dimanche 12 décembre 2010

Geneva's musical amateurism ...

Thomas Hampson was last week in Geneva.

While he is singing at the Zurich Opera, he is touring with the Wurttenberg Philharmonic in one of these typically frustrating recitals made to accomodate star performers. Program was a typical mix of unrehearsed arias, -this was the first concert in the serie and yes, one could hear it in  more than few places - intertwined with basically "Elevator music" classical style ...

Yet Hampson's artistry is special and his renderings of Posa's death in Don Carlos or Renato's 3rd act aria in Ballo was worth having to cope with the rest ... As an encore, Don Giovanni's serenade was outstanding in phrasing, color, breath control, charm, ...

As it is customary, before presenting the encore, Hampson spoke to the audience and expressed surprise to have sung in so many places including Don Giovanni and Marcello as well as many recitals at the Grand Théâtre but never at Victoria Hall.

He is right. Geneva and in particular Victoria Hall lacks good communication to potential audiences. The web site of the hall is full of sloppy mistakes, ..., a clear sign of managerial amateurism  ...

If you go outside of the hall and look at the posters, you would never have guessed that someone like Hampson was singing there and saw ads for flashy low-level provincial-like events. There is no single place where you can buy tickets for all possible events. (and also, should I say, only the OSR and the Grand Theatre have a serious press department with a relation where Concertonet editors review events. All the others have turned down my requests so I will not do a review of the Hampson concert ...)

Until this is fixed which basically mean taking communication with audience seriously, events like Hampson's recital will never been sold out (as I am sure it is in every "normal" city of the stature of a Geneva ...) and many touring musicians who are not coming to Geneva will never come.

mercredi 1 décembre 2010

Peter Hofmann

Concertonet's Zurich Correspondant and long-time friend John Rhodes emailed me this morning on the passing of German tenor Peter Hofmann.

I heard him first in Paris in 1981 a concert performance of the act 3 of Parsifal with the Berlin Philharmonic and Karajan, then as Lohengrin, then the following year in Paris in Lohengrin under Dohnanyi. But it was in Bayreuth that I heard him in many roles: Parsifal in 83, Tristan in 87 and a final Siegmund in 89.

What was unique in his performances was the sheer physicality of his performances best captured in the DVD of the Boulez-Chéreau Ring:

In the Götz Friedrich's production of Parsifal, he really caught the spear. No wires, no funny games, ..., this was thrilling.

Händel at the Mall ...

Courtesy of Eileen.

mercredi 24 novembre 2010

For those who believe in fairy tales ...

France's government has released extra funding for the new (totally  unnecessary) Parisian Concert Hall. See here in French.

Good luck to France and Paris and all involved ... but I have already expressed my huge doubts ...

vendredi 19 novembre 2010

The 86% percent solution ...

For French speaking readers an interview of the intendant of the Migros concert series. Please note that they are doing ads on TV for the concerts and have now an audience capacity of 86%. Marketing works ... even for music.

(and yesterday was the last round of the Geneva Piano competition, report is here.)

jeudi 18 novembre 2010

Old Memories

My blog is getting dusty. Daily work is intense and I have not posted for a while ...

I was yesterday meeting my friend Pascal Rophé who is conducting the OSR for tomorrow's final concert of the Geneva Piano Competition. A review of the concert will be in Concertonet.

I told him that I am ashamed at not remembering the name of our old common  High School music teacher (I think that it is Archambaud but I am not sure ..). With more age, I realise that his course was fantastic and that I owe him a lot. In France, after the mid-class level of "Troisème", around when I as 14 or 15, music became an elective course taken by studentes to get a few points extra credit at the Baccalauréat.The exam was composed of playing a piece (I did Bach's Chromatic fantaisie, at a time when I was sight-reading Schoenberg op 11 ...), a musical dictation (is this the correct English word, this is when one plays a tune on a piano and we have to write down the notes ?) - I was not good and very bad with chords ... - and commenting several pieces - there I was better, not good but better.

Thanks to the work of our teacher, I discovered the pleasure of following a score while listening to a work. We did this for Bartok's string quartets, Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, ... I cannot hear the closing pages's Adoration de la Terre without being sensitive to the timpani's decelerating rhythms ...

or the timpani's subtle pedal in Bartok's second violin concerto ...

Such professors are so important.Countries that recognize this will lead this century.

I am sorry not to  be sure of his name and I cherish his memory fondly.

lundi 1 novembre 2010

Moral Support not entertainment ...

Courtesy of Massorti  Rabbi Dalsace who gave me some wonderful lessons back when in was in Nice. He is now in Paris and his articles can be read in his excellent site.

jeudi 28 octobre 2010

C'est Strehler qu'on assassine ?

French TV will broadcast on November 3rd the revival of the ultra-famous Strehler - Solti 's production of Mozart's Nozze di Figaro. Cast looks strong and the excellent P Jordan will conduct (being the Opera's artistic director, he should have more rehearsal time than what he had at the Met in 2007.)

Every French Opera-lover of my generation has marveled at what was one of the most distinguished and loved production at the Paris Opera under the Liebermann area. It ended his regime in a televised performance with Solti returning to conduct with the likes of Janowitz, Popp, Von Stade, Van Dam, Bacquier, Moll. I was there and will always remember

In the following blog from colleague Ionarts, Gérard Mortier is blamed for having auctioned the original costumes  and burned the sets. This production therefore is the result of the work to recreate the conditions of the premiere.

I loved but really loved this production and was not convinced by Mortier's replacement production by the team of  Cambreling - Marthaler (whose work on Wozzeck or Katya was much stronger). This being said, I feel that Mortier's gesture is not without merits: despite best efforts by the French team, the revivals of Strehler's staging have not aged well and they feel uncharacterized compared to the originals.

By attempting to prevent further revivals, is not Mortier trying to tell us that proposing to audiences a "Strehler - production" is a fallacy ? Is not he actually the one more faithful to the spirit of the Italian director ?

(note for readers, this title is a variation on the famous French novel by G Cesbron ...)

dimanche 10 octobre 2010


I was last week in Boston and attended Mahler's Second with Levine and the BSO. Review is here.

There are still rumors of contracts not yet renewed for 2012 ... but what a performance. It speaks volumes on where the musicians heart is.

dimanche 3 octobre 2010

Bad news from Paris

Have a look at these bad news.

Not only is there no need for an extra hall in Paris. This project is just not going well and is likely to run into cost and expense overrun.

Once again at the risk of repeating myself, Paris has Pleyel and the Theatre des Champs-Elysees as well as Gaveau as well the Cité de la Musique as well as Bastille and Garnier as well as the Opera-Comique. Pleyel in particular has been redone several years ago and has a very good sound. These halls are also well

If the State wants to promote music, why not reassign the Theatre du Chatelet to classical music as it was in the time of Lissner and Brossman ?

Sorry for the genuine rant but what a waste

mercredi 22 septembre 2010

Movements in Geneva ... Last

Beckmesser is happy to let you know (probably before many) that the OSR has appointed the young Japanese conductor Kazuki Yamada as principal guest conductor and that Janowski will be replaced in 2012 by Neeme Järvi.

Neeme Järvi was in Geneva last December for a stunning Chostakovitch 10th Symphony. The OSR played very well for him and delivered more  colorful sound than for me. One Jarvi in Paris, one in Geneva ...

Youth and Experience. Is not this a good way to maintain the dual tradition of the OSR between Ansermet-ish modernism and Janowski's wiseness.

