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31.8.15

Classical Month in Washington (November 2015)

Maurizio PolliniNovember is just as chock full of good concerts as October, so Washingtonians have to make some difficult choices. While there are more than ten options in this month's picks, many of them conflict on the calendar. I have listed them all, and readers will have to choose.

KEYBOARD:
Several big names are coming to the venues of the Washington area this month, beginning with Maurizio Pollini, who will play a recital in the Music Center at Strathmore (November 1, 2 pm). Pollini has, for some reason, fallen off the roster of Washington Performing Arts, but he is still coming to the area, most recently in 2013, thanks to the folks at Strathmore. On the same day, Russian pianist returns, for a recital at JCCGW in Rockville. Feltsman, too, was once on the Washington Performing Arts roster, but no more.

Washington Performing Arts is bringing back Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes for a recital in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater (November 14, 7 pm), a welcome return after his 2012 recital. One of the more exciting concerts on the season at the Phillips Collection is a recital by fortepianist Kristian Bezuidenhout (November 29, 4 pm). We have consistently loved his recordings and live performances.


available at Amazon
Mahler, Symphony No. 3, A. S. von Otter, Vienna Philharmonic, P. Boulez
NATIONAL SYMPHONY:
The National Symphony Orchestra has a banner month, beginning with Christoph Eschenbach leading a performance of Mahler's third symphony, with Anne Sofie von Otter as mezzo-soprano soloist (November 5 to 7). The Choral Arts Society of Washington and Children's Chorus of Washington will also be featured. The speculation about who might succeed Eschenbach as NSO music director continues later in the month when eminent Czech conductor Jiří Bělohlávek takes the podium (November 19 to 21). The program has a Czech orientation, with Mozart's "Prague" symphony and Bohuslav Martinů's sixth symphony, plus pianist Igor Levit, who had to cancel his local debut this past May, as soloist in Beethoven's fifth piano concerto.

OPERA:
Choices abound for the operatically inclined, beginning with a rare production of Kurt Weill's Street Scene, a memorable piece with lyrics by Langston Hughes, presented by Lyric Opera Baltimore at the Modell Center in Charm City (November 13 and 15). On the same weekend, Washington National Opera opens a short run of the new version of Philip Glass's opera Appomattox at the Kennedy Center Opera House (November 14 to 22). Dennis Russell Davies will conduct an excellent cast starring David Pittsinger, Richard Paul Fink, Soloman Howard, and Melody Moore.

For earlier opera, there are two concert performances that should be worth your time. Washington Concert Opera opens its season with Rossini's Semiramide at Lisner Auditorium (November 22, 6 pm). Along with some singers making their WCO debuts, mezzo-soprano Vivica Genaux will sing the role of Arsace. The following weekend, Opera Lafayette will perform Vivaldi's Catone in Utica (November 28 and 29), which Ryan Brown conducted at Glimmerglass this summer. Alan Curtis's recording used a reconstruction of the missing first act, but Glimmerglass performed only the second and third acts.



Matthias Pintscher
CHAMBER:
The Carducci Quartet will perform all fifteen of Shostakovich's string quartets at the Phillips Collection, over two consecutive Sundays (November 15 and 22, 4 pm). It's not as intense as performing them all in a single day, as they did in London earlier this month, but it will still be a tour de force. Unfortunately, the Takács Quartet will be playing at the same time as the first of those concerts, at Baltimore's Shriver Hall (November 15, 5:30 pm), including music by Haydn, Dvořák, and a new work by Timo Andres called Strong Language.

OTHER:
If you remember the dead in the month of November, there is a beautiful way to start, when Chantry performs Victoria's complete six-voice Office of the Dead, including the Requiem Mass and two funerary motets, in the gorgeous acoustic of St. Mary, Mother of God, in Chinatown (November 1, 3 pm).

Two concerts at the Library of Congress already made our Top 25 season preview. First, Bach Collegium Japan performs music by Bach, Vivaldi, and Handel with soprano Joanne Lunn (November 4, 8 pm). Then Matthias Pintscher, another possibility for the NSO music director position, comes back to Washington with France's renowned Ensemble Intercontemporain, performing the world premiere of a new work for violin and piano by composer Hannah Lash, Varèse's Octandre, Pintscher's Profiles of Light, Ligeti's Chamber Concerto for 13 instrumentalists, and Berg's Chamber Concerto for piano, violin, and 13 winds (November 13, 7:30 pm).

See the complete calendar after the jump.

30.8.15

Perchance to Stream: End of August Edition

Here is your regular Sunday selection of links to online audio and online video from the week gone by. After clicking to an audio or video stream, you may need to press the "Play" button to start the broadcast. Some of these streams become unavailable after a few days.

