Sunday, August 28, 2016
Jeremy Flower (file photo) The Portland Chamber Music Festival wrapped up for this year on Saturday with its usual pleasantly eclectic blend of old and new, and in this case with one intriguingly non-standard ensemble supplementing the conventional groupings. Mozart’s Piano Quartet No. 2 in E-flat Major, K. 493 opened. The history of his two piano quartets, among the first of their kind (possible predecessors are quartets by Johann Schobert, F.X. Dušek and Emanuel Förster), is fraught with commercial frustration. It turns out the public wasn’t enthusiastic for keyboard chamber music for ensembles bigger than a trio, especially employing the more advanced techniques Mozart used—he was mostly busy on piano concertos at the time. Although a few composers tried it out in the two decades after Mozart’s second quartet was published in 1785, it really wasn’t until Schumann (who of course also invented the piano quintet) that this format took off. The quartet is not really concerto-like in that its piano part does not entirely dominate the strings (though it is in the typical three movements of a concerto). However, the musical argument, especially of the first movement, is more densely reasoned, using a motive derived from an ornamental turn to drive the development (and recurs in the slow movement as well—though one would expect turns in such a setting). As performed by Henry Kramer, piano, with Harumi Rhodes, violin, Carol Rodland, viola, and Brant Taylor, cello, it was vigorous, dramatic and well-shaped by dynamic structure, though there were some problems of sonic balance as Kramer could get too aggressive and Rhodes often failed to project adequately. The slow movement also revealed felicities of dynamic phrase shaping, with delicacy and poise in the execution, though we wish Kramer could control his body English—it’s quite distracting in an ensemble piece. The finale is essentially lighthearted with occasional intimations of darkness. The writing here is indeed more concerto-like, with lovely and sprightly solo licks for the piano, which Kramer, along with the rest, carried off attentively and with appropriate élan. The first half closed with Self Destruct by Jeremy Flower, written in 2008 for the interesting grouping of electronics (the composer), viola (Dov Scheindlin), two cellos (Susannah Chapman and Taylor), marimba (Matthew Gold) and piano (Kramer). Unlike Mozart, the particularities of whose life are usually hard to detect in his work, Flower wears his life on his sleeve, or at least his pen: this piece, he observed both in his written program note and his onstage introduction, depicted his distraught mental state as he struggled to get the composition done on time for its commissioner (many of us have been there and can empathize). In two movements titled “Open Stress Wound” and “Implode,” it is not quite as easy to read the stress as Flower implied, but in the alternations of single lines of strings blended with electronics and then opening out into full ensemble sonorities, one can sense the idea of constricted blood vessels and spurts of creative energy. The idiom Flowers uses is something that doesn’t often hit the classical concert stage hereabouts, a kind of new-agey pulse overlaid with polytonality, creating a gently jazzy backbeat to homophonic strings. The second movement featured further string-electronics duets noodling anxiously against a kind of walking beat (one thought of Ives’s “street beat”). There were some lovely more conventionally melodic passages for viola, charmingly wrought by Scheindlin, and an interesting one for piano against wailing string harmonics. It ended morendo in the strings against a barely perceptible marimba. It presents an engaging surface, which may invite listeners to check it out again to see how much juice is actually in it. Self Destruct (Russell Burleigh photo) Dvořák’s String Sextet in A Major, op. 48 is, surprisingly, something of a rarity: PCMF presented it in 2010 and an augmented Borromeo Quartet played it in 2013, but BMInt records do not show another performance in its coverage zone since its founding in 2009. It is delightfully full of the composer’s signature tunefulness without the annoying prolixity of much of his early writing. Katherine Fong and Jennifer Elowitch, violins, with Scheindlin, Rodland, Taylor and Chapman, sounded smooth and mellow in the first movement, blending string sonority with no loss of individual lines. The dumka slow movement kept moving at a graceful gait, with moments of soulful pathos. The furiant scherzo was appropriately brisk and playful in the fast sections and gently swaying in the contrasting ones. The variations finale (OK, so this constitutes the final finale of the festival) saw Scheindlin eloquent in the theme statement, with similar praise for Taylor and Fong in the variations featuring their instruments, with the latter leading the only seriously up-tempo one to bring the work, the evening, and this year’s festival to a festive conclusion. Vance R. Koven studied music at Queens College and New England Conservatory, and law at Harvard. A composer and practicing attorney, he was for many years the chairman of Dinosaur Annex Music Ensemble. The post Electric Eclecticism in Maine appeared first on The Boston Musical Intelligencer .