I look forwards to the future.

mercredi 8 septembre 2010


ראש השנה

Lucerne ...

FYI, I was at the Boulez - Lucerne Festival Academy concert in Lucerne.Review is here.

The road after Evian was blocked:

So we had to drive an extra 90 minutes to cross the border via the Vallée d'Abondance:

Which had us miss the first half of Boulez's own Figures-Double-Prismes.

As you can guess, we were quite mad.

dimanche 5 septembre 2010

EMI and Harmful software

Well, I did not said it but I read it:

and why do not we hear about their financial status any more ?

jeudi 2 septembre 2010

Not enough A's ...I am afraid

and I am not talking about academic results nor bond rating ...

Jonathan Harvey

Yet another scoop of Bob Shingleton at  on an overgrown path ... Tune in on Future Radio on Sunday. Not to be missed.

mercredi 1 septembre 2010

For better or worse ... some rants on Levine's health rumors ...

There has been a lot of discussions and articles on James Levine's health. He has had to spend another extended time off the podium, missed a lot of events in Tanglewood and was replaced on various cases at the Met.

In his usual insinuating style, English critic Norman Lebrecht has hinted that he will be replaced by Riccardo Chailly in Boston and also mentioned that both Pappano and Jurowski will depart from Covent Garden and Glyndebourne in 2013 at a time when the Met could be available. The Boston Globe (sorry, I have not kept the link) had also some negative and more direct disapproval comments, highlighting the high cost of maintainting Levine in his position.

I am a huge Levine fan and am shocked by these to be frank. Lebrecht's tabloid sensationalism is documented in many places so there is no need to add anything, but the Globe is also missing some important points.

I spoke to several musicians in Boston and a few fellow critics in New York and the picture I got was very different:
  • Levine may have had some rough time with critics and audiences, but this is more due to a modern and adventurous programming, which should be the pride and envy of many orchestras. 
  • Work with the musicians is very happy. Again, I spoke with various of them and in particular some of the new members and they are conscious of the exceptional opportunity it is to have him.
Levine has during more than 30 years build by far the best orchestra in the US and probably the best Opera Orchestra in the world. The BSO he inherited from Ozawa was and still is a superb ensemble and the work he has done, repertory wise is unique and unfinished.

So think of the situation as in a marriage. If you have been married with someone for decades, you do not kick your husband/wife if he/she is unwell. You stay married for the best and the worst of the times. When you are lucky to have as a chief conductor someone like Levine, you stand by his side when he has health problems.

For those who wants a taste of Levine's unique capability to accompany singers, listen to the harmony between Renée Fleeming and the orchestra at the end of the aria. It takes decades to build this so what are a few cancellations in front of such artistry ?

jeudi 26 août 2010

Who is pushing the enveloppe ? ... Art versus Enjoyment

Bob Shingleton's On an overgrown path raises the question of who is pushing the envelope for classical music. I can think of 2 names which are clear examples although not simple ones:
  • If you do not come to the Met, its new manager Peter Gelb is ensuring that it goes to you via the now celebrated simulcast movie theaters performances. If on the one hand, he is still struggling to get New York audiences to appreciate anything than the stagings they have had for several centuries (see Toscagate here), opera is definitely finding new channels via the broadcast which have combined quality reproduction and live feelings.
  • The closes that Classical Music has of a Lady Ga-Ga is Lang Lang. No offence to the pianist but even Karajan did not have a line of scarves and shoes at his effigy. He definitely is reaching audiences that would not hear classical music otherwise (as judged by the fact that his concerts are populated by people who applaude after every movement and loose attention when he plays very advanced ultra-modern composers like ... Prokofiev or Albeniz). He also can be congratulated by having a wide repertory, ie not always playing Tchaikowsky's First Piano Concerto ad nauseam (or the Yellow River concerto, which the Chinese equivalent and a much better piece). He is immensely talented but he is a showman that distorts the works by extreme of tempis with little sense of the music architectures. Yes, he is bringing music to new ears but he is serving him and less the composers.

It is important to push audiences and bring them to our worldbut the challenge is to do this while not vulgarising works whose value can be appreciated only by active listening of the audience. As we say, art not enjoyment ...

mardi 17 août 2010

and Elektra in some other quick bullet points ...

We were a little disappointed by this Elektra, perhaps were we expecting too much ..

  • Main problem are Gatti's tempis, just too slow and not moving forwards enough. Yes, he brings a lot of details, but where is the support that Albrecht gave to his singers in Lulu or the team-ensemble of Muti in Prokofiev's Ivan the terrible the day before ? And why was the orchestra so consistently loud ?
  • The Elektra should have been Irene Theorin but she was replaced by Janice Baird who had 1/2 day of rehearsal. She did actually quite well. She has the notes and can sustain them well. She was somewhat lacking  the full depth of the character but let us not forget that she stepped in. If Theonin is stilll unwell, then Baird could then stay and settle in. In any case, she definitely knows how to project her voice and has the notes and stamina for this sort of role.
  • Westbroek was good although I had in mind she had a freer top when I heard her in this part in Paris, but then there was another conductor Dohnanyi who knows his Strauss well ... She is still special.
  • Great performances by Waltraud Meier and René Pape. Both have outstanding techniques, lots of colors on the voice and a supreme capability with words. They project really well and make everyone aware of what they sing. No better praise can be said. (Was this really in 1983 that I first heard Meier doing her debut in Kundry ?)
  • Average staging by N Lenhoff with no real ideas ... and the Grosses Festpielhaus is so big ... I miss Wernicke
It is late and I will try to find some time to write on why I have consistently returned to Salzburg for the last 30 years ...

dimanche 15 août 2010

Lulu from Salzburg in a few bullet points ...

I am in Salzbourg for a few days and attended yesterday Lulu. I am not on Concertonet duties but cannot escape the habit of leaving the place with a list of comments:
  • 6 Women on the pit, times have changed in the VPO
  • the veterans are a formidable force: Grundheber in Schigolch and Zeidnick as the Prince, if some of the shine of the voice has gone, they do so much with words
  • Surprisingly lively and "entertaining" production of act 3 with singers on the hall, 2 adjectives I would not have thought to use for Lulu with a fair amount of jokes in spoken dialogues (fake-ushers asking Schigloch for his ticket ...)
  • Act 2 central settings was around a pyramid which became somewhat tiring after a while. While I am there, the "menagerie" of the prologue was not really staged, the trainer was in front of a multi-colored curtain and this just did not worked well
  • Solid conducting of M Albrecht whom I did not knew before, bringing particular clarity and order in Act 1
  • The 3 act version is now really established and it enables to preserve Berg's symmetry but there are notable differences in the orchestration, more piano in the beginning of Act 3 and at later phases more emphasis on double-basses
  • After a tentative start, P Petibon grew into the role but memories of C Schäfer are hard to forget, strong performance of M Volle
Do I need to add, what an outstanding masterpiece this is.

PS: the singers distributed fake Lulu - Salzburg Festival logo-ed E(u)ros bills during act 3. Here is a scan of them:

lundi 2 août 2010

How long is required to shape and modify an Orchestra Personality ?