  • Listen to Alan Curtis conduct Claudio Monteverdi's L'Incoronazione di Poppea, with Carmen Balthrop, Carolyn Watkinson, and Il Complesso Barocco, recorded at the Innsbruck Festival in 1980. [ORF]

  • Jordi Savall and Hesperion XXI perform the opening concert of the Oude Muziek Festival. [RTBF]

  • Soprano Olga Peretyatko sings with the National Symphony Orchestra in October: listen to her recital with pianist Giulio Zappa at the Festival de Musique de Menton, with music by Rimsky-Korsakov, Rachmaninov, and Rossini. [France Musique]

  • From the Rencontres internationales de Musique Médiévale du Thoronet, La Camera delle Lacrime performs music associated with the troubadour Peyrol d'Auvergne. [France Musique]

  • Laurence Cummings conducts Handel's Theodora, with Carolyn Sampson, Susan Bickley, and others, recorded last May at the Göttingen Festival. [ORF]

  • Watch Robert Carsen's production of Rigoletto, recorded at the Aix-en-Provence Festival in 2013. [ARTE]

  • Sakari Oramo conducts the BBC Symphony Orchestra in Sibelius's Kullervo and En Saga at the Royal Albert Hall. [BBC Proms | Part 2]

  • The London Handel Players perform music by Telemann, Quantz, and others at the Göttingen Festival. [RTBF]

  • The Philharmonic Orchestra, under conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, performs Shostakovich's Orango and Bartok's The Miraculous Mandarin. [BBC Proms | Part 2]

  • Andrew Litton conducts the Bergen Philharmonic in music by Firsova, Stravinsky, and others. [BBC Proms | Part 2]

29.8.15

Dip Your Ears, No. 206 (Bach-Busoni and Heiden’s Heiland)


available at Amazon
J.S.Bach,
“Nun komm’ der Heiden Heiland”,
Excerpts from the WTC: Bk.I & Chorales,
Edna Stern
ZZT 090104 (65:40)

Bach, the Keyboard Vocalist

Great music intelligently put together and terrifically played; the latest Bach recording on the ZigZag Territories label was all but assured a spot among my favorite recordings of that year*. If Edna Stern, a Krystian Zimerman and Leon Fleisher student, only played a selection of Preludes and Fugues from the Well Tempered Clavier, and even if she played them as well as she does on “Nun komm’ der Heiden Heiland”, the disc might have gotten a spin, very favorable notice, and slipped into the recesses of my Bach saturated mind.

But sending three Prelude & Fugue pairs into the race, preceded by a transcribed Bach chorale each (one of these four Chorale/Prelude packages comes with Brahms’ Bach-like op.122 no.5, instead), lifts this release well above the pack of Bach-on-the-Piano releases and recitals. “Nun komm’ der Heiden Heiland” starts with the eponymous chorale (BWV 659) in Busoni’s transcription. Stern’s idea is treating Bach as a vocal and orchestral composer which, apart from justification for playing harpsichord works on the piano (as if any was still—or again—necessary), frees her to explore all the advantages of the piano’s range of shades and colors, rather than treating it ‘harpsichordesque’. Might as well, when the result is Bach in such luxuriant sound, indulgent in beauty, yet never fussy.

Consciously working her way from C minor to E-flat major, she not only excels in “Schmuecke dich O liebe Seele” (Brahms), Ich ruf’zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ (BWV 639 from Das Orgelbüchlein Part 3, trans. Busoni), and “Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme” (BWV 645 from Cantata BWV 140, trans. Busoni), but several Fugues and especially Preludes, too. BWV 855 in E minor, 851 in D minor, and 866 B-flat Major are gorgeous renditions that would do any pianist proud. With such a very different concept and content than Alexandre Tharaud’s Concertos italiensmy Bach-on-Piano CD of choice above all others—it’s not surprising that Mlle. Stern’s performance appeals in dissimilar ways. More something for the mind and reflection rather than the happily emotional recital of the Frenchman, and doubtlessly a disc any Bach lover would find him- or herself marveling at.

* And indeed, this disc popped up on my "Best of 2009" List. This longer version of the review initially appeared on WETA.


28.8.15

Quirinale Boxer Coming to Washington

We are looking forward to an exhibition, Power and Pathos: Bronze Sculpture of the Hellenistic World, currently at the Getty in Los Angeles, which will come to the National Gallery of Art in December. Ingrid D. Rowland has a beautiful consideration of this show and others (The Grandest Art of the Ancients, August 13) for The New York Review of Books:
The other statue, from the third century BC, a life-sized seated boxer, could not have been more poignantly human. Lanciani photographed him sitting on the ground, watching over the excavation, looking more like a companion or mascot for the workers than a masterpiece of ancient sculpture.

The boxer came to rest this summer at the center of an exhibition in Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, where he has been set so close to the ground that we can look directly into his face, and see what Lanciani’s workmen saw in 1885: the scars of survival. This man, too, has a heroic, muscular body, but his hands are swollen beneath the protective leather straps and leather padding that Greek boxers used for official matches (they practiced with gloves), and his face has been brutally battered.

The broken nose and cauliflower ears suggest a long series of previous fights, but the sculptor also makes it clear that the latest bout has finished only a moment ago by using a chisel to jab new cuts into the skin of the boxer’s face, uppermost ear, and arms. A purple patch of bronze appliqué creates the rising bruise on his cheekbone. Copper alloy suggests the red of fresh blood, oozing from a cut on his ear and splashed on his thigh as he turns his injured head to look upward, meeting our eyes head on.
There is nothing quite being able to look at a statue like this up close, as anyone who went to see The Dying Gaul at the National Gallery of Art a couple of years ago recalls. Other famous works in the show (.PDF file) are the Aulus Metellus orator statue, known as the Arringatore in Italy, the Minerva of Arezzo, and the Piombino Apollo.

