Thursday, October 27, 2016
Anthea Kreston, American violinist in the Berlin-based Artemis Quartet, is starting to get used to missing the best breakfasts in Europe. Here I am, in my hotel room across from the Konzerthaus in Vienna, packing and eating pistachios. It is 11:30 pm, and we leave for our flight at 6:00 am tomorrow. I am fortunate in so many ways, and one of them is to be a part of a string quartet which, in addition to a normal touring schedule, also has not one, but four different personal concert cycles. What this means, as a musician, is that you get to return many times each year, for years, to the same hall, the same audience, the same staff, the same hotel, and (my favorite) the same amazing breakfast buffet. Our four series are in Berlin (Philharmonie), Munich (Prince Regent Theater), Amsterdam (Concertgebouw), and Vienna (Konzerthaus, in conjunction with the Belcea Quartet). Although I have been here only 8 months, tonight was the 6th time I have had the honor of performing in this astoundingly gorgeous hall – impeccable acoustics in a large, rectangular hall decked in chandeliers with eggshell and baby blue accents on the walls. We perform two identical concerts, two nights in a row, to a packed hall. Our hotel is amazing – fluffy duvets, turn-down service, and a breakfast that runs the gamut from miso soup to roasted vegetables. We have to leave early tomorrow – before it opens – my only regret (ok – well, I did make a strange squeak on my open E during the Haydn tonight) of this trip. One of the highlights of these trips is being able to see members of the legendary Alban Berg String Quartet – Valentin Erben (cello) and Günter Pichler (first violin). The Alban Berg Quartet was a major part of the Artemis’ education – they worked together intensely for years. Valentin came to the concert last night, and afterwards he was happy to share his thoughts and opinions. He also came today to hear a cello that our cellist is trying out, and a little coaching session naturally evolved – I hope we can have a proper session soon with him – what an inspiration. The Vienna Konzerthaus is a Concertgebouw- or Carnegie- style venue. Several different halls, often with multiple events happening simultaneously, and a vigorous and creative outreach program. Today is the third of a 4 day festival in which 24 instrument makers are making a string quartet of instruments from scratch, on which a Beethoven String Quartet will be performed upon tomorrow. 4 teams of 6 makers from all over the world are hard at work, in the grand foyer of the Konzerthaus – their communal workshop surrounded by people young and old (groups of school children during the day, concert goers at night) observing and asking questions. I headed to the workshop after tonight’s performance – many of the makers had been to our concert and they had invited us to come down after. There was a buzz of excitement – the top of the cello was close to being able to be fitted tonight – pizza was being delivered and I think they will be working through the night tonight. The makers showed me their stations, piles of wood shavings covered the floor, and they all asked me about my violin. I spoke about my stolen Becker violin – although it is an unusual maker in Europe they all know and respect the Becker name. I took out my old Italian violin which is on loan, and it was like a pod of sharks circling an injured walrus. They all dropped what they were doing to inspect the violin – even sliding a felt-covered light strip inside to observe the inside of the bouts. I did a YouTube live streaming interview, and stayed to answer questions of audience members. If you are interested, go to Konzerthaus.at and look for “Quartett gebaut gehört”. Well – off to bed for me. Long day tomorrow!
Europe’s musical heart nurtured Beethoven, Schubert and the Strausses, but its second school changed music forever, and today, innovation sits alongside traditionalismI lazily plumped for Vienna as the latest stopping-off point on our tour of musical cities, thinking the sheer multiplicity of classical composers who have lived and worked there would make it easy. In fact, of course, it makes choosing which music to focus on very difficult. As the centre of Europe’s musical life for more two centuries, thanks to its status of capital of the Habsburg empire, many of the greats – notably Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven – gravitated to Vienna, and Schubert was born in the city.The trusty @abkquan suggests choosing “pieces that describe the city and evoke its atmosphere rather than great pieces written by Viennese composers”. He offers the nature-loving Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, a work we take for granted but which, if you listen to it afresh, is little short of miraculous. Continue reading...