On the same Gramophone which I mentioned in my last post was a review of Bruckner's 5t Symphony by the OSR and Marek Janowski. I am not too keen on Bruckner (my fault I know ...) so my friend and excellent colleague Simon Corley did a review on Concertonet here. On Gramophone, the review was done by Richard Osborne who is probably a specialist of German conducting. He knows his stuff and has written a good book on Karajan. He was a little colder to Janowski's reading and mentioned (I quote from memory) that the OSR has more of a Fench culture nurtured by Ansermet and may not be so aligned with German music.

OK, Ansermet passed away in 1969. The orchestra's chief conductors from 1970 to 1985 were no less than Wofgang Sawallich and Horst Stein, definitely right out of the heart of the German tradition. Those in between them and Marek Janowski were Armin Jordan, Pinchas Steinberg and Fabio Luisi who definitely worked on German repertoire. Janowski needless to say comes directly from it. My best evenings at the Victoria Hall were a world-class (really !!!) Schmalzing Schubert 5th Symphony, Mendelssohn's Elias but I was unhappy on the lack of genuine colors in Russian repertory and Ravel's readings was where I found Janowski definitely less convincing.

The Orchestra may sound less German than the Dresden - Vienna - Berlin, .... but is more at home there than in other repertories after so many years of practice.

So has Ansermet's legacy disappeared ? Well, yes and no, the proof is in the curiosity displayed by the musicians themselves, witness their presence standing in the hall when they were not playing when contemporary music was played. But let us be weary of too fast generalisations. Who knows what the Berlin Phil - an orchestra which Boulez used for Ravel recordings - sounds will mean to future generations after a significant renewal of players coming from so many countries and playing under a non German conductor, same elsewhere. And the real question is how does it take for an orchestra to really change colours, style and habits ?

(A quick PS to mention that unlike what was mentioned in the press and commented here by me, the OSR has not appointed the young Kazuki Yamada on July 2nd. Maybe this is just a delay, maybe this is because first impressions need more time to confirm ... Wait and see ....)

vendredi 30 juillet 2010

Orchestras on Steroids

I was in London for a day of work and picked Gramophone at the newsstand.The venerable magazine new layout is easier to read and it has always interesting content. The accompanying CD includes the storm from Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony played by the Basel Chamber Orchestra under its chief conductor, Giovanni Antonini.

Listening to the excerpt in my car was a surprise, the orchestra sounds huge ... There is always a certain tendency inspired by baroque practices to push the sound but what we have here is more likely the results of engineers trying to beef up the voulme of the ensembles. By comparison, Abbado and Berlin Philh in a joyful 3rd movement of Brahms's Violin concerto with a glorious Gil Saham are underwhelming whereas the Mozart Orchestra playing Pergolese's Stabat Mater genuinely sounds like a Chamber ensemble.

The surprising thing is that in the past, many musicians and particularly baroque players were criticizing Karajan for messing with studios buttons to produce what was considered an unnatural and over-powerful sound. Are not all these baroque chamber ensembles unconsciously trying to resemble like someone they criticised so much ?

mardi 27 juillet 2010

Royal Albert Hall

J Duchen's blog is well-known. I was sorry to read that she felt unwell during the Proms's Meistersinger but saw that I may not be the only one who has a problem with the Royal Albert Hall, read here ...

vendredi 16 juillet 2010

I did not come to praise the Proms ...

It was my intention to watch the opening night of the Proms, Mahler 8 but the cable of my TV may have been (yet again) eaten by my children rabbits. My loss is the blog gain. (More on the Proms here).

The Proms is an initiative for which I am at best ambivalent. It offers at an attractive price a wide range of music. Programs are genuinely varied. If the end of the season brings visiting orchestras which can be often playing works on the safe side, adventurous programs are plentiful.

I first went there in 1978 for a Brendel - Abbado LSO program (Webern op 1, Beethoven 3rd Piano Concerto and Tchaik 5th) and mostly remember the thrill of seeing these artists.

I returned in 1980 for the first BBC SO concert after the musician strike with a program led by Sir John Pritchard with Jessye Norman as soloist. I have few remaining impressions of the performance of Mahler 4, which may have been a one-off case for Jessye Norman but have found memories of Messian's glorious Poème pour Mi. I was not aware of it at the time but this was my best Proms moment.

In 1985, I was studying at Imperial College and the LSO under Colin Davis (not yet Sir Colin) played the same Mahler 8 with Bernum-like huge chorus forces outnumbering the audience. I was then back at the Proms in 1999 for a disappointing Ravel Beethoven Program with an unusual loud VPO under Sir Simon Rattle (I was in the chorus seats and felt that the balances and dynamics were so Un-Viennese). Earlier in the season, I had left the hall during Rameau's les Boréades with the same conductor because I just could not hear the instruments.

My last Proms was a very weak concert with Dudamel and his Gothenburg Orchestra which led me to ask in concertonet if the Albert Hall was not simply the worst of all possible concert halls and if one should not simply move the Proms elsewhere or close them ?

Looking back, I am afraid that I cannot think of one good evening. The stadium-size of the Hall makes music listening a very random event. Can the musicians really hear when they play ? Again, the VPO did not sounded like themselves. Dudamel led a technically poor Symphonie Fantastique but he did a more competent one (if not very Fantastique ...) in the Salle Pleyel with a combination of the French Nouvel Orchestre Philharmonique and his Simon Bolivar forces. 

There is a genuine festive atmosphere and it is a democratic place but quality is just impossible to achieve in such a gigantic venue.

BBC engineers do a good job of capturing a lot of music and produce a good sound but how much is their work and nothing else ? Maybe, I came to praise them, maybe the Proms is a radio - now TV - event and not a musical one ?

(enclosed here a picture of Julius Ceasar staged by Peter Stein at Salzburg's magical Felsenreitschule where every word, every whisper was audible.)

jeudi 15 juillet 2010


Please remember that there was a time when Janacek was unknown and very rarely played. Two persons can be credited for the composer's revival and presence, one is Gérard Mortier who stressed the depth and importance of Janacek as a genuine theatrical composer, the other one is Charles Mackerras who sadly passed away today.

I heard him conduct a magic  Cunning Little Vixen at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris.The performance is available on DVD and I would recommend it as much as the also much-loved recording with the VPO and a glorious Lucia Popp. I also remember that he and his leading Soprano were eating at the little Chinese Restaurant after the performance. Good food, plain and simple, tasty and feeling, like his music.

mercredi 7 juillet 2010

New York New York ...

For those interested, the NY Phil and some other American orchestras are hiring. Pay is said to be good, so ...

Remember that this is not true everywhere. As an example, hiring ensembles from Eastern Europe is and has been a common practice to reduce costs. The Chatelet whom I have so many times regretted the declining standards with the new management did this for West Side Story (in French sorry).

As we are currently in NY for vacations and work, we all went to see West Side Story in Broadway (and for those who go, we found bargain tickets at the TKTS TicketBooth right in front of the theater). Cast was young, talented, energetic.(Josefina Scaglione, the Maria in particular is from Argentina and is really right for this part.)  No Opera voices, good actors, good dancers. Production is smart, just the right amount of activities on stage. Music is just wonderful.

This is what I call pay real tribute to this work. Have they done a better musical ever ?

I was forgetting, yes, musicians were locals.

dimanche 27 juin 2010

Ioan Hollander's Vienna State Opera Departure gala

I saw a large part of the Gala staged at the Vienna Staatsoper to celebrate the last year of Ioan Hollander after 19 years at his head.

Hollander will go into history. These 19 years were great. He ran the place magnificently and God knows that this is an unbelievable tough job. For those who doubt it, I recommend that you read Joseph Volpe's memories reviewed here by yours truly.

