Tuesday, September 12, 2006

CD REVIEW://John Baker

Tribute to a modest man with the common touch

By Kenneth Walton
From Scotsman.com - Mon 11 Sep 2006

'Some composers blaze trails; others go along behind clearing the path and trying to encourage that direction - I'm one of those composers." These words, by John Bevan Baker, sum up the modest and honest integrity of a composer who lived a quiet life in Scotland up to his death 12 years ago. And were it not for an enterprising new CD, out this month on Linn Records and dedicated entirely to his music, the likelihood is that Bevan Baker's sizeable artistic legacy could easily have remained buried in undeserved obscurity.
That's certainly the view of William Conway, the composer's son-in-law, who has spent much of his own distinguished musical career finding opportunities to perform a canon of work he believes is of huge interest in its accessibility to amateurs and professionals alike, and in the sincerity and skill of its composition.
Conway is the artistic director of the Hebrides Ensemble, currently Scotland's most exciting mixed chamber ensemble specialising in contemporary music, and together with the Edinburgh-based Consort of Voices has engineered a recording project that is far more than simply a sentimental tribute to his father of his wife (the violinist Sarah Bevan Baker).
On the contrary, every one of the works featured on this new disc - an illuminating combination of choral settings and instrumental chamber music - reflects a sharp and refined musical mind, something far more deep-rooted than its self-effacing warmth and prominent lyrical expression would suggest.
What strikes you most about these works, however, is that just about all of them date from the last 15 years of Bevan Baker's life. That's something that has often puzzled Conway. "I first met John in 1980, when he wrote Triptych for me to perform at a recital I was giving at the Black Isle Arts Society," he says. Conway performs Triptych - its plaintive charm and energy is seductive - on the new CD with pianist Graeme McNaught. "It made me wonder why John had written so little in the years up to that."
As the connection deepened through marriage into the family, Conway kept urging his father-in-law to write more. "He was a composer who liked to write exclusively for those around him. So, many of those late works were aimed specifically at performances by the Black Isle Singers, which he formed and directed himself, or by many of our own musical friends whom we invited up to Fortrose."
The result was a late flurry of creativity, which included a one-act opera, The Seer - tragically never performed during the composer's lifetime.
Indeed, one of the most impressive works on this recording is Eclogue, which Bevan Baker had all but completed when he died. "It was sitting on the piano the day he died," Conway recalls. "It was basically finished, but he hadn't quite tied up the last few bars. We got the composer Nigel Osborne [Reid Professor of Music at Edinburgh University] to tie up the loose ends, which he did, and the work was finally performed."
The sheer delicacy of its scoring for mixed quintet, and the effortless melodies that flow from its mildly astringent harmonies are certainly not that of a waning mind. What they do represent are a style of composition that exists more for the beauty of its genuine conception and purpose than anything trailblazing or pushing the bounds.
In the other representative works, stylistic borrowings are openly evident. "John particularly liked Bartók and Lutoslawski, and he didn't hide those influences" says Conway. There is no escaping these, either in earlier works such as the Piano Suite - spiced with the same cellular rotating motifs favoured by Bevan Baker's direct contemporary, the Scots-based composer Kenneth Leighton - or in the characterful Spring for solo violin, which was written as a birthday present to his daughter, Sarah, Conway's wife.
Perhaps, too, it is the Romantically-fired Impressionist strains of A Song for Kate - another family trinket, written for his first granddaughter with echoes of Ravel - or even the Howells-like lushness of the two substantial choral works on the disc - the deeply evocative Songs of Courtship and ingeniously-textured Rorate Coeli Desuper - that have led many to dismiss Bevan Baker's music as less than fashionable for its time.
According to Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, writing in the Linn sleeve note "Bevan Baker's creative peak came at a time when composers at the borders of tonality and beyond, writing for specialist professional performers, were perceived as the only trail-blazers, and received most of the critical attention. This is beautifully crafted, transparently honest music, of great warmth and melodic fecundity." But is that hardly surprising? Bevan Baker's early career was that of someone definitely going somewhere, and with a keen mind of his own.
Born in Middlesex in 1926 to a family of top academics, his pacifist leanings led to war service as a miner in Northumbria (one of the so-called Bevin Boys), before entering the Royal College of Music (RCM) to study composition with no less a figure than Ralph Vaughan Williams.
On leaving the RCM, he took up the prestigious post of assistant organist of Westminster Abbey, the first rung on a journey that could have easily have seen him rise swiftly up the music establishment ladder. But it wasn't for him.
The next move was to Aberdeen, where he combined the unusual post of City Carilloneur (playing the keyboard-operated bells of St Nicholas Church) with teaching duties at Robert Gordon's College. There he met and married his wife June, with whom he had five children. After a spell of teaching in Glasgow, he finally settled in Fortrose, where he died in 1994.
Bevan Baker would have been 80 this year, so Linn's tribute recording has a special significance. It is also a potent reminder that, had he lived longer, this late burst of energy could easily have produced so much more music deserving of wider performance than to the close-knit community he habitually wrote it for.
Look further into his music - currently being fully catalogued by the family - and you find musicals, choral works and even opera, which are so attractive and accessible, they would be ideal for performance by amateur and professional groups alike. That is the charm of Bevan Baker's music. Like his admirer, Maxwell Davies, he combined creative ingenuity with a common touch. That's maybe not a fashionable attribute to have these days, but it's one to be proud of.

John Bevan Baker: Songs of Courtship is out now on Linn Records (CKD 286)

TV://RTL to start digital cable channel in the Netherlands

Tv-kanaal met louter klassieke muziek

Door Remmelt Otten, Elske Schouten
Bron: NRC, 07-09-06


Nederland krijgt een televisiezender met alleen maar klassieke muziek. Het gaat om een zogenoemd digitaal kanaal dat alleen te zien zal zijn tegen betaling: in een pluspakket van een kabelabonnement of via internettelevisie. De zender wordt opgezet door RTL, het grootste Nederlandse televisiebedrijf, dat op de gewone gratis televisie vooral bekend is van het brede amusement van RTL4.
Onze topman viel van zijn stoel toen wij dit voorstelden, zegt Fons van Westerloo van RTL Nederland, dat onderdeel is van het Duitse mediaconcern Bertelsmann. Wij zijn van het amusement. Maar een Nederlands digitaal kanaal heeft alleen bestaansrecht als er iets te zien is wat niet te zien is op de gewone tv. De zender moet in januari 2007 beginnen.
De toekomst van televisie ligt in de digitalisering, zo voorspelt RTL vandaag in een presentatie van zijn strategie voor de komende jaren. Door de komst van digitale kanalen, die via de kabel én via internet in de huiskamer komen, kan de kijker over vijf jaar zelf bepalen wat hij kijkt, en waar, en wanneer hij dat kijkt. De Publieke Omroep lanceert bijvoorbeeld dit jaar zeventien digitale kanalen. Maar tot nu toe zijn er nog geen digitale kanalen die winstgevendheid beloven.
Het voordeel van klassieke muziek op televisie is dat er nog geen markt voor is. Daardoor zijn de rechten nog betaalbaar, aldus Van Westerloo. De liefhebbers van klassieke muziek zijn een interessante groep, zei commercieel directeur Frank Eijken van RTL. 3,5 miljoen mensen in Nederland hebben wel eens wat klassieks gekocht en één miljoen doet dat regelmatig. Als we daar 10 procent van bereiken, kan het kanaal winstgevend worden. Bovendien zijn deze kijkers volgens hem relatief welvarend en hebben ze meer tijd dan gemiddeld.
RTL wil samenwerken met de Foreign Media Group, de club die Mozart en Beethoven naar Kruidvat bracht. Van de beelden zal in het begin 90 procent buitenlands zijn. RTL denk behalve met abonnementen ook geld te verdienen met de online verkoop van muziek en concertkaarten.

UPDATE: HRM manager Jaap Hofman tells me RTL is not hiring staff yet.