This an interview I conducted with Steve Reich for his 70th birthday, a decade ago. It contains several thoughts that are worth pondering today. Happy 80th, Steve. Steve Reich is preoccupied with contemporary torments. For the past year he has been writing a set of variations in memory of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter who, in October 2002, was kidnapped and butchered in Pakistan while researching links between its intelligence services and al-Qaeda. Pearl was an enthusiastic violinist and his parents have created a foundation in his memory to promote inter-faith tolerance, and new music. Elton John, Ravi Shankar and Barbra Streisand are among its patrons. Steve Reich was enlisted to add his particular gloss of wisdom and consolation. ‘I thought automatically of the Book of Daniel,’ he says, ‘of exile and cruelty, and mercy and compassion. And then I saw the terrible video put out by his captors, where his opening words are “my name is Daniel Pearl”. Such a magical name.’ The Daniel Variations, interleaving the words of the two Daniels ancient and recent, will be premiered at London’s Barbican Centre during Steve Reich’s 70th birthday festival in October, itself a homage to a man who changed music forever four decades ago and continues to fret about its place and role in our troubled world. He is talking to me from his new place in upstate New York, having sold his downtown apartment with its nagging view of the 9/11 craters. ‘We’re living in a dangerous world,’ sighs Steve Reich. ‘What can music do about that? Music just goes ahead. It’s an affirmative human action, the positive side of being alive.’ Reich’s affirmation began 40 years ago this summer when, finding his music derided for its apparent simplicity by conventional musicians, he formed his own ensemble and pitched straight at the public ear. ‘I knew what I was doing,’ says Reich. ‘All I needed was a few people who could hear what I had in my mind.’ At the time, composers who wanted to be taken seriously wrote serial atonalities in the manner of Pierre Boulez, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Luciano Berio. Reich, who had studied with Berio in California, dismissed these complexities as intrinsically Eurocentric — a solution to problems he did not recognise or share. He found the lush romanticism of Mahler and Strauss equally alien to the busy, make-it rhythms of American city life. Music, to Reich, began with the beat. His impulse to write it began at 14 when a friend played him records of Bach’s fifth Brandenburg Concerto and Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. Soon after, he heard bebop — Charlie Parker on sax and Kenny Clarke on drums. ‘Basically, I went into that room and never left it,’ says Reich. By the mid-sixties, he was at the cutting edge of a counter-culture — literally cutting up tapes he had made of speech phrases and stitching them into hypnotically rhythmic loops that played in and out of phase with one another. The patterning captivated the psychedelic types that hung around downtown art galleries. He tried it out in live performance on two concert pianos, in Piano Phrase. At 30, Steve Reich had invented a form of minimalism that would alter the course of music history ‘Serialism is dead!’ he now exults, ahead of the 70th birthday accolades. John Adams and Michael Nyman have named Reich as their leading influence. Arvo Part is a soulmate. Ever Berio got to like his music before he died. More than any living composer, Steve Reich transformed the image of contemporary classical music from painfully abstruse to potentially cool. Vinyl remixes of his early works can be heard at many dance clubs (there’s a new set out next month from Warner). ‘There was a historical break in what I did,’ he reflects, without braggardry. ‘What happened was a similar kind of house cleaning to what Johann Sebastian Bach did 300 years ago, going back to basics. I didn’t envisage this when I was starting out. I just had my nose to the grindstone and plugged away.’ Playing mostly in galleries, he earned his keep early on driving a house-moving van in lower Manhattan with a young admirer called Philip Glass. After a few joint concerts, the pair fell out and have not spoken since. While Glass turned to opera, Reich worked on instrumental colours and rhythms, taking a research trip to Ghana and studying Balinese gamelan in Seattle. In the mid-70s, his Music for 18 Instruments sold 100,000 records and played on late-night rock stations between Dylan and the Stones. It was around this time that Reich met his second wife, Beryl Korot, and experienced a spiritual awakening. ‘I began to think I’m not African, nor Balinese. I’m a Jew.’ He studied Torah with Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald at Lincoln Square synagogue and became a fully practising Orthodox Jew, eating vegetarian kosher food, avoiding Friday night performances, unplugging the phone at sundown on Friday. ‘The effect was extremely positive in a personal sense,’ he says. It was not without external risk, though, for while music has accommodated all manner of mystics, it had never before embraced a composer who placed his demanding faith ahead of career opportunities. Reich went to Jerusalem to record Yemenite cantillations for singing the Torah and returned with the luminous Tehillim (Psalms) for chorus and ensemble, richly melodic and unmistakably individual. ‘People said I was writing Jewish music,’ he complains. ‘I said I was writing Reich.’ He returned to Israel with Beryl Korot to create The Cave, a work for live musicians with six-screen video projection that explores the common ancestry and beliefs that are shared by Jews and Moslems. ‘I’m not a person who deludes himself into thinking that artists can change the world,’ says Reich with a touch of world-weariness. ‘I don’t think The Cave will solve the Mideast any more than Picasso stopped the Blitz with Guernica.’ But he cannot shut his eyes to the ideas and outrages of our time. A further video trilogy reflects on Hiroshima, the Hindenburg airship disaster and the ethical implications of cloning Dolly the Sheep. Some critics have acclaimed these collaborations as a template for the operatic future, ignoring the inimitability of Reich’s method in combining recorded materials, philosophical teachings, original sound and political engagement. His is a self-made revolution achieved largely with his own hands, his own band — at one point actually barring other musicians from playing his works. Magnetic though it is, Reich’s music lacks the peacock strut of star interpreters or the gymnastic virtuosity that wins cheap ovations. Quiet, intense, unfailingly well-made, it comes without added colourings and chemicals, the organic alternative to industrial art. At its most self-involved, Reich’s music can play on and on until you are no longer aware of hearing music at all and are listening instead to the drumming inside your head. At his most communicative, on the other hand, Reich compels attention on several levels at once. No-one else could have twinned the misery of a shuttled boyhood in a broken American home to the backdrop of European Holocaust, as Reich does in Different Trains, creating not just a masterpiece for string quartet (with amplified tape), but a way for Haydn’s invention to find a relevance to modern lives. Nothing in Reich is mono-linear. He thinks in historical parallels, is intrigued by paradoxes, appalled by present atrocities. ‘Who would have guessed we’d face a medieval religious conflict in the 21st century?’ he demands. And which other composer, I wonder, is working on a musical subtext for our deepening confusions?
Misha Maisky is a special personality among the great cellists of our time. Born in Latvia and now in his middle sixties, he is the only one that had instruction both from Gregor Piatigorsky and Mstislav Rostropovich, leading figures of yore. Great friend of Martha Argerich, he has given many concerts and made a recording of the complete Beethoven cello-piano sonatas with her. He has made 35 CDs, including three times the Bach cello suites. He visited us a long time ago, and now he returned at the height of his fame. Not for a recital but with a chamber orchestra, the Tel Aviv Soloists under their founder Barak Tal. It was a presentation of Nuova Harmonia at the Colón. The fact that it´s a chamber, not a symphony orchestra, limits the choices to works that can be played with 29 instruments, thus eliminating all the famous Concerti. The choices were: a short Tchaikovsky Nocturne, adapted by the composer from the fourth of his Six pieces op.19 for piano; "Kol Nidrei" by Max Bruch, which in the original is for cello and full orchestra, was played with less instruments (two horns, three trombones and harp were absent); and Haydn´s Concerto Nº1, Hob VIIb:1, in C. The Nocturne is a lovely melody and Maisky showed that he can really sing with his cello. With his disheveled mane of grey hair and informal dress code,. Maisky doesn´t look like a classical artist, but he most certainly is. "Kol Nidrei" means "all vows", an Aramaic prayer sung on the eve of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and is an 188l score defined as an Adagio on Hebrew melodies. It´s a beautiful piece that lasts ten minutes and Maisky phrased it with great expression. In the First Part, however, there were no fireworks and the music was slow. The splendid Haydn Concerto provided Allegro music and difficulties in the first and third movements, whilst leaving the middle Adagio for sensitive molding of melody. In the Allegros Maisky