27.8.15

Briefly Noted: E.T.A. Hoffmann, Composer

available at Amazon
E.T.A. Hoffmann / F. Witt, Symphonies / Overtures, Kölner Akademie, M. A. Willens

(released on February 10, 2015)
cpo 777208-2 | 61'39"
E.T.A. Hoffmann (1776-1822) is likely familiar to most readers as a writer, especially through the musical works his stories have inspired. He was also a talented music critic, artist, and composer. Although I was aware that Hoffmann had actually composed music, I had never heard any of it before until this recording by the Kölner Akademie came across my desk. Although Hoffmann wrote music for a setting of the Mass, a number of operas and other stage works, and a symphony, little seems available in modern recording. In addition to their fine Mozart piano concerto cycle, with Ronald Brautigam, Michael Alexander Willens and his ensemble continue to unearth obscure music in their series of discs for the CPO label.

Hoffmann's most important opera Undine, praised by Carl Maria von Weber in the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung, was premiered five years before that composer's Der Freischütz. It likely influenced Weber in his creation of that work, now generally seen as the beginning of German Romantic opera. Willens offers only the overture, a tantalizing glimpse of a Zauberopera that has been recorded before but is no longer easily available, at least by traditional means (the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra's performance is on YouTube). It is paired with the overture and a march from the final scene of Hoffmann's earlier opera Aurora, which never saw the stage in Hoffmann's lifetime.

Hoffmann once offered an appreciative critique of the symphonies of his contemporary, Friedrich Witt (1770-1836), a minor German Kapellmeister, after sponsoring a performance of one of them. In his review for the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung, Hoffmann perceptively described the German symphony of the time as "the ultimate form of instrumental music -- the opera of instruments as it were." He was that rare sort of critic: one who had actually composed a symphony himself. Both Hoffmann's Symphony in E-Flat Major and Witt's Symphony in A Major, which bookend the overtures on this disc, are in the mold of Haydn, diverting and beautifully played. Neither work strikes me as a masterpiece, compact at around 20 minutes in duration, with mild Andante serenade movements and short-but-sweet menuetti, but either one would make a fine alternative for a concert program.

26.8.15

À mon chevet: 'Sindbad'

À mon chevet is a series of posts featuring a quote from whatever book is on my nightstand at the moment.

book cover
I embarked with a group of prominent merchants, and we became friends, as we sailed with a fair wind in peace and good health until we passed by a city called the City of China, and while we were in the utmost joy and happiness, talking among ourselves about travel and commerce, a violent head wind blew suddenly, and a heavy rain began to fall on us until we and our babies were drenched. So we covered the bales with felt and canvas, fearing that the goods would be spoiled by the rain, and began to pray and implore God the Almighty to deliver us from the peril we were in. Then the captain, girding his waist and tucking up his clothes, climbed up the mast and began to look to the right and left. Then he looked at the people in the ship and began to slap his face and pluck his beard. We asked him, "Captain, what is the matter?" And he said, "Implore the Almighty God for deliverance from the peril we are in, and weep for yourselves and bid each other farewell, for the wind has prevailed against us and driven us into the farthest of the seas of the world." He then descended from the mast, opened a chest, and took out of it a cotton bag. Then he untied the bag, took out of it some dust, like ashes, wetted it with water, and, waiting a little, smelled it. Then he took out of the chest a small book and began to read in it. Then he said to us, "Passengers, in this book there is an amazing statement that whoever comes to this place will never leave it safely and will surely perish, for this region is called the Province of the Kings, and in it is the tomb of our Lord Solomon, the son of David (peace be on him), and there are huge, horrible-looking whales, and whenever a ship enters this region, one of them rises from the sea and swallows it with everything in it."

When we heard the captain's explanation, we were dumbfounded, and hardly had he finished his words when the ship suddenly began to rise out of the water and drop again, and we heard a great cry, like a peal of thunder, at which we were struck almost dead with terror, sure of our destruction. Suddenly we saw a whale heading for the boat, like a towering mountain, and we were terrified and wept bitterly for ourselves and prepared for death. We kept looking at that whale, marveling at its terrible shape, when suddenly another whale, the most huge and most terrible we had ever seen, approached us, and while we bade each other farewell and wept for ourselves, a third whale, even greater than the other two, approached, and we were stupefied and driven mad with terror. Then the three whales began to circle the ship, and the third whale lunged at the ship to swallow it, when suddenly a violent gust of wind blew, and the ship rose and fell on a massive reef, breaking in pieces, and all the merchants and the other passengers and the bales sank in the sea.

