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.