Monday, September 11, 2006

ONLINE CD ORDERING://News from MaxOpus (and col legno)

Warner Music may have stopped making new recordings, there is a plethora of online CD ordering available.

1. Composers
The MaxOpus Newsletter (August 31) presents 10 additional recordings to the phenomenal database of over 100 pieces now. Peter Maxwell Davies rules!
The Internationale Isang Yun Gesellschaft issues CDs, which number 5 at this moment.

2. Performers
The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (RCO Live) and the London Symphgony Orchestra (LSO Live) have their own labels. The San Francisco Symphony, the Cleveland Orchestra and the ASKO/Schoenberg Ensemble are among those those selling their own recordings.

3. Publishers
Donemus has a long standing tradition of issuing recordings of Dutch music. Also, Schott Music (Wergo).

4. Labels
Many labels these days take orders directly, e.g. Durian, Edition RZ, Petals, New World Records, DaCapo and col legno. The latter even have a great subscription service.

5. Online retailers etc.
I like JPC.de (which includes the CPO label) best for its clean homepage and wonderful search capabilities. Of course there are many others, such as Amazon, Crotchet.co.uk, SRI Canada, BOL.com.
And then there are auctions at eBay, as well as classified advertising (Speurders.nl, Marktplaats.nl).

6. Traditional retailers
Obviously, many stores have opened cyberstores: Tower Records, HMV, Fnac, and even small ones such as Kuijper Klassiek.

7. Other
The Dutch Kruidvat drugstore chain is linked to the Brilliant label.
The NRC Handelsblad newspaper has CD series for members only, obviously to lower churn

NEXT SEASON://Dun, Salonen, Knussen, Kirchner, Saariaho, Wuorinen, Adams in New York

The First Look at ‘The First Emperor’

By Anthony Tommasini
From the New York Times - September 10, 2006

There is nothing more exciting than the premiere of a new work that seems destined to stick with you from the moment it starts.
I may forever associate the 2005-6 season with the premiere of Peter Lieberson’s “Neruda Songs,” commissioned by James Levine and the Boston Symphony Orchestra and performed at Symphony Hall. That haunting, refined and emotionally revealing song cycle was like a love poem from Mr. Lieberson to his wife, the unforgettable mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, who sang it sublimely in what would be one of her last performances before her death in July.
As I look ahead to the coming season, several intriguing premieres catch my interest, starting with Tan Dun’s ambitious opera “The First Emperor,” which was commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera and receives its premiere there (Dec. 21).
With Mr. Tan, an immensely skilled and eclectic composer, it’s hard to know what to expect. He has written works that are baffling in their banality, like “Red Forecast,” a multimedia piece for soprano, orchestra, a battalion of percussionists, video projections and audio tracks.
The work is like some pretentious 60’s happening, with chanting, chaos, images of students rioting, a gaggle of voices. Yet other pieces have been close to entrancing, notably “Water Passion After St. Matthew.”
Though though marred by exasperating stretches of meditative vamping, the work has some ethereal music and mesmerizing instrumental colors. And Mr. Tan’s Oscar-winning score for the 2000 film “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” is a knockout from start to finish: arresting, brutal, yet somehow charming.
Mr. Tan’s new opera is set in the ancient court of Qin Shi Huangdi, the first emperor of China, a role conceived for Plácido Domingo. Count on the production by the film director Zhang Yimou (“House of Flying Daggers”) to be elaborate and flashy.
How will it turn out? Not knowing is part of the fun.
Perhaps the New York Philharmonic grew tired of reading about the excitement the conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen has been generating with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at its stunning new home, Disney Hall. Rather than just bring him here to conduct, the New York Philharmonic commissioned Mr. Salonen, an accomplished composer, to write a new piano concerto for Yefim Bronfman, which receives its premiere in New York (Feb. 1-3), with Mr. Salonen conducting. As a consolation prize the Los Angeles Philharmonic gets first dibs on recording the concerto.
On a smaller scale, the eminent pianist Peter Serkin, whose passion for contemporary music is as intense as it was during his young rebel days as a member of the uncompromising quartet Tashi, is scheduled to give the premiere of a new chamber work by the British composer Oliver Knussen. Despite having written some bracing and ingenious scores, Mr. Knussen has had a woeful record of meeting deadlines. This work was supposed to have had its premiere when Mr. Serkin presented his Perspectives series at Carnegie Hall several seasons back. This time the delayed premiere by Mr. Serkin and the Zankel Band is to take place at Zankel Hall (April 13), with Mr. Knussen conducting.
This season at the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center is the first planned completely by the ensemble’s new artistic directors, the pianist Wu Han and the cellist David Finckel. They have devised many programs that intriguingly mix old and new works. But I’m looking forward to an all-Leon Kirchner concert.
The society took part in commissioning this towering American composer to write his String Quartet No. 4. One way to present its New York premiere would be as part of a varied program that might place the new work in a larger musical context.
Instead the society will present the Orion String Quartet performing all four Kirchner quartets at Alice Tully Hall (March 7). They will be played in order, starting with the first, composed in 1949. Here is a chance to follow Mr. Kirchner’s exploration of the quartet genre over a span of nearly 60 years.
Out of town, admirers of the elegant composer Kaija Saariaho are looking forward to her 60-minute oratorio, “La Passion de Simone.” The work will have its premiere in Vienna this fall, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic will give the American premiere (Jan. 12-14).
James Levine, who continues to champion tough-guy modernists, presents the premiere of Charles Wuorinen’s Eighth Symphony with the Boston Symphony at Symphony Hall (Feb. 15). Those who find Mr. Wuorinen’s music too off-putting in its complexity should hear Mr. Levine perform his works. In recent years Mr. Levine’s palpable excitement for the music has come through in stunning accounts of daunting Wuorinen scores.
On the other end of the contemporary-music spectrum John Adams has fashioned the “Doctor Atomic” Symphony from his engrossing and courageous opera “Doctor Atomic,” which had its premiere last season in San Francisco. David Robertson, who is galvanizing audiences as music director of the St. Louis Symphony, conducts the premiere in St. Louis (March 16), then brings it to Carnegie Hall (March 31).
As always with premieres from searching composers, do not assume anything.

PREMIERE://Saariaho at the NYPO

Midwestern Synergy

By Bernard Holland
From the New York Times - September 10, 2006

Of the few weeds that crop up in the well-mowed lawn that is the New York Philharmonic’s coming season, one of the more welcome is native to the Midwest. David Robertson, taking a week off from his music director’s job at the St. Louis Symphony, will conduct music by Kaija Saariaho, Debussy and Sibelius (Dec. 14 to 16).
He’s not a completely unfamiliar species: the Philharmonic is a co-commissioner of Ms. Saariaho’s “Adriana Songs,” a cycle extracted from her recent opera “Adriana Mater” with new connective tissue to join the various sequences. On the other hand, it takes visitors like Mr. Robertson to do the kind of heavy thinking that brings these three composers together in such a provocative way.
Ms. Saariaho represents an interesting merger of Finnish music’s gray, stony aesthetic with a deep involvement in the “spectral” movement and its slow-moving clouds of carefully calculated overtones. “Adriana Mater” — a story of rape and vengeance but, most of all, motherhood — offers moments of sonic violence uncharacteristic of her earlier work, but the songs will also turn to dream sequences and Ms. Saariaho’s dramatically conciliatory ending. The Irish mezzo-soprano Patricia Bardon will be the soloist.
Debussy’s “Martyr de St.-Sébastien” conceals his later, leaner and more ascetic style inside a lumbering multimedia vehicle crushed by its own hyperactivity. When Kurt Masur did a cut-down version with the Philharmonic a few years ago, spectacle was eliminated, but the arm-waving excesses of d’Annunzio’s texts were inescapable. Mr. Robertson performs further liposuction by presenting what he calls “Symphonic Fragments.”
If Debussy’s elusiveness has made its mark on Ms. Saariaho’s music, Sibelius’s “Night Ride and Sunrise” helps show the door she first came through. Brief, curious, obsessive, complex, with strings at a gallop, it is wintry in tone, a little hard-hearted and not easy to perform. “La Mer,” Debussy’s great essay on orchestral beauty, should warm us up at the end. After hearing this work, subtitled “Day in the Life of the Sea,” Erik Satie said that he liked the part at about half-past 10. We should be on our way home by then.