I took off all my clothes, except for a shirt, and swam until I caught a plank of wood from the ship and hung on it. Then I got on it and held on to it, while the wind and the waves toyed with me on the surface of the water, carrying me up and down. I was in the worst of plights, with fear and distress and hunger and thirst. I blamed myself for what I had done and for incurring more hardships, after a life of ease, and said to myself, "O Sindbad the Sailor, you don't learn, for every time you suffer hardships and weariness, yet you don't repent and renounce travel in the sea, and when you renounce, you lie to yourself. I deserve my plight, which had been decreed by God the Almighty to cure me of my greed, which is the root of all my suffering, for I have abundant wealth." I returned to my reason and said to myself, "In this voyage, I repent to the Almighty God with a sincere repentance, and I will never again embark on travel, nor mention it, nor even think of it, for the rest of my life." I continued to implore the Almighty God and to weep, recalling my former days of play and pleasure and cheer and contentment and happiness.

-- Sindbad, and Other Stories from the Arabian Nights, pp. 54-55 (trans. Husain Haddawy)
Husain Haddawy's translation of The Arabian Nights revealed the historical core of the famous collection of stories. The most famous tales -- Sindbad the Sailor, 'Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, and 'Ala al-Din and the Magic Lamp -- are actually much latter accretions to the collection, and Haddawy could not resist offering a translation of them, along with The Story of Qamar al-Zaman and His Two Sons, Amjad and As'ad. Sindbad's seven tales, told to a porter also named Sindbad, recount his miraculous escapes from all sorts of dangerous situations and fantastical places and creatures, until finally in this seventh voyage he recants of his desire to seek adventure.

25.8.15

Luc Besson May Film in Hungary

French director Luc Besson may not shoot his next film in France. Because of tax laws that impose penalties on English-language films, he may shoot his upcoming feature, Valérian, in Hungary instead. So reports an article (Luc Besson pourrait ne pas tourner son prochain film en France, August 25) in Le Monde (my translation):
"I do not know if I will be able to shoot in France. It's all about political arcana... I think that everyone would like it if we made the film here, if we had the right," the director stated to RTL on August 24. "I am neither optimistic nor pessimistic. I am working on my film, and I hope it will work itself out," he added.

"I want to work in my own country with French technical crew. It puts me off, as one says. I warned the authorities," Besson confirmed, citing the name of François Hollande. "There is just one small problem with the tax credits in France: 20% for French films, and 30% for foreign films. This is a French film in English, so I get no credit for being a French film. At the same time I get no credit as a foreign film because the producer is French. It's a Catch-22 (Je suis dans une espèce de trou juridique)."
If he shoots the film in Hungary, that country will reimburse him for 35 to 40% of the total cost. "I am a patriot," he quipped, "but 15 to million euro is a bit much." The film is an adaptation of the science fiction graphic novel by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières. Losing the production of the film is not insignificant by any means: with an estimated budget of 170 million euro, it would employ 1,200 people over a period of six months.

24.8.15

Briefly Noted: Campra's 'Tancrède'

available at Amazon
Campra, Tancrède, B. Arnould, I. Druet, Les Temps Présents, Les Chantres du Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles, O. Schneebeli

(released on July 31, 2015)
Alpha 958 | 166'52"
When I was researching my doctoral dissertation, most of the sources in question were not published in modern editions, let alone recorded. One of the exceptions was Jean-Claude Malgoire's recording of Tancrède, an opera by André Campra (1660–1744), made in the early 1990s and brand new at the time. Mostly I just had to read scores and play what I could reduce at sight on the piano. Two decades later, I could do a good part of the primary source research I had to do in Paris at home on my laptop: a manuscript version of this opera and the short score are available on IMSLP.

Premiered in 1702 at the Palais-Royal theater in Paris, the opera had over a half-century in the repertoire of the Académie Royale de Musique. Made with librettist Antoine Danchet, the work hews closely to the Lullian model, sumptuously filled out with dance music, even though by this point in Louis XIV's reign, the monarch's interest in opera and dance had faded. Campra's training as a chorister and church composer gave him greater contrapuntal range in this and his other operas. This new recording is more complete than Malgoire's, which is shorter by over twenty minutes, and although it was recorded live, during two staged performances in May 2014 in the recently restored Opéra Royal of the Château de Versailles, it is an improvement in sound quality as well. Blemishes here and there cannot be avoided in live recordings, but the forces of the Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles are generally excellent.

Act II's opening scene between Tancrède and Clorinde, where he captures the haughty warrior-maiden and then is compelled to confess his love for her, is such gorgeous music, here admirably sung by baritone Benoît Arnould and mezzo-soprano Isabelle Druet. It leads into a lovely divertissement of warriors and battle-maids, and conductor Olivier Schneebeli adds percussion colors to some of the dance numbers. The flute playing is especially beautiful, both in the somber opening of Act III, where Herminie and Argant lament that those they love have instead found each other, and in Herminie's devastating aria Cessez, mes yeux sung with plaintive yearning by soprano Chantal Santon, as is the trumpet playing in the last act's triumphal music. In my dissertation I was focusing mostly on the ways that composers set the magical scenes in these stories, so the second part of the third act and the fourth act were of most interest to me, where Tancrède enters the lair of the sorceror Ismenor and then the confrontation in the enchanted forest. Both are treated here with plenty of instrumental variation and inventive color.

23.8.15

Perchance to Stream: Back to School Edition

Here is your regular Sunday selection of links to online audio and online video from the week gone by. After clicking to an audio or video stream, you may need to press the "Play" button to start the broadcast. Some of these streams become unavailable after a few days.