By Jacob Stockinger Sure, for a long time musicology has traced how musical styles , forms and instrumentation have changed. But now some researchers are using computers to investigate – and revive – an older keyboard technique from the 19th century that differs dramatically from the more modern technique generally in use. (Below is a photo by Alexander Refsum Jensenius .) It turns out not to be as outdated or useless as many assume. It changes not only how the music of Mozart , Haydn , Beethoven , Schubert and Chopin sounds but also the ease with which the performer can play it. Here is a story from The New York Times that the Ear had stashed from about a year ago. But he thinks it still seems timely – and fascinating. And he hopes you do too. Here is a link: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/21/science/playing-mozart-piano-pieces-as-mozart-did.html See what you think and leave a comment. The Ear wants to hear. Tagged: Arts , Austria , Beethoven , Beethoven and Mozart , Chamber music , Chopin , chords , Christina Kobb , Classical music , computer , Cornell University , England , etude , Finger , forearm , France , Franz Schubert , hand , Haydn , Hummel , Inge Godoy , Jacob Stockinger , Ludwig van Beethoven , Madison , Mozart , Music , musicology , New York Times , Norway , Norwegian Academy of Music , notes , Oslo , performer , Piano , posture , research , scales , sitting , technique , The New York Times , treatise , United States , university , University of Oslo , University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music , University of Wisconsin–Madison , Vienna , Wisconsin
“Choreographers have tended to avoid Mozart’s music when making dances, for fear their steps will look trivial in comparison. … There is a lingering sense that dance, which involves physical bodies subject to the laws of gravity and propelled by muscle, will somehow drag down the music’s graceful architecture. … Ridiculous! says Mr. Morris.”
The view from the main stage Orchestra Pit at the Royal Opera House © ROH/Sim Canetty-Clarke, 2014 Eight Royal Opera productions will be broadcast over the coming months on BBC Radio 3 . Each broadcast will be available on BBC iPlayer for 30 days after broadcast. Details are as follows: Il barbiere di Siviglia LIVE - 17 September 2016 (6.30pm BST) Il barbiere di Siviglia, The Royal Opera © ROH / Mike Hoban 2011 Rossini ’s Il barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville) has a score that fizzes with musical brilliance, from Figaro’s famous entrance aria ‘Largo al factotum’ to the frenzy of the Act I finale, when the five principal voices all pile on top of each other. Werther - 15 October 2016 (6.30pm BST) Joyce DiDonato as Charlotte and Vittorio Grigòlo as Werther in Werther, Royal Opera House © 2016 ROH. Photograph by Bill Cooper Werther's excellent libretto, written by Edouard Blau and Paul Milliet , distills Goethe ’s Romantic masterpiece and intensifies Goethe’s depiction of two passionate people, each intent on hurting the other. The score displays Massenet ’s gift for melody, with the ‘Clair de lune’, ‘Lied d’Ossian’ and Charlotte’s ‘Prière’ now some of the composer's most loved music. This broadcast offers another chance to hear two of the finest performances at Covent Garden last Season from Joyce DiDonato and Vittorio Grigòlo . Il trovatore - 22 October 2016 (6.30pm BST) Željko Lučić as Count di Luna in Il trovatore, The Royal Opera © 2016 ROH. Photograph by Clive Barda Verdi ’s Il trovatore is probably best known for its ‘gypsy’ music: the Anvil Chorus , Azucena’s ‘Stride la vampa’ and Manrico’s heroic ‘Di quella pira’ are key examples. But Verdi wrote wonderful music for all four of his leads and the score boasts a host of thrilling ensembles and chorus numbers including the Count's aristocratic aria ‘Il balen del suo sorriso’ and Leonora’s prayer. Norma - 5 November 2016 (6.30pm GMT) Norma. The Royal Opera 2016/17 Season Bellini ’s bel canto masterpiece Norma is perhaps most acclaimed as a vehicle for the lead soprano – key arias include ‘Casta diva’, Norma’s Act I hymn to the chaste moon; and Act II’s ‘Dormono entrambi’, as she contemplates the unthinkable act of killing her children. But the opera’s dramatic potency rests in its breathtaking ensembles, most strikingly in Norma’s duets with Pollione and Adalgisa, the Act I trio ‘Vanne, sì: mi lascia, indegno’ and the blistering Act II finale. Così fan tutte - 12 November 2016 (6.30pm GMT) Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, posthumous portrait by Barbara Kraft, 1819 Mozart ’s final collaboration with librettist Lorenzo da Ponte followed Le nozze di Figaro and Don Giovanni and exemplifies the heights opera can reach when the skills of composer and librettist are perfectly matched. But