Monday, May 22, 2006

Maxwell Davies: don’t turn our islands into slums

By Karin Goodwin
From The Sunday Times (Scotland) - May 21, 2006

The Queen’s master of music, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, has criticised the proposed spread of prefabricated “kit homes” which, he claims, threaten to turn areas of rural Scotland into “squalid English suburbs”.
The composer is angered at a planned development of eight such houses near his home on Orkney, condemning them as “bungaloid excrescences” that are being thoughtlessly “plonked” into the landscape.
Highland council wants to increase the development of prefabricated buildings, which it sees as one way to solve its housing crisis. Officials will travel to Orkney next month to evaluate their viability.
The flat-pack ready to assemble homes were introduced into Britain in the 1990s and have been heralded by John Prescott, the deputy prime minister, as the answer to Britain’s housing crisis.
Eight one-storey concrete kit houses have already been built or granted planning permission on the Orkney isle of Sanday, which has a population of 500. Maxwell Davies, who has lived on the island for the past 30 years, believes that the houses will be an eyesore and is urging the council to create protection zones where kit homes are banned.
“It’s just a quick fix on the council’s part and extremely short-sighted. It is quite possible to design housing to fit with the landscape. Local stone can be waterproofed and reclaimed timber used,” he said.
“I felt I had to speak up so that it goes on historical record that we tried to do something about this.”
He believes that there should be greater regulation of housing designs to ensure that they are suitable for rural landscapes.
“It is the unthinking, uncritical plonking down of unsuitable kit houses in prominent inescapable positions in vulnerable landscapes which I question,” he said. “It would appear that junk architecture, like junk food, is addictive.”
Highland council does not have any planning restrictions against prefabricated kit homes. Some councillors believe they could be the solution to helping locals, at present priced out of the housing market, on to the property ladder.
Cairngorms National Park is to become the first area in Scotland to ban incomers from buying homes to prevent property prices spiralling further out of the reach of locals. Sales of new housing are to be restricted to those who can prove a residential, family or work-related link with the area.
This move followed a council report warning the area that incomers were threatening the viability of schools and the survival of communities.
“If we are to increase the number of houses we are to build, and to build them quickly, then we have to look at the best and most convenient ways of achieving this,” said Sheena Slimon, who chairs the Highland council planning committee.
“There are a limited number of tradesmen in the Highlands so, if the Orkney kit home model proves to be a viable way forward, it would certainly be helpful for us,” she added.
Neil Stephen is a director of Hebridean Contemporary Homes, a Skye company which builds high quality kit houses to a design that Maxwell Davies is understood to approve of. Stephen claimed that more appropriate housing could easily be constructed with the use of simple and inexpensive modifications. “Kit houses can be inspired by traditional buildings, such as the long house, which can look good in the dramatic landscape,” he said.
“There is a terrible housing crisis here and that has to be addressed without spoiling what makes it special in the first place. A lot of the design issues are not only about using appropriate materials, but about proportion and siting of the houses.”
One problem identified by planners and architects is the lack of a planning strategy — which means that houses are built individually where land can be bought cheaply, often on hilltops or other prominent skylines. “The release of land is so random and bizarre that there is no proper consideration for making communities,” said Malcolm Fraser, a leading Edinburgh architect.
“What’s disappointing is that kit houses — which can be easily adapted — often end up looking like something that would be at home in the Essex commuter belt.”
Jeremy Baster, director of development services at Orkney council, acknowledged that there were design issues with certain kit houses and said that the council was reviewing the planning guide.
“We now have something of a housing crisis on Orkney and there is a significant demand for affordable housing,” he said. “One solution is putting up kit houses.
“We are, however, trying to encourage people to look at the type of variation that might be possible and to increase the amount of advice we offer.”

COMMISSIONS://Buckley, O'Connell and Dwyer in Dublin

RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra 2006/2007 Season

From Dublinks.com - May 19, 2006

The 29 concerts featured in the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra 2006/2007 Season will included works by Mahler, Handel, Shostakovitch, Elgar, Bartók and Suk, and performances by internationally renowned stars like Tasmin Little, Nicola Benedetti, Simon Trpčeski, Nikolai Demidenko and Ha-Na Chang

Highlights of the 2006/2007 season include the performance of Mahler's symphonies, Nos. 1 to 7 and No. 10, Handel's Messiah with Mozart's orchestration, the completion of the Shostakovitch symphony cycle and the celebration of Elgar's 150th birthday with a performance of the Enigma Variations and The Dream of Gerontius.

The season also includes performances of Bartók's chilling opera Duke Bluebeard's Castle and Suk's eloquent and moving Asrael symphony, Beethoven's heroic 'Emperor' Piano Concerto, Tchaikovsky's thrilling First Piano Concerto, Mozart's Clarinet Concerto and Rachmaninov's rhapsodic Second Piano Concerto.

A stunning line-up of international acclaimed classical names playing at the RTÉ NSO season include one of the world's leading violinists Tasmin Little, the phenomenal cellist Ha-Na Chang, one of the great Beethoven interpreters, John O'Connor and dazzling piano virtuous, Nikolai Demidenko.

The RTÉ NSO season will also feature world premieres of new pieces by John Buckley, Kevin O'Connell and Benjamin Dwyer commissioned by RTÉ as well as the Irish premiere of Ian Wilson's Licht/ung and music by Magnus Lindberg, Rautavaara and Sallinen.

Young Irish artists making their debuts in the RTÉ NSO are pianist Cathal Breslin, mezzo-soprano Edel O'Brien, violinist Gwendolyn Masin and pianist Peter Tuite.

Another exciting season of classic music, the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra 2006/2007 Season has something for all music lovers.

COMMISSIONS://Violin Concerto from Magnus Lindberg

Mozart Now

By Alicia Zuckerman
From PlaybillArts.com - 17 May 2006

On his 250th birthday, Mozart inspires four dynamic premieres at the 40th anniversary Mostly Mozart Festival. The festival opens on July 28.

Some part of Louis Langrée was a little concerned that there would be a bit too much Mozart this year. Of course, for the music director of the Mostly Mozart Festival, there's no such thing as too much Mozart, but planning the Festival during the 250th anniversary year of Mozart's birth, he says, "forces you to be even more imaginative."
"This year we were faced with a challenge," agrees Jane Moss, the Festival's artistic director and Lincoln Center's Vice President of Programming. "We knew there would be 2,000 celebrations in New York alone." Moss and Langrée answered that challenge by devising a way of putting Mozart into a modern context.
"Our overarching theme is that Mozart is alive and among us," explains Moss, "that he has such an immediate impact on our contemporary world, that he is not just this sort of bewigged figure from the 18th century." So while Mozart's birthday was January 27, and many of the major celebrations have passed by now, some of the most forward-thinking tributes are yet to come.

