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Composer and Other News

Sofia GubaidulinaIn case you missed them, here are a few articles on composers you might enjoy. First, there was an interview-profile of Hamburg-based Russian composer Sofia Gubaidulina (It pays to be poor, August 12) by Gerard McBurney for The Guardian:

Some years ago, a London critic, Dominic Gill, made an interesting comparison between Gubaidulina's work and the principles of the great Polish theatre director, Jerzy Grotowski, Gubaidulina's near-contemporary and another child of the post-communist bloc. Grotowski wrote a famous book, a Bible of theatrical practice, entitled Towards a Poor Theatre; borrowing from this specific sense, Gill proposed that Gubaidulina writes "Poor Music". What Gill most probably had in mind was the striking "poverty" of the surface of Gubaidulina's music, the way she generates enormous energy and concentration using the frailest wisps of sound, breath-like sighs and moans, scraps of Russian Orthodox chant, gigantic but extremely simple unisons, shudders and tremblings like the merest moments of tension from a film score, the simplest common chords.
Gwyneth Lewis wrote an article (The cruel sea, August 15) for The Guardian about how she came to write the libretto for the new opera with Welsh National Opera, The Most Beautiful Man from the Sea, to music composed by Richard Chew and Orlando Gough:
Given that the main character in the story is a corpse, the change of genre from novel to libretto presented one major dilemma - should the dead man on the beach sing or not? Characters can only live vocally in an oratorio, so I decided to be bold and make the drowned man sing. In fact, once he'd started to talk, I couldn't shut him up; he wanted to take part in a vigorous dialogue with the villagers who found him. Eventually, I decided that the villagers would only be able to hear the man from the sea when they had stopped communicating with each other completely. The children still have some imagination (and they are the first to hear the beautiful man sing) but the men and women are locked in apathetic resignation. As each of the groups reaches a crisis, they hear the drowned man, whom the villagers name Esteban. He becomes a blank canvas on to which they can project their fears and, eventually, their new hopes. The men are the last to embrace the ultimate image of disaster he embodies, but, once they face the reality of death, they give Esteban a joyful funeral, in which he's carried through the village streets like a local saint. I wrote this final scene shortly after we had returned to the boat in Ceuta, only to witness the feast day of the local saint. Two brass bands accompanied the effigy around the city and this is, musically, how I imagined Esteban's cortege.
Judith Mackrell gets the story from composer John Tavener (Pump it up John, September 8), in The Guardian, about how his heart condition inspired Random Dance Company's latest show:
These two worlds would never have collided but for one shared fascination: the symbolism and physiology of the human heart. For Tavener, the obsession grew out of his own medical history. He has Marfan syndrome, a complicated heart condition, and it was while undergoing investigative surgery that he encountered the work of heart-imaging specialist Philip Kilner. Tavener was entranced by the scans Kilner showed him: "The pumping of the heart's chambers and the movement of the blood around the arteries - it looked beautiful to me, like a dance." The images made him think about an old score, Laila, that he had begun writing a few years ago, but abandoned as unworkable. It was a dramatic choral work, based on a Sufi love poem. Its storyline was passionate - "the Romeo and Juliet of the Arabian world", Tavener calls it - but he had been unable to visualise how its erotic, romantic and mystical passions could be represented on stage. "Opera seems to me dead; people having tedious conversations with each other," he says. "And it would have been particularly embarrassing seeing singers trying to act Laila."
Last year, the Tavener news was about how he had a falling out with his Orthodox spiritual adviser. He is now writing music based on something other than Orthodox Christian liturgical texts.


Anonymous said...

I'll put on my linguist hat here, as Russian was my major at Middlebury ('85), I lived there for a semester and know the language fairly well.

Seems to me that we might want to be a good bit more careful when we're translating a heavily meaning- and nuanced-laden word like "poor" or "poverty". I noticed, for instance, that we went from Gubaidulina's self-described "Music of Poverty" to Gill's description of it as "Poor Music".

For starters, if I were to hazard a fairly well-educated guess, even the translation of Gubaidulina's own phrase from Russian into English is not very accurate. In the original Russian, it's most likely "Music from [out of/ resulting from/ because of] Poverty." {iz or even iz za to bednosti}.