showed his flashy side, attacking wirth gusto and exaggerating the intensity in certain fragments, even risking some harshness, but never losing control. The audience, which had been friendly but contained before, exploded with ovations and got three encores. The two final variations (slow and very fast) of Tchaikovsky´s "Rococo Variations" (with less orchestra than the original) again let us hear the contrast between his plangent and subtle slow playing and the exciting, almost frantic playing of the virtuosic bits. Again Tchaikovsky, his arrangement of the Andante cantabile from the First Quartet, one of his most memorable melodies, was another proof of Maisky´s empathy with the composer. And the slow middle movement of Haydn´s Concerto for violin in C, transcribed for cello, played with exquisite control of pianissimo. By the way, the artist suffered from heat, and often wiped dry his face. Now to the Orchestra. Although the appellation "Soloists" hardly applies to an orchestra, some ensembles call themselves so, meaning that they play with great quality. The Zagreb Soloists did, but I feel that the Tel Aviv group doesn´t quite make the grade. Founded in 2001 by Tal, it is a good, decent group of young musicians, with particularly proficient oboes and flutes, but, either because it is the taste of the director or that there is a lack of impulse in themselves, the strings are relegated, especially the first violins; and one bass isn´t enough, you need at least two. There are 16 strings plus 8 woodwinds, 4 brass, and tympani. The purely orchestral scores on the programme were Mozart´s Symphony Nº 41, "Jupiter", and Prokofiev´s Symphony Nº 1, "Classical". Curiously in both cases I felt the same: low energy in the first two movements and a pickup in the last two. Surely there´s plenty of interesting content in the first movement of the "Jupiter" but it had no more than a lackluster reading this time; the Menuet was better, and the tour de force of counterpoint of the Finale emerged clean and positive. In the delightful Prokofiev opus, the Allegro start should be joyful and fresh, not tentative; the slow movement was correct. However, the Gavotte was rhythmically alive, and the exhilarating Finale took fire. In their accompanying role, Tal and the players were closely attuned to Maisky´s phrasing and did a good job. For Buenos Aires Herald
Executive director David Snead: Of the $13 million raised, “$8.3 million was for endowment, which will result in a quadrupling of the corpus, and another $5.2 million was raised for a new Strategic Initiatives Fund that is financing a triple-digit increase in education programs, national touring, 6 CD’s, growth in staff, new audience development initiatives such as these videos and online streaming of concerts and market research and a new brand strategy, increases in artistic budget, the commissioning of a new work by Gabriela Frank together with the Library of Congress, infrastructure and capacity growth etc. And the number of new subscribers has doubled in one year. As a result of all this, H+H has grown from a $3 million operation to a $5 million operation in the course of just a few years, all while posting 6 consecutive balanced budgets. So yes, the joint is transformed.”
Here’s the next in the series of Bartok for Europe , played by the Munich Chamber Orchestra at the Allerheiligen-Hofkirche last night. This was the downstairs area. The galleries were completely vacant. Of the 400 seats available about 120 were occupied, according to a visitor. And perhaps half of those were paid for. Poor Bartok. UPDATE: The programme was: JOSEPH HAYDN – Symphony No. 52 in C minor SÁNDOR VERESS – Passacaglia concertante MOZART – Oboe Concerto in C Major KV 314 BARTÓK – Divertimento for strings
Joseph Haydn (31 March 1732 - 31 May 1809) was an Austrian composer, one of the most prolific and prominent composers of the Classical period. He is often called the "Father of the Symphony" and "Father of the String Quartet" because of his important contributions to these forms. He was also instrumental in the development of the piano trio and in the evolution of sonata form. A life-long resident of Austria, Haydn spent much of his career as a court musician for the wealthy Hungarian aristocratic Esterházy family on their remote estate. Isolated from other composers and trends in music until the later part of his long life, he was, as he put it, "forced to become original". At the time of his death, he was one of the most celebrated composers in Europe. Joseph Haydn was the brother of Michael Haydn, himself a highly regarded composer, and Johann Evangelist Haydn, a tenor. He was also a close friend of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and a teacher of Ludwig van Beethoven.
Great composers of classical music