  • From the Schleswig-Holstein Musikfestival, watch Christoph Eschenbach celebrate his 75th birthday with a gala concert of music by Beethoven, Mozart, and Tchaikovsky, with Eschenbach serving as both conductor and piano soloist. [ARTE]

  • Watch Andris Nelsons conduct Mahler's fifth symphony and the "Surprise" symphony by Haydn, recorded at the Lucerne Festival. [ARTE]

  • Piotr Beczala and Angela Gheorghiu star in a performance of Massenet's Werther, recorded at the Salzburg Festival. [ORF]

  • Have another listen to Klaus Florian Vogt in Wagner's Lohengrin, recorded at the Bayreuth Festival. [BR-Klassik]

  • Listen to Bernard Haitink conduct Haydn's Symphony No. 60 and Mahler's fourth symphony, with Anna Lucia Richter as soloist, at the Lucerne Festival. [RTBF]

  • Andris Nelsons conducts the Boston Symphony Orchestra in Brett Dean's Dramatis personae and Mahler's sixth symphony. [BBC Proms | Part 2]

  • Tenor Juan Diego Florez and pianist Vicenzo Scalera perform a program of opera arias, recorded at Geneva's Victoria Hall. [France Musique]

  • Gianandrea Noseda conducts soprano Diana Damrau and the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande in music of Verdi, Strauss, and Stravinsky, recorded in Geneva. [France Musique]

  • Axel Kober conducts a performance of Wagner's The Flying Dutchman at the Bayreuth Festival. [France Musique]

  • From the Proms, Osmo Vänskä conducts the BBC Symphony Orchestra in a concert of music by Sibelius. [France Musique]

  • András Schiff performs Bach's Goldberg Variations at the Royal Albert Hall. [BBC Proms]

  • Charles Dutoit leads the Royal Philharmonic in music of Debussy, Mozart, and Shostakovich. [BBC Proms | Part 2]

  • Listen to a recital by pianist Herbert Schuch, recorded last month at the Salzburg Festival. The program is quite similar to what he will play here in Washington in October. [RTBF]

  • Gérard Korsten conducts the Symphonieorchester Vorarlberg, with soprano Measha Brueggergosman, in music by Peter Eötvös, Wagner, and Brahms, recorded at the Bregenz Festival. [ORF]

  • The BBC Singers and the Academy of Ancient Music perform music of Bach at the Royal Albert Hall. [BBC Proms]

  • Charles Dutoit conducts the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande in music of Mozart, with soloist Louis Lortie, and Respighi, recorded in Geneva. [France Musique]

  • Fabio Luisi conducts the Danish National Symphony Orchestra in music of Nielsen and Brahms. [BBC Proms | Part 2]

  • Apollo's Fire, under conductor Jeanette Sorrell, performs music by C.P.E. Bach, Vivaldi, and others, with violinist Alina Ibragimova, recorded at the Proms. [ORF]

  • At the Styriarte Festival, the Chamber Orchestra of Europe performs music of Dvorak. [RTBF]

  • Zubin Mehta conducts the Vienna Philharmonic in music of Strauss, Nielsen, Grieg, and others at Schloss Schönbrunn. [France Musique]

  • The Salzburg Mozarteum Orchestra, under conductor Andres Orozco-Estrada, perform's Mozart's "Jupiter" symphony and Schubert's Mass in B-flat Major, D. 678, at the Salzburg Festival. [RTBF]

  • From Amsterdam's Festival Robeco, Daniel Harding conducts the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in music by Dvorak and Mozart, with soloist Kristian Bezuidenhout. [France Musique]

  • From the Festival de Saint Riquier, Hervé Niquet conducts Le Concert Spirituel in a performance of Handel's Messiah. [France Musique]

  • At the Resonanzen Festival in Vienna last January, Jordi Savall conducts the Capella Reial de Catalunya, Hespérion XXI, and Le Concert des Nations in sacred music for large forces by Biber and Bartholomäus Riedl. [RTBF]

  • Flutist Emmanuel Pahud and friends perform chamber music by Martinu, Beethoven, and Brahms at the Château de l'Empéri. [France Musique]

  • A performance of Scriabin's piano concerto with pianist Daniil Trifonov and the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, recorded in Geneva. [France Musique]

  • Eliahu Inbal conducts violinist Sergey Khachtryan and the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, with music by Beethoven and Brahms, recorded in Geneva. [France Musique]

  • Pianist Olli Mustonen performs music by Sibélius, Grieg, Scriabin, and Prokofiev, at a recital recorded in Warsaw. [France Musique]

  • The Quatuor Ellipse plays music of Mozart at the Festival de Radio France in Montpellier. [France Musique]

22.8.15

Dip Your Ears*, No. 205 (The Blue Notebooks or: Recycling Gone Wrong)


available at Amazon
The Blue Notebooks,
Max Richter, Tilda Swinton et al.
DG

Not even Background Muzak

As good as Max Richter’s “Recomposed” version of the Four Seasons was—one of my favorites that year—as ghastly is his “Blue Notebook”, originally from 2004 but now re-released on Deutsche Grammophon. The aggressive simplicity of the music, the—perhaps intentional—barely-competent way single, repetitive violin or piano lines are performed, the dearth of ideas and the derivative style makes it an experience akin to chewing broken Philip Glass. Do you know the third-rate film music that makes you feel cheated for every emotion it manages to muster, against your will? Typewriter-background noise and crows crowing and raindrops dripping undermine any goodwill as Tilda Swinton makes read-out Kafka excerpts sound fearfully hackneyed. The liner notes have nothing to say about the release at hand, instead they just promote Richter and projects past and upcoming and the added bonus track is (or sounds like) a discarded out-take from the Vivaldi recording. Yikes!





