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27.4.15

A New Home for American Art -- Whatever It May Be?

In 1908 Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney opened the Whitney Studio Gallery on West 8th Street, where she also had her own studio, to showcase the work of her artist friends and her steadily growing collection. By the 20s the Whitney Studio Club, a salon where artists such as John Sloan, William Glackens, and George Luks among others met to discuss, exhibit their work, and drink, was incorporated into the mix.

In 1931 Whitney approached the Metropolitan Museum of Art with an offer to donate her collection of some 700 pieces of modern artworks, and they declined her offer. She then decided to create her own museum, because she could. Needing more space, in 1954 the museum moved uptown to 54th Street and then moved once again in 1966 to a new Marcel Breuer-designed building on Madison Avenue.

On May 1st the Whitney Museum of American Art makes a triumphal return to its roots in the West Village. Unlike its brownstone beginnings, this time it will have 50,000 square feet of indoor exhibition space and 30,000 square feet of exterior space, with amazing views of the Hudson River and Manhattan skyline. Not only will the new Whitney have plenty of room to show off its collection, which now exceeds some 21,000 pieces, but this shiny new space could prompt a reconsideration of the matter of just what American art is. It's a wide-open question and there is a lot of competition from other museums attempting to take on what the Whitney started, by showing American artists, especially living, working artists. The Museum of Modern Art, the New Museum, the Guggenheim, and the stately Met have made strong moves in collecting and exhibiting contemporary art, courting benefactors, and waging the all-important battle for the young audience, with their short attention spans and interactive brains. Even its new neighbors, the big-money Chelsea galleries, have been putting on some impressive museum-quality shows of late.

It's clear as the Whitney opens its new Renzo Piano-designed home in the Meatpacking District, the heart of blue-chip art land, that it's ready to take on the challenge. With its big industrial gallery spaces, soft wood flooring, and expansive exterior spaces, great things can happen here. But will it be fresh, or will it follow a depressing trend of museums showing the same artists who seem to pop up in every exhibit, art fair, and auction house?


The Whitney's inaugural exhibition, America Is Hard to See, is a selection of over 600 works by some 400 artists, spanning the period from about 1900 to the present, all from the museum’s permanent collection, with some well-known works, but also many never shown and several newly acquired. Now for the first time curators will have plenty of room to experiment, juxtaposing the old with the new, an ongoing inter-generational discourse, that in this first exhibit shows just how relevant the old guard of the collection is.

Marsden Hartley looks as bold and beautiful as ever, and Edward Hopper has the room and light-filled space he thrives in. Jackson Pollock’s Number 27 is in the company of Willem de Kooning’s Woman and Bicycle, and across the way the irascible spray paint-wielding Hedda Sterne holds her own quite well and is looking very contemporary, thank you. It's clear as history unfolds floor by floor that the myths, versus the realities, of America are not easy stories. Lynchings, war, depression, strikes, protests, and social changes are on display in rawness and beauty.


Can the Whitney re-establish itself and keep the discussion going? I think yes. But it has to be about inclusion. Art is being made all over the country, by an incredibly diverse range of artists. Can we quibble about the building's exterior design? Sure. Although I like it, as a whole the industrial structure sits well in the district, a once gritty and rough neighborhood. The question I asked was will it survive the Hudson River, should it decide to spew forth into Chelsea again? And it will, and yes, they have thought about it.

So when you visit after the new Whitney opens on May 1st, take the elevator to the 8th floor, be swooned by the two Hartley paintings as the doors open, revel in a fabulous collection that now has room to show off. Be sure to take the exterior steps as you go floor to floor, contemplate the David Smith sculpture sitting proudly on the elevated steel and concrete runways, or take a seat in one of Mary Heilmann's colorful chairs. Look around: the mighty river, the city, it's an American story continuing to unfold, inside and out.


Other Articles:

Peter Schjeldahl, New York Odyssey (The New Yorker, April 27) // Don't Be Aloof (The Economist, April 25)

Holland Carter, New Whitney Museum’s First Show, ‘America Is Hard to See’ (New York Times, April 23)

Philip Kennicott, At the Whitney, a new structure forges a different relationship with the city (Washington Post, April 19)

26.4.15

Perchance to Stream: Checkmate Edition

Here is your regular Sunday selection of links to online audio and online video from the week gone by. After clicking to an audio or video stream, you may need to press the "Play" button to start the broadcast. Some of these streams become unavailable after a few days.

