface, "Adriana" appears blood-and-guts opera in the manner of Verdi or Janácek. And much of the disappointment in it has been based on the fact that it is nothing of the sort. Maalouf's concerns are not about an enemy from outside. He examines what we do to ourselves. Nor does Saariaho compose conventionally goal-directed (read: male) music. The incandescent beauty of her score for "L'Amour," with its enchanted floating orchestral effects and gorgeous vocal writing, was much praised. "Adriana" sounds less colorful, more gray and dissonant. But neither is it jarringly dramatic in the manner of verismo opera.
Saariaho still creates an ocean of sound, just a more viscous and polluted one. Even when there is a big brass moment between the sixth and final scenes, it grows into not so much a climax as a swelling of emotions that don't have any obvious place to go. This score is more like a barometer of the not always logical behavior of the opera's four characters: Adriana's sister Refka, a voice of reason in a world where reason has little value, is the fourth.

A report based on one hearing must be preliminary, what with so much going on underneath the surface of this roiling orchestral sea. One Paris newspaper, Libération, called "Adriana" a "tragedy without depth." In fact, it is exactly the opposite: depth without traditional tragedy, which is much more elusive and interesting.
Le Monde didn't like the happy ending, if you can call damaged people simply being able to carry on a happy ending. The characters accept and overcome violence. Love for them up close was brutal. Only with distance, time and suffering do they recognize their mutual need. The music at the end is of a heart-rending, unsentimental beauty.
Sellars' production, like Saariaho's score, is in constant emotional flux. The characters often seem to be swimming without direction, and even the set of translucent cubes and domes that glow like candy feels vaguely subaqueous. But the glow comes late in the evening. For a long time, the look is drab.

At the second performance, on Friday, the opera felt, despite the reportedly difficult rehearsal period, quite well prepared. The principals — Patricia Bardon (Adriana), Solveig Kringelborn (Refka), Gordon Gietz (Yonas) and Stephen Milling (Tsargo) — were all admirably committed, with Bardon rising to real eloquence at the end. Salonen conducted with ferocious adamancy, and the Paris Opera orchestra responded in kind. The chorus, who sang offstage and whose mostly wordless music was electronically altered so that it surrounded the audience, sounded spectacular.But just because "Adriana" got past its Parisian obstacles doesn't mean that its future is bright. This is a co-production with Finnish National Opera, which reports last week suggested may drastically reduce its staff by next year. Where "Adriana" will go after Helsinki remains to be seen, but perhaps the third production will be the charm.

A difficult birth for 'Adriana'

"Adriana Mater" mirrors unsettled times in Paris

By Mark Swed
From calendarlive.com (LA Times) - April 11, 2006

From the moment Kaija Saariaho's "L'Amour de Loin" (Love From Afar) premiered at the Salzburg Festival six years ago, the wondrous medieval romance has seemed a charmed opera. But not so her second opera, "Adriana Mater," in which love is now up close and nasty. This time, Saariaho did not set out to charm, nor could much about this month's belated "Adriana" premiere by the Paris Opera be called charmed.
Although the work is hardly the disaster sniffy French critics have suggested, "Adriana" has, nevertheless, absorbed some of the troubled atmosphere of this particular April in Paris. The production was nearly undone by striking part-time technicians and stagehands, who forced a cancellation of the March 30 opening one hour before curtain. Although unconnected with the large-scale student protests over proposed new national hiring laws, the opera crew's anger over losing generous benefits that accrue after only 300 hours' work a year was a symptom of a social dissatisfaction felt throughout France right now. The presence of heavily armed riot police makes parts of Paris feel like an occupied city.

The opera did finally have its premiere April 3, and given how many "L'Amour" collaborators are back, some magic might have struck twice no matter what the external strife. The Paris-based Lebanese novelist Amin Maalouf is again the librettist; Peter Sellars once more directs; and "Adriana" has the same team for sets (George Tsypin), costumes (Martin Pakledinaz) and lighting (James F. Ingalls). Esa-Pekka Salonen, who has been a close friend of Saariaho since their college days together in the Finnish capital, Helsinki, and who conducts on the recently released "L'Amour" DVD, is in the pit at the Opera Bastille, the Paris Opera's large, modern house.
Instead of magic, though, Saariaho and Maalouf managed to uncannily reflect the times they find themselves in. Maalouf sets the libretto in an unspecified, likely Balkan country. Adriana rejects the advances of a drunken village youth, Tsargo, who joins a resistance movement. When Adriana refuses to let Tsargo into her house to use the roof to monitor men attacking the village, he forces his way in and rapes her. Seventeen years later, Adriana's son, Yonas, learns the truth about his father, who he had been led to believe died a war hero, and tells his mother that he will find and murder him. Needing to know whether her son has inherited his father's violence, whether he is a Cain or an Abel, Adriana doesn't stop him. But Tsargo, when Yonas finds him, is blind and pathetic. The son cannot kill.