For this summer, the Mostly Mozart Festival, which happens to be marking an anniversary of its own, its 40th, has commissioned four new works: a violin concerto by the Finnish composer Magnus Lindberg; a suite of dances to Mozart's music by choreographer Mark Morris; a new staging of Mozart's unfinished opera, Zaide, by director Peter Sellars; and an ambitious audiovisual digital art installation by the OpenEnded Group.
Lindberg, a rising 47-year-old composer who has worked with such fellow Finns as Kaija Saariaho and Esa-Pekka Salonen, and whose influences range from Beethoven to world music and punk rock, has written concertos for piano, clarinet, and cello. Now he turns to the violin with his first concerto for that instrument, which he wrote for violinist Lisa Batiashvili. When Maestro Langrée approached Lindberg about the commission, the composer says that his first reaction was panic: "I thought, 'Oh my God, what can I do that has anything to do with Mozart? He exists without my aid!' But then I thought, 'Instead of linking my music to the sort of untouchable world of Mozart, what if I were to write something for the same size orchestra he was using?'" The result will be a work scored for the same orchestration as the early Mozart violin concertos: a string section, two oboes, two bassoons, and two horns. "It's amazing how, with such a small wind section, he was capable of making so rich a sound," Lindberg marvels. A fitting complement to the new concerto will be Gidon Kremer's Festival performances of Mozart's complete violin concertos.
Mark Morris, at once a renegade and an icon, has been called the Mozart of modern dance. More than any other choreographer working today, Morris is responsible for introducing classical music audiences to modern dance by presenting pieces set to excellent music and played live by top-flight musicians. His L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato, danced to the music by Handel, was presented at the 2002 and 2005 Mostly Mozart Festivals. Morris made his conducting debut earlier this spring, leading his troupe's music ensemble on the opening nights of his 25th-anniversary season at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
He admits, however, that it took him years to appreciate Mozart's music. "It just seemed too evident and too plain," he recalls. "Of course it's none of that. It's miraculously deep and thrilling."
The choreographer returns to the Festival with the premiere of Mozart Dances, a full-evening suite set to Mozart's Piano Concertos Nos. 11 and 27 and the Sonata in D for two pianos. The performance will feature the Mark Morris Dance Group, pianist Emanuel Ax, pianist Yoko Nozaki (Ax's wife), and the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra with Langrée at the podium. "It's more Mozart piano music than would be on a regular concert," boasts Morris. "It's a giant immersion."
In a new production of Mozart's unfinished opera Zaide, the dynamic director Peter Sellars turns the spotlight on issues of human rights, as the tragic romance plays out in a contemporary sweatshop, with a black and Asian cast. Mozart began Zaide when he was 23 but put it aside to work on Idomeneo (which Les Arts Florissants, led by William Christie, will also perform during the Festival), and abandoned it altogether on the advice of friends who told him it was too serious for the Viennese public. Sellars describes the work as "a passionate antislavery drama of reconciliation between Europeans and the Muslim world, charged with the white heat of urgent social change." It is loaded with themes that are especially relevant today. He told the Guardian in London, "The ending is quite perfect because it is a plea for mercy, and we don't know what the next step will be, which, you could say, is where we are at the beginning of the 21st century with the Muslim world and the West." Zaide will also be an unusual experience for audiences, notes Sellars, because by and large, the music--performed by the period-instrument ensemble Concerto Köln (led by Langrée in his New York opera debut)--is not well known. The meeting of the Eastern and Western worlds continues after the final two performances of Zaide, with two late-night concerts, featuring Concerto Köln and the ensemble Sarband, which draws from European, Jewish, and Muslim musical traditions. These concerts are part of the Festival's continuing series of intimate, late-night performances, "A Little Night Music."
Lincoln Center audiences have previously seen the work of digital artists Marc Downie, Paul Kaiser, and Shelley Eshkar--the OpenEnded Group--accompanying works by choreographers Merce Cunningham and Trisha Brown. This summer, anyone who happens to be walking around the Josie Robertson Plaza will experience the group's latest artwork, Enlightenment, 24 hours a day during the five weeks of the festival. A public art installation was Moss's idea, but she had no idea the result could be the highest resolution live digital artwork ever created. A computer network analyzes the final moments of Mozart's "Jupiter" Symphony on ten plasma screens and ten sets of speakers (representing the different sections of the orchestra) facing out from the facade of Avery Fisher Hall. "Our 'holy grail' is to create a much deeper and more intelligent interplay between sound and image," explains Kaiser, "one in which the images seem to think about the sound--the effort of their thinking being fully visible to the viewer." The computers work their way through various possibilities, making lots of mistakes along the way, before arriving at the correct conclusion approximately every 30 minutes. "We have 20 seconds of music from the Age of the Enlightenment, and it's so complex that we had to slow it way down, take it apart, and then painstakingly put it back together again before we could even begin to understand it," Kaiser explains. And, as it turns out, adds Moss, "the computer is actually much, much slower than Mozart," who, as far as we know, composed those 20 seconds--in about 20 seconds.
"The music of Mozart goes beyond just music," declares Langrée. "It's a vision of the world."

APPOINTED://Tod Machover Joins Faculty of Royal Academy of Music

By Ben Mattison
From PlaybillArts.com - 16 May 2006

Composer Tod Machover has been appointed visiting professor of composition at London's Royal Academy of Music, the conservatory announced.
Machover has been professor of music and media at the MIT Media Lab since 1985, and is well known for his melding of technology and music. He has invented a series of "hyperinstruments," and is at work on a robotic opera with a libretto by poet Robert Pinsky.
His previous works include the operas VALIS, based on Philip K. Dick's science-fiction novel; Resurrection, based on Tolstoy's novel; and the interactive Brain Opera, which is installed at Vienna's House of Music.
The Royal Academy's composition faculty is led by Simon Bainbridge; current visiting professors include Peter Maxwell Davies and Craig Armstrong.

COMMISSIONS://Four new flute concertos for Emmanuel Pahud

An indefatigable flautist with an experimental nature

By Shirley Apthorp
From the Financial Times - May 17 2006

Emmanuel Pahud has one day at home in Berlin between the Berlin Philharmonic’s Europa concert in Prague and the beginning of his European tour with the Australian Chamber Orchestra. What might seem a hectic schedule to most must be normal enough for Pahud, a musician who racks up some 90 solo or chamber music and 75 orchestral concerts in an average year – roughly twice the number of performances that most musicians would consider a heavy work-load.
“It’s a tight schedule, but I’m happy with the balance,” says Pahud, who spent 18 months out of the orchestra four years ago. “It’s a balance I’ve had all my life, because I won my first competition when I was 15 and I got my first orchestral job when I was 19. It’s a fantastic sound experience playing in an orchestra like this, and you work with great artists. But I try not to get stuck in one or the other musical corner.”
The man widely heralded as today’s finest flautist strides into the foyer of Berlin’s Hyatt hotel with the easy self-confidence of success. He is shabbily dressed, in old trousers and a shirt so worn that strips of cloth are pulling from the cuffs, but he carries himself as if he owns the hotel, and is treated by the waiting staff with the sort of deference usually reserved for film stars.
Since it is unlikely that the coffee-bar waitresses of the Hyatt are regular guests at the concerts of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra across the road, the deference is probably a response to Pahud’s model good looks and charisma rather than a recognition of his musical status. Still, as woodwind players go, Pahud is well-known. At 22 he was appointed Principal Flute of the Berlin Philharmonic. He has won swathes of prizes and awards, and he is one of EMI’s best-selling classical artists. Born in Geneva in 1970, he studied in Paris. He speaks French, German and English with native fluency.
On the road with the Australian Chamber Orchestra this month, Pahud plays the Vivaldi flute concertos just released by EMI as part of its pioneer multi-media series. For the first time in the label’s history, a collaboration with iTunes allows the purchase and download of tracks online – long since standard practice in the rest of the music world, but a development that has failed to catch up with the classical music world.
“In a Vivaldi concerto, the movements are seldom longer than 3 to 5 minutes long. Some are only a minute and a half. So it’s suitable for downloading.
“We are facing new times in terms of music distribution. The whole logistics of distribution are bypassed by digital downloading. The music is available as soon as it’s released, and people who found it difficult to get CDs before favour this form. Students and young people find it especially useful. And therefore I see it as the future, since they are the new generation.”
EMI’s website includes audio teasers and video footage of Pahud and the Australian Chamber Orchestra playing Vivaldi in Sydney that answer any questions the curious observer may have about why a UK recording company would send a team to the Antipodes to record a New World ensemble playing 18th-century Italian repertoire.
“The Australian Chamber Orchestra was my first choice for this project, because of their creativity, their curiosity and their willingness to try anything and everything,” says Pahud. “
“They are always experimenting with sound. I have always found it a particular strength of this orchestra that they really find a different sound for each piece that they play. It’s what I like to say about myself – a kind of musical chameleon, with a different skin for each piece on the programme.”
Just after his Vivaldi tour, Pahud is the soloist for a Berlin Philharmonic concert with Simon Rattle, performing Carl Nielsen’s flute concerto, which EMI will also record. The irony of these repertoire choices in the Mozart year is not lost on him. Though it was the sound of his family’s upstairs neighbour playing Mozart’s G major flute concerto that made the four-year-old Pabud resolve to become a musician, he is determined to keep his focus as broad as possible. In honour of Mozart’s 250th birthday he has commissioned four new flute concerti, by Zoran Erić, Matthias Pintscher, Marc-André Dalbavie, and Michael Jarrell (respectively Serbian, German, French and Swiss).
“I love to experiment,” Pahud enthuses. “The day I stop experimenting will probably be the day I stop playing the flute.”

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

PREMIERES://Sonic Fusion Research Ensemble first concert

By Rowena Smith
From The Herald - May 15 2006

One of the long-term goals of Sonic Fusion, the new contemporary music festival in Edinburgh, is the establishment of a research ensemble. The idea of a group that specialises not only in the performance of contemporary music but also works in areas of sonic and technological research might sound strange in musically rather conservative Scotland, but such an idea is nothing new on the continent, where groups such as the Ensemble Intercontemporain at IRCAM in Paris are already established at the centre of cutting-edge musical performance and research. The Research Ensemble, the first group of its kind to be set up in Britain, gave its inaugural public performance in St John's as part of Sonic Fusion. The chamber group has a fixed cast-list of eight musicians in a non-standard line-up of flute, clarinet, horn, violin, cello, piano, percussion and mezzo-soprano that suggests its roots in contemporary music. Taken as a mission statement for the development of the ensemble, the opening concert spoke of variety, presenting a wide range of works, many of them world or UK premieres, by an international array of composers. From the almost static simplicity of Aruaru, by Argentinian composer Graciela Paraskevaidis, to the intricate complexities of Patricia's Songs, especially written for the ensemble by Stephen Davismoon, the driving force behind Sonic Fusion, the overriding impression was that there was no all-pervasive dogma uniting the programming. The pieces ranged in scale from utilising all the musicians to solos, and, indeed, it was two of the latter works that made the greatest impression: flautist Richard Craig playing the ephemeral, daringly experimental Ici for solo flute by Pascal Dusapin, and John Casken's dancing Spring Cadenza for cello, played with vigour and intensity by its dedicatee, Betsy Taylor.