(* Dip... or not. This should probably be part of the "Reviewed, Not Necessarily Recommended" series.)

21.8.15

Classical Month in Washington (October 2015)

October is a banner month for the new classical music season, with six performances already selected for my Top 25 Season Preview. Some other concerts just missed the cut for the year, but here are the ten performances you will not want to miss in October.

KEYBOARD:
Pianist Marc-André Hamelin is an Ionarts favorite. For his latest recital, at the Clarice Smith Center, he will play music by Feinberg, Medtner, and Liszt (October 4, 3 pm).

Pianist András Schiff is undertaking an interesting Last Sonatas cycle. Washington Performing Arts presents the second installment, with the penultimate sonatas by Haydn, Mozart, Schubert, and Beethoven, in the Music Center at Strathmore (October 26, 8 pm).

Any calendar year with two recitals by Evgeny Kissin is a good year for Ionarts. Washington Performing Arts brings the Russian pianist to the Kennedy Center Concert Hall for a recital of music by Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Albeniz, and Larregla (October 28, 8 pm).

OPERA:
This is also a month with several operatic rarities to see, beginning with a concert performance of Wagner's Rienzi by the National Philharmonic, in the Music Center at Strathmore. Piotr Gajewski conducts a cast starring tenor Issachah Savage in the title role (October 3, 8 pm).


Virginia Opera opens its season with Offenbach's goofy Orpheus in the Underworld, in an English-language production that comes to the GMU Center for the Arts early in the month (October 3 and 4).

Cantate Chamber Singers revive their winning production of Benjamin Britten's mystery play Noye's Fludde, the delightful one-act mini-opera featured to such brilliant effect in Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom (pictured at left). At the first performance, Bowen McCauley Dance will also perform Gian Carlo Menotti’s ballet The Unicorn, the Gorgon and the Manticore, and both will take place at St. Columba's Episcopal Church (October 17 and 18). This ensemble's Web site has not been updated from last year. Sorry!

The In Series will mount a rare production of Aaron Copland's opera The Tender Land, in its home at GALA Hispanic Theater (October 17 to 25). Not many details to report yet, but worth hearing.

OTHER:
The National Symphony Orchestra opens its subscription season with a program of Mozart (the overture to Magic Flute), Elgar (Serenade for Strings and Enigma Variations), and Strauss (Four Last Songs). The primary reason to hear this is not soprano Olga Peretyatko as soloist in the Strauss, although she is a singer we want to hear, but because Donald Runnicles will be at the podium. He is a fine conductor, and his commitment as music director of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra ends in 2016. The NSO, let us not forget, is looking for a successor to Christoph Eschenbach, and Runnicles might be a possibility, if experience wins out over youth (October 1 to 3).

Mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton is also one of the singers you want to hear right now, and she gives a recital for Vocal Arts D.C. in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater (October 15, 7 pm).

Cellist Steven Isserlis plays on wound-gut strings, not always to the best effect in later music. His recital with fortepianist Robert Levin, playing an all-Beethoven program, should be top-notch when presented by Washington Performing Arts in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater (October 29). (This concert is already sold out, so it does not really count as a recommendation.)

Composer Meredith Monk has appeared in the Washington suburbs a couple of times in recent years. Any performance of hers is worth hearing, and her concert with her vocal ensemble at the Library of Congress will also be free (October 30).

Also at the Library of Congress and also free are concerts by the contemporary music ensemble yarn|wire, performing music of Luciano Berio (October 10, 8 pm), and by the esteemed Pavel Haas Quartet, playing music by Martinů and Dvořák (October 23, 8 pm).

See the complete calendar after the jump.

20.8.15

Houellebecq Revealed

book cover
Michel Houellebecq, author of Les Particules élémentaires, was for some time the darling of the French press. This week Le Monde is publishing a six-part exposé on the excesses and growing oddness of the best-selling French author. An anonymous writer friend of Houellebecq's, "whom he admires," was interviewed by journalist Ariane Chemin for the piece, which has caused quite a media tempest in France. Le Point has published a summary of the juiciest bits ("Houellebecq est devenu un tyran", August 18), where among other things the anonymous source is quoted saying that Houellebecq is "surrounded by a Chinese emperor's court: he poses as a victim, as a person suffering pain whom literature has allowed to rise above his destiny" (my translation):
The first article described the writer's unusual life, in his apartment situated high up an apartment building in Paris's 13th arrondissement, which "looks out toward the Paris beltway more than toward the city." She also evokes his last book, the controversial Soumission, published the same day as the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January, and which has now earned the author a police bodyguard. Soumission takes place in 2022, in a France governed by the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamic party in France. The book, which caused a media storm even before it was published, quickly rose to the top of the best seller lists in France, as well as in several countries in Europe.
Houellebecq has refused to respond to Le Monde, agreeing instead to be interviewed by Le Figaro. The folks at The Paris Review have recently published a section of Houellebecq's Soumission in English. The book will appear in the U.S. in October, so it looks like I will be reading it after the new Elena Ferrante novel.