This gala showed the breath of artists which have been performing at the Staatsoper. I am no fan of galas but this one was unusual. It would be long to name all of them but Anna Netrebko did a little too much in the Gavotte of Manon which is superb music and what a voice. Krissmaya Stoyanova who did such a great Amelia in Boccanegra earlier in Geneva was superb, Vienna's current tenor Piotr Beczala has charisma, excellent French pronunciation and looks the parts he sings, Johan Bohta's Lohengrin declamation was special, the duo of Genia Kunhmeier and Adrienne Piezoncka at the end of act 1 of Arabella did not quite work out because the singers were not so well balanced, Falk Struckmann missed a few parts in the Iago declamation but compensated with characterisation, Simon Keenleyside was understandbly tired as he appeared after midnight, so was Ramon Vargas who is usually in better shape, Thomas Hampson was back in Austria where I thought he did not wanted to come back. It was also unique to see the smiles and looks of the musicians of the Orchestra when the singing was really special.

Hollander himself presented the program and highlighted Elina Garanca's (who was singing 2 days ago and three days after) "diplomatische Grippe" ... but it was a fitting tribute for Natalie  Dessay to take the trouble to come from Paris and sing as the Staatsoper was where her career took off.

Hollander leaves a house in good shape and the new team will have a hard act to follow through but those who have lived in Paris and have seen what Dominique Meyer has done at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées know that he has done some great stuff.

jeudi 24 juin 2010

Very busy ... end of 2nd quarter ... but

  • A quick editorial (in French) of Geneva's developments at the OSR
  • I recommend "Serving Genius", a biography of Carlo Maria Giulini. It does a great job of describing Giulini's formative years and also analyses well the wonderful conductor musical style. I was not aware that Giulini was born in the Nothern Italy which is so close from Austria. No wonder he was equally at home in Mahler and Verdi. How do we miss such an outstanding musician and how glad am I to have heard him on such great masterpieces.
  • Finally, there is a strong interview of John Adams in the Guardian. Recommended and I was not aware he was so found of West Side Story.

lundi 31 mai 2010

Have you heard Mason Bates ?

He is the LAPO's composer in residence. L Slatkin cancelled a concert (he is reported to have suffered a strike so we wish him prompt recovery) so both John Adams and Jayce Ogren shared duties to replace him for one of their East Coast - West Coast series.

Time for us to hear the broadcast in Europe and to discover that in the program,  Mason Bates's Liquid Interface is a stunning work. Like John Adams or Guillaume Connesson, his handling of orchestral colors and blend of contemporary - electronic scores is first-rate.

I need to spend more time relistening to the work to speak more about it but right now I have no doubt that this is a unique distinctive voice and hope to hear his works soon in the concert halls.

How mainstream is Sibelius ?

I was in Victoria Hall last Thursday for a Sibelius - Henze concert. The Henze was a discovery but I have to admit that Ihave been very early a huge fan of Sibelius whose control of musical form and orchestral colors is just unique.

How accepted is Sibelius even today ? It seems that he is still not that known in Germany and that Rattle has to do some efforts to get a full cycle accepted in Berlin.

Looking at my notes, I first heard the second Symphony with K Penderecki in Paris in 1983 at a concert where I was mostly going to hear Rostropovitch premiere the composer's cell concerto. Two years after in London, I heard the same Symphony with Rattle and the Philharmonia in my encounter with this conductor. Muhai Tang played end 85 the first with the Paris Orchestra and told me that it was the first time the players encountered this piece.

Then I had to wait 1992 to hear Rattle play the same second in London with the LPO followed by Ashkenazy in Boston a few months after. C Telzlaff and Dohnany played the violin concerto in London five years after.

More significant was Salonen and the LAPO toured Europe with a cycle three years ago which allowed to hear the first, third (outstanding work), 6th and 5th ...

(and I cannot I cannot count various encore like the Scene with cranes, a 5 mn max encore played by Rattle and the VPO after a Beethoven 5th in Paris, nor a few Valses Tristes encored with Jansons and the GMYO or P Jaärvi and the VPO ...)

Bottom line, hearing Sibelius in the concert hall is still a rare event. Mahler works are repeated ad nauseam and works are losing freshness whereas fact is that Sibelius remain totally underplayed.

mercredi 26 mai 2010

Kids ...

Claudio Abbado has been admitted to a hospital following exhaustion. His short-term concerts including the Mahler 2nd at la Scala and the Mozart Prokovief Mendelssohn in Paris has not yet been officially cancelled but will be soon ...

We wish him the best and prompt recovery but never expected to see the name of Abbado in this ...

(31/05/2010: A quick udpate, there are plans to move the Pleyel concert in October 2010, so if you have tickets, do not try to get a refund too fast ...)

mardi 18 mai 2010

A few days in Vienna

Back from an extended week-end in Vienna. No Concert or Opera performances to report but music is everywhere and we do recommend the Gustav Mahler und Wien exhibition at the Österreichisches theater museum.

We probably know a lot about Mahler and shedding new light can be difficult. Mahler's Czech influence was well represented and it was a pleasure to see that Hans Rott's picture was visible in the room devoted to Mahler's formative year (Who knows works by Rudolf Kryzyaznowski ?)

The Mahler exhibition was close to one devoted to Thomas Bernhard. Both suffered or fought Austria's conservatism  and were also revered by some circles. In art like in business or politics, it is good to have a clear designated enemy. If these were looking for one today, they should look no further than the mercantilisation of music in Vienna. At every monument, you find cheap concert peddlers dressed in 18th century clothes, trying to get you in some Wiener-Residence Orchestra or Wiener-Mozart-Ensemble. There are everywhere which  probably means that there is a public for this sort of thing and that they must be either tolerated or officially approved.

How did they said: Kleider machen Leute ?

Vienna has also a few museums - centers of interest which arehouses of famous people. Sissi's appartements are enjoyable as they give a good impression of who she was and what her life looked like. Best even is Freud house. A not to be missed visit which shows his encyclopedic knowledge and endless curiosity. One may have doubts as to his enduring legacy but not on his ability to probe.

These are at the opposite of Mozart's house which is not only really empty but hardly tries to make any statement on the composer. Walls are white, there is hardly any content and a video clip of Amadeus nor a few tunes from Magic Flute of Figaro are enough to give a sense of his status and position in Vienna.

While Gérard Mortier was the director of the Paris Opera, he did several lectures on Mozart which were brillant; He portrayed a Mozart at the opposite of either the devilish genius of Amadeus (a brillant movie nonetheless) or the boy genius. In other words, he fought the "Images d'Epinal" of Mozart and would have felt similarly cheated visiting this batiment.

Enclosed here is a picture taken at the first floor of Mozart's house. Was this as clean on his time ?

samedi 1 mai 2010

Neglegted Masterpieces

Hans Rott is not the only composer whose works are unjustly neglegted in concert halls. Allow me to add a selected list of works which are masterpieces which I have never heard live:

  • Villa-Lobos has written a Symfonia which is a Mozart hommage. My friend Muhai Tang recorded it with his Zurich forces. It is a work full of rythmic subtleties, elegance and finesse with yes, a Mozartian spirit.