IN MEMORIAM://Isang Yun

Peace Concerts to Commemorate Isang Yun’s Birthday

By Cathy Rose A. Garcia
From The Korea Times - 09-06-2006

A series of 'world peace' concerts commemorating the 89th birthday of the late Korean composer Yun Isang will be held in Korea, Japan, Germany and North Korea over the next two months.
The Isang Yun World Peace Concert 2006, organized by the Isang Yun Peace Foundation, will kick off at the Tokyo Arts University, Tokyo, Japan on Sept.15. The concert will feature a mix of Yun's musical compositions and traditional Korean music.
Yun's symphonies, which he created in the 1980s, characterized his desire for harmony, peace and reconciliation on the Korean Peninsula.
The Isang Yun Orchestral Music Night will be held at the Seoul Arts Center on Sept. 19. It will feature three musical pieces by Yun, which were written in 1987; as well as music by Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich.
Performing at the Seoul concert are Seoul Baroque Chamber Orchestra and Japanese oboe player Satoki Aoyama, who is currently the principal oboist at the NHK-Symphony Orchestra
Two concerts will be held in Germany, one at the St. Matthaus Church, Berlin on Oct.14 and the other at the Karlorfoff Chantroom, Munich on Oct. 16. It will feature the Isang Yun Berlin Ensemble, which is composed of Marton Vegh on flute, Johanna Reithmayer on harp, Daniela Jung on violin and Wenshin Yang on cello.
The last concert will be held on Oct. 20 at the Yun Isang Music Hall, Pyongyang.
Yun was born on Sept. 17, 1917, near the southeastern seaport Tongyong. He later moved to Germany and became a respected composer. His music gained recognition because of its blend of Taoist and Buddhism with Western-style music.
He was also known as a victim of South Korea's 'red baiting'. After his visit to North Korea in 1963, Yun was abducted from West Berlin and brought to Seoul under the authoritarian government of former President Park Chung-hee in June 1967. He was tortured and charged with high treason, after falsely admitting he was a spy for North Korea.
Yun was sentenced to life imprisonment, but was released in 1969 after protests from the international community. He became a naturalized German citizen in 1971 and died on November 3, 1995 in Berlin.

OBITUARY://Clermont Pépin

Top Quebec composer dies of liver cancer at 80

From Canada.com (Ottawa Citizen) - September 6, 2006

Clermont Pepin, an influential Quebec composer of the 20th century, died Saturday in Montreal at 80. His widow, violinist Mildred Goodman, said the cause was liver cancer.
Born in St-Georges-de-Beauce, Mr. Pepin received his music education in Montreal (with Arthur Letondal and Claude Champagne), Philadelphia (at the Curtis Institute as a scholarship student) and Toronto (with with Lubka Kolessa, Arnold Walter and Nicholas Goldschmidt at the Royal Conservatory). However, he found his true metier in Paris from 1949 to 1955, where he took Oliver Messiaen's famous analysis course along with such budding revolutionaries as Pierre Boulez, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Serge Garant. Thereafter, he left post-romanticism for atonality. He still harboured a romantic's enthusiasm for big works. Symphony No. 3 (Quasars) of 1967 and Symphony 5 (Implosion) of 1983 were commissioned by the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. Mr. Pepin considered the latter his masterpiece. Mr. Pepin's last major score was La Messe sur le monde, a 45-minute work for bass, choir and orchestra performed in 1993 by the Quebec Symphony Orchestra.
Mr. Pepin is survived by Ms. Goodman, his wife of 40 years, and four sisters. His funeral will be held Saturday at Montreal's Mount Royal Cemetery.


Clermont Pépin, Québécois Composer, Dies at 80

By Matthew Westphal
From PlaybillArts.com - 05 Sep 2006

The Quebec composer, pianist and teacher Clermont Pépin died on September 2 at the age of 80. According to his widow, violinist Mildred Goodman, the cause of death was liver cancer, reports The Ottawa Citizen.Born in 1926, Pépin studied at the Conservatory of Music in Montreal, the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia and the Royal Conservatory in Toronto. In 1949 he won the Prix d'Europe, a Quebec government scholarship, and from 1949-1955 he studied in Paris with Arthur Honegger and André Jolivet. He also took Olivier Messiaen's famous class in analysis alongside Pierre Boulez and Karlheinz Stockhausen.
He is noted for his String Quartets Nos. 3 and 4, the ballets L'Oiseau-phénix and Le Porte-rêve, and his Symphonies Nos. 3, 4 and 5. Quasars (No. 3, 1967) and Implosion (No. 5, 1983) were commissioned by the Montreal Symphony Orchestra; according to the Citizen, a 1993 revision of La Messe sur le monde (No. 4, 1975) was his last major score.
Pépin was named an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1981 and an Officer of the Ordre national du Québec in 1990.