On the surface, "Adriana" appears blood-and-guts opera in the manner of Verdi or Janácek. And much of the disappointment in it has been based on the fact that it is nothing of the sort. Maalouf's concerns are not about an enemy from outside. He examines what we do to ourselves. Nor does Saariaho compose conventionally goal-directed (read: male) music. The incandescent beauty of her score for "L'Amour," with its enchanted floating orchestral effects and gorgeous vocal writing, was much praised. "Adriana" sounds less colorful, more gray and dissonant. But neither is it jarringly dramatic in the manner of verismo opera.
Saariaho still creates an ocean of sound, just a more viscous and polluted one. Even when there is a big brass moment between the sixth and final scenes, it grows into not so much a climax as a swelling of emotions that don't have any obvious place to go. This score is more like a barometer of the not always logical behavior of the opera's four characters: Adriana's sister Refka, a voice of reason in a world where reason has little value, is the fourth.

A report based on one hearing must be preliminary, what with so much going on underneath the surface of this roiling orchestral sea. One Paris newspaper, Libération, called "Adriana" a "tragedy without depth." In fact, it is exactly the opposite: depth without traditional tragedy, which is much more elusive and interesting.
Le Monde didn't like the happy ending, if you can call damaged people simply being able to carry on a happy ending. The characters accept and overcome violence. Love for them up close was brutal. Only with distance, time and suffering do they recognize their mutual need. The music at the end is of a heart-rending, unsentimental beauty.
Sellars' production, like Saariaho's score, is in constant emotional flux. The characters often seem to be swimming without direction, and even the set of translucent cubes and domes that glow like candy feels vaguely subaqueous. But the glow comes late in the evening. For a long time, the look is drab.

At the second performance, on Friday, the opera felt, despite the reportedly difficult rehearsal period, quite well prepared. The principals — Patricia Bardon (Adriana), Solveig Kringelborn (Refka), Gordon Gietz (Yonas) and Stephen Milling (Tsargo) — were all admirably committed, with Bardon rising to real eloquence at the end. Salonen conducted with ferocious adamancy, and the Paris Opera orchestra responded in kind. The chorus, who sang offstage and whose mostly wordless music was electronically altered so that it surrounded the audience, sounded spectacular.But just because "Adriana" got past its Parisian obstacles doesn't mean that its future is bright. This is a co-production with Finnish National Opera, which reports last week suggested may drastically reduce its staff by next year. Where "Adriana" will go after Helsinki remains to be seen, but perhaps the third production will be the charm.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Isang Yun Concert to Be Held at Mt. Kumgang