Then we've somehow we've slid on a very slippery linguistic slope right down to calling it "Poor Music" which most of us native speakers of English instantly read as "lacking, wanting, threadbare" or even "pathetic".

Finally, even "Poor Music" is being interpreted to mean "spare, economical, simple/elegant" with an overtone of "intense."

Here's an idea: How about we stick with what the composer herself said, and meant?

Anonymous said...

Excellent point, Andrea. This applies as much to the the meaning of 'poor' in the Polish of Grotowski, as to 'poor' in the Russian and Tatar of Gubaidulina.

And I for one don't think that there is anything 'poor' about the intense surfaces of Ms Gubaidulina's body of work. I find her surfaces anything but 'poor'. In part, she learned about surface intensity through her 1970s improvisational work with the Astrea ensemble (with Vyacheslav Artyomov, Victor Suslin, Valentina Ponomareva, and Mark Pekarsky) based upon Pekarsky's huge collection of Euroasian ethnographic musical instruments.

Charles T. Downey said...

Oooh, good comments. Although I quoted that section about poverty, the article intrigued me because of the personal glimpse of SG it offered. Translation issues aside, it was still interesting to read.

Anonymous said...

well, here's my Polish two cents; the word bieda, same as Russian бедность/biednost means poverty; the adjective biedny/biedna in Polish and Russian- and many other Slavic languages- means poor but also miserable, as in "you poor little thing." It's actually similar to the use of Spanish word pobresito applied to, say, cute little kids with dirty noses. It does not specifically imply economic poverty.
Howvere, the phrase Grotowski used was "Teatr ubogi" and the word ubogi means just poor, in monetary value. Of little cash, basically. For example, Jesus is lying in the manger because "Maryja uboga byla.." and had no credit cards to book a hotel. Does this help?

Garth Trinkl said...

Interesting how "essential", as in "towards an essential theater or music", becomes "not-poor"!

W kierunku do istotnego (niezbędny) teatru or w kierunku do istotnego (niezbędny) muzyka (muzyczny)...

When Grotowski published his treatise in 1975, I think he was thinking just as much -- if not more -- about the spiritual intensity of a performance space as the economics of a performance space (theatrical or musical).

Princess Alpenrose said...

Wow, Garth, that's really interesting. (I sort of phoneticized/finessed the Polish into Russian roots for the meanings there.) A very good insight, thanks for that.

I was thinking today that the title "It Pays to Be Poor" really didn't help the writer's case ...!

Garth Trinkl said...

Andrea, I'm glad that this is making us think, but I also think we may all be getting a bit confused (at least I am) when we try to compare "poor art" (Italian or French arte povera or art pauvre), Grotowski's "toward a poor theater", and now critic Dominic Gill's idea of "poor music". I actually think that "It Pays to Be Poor" does in fact suit the theme of Gerard McBurney's Guardian article, which, as I recall, described an early (1970s or 1980s) visit by the music writer to Moscow, where he haltingly interviewed Ms Gubaidulina.

I recall that Ms Gubaidulina was marginalized in the 1960s and 1970s, prior to the international success of her Violin Concerto "Offertorium", championed in the West by Gidon Kremer. During Glasnost, she again came to the attention of a wider Western audience when some of the music for a rather informal "Symphony" that she wrote was used in the film "The Scarecrow", about Stalinism and political prisoners. But I think that McBurney's theme was, in fact, that her earlier poverty laid the groundwork for her unique and powerful musical vision, which later allowed her to rise to the top of the international composing field.

You may want to glance at the Phaidon volume on Alfred Schnittke -- it is being remaindered at bookstores such as Politics and Prose -- which touches upon the economics of Moscow (and Petersburg and Kiev) "dissident" composers in the 1960s and 1970s, who bonded with the intelligentsia and earned subsistence wages writing numerous cobbled together scores for the Soviet film and television industries, largely under funding from the Composers Unions.

By the way, I met Ms Gubaidulina, first in Boston in 1988 and then here in Washington back in the early 1990s, at which time her daughter was a scientific intern at the National Institute of Health, in Bethesda.

Princess Alpenrose said...

Oh, oh, oh, that's REALLY interesting! Garth, I love it, you're always teaching me something, shedding some (much needed light) on things.