PREMIERES://Cashian and others in London

By Andrew Clements
From The Guardian - Monday May 15, 2006

News from the UK, the second of the London Sinfonietta's new-music showcases at St Luke's, was conducted by Zsolt Nagy, and devoted to music with homegrown connections. All five composers represented were born between 1963 and 1973, and their works were all receiving premieres of one kind or another. It was a rather indigestible affair, with just too much unfamiliar music to assimilate fully in a single concert. As it was, the most impressive and memorable works came from the two composers who were also the most familiar, Philip Cashian and Richard Ayres.
Cashian's brand new Piano Concerto may have been formally quite conventional - three movements, the opening one discursive and confrontational, the second slow and mostly a piano solo, and the finale hectic and propulsive - but filled that frame with striking ideas, satisfyingly varied piano writing (incisively delivered by soloist Sarah Nicolls) and some equally characterful ensemble writing. Ayres's engaging and perplexing No 24, his NONcerto for horn composed in 2002, was receiving its first London performance. Requiring a doorway and a Powerpoint presentation as well as a peripatetic solo horn (the splendidly imperturbable Michael Thompson), two harps and and a wind-heavy ensemble, its three movements describe episodes in the life of Ayres's imaginary artist Valentine Tregashian, and a mysterious woman called Anna Filipiova, though more generally I think it's about the horn's place in European myth making.
The rest seemed pallid by comparison. Bryn Harrison's overlong ensemble piece Four Cycles presented the same musical material from different perspectives, in which what colour and energy there was in the music seemed gradually to be leached away, while Joanna Bailie's compact string quartet, Five Famous Adagios, followed a similar trajectory as it moved away from the Bach quotations from which it all derived. Saed Haddad's trio Le Contredésir, described as a homage to Helmut Lachenmann, was an exercise in melodic identity and raw-edged expressiveness that made its point pithily enough and with a minimum of fuss.

FESTIVALS://This summer in the US

An overview in the New York Times. Here's a selection

OJAI June 8-11. Osvaldo Golijov continues his triumphant progress through the country. The Atlanta Symphony and Robert Spano take to Ojai some of what they performed at the Golijov festival at Lincoln Center this season: "Ainadamar," "Ayre," "Oceana." Pieces by Cage, Nancarrow and Rzewski, as well as Brazilian jazz, round out the program.

ASPEN MUSIC FESTIVAL AND SCHOOL June 21-Aug. 20. In addition to Mozart and Shostakovich, Aspen's music director, David Zinman, leaps onto the birthday bandwagon. This festival celebrates his 70th with a new cello concerto by Kevin Puts, played by Yo-Yo Ma. Christopher Rouse and Marc-André Dalbavie further represent contemporary composers, and minifestivals focus on the lives of past ones, like Shostakovich and Britten.

OPERA THEATER OF ST. LOUIS Saturday-June 25. Opera in English is St. Louis's trademark and, to a lesser degree, English opera. This summer at least offers the American premiere of "Jane Eyre," by Michael Berkeley. Another composer who obligingly wrote in English was Kurt Weill in "Street Scene"; but "The Barber of Seville" and "Hansel and Gretel" will be sung, of course, in translation.

MONADNOCK MUSIC July 13-Aug. 25. Subversion hits rural New England; this festival, which has quietly fostered former unknowns like Peter Sellars and Frederick Rzewski, is celebrating its 40th anniversary with a program that includes a focus on Elliott Carter; the requisite Mozart celebration with the pianist Konstantin Lifschitz and others; a pair of deliberately genre-defying concerts; and Schumann programs with Russell Sherman and James Maddalena.

SANTA FE CHAMBER MUSIC FESTIVAL July 16-Aug. 21. Premieres by Magnus Lindberg (a young lion) and Leon Kirchner (an older one), and an installation and piece by David Lang, will be the news for some. For others, highlights will include recitals by the sitar player Anoushka Shankar, the pianist Jonathan Biss or the Shanghai Quartet. The repertory ranges from Bach to Michael Tilson Thomas.

SANTA FE OPERA June 30-Aug. 26. Some luminaries are testing their orbits in Santa Fe's firmament this summer. Anne Sofie von Otter takes on the heavy role of Carmen, which she interpreted to tremendous effect at Glyndebourne; Natalie Dessay is switching from the Queen of the Night in "The Magic Flute" to her first Pamina. Alan Gilbert, the company's music director, conducts two operas, including Thomas Adès's provocative "Tempest" (remember when Santa Fe commissioned John Eaton's version in 1985?); and the estimable John Fiore leads "Salome." The fifth opera is Massenet's "Cinderella."

LINCOLN CENTER FESTIVAL July 10-30. Music, theater and dance lead the way in the 10th season of this internationally minded festival. "Grendel," the first opera by Elliot Goldenthal (directed by his wife, Julie Taymor), arrives here fresh from its premiere in Los Angeles, with Denyce Graves as the Dragon and Eric Owens as Grendel, and choreography by Angelin Preljocaj. Two other brand-new works bear jawbreaking titles: "Eraritjaritjaka" by the Austrian composer Heiner Goebbels and "Ramakien: A Rak Opera" by leading Thai pop and rock musicians.

MOSTLY MOZART FESTIVAL July 28-Aug. 26. It's hard to believe that it has been 40 years, or 250 for that matter. The 250 are the years Mozart has been with us; the 40 the age of the festival bearing his name at Lincoln Center, which has managed in recent years to keep reinventing itself. New commissions this summer include the premieres of a dance by Mark Morris, a violin concerto by Magnus Lindberg and a staging of the unfinished Mozart opera "Zaide" by Peter Sellars; another highlight is "Idomeneo," conducted by William Christie.

CARAMOOR INTERNATIONAL MUSIC FESTIVAL Katonah, June 24-Aug. 12. If there's one event not to miss in the New York area this summer, it is the Polish contralto Ewa Podles as Rossini's Tancredi. Will Crutchfield's Bel Canto at Caramoor lives up to its name this year; the other opera is Bellini's "Puritani," with Sumi Jo. Michael Barrett, the festival's director, continues to up the ante across the board: Caramoor has a composer in residence, John Musto; it continues its Extreme Chamber Music series; and it still presents the Orchestra of St. Luke's.

GLIMMERGLASS OPERA Cooperstown, July 7-Aug. 29. Here's a mixed season for you: a premiere by the estimable Stephen Hartke, "The Greater Good," as well as Janacek's "Jenufa," Rossini's "Barber of Seville" and Gilbert and Sullivan's "Pirates of Penzance." This is a glass half empty or half full, whichever way your taste happens to skew.

STATISTICS://Contemporary Music: 14% of orchestral concerts in 2005-06

Beethoven's Seventh Was Most-Performed Work of 2005-06

By Ben Mattison
From PlaybillArts.com - 12 May 2006

While Mozart dominated concert programs this season, Beethoven's Seventh Symphony was the single work most performed by North American orchestras, with 89 performances, according to the American Symphony Orchestra League's annual repertoire report.According to the ASOL's statistics, based on information submitted by 322 ensembles, performances of Mozart shot up during his 250th-anniversary year. There were a total of 1,453 Mozart performances this season, far more than Beethoven (948), Tchaikovsky (581), and Brahms (495).
By comparison, there were 647 performances of Mozart in 2004-05 and 672 in 2003-04; Beethoven was played more during both seasons.
In 2005-06, the most-performed Mozart work, and the second most-performed work overall, was Symphony No. 41 ("Jupiter"), with 76 performances. Other top choices included Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5 (73 performances), Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 (72), Brahms' Symphony No. 1 (68), Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto (67), Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 (65), and Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4 (62).
The most-performed contemporary work (defined as composed within the last 25 years) was Joan Tower's Made in America, which was commissioned by ASOL and Meet the Composer for small orchestras across the country; it got 58 performances in 2005-06.
Other popular new works included Jennifer Higdon's Blue Cathedral, which got 19 performances; Aaron Jay Kernis's Musica Celestis for String Orchestra (18); Osvaldo Golijov's Last Round (14); and Peter Maxwell Davies' Orkney Wedding With Sunrise (13). After Tower, whose works had a total of 81 performances, John Adams was the most-performed contemporary composer, with 78 performances.
With a total of 1,072 performances, contemporary works accounted for about 14 percent of all performances in 2005-06, up (thanks in large part to Tower's piece) from 9 percent in 2004-05.
American works accounted for 17 percent of performances, with Copland, Gershwin, and Samuel Barber most frequently heard.