NEXT SEASON://BBC Symphony Orchestra

By Ben Hogwood
From MusicOMH.com - September 3, 2006

Jiri Belohlavek's first full season as chief conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra shows promise in a series of concerts that reaffirms the ensemble’s commitment to contemporary music, whilst exploring some familiar masterworks.In the course of seven concerts Belohlavek will also conduct music by compatriots Janácek, Dvorák and Eben. A busy Prom season has seen the orchestra allocated a guest leader for each of their appearances, but Stephen Bryant will return for the opening concert at the Barbican on September 29.
This includes all the principal elements of the season, with Beethoven's Eroica symphony and Dvorak's charming American Suite framing countertenor David Daniels in the world premiere of Hojoki, An Account Of My Hut by Jonathan Dove. The curiously-titled song cycle sets texts from the 12th century Japanese poet Kamo-no-Chomei.
A second world premiere takes place at the opposite end of the season, with John Tavener's large-scale choral work The Beautiful Names referring to the ninety-nine names given to God in Islamic tradition. The venue of Westminster Cathedral on June 19 is bound to accord the work a suitable scale, with tenor soloist John Mark Ainsley and the BBC Symphony Chorus sharing vocal duties.
Belohlavek will be conducting a special evening to celebrate the Barbican Centre's quarter-century as he presides over a welcome performance of the Janacek opera The Excursions of Mr Broucek on February 25. For a long period this was considered to be a work best performed on Czech soil, but Belohlavek's advocacy is most appreciated. An all-Czech cast and the BBC singers take on Svatopluk Cech's fable, in which Broucek, the celebrated pub landlord, is spirited away to the moon. To delve beneath the satirical plot and the music used to portray it, the Barbican has a study afternoon beforehand.
For his other appearances Belohlavek will continue his Mahler cycle with the Third Symphony on April 4, with Jane Irwin the mezzo-soprano soloist in what is likely to be an endearing evocation of Mahler's most obviously 'outdoor' symphony. Meanwhile October 14 presents a populist programme of Janacek, Mozart and Stravinsky, with Nikolai Lugansky the soloist in Mozart’s popular Piano Concerto No. 21, and March 17 offers an extravaganza of music from opera and operetta in the company of Susan Graham and Thomas Hampson. Nine days later Belohlavek will conduct an interesting concert of Brahms, Dvorak and the little known Petr Eben, whose Vox Clamantis of 1969 is a rare orchestral foray for this composer known primarily for his vivid organ music.
For their annual composer weekend from January 12-14 the BBC has chosen to profile Sofia Gubaidulina, the latest choice of near-contemporary musicians that has in recent years included Carter and Cage. Gubaidulina's spiritually informed music is a compelling listen, and with possibilities of repertoire from solo cello works right though to the mighty St John Passion, the BBC has plenty to choose from for the as yet unannounced schedule. The potential for overload is clear so soon after another major Russian anniversary in Dmitri Shostakovich, but it will at the least be a fascinating opportunity to examine his influence on Gubaidulina, who, like Shostakovich, did not endear herself to the Russian musical establishment.
The orchestra will be lending weight to the Barbican's celebration of the music of Steve Reich on the weekend of October 7-8, with his Tehillim contrasted with a newer success, the variations entitled You Are. The inclusion of Bartók's Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta offers the chance to measure the influence of his string writing on Reich, seventy years old this year.
Although headed by Belohlavek the BBC SO will as always offer plenty of opportunities to guests, former heads and conductors coming through the ranks. Valery Gergiev is listed as a guest conductor, raising the possibility of his involvement in the Gubaidulina weekend. Composers Thomas Adés and Matthias Pintscher will conduct their own music. The former couples Stravinsky's masterly Symphony of Psalms with the startling vision of his America: A Prophecy on Friday 13 April, while the latter will conduct the UK premiere of his cello concerto Reflections on Narcissus. The work's dedicatee, Truls Mørk, will star as part of a richly orchestrated program on Tuesday 14 November that includes Messiaen, Ravel and Stravinsky.
Sir Andrew Davis will appear for the orchestra's Christmas special on December 16, so after a frantic day of shopping you can enjoy French music ranging over three centuries. The first half is two settings of the Gloria, beginning with the present day in Philippe Fénelon's version, the UK premiere of a piece inspired by the death of a close friend. Poulenc's uplifting setting of the same text will follow, featuring soprano Christine Brewer, while after the interval the glorious theme continues in the shape of Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique.
Two attractive concerts that might otherwise slip by unnoticed are those under Manfred Honeck and the excellent Vassily Sinaisky. Sinaisky's concert on May 4 promises much, with Sarah Chang the soloist in Shostakovich's First Violin Concerto, imaginatively teamed with a Kancheli UK premiere and Scriabin's rarely-heard second symphony. Honeck also includes two big Russian scores on December 8, Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony prefaced by Prokofiev's big boned Second Piano Concerto. Completing his generous offering is the UK premiere of Hans Werner Henze's Scorribanda Sinfonica, the BBC's belated nod to his eightieth birthday celebrations.
The premieres don't stop there either, with an as-yet unnamed choral work by Michael Nyman getting its world premiere on March 8, rather unexpectedly in the company of works by Butterworth, Schoenberg and Sibelius! Another BBC commission, the >Diptych of Simon Bainbridge, will be brought to life on February 9 by the orchestra in the company of Bartók and more Scriabin, this time the Poem of Ecstasy.
For those able to get to the Barbican in the early evening it's well worth catching the 'Singers at Six', a short concert at the adjoining St Giles Cripplegate church that sets the scene for the main event. The concert before Bainbridge's premiere promises the "ecstatic and the rapturous".
Finally Rossini, and his expression of grief at the loss of his mother. The Stabat Mater on November 30, conducted by David Robertson, should be a thrilling experience, presented in the company of a large-scale orchestral work by Ivan Fedele. Once again a UK premiere, Scena affirms the orchestra's ongoing commitment to new music, part of a season that promises an extremely stimulating set of concerts, whatever your musical preferences!

PREMIERE://Kyburz' touché

Cleveland Orchestra Opens European Festival Tour

By Matthew Westphal
From PlaybillArts.com - 31 Aug 2006

Franz Welser-Möst and the Cleveland Orchestra open a two-week European festival tour tonight with their first performance ever in the tiny Alpine principality of Liechtenstein."It's the first tour where at the beginning and end of a tour I can sleep in my own bed," Welser-Möst told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. He is a citizen of Liechtenstein and has a home about two miles from the concert venue in Vaduz, the country's capital.
The tour includes a homecoming of another sort for Welser-Möst, with three concerts (September 11-13) in the Austrian city of Linz, his hometown. The latter two concerts will be at the historic Abbey of St. Florian, where the conductor sang and played violin as a child; the performances, of Bruckner's Symphony No. 5, will be recorded for television broadcast and DVD release.
Other stops on this tour include the Cleveland Orchestra's annual residency at the Lucerne Festival in Switzerland (September 2-4); the German cities of Essen, Berlin and Braunschweig (four concerts, September 6-10); and the orchestra's Italian debut (September 15), at the Teatro Filarmonico in Verona.
The first of the orchestra's Lucerne concerts includes the world premiere of Hanspeter Kyburz's touché. The work, which features soprano Laura Aikin and tenor John Mark Ainsley, is the third of the Roche Commissions, created under a partnership, funded by the Swiss pharmaceuticals firm Roche, between the Cleveland Orchestra, the Lucerne Festival and Carnegie Hall. Following the world premiere on September 2, touché will have its US debut at Severance Hall in Cleveland on October 1 and its first New York performance on October 5 at Carnegie.
The following night (Setember 3) in Lucerne, Welser-Möst and the orchestra present a special concert performance of Verdi's Falstaff, featuring Richard Sutliff in the title role, Simon Keenlyside and Twyla Robinson as Mr. and Mrs. Ford and Felicity Palmer as Mistress Quickly.
Other repertoire for the tour includes Debussy's La Mer, a suite from Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet, Kaija Saariajo's Orion and Mozart's Symphony No. 38 ("Prague").



Orchestra charms Swiss with subtlety

By Alain Steffen
From Cleveland.com (The Plain Dealer) - Tuesday, September 05, 2006

After their phenomenal success last year, we were more than excited about this year's residency by the Cleveland Orchestra and its conductor, Franz Welser-MÖst.
The Austrian musician knows how to continue the work of his predecessor, Christoph von Dohnanyi, in a most consistent way, but he also provides important new impulses. He makes the great classics appear in a new light, and it goes without saying that contemporary music plays a crucial role.
The orchestra's first concert at the Lucerne Festival on Saturday proved all of that.
It began with "Touche," an uncommonly original and interesting work by Hanspeter Kyburz, commissioned by the festival. "Touche" is a dramatic scene for two singers that deals with relationship problems, in the form of a slightly ironic, abstract dialogue between a soprano (Christiane Oelze) and a tenor (John Mark Ainsley).
The coldness and distance of the dialogue, admirably put across by Oelze and Ainsley, was contrasted by highly intense orchestral playing that expressed the unspoken emotions of the protagonists.
Welser-MÖst coaxed innumerable subtleties from the orchestra that are typically encountered only in chamber music. And the musicians seemed overjoyed to place their art in the service of Kyburz's grateful music.
In the second half of the concert, the orchestra played Anton Bruckner's Symphony No. 5. Even among Bruckner's works, this symphony stands out like a mighty rock emerging from among the breakers, and its performance was finely chiseled and rich in nuances.
Welser-MÖst dispensed with a religious interpretation of the work and concentrated on the musical substance. No incense was being burned here; instead, we heard clear, slender lines, though the long structural arches were never obscured. It is here that Welser-MÖst's art of interpretation was most beautifully in evidence: He was able to combine subtle shaping and precise construction with the long breadth of a romantic composer.
The second movement in particular was a revelation. Welser-MÖst did not hesitate to uncover all the chamber-musiclike subtleties in the music and, with his unerring feel for structure, traced Bruckner's masterpiece back to the clarity of J.S. Bach. It was a splendid performance, which gave rise to unanimous ovations and revealed Welser-MÖst as one of our epoch-making Bruckner interpreters.
Symphony orchestras are not always good opera orchestras. Yet with the semistaged performance of Giuseppe Verdi's "Falstaff" on Sunday, the orchestra showed what an attentive, versatile and beautiful-sounding opera orchestra it can be.
In addition to his concert activities, Welser-MÖst is also a highly regarded opera conductor. There was a lot of sparkle in his approach to "Falstaff." He emphasized clarity and transparency in the sound, as he had the night before.
The virtuosity and lightning-quick reactions of the Cleveland musicians provided the top-quality cast of singers with an ideal carpet of sound upon which they could weave their intrigues.
Again, the performers were greeted by stormy applause. On both nights, we had experienced the Cleveland Orchestra in top form.

