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 ....)