By Seo Dong-shin
From the Korea Times - 04-10-2006 17:16

A ceremony marking the first anniversary of the establishment of the Seoul-based Isang Yun Peace Foundation will be held at Mt. Kumgang in North Korea on April 29, foundation officials said on Monday.
Coinciding with the ceremony is a concert featuring Yun’s music, and a joint dinner of South and North Korean government officials, the officials said.
Minister of Unification Lee Jong-seok will likely attend along with Park Jae-kyu, director of the foundation and former unification minister, a ministry spokesman told The Korea Times.
The ceremony will be at the Shingye-sa Temple on Mt. Kumgang while the concert will be at the Mt. Kumgang Cultural Center, according to the officials.
A performance by the South’s Tongyong International Music Festival (TIMF) Ensemble and members of the National Center for Korean Traditional Performing Arts will be followed by a performance from Pyongyang’s Isang Yun Orchestra.
Lee Soo-ja, Yun’s widow who has been living near Pyongyang in recent years, will be present at the ceremony to talk about her feelings regarding the recent campaign to restore her deceased husband’s honor in the South.
Yun (1917-1995), who was born in Tongyong, South Kyongsang Province in the South, was a respected Korean composer residing in Germany in the 1960s, drawing attention from music circles there for his music mingling Korean touch with Western style.
But after his visit to North Korea in 1963, Yun was kidnapped from West Berlin and brought to Seoul under the authoritarian government of former President Park Chung-hee in June 1967, where he was tortured to make a false statement that he was working as a spy for the Pyongyang regime via the North Korean Embassy in East Berlin.
In what was then known as 'Tongbaengnim' ('East Berlin' pronounced in the old Korean way) case, Yun received a life sentence. But he managed to return to Germany in March 1969 after two years of imprisonment, reportedly thanks to efforts to save him by international music circles and pressure from the then West German government.
Yun became a naturalized German citizen in 1971. He could never return to the South in his lifetime but visited Pyongyang in the late 1970s at the invitation of then North Korean leader Kim Il-sung. He died in Germany in 1995.
In Pyongyang, an institute committed to Yun’s music was established in 1984 and has now its own orchestra of some 60 performers.
South Korea started to actively look into the possible wrongdoings committed by its previous authoritarian regimes from the 1960s to 1980s, after the inauguration of the Roh Moo-hyun administration.
Earlier this year, a panel investigating the nation’s intelligence agency’s past activities said the Tongbaengnim case was fabricated to silence dissidents at that time. Investigators recommended the government apologize to the victims and seek ways to redeem their honor.
"I can only visit the hometown when my husband’s honor is restored," Yun’s wife, Lee, was quoted as saying by the South’s Hankyoreh Shinmun which interviewed her in Pyongyang last month.
In January, the Isang Yun Peace Foundation announced plans to invite Lee, 79, to the South.

American Music Center to Honor Milton Babbitt

By Ben Mattison
From PlaybillArts.com - 10 Apr 2006

The American Music Center will present composer Milton Babbit with its Founder's Award at its annual meeting on May 1, the new-music organization announced.
The award "celebrates lifetime achievement in the field of new American music"; it has been presented seven times since 1999, to composers and performers including Charles Ives, Ornette Coleman, Lou Harrison, and Elliott Carter.
Babbitt, who turns 90 on May 10, is a pioneer of twelve-tone music and electronic music. In 1982, he won a special citation from the Pulitzer board for his lifetime of work.
The AMC will also present Letters of Distinction to the choral group Chanticleer; jazz guitarist Bill Frisell; New Yorker critic Alex Ross; and jazz pianist and educator Billy Taylor. The letters, which have been awarded annually since 1964, "recognize those who have made a significant contribution to the field of contemporary American music."
Recent winners of the Letter of Distinction include Lukas Foss, Gian Carlo Menotti, John Adams, Dave Brubeck, George Perle, Dawn Upshaw, and Steve Reich.
The meeting will be followed by a performance by the Meridian Arts Ensemble, pianist Matthew Shipp, and composer and vocalist Pamela Z. It will take place at the Cutting Room in Manhattan at 7:30 p.m., and is open to the public.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Were Shostakovich alive, he'd be exhausted

By Melinda Bargreen

From the Seattle Times - Friday, April 7, 2006

It would be hard to find a more distinguished group of Shostakovich experts than the trio that will convene in the grand lobby of Benaroya Hall on Saturday.
Mstislav Rostropovich, who knew the late composer Dmitry Shostakovich well and was the dedicatee of several Shostakovich works, will be on hand to discuss his personal views of the composer, along with Shostakovich biographer Elizabeth Wilson and highly regarded music historian Richard Taruskin. Together, they should come up with fascinating commentary on the late, great symphonist, who would have turned 100 this year. His birth anniversary is being celebrated in the ongoing "Shostakovich Uncovered" Festival at Benaroya Hall.
The experts will be joined by Elena Dubinets and Christian Knapp, both Russian speakers, who can provide more context and also some translations. (Admission to the 1:30 p.m. event is $10 at the door.)
Tonight and Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m., Rostropovich will return to the Seattle Symphony podium at Benaroya for performances of Shostakovich's Symphony No. 1 and Prokofiev's Symphony No. 5, along with Shostakovich's "Festive Overture." Rostropovich also was a friend of Prokofiev's, and his insights into both composers' works should give these concerts a noteworthy authenticity (tickets at 206-215-4747 or www.seattlesymphony.org).
The Seattle Chamber Players, who are partners in the Shostakovich festival, will present a 7 p.m. performance Sunday in the Nordstrom Recital Hall called "Through a Glass Darkly: Shostakovich's 15th Symphony, A Master's Legacy." The program, which features the pianist Oleg Malov, includes the world premiere of Alissa Firsova's "Celebration," the U.S. premiere of Pavel Karmanov's "Get In!!," Sofia Gubaidulina's Quartet for Four Flutes, and Shostakovich's Symphony No. 15 (in the arrangement by Derevianko). Tickets are available at Ticketmaster outlets, linked via the Web site, www.seattlechamberplayers.org. An hour before the concert (6 p.m.), Malov will play a preconcert recital of piano works by Shostakovich (the "Aphorisms" and Piano Sonata No. 2).
The Seattle Symphony also is presenting a U.S. premiere screening of a Russian-language film, "Evacuation," at the downtown Seattle Public Library (1000 Fourth Ave., Microsoft Auditorium, Level One), at 2 p.m. Sunday. Karmanov (whose work is featured at the Seattle Chamber Players concert) composed the score; the movie is about the evacuation from Leningrad during World War II. There's a post-film discussion that features SCP guest pianist Malov, who survived the Leningrad blockade as a child. The film and discussion are free to the public.
Finally, the concluding program in the "Shostakovich Uncovered" Festival opens Thursday, with Gerard Schwarz conducting the first of two concerts with the young violinist Julian Rachlin (playing the Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1). The program also includes the Shostakovich Symphony No. 8, along with a selection from Sibelius' "Legends." The concert, which starts at 7:30 p.m. in Benaroya Hall, repeats at 8 p.m. April 15 (206-215-4747, www.seattlesymphony.org).