I obviously didn't know much about Gubaidulina, and have more to learn, which I will do gladly. Schnittke too. I do know a little (probably not enough) about others, like Shostakovich, though.

How he suffered! Having to write sniveling Soviet drivel/garbage music to stay alive and how many times he trod on the edge of disaster and personal ruin. (I wrote a paper in college arguing that The Nose was as good or better than Lady Macbeth of [the] Mtensk [District]). Talk about a social commentator/composer!

Here I'd just like to introduce the Russian phrase "pod stolom" (sorry I don't know how to get cyrillic on blogger comments).

I do know that alot of composers, like Shostakovich and writers of the era wrote many, many works in secret, for themselves, for "underneath the desktop", ie, for the desk drawer and no one else.

Did she?

Garth Trinkl said...

Andrea, we are all teaching each other! I hope that at least a dozen people are silently reading our posts and then rushing to their public libraries, or to the Web, to listen to the composers and music we discuss...

I'm interested in your Shostakovich paper! Maybe, you will have an opportunity to review and delivery it when a regional company next performs either Nose or Lady Macbeth. (Unfortunately, I missed the Baltimore Lady Macbeth, which I heard was great. Did ionarts review it? Instead, I saw the SFO production which I thought was a bit visually muddled... They did a great Janacek Cunning Vixen that summer, as well as a ... "muddled", very contemporary Busoni Docktor Faust.)...

I actually think Shostakovich produced a tremendous amount of great work both under Stalin and after -- despite the absolute terror he and others were subjected to. I will trust you know his great, under-performed, orchestral song cycles; especially his late ones.

Request: Can I ask that you and Monika become champions not only of
Sofia Gubaidulina, but of Galina Ustvolskaya (b. 1919), a reclusive (Saint) Petersburg genius who I deeply pray is still alive and slowly composing? She is the great, tragic Russian composer of the 20th century. She was very close to Shostakovich, deeply influencing his chamber compositions (he quoted her music in some of his deepest chamber music). Material about her is available on the Web and in journals, and many of her expressionist and religious chamber and chamber-symphonic works were released in the "West" in the 1990s. (She has refused to travel to the "West".) I believe that she, much more than Gubaidulina, wrote "under the table". (Gubaidulina -- and Artyomov and others -- I think, were just written off under communism as relatively harmless "mystics." Ustvolskaya, on the other hand, has nominally remained faithful to communist/utopian ideals prior to, and following, Russia's Great Patriotic War. Her relationship to Shostakovich has also been problematic for musicologists. That is, there is scholarly debate as to who was the mentor and who was the mentoree.)

Thank you. (And make sure you check out Valentin Silvestrov -- from Kyiv -- as well!)

PS. You may want to use the Alta Vista Cyrillic translation engine/world keyboard, or perhaps Monika has a better suggestion:

Anonymous said...

No suggestions for trans engines- I use Babel fish, it's good enough, or just google the phrase with +Russian. As for championing Russian composers- ouch, you are asking a Polish girl (with a Ukrainian surname) to support our Big Brother nation, that's a touchy area. I have eternal gratitude for Stravinsky, for rediscovering Gesualdo, but other than this, little interest in Russian music, sorry. Bulhakov and Suvorov on the literature front, yes, music- so much of it already on hold, so little time. Of course, if something great comes along, I will listen, and support, but can't muster much enthusiasm just on principle.
I am doing my bit by supporting Maria Guleghina and seeing her tonight at WNO!

Anonymous said...

What's a Pole with a Ukrainian surname supporting a Gheorgian that can barely remember her music?

Anonymous said...

Fair enough, Monika. I just thought you and Andrea might be interested in a major woman creative musical talent who was perhaps eclipsed by Shostakovich and traumatized by her survival of Stalinism and the Seige of Leningrad. I guessed you had a deep interest in literature.

There is so much great, unexplored Polish and Ukrainian renaissance (Mikolaj Gomoka) and baroque music -- and don't forget Stanislaw Moniuszko's The Haunted Manor (though I guess he was technically a Belarussian)!

Enjoy the WNO! The baritone, Vitalij Kowaljow, as well as Ms Guleghina, are Ukrainian!