19.8.15

Stunning Composition: Whistler at the Clark


As you cross through the roundabout in Williamstown, Massachusetts, and bear right onto South Street, you will notice a long line of cars parked along the roadside. They stretch all the way to the Clark Art Institute, including every available parking space on the Clark campus. Parking space is at a rare premium these days.

This is what it’s like to be so popular. Not only does the Clark have a stunning new Tadao Ando addition, but Van Gogh is also in town, through the 13th of September, proving once again to be a massive draw. Vincent is great, of course, and there are some stunners in the exhibit. But instead I suggest heading right up to the Lunder Center at Stone Hill to visit one of the grandes dames of American painting: Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 1 (Portrait of the Artist’s Mother), popularly known as Whistler’s Mother. There’s plenty of parking, too.

On loan from the Musée d'Orsay, this beautiful yet dour lady fills the small entry gallery, and the dim lighting gives her a mysterious presence. I've seen this painting several times in Paris, but this time it was different. Anna Matilda McNeill Whistler has never looked better. Her black figure is solidly seated, feet resting squarely on a raised cushion. She holds her own against the sharp black edges of the framed pictures on the wall behind her. We’re supposed to keep our focus interior, but the dancing patterns on the drapery entice your eyes and allude to something more.

Anna is a stoic woman in her mourning dress, but the artist has softened her. The delicate handkerchief in her sturdy hands and the feathery lace of her cap that enshrines her face gently drapes to her breast. There is a similar quality to the paint that is also in the curtain. She is forever bound by that grey wall and the structure of the sharp black frames. But those amazing subtle brush strokes add a complexity to Anna Whistler, as her son lovingly depicts.

18.8.15

Luxury Hotel at Versailles

You may have heard of the plan to open a small number of luxury hotel rooms on the grounds of Versailles. The news shocked me because it struck me as so very un-French. Well, the backlash has been growing against the idea, as reported by Claire Rodineau (Versailles: mauvaise réception pour l'hôtel du château, August 18) for Le Figaro (my translation):
"Versailles is not a slot machine!" cries Arnaud Upinsky. The president of the association Coordination Défense de Versailles is strictly opposed to the plan to transform several buildings on the site into a luxury hotel. At the beginning of August, the leadership of the château launched a call for proposals to create a hotel of 23 rooms in the Grand Contrôle, the Petit Contrôle, and the Pavillon des premières cent marches. The three locations have been unused since 2008 and require work costing around 7 million euro. According to the château management, this plan "is part of the politics of renovation and improvement of the space [...], defined some years ago by the Minister of Culture and the Secretary of State for Tourism."

For his part Arnaud Upinsky sees in it more the symptoms of a "business-ification of Versailles, in the clutches of shop owners and soup sellers." The essayist laments, "The emblem of France is in the midst of becoming Disneyland, and that will not bring profit to the town of Versailles, no more than it will to French people. This will bring profit only to the business owners. A symbol like Versailles, there is only one of them."
Other politicians and activists are also coming out against the plan. Jean-Jacques Aillagon, former Minister of Culture and former director of Versailles, approves the project, noting that the site the hotel will occupy is not in a central part of the grounds.

17.8.15

Classical Month in Washington (September 2015)

Fall is around the corner, so we have already made our Top 25 Picks for the classical music season, a year of many significant anniversaries for concert presenters. In each month, though, there are many performances we could not include in the season preview. Here are a few options that look to be intriguing for the month of September.


Violinist Lana Trotovšek
Last September's concert by Lana Trotovšek was a season highlight. The Slovenian violinist returns for a recital with pianist Anna Shelest at the Embassy of Slovenia, sponsored by the Embassy Series (September 11, 7:30 pm).

Vocal Arts D.C. celebrates its 25th anniversary by opening its season with a recital by mezzo-soprano Susan Graham and pianist Jake Heggie in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater. She will sing Iconic Legacies, a new song cycle by Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer, plus music by Schumann, Berlioz, Bachelet, and Hahn. Note the new start time for Vocal Arts events this year (September 12, 7 pm).

The Tuesday free concert series at the Church of the Epiphany is going full guns this month. The recital of lute songs by alto Barbara Hollinshead and lutenist Howard Bass should be a good one (September 15, 12:10 pm).

The season-opening galas of the area's symphony orchestras are to be avoided, if listening is your focus. The first subscription concert by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, however, should be worth hearing, with Anna Clyne's Masquerade and Strauss's Alpine Symphony. Olga Kern joins as soloist in Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini (September 17, 8 pm at Strathmore; September 18 and 19 at the Meyerhoff).