  • Do you know Rzewki's The people united will not be defeated. This is a modern set in the line of the Goldberg Variations or Webern ones, full of invention and internal logic. A fascinating titanic work:

  • Kodaly: if you thought that Bartok composed the definitive Concerto for Orchestra, you still need to hear Kodaly's one
  • Martinu: Zimmerman is touring the world with the Czech composer second violin Concerto, it is a stong rapshodic work. There are also some great piano concertos from Martinu.
  • Ives: Everyone would agree on the importance of his works, yet, I have only heard live his 4th Symphony (In Boston under Ozawa in 1992) (and why have I ever just heard one work by Copland  ?)
  • Nielsen: Sibelius is starting to feature in some concert programs: Jaarvi will open his tenure in Paris with the Kullervo which is a stunning work but Nielsen remain totally absent. Once again, I just heard the 3rd Symphony with Soprano and Barytone ages ago.
  • Speaking of Nordic composers, you should know Stenhamar's second Symphony
So please, we all like Tchaikowsky's Pathétique,  Mahler's Second, Brahms ..., but these would be welcome.

Question to you all: what should be on your wish-list ?

mercredi 28 avril 2010

A few posts on Hans Rott

Hans Rott has been the object of some news and some contreversy:
  • It seems that Pavo Jaarvi is preparing a recording of the Symphony with his Frankurt Orchestra
  • His comments, somewhat provocative, can be found here
  • Additional comments on Kenneth Woods's blog are there

jeudi 22 avril 2010

This morning at 8 h 59 ...

  • Rushing to the Scala web site
  • 9 h sharp, booking page overloaded
  • Hitting reload key a few times, managed to get in
  • Where are they. OK, I understand I need to go to page 2 forAbbado concerts
  • High hopes: 53 seats for the Friday one; this is 53 more than I expected
  • Selecting 2
  • Proceeding
  • The site does not recognize my home town which is a small Swiss village, I need to change and use my work adress in Geneva which should be ok
  • Too late, 53 seats are gone before you have the time to say Resurrection
  • A look at my watch, ..., it is 9 h 02 !!

    (Abbado has a long history with Mahler's 2nd Symphony. I first heard him conduct it with the LSO in 1979 ... and he has recorded it several times with I think the Chicago and the Vienna. This being said, the DVD has managed to bring, even at the levels achieved, something more ...

    So for us, mere mortals, this is an outstanding Document to have ...)

        mardi 20 avril 2010

        Some more elements on Hans Rott

        http://kennethwoods.net/blog1/tag/rott/ courtesy of Kenneth Woods.(It also includes a far too short video of Paavo Jarvi on Rott's Symphony)

        (Let me add a few more words: I discovered Ken's blog by googling Hans Rott. Initially, I had planned to do an analysis of the Symphony and in particular of the premonitions of Mahler, the influence of Bruckner and even of Brahms .... but after reading Ken's comments and analysis, I have to admit that this is not needed. This is far better done by him.)

        lundi 19 avril 2010

        I urge you to discover Hans Rott's Symphony

        Henry-Louis de la Grange's fascinating biography tells the story of Mahler along with 2 room-mates being kicked out of their rented attics in Vienna for singing too loudly the act 1 of Walküre. The 2 others were Hugo Wolf and Hans Rott.

        Rott died early. His mental health it seemed was poor and he suffered from paranoia believing that Brahms wanted to kill him.His musical legacy is small (see details at the site of the Rott society here) His symphony has recently ben played in concert by Järvi father and son (Paavo since they are several active) and radio broadcast could be found on some yahoo groups.

        This is an absolute masterpiece wich Mahler called the founder of the new Symphony.

        Do try to hear it (and if you want access to these yahoo postings, let me know). I need in the future to resume back tho this work but let me say that the orchestration reflects the influence of Bruckner although I wish that Bruckner had gone the Rott way and that from a spirit point of view, this seems like going towards Mahler First Symphony. A revelation.

        This is a work of the highest order. His Symphony should be mandatory to all major orchestras worldwide.

        samedi 17 avril 2010

        Disruptions in the sky

        Many consequences of the ash cloud: My colleagues are stranded in places they went to work, so are some of my company Business Partners.

        Needless to say, the world biggest users of flights are musicians and the NYT started identifying the first cancellations and reports.

        This should be good news for fans of Gergiev who seems to be stranded in New York as we speak but his agenda was already very full ...

        jeudi 8 avril 2010

        Movements in Geneva 3

        I was last week in Paris where several friends discussed the recent events in Geneva. A quick summary of the OSR Press Conference is included in my review of Janowski's concert here.

        In addition, let me add a few points in no particular order from the conference:
        • 11 new players are in the orchestra which received more than 100 times the number of applicants
        • All concerts are more than 95% booked hence the move to double the concerts in Geneva next season (please note that although the box-office indicates that they are often full, there are often empty seats in the higher sections ?)
        • The orchestra can be proud of being of the happy few with regular recording engagements, the last CD produced was Bruckner's 5th Symphony.
        • Compared to several other orchestras, the next season is fairly versatile with original works being played (Martinu, rare Strauss and Bruch, ...)
        • Sibelius' s 5th was presented as a rarety ... This is a major major work by a major major composer !
        • Martinu's second violin concerto will also be performed by Frank-Peter Zimemrman. It is a masterpiece. if you do not know it, this is a highly recommended work.
        • Marek Janowski said that he was only confortable conducting Mahler's second and third Symphonies but not so for the others which he let to other conductors.
        • Another look at the program shows that the orchestra is reinviting musicians whom they developed a rapport with, which is a very good way to deepen a relation and get good results.
        • The OSR will team up with the Tonhalle to play Schoenberg's Gurrelieder in Luzern and Montreux. When asked why not Geneva, S Roger said that if this work were to be performed in Victoria Hall, musicians would be on the hall and audience could only be accomodated on stage
        • The weight of the musicians for the selection of their new director has been increased (although to be fair, the precise selection process was not 100% clear ...)
        All in all, the team emerged as competent and inspired confidence.

        lundi 29 mars 2010

        Bon Anniversaire

        Constant travel has made me miss Pierre Boulez's 85th birthday, celebrated in Vienna with a Szymanowski, Debussy, Boulez concert in Vienna.

        85, really ! Boulez's modernism and intellectual intensity has never stopped and is just unbelievable. For those of my generation, his return to Europe to oversee the creation and development of Ircam was a historical event. I would identify two among his many achievements:
        • Having us understand how music has logically and historically evolved from say Wagner to Boulez ...
        • Helping us realise that modern music is not about agonising on the meaning of such dissonance but simply playing the notes with rigour and focus. 
        The latter one is not a trusim. This is true also so true of all composers and explain what Boulez has brought to our understanding of Wagner, Mahler or Janacek and so many others.

        jeudi 25 mars 2010

        Do listen to ...

        Two great new recordings of modern French composers not to be missed:

        • The first one is the complete Solos for Orchestra by Pascal Dusapin with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Liège under Pascal Rophé. The orchestral sounds that Dusapin obtains are unique. There are no electronic equiments to enhance modify the sounds. He just has more ideas.
        • The other one is a set of orchestral works by Guillaume Connesson with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra under Stéphane Denève. If you like John Adams, you will like Connesson's brillant music. It is fully accessible yet modern and simply smart. There is a piano and orchestra work played beautifully by Eric Le Sage which is a wonderful successor of the final movement of Ravel's G Major Piano Concerto.

        A quick note, Supernova has already been recorded live at the France's Festival Présences (which also celebrated Dusapin). The live recording has less polish but more drama.

        Most important is that it is a masterpiece which deserves mutliple recordings.