PREMIERE://Fujikura's Crushing Twister

By George Hall
From The Guardian - Wednesday August 30, 2006

It's surprising to see a composer of whom Pierre Boulez approves being championed by an outfit that more regularly specialises in light music, but the latest piece by Dai Fujikura was premiered in the BBC Concert Orchestra's Prom under its new principal guest conductor, Charles Hazlewood.
Crushing Twister developed from a chance encounter with the skills of DJing in an East London school, where the Japanese-born, UK-based, Fujikura teaches composition. With an orchestra divided into three groups - the central group supplying material that those on either side simulate scratching, as if on turntables - the work emulates DJing techniques while sounding unlike anything a clubber might encounter.
It made a bold contemporary intervention in a Prom largely focused on the influence of jazz on classical music. Presenting the programme himself with easy eloquence, Hazlewood began with a spry account of Ibert's irresistible Divertissement, whose popular elements derive more from the Parisian boulevards than from New Orleans. Three Kurt Weill songs represented a more authentic blend of American usages with European music-theatre traditions. The South African mezzo Pauline Malefane sang one each in Xhosa, German and English, and while each item needed more interpretative definition her warm, wide-ranging tone was an undoubted asset.
Rhapsody in Blue was an almost inevitable programme constituent. The sheer glamour of Gershwin's musical ideas maintained their allure despite being somewhat undersold by Kevin Cole's careful pianism and Hazlewood's over-objective conducting. But Bernstein's ballet score Fancy Free sounded desperately thin as a concert item, even in such a slick and sassy account as this.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

PREMIERE://Lindberg's Violin Concerto

At Mostly Mozart, Mostly Magnus, in a Concerto and Chamber Pieces

By Allan Kozinn
From the New York Times - August 24, 2006

Contemporary music, of all things, ruled the evening in a pair of Mostly Mozart programs on Tuesday. In the main concert, at Avery Fisher Hall, Louis Langrée led the orchestra in two Mozart overtures and a piano concerto, but the main draw was the premiere of a hefty new violin concerto by Magnus Lindberg. And the late concert, at the Kaplan Penthouse, was devoted to three substantial chamber works by Mr. Lindberg, in vivid, high-energy performances by the International Contemporary Ensemble.
The modern works in Mostly Mozart’s programming this summer generally used Mozart as a reference, quoting and transforming his music, or alluding to Mozartean gestures. Mr. Lindberg’s Violin Concerto (2006) doesn’t do that: its sole concession to the festival, which commissioned it, is its use of an orchestra of Mozartean proportion and coloration.
Does that matter? Thematically, maybe. But works composed to suit the circumstances of their premieres often turn out to be novelty pieces. Mr. Lindberg seems to have been aiming for something more durable, and more of a piece with his own catalog of works.
For the most part that’s what he produced. In the opening pages, the solo violin line was surrounded and eventually engulfed by the orchestral strings, which created the clean, icy texture that became the spine of much of the 25-minute score. Eventually this texture became the backdrop for embellishments of all kinds, ranging from adventures in gamelan scales, to moves that sounded like lost visitors from the world of film soundtracks.
Lisa Batiashvili played the solo violin line with energy and agility, and a tightly focused sound that wove easily in and out of the orchestral fabric, and she seemed unfazed by the line’s postmodern shifts from Bartokian angularity to lyrical sweetness.
The lengthy, riveting cadenza near the end of the work is full of beauty and surprise, and it samples the full gamut of violin technique, from pizzicato to sliding and trilling, to lush melodies in double stops. Ms. Batiashvili made the most of its showpiece qualities but also maintained its internal coherence.
The chamber scores at the late concert put the concerto in perspective. The earliest, “Linea d’Ombra” (1981), showed that Mr. Lindberg, then fresh out of music school, was already a master of morphing instrumental (and vocal) sounds into ear-catching effects. The solo line of his Clarinet Quintet (1992), played gracefully by Joshua Rubin, showed a debt to Messiaen, but the context — an eerie string sound and quickly shifting textures and sensibilities — revealed Mr. Lindberg’s thumbprints.
The closing work, “Zona” (1983, revised 1990), catches Mr. Lindberg on the path between the virtuosic effects of “Linea d’Ombra” and the more considered manipulations of the quintet and the violin concerto.
At the early concert the polished veneer of the festival orchestra seemed to be cracking as the festival neared its end. Beneath a bright surface created largely by speedy tempos and sharp dynamic contrasts, precision fled at several points, most notably at phrase endings that were not quite together. The one treat among the Mozart offerings was Lars Vogt’s sensitive, crystalline account of the Piano Concerto No. 23 (K. 488), in which he played Mozart’s own cadenzas.


The Beauty Lost In a Sea of TranquilityClassical Music

By Fred Kirshnit
From the New York Sun - August 24, 2006

Mozart lived in an era in which the choice of key signature indicated a particular mood or humor, a significant artistic tool for shaping aesthetic result. The composer himself reserved A major to express the rapture of contemplated, idealized beauty. Tuesday evening, the pianist Lars Vogt performed Mozart's lovely Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major under the baton of festival director Louis Langrée at the Mostly Mozart Festival.
Its beauty proved a bit elusive, however. Mr. Vogt is a rather straightforward pianist with a uniform and measured touch. He quickly established an atmosphere of quietude from which he did not vary, but this tranquility translated into neither delicacy nor deliquescence. It was clear almost from the outset that we could depend on Mr. Vogt's accuracy, but his sense of poetry proved less reliable. The orchestra, which has seemed less disciplined this season than the last two, followed competently but not enchantingly. The workaday quality of this performance was jarringly out of touch with Mozart's quest for the radiant.
When Emanuel Ax introduced his rendition of the Rondo in A minor last week at the Kaplan penthouse, he mentioned its unusual rhythm of the siciliana, a dance step also featured in the Andante in F-sharp minor, which is the middle movement of this concerto. Again Mr. Vogt acquitted himself in an unobjectionable manner, but I wished for quite a bit more lyricism. In the final Allegro assai, he was indeed impressive in his separation of every note, pianism both clear and defined. But this was only technically good Mozart playing, not sensitive tone painting. Mr. Vogt opted for Mozart's own cadenzas.
Mozart wrote the A major concerto while in the throes of composing "Le Nozze di Figaro," and the incredible overture from that opera opened the program. This was the best playing of the evening — Maestro Langrée kept the pace quick and the accents strong. However, the corresponding curtain raiser from "Don Giovanni" — sharpeared listeners recognized that this was not the operatic version but rather a bastardized concert arrangement — was much less incisive. The opening chords were not very intimidating, the enunciation in the violin section rather slurred and unfocused. After years of steady deterioration under Gerard Schwarz, the Mostly Mozart Orchestra experienced a rebirth under Mr. Langrée just a couple of seasons ago. Hopefully, it is not now simply waddling back to its old lazy ways.
Also on the menu was the world premiere of Magnus Lindberg's Violin Concerto. Every boy in Santo Domingo wants to grow up to be Pedro Martinez and every kid in Helsinki wants to be the next Sibelius. It was, however, perhaps unfair to Mr. Lindberg to program his latest effort on the same evening as three of Mozart's most luminous masterpieces.
The piece projected a certain harmonic cohesion and a few quotes from Béla Bartók's Violin Concerto No. 2. But it was difficult to evaluate the performance of violinist Lisa Batiashvili, who appeared to toil away assiduously, but, quite honestly, could have been playing the score upside down for all anyone knew. Seemingly interminable passages of feline pugnacity gave all of the string players a good workout but meandered arbitrarily among the highest — and squeakiest — notes on the fingerboard. The horns, who were superb all evening, appeared to be navigating some very difficult passages with superhuman steadiness of pitch. I have but one thought from the Bard for Mr. Lindberg, who seemed pleased with this realization when he emerged from the wings for his bow: Brevity is the soul of wit.
Last season, Mostly Mozart experimented with bringing the stage closer to the middle of Avery Fisher Hall and installing acoustical "mushroom tops" above the musicians. The result was a definite brightening of the overall orchestral sound. This year, that configuration is back and begs the question of why it is not employed during the regular concert season. Perhaps it would be a bit much for a 100 piece Mahler or Strauss work, but the Philharmonic and the stable of visiting ensembles still program many nights of Beethoven and Brahms. Having the sound reach the ear a little more brilliantly is a good thing, no?