The following weekend the BSO debuts its new contemporary series, Pulse. It's the flavor of the month for area concert presenters, combining classical music somehow with indie rock or whatnot. The stuff that comes early in the evening is not of much interest to us, but it concludes with the BSO performing Philip Glass's third symphony at the Meyerhoff (September 24, 8 pm). Later that same weekend, the BSO performs a program of Prokofiev, Glazunov (the violin concerto with concertmaster Jonathan Carney as soloist), and Beethoven, with Juanjo Mena as guest conductor (September 26, 8 pm at Strathmore; September 25 and 27 at the Meyerhoff).

Music by Jenny Olivia Johnson, Nathan Lincoln-DeCusatis, Armando Bayolo, and other living composers will be on the program for the Great Noise Ensemble's season opener at the Atlas Center (September 19, 8 pm).

Another anniversary celebrated this year is fifty years of the concert series at Baltimore's Shriver Hall. Pianist Yefim Bronfman kicks things off with a recital of music by Prokofiev and Schumann (September 20, 5:30 pm).

Washington Performing Arts opens its season with a recital by two golden oldies, violinist Itzhak Perlman and pianist Emanuel Ax, in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall (September 28, 7 pm).

See the complete calendar after the jump.

16.8.15

Perchance to Stream: Assumption Edition

Here is your regular Sunday selection of links to online audio and online video from the week gone by. After clicking to an audio or video stream, you may need to press the "Play" button to start the broadcast. Some of these streams become unavailable after a few days.

  • From the Bayreuth Festival, listen to a performance of Lohengrin starring Klaus-Florian Vogt and Petra Lang. [France Musique]

  • Juanjo Mena conducts the BBC Philharmonic in Messiaen's Turangalila-Symphonie. [BBC Proms | Part 2]

  • Michael Fabiano and Ana María Martínez star in the Glyndebourne Festival's production of Donizetti’s Poliuto, directed by Mariame Clément. [Glyndebourne]

  • Diego Torre and Ferruccio Furlanetto star in a performance of Verdi's Don Carlos, recorded at the Sydney Opera House. [ABC Classic]

  • Ivan Fischer conducts the sixth and seventh symphonies of Beethoven with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, recorded in Amsterdam. [France Musique]

  • From the Royal Albert Hall, the Glyndebourne Festival performs Mozart's Abduction from the Seraglio. [BBC Proms | Part 2 | [Part 3]

  • Matthias Goerne joins the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to sing Lieder by Strauss and Schubert, with Jaap van Zweden also conducting Beethoven's fifth symphony at a concert recorded last February. [CSO]

  • Leonard Slatkin conducts François Dumont, the Britten Choir, and Orchestre National de Lyon in Ravel's Daphnis et Chloé. [France Musique]

  • Listen to the Brahms second symphony and the Tchaikovsky violin concerto, with Anne-Sophie Mutter as soloist, with Riccardo Muti conducting the Vienna Philharmonic at the Salzburg Festival. [ORF]

  • Violinist Lisa Batiashvili joins the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, under Andris Nelsons, for a concert recorded last month in Bad Kissingen. [RTBF]

  • The Arnold Schoenberg Chor, under Erwin Ortner, perform music by Schubert and Brahms, recorded at the Styriarte Festival. [ORF]

  • Listen to the past week's concerts from the Proms in London. [BBC Proms]

  • Violinist Julia Fischer joins the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra and conductor Lionel Bringuier, for music by Sibelius, Tchaikovsky, and Beethoven. [RTBF]

  • Listen to a performance of Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, starring Simone Kermes and Nuria Rial, recorded at the Teatro Real de Madrid in 2013. [RTBF]

  • Violinist Christian Tetzlaff, cellist Tanja Tetzlaff, and pianist Lars Vogt perform string trios by Schubert and Dvorak, recorded at the Salzburg Festival. [ORF]

  • A concert of concertos, featuring Martha Argerich and friends, recorded in Lugano in June. [RTBF | Part 2]

  • Ton Koopman conducts the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France in a performance of Haydn's Il mondo della luna, Beethoven's second symphony and Mozart's 25th symphony. [France Musique]

  • Baritone Christian Gerhaher and pianist Gerold Huber perform Mahler's Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, selections from Des Knaben Wunderhorn, and Kindertotenlieder, recorded last month at the Salzburg Festival. [ORF]

  • Paolo Carignani leads the Vienna Symphony at the Bregenz Festival, in a performance of Rossini's Messa di Gloria. [ORF | Part 2]

  • Vilde Frang and friends perform chamber music by Kodály, Tchaikovsky, and others, recorded at the Salzburg Festival. [ORF]

  • I Musici di Roma perform at the Carinthischer Sommer festival, with trumpeter Gábor Boldoczki in music by Rossini, Torelli, Vivaldi, and others, recorded last month at the Stiftskirche Ossiach. [ORF]

  • From the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, the ensemble La Sfera Armoniosa plays music by Vivaldi, Kapsberger, and Monteverdi, with countertenor Maarten Engeltjes, recorded in 2013. [France Musique]

  • Harry Christophers conducts music by Palestrina, Victoria, Schütz, and Kuhnau, recorded in the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. [France Musique]