PREMIERES://Blowing the lid off the Downtown classical scene

By Michael Clive
From The Villager - Volume 75, Number 51 May 10 - 16 2006

What music critics do for a living rarely resembles real journalism, but I’ve just received news that bears on national security — that is, the job security of composers of American nationality — while also bringing to light an upcoming classical event of compelling local interest. Your concert-going future could hang in the balance.
First, according to a confidential source linked to highly placed executives in the administration of the American Composers Orchestra, the ACO is negotiating a possible deal to perform in lower Manhattan next season. So far I have resisted all pressure to reveal my source, or the Downtown auditorium, or the number of dates the ACO may perform there. But if the ACO’s strong season-ender at Carnegie Hall is any indication, you will be glad to have them Downtown.
It is difficult indeed to imagine how anything about last Wednesday night’s concert could have gone better. The four works on the program offered two world premieres and two New York premieres including a recently commissioned, lushly sensuous song cycle. It proved a sumptuous showcase for the voice of Deborah Voigt, opera’s reigning dramatic soprano.
Not all of Miss Voigt’s opera fans know she is a superb recitalist. Her voice is big yet not thick, so it never obscures the words she sings. It soars, yet clings to a line. Creating the eight-song cycle “Erotic Spirits” for this instrument must surely have been a dream commission for Stephen Paulus, an acknowledged master of vocal writing whose catalog includes 200 choral works and nine operas. Be assured that when Paulus depicts 4th-century poet Tzu Yeh’s line “Bright moonlight shines through the trees,” the orchestra shimmers; when
Voigt sings Sappho’s lines “Love offers me / This brilliant sun,” her voice blooms into radiance.
The concert opened with an engaging musical dare: Brian Current’s experimental “Symphonies in Slanted Time.” In playing new music, instrumentalists often spend more time following their scores than watching the conductor, but Current allowed no such luxury. His rubbery tempos constantly accelerate and decelerate, requiring close attention to the conductor’s cues. They plunge the listener into a world that seems to teeter and roll — the aural equivalent of a funhouse mirror. Music may never have sounded quite so intoxicating.
Equally fresh and offbeat, Derek Bermel’s “Elixir” marked the beginning his three-year tenure as ACO’s composer-in-residence. Bermel is a musician of almost incredible breadth and productivity — a virtuoso clarinetist and apparent stylistic packrat who remembers and incubates everything he hears. While “Elixir” is informed by the shimmering “spectral music” that flourished in France in the 1970s, it also sounds distinctively American and decidedly maritime, with shore sounds and a constant rocking that outdoes Debussy’s “En Bateau” in its motility.
While you’re waiting for the ACO to announce its Downtown plans, mark your calendar for a concert date at St. Marks in the Bowery on Sunday, May 14 at 3 pm. That’s when the one-woman East Village musical production company Mimi Stern-Wolfe will present “MUS-Ecology,” a wide-ranging program including nature-themed songs by Schubert, B. Lazarus and Richard Hoyt performed by tenor K. Alakulppi and flutist Andrew Bolotowsky — and, of course, Stern-Wolfe at the piano. The program also includes Peter Maxwell Davies’s fascinating semi-staged “Yellow Cake Revue,” a cycle exploring the ecological and cultural consequences of uranium mining in the formerly pristine Orkney Islands, with tenor/actor Michael Schilke; and Laura Wolfe, an accomplished singer-songwriter who happens to be Stern-Wolfe’s daughter, with Dave Eggar on cello and bass.

NEXT SEASON://Berlin Philharmonic Announces 2006-07 Lineup

By Ben Mattison
From PlaybillArts.com - 12 May 2006

The Berlin Philharmonic's 2006-07 season will include the world premieres of works by Thomas Adès, Marc-André Dalbavie, and Pascal Dusapin, the orchestra announced. The season opens on August 26; it includes a total of 99 performances in Berlin, of which 42 will be led by music director Simon Rattle, as well as 37 concerts on tour.
Ades' Tevót, which was co-commissioned by the Philharmonic and Carnegie Hall, will debut on a tour in February 2007. Dalbavie's new work for flute and orchestra will be premiered by Emmanuel Pahud and conductor David Zinman in October; Dusapin's new work will be heard at the 2007 Aix-en-Provence Festival.
The season will also include performances of John Adams' one-act opera A Flowering Tree, which was co-commissioned with a group of arts organizations around the world and will get its first performance in Vienna in November. Music director Simon Rattle will conduct; the cast includes soprano Hyunah Yu, tenor Russel Thomas, and bass Eric Owens.
Other highlights include a celebration of composer Hans Werner Henze's 80th birthday, to include a performance of his Raft of the Medusa, and performances of Brahms' German Requiem, Ligeti's Requiem, Bartók's Cantata Profana, and Dutilleux's Correspondances with Dawn Upshaw. Pierre-Laurent Aimard will serve as pianist in residence, appearing solo, chamber, and orchestral concerts, among other events.
Guest conductors include Claudio Abbado, Pierre Boulez, William Christie, Zubin Mehta, Seiji Ozawa. Soloists include pianists Martha Argerich, Barenboim, and Lang Lang; violinists Gidon Kremer and Frank Peter Zimmermann; and singers David Daniels, Simon Keenlyside, Angelika Kirschlager, René Pape, and Thomas Quasthoff.
The season will also include visits from the Vienna Philharmonic, Daniel Barenbom's West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, and the Junge Deutsche Philharmonie,
The season also marks the arrival of the Philharmonic's new Intendant, former San Francisco Opera director Pamela Rosenberg. She takes over planning duties starting with the 2007-08 season.

Friday, May 12, 2006

GUEST REVIEW://PREMIERE/Morgan Hayes Violin Concerto

By Andrew Clements
From The Guardian - Thursday May 11, 2006

Theatre is proving a valuable source of inspiration for composer Morgan Hayes. The starting point for his Proms orchestral piece last summer was a National Theatre production of Shakespeare's Pericles, and now his new violin concerto, introduced by soloist Keisuke Okazaki and Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, turns out to have been triggered by an episode in Beckett's Waiting For Godot. The moment in that play when the previously silent Lucky suddenly finds a voice and launches into a stream of gibberish, Hayes reveals, corresponds in his single-movement concerto to the solo-violin cadenza that arrives just before the end of the work, unifying in a coherent musical statement all the virtuoso passage work that previously has only been heard in fragments.
Certainly the cadenza does provide the focal point the concerto previously lacks, though whether it provides a real sense of climax is more questionable. There are sparky collisions, mysterious moments of mechanical repetition and a pervasive sense of unease, but in the end not enough of a sense of a musical whole.
Hayes's premiere was the novelty in a wonderful planned programme conducted by Franck Ollu that ended with more British music - Benedict Mason's bizarrely titled ! from 1993, a wonderfully parade of exotic percussion sounds and quirky, beguiling instrumental writing - but had begun on the other side of the Channel with Debussy's Prélude à L'Après-Midi played in an ensemble arrangement made in 1921 for Schoenberg's Society for Private Musical Performances and Boulez's trill-filled Dérive I. The transition to British new music came through At First Light by the Francophile George Benjamin; first performed in 1982, it's one of his most original early pieces, and still sounds astonishing after all these years.

GUEST POST://Classical music still burns with the radical spirit of the 1960s

Political cacophony

By Ivan Hewett
From the Telegraph - 11/05/2006

Pop and classical music are often thought to live in separate worlds, but they connect in some surprising ways. I was reminded of that last week, when I read my colleague Neil McCormick's lament on the lack of political fire among young pop musicians.
It seems that, these days, they're all fixated on their private lives, or on their girlfriends'. If you want protest songs, or just an awareness that there's a world beyond the front door, you have to turn to oldsters such as Patti Smith.
I was struck by how similar things are in classical music. Back in the 1960s and '70s, everything seemed charged with political energy, but it wasn't shown in obvious ways, such as protest songs. It was to do with changing our perception. The effort to create new languages of music felt like part of a bigger enterprise for a better world.
Sometimes, the connection became overt. The Italian composer Luigi Nono tried to raise the consciousness of the proletariat with his car-factory concerts in Turin. Another Italian, Luciano Berio, wrote memorial pieces for Martin Luther King. The German composer Hans Werner Henze had a sudden flush of revolutionary fervour when he met student leader Rudi Dutschke, and then went off to Cuba. Even someone as purist as Pierre Boulez was rumoured to have been communist in his youth.
The trouble with this middle-class political music was that it floated far above the world it was meant to change. You can't whistle Nono's electronic tape piece La fabbrica illuminata while manning the barricades.
The British radical Cornelius Cardew realised this, and tried to create a real proletarian revolutionary music, writing simple, pugnaciously optimistic songs with texts by Chairman Mao. But these went too far the other way: the feelings expressed seemed as fake as those heroic statues of Socialist Man and Woman that came tumbling down with the fall of communism.
The experience of the 1960s and '70s seemed to show that political music is caught in a dilemma. If it uses radical language to say radical things, it can't connect with real political and social life. If it says simple things in a simple way, it loses all emotional subtlety and turns into propaganda. If the choice is that stark, then it's a lost cause, and we shouldn't be sad about the disappearance of the ideological strain in new music.
But I am sad, because we seem so much poorer without it. The retreat to the purely aesthetic in the past 30 years has led to a depressing lowering of the emotional and intellectual temperature of new music. We hear so many safe, high-gloss pieces that seem to have no urgent reason for existing.
However, the good news is that the radical spirit hasn't gone. It's just that, as in pop music, you find it in people who might be old in years, but are marvellously young in spirit. One of them is the American composer Frederic Rzewski, who's in London this month for a retrospective of his music.
He declines the title of political composer, saying that, unlike Cardew, he is not a provocateur. But he also says he is not into abstractions: "I am interested in life and the relationship of music to life." He's written pieces about the Iraq war, about union-breaking in American cotton mills, about the Attica prison riot in New York state in 1971. His best-known piece is stirringly entitled The People United Will Never Be Defeated.
That sounds as if it could be a tub-thumping piece of propaganda, but Rzewski never stoops to that. His music keeps the subtlety of art, and all the freedoms gained by Modernism. What it junks is the Modernist obsession with purity.
Rzewski's music is wonderfully impure. His piano pieces ask the player to rap on the wood, blow whistles, stick things in the strings, grunt and hiss rhythmically, even recite poetry. The notes themselves are full of references to folk song, protest song, art music, jazz, you name it. But these things aren't just quoted, they're put in a highly wrought context that gives them an aura of imaginative freedom. This is how he avoids the pitfalls of avant-garde political music. It is simultaneously anchored and free, Utopian and yet with its feet firmly on the ground. Go hear it while you can.