Finding the relevance, mostly, of modern Mozart

By Justin Davidson
From Newsday.com - August 25, 2006

With the Mostly Mozart Festival turning 40 and its namesake 250, the caretakers of both have felt compelled to argue that they still matter. "We are eager to demonstrate that the revelatory impact of Mozart's genius is as powerful and relevant today as it was in his own century," announce music director Louis Langrée and artistic director Jane Moss in the program.The test of Mozart's modernity is the influence he continues to exert on creative artists. Langrée and Moss have not left that influence to chance. They commissioned Finnish composer Magnus Lindberg to write an allegedly Mozartian violin concerto, persuaded Mark Morris to choreograph a new set of "Mozart Dances" and got a trio of visual artists to weave the "Jupiter" Symphony into a digital video installation.The collective picture that emerges from all this Mozart-themed creativity is a judiciously blurred one, like those Gilbert Stuart portraits of George Washington that go all fuzzy around the toothless mouth. This is a case where relevance relies on vagueness."Enlightenment," the elaborate digital artwork in the Avery Fisher Hall arcade, emphasizes the rational derivation of the "Jupiter" Symphony's fugue, which is its least interesting aspect.Morris, who waited 25 years to choreograph Mozart, created a festival of nuance. He has usually relied on a sturdy rhythmic impulse common to composers as different as Monteverdi, Lou Harrison, Purcell, Vivaldi and Stravinsky. In Mozart, he incorporated subtleties of phrasing, recurrences that are never quite the same and rhythmic lilts that resist the thud of foot on plank.Sometimes the dancers followed the music's flow, twitching at each grace note, or chasing each other's movements in the visual counterpart to canon. In other places, the dance sped ahead of the score, or let it pass in stillness, acknowledging that slow music can be agitated and rapid passages, serene.Morris interpreted Mozart bar by bar; Lindberg dealt with his muse by ignoring him almost completely. On Tuesday, the young and spectacularly poised violinist Lisa Batiashvili played the world premiere of Lindberg's violin concerto as if she had grown up with the piece. Premieres can be slightly desperate affairs, but Batiashvili has worked the ceaseless flow of her part right into her muscle tissue.Lindberg is a flinty purist in an age of stylistic promiscuity. The new-music world has become a chaotic MySpace of predilections, in which Filipino gong music mixes with flamenco wails, medieval motets, ambient electronics and a hip-hop beat, sometimes within a single piece. Mozart might have enjoyed the perpetual mash-up, but 48-year-old Lindberg is having none of it. He has been steadily turning out hyperactive, bright-skinned works in which the frenzied surface whirls around a dense core of logic.Here, he sacrifices his usual percussion-crammed orchestra, softens his angular contours and gives the violin some fairly traditional acrobatics. But "lyrical" would be too soft a word for this enameled piece. Lindberg was not about to write some postmodern neo-Mozart just for the sake of an anniversary. Relevance will have to wait.

OBITUARY://Jacques Wildberger

Swiss composer Wildberger dead at 84

From The Australian - August 25, 2006

Jacques Wildberger, widely considered the most important Swiss composer of the 20th century, died aged 84, fellow composer Heinz Hollinger said today.
Wildberger was born in Basel on January 3, 1922. He died yesterday at his home in Riehen, in the Basel canton, Hollinger said.
In 1944 the composer joined the Swiss Party of Labour, the country's communist party, and composed pro-communist songs for cabaret and popular theatre, but left the party three years later, disillusioned with Stalinism.
He became the student of the Russian composer Wladimir Vogel in 1948. His first works were published in the 1950s, including Tre Mutazioni in 1958, a composition for chamber orchestra which attempts to reconcile the styles of Arnold Schoenberg and the Viennese school and composers like Frenchman Pierre Boulez.
Wildberger taught at the music academy in Karlsruehe, Germany, from 1959 to 1966, then at Basel's conservatory until 1987.

PREMIERE://Rorem's Our Town

New angels help opera evolve

By David Patrick Stearns
From Philly.com (Philadelphia Inquirer) - Wed, Aug. 23, 2006

Typically, when a great American play is turned into a potentially great American opera, the news is trumpeted from the skies, or at least from one of the big-city opera houses. Not with Our Town - Ned Rorem's opera version of the classic Thornton Wilder play - whose quieter, more gradual birth is taking place on a circuit of theaters that may bring it to a university near you.
Yes, university.
The official world premiere was in February at Indiana University. Had you vacationed in the right place, you also might have happened onto the piece at the Lake George (N.Y.) Opera this summer. Or at the Aspen Music Festival, whose production was conducted by the eminent David Zinman, but sung by students rather than stars. This, for something the 83-year-old composer was born to write?
Says Rorem, whose hindsight usually ranges from pessimism to hopelessness, "it was a marvelous idea."
New operas are usually commissioned by one or two companies, often on different continents, and are more or less shot out of a cannon - with an opening production assembled without the benefit of a workshop or tryout. There are successes, but even among those, some parts are good, others not.
Unlike them, Our Town had what every new opera needs - a workshop, at Indiana last year and promised productions beyond the premiere, thanks to a commissioning consortium that was headed by Indiana University but also included Aspen, Lake George, Opera Boston, the North Carolina School of the Arts, and Festival Opera in Walnut Creek, Calif.
So far in the series of performances, the piece has been recast from two acts to three; more changes are likely. Critics have been alternately beguiled, charmed and left cold. But with different viewpoints arriving in each new production, the industry knows the jury is still out. In other words, the piece "is protected" from failure, says Aspen stage director Edward Berkeley.
It's possible that Our Town couldn't have happened any other way. Both the Wilder estate and librettist J.D. McClatchy wanted Rorem: He lived amid the milieu that spawned the 1937 Our Town, and he was a contemporary of Aaron Copland and Samuel Barber, who pioneered the Americana school of composition ideal for an operatic adaptation of the piece. However, Rorem wanted a fee that would allow him to live for the three years that any major opera is likely to require.
Bigger opera companies might balk at committing to an over-80 composer with only a few operas to his credit. But the consortium assembled $250,000, which is comparable to big-opera-house commissions; half came from Indiana University, and the rest was spread among the others.
Budgetary risks were further minimized by the values that come with higher learning. Aspen counts on only 12 percent of its budget from the box office; conventional opera companies shoot for three times that. The piece's value to students participating in its creation may be priceless. In a festival that's as much about teaching as performing, Our Town "embodies everything we care about," said president Alan Fletcher.
It's a viable model, said Helane Anderson, promotion manager of Boosey & Hawkes, the opera's publishers: "Rather than the companies' saying ' we have budget issues so we can't participate,' the consortium has them pay less to... be a part of something that's major."
And not just opera. Indiana University, again, just premiered the new choral work Sun Dogs, by the sought-after British composer James MacMillan. Aspen is planning to commission dance pieces. The Juilliard School of Music recently celebrated its 100th anniversary with 47 commissions, including a cello sonata by 90-year-old Milton Babbitt, and struck gold with the Lowell Liebermann opera Miss Lonelyhearts, in a production shared with the Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music.
With a history of nurturing about 80 works into being, Hancher Auditorium at the University of Iowa is now part of Music Accord, which, for only $7,500 a year from each of its 10 members, has delivered three new chamber-music works over the last decade by major composers such as David Del Tredici and William Bolcom.
Most appetizing, says Hancher's artistic director, Judith Hurtig, are projects to which the university makes a unique contribution: The Terry Riley/Kronos Quartet piece Sun Rings incorporated recordings of outer-space noise culled from years of research done in Iowa.
However protected in some ways, these working conditions hardly exist in a utopian bubble. The final scene of Bill T. Jones' 1990 dance-theater work Last Supper at Uncle Tom's Cabin/The Promised Land featured local Iowa actors fully and frontally nude. Audition ads alone set off a raging controversy.
"It was pretty ugly," Hurtig recalled. "The university's legal office was very much aware with what was going on, and they were OK with it... . We had plainclothes policemen all around the audience."
It sold out, by the way.
When playwright Craig Lucas was commissioned by Juilliard to write what became The Listener (which premiered in January), he wrote a sprawling story about the drug-and-sex-steeped youth culture of 21st-century Seattle. (Says one twentysomething to another, "I love your search engine!") The intention wasn't salacious, but to prepare the actors for what they would encounter after graduation - multiple roles in the same play, plus extensive nude scenes.
Both that and Liebermann's Miss Lonelyhearts, based on the Nathanael West novel about an alcoholic advice columnist who develops a Christ complex, are works whose daring defies conventional commerciality. Nobody can say whether the protected circumstances prompted less-compromising work, since academia at its most liberal is still a microcosm of what's outside of it. But when asked for an upbeat, celebratory work, the reputedly lightweight Liebermann delivered an opera that's so hard-hitting that some student cast members defected.
"We handled it as in the real world," said Juilliard president Joseph Polisi. "We talked to them as professionals. We told them that what you do onstage doesn't have to be your opinion. A few preferred not to be part of it. We respected that."
As important as this world is becoming to upper-echelon composers - and negotiations are under way at various institutions for major new works by Wynton Marsalis and Peter Maxwell Davies - it's only one possible route, as opposed to being the panacea. Though Aspen has the outward markings of an operatic greenhouse - plenty of rehearsal, plus fresh-voiced singers close to the age of their characters - the Our Town opening was derailed by an orchestra that became inexplicably spooked ("It was as if a black cat crossed the stage," said one person involved with preparations) and performed as if sight-reading.
Key roles in this story of life, death and the afterlife were understood only superficially by the student cast. Rorem's score, for all its exquisite, distilled moments, still hadn't settled into its new, three-act form.
Yet the piece exists - representing a creative coda in Rorem's life. Also, its intimate story has the best chances for an optimum impression at venues like Aspen's cozy Wheeler Opera House. Conditions may not always be that way once the opera graduates from its consortium.
From there, all bets are off. Rorem isn't about to eschew the less-suitable but real-life gargantuan glamour of the 4,000-seat Metropolitan Opera, were he given a chance. "[Playwright] Edward Albee won't let certain plays be done in certain places," Rorem says, "but why not just take the money and run?"