Anonymous said...

only the second Anonymous above is me -- gt

(Georgian??? Though I do think the WNO listed her variously as both Ukrainian and Armenian! She had her start in Minsk, this self-proclaimed -- according to her web-site "Cinderella from Russia")


Princess Alpenrose said...

Knock it off, you guys!

I'll champion anyone who needs it, to the best of my ability. There are some pretty Cinderella-y Divas out there, for sure, but apparently they/she can do their own/her own championing, hence the attitude.

We're talking about an older composer who needs some broader exposure, to get her wonderful and unique music out to a wider audience.

I for one (have a former mother in law who is an internationally respected composer as well so) I will look for meet the composer, composer in residence and performance venues here in the US. I'll post any that look good for her.

Garth Trinkl said...

Thanks for the sanity, Andrea...

As I noted, Galina Ustvolskaya is a (possibly embittered) recluse who has repeatedly turned down offers to visit Hamburg (where Schnittke lived, and Gubaidulina now lives; and where the important Sikorski music publishing house is located); or Amsterdam (where the etcetera label is located that recorded and released many of her works in the mid-1990s). I also recall that she turns down all, or virtually all, interview requests.
I would imagine that she has also had ignored invitations to visit London, and possibly New York. (I don't think she is on anyone's radar in Washington, D.C. or Baltimore. Shame on Yuri Temirkanov -- a fellow Petersburger!!)

I seem to recall that in the late 1990s, Michael Tilson Thomas opened a performance of Beethoven's Symphony #9 with a performance of Ms Ustvolskaya's
Symphony #4 (Prayer); which was written about twenty years ago.

I think that it would be great if the BaltSO or the NSO (and others) might open a performance of a long -- but not full-evening -- Symphony or Choral work with one of Ms Ustvolskaya's beautiful and enigmatic chamber-symphonies. Isn't this what culture is all about? Who out there is for writing letters to the conductors and artistic staffs of the BaltSO, NSO, and Catholic U. Orchestras? Where is Jens and his CD review of all of Ms Ustvolskaya's works?

I wish that I knew someone who would nominate her for the Grawemeyer Prize. (I do not believe that prize actually requires travel to Louisville to accept the Prize, but I could be wrong. George Tsontakis is the last winner of this prize, and he will be on the selection committee for next year. Do you know anyone who knows him?)

Thanks Andrea.


Here is Alex Ross's great article on her-- from ten years ago!!!

Anonymous said...

Sorry if I came on little strong in my comment. Anybody who like me grew up having this Great Russian Everything shoved down your troat, and went to communist school where you learnt Russian from texts about commarades on tractors, might be little testy about this... I was actually good at it- my parents were embarassed about my good grades, actually, but now I speak Russian with Ukrainian accent (I say gavarit) because I learnt it from my Ukrainian friends...
I believe in supporting the music on merit, not nationalities, and Gubaidulina and Ustvolskaya have that in spades, from what I hear, so I hope they find the respect they deserve.
.. wait, Moniuszko was Belarussian? As much as Copernicus was Czech. Please, our borders were so shifty- we are in the worst spot (in the world, possibly), between the belligerent giants, Russia and Germany. My granda was born in Drohobycz, then Poland, now Ukraine, does this make her not Polish? And Pan Tadeusz, our national epic, starts with line "Lithuania, my fatherland..." and poet Czeslaw Milosz spoke with Lithuanian accent. If you consider yourself Polish, that's what you are.
How about something unknown, Polish, and interesting and in need of championing? I picked it up at Tower Records in DC, but it's available on Amazon:
and it contains very early Polish music, many pieces straight from library manuscripts- here's some more info:
I will try to write a review, when I get a chance, it's good stuff,

Princess Alpenrose said...

Monika, you have my utmost respect and support, seriously - the road you and your countrymen have travelled is indeed a hard and rocky one.

I lived in Moscow for a semester, during college, and we travelled to Ukraine, for instance, where the local book club was highly reluctant to meet with us, not because of who we were [Americans] but understandably because they didn't want to speak Russian anymore.

Sorry i only know Russian, but it would be im NADOYELO, which means they were Fed Up, Stuffed, Sick to Death of having another language force fed to them and having their children have to "learn" in it and speak it every day.

Don't know if Hispanics in this country feel that way ...?