New Rihm and Unsuk Chin next season in Bavaria

Nagano's Inaugural Bavarian Staatsoper Season to Feature Two World Premieres, Four New Productions

From OperaNewsOnline - April 06, 2006

The Bavarian State Opera's music director designate, Kent Nagano, announced the details of the company's 2006-07 season today, with six new productions, including two world premieres, set to take the stage of the National Theater in Munich. Included among the new productions is Wolfgang Rihm's one act opera, Das Gehege (The Enclosure), which will feature a libretto by playwright Botho Strauss, and is scheduled to receive its world premiere as part of a double bill with the opera's production of Salome. Nagano will conduct the duo, with both productions being staged by television and movie director William Friedkin.
In addition, the world premiere of Unsuk Chin's Alice in Wonderland, with a libretto by M. Butterfly playwright David Henry Hwang, will open the 2007 Munich Opera Festival on June 30, 2007, in a production by Achim Freyer, also paced by Nagano.
Other new productions set to premiere during the season include Jürgen Rose's staging of Werther; a production of Mussorgsky Khovanshchina by young Russian stage director and designer Dmitri Tcherniakov; Claus Guth's take on Luisa Miller will present the opera in it's company premiere; and Christof Loy's mounting of Il turco in Italia will play in a co-production with the Hamburg State Opera.
The State Opera also announced that the company's administration would assume a new structure during the interregnum between the August 31, 2006 departure of Staatsintendant Sir Peter Jonas and the September 9, 2008 arrival of general manager Klaus Bachler. During that time, the opera will be managed by a directorate under the general artistic direction of Nagano. Dr. Roland Felber will serve as the company's business manager, Ronald H. Adler will be the company's artistic administrator, and Dr. Ulrike Hessler will serve as the opera's director of communications and development.

More information can be found at the Bavarian Staatsoper.


Kent Nagano Announces First Season at Bavarian State Opera

By Vivien Schweitzer
From PlaybillArts.c0m - 06 Apr 2006

The Bavarian State Opera's 2006-07 season, the first under music director Kent Nagano, includes four new productions and two world premieres, the company announced.
Opening night on October 27 features a double bill of a new production of Strauss's Salome, directed by William Friedkin with sets by Hans Schavernoch; and the world premiere of Wolfgang Rihm's one-act opera Das Gehege, set to a libretto by Botho Strauss.
Nagano said, "It was especially important to me to combine Salome with the work of this most successful German composer, whose keen familiarity with Richard Strauss’s musical world enables him to take that tradition into the abstraction of the twenty-first century."
The announcement raised one practical question. The company's spring performances of Wagner's Parsifal feature Plácido Domingo in the title role, but the tenor is scheduled to sing Siegmund in Die Walküre with the Washington National Opera on the same dates. Representative for Domingo and the WNO were unable to immediately explain the discrepancy.
Other new productions include Massenet's Werther, conducted by Ivor Bolton, with direction, sets, and costumes by Jürgen Rose; a Claus Guth production of Verdi's Luisa Miller, conducted by Massimo Zanetti with sets and costumes by Christian Schmidt; and Mussorgsky's Khovanshchina, conducted by Nagano with sets by Dmitri Tcherniakov. For the latter work, Nagano will use Shostakovich’s orchestration of Mussorgsky's incomplete score.
A revival of Verdi's Don Carlo conducted by Zubin Mehta features René Pape and Ramón Vargas; Violeta Urmana sings Leonora di Vargas in Verdi's La forza del destino; Kurt Moll sings in several productions, including Wagner's Der fliegende Holländer. Countertenor David Daniels sings the title role of Handel's Orlando.
The world première of Korean composer Unsuk Chin's Alice in Wonderland will open the 2007 Munich Opera Festival on June 30, 2007. Nagano will conduct.
Other revivals on the schedule includes Britten's Billy Budd; Verdi's La Forza del Destino, Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel, Bellini's Norma, and Handel's Orphée et Eurydice.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Modern composers in good hands with MusicNOW