PREMIERE://Tilson Thomas's Nocturne

Paula Robison to Premiere New Flute Work by Michael Tilson Thomas

By Vivien Schweitzer
From PlaybillArts.com - 18 Aug 2006

Flutist Paula Robison and pianist Ken Noda will give the world premiere of Michael Tilson Thomas's Notturno on September 15 at Carnegie Hall's Weill Recital Hall in New York.
The rest of the program covers 19th- and 20th-century works for flute with and without accompaniment: Bohuslav Martinu's First Sonata for Flute and Piano; Toru Takemitsu's Voice for solo flute; three mélodies by Gabriel Fauré, Aurore, Les Berceaux and Notre Amour; and Cécile Chaminade's Concertino.
Thomas, music director of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, has written a number of works; most recently Rilke Songs in 2004. Other compositions include Notturno for Flute, Harp, and String Quintet; Island Music for two marimbas and Tea with Maggie.
Robison recently released two recordings of Brazilian music. She has commissioned concertos from Leon Kirchner, Toru Takemitsu and Oliver Knussen, among others.
Ken Noda is musical assistant to James Levine at the Metropolitan Opera, where he began working in 1991 after he retired from a full-time career as a concert pianist.

PREMIERE://Vines' The Hive

Lament for fame's first victim

By Matthew Westwood
From The Australian - August 18, 2006

The English poet Rupert Brooke would almost be forgotten today were it not for his famous verse, written in the first year of World War I, about a "corner of a foreign field/ That is for ever England".
Now an opera has been written about Brooke by an Australian librettist and composer. The Hive, by Sam Sejavka and Nicholas Vines, is a morality tale about overburnished reputations and the quicksilver of instant celebrity. It opens at the Arts House in Melbourne next week.
William Butler Yeats, the Irish versifier, called Brooke "the handsomest man in England". Accounts of him describe his sky-blue eyes, athletic build and easeful gait. He certainly had his female admirers, among them Virginia Woolf, but he was open to persuasion from members of both sexes. The thought gives a certain piquancy to Shelley's line: "On a poet's lips I slept".
Brooke served with the Hood Batallion in the war, but saw little active duty. His was not to be a glorious death at the Somme or Gallipoli but from blood poisoning, the result of an infected mosquito bite.
The poet has been immortalised at least once before in Australian composition. The remarkable Frederick Septimus Kelly, an Olympic oarsman as well as musician, was serving with Brooke on the SS Grantully Castle when Brooke died en route to the Dardanelles. Kelly wrote his best-known work, an elegy for string orchestra, in memory of his friend.
Sejavka points out that Brooke lived in the emergent years of the information age. "Rupert Brooke was portrayed as a kind of war hero, when in reality he was nothing of the sort," he says. "He was a test case for modern-day media hype."
The libretto is adapted from a play Sejavka wrote in the early 1990s when he had a fame-induced crisis of his own. The singer had been portrayed - by Michael Hutchence, no less - in Richard Lowenstein's film Dogs in Space. The screenplay had taken some liberties and Sejavka says he objected to its depiction of circumstances that led to the death of "Sam's" girlfriend by drug overdose. "There was a suggestion that the character that was based on me was the person who introduced her to drugs," Sejavka says, with a voice that carries the grain of life's experiences. "That was just not true. It really upset me."
That episode coloured Sejavka's dramatised account of Brooke's death and posthumous celebrity, in which the poet's ghost "watches as his image is manipulated" to suit the agendas of others. The Brooke character in the opera is sung by Simon Meadows, and other singers take roles of Brooke's shipmates on the Grantully Castle and members of the bohemian-chic Bloomsbury set. The libretto has abundant entomological references - some to real insects, others to made-up ones - to evoke the swarm and sting of those who mourned, glorified and mythologised Brooke after his death. Shipmates pretend he died in battle, his publishers seek to capitalise on his death to boost book sales, and Woolf fantasises about his sexual exploits.
Sejavka emerged from the 1980s Melbourne punk scene and his catholic musical taste, while extending to such bands as Dresden Dolls and the Fiery Furnaces, does not necessarily embrace Puccini and Verdi: "I find it hard to sit through opera, really."
Nevertheless, Douglas Horton, artistic director of the experimental, Melbourne-based opera company Chamber Made, perceived that The Hive had musical possibilities. He had seen the original play at La Mama and eventually commissioned Sejavka to write a libretto from it.
Sejavka adapted and condensed the text but the project languished. A number of composers, Matthew Hindson among them, considered setting the libretto.
Then Vines came to Horton's attention via a concert series at Chamber Made called From the Lip. The librettist and composer might, on appearances, seem an odd couple. But Vines, a serious young insect with a Harvard scholarship, "got his head around what I was trying to do", Sejavka says. Their methods complemented each other: Vines's "obsessive, almost scientific way of working", paired with Sejavka's "obsessive, unscientific" ways.
Vines studied composition at Sydney University with Peter Sculthorpe and Anne Boyd, and his mentors at Harvard have included visiting British composers Harrison Birtwistle and Judith Weir. He is completing his PhD there, but he has reservations about the "blanket apathy" of the university towards its composition students.
"You don't really get much education, per se, but you get plenty of resources," he says.
Horton set the composer a formidable challenge with the commission for The Hive. The director wanted a production that would be "eminently tourable", with minimum musicians. In fact, he wanted no musicians at all: The Hive would be an "a capella opera".
Vines hesitated. Writing a music-theatre piece solely around voices would be an interesting technical exercise, but possibly boring for the audience. "I said there is no possible way you can do that," Vines says. "It was too difficult for this text."
Instead Vines - who says his work has a stylistic affinity with Thomas Ades, the British composer of Powder Her Face, an opera about the sexually liberated Duchess of Argyll - has scored the opera for piano and electronic keyboards.
The music, he explains, slides between representations of the real and the fantastic. Brooke's ghost, the shadow of his true self, is represented with the more natural sounds of acoustic piano and diatonic harmony. With the hype and swarm of the hive, the sound palette becomes increasingly electronic and strange.
Vines takes cues from other musical styles and rhythmic patterns. He uses rhythms based on the dots and dashes of Morse code, a melody with folk-song inflections, and a "weird hymn tune".
Brooke's story, or at least Sejavka's fable of Brooke as a victim of fame, still has potency, Vines says. "It's about how Brooke struggles with this: he's famous for being good looking, basically," he says. "Brooke is dealing with having this celebrity, this adulation, and not feeling he deserves it for anything he has actually done. At the end of the opera there is deep sadness. Even with all his gifts and achievements, he did not think much of himself."
Vines's other theatre works include a "bellowdrama" called The Mysterious Demise of One Brody-Marie and an opera for student performance, The Sepulchre of Love. A future project is a commission from the Sydney Philharmonia Choirs, a setting of the Dies Irae. The Chamber Made piece, he says, came at the right time in his career.
Vines faces the typically uncertain prospects of a composer and he is starting to apply for academic and administrative jobs in universities. The Hive has its premiere next week, and Vines says Birtwistle has shown the score to London's Almeida Theatre and Music Theatre Wales, both of them influential companies.
But even if The Hive is not more widely seen, it could serve another purpose as Vines's dissertation for his PhD.