        Even more important is that modern music is alive and well.

        lundi 22 mars 2010

        Wolfgang Wagner

        Has passed away at the age of 90.

        I would recommend to anyone the excellent book of Jonathan Carr: the Wagner Clan to be able to both appreciate Wolfgang Wagner positive and dark side. Whatever one can feel on his conservative stagings as well as on his overpowering grip on the Bayreuth Festival, his personality was larger than life, operatic and definitely Wagnerian.

        How the Festival evolves will be an object of interest, the new family structure does not have its lease for life anymore and will have to prove its capacity. Singing standards have lowered in the recent past, allowing us to get better performances in many places such as New York, Berlin or even Paris (under the old régime of Gérard Mortier who tried to stage a coup in Bayreuth.) Rumors are that he secured the programs for many of the next seasons are already booked and "Wolfgang Wagner-approved".

        But this would be without recognising that at its best, during the time he ran it, the Festival produced some of its most glorious performances.

        samedi 20 mars 2010

        ebb and flow in Lucerne

        The temptation to go to visit Lucerne to hear Abbado conduct the Simon Bolivar Orchestra and meet so many friends was so great that to went there yesterday.

        This was my first time in Lucerne which is a lovely very Swiss city with a view from the lake which is breathtaking. As a building, the KKL is very dark both inside and outside and the chairs are among the most uncomfortable I know. This being said, the acoustics are really first rate and one can understand why so many musicians are making of this place their work center.

        The history of the Simon Bolivar Orchestra does not need to be told. It is a though-provoking example of music helping young kids to develop a collective discipline to build a better life. Now that they have so much success, I was wondering how many of the initial concept is still there and whether there is not a little trace of complacency in their playing.

        There was an astonishing number of musicians on stage. I counted more than 130 for the Scythian Suite of Prokofiev. I was dreading this bombastic work which started really but really loud but ended enjoying it tremendously. It had swagger, energy and an Italian elegance. It was thrilling.

        The Lulu-Suite of Berg was more problematic. It was a soft rendering that rounded many edges. The work had been indeed very rehearsed which led to a brilliant ostinato but the work requires sulfur, sweat and blood.  Notes were there but is not there a limit to having this work played by a youth orchestra whose world is so far away from this ? (I could be wrong but the trombones had a rough spot in the first movement. Yes, one can play wrong notes on 12 tone music.)

        The soprano was Berlin-based Anna Prohaska which lacked individuality. She did not sang-spoke  the series of nein before the big shrill which had various members of the audience jump from their seat. The Soprano came back with Pamina's aria as an encore (what a great line to put on the singer's resume ...). Nothing wrong with it but nothing special either. What was very distinguished was Abbado 's revelatory brisk tempo allowing the music to breathe with no heaviness and no morbidity.

        Tchaikovsky's 6 is a good choice for Abbado whom I remember hearing a moving soul-searching performance in Salzburg with the Berliner in 1993. The orchestra showed some of their limitations. They were brilliant in "loud" (for want of a better word) passages but could not sustain enough colours and sound in the softer passages. Woodwind players lacked a bit of roundness and probably the gravitas of the last movement escapes them somewhat the young players. This being said, there was a feeling of togetherness in the second movement definitely thanks to Abbado inspirational conducting and the third movement had a lovely flowing tempo with well-detailed string staccatos.

        Abbado was on good form, elegant and energetic and to quote a dear friend said, not bad for someone who was nearly dead 10 years ago. Hearing him remains so special and I look forwards to the forthcoming June Paris concert.

        We left the following by a visit to the Wagner museum and let you appreciate the view he got from his house.

        mardi 16 mars 2010

        Note for Swiss Wagnerians

        I was yesterday at the Dress Rehearsal of Parsifal at the Grand Theatre. The production is classic, beautiful to look (especially in the Flower Maiden scne at act 2) at while being a little short of PersonenRegie.Singing is fairly homogeneous. Dohmen is a much better Gurnemanz than Amfortas at Easter under Abbado, his personal severity being on line with the character, words so clear and notes so solid. I was less impressed by the Kundry of L Braun and the Amfortas of D Roth, both competent singers but somewhat pale and lacking tension. To be fair with them, this is a rehearsal and they could have been marking. Klaus Florian Vogt deserves a few lines: he signs with a disarming naturalness and basically never forces. This works wonderfully until the Act 2 Kundry kiss where he needs to rise and ... become Parsifal. Maybe because this is a dress rehearsal but I was missing sheer drama there. But the voice is something to marvel at.

        What was a discovery was the excellence of the conducting of John Fiore. Long-lined legato with a keen sense of characterisation. This is a natural Wagnerian relishing every note of the work. The OSR played well for him with more colour from the strings than usual.

        Approved by Beckmesser. Definitely not to be missed.

        lundi 15 mars 2010

        I am fearful ...

        While looking at the new season of the Orchestre de Paris, I have read details of the project of the upcoming Philharmonie de Paris.

        Having a good hall is fundamental to the development of a coherent sound. and basically a personality. This is what has happened over decades in places like Vienna or Amsterdam to name the most obvious examples. This is why I am fearful for the OP.

        As I explained in a 2006 blog entry on an Overgrown path, French orchestras have been shifted from one inadequate hall to the other. The newly renovated Salle Pleyel is a genuine success and the resident orchestras, Chung's Nouvel Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio-France and the OP have made strong progress achieved by regular work in a hall where they can hear themselves.

        Perspectives at the OP should be bright, Paavo Järvi, their new chief conductor, is a glorious musician and the future season looks superb. Why then do this forthcoming move to a new hall ? I have the following concerns:

        • Past experience with the Bastille is a proof that big state-funded construction plans can really go bad ...
        • Is there really an audience for a new concert hall: Paris has Bastille, Garnier, (Chatelet is definitely a hall for musicals and no longer for classical music), the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, Salle Gaveau, la Cité de la musique, ... and many other which I have forgotten ?
        • finally, the new hall would be at periphery of Paris, accessing it is not simple and it is not the most pleasant of the Parisian neighbourhood. Is not there a risk of alienating many ?
         So to quote a typical business aphorism, is not this a case where the "if it is not broken do not fix it" rule should be applied ? I really wish them the best but fear the worst.

        jeudi 11 mars 2010

        Unexpectedly ... not for you and I

        EMI is replacing its head of the recorded music division by a Goldman Sachs advisor ... and some more bad news for EMI in French here.

        lundi 8 mars 2010

        Philip Langridge

        Very sad to read that Philip Langridge passed away. He was the very example that one can be a tenor with a great voice, supreme elegance and keen intelligence.

        His repertory was also very original. I heard him in a subtle Shuisky in Boris Goudonov under Abbado, an anguished Laca in Jenufa under Rattle and an mesmerizing Aaron in Schoenberg's Moses und Aaron in Salzburg under Levine in the Ponelle production.

        Who will now be able to speak for Moses ?

        lundi 1 mars 2010

        Happy Birthday

        The whole musical world is celebrating Chopin's 200th anniversary. This is justice as Chopin is a genius composer.

        A quick parallel: Think of Monet and the impressionists. When their first works were shown to the audience, they were derided by conservative audience. Chopin's harmonics are similarly very modern paving the way to Debussy and Ravel.