That feeling of being restricted and oppressed in daily life held true for the Russian Orthodox believers I met there too, who talked (no, whispered) to me ONLY WITH THE RADIO AT FULL BLAST AS DECOY about the religious education they gave their children in secret.

Seriously, I offer only the UTMOST respect to you, Monika and Garth, and others who grew up under that regime. I was just trying to get the conversation back to music.

But I'm having to admit, the music and the politics and the humanity are all interwoven, especially in this area of music, in that area of the world!

PS My father was born, raised and educated in Austria, and his family stayed in Graz through WWII, with the bombs and the bloated dead horses outside the opera house. As a pre-teen (10-12) he and a friend ran the Children's Chorus at the Graz Opera House. So when the Hitler Youth leaders came to him and said, "Why are you not marching in our parades?" he replied, "You want culture? We REHEARSE on Saturdays!" True story.

PPS Temirkanov is a stuck up OLD SCHOOL conductor, who does not speak to any member of his orchestra (we're here in Baltimore, so this is the BSO I'm talking about) ever. At breaks, he retreats to his dressing room, locks the door and smokes his fancy, expensive cigars. So he's not going to be any help in promoting others ...

Garth Trinkl said...

Thanks Monika. And I will look forward to your Dux Medieval Polish music CD review. I have some fine Dux CDs that I got in Warsaw and Krakow in 1993 and in January of this year. (And there are innumerous medieval and renaissance musical manuscripts available in the Lviv and Pochayiv museums and libraries; as well as in Poland.)

(By the way, I was in Drohobycz both this past April, and last year. Before most recently being Ukrainian, Soviet, and Polish, it had a long spell being Austro-Hungarian. As you may know, it was a major oil drilling and refining center; as well as a gateway to the (~then) beautiful Carpathian resort cities. Beautiful newly restored villas in the city center of Drohobycz... One of central Europe's first railroads ran from Vienna to Drohobycz. My own grandmother -- who was Jewish -- was born in some yet unknown to me place in Belarussia. I hope to find out where before this January.)

Enjoy the Verdi opera, and be sure to post your mini review above!!

Anonymous said...

"Cinderella From Russia" - ha... laughable. It's like an Albanian who claims to be from Bari. Yeah... because you arrived there with your little boat, my friend. But tho be fair, those were not her own words. Gulghina or the male version thereof "Gouleguine" sound Georgian and I am pretty sure she is Georgian - even if she got her career started in Minsk.

Anonymous said...

whoa, good to hear that Drohobycz is coming up in the world, and not only because of everybody wanting to claim Bruno Schultz for their country and the 2001 shenenigans of the Israeli delegation. This was actually an interesting dilema of the "who owns the art" type but what they did was little out of line

I actualy haven't gone there yet- the rest of my family made several trips recently, I hope to catch up...

Princess Alpenrose said...

Getting a little hot under the collar, are we? You guys sound like us with our States. (DelaWHERE????)

Can I divert you from your internicene (did i spell that right? you know what i mean) wars for just a moment and ask EACH ONE OF YOU to please post your Top Five (Six, max) Artists to Watch in 2007.

Maybe that would help me separate the music from the politics, just for a bit ...

jfl said...

Alex Tharaud, Joyce Yang - piano
Valeriano Lanchas - bass/baritone
Julia Fischer - violin

Akimon Azuki said...

In 2007? you mean new artists? in Western classical music..? I am blank on most instrumantalists, so:
Kyle Ketelson- baritone
Isabel Bayrakdarian- soprano and please let her sing Handel again, not Met fodder
Jacek Laszczkowski- "sopranist"
Elena Garanca- mezzo
Vivica Genaux- supermezzo
and - I hope it's sooner than 2007- Rene Jacobs better get his lazy a$$ to work on that Don Giovanni and wrap up his Da Ponte series.
Andrea, pardon the internicenization, I actually had a very happy childhood, especially knowing that the system was to absurd to last, and I don't consider myself miserable martyr, not one little bit. Just that Russian thing...
over and out

jfl said...

Monika: Jacobs is scheduled to record Don Giovanni in late 2006 - so look forward to his third Da Ponte opera in the first third of 2007. It's time the Giulini recording is getting serious competition. (I take it that you adore his Cosi and Nozze as much as I do?!)

