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.