        The lesson is that one can really be worldly popular while breaking the rules.

        dimanche 28 février 2010

        Why you should not care about Abbey Road

        No need to remind the readers on EMI trying to sell the Abbey Road studios. Lots of media and big names (none from the clasical music world) outcrys so EMI's owners backed down and stopped the sale. To ensure that the crown jewel of English culture would never be sold to Chinese investors or worse, the UK government declared Abbey Road a historical treasure, a protected species status or whatever.

        Given the huge losses at EMI, private equity investor did exactly the right thing: look at the balance sheet and get rid of non productive assets,which is exactly what Abbey Road studios are, a piece real estate in prime location. A private equity investor like Terra Firma is going to buy companies which are either in turn of turnaround or stable companies bought with debt to generate more value, the so-called LBOs (Levergaded Buy-Outs) made famous thanks to the a splendid business book called Barbarians at the gate which is more gripping than 24 (disclosure: I run a LBO duirng the day ...).

        In the first place, the real issue is that Terra Ferma should not have invested into a record company. This is not a good investment: budgets are now going to live events and less to records, piracy among at least the non classical world is dramatic, fickle stars require huge fees and can always create their own label. Gone are the days where a record company could make or break a star.

        More importantly, gone are the days where someone would go into a record shop and ask for an EMI CD as a strong brand.

        Even more important in our case, days when someone would go into a record shop asking for a CD of music recorded in Abbey Road never existed.

        Concert Halls are becoming more and more full of recording technology and are the place where music is being set for posterity. This is true for all sorts of music: the best selling album of Simon and Garfunkel is the magical live at Central Park ..., all major Opera Houses are releasing endless versions of Wagner's Ring in spite of this being one of the most expensive productions to set ...

        For classical music which is our focus, record buyers are more likely to enjoy say live from Bayreuth Thielemann's latest Ring cycle over say Solti classic studio pionner because they heard it live. They are more likely to ask for live music conducted by Dudamel on CD or DVD because they have heard them at the proms or on various TV programs ...

        Abbey Road is a relic of the past. Terra Ferma should never had invested in EMI and may loose a fortune. I am sorry for them but as a music lover, I want them to have the ability for them to continue doing some recording and help good music be heard and in trying to dispose of Abbey Road, they probably made the right choice.

        mercredi 24 février 2010

        En vrac ....

        The Met 2010 - 2011 season has been announced. Opening night will be Wagner's Rheingold under James Levine who will follow later with a Walküre. Both productions will replace the "realistic" one of Otto Schenk and will be done by Robert Lepage. There will be a number of shared productions: the wonderful Traviata from Salzburg by Willy Decker replacing the ridiculous Zefirelli one,  the ROH Don Carlos from Nicolas Hytner as well as Peter Sellars's historic production of Nixon in China conducted by John Adams himself.

        For comparison, I heard Adams conduct this piece with the same staging and probably the same singers in December 1992  in the Bobigny Theater. Around 25 years will have been needed to have this absolute masterpiece finally be presented at the Met ...

        There are also some strong names: Sir Simon Rattle conducting Pelleas with Madalena Kozena as Mélisande, Peter Stein producing Boris with René Pape under the baton of Gergiev and William Christie conducting Cosi. With the mix of usual suspects returning, I have to say that once again, this looks very good and I am convinced that Gelb knows what he is doing.

        On other news, Bayreuth casting is available. Please note that Edith Haller will sing Sieglinde. Yours truly heard her in 2007 when she sang Friea, Helmwige, the Third Norn and Gutrune and was very impressed by her.

        Best recoveries to Placido Domingo who is showing signs of being human and guess who is the likely successor of Thielemann in Munich ?

        dimanche 21 février 2010

        A few interesting posts

        More on the Salzburg Easter Festival scandal can be found here.

        Also go to the LSO on Tour blog to read some of Valéry Gergiev's comments during a rehearsal and understand what he would imply as characterisation.

        mardi 16 février 2010

        Bad conscience of a critic

        I really wanted to do a positive report on Alexandre Tharaud's Geneva concert. He is an excellent pianist full of originality which I have often enjoyed in the past. His first half entirely devoted to Scarlatti was great but the Chopin left me somewhat puzzled and I could not in all honesty be as upbeat as I really wanted to.(My comments however were high praise compared to my colleague Sebastien Foucart at Barenboim's Chopin recital.)

        There is a passage in the carnets of Roland Barthes about Chopin that probably explains what happened: I do not remember the exact words that Barthes used but his comment is that he had troubled enjoying Rubinstein in Chopin because his rubato was different than the one he himself used when playing.

        Maybe what this is implied here is that for Chopin more than any other composer, we know some works so well via recordings that any changes are going to be making us feeling uneasy. I grew listening to Rubinstein and Pollini whose style could be described as more objective and coherent than other performers, Horowitz coming to mind for one. Because of this, every diversion and change of pulse is going to jump to our face as the "rubato different from the one we are used to ..."

        (Since I am speaking of Rubinstein, I have to tell a personal story. When I was a kid, Rubinstein could often be spotted at concerts of the likes of Barenboim, Pollini, Ashkenazy, ... I remember seeing for the first time at a Barenboim Beethoven Chopin Piano recital in January 1976 where I was amazed as much by his presence as by the Waldstein Sonata which I was hearing for the first time ...

        I must have been 14 and remember once crossing someone asking myself if this guy knew how much he looked like Rubinstein until 5 minutes after, I realised that I had walked past my idol and called me all sorts of names ...

        He lived actually not far. I started going to school with the cover of the record of Chopin's first concerto in my bag to ask for an autograph just in case. Needless to say, I never walked past him although my grandmother did and came back praising how approachable and charming he was ...

        Whenever I hear a record of him playing, I still marvel at the cantabile, the naturalness of tempi, ..., and his unobtrusive runbato)

        dimanche 14 février 2010

        Lamest Excuse of the week ...

        Geneva is very cold these days, Minus 8 when I leave in the morning ... This has not prevented Alexandre Tharaud to visit Victoria Hall as well as Neeme Järvi to remind us the the OSR potential. Meanwhile Lang Lang has cancelled his Sunday appearance. I personnally received the following mail:

        "Après le début triomphal de la tournée suisse, le 7 février à Zurich, le récital de Lang Lang initialement prévu le 14 Février 2010 à 17h00 au Victoria Hall de Genève, doit être reporté. Le pianiste de renommée internationale souffre d’une inflammation de l’index de la main droite et est contraint à un repos d’une semaine."

        My personal translation: He does too many concerts, had not filled the hall (because of the cold ...) and decided to take a break. Those unhappy can find consolation in the Lang Lang store where scarfs and shoes at the pianist image can be purchased on line ... and this has nothing to do with music.

        jeudi 11 février 2010

        When was the first time you heard the music of Gustav Mahler ?

        Hear here the answer to this question from leading conductors. Not to be missed. Listen to the end of Janssons's comments on the "Auferstehen" ...

        In my case, I first heard the beginning of the Abschied on Das Lied von die Erde and stopped midway finding the music too morbid. I really entered later to Mahler's world via the cycle of the Knaben Wunderhorn, which I would describe even as today as one of the most direct and purest music that exists.I remember discovering in concert Mahler 6th for the first time with the European Youth Orchestra under Abbado where I jumped through the roof at the last hammer blow which I was not expecting.

        mercredi 10 février 2010

        Eine Salzburgische Maskerade ...

        The entire intelligencia of Austria is under shock as the Salzburg Easter Festival director, Michael Dewitte, had been found guilty of stealing funds and other embezzlements charges. It seems that more than 2 M € were missing.