Princess Alpenrose said...

Monika you're okay by me. I know it's a sensitive nerve, I totally understand, and really do enjoy reading what you post!

jfl will they put the third out in a boxed set with the previous two, do you think?

Anonymous said...

I doubt it... at least not for a while. Cosi is already in its second edition (the first came with an informative CD ROM) and will be out in its third, shortly, when HMU brings it out in their 250 WAM anniv. series late 2005/early 2006. Nozze will have to sell 'as is' for a couple more years... at least 6 to 8 (that's an informed but wild guess, admittedly), before HMU will think of repricing it as part of a box. (Lest of course the box be near-full price. But is that what you meant?)


Princess Alpenrose said...

Uh ... I probably unconsciously meant "will they sell it as a boxed set for less than it would cost full price for all three sold individually", but what I really want to know, is, would you recommend buying all three as a sort of "Star Wars" type trilogy, would it be good to own all three, do all three together make some kind of definitive and interesting statement, musically?

Anonymous said...

Well - that's speculation with regards to a recording that isn't going to be made for another year, no? But if you just take the first two attempts - Cosi and Nozze - and extrapolate what Giovanni must be like, I'd say: Reserve your copy now. Far and away the best Cosi around - and my favorite Nozze... and Jacobs is on fire these days! (Haydn/Seasons are very good and the new recording of Saul is, too!) With Jacobs' insight, his ability (as a singer) to get the best from his already excellent singers, with his sometimes surprising touches that add tremendously to the work (e.g. the fortepiano in the secco recitativs which does wonders for Nozze), it will be *the* edition of the three Da Ponte operas to have. "Definitive"? Don Giovanni has been recorded very well before (Giulini, Fricsay, Solti [of all people], Abbado) - and there won't be an easily agreed upon standard (so far, the closest to that is Giulini)... but "definitive" is not necessary. "Kick Ass" it will most likely be - and that's enough for me. In fact, that's more than most recordings promise.


Akimon Azuki said...

.. as long as Simon Keenlyside is singing Don Giovanni. You want to hear a man on fire, listen to his Estuans interius from Thielemann's Carmina Burana. It's sick, it's so hot.
I don't like Guilini's Don as a whole- Sutherland is a total floozy as Donna Anna, it spoils the fun for me.
I have come to adore the Nozze and yes, even Cosi- and it came to me as a great surprise, as I did not even rate Cosi as a likable opera before Jacobs stirred things up. It was on Clemenza di Tito level, in terms of my interest, ie bottom feeding fishies.
BTW, I am looking to Saul with great interest. This may be a good year after all; in the beginning only Sandrine Piau knocked my socks off with her Handel recital, then it was a looong draught. Now it's raining great albums- Bajazet, best record of the year so far, Lamento, and the upcoming Scholl Does Senesino. mniam, mniam,
over and out,

Anonymous said...

Ouch. "Clemenza-level"... that's insulting. :) I enjoy opera-bashing (no, I am not talking about Verdi reviews on Ionarts... but no holds barred trash-talking sessions with singing friends) and "La Clemenza" is always a popular victim. (Can't do that with clarinet players. They think it's Mozart's best, yet.)

With Jacobs, for me, too, Cosi was catapulted from "unter 'Ferner liefen'" to the (gasp:) top of my Mozart list. (Don is the most perfect, Cosi the most enjoyable, Zauberflöte the easiest...)

Saul review coming up. We'll see how it compares to the excellent McCreesh that I reviews a good while ago.


Princess Alpenrose said...

Can't resist participating in this discussion ... have much to add.

But 30 comments is getting pretty far from the original Gubaidulina topic, though, isn't it?

jfl, can you start a new post, with your opinions on these Mozart recordings, copy over the pertinent comments, like, oh say the last 10 from this post, and let us pick up from there?

Anonymous said...

no. I'm mozartet out and i've no patience to copy some comments over. sorry.


Princess Alpenrose said...

no problemo. I'll go with your assessment of "Kick Ass" and get the recordings ...

Charles T. Downey said...

Jens, if you are Mozarted out now, it's going to be a very long season for you.

jfl said...

:-) True enough. See you tomorrow for the Takacs!