By Wynne Delacoma
From the Chicago Sun-Times - April 5, 2006

Sheer beauty of sound is not always a byproduct of contemporary chamber music performances, but it was front and center at the MusicNOW concert Monday night in Symphony Center.
Now in her ninth and final season as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's composer-in-residence, Augusta Read Thomas has been one of the guiding spirits behind the CSO's increasingly solid MusicNOW series. Her taste is eclectic. As she said in introductory remarks Monday night, "MusicNOW has no house style.''
But the concert's collection of mostly short works by German composer Detlev Glanert, English composers Oliver Knussen (who also conducted) and Luke Bedford as well as the world premiere of Thomas' own "Carillon Sky'' offered a singular glimpse into how some contemporary composers approach their craft. All four seemed to be fascinated with the very idea of instrumental sound in these works. Rarely have single notes from a solo violin, piano or tubular bells for that matter been given such space to blossom or sounded so luminous and rich.
At age 53, Knussen is one of Britain's leading composers, perhaps best known for his operatic setting of Maurice Sendak's children's tale Where the Wild Things Are. Monday's concert featured three of his works, including two delicious little musical morsels: "A Fragment of Ophelia's Last Dance'' for solo piano from 2004 and "Secret Psalm'' for solo violin from 2003, as well as the world premiere of a MusicNOW commission, a longer work titled "Requiem -- Songs for Sue'' for soprano and 15 instrumentalists.
Knussen is a miniaturist who can pack a lot of musical ideas into three-minute pieces for solo violin or piano or a 12-minute requiem. And in the hands of such dazzling MusicNOW soloists as pianist Amy Dissanayake and violinist Baird Dodge, even his shortest works leave a lingering impression.
"Ophelia's Last Dance'' had the airy grace and fluidity of a Debussy piano study, but its dreamy melodic flow refused to stay within its banks. Dissanayake's performance danced with amiable rhythms, but its melodic ideas persistently went awry. When she finally succumbed to a few brisk, traditional chords to close the piece, we couldn't help smiling.
Baird Dodge, CSO principal second violinist, was similarly fascinating in Knussen's more emphatic "Secret Psalm" for Solo Violin. His cleanly incised performance had a singing undercurrent ideally suited to Knussen's unpredictable but concise musical poetry.
Knussen used fragments of poems by Emily Dickinson, Antonio Machado, W.H. Auden and Rainer Maria Rilke in his requiem for his late wife Sue, who died three years ago. Accompanied by austere but beautifully colored murmurs and episodic outbursts from the small, varied ensemble, British soprano Claire Booth brought great warmth to Knussen's haunting texts and vocal line.
Glanert's densely packed "Secret Room:" Chamber Sonata No. 3 from 2002 launched Monday's concert with a gorgeously shaded study of ever-mounting tension. At first, its tiny calls and shrieks from individual instruments were widely spaced, with the sound of an excitable flute or a metallic violin hanging in the empty air. As the spaces became shorter, the tension mounted to a level of frantic alarm. The periodic tolling of a soft-edged bell alternated between calls for calm and wary vigilance.
Thomas' own world premiere, "Carillon Sky'' for Dodge's solo violin and small ensemble, was full of her typical sensitivity to musical color. Dodge's violin was sweet-toned but assertive, dancing in and out of conversation with the accompanying ensemble. Bedford's "5 Abstracts'' from 2001 was precisely plotted, offering indelibly vivid moments ranging from irritated rasps to the caress of a lingering violin line. In the final moments, individual instruments glowed and shifted, gaining color like a dark room being slowly illuminated.