        This seems to be also the case of Klaus Kretschmer, the Summer Festival Technical Director who attempted suicide in Salzburg. Reports also indicate that he betrayed Festival rules by working both for the Summer and Easter Organisation, which sounds funny given the relative small size of the theaters.

        Reports indicate that Peter Alward, retired EMI executive, will replace Dewitte.

        All of this is unfortunate and Austria may have some kind of habits of coming with such stories.

        The Easter Festival is a place where I have some fond memories. It had, at least in my time, special seats for music students which enabled me to attend some unique and unforgettable moments during Karajan's time.

        I am pretty sure that in the currencies of the time, more money had been going through the Festival than now. Think about it for a few seconds, Karajan may be described as an autocrat which he probably was but the music was outstanding and there was no such misbehaviour.

        (PS: Thanks to my friend in Berlin to correct my many mistakes)

        lundi 8 février 2010

        Not to be missed

        The Salle Pleyel has started recording live some of their concerts, some of which are available on their excellent site. What I have heard and seen is superb musically but also visually with a lot of variety in the images perspective. Be careful, they are available only available for a short period. Do not miss the Tchaikowsky cycle done by Gergiev and his Mariinsky team.

        Is there any real need for studio recordings when you can have access to these documents ? Concert halls are the future of classical music recordings.

        (PS for techies: these videos are in Flash which means that they would not run on future Ipads.)

        La mémoire courte

        After the UK, it is now the French music press which is raving on Barenboim's Beethoven - Schoenberg cycle. One of these is the French "Le Monde". Yet in January 1998, Barenboim should have been appointed the musical director of the Bastille Opera yet could not agree with the administrative director, Pierre Bergé. Barenboim asked for arbitration at the French authorities who, for reasons that have not been made really completely open gave reason to Bergé. (Bergé has been a loyal supporter and financial backer of former Président François Mitterand among others activities).

        About the same time, French media which is rumored to take their cues from the French government, right or left, started a series of articles criticising the work that Barenboim had done as musical director of the Orchestre de Paris. The most aggressive one was Le Monde, which if I remember well, hinted at the conductor's lack of abilities to conduct Opéra as well as to hold an orchestra together. We all know what Barenboim has since accomplished in the pit in places like Berlin, Bayreuth, Milan, ... We also know of the artistic struggles the Bastille suffered right after ...

        This being said, on the 14th of January, the evening Barenboim's sacking of Bastille was announced, he was conducting a concert performance of Act 2 of Tristan with Behrens, Lakes, Meier and Tomlinson. I was there and remember the performance which was stunning. The audience applauded the soloists as they arrived on stage but gave a special welcome to Barenboim. He clearly was not expecting this gesture and probably because of this and also because of the insight he has always displayed for this work, he gave a really special performance.

        After all what happened, Barenboim could have had many reasons to severe all relations with France which he did not. He has not spoken about this topic but I am convinced that this January 14 performance influenced him.

        When the Divan Orchestra played in Paris in 2006, Paris's intelligencia was everywhere to be seen all smiling and applaudng , including the flamboyant Culture Minister of the time of Barenboim's firing. Honestly, will they ever admit that they have probably sacked a great musician who may even one day receive the Peace Nobel Prize ?

        (PS: while Barenboim was the musical director of the OP, he definitely improved the overall level, started the Chorus of the Orchestre de Paris and managed to go from the infamous Palais des Congres to the Salle Pleyel. He also convinced several artists to make of Paris a place where they would regularly perform, like Jean-Pierre Ponnelle whom with they performed Mozart Operas at the Théatre des Champs-Elysées. Another such artists was Arturo Benedetti-Michelangeli whom they performed Beethoven's third Piano Concerto and the following year, Schumann's Piano concerto. The latter was recorded but not approved by Michelangeli. It has been issued and, in spite of a few flaws is worth a hearing.)

        jeudi 4 février 2010

        Fight club

        While Fabio Luisi has abruptly resigned from the famous Dresden Staatskapelle and Christian Thielemann has to fulfill its duties in Munich, the more modest Lyon Orchestra has its shares of tensions.

        Let us hope that this will not happen in Geneva as well.

        mardi 2 février 2010


        Blogging is fun. One can write short messages, update them if needed, add pictures and videos in a few seconds. I cannot do any of these when I write for Concertonet whose readership is more than 20 k worldwide. This is not an issue of paying a price to reach such an audience, it is a genuine complement to te work done in Concertonet.

        I have added a few blogs on my personal list. Most except one are written by people who like me do not seem to be performers but commentators. On an overgrown path is the one that got me started thanks to the encouragement of its writer, Bob Shingleton. All of you must be aware of Alex Ross whose book The Rest is Noise is a must-read. Alex has developed several outstanding pages where he analyses musical examples showing how the language of composers evolved in parallel during modern times. I look forwards to his forthcoming new book: listen to this. The two newcomers are Intermezzo and Boulezian. Like Bob's, both originate from the UK. One has always informative and unusual news, the other one some sound comments. Both must be having a great time listening to the Schoenberg Beethoven cycle given by Daniel Barenboim and his Berliner forces.

        The one blog which stands aside is the one by John Adams, often labelled the most played composer of our time. I cannot recommend too strongly Adams's music which I discovered while studying at Harvard in 1990. Rattle came to conduct the BSO in the choral piece Harmonium. Probably, the only reason this very piece is not as often played is because it requires a large number of performers. It is definitely a masterpiece which blends Sibelius-like lines with modern harmonies and a mastery of orchestration. After hearing it, I was so much in the sound world created by the piece that I "suffered" in the noisy Boston Metro. I felt very lucky to catch him conducting Boulez's own Ensemble Intercontemporain in his music as well as in the iconic Nixon in China. I heard the controversial Klinghoffer whose music, especially the choruses are superb but whose message behind the stiry escapes me.

        In addition to his music, Adams is a prolific writer and his autobiography is a fascinating study of how he assimilated and then integrated and developed outside complementary and conflicting musical styles to create his own. Again, this is a must-read. His blog is witty and entertaining and he does not comment on other people works. It is the very example of a creators blog, not a mere critic one.

        vendredi 29 janvier 2010

        When is early early enough ?

        Does the prospect of hearing Pollini playing Mozart K 488 and Schoenberg Piano Concerto under James Levine and the Boston Symphony Orchestra sounds good to you ? It certainly does to me and it is good to read that both artists are announced in this program for March 26 in Carnegie Hall.

        Do not jump in a plane or the Metro, we have to wait somewhat. This is due for 2011 and not 2010.

        January 2010 is not even over that Carnegie Hall has already announced its 2010 - 2011 season. They are not alone in such pre-announcement. It has been possible for a while to book tickets for Sir Simon Rattle's 2011 London concerts with the Berlin Philharmonic.

        There could be some good reasons for these early announcements:

        - First, if you are a die-hard of some of these artists, you will block out already some dates in your agenda. Carnegie Hall competes with the Met, the Avery Fisher Hall, Alice Tully Hall and many other venues. This is equivalent to Apple's deciding that they have enough material to present to the general audience a product not totally finished but enough so as to build anticipation and black competition.

        - Second, this is good for the cash-flow of these halls. It allows for some money to come in early which helps financing the tours, get some interest incomes, reduces working capital needs  ...

        But honestly, March 2011, this sounds so far away ...

        PS: Carnegie season looks pretty good, as always.