Gregarious Viennese composer HK Gruber brings wayward son 'Frankenstein!!' to S.F. Symphony

By Joshua Kosman
From SFGate.com (San Francisco Chronicle) - Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Modern composers don't come much jollier or more talkative than HK Gruber. An expansive and preposterously amiable grandfatherly type, he seems an odd choice to scare the daylights out of a Symphony audience.
Yet that's what he's in town for. Beginning tonight, Gruber will be the featured soloist with conductor Edwin Outwater and the San Francisco Symphony in his cabaret piece "Frankenstein!!," a comically ghoulish entertainment populated by monsters, vampires, spies, cowboys and superheroes.
And if the piece calls for outsize theatrical gestures, Gruber, 63, is obviously up to the task.
Interviewing Gruber is comically easy: You just say hello, and he does the rest. Within moments, here come the stories about the last musical project or the next one, about his first meeting with Leonard Bernstein, about the musical politics of his native Vienna. Here come extended disquisitions on music theory or the philosophy of modern composition.
Each anecdote spawns two more -- often in midstream -- to the point where it takes a trail of Hansel-and-Gretel bread crumbs to find your way back to the last conversational junction. And Gruber, speaking in fluent but heavily accented English, seems happy to let this torrent of narrative and reminiscence follow its own idiosyncratic course.
The period-free initials stand for his given names, Heinz Karl, but he is universally known as Nali, a nickname dating back to his childhood days as a member of the Vienna Boys' Choir. He spent his early years as a double-bass player before embarking on his current career as a composer, conductor and vocalist.
"Frankenstein!!" -- with a double exclamation point for extra terror -- is Gruber's biggest hit, a huge favorite with audiences ever since its 1977 premiere. It's set to offbeat children's rhymes by the late German poet H.C. Artmann, though Gruber makes a point of performing it in translation for non-German audiences, and the score abounds with unusual effects -- pennywhistles, toy instruments, even the rhythmic popping of paper bags.
But for all its theatrical accessibility and simple harmonies, Gruber regards "Frankenstein!!" as a truly avant-garde work -- or, to use his favorite designation, "hard core."
"This was written at a time when nobody trusted the possibility of tonality anymore," he says. "So one of the movements ends with an A-major chord, and the vocalist goes into a horrible cry, because A major is a shock for a specialist in modern music -- it's like garlic to a vampire."
Artmann's poetry, written during the tumultuous year 1968, was also shaped by the political and cultural currents of the time, he says.
"Many lines of these poems are taken from actual children's poems and alienated in a certain way, so that you could find behind the line some political associations or statements. And since the possibilities are so rich, each time finds its own way of making an imaginary theater of the piece. I used the toy instruments to alienate the orchestral sound in the same way.
"It's a piece made by a 33-year-old naughty youngster with musical ability," he adds with a broad grin. "When I listen to the piece it's like looking into the mirror, and there's a young Nali looking out. And I say, 'Hi, I'm still alive!' "
Gruber's position in the world of contemporary music is anomalous, and proudly so. He composes only for pleasure, he insists defiantly, and his pantheon of creative models is bewilderingly diverse.
As a lifelong resident of Vienna, he proclaims an allegiance to the so-called Second Viennese School of Schoenberg, Webern and Berg -- much of his music, he says, is written "with Webern looking over my shoulder," and he continues to use the Schoenbergian 12-tone row as the basic structural device for even his tonal works.
He is a devoted performer of the music of Kurt Weill and Hanns Eisler, and a lot of his work -- including "Frankenstein!!" -- owes something to their pop-tinged theatricality. And in his devotion to the pleasure principle, he traces his roots to such French boulevard composers as Satie and Poulenc.
All of this makes for a precarious situation in his hometown.
"I am an outsider in Vienna. I don't belong to the hard-core family because I write tonal music. Anything that sounds tonal, they are very suspicious of because it's not contemporary enough. But if they do not understand a single part of it, then they are very happy because then it's very modern.
"The problem with my music is that it reminds them too much of music."
In between this week's rehearsals and performances, Gruber is racing to finish "Hidden Agenda," a large orchestra piece scheduled to be premiered this summer at the Lucerne Festival. A reluctant offering to the flurry of Mozart celebrations of this 250th birthday year, it promises to combine the characteristic Gruberian elements of wit, beauty and rigor.
"When I was first asked to do a piece for the Mozart year, I thought, 'No.' I was already bored with the Mozart year last year. I thought, if I were in charge of the Mozart year, I'd say, 'Let's play no Mozart,' and instead give commissions to lots of composers. He's a good composer, but our time needs other subjects."
But then Gruber remembered being alerted to the presence of a 12-tone row in one of Mozart's most famous orchestral scores, and suddenly he had the inspiration he needed. That tone row became the piece's organizing principle, the "hidden agenda" of the title, and seeking it out promises to be part of Gruber's game for listeners.
"I'm convinced that each piece must have a riddle," he says. "But you must give the audience a chance to find the solution."

Thursday, May 11, 2006

James Olsen: new piece in London

By Dominic McHugh
From musicOMH.com - 7 May 2006

In his second concert with the London Symphony Orchestra, Yuri Temirkanov juxtaposed two youthful works by Mahler and Prokofiev. And the talented Paul Watkins made a brief appearance at the beginning to conduct a third product of youth, the world premiere of James Olsen's Composition (30 January 2006). It's the latest instalment in the LSO's enterprising Sound Adventures scheme, presented in collaboration with the global financial services firm UBS.
The orchestra has been springing short - and unannounced - pieces on us in various concerts, usually at the end of a workshop process at LSO St Luke's. Even if these works fall short of being masterpieces, they are consistently provocative, inventive, and sometimes pleasing as well.
This was the case here. Olsen is a graduate of King's College, Cambridge, and a student of Julian Anderson and Wolfgang Rihm. This was his first piece for symphony orchestra, and it showed some imagination, as well as some shortcomings.
The title, for instance, is utterly pretentious. Composition (30 January 2006) refers to the day on which the piece was finished, and the anonymity of the name seems to me to reflect a certain void in the music – it simply lacked substance and a goal. The beginning was beautifully evocative, however: a duet between two solo cellos, with asides from the oboes and bassoons.
Olsen states in the programme that he wanted to remove all percussive elements from the piece, and the flutes and clarinets were also dispensed with. So why use muted tuba, trombones and trumpets (a percussive effect)? He skilfully built up an impressive palette of colours, with the violins entering gradually, but there was more journey than arrival: the music never quite blossomed as it promised to. Nevertheless, it was a confident debut, and no doubt we'll be hearing more from him in the future.
From a world premiere to Prokofiev's First Violin Concerto. It was written when the composer was in his early twenties, and frankly, it's not hard to perceive his immaturity. Not yet able to deal with the neo-classical style that he eventually clung to, Prokofiev falls back on high Romantic clichés throughout the three movements of this concerto, and despite some resourceful and ingenious moments and gestures, it's page after page of predictable melody and accompaniment in the late-19th century Russian style.
Perhaps the diffident playing of the orchestra didn't help. The LSO rarely sounds this lacklustre these days, and in a concert dedicated to the memory of ex-chairman Anthony Camden (who led the orchestra through the difficult period up to the opening of the Barbican Hall) and in the presence of many distinguished LSO luminaries and musicians including Sir James Galway, it's a shame they didn't muster up more inspiration in the first half.
Soloist Lisa Batiashvili showed genuine emotion and technical brilliance, but failed to communicate these qualities to the audience until the third movement. There was a lack of warmth in her tone until the finale, when she suddenly thrived. She flew about the registers with dexterity in the first movement and coped well with the tricky scales and spiccato passages of the Scherzo. Yet it was all too polite, all at the same level: I was longing for a gipsy-like flair in the Scherzo, for instance, and instead got a glamorous diva. Temirkanov's conducting was rather disengaged for much of the time, though his love of the music was usually apparent.
In the second half, we heard the most peculiar performance of Mahler's First Symphony imaginable. Written at the age of 24, it already shows many ingredients of the composer's future style (even if they are not yet in the right combinations). The third and fourth movements are particularly poetical, and here the LSO was at its best, playing together as an engaged and evenly-distributed ensemble.
The first movement was also very good on the whole, with nicely controlled high string tremolandi and an excellent cor anglais solo. However, the tempo of the second movement was grotesquely slow, a most peculiarly exaggerated choice by Temirkanov that resulted in a claustrophobic and pedantic performance. Interestingly, the orchestra couldn't cope, and by the return of the 'A' section, the tempo had increased a little. The movement is meant to be a pastiche of a buoyant Ländler – filled with 'robust, earthy vigour' as Stephen Johnson's excellent programme note tells us – but here it was drained of energy and almost fell apart.
Yet from the massive timpani roll of the third movement onwards, the performance suddenly became glorious. The canonic entries of the instruments in turn – cor anglais, double bass solo, bassoon, cello – built into a massive, imposing edifice of sound, and for the first time in the evening, the music carried some gravity with it. And there was purpose and direction to the last movement, where Temirkanov was at his inspired best: the trumpets and trombones sounded fanfares and the strings played ardently and movingly.
It was a tremendous end to a bizarrely mixed evening.

Peter Nelson: new Piano Trio

By Susan Nickalls
From the Scotsman.com - Fri 5 May 2006

Expression, in a variety of forms, was the theme of ECAT's last concert of the season, featuring music by Janácek, Wolfgang Rihm and a new work by the Edinburgh-based composer Peter Nelson. His piano trio In the Fog had a strong improvised feel with its quirky turns of phrase and inspired use of the instruments' percussive qualities.
Although Nelson's title is a nod to Janácek's In the Mist, played with superb delicacy and brilliance by pianist Peter Evans, his piece had more in common with Rihm's Attempts for Piano Trio, First Instalment Fremde Szene III. Unashamedly influenced by the German Romantics, particularly Schumann, Rihm's preference for spontaneity rather than coherent structure and well-articulated ideas can wear a little thin.
However, this sensitive performance by Evans, the violinist Ulrike Fenner and the cellist Su-a Lee gave the piece an intriguing, elegiac quality that raised it above tired mediocrity.
Rihm's "piece-fantasies" for violin and piano, Phantom und Eskapade, also suffered from a disjointed flightiness. Despite some interesting sonorous effects, particularly on the piano, the length at which Rihm indulged these fantasies outweighed the merits of the basic material. By comparison, Janácek managed to say so much with so little in the magical Russian-inspired Pohadka (A Tale) for cello and piano, where every note and phrase worked for the music.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Elliott Carter: Intermittences premiered

Peter Serkin: On Memory and the Pleasures of Counterpoint

By Jeremy Eichler
From the New York Times - May 9, 2006

The American composer Elliott Carter is about as old as modern music itself. He was born in December 1908, the same month that Schoenberg began his siege on tonality with the premiere of his Second String Quartet. Mahler would soon compose his Ninth Symphony. Charles Ives, at that point an unknown composer, later wrote Mr. Carter's recommendation for college.
And there he was on Friday night at Carnegie Hall, 97, standing to receive applause after the New York premiere of "Intermittences." Written last year for the pianist Peter Serkin, who performed it in his solo recital, the piece has more vim and vitality than plenty of music by composers a third of Mr. Carter's age.
"Intermittences" takes its title from a famous passage in Proust, in which the narrator is stunned by a sudden upwelling of memory that forces him to confront the earlier death of his grandmother. The scene dissolves into an exquisite meditation on, among other things, the ability of certain visceral memories to connect us with earlier versions of our inner selves.
You can only guess at Mr. Carter's thicket of memories, but this taut, brittle nine-minute piece certainly captures the intensity of Proustian recollection. Hazy, dissonant chords are punctured by fierce squalls of scattered notes; the pedals help produce haunting billows of resonance. Mr. Serkin's approach was laser-focused, favoring incisive attacks and sharp releases, as if the keyboard were scalding to the touch.
"Intermittences" was just one highlight of an enjoyably cerebral program, loosely organized around the theme of counterpoint as practiced by composers spanning six centuries. Brief works by Josquin, John Bull, John Dowland and William Byrd were juxtaposed with Bach's Chorale Prelude "Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten" (BWV 691) and his Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue in D minor (BWV 903), as well as Beethoven's "Hammerklavier" Sonata.
In case there wasn't enough to ponder in this repertory, Mr. Serkin also experimented with his piano tuning, using a special 18th-century mean-tone temperament designed to bring out the color properties of specific keys. It had a modest but noticeable sharpening effect; familiar shades took on odd and interesting tints.
The impact was only amplified by Mr. Serkin's probing interpretations, especially of the late Beethoven sonata. Mr. Serkin clearly grasps this music in three dimensions, bringing out inner voices and rhythmic figures that many interpreters leave burbling in the background.
Nor was there any attempt to tame the work or soften its radical edges with an imported Romantic sentimentalism. The final two movements were brilliantly and beautifully strange: lines floating untethered in space, silences long and deep.


Serkin certainly knows how to mix, match composers

By Wynne Delacoma
From the Chicago Sun-Times - May 9, 2006

Peter Serkin isn't one of those pianists who turns up regularly on Symphony Center's solo piano series. So when a chance presents itself to hear this cerebral yet always communicative artist in the spotlight on his own, music lovers turn out in force. The large crowd gathered for Serkin's solo recital Sunday afternoon at Symphony Center heard an intriguingly eclectic program that was well worth the wait.
Beethoven's formidable "Hammerklavier'' Sonata was the recital's marquee draw, but the pre-intermission repertoire revealed much about how Serkin approaches programming. There was Charles Wuorinen's 1988 arrangement of "Ave Christe, immolate in cruces ara,'' a 500-year-old motet by French Renaissance composer Josquin Des Prez. Three short works from 16th and 17th century England followed: William Byrd's arrangement of John Dowland's "Pavana lachrymae,'' Byrd's own "La volta'' and John Bull's "Ut, re, mi, fa, sol, la.'' After the unpredictable eruptions of Elliott Carter's "Intermittences,'' the concert's first half closed with a Bach chorale prelude, "Wer nur den lieben Gott lasst walten,'' and his D Minor Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue, BWV 903.
Des Prez, Byrd and Bull might seem like strange bedfellows for Beethoven, but by the end of the concert, the audacious logic of Serkin's choices emerged. In the "Hammerklavier,'' whether in its ferociously turbulent moments or the slow-paced, transcendent glow of its adagio, Beethoven pushes boundaries on all levels. In the final movement, Serkin repeatedly raced through dizzying chordal runs at blinding speed, then shifted to zones of zenlike serenity. Everything was stretched to the brink, yet his grip on the music's underlying structure was sure and strong.
Looking back, it was clear that the composers on the first half of Serkin's recital were pushing boundaries in their own ways. Wuorinen focused a bright but utterly clear light on Des Prez's introspective "Ave Christe,'' allowing its simple lines to emerge in an unhurried, unadorned melodic arc. Bull's experiments with different colors of the scale in "Ut, re, me'' flirted with restless harmonies, and Byrd's two settings mixed elegance with occasional dissonant splashes. In the mercurial Carter piece, which was written for Serkin last year, and the improvisatory wildness of Bach's Chromatic Fantasy, the pianist offered a preview of the passion he would unleash again in the "Hammerklavier.''
After such musical turmoil, it was somehow fitting that Serkin's encore was Beethoven's Bagatelle, Op. 119, No. 11, a simple musical morsel as gentle as a lullaby.


The master and the maverick
Serkin boldly reinvents piano recital in his image

By John von Rhein
From Metromix.com (Chicago Tribune) - May 7, 2006

How many other musicians do you know who can transform a Steinway grand piano into, by turns, a Renaissance church choir, an early English virginal, a German Baroque organ and, for both Elliott Carter and Beethoven, a big percussion instrument with mighty hammers? Only a pianist blessed with Peter Serkin's formidable technique, incisive mind and maverick spirit would have dared to pack so many different kinds and styles of music into a single program and make them seem to belong together. His concert Sunday at Orchestra Hall did nothing less than reinvent the piano recital as we know it. A few listeners were mystified, but most of us delighted to behold one of America's great pianists doing what he's best at: thinking outside the staid classical performance tradition. Serkin went so far as to have the Steinway tuned to an old German mean-tone temperament—so much the better to bring out the specific color and character of J.S. Bach's "Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue" and Beethoven's "Hammerklavier" Sonata, which benefited the most from this retuning. Otherwise, the differences were so subtle that most audience members wouldn't have noticed if the pianist hadn't tipped his hand in the program book.The hourlong first half surrounded Carter's "Intermittences" (2005) with transcriptions of Renaissance pieces (Josquin Des Prez, John Bull, John Dowland and William Byrd), and, on the other side, the Bach "Chromatic Fantasy" and a Bach organ chorale prelude.The Carter, with its splintery flurries of notes, sharp decaying dissonances, rapidly shifting speeds and pungent silences, clearly enjoyed the company it kept. Serkin, for whom the piece was written, set its delicate filigree against the sober gravitas of the early music and in so doing made us hear it with senses heightened.Incredibly demanding for pianists and listeners alike, the Beethoven sonata is not a piece for just any pianist to play to just any audience. Serkin's legendary father Rudolf made it one of his specialties. It's to the credit of Serkin fils that his boldly argued reading was entirely his own, both deeply involved and deeply involving. He didn't make any of it sound particularly easy to play, but, then, performers aren't supposed to: Struggle is built into this late Beethoven colossus.Not for a long while has any pianist delivered the slow movement with such rapt serenity and so perfect a balance of musical weight and expressivity—it was as if we were experiencing Beethoven's inner world without an intermediary. Serkin wrestled manfully with the long, rigorous, three-voice fugue that concludes the sonata. He was more than a match for this grandly rhetorical finale, building tremendous tension and excitement as he attacked Beethoven's pounding accents, wild leaps and fierce discords. His commanding statement left the audience in a state of shock and awe, happily so.


Serkin disappoints with Carter premiere, Bach and Beethoven

By C.J. Gianakaris
From Mlive.com (Kalamazoo Gazette) - Thursday, May 4, 2006

Pianist Peter Serkin started with an intriguing approach to his Gilmore Festival concert Wednesday night at Chenery Auditorium.
A high point was his performance of the world premiere of Elliott Carter's ``Intermittences'' (2005), commissioned by the Gilmore Festival and Carnegie Hall.
To open, Serkin chose works from the 15th and 16th centuries for aesthetic comparison to the new Carter piece. The pieces were by Frenchman Josquin Desprez (1440-1521) and by three English composers who lived during Shakespeare's time -- John Bull, John Dowland and William Byrd. Byrd's dance ``La Volta'' lent liveliness to an otherwise subdued opening set.
Carter has earned nearly all America's accolades for composing, and ``Intermittences'' was eagerly anticipated. In Serkin's performance, the Carter piece did contrast with the calm, fine-gauged earlier works. But the insistent dissonances, atonality and jagged outbursts won few friends at Chenery.
Serkin played energetically and accurately. Yet clogged chords, random ``ping'' notes (not quite staccatos) and illogical silent beats resulted in a serious lack of coherence.
Matters did not improve appreciably with J. S. Bach's Chorale ``Wer nur den Lieben Gott lasst walten'' (BWV 691) and ``Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue in D minor'' (BWV 903).
A pervasive introspective approach to Bach desiccated both works, though the final fugue was played smoothly and effectively. Here, Serkin was distinctive if not distinguished.
But clearly it was not Serkin's night. The final work was the gargantuan Sonata in B flat major (Op. 106), ``Hammerklavier,'' which Beethoven composed in 1818 after deafness had descended upon him. All Beethoven's late works express introspective thoughts that tempt a pianist to rummage in abstract emotions. Yet Beethoven the man and the artist needs to be released through his music, not further buried.
Serkin's response was mannerism that diverted his ultimate intentions. He impressed early with staggered octave runs and clean singing lines in the treble. But occasional ragged playing (scores were used throughout the concert) intruded, while exaggerated contrasts in dynamics and tempos blurred delicate details.
The Scherzo displayed playfulness and a lack of neuroticism. However, the bottom fell out with Adagio sostenuto. The score does display plentiful pianos and pianissimos, but by lowering the dynamics yet another level, Serkin could not connect with many in the audience or sustain melody. Brilliant passage work by Serkin was outweighed by inaudible triple pianos that precluded energy flow.
Off-nights happen to all artists. Audiences here have heard this pianist in better fettle previously and will again.
Most ironic element
New York City has to play catch-up to the Gilmore Festival. Peter Serkin is to perform this identical program Friday night at Carnegie Hall, and Leif Ove Andsnes is to take the stage Saturday at Carnegie's Zankel Hall to play the same Beethoven sonata he performed here last week.

Cypress gives world premiere to Tsontakis string quartet


By Richard Scheinin
From A+E Interactive (Mercury News blog) - Monday, May 01, 2006

Over the last year, I’ve spent more and more time listening to music by the composer George Tsontakis. It’s remarkable stuff: darkly beautiful; dodging expectations; spider-spinning small amounts of musical material into big spacious works. If you haven’t heard his third and fourth string quartets (there’s an excellent recording by the American String Quartet on New World Records), you should. The music, composed in the late ‘80s, is by turns somber and gorgeously lyrical: Melodies flare up, riffs leap out. Its mood and vocabulary are to a degree reminiscent of late Beethoven; not so much because Tsontakis pirates anything from Beethoven, but because he somehow projects a similar sense of fragile thankfulness and robust yearning.
I talked by phone with Tsontakis a couple of weeks ago – he is composer in residence at Bard College in New York’s Hudson Valley – and he is not, on the face of it, a heavy “spiritual” kind of guy. He’s a character; doesn’t seem to take himself overly seriously, disparages the priestly somberness of the classical music scene, doesn’t even think of himself, at heart, as a composer. He’s designed his own house, drives a backhoe, and acts in regional theater productions. “I think of myself as a guy who composes, as opposed to just a composer, and I think that’s helped me to keep my sanity,” he said. “When I go to talk to students, I tell them, `Expand yourself. Don’t just be this small, tunnel-vision composer. And you probably will be a better composer by not limiting yourself and your persona to being a composer.’ It’s very ancient Greek, maybe; you have to round yourself off.”
The strategy seems to work for Tsontakis, who last year was awarded the Grawemeyer Award in musical composition, which comes with a $200,000 award and is arguably the most notable award of its type in the world. Other winners have included Pierre Boulez, Gyorgy Ligeti, John Corigliano, Tan Dun, Thomas Ades, and John Adams; the crème de la crème. Before receiving the award, Tsontakis had been commissioned by the Cypress String Quartet, long based in San Francisco and for several years in residence at San Jose State University, to compose his first new string quartet in nearly two decades. (His first two, by the way, haven’t been recorded). It has arrived: His String Quartet No. 5, “In Memoriam: George Rochberg,” is one more Tsontakis piece that settles you down, quiets you, makes you grow roots and experience its dark, engaging beauty.
On Friday (April 28) at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Forum in San Francisco, the piece had its world premiere. The Cypress gave it the performance it deserves, taking the listener into a beautiful, quiet, phosphorescent bubble. The piece – and the quartet’s performance of it -- can’t help but come into its own with more performances. (Its second, which I didn’t attend, was the night after at San Jose’s Le Petit Trianon). Still, it was all there to hear: the music is fragile, yet earthy, with background and foreground sliding about, shifting roles. There’s trancieness; lyricism, with arching themes that might have pleased Rochberg; a sense of stasis descended from Debussy; spacious harmonies that bring to mind Messiaen. And, all the while, that spider-spinning of small motives into a large wispy web, which is reminiscent of Beethoven’s methods – and his obsessiveness.
The Cypress had commissioned Tsontakis to “respond” to Beethoven’s “call” as part of its annual Call and Response Project, in which it commissions living composers to answer the messages of past masters. It has done this for seven years with seven composers, and this is the fourth time it has included Beethoven as part of the call: “His music is timelessly awesome,’’ cellist Jennifer Kloetzel told the San Francisco audience, which included about 200 kids, or half the crowd. The demographic made the concert all the more refreshing: The kids (who had already attended some of Cypress’s Call and Response outreach events in Bay Area schools) would sit through a pair of Beethoven’s late string quartets, the C-sharp minor, Op. 131, and the F Major, Op. 135. The last two major pieces composed by Beethoven before his death in 1827, they are sublime works filled with pleading tenderness, metaphysical struggle and a glint of humor. They would be followed by the new one from Tsontakis. Talk about pressure.
The Cypress isn’t a flashy quartet. It’s meticulous in the best sense; devotion leads to insight. Its members love and respect the music they play and that comes through in its performances, which have real strength of character and get at the subtle textures in the music. It began Op. 131 with a prayerful sigh, then entered the famous slow fugue. There were some exquisite, translucent textures and, as the quartet moved through 131’s seven seamless movements, there was Gypsy-esque fiddling by first violinist Cecily Ward and vinegarish tugs and pulls within the music, acknowledging its unique awkwardness. The Cypress gamely explored Beethoven’s palette of effects – the delicacy, the scratchiness, the otherworldly harmonics, which sometimes sounded like the tee-heeing of angels. (This palette is a big influence on Tsontakis). After the piece’s rip-snorting ending, the young people in the audience didn’t wait a second to respond with whistles and cheers.
Op. 135 was even better. The music’s inner tensions – note against note; echo following echo – were more sharply defined. In the second movement, the super-rugged riffing of Kloetzel, second violinist Tom Stone and violist Ethan Filner beneath Ward was eruptive. In the third, Ward’s violin seemed poised at the cusp of love and pain. Time slowed as she, Stone and Filner then balanced themselves around Kloetzel’s long tones. The finale, moving between extremes of vigor and quiet, was beautifully measured and dosed out. There was a round of pixie pizzicato near the end. Magical. Tsontakis was going to have to follow this?
Introducing his piece, he said, “I was kind of thinking we’ve heard enough music and we should all go home now.” He also back-stepped by saying that, unlike some of his earlier quartets, the new one “doesn’t have much to do with Beethoven; no more than the average person is inspired by Beethoven.” Still, in a pre-concert talk, he had mentioned Beethoven’s “poetic lyricism” and penchant for “breaking out of the square forms” of the classical tradition. This breaking out was a form of “letting go,” very Eastern, said Tsontakis, who directed a Greek Orthodox church choir for 15 years. There is more than a bit of Byzantine drone in his own music and a sense of falling out of linear time that can be felt in late Beethoven, in Debussy, in Messiaen. There is also a “poetic lyricism.” In fact, Tsontakis likens the two movements of his new quartet to “two poems with one meaning.” He says they can be played interchangeably.
The Cypress chose to play them in order. The first begins with a rich, charged chord and opens into a brief, Romantic theme, almost overwrought, before bending back toward a more somber energy, a softer lyricism, and, in the spirit of Beethoven, echo following echo. Filner, who has a subtle buttery sound on the viola, began a steady trilling of sixteenth notes, which would become the work’s signature (and most obsessive) motif, moving by step or half-step and sounding like a memory of – or, yes, a “response” to – the ever-trilling, climbing-toward-heaven segments in Beethoven’s late works. There was a soothing, almost nostalgic feeling to these passages, the trilling imperceptibly shifting between background and foreground, overlaid by, or trading places with, those arching lyrical themes. The language was delicate, translucent, at times sensual, loaded up with ghost-note harmonics. Soon, time slowed (more echoes of Op. 135). There were Messiaen chords, then a fugal-ish echoing of themes, and Ward’s trills, climbing and leading into a slow-spinning chorale, truly beautiful. It felt like a trip through a variety of dream states, all described in the composer’s instructions in the score: “Deeper and more mournful… Plaintive… Hypnotic, austere… Brushing, gently…. A mysterious hesitation.” The hall was pin-drop quiet when the movement ended.
The second movement arrived with a permutating four-note pattern in the second violin, the first violin flying above, cello and viola meeting lushly below. The music was achieving a sort of Romantic beauty, but reduced, thinned out to essential elements – fierce and fragile and, again, in its own way, like Beethoven. After a time, there was an interlude of lines moving in mysterious relationships, floating, tangling and leading one another about. That sense of stasis happened again in this private music, with sturdy chords and gentle notes barely rubbing into dissonance, then sliding apart into lyricism.
Midway through, the movement meandered, lost focus. Where was the tension? Was it missing in the notes themselves? In the performance of the notes? Regaining urgency, the Cypress built toward a climax, backed away, opened into a new melody, grew trilling and tremulous, swelled like Debussy, became very, very quiet, and seemed to say, “I am alone in the universe.” The piece ended on a question mark. Muted. Unresolved. Inviting us to come back and hear it again.
Gladly.