Così’s reception has always been more complex than that of the other Mozart/Da Ponte operas, with the opera variously considered immoral, unfinished, cruel or simply odd since its 1790 premiere. Now finally accepted as one of Mozart’s masterpieces, it is celebrated as much for its nuanced depiction of love as for its glorious music. Der Rosenkavalier LIVE - 14 January 2017 (5.45pm GMT) Richard Strauss conducts at the Royal Albert Hall, 1947 © Philharmonia Orchestra Der Rosenkavalier was Richard Strauss ’s first original collaboration with the playwright Hugo von Hofmannsthal , following quickly on the heels of Strauss’s adaption of Hofmannsthal’s play Elektra . It marked the start of one of 20th century opera’s most important artistic partnerships. Renée Fleming takes on the role of Marschallin in this new production, one of the great soprano roles in the repertory. The Nose and Les Contes d'Hoffmann will also be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 in the coming months. Details of these broadcasts will be released shortly. The Royal Opera House and the BBC are partners . Please note broadcast schedules are subject to change.
Fred Plotkin: “How could she sing in such a wide range of styles, from Mozart to bel canto (she sang Norma, Maria Stuarda and rare Rossini) to Verdi, Puccini and the verismo composers? She liked to say, ‘you sing using technique and your brain and the voice responds.'”
The Boston Symphony Orchestra under Music Director Andris Nelsons is on its way to becoming a major new provider of opera in the concert format that can reach large parts of the music public who rarely see fully staged opera house productions. Enlarging the BSO universe in this manner will not be uncontroversial. Part of the traditional symphony orchestra audience still associates opera more with common entertainment than with classical aspirations. But for those of us with the opera gene, the development is exciting, because the BSO is capable of probing depths of operatic musical foundation impenetrable to even the finest pit orchestras. Under the sure hand of Nelsons, the BSO demonstrated some of their potential in this area with the first two acts of Aida in the Tanglewood Shed on Saturday, partnering with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus (prepared for this production by guest director James Burton) and seven world-class singers. Verdi burdened opera companies attempting Aida with one of the most abrupt opening-scene-setting tasks to be found anywhere in a form famous for them. Following brief and worried announcement by an Egyptian high priest of a border incursion from Nubia, Radamés—the tenor protagonist—turns to the audience for the deceptively simple aria Celeste Aida, in which he must use his voice to convince us that he is both a warrior experienced enough to lead an army into combat with spears and swords, and deeply in love with a beautiful Nubian slave in the retinue of his King’s daughter. I am sorry to report that this production’s Radamés, Andrea Caré, a highly reputed young Italian tenor, did not do either of those things well. Whether from nerves at his BSO debut, some transient disability that caused him to fall short of the standard implied by his program credits, or simply vagaries of fate oblivious to the well-being of ambitious singers, he was musically insecure. He threw himself at the higher notes, missed low, and had to scramble inelegantly up to where he should have gone in the first place, in plain view of us all. Pole-vaulting up to notes that way is a common hazard of ambitious singing which even great vocal artists cannot always avoid, but it is incompatible with success at the task Verdi gives Radamés. On their best nights, great tenors make us hear the clang of sword striking shield in the first part of the aria, then open their hearts to us with a love-besotted high B-flat in dreamy pianissimo at the end. Caré is sure to have many better nights than this one. Verdi gave an even harder dramatic task to Amneris, the King’s daughter, who also is in love with Radamés and consequently suspicious of his attention to Aida. To evoke the emotions of the opera’s main heavy, the mezzo playing Amneris has to overcome the audience’s dislike of the character if she is to realize the full force of her key role at the opera’s tragic end (not part of this production). None of this was any problem for large-voiced Lithuanian singer Violeta Urbana, who also was making her BSO and Tanglewood debut. In the small role of the high priest Ramfis, Korean bass Kwangchul Youn deployed a rich, authoritative, supple sound that would arrest audience attention in nearly any role in the bass repertory. He would have been as at home in the roles of the Egyptian king or Nubian warrior King Amonasro