  • Nelson Freire joins the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, under Charles Dutoit, for music by Debussy, Chopin, Stravinsky, and Ravel, recorded in Geneva. [France Musique]

  • Watch the production of Cherubini's Médée from the Grand Théâtre de Genève, directed by Christof Loy. [ARTE]

  • Do not miss a performance of Pascal Dusapin's new opera Penthesilea, recorded at the Théâtre Royal de La Monnaie, starring Natascha Petrinsky (Penthesilea), Marisol Montalvo (Prothoe), and others. [De Munt (video) | RTBF (audio)]

  • Listen to a rare performance of Gounod's opera Cinq-Mars, recorded in Munich last January, with a cast including Véronique Gens, Tassis Christoyannis, Andrew Foster-Williams, and others. [ORF]

  • Mikko Franck leads the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France in an all-Sibelius concert for the composer's 150th birthday. [France Musique]

  • Watch Paul Agnew lead singers of Les Arts Florissants in Monteverdi's Madrigali guerrieri. [Philharmonie de Paris]

  • Mariss Jansons leads the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in Stravinsky's Petrushka and the Brahms violin concerto, with Frank Peter Zimmermann as soloist. [ORF | Part 2]

  • Cellist Truls Mørk joins the Tonkünstler-Orchester Niederösterreich for Shostakovich's first cello concerto, with Andrés Orozco-Estrada also conducting music by Nielsen, Martinu, and Enescu, recorded earlier this month in Vienna. [ORF]

  • Listen to a performance of Handel's oratorio Solomon from Quebec, with Marie-Nicole Lemieux and Karina Gauvin joining La Chapelle de Québec and Les Violons du Roy. [France Musique]

  • Soprano Elisabeth Scholl and countertenor Andreas Scholl join viola da gambist Hartwig Groth, lutenist Sören Leupold, and organist Wiebke Weidanz for a performance of Baroque duets by Handel, Purcell, and others, recorded last January at the German National Museum in Nuremberg. [ORF]

  • Daniele Gatti conducts all four of Schumann's symphonies with the Orchestre National de France. [France Musique]

  • Le Concert d'Astrée, conducted by Emmanuelle Haïm and with soprano Lydia Teuscher, performs Handel's Aci, Galatea e Polifemo, in a concert recorded in 2013 at the Wiener Konzerthaus. [France Musique]

  • From a concert at the Conservatoire à Rayonnement Régional de Paris recorded in March, the Ensemble 2e2m performs new music by Francesco Filidei, Zeynep Gedizlioğlu, Clara Iannotta, and David Coll. [France Musique]
  • From the Royal Festival Hall, the Philharmonia Orchestra plays a prelude by Rimsky-Korsakov, Rachmaninov's first piano concerto with Daniil Trifonov as soloist, and Dvorak's 8th Symphony, under Yuri Temirkanov. [BBC3]

  • Listen to a recital by pianist Daniil Trifonov, with music by Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, and Schumann, recorded last August at the Manoir Chopin in Duszniki Zdroj. [RTBF]

  • From a concert recorded last year at the Festival Musiq'3 in Flagey, Vox Luminis performs the Requiem Impérial dans Z by Johann Joseph Fux. [RTBF]

  • From the Barbican Hall, Michal Nesterowicz leads the BBC Symphony Orchestra in Lutoslawski's thrilling Concerto for Orchestra, plus the U.K. premiere of Rouse's Prospero's Rooms and Steven Osborne as soloist in Beethoven's 'Emperor' concerto. [BBC3]

  • Václav Luks leads soprano Raffaela Milanesi and Collegium 1704 in a performance of music by Mozart, Vorisek, Rossini, and others, recorded last year in Warsaw. [ORF]

  • From the Royal Concert Hall in Nottingham, Jirí Belohlávek conducts the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra in music by Smetana, Dvorák, Mendelssohn, and Vaughan Williams. [BBC3]

  • Pablo Gonzalez conducts the Orchestre Philharmonique