Chamber Made presents The Hive at the Arts House, North Melbourne, August 23-September 10.

PREMIERES://Kirchner, Sheng and Lindberg at La Jolla

Don't be fooled by all the lightness

By Mark Swed
From calendarlive.com (LA Times) - August 10, 2006

"When I think of SummerFest, I think of parties," the lightweight New York composer Bruce Adolphe is quoted as saying in an article celebrating the 20th anniversary of the La Jolla chamber music festival in this summer's program book."The festival," he continues, "has more parties than any other music festival on the planet, and the evening Beach Party and outrageously sumptuous Sushi Party are in themselves reasons that musicians plan to be in La Jolla during the summer."An exclusive beach community of many millionaires, swank shops and tourist-trap restaurants with great views, La Jolla does not exude culture. Raymond Chandler called it "nothing but a climate" and, presumably starved for noir, drank himself to death in its sunshine.And so, you might conclude that a wealthy party town has the frivolous summer festival it deserves. Instead, thanks to the leadership of the popular violinist Cho-Liang Lin, La Jolla has a serious chamber music festival of exceptional quality, a festival so good that the town hardly knows what to do with it.

Sunday afternoon and Monday and Tuesday evenings, SummerFest 2006, which opened last week and continues through Aug. 20, presented the premieres of three works by internationally important composers — Leon Kirchner, Bright Sheng and Magnus Lindberg — that it had commissioned as part of the festivities for its 20th anniversary. Each premiere proved a rich, original, powerful piece, brilliantly performed. And each took place in an interesting cultural context that also included riveting, revelatory performances of well-known masterpieces.

Sunday's matinee, in the 492-seat Sherwood Auditorium, an acoustically acceptable if institutional hall attached to the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, sandwiched the world premiere of Kirchner's 11-minute String Quartet No. 4 between an intricate late Mozart quartet and Schubert's overwhelmingly lyric String Quintet in C.Kirchner, who studied with Schoenberg in Los Angeles in the '40s and taught for many years at Harvard, is now 87. Although his music is seldom played, he has been and continues to be a significant cultural force in America. He taught John Adams and Yo-Yo Ma. Both remain devoted, and Ma still turns to him for new music guidance.The Fourth Quartet — it has been 40 years since Kirchner's Third Quartet, which won a Pulitzer — looks back to his Schoenbergian roots. It is a prickly score, tightly condensed but with flashes of dramatic intensity and sudden, surprising, fleeting glimpses of stunning radiance.The Orion String Quartet, which opened the afternoon with a steely, hard-edged and generally unpleasant reading of Mozart's contrapuntally engrossing 16th quartet, K. 428, seemed like a different ensemble altogether in the Kirchner, to which it brought dramatic flair and luxuriant beauty.But the afternoon's true alpha-male music-making came from five women — Chee-Yun, Sheryl Staples, Cynthia Phelps, Alisa Weilerstein and Sumire Kudo — in a rapturous reading of Schubert's Quintet. Too often, chamber music festivals bring in a collection of players from all around (Chee-Yun and Weilerstein are young soloists; Staples, Phelps and Kudo members of the New York Philharmonic) and hope for the best. In this rare case, that was the result.

Monday night, the festival moved for the first time to the North Park Theatre, a recently renovated old movie house in a funky, racially mixed neighborhood of San Diego, where pizza and tattoo parlors are rapidly being joined by upscale restaurants and vegan Mexican food. The theme was the Pacific Rim for the context of Sheng's Three Fantasies for Violin and Piano, a co-commission with the Library of Congress, where Lin and André-Michel Schub gave the premiere in May. The fantasies are based on folk music that Sheng imagined in a dream or heard in Tibet and Kazakhstan. Curiously, the dream music begins like ordinary folk song, but by the time Sheng reaches Kazakhstan, he is in a musical dream world exquisitely all his own.Perhaps the most important aspect of this concert, though, was that its hands across the Pacific were also an extending of hands across San Diego. The audience was, unlike the regulars in La Jolla, economically, racially and generationally mixed. The musicians included percussionists from UC San Diego and Jahja Ling, the music director of the San Diego Symphony, who led a terrific performance of Lou Harrison's Suite for Violin and American Gamelan with Chee-Yun as the moving soloist.After intermission, David Cossin and Steven Schick played Steve Reich's "Nagoya Marimbas" and took part in Tan Dun's "Elegy: Snow in June" with Felix Fan as the eloquent cello soloist.One hand too many was involved, though.Allyson Green, also at UCSD, added choreography that trivialized Tan's restrained response to the Tiananmen Square massacre with obvious emotional gestures.

Tuesday night, back in Sherwood, Lindberg and the phenomenal Finnish cellist Anssi Karttunen played a new work for cello and piano that is as yet untitled. It had its premiere last week at the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, but Karttunen told the La Jolla audience that composer Lindberg had still been making changes Monday.Lindberg, who with Esa-Pekka Salonen and Kaija Saariho has been putting Finnish music on the map for a new generation, is a composer with a visceral sense of harmony. But the physical power of his sound has been softening of late. The new 15-minute work has thick chords and delicate trills that seem to fill the air with heady, languid sensuality.Yet it still has power, and the virtuosity on display was arresting, given that Lindberg is a superb pianist and Karttunen perhaps the most impressive cellist on the scene today. The program was mostly Finnish and full of Lindberg. He began it with an elegant small etude for solo piano, which was followed by the 1980 piano quintet " … de Tartuffe, je crois," a gripping work that was based on incidental music he wrote for a play about Molière and that launched Lindberg's career when he was 22.It would have been interesting to have heard Karttunen and Lindberg play Grieg's Cello Sonata, the one non-Finnish work on the program, but the pianist was Schub, whose sparkling tone stood in striking contrast to Karttunen's dark, restrained playing with its occasional volcanic eruptions.After the performance, I thought of Chandler dying in La Jolla, where not all is as light and breezy as it first appears but where real substance can survive the beating sun.


Fron SignOnSanDiego.com (Union-Tribune) - August 21, 2006

Fresh sounds: SummerFest continued the La Jolla Music Society's commissioning tradition, adding to what may be the festival's most enduring legacy. There were new works by prominent innovators Bright Sheng, Wayne Shorter and 87-year-old contemporary music icon Leon Kirchner. And let's not forget Magnus Lindberg's throbbingly intense, still-untitled new work for cello and piano, with pianist Lindberg and cellist Anssi Karttunen showing exactly how the music should be played.