as the artists who played them in this production. I even found myself wondering what his remarkable voice quality and expressive latitude evident in so small a part might bring to Boris Godunov. Italian tenor Alfredo Nigro and baritone Franco Vassallo gave the audience the battlefront Messenger and captive Nubian King Amonasro with comfortable professionalism. Special mention is due soprano Bethany Worrell, a TFC member whose ethereal tone as the High Priestess enriched the texture of the production beyond the few measures of music in which we heard it. With her early exploration of the part in this production, Kristine Opolais as Aida may well have opened a new chapter in her own already remarkable career, and possibly also in the opera’s production history. She can make her voice girlish, as she did during the first part of her appearance in act I, before modulating into the anguish Verdi wrote for the character as she realizes she has been caught up in the frenzied preparation for war against her own. In the Finale at the end of act II, she let forth a full, rich, decidedly non-girlish sound that soared over the massed fortissimo of orchestra and chorus exactly as Verdi must have intended. Not yet 40, she is already working with a skillset at the top of what is expected, and if she refines it further she may change the definition of what the top is. Voices like hers often enlarge and darken as their owner moves into mid-career. Imagine. There is no telling where this voice may go. Morris Robinson is already among the greatest low male voices of the recorded era. He appeared startled when I put that proposition to him in an aisle of the Shed after a morning open rehearsal, but also graceful in receiving the idea without pro forma false modesty. Predecessors in that category whom he especially admires, he said, include Ambrogio Maestri and Jerome Hines. I asked him about Kurt Moll, whose Sarastro in Mozart’s Magic Flute 40 years ago in Paris was the most authoritative I had heard before Robinson’s own remarkable version at the Houston Grand Opera last year. He paused, straightened up to his full height of well over six feet, and said, “I’ve learned a lot from Kurt Moll”. Kristin Opolais and Andris Nelsons Robinson is only 47, and despite “starting late” agreed that he has a good 20 more years to refine the roles he already knows and explore new ones. Like Opolais, he clearly has potential to change how the world sees opera in the 21st century. With this production, Nelsons, the BSO, and TFC demonstrated that a measurable part of that change may well take place before New England audiences. (Personal note: In the summer of 1958, as a med student enjoying a few weeks in London at a hospital where my school thought I was studying, I went to Covent Garden for my first Aida. With the rest of the audience I groaned as the curtains parted and a functionary announced that because of Madame So-and-So’s indisposition, the part of Aida would be taken the young American Leontyne Price.) James Prichard is a Yale physician and scientist who occasionally pinch-hits as a music critic. The post Celeste Nelsons, Opolais, Verdi, BSO, et alia appeared first on The Boston Musical Intelligencer .
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (27 January 1756 - 5 December 1791), was a prolific and influential composer of the Classical era. Mozart composed over 600 works, many acknowledged as pinnacles of symphonic, concertante, chamber, piano, operatic, and choral music. He is among the most enduringly popular of classical composers. Mozart showed prodigious ability from his earliest childhood in Salzburg. Already competent on keyboard and violin, he composed from the age of five and performed before European royalty. At 17, he was engaged as a court musician in Salzburg, but grew restless and travelled in search of a better position, always composing abundantly. While visiting Vienna in 1781, he was dismissed from his Salzburg position. He chose to stay in the capital, where he achieved fame but little financial security. During his final years in Vienna, he composed many of his best-known symphonies, concertos, and operas, and portions of the Requiem, which was largely unfinished at the time of Mozart's death. The circumstances of his early death have been much mythologized. He was survived by his wife Constanze and two sons. Mozart learned voraciously from others, and developed a brilliance and maturity of style that encompassed the light and graceful along with the dark and passionate. His influence on subsequent Western art music is profound. Beethoven wrote his own early compositions in the shadow of Mozart, of whom Joseph Haydn wrote that "posterity will not see such a talent again in 100 years."
Great composers of classical music