Isang Yun’s Wife Wants Apology From Seoul


By Seo Dong-shin
From the Korea Times - 05-01-2006

Lee Soo-ja, 79, widow of renowned composer Isang Yun, appeared nervous when the conference room was packed with journalists from South Korea; a place she had stayed away from for more than three decades but now wants to revisit any time soon, when her husband’s honor is restored.
``Everyday, I hope that the South Korean government would restore the honor of the artist who was so dedicated to the Korean people, so that his spirit could finally visit his hometown,’’ she said during the press conference.
Lee was the center of attention during a ceremony here from Friday through Sunday to pay tribute to her late husband (1917-1995). North Korean officials carried her bags around, and South Korean cameras rallied around her.
With short, curly silver hair and resolutely tight lips, the South Korean-turned-German national, now residing in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, mingled with high-profile figures from the two Koreas. Among them were Ri Jong-hyuk, vice chairman of the North’s Asia-Pacific Peace Committee; Lee Jong-seok, the South’s unification minister; Hyun Jeong-eun, chairman of the South’s Hyundai Group; and Park Jae-kyu, former unification minister and now president of the Seoul-based Isang Yun Peace Foundation.
Isang Yun Peace Foundation organized the three-day program, highlighted by Lee Soo-ja’s first-ever press conference with South Korean journalists Friday. On Saturday, a ceremony marking the foundation’s first anniversary was held at the Singye-sa Buddhist Temple, followed by a concert which included performances by musicians from the two Koreas.
Yun, a world-class composer born in Tongyong, South Kyongsyang Province, and his wife were residing in West Berlin when South Korean intelligence agents kidnapped them to Seoul in 1967. Yun had visited the North Korean Embassy in East Berlin and also Pyongyang in 1963. It was to see murals in a tomb dating back to the Koguryo Kingdom (37 B.C.-668) and meet a friend in the North, according to Lee.
But in Seoul, Yun was tortured and charged with spying for the North Korean regime. He was labeled as head of a spy ring that included a number of other renowned artists who were also rounded up for their alleged ties with Pyongyang.
``In 1967, Park Chung-hee’s military regime kidnapped overnight many Korean students who, studying abroad, were free in their thinking and attitude,’’ Lee recalled. ``The students were not raised in Korea during the 1950s and 1960s, so did not really know about anti-communism or the National Security Law. Especially, we were living in Berlin, where there were no barbed wires and the inter-German transportations were operating.’’
In what was later called the Tongbaengnim case, named after East Berlin, Yun was released from imprisonment in 1969 following appeals from international art circles and the diplomatic efforts of the West German government.
Returning to West Germany and becoming a naturalized German citizen 1971, the estranged Yun never returned to the South, but visited the North during vacations as Kim Il-sung, then North Korean leader, reportedly was proud of the world-renowned composer _ presenting him with a special residence where Lee is now living. Before dying in Germany in 1995, Yun taught students at a music institute named after him in Pyongyang.
``From the time he was studying in Japan before coming to West Germany, my husband had very strong affection toward Korean people and was very keen on the sense of justice,’’ Lee said. ``The Tongbaengnim case changed his thinking, music, ideology, everything. He felt the reality and pains of the nation’s division so directly. After that, his music became heavy, he composed music that reflected Korean people’s agony.’’
In the South, a semi-government panel looking into the intelligence agency’s past wrongdoings announced early this year the Tongbaengnim case was fabricated for the purpose of mustering anti-communist sentiment and support for the regime under the late President Park. The panel recommended the government apologize to the victims and redeem their honor.
``Of course, the government should apologize,’’ Lee answered to a question about what is needed to restore her husband’s honor. ``He was not a spy, yet the newspapers all ran headlines labeling him as the head of a spy ring. It was unthinkable.’’
But the possibility of the South Korean government actually apologizing is not yet high, due to the issue’s ideological sensitivity. North Korea, on its part, refuses to hold an official ``joint” ceremony with the South to remember Yun, arguing the South’s apology should come first.
Nevertheless, during the concert at the Mt. Kumgang Culture Hall musicians from both Koreas took turns playing both classical and pop music, including pieces written by Yun. From the South there was the Ensemble from the Tongyoung International Music Festival (TIMF), dedicated to Yun’s memory, while from the North there were members of the Isang Yun Orchestra.
``Political ideologies are like broad-leaved trees from the long-term perspective,’’ Yun’s words, written in the preface of a book recording conversations with the late, famous German writer Luise Rinser, were shown on a screen behind the concert stage. ``They flourish, become colored, and cast leaves according to seasons. But people (of a nation) are as majestic and eternal as the sky.” The book was published in 1977.

New York Philharmonic Postpones Peter Lieberson World Premiere

By Vivien Schweitzer
From PlaybillArts.com - 27 Apr 2006

The New York Philharmonic's world premiere of Peter Lieberson's The World in Flower has been postponed because the work will not be completed in time for its scheduled performances next month, the Philharmonic announced. The premiere was to have featured Lieberson's wife, mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson; baritone Gerald Finley; and the New York Choral Artists. Performances were scheduled as part of the orchestra's Hear and Now lecture series on May 24 and subscription concerts May 25-27.
Hear and Now will instead feature Elliott Carter’s Allegro Scorrevole, conducted by Ludovic Morlot. Carter will be present to discuss the work with host Steven Stucky. At the subscription concerts, Lieberson's piece will be replaced by Mahler’s Symphony No. 1, led by Lorin Maazel.
Poor health has forced Lorraine Hunt Lieberson to cancel numerous appearances over the last year, including the San Francisco Opera premiere of John Adams' Doctor Atomic in October. But she did not miss any performances of Neruda Songs, an orchestral song cycle written for her by her husband, which premiered in Los Angeles last May and was heard in Boston and New York in November.

Kalevi Aho: new Clarinet Concerto

By Keith Potter
From the Independent - 25 April 2006

The Finnish composer Kalevi Aho, 57, isn't as well known in Britain as his compatriots Magnus Lindberg and Kaija Saariaho. That's on the face of it surprising, since his music is based on familiar symphonic virtues.
Aho's new Clarinet Concerto received its premiere in the latest BBC Symphony Orchestra Barbican programme, conducted by Osmo Vanska, with the young Swedish clarinettist Martin Frost as soloist. Its arresting solo opening, with Frost practically pawing the ground like a stallion, may have its origins in an apparent plan to have the soloist dance, but it here came over as rather silly. The rampantly posing manner turns out to be very much Frost's own in general, and though it's impossible to deny his enormous skills, he's distressing to watch.
Aho's music, too, struck me as a little like that: extremely well written for both solo clarinet and, particularly, for the orchestra, constantly inventive texturally, every mood effortlessly captured, tension expertly sustained and released - but musically completely empty, with absolutely nothing to say. The final two of the concerto's five movements bring a more compelling lyricism, but even this is spoilt by the would-be modernism of the solo part's multiphonics, which here feel completely out of place.
In the second-movement cadenza, my attention was diverted to the orchestra's principal clarinettist, whose eyebrows offered a dazzling choreographic display of their own as he watched Frost's antics. But Richard Hosford got his moments of legitimate attention as well, when Aho cleverly coupled the principal orchestral clarinettist into the soloist's action.
No chance of such diversions in this concert's second half, in which Vanska provided a searing account of Rachmaninov's Second Symphony that was notable for the high quality of the BBC SO's overall sound, not something one was often able to say a while back. But what on earth was that boorish, brutish, insultingly badly orchestrated opener doing on a professional programme? Todd Levin's BLUR (fragrance free mix): note the name, to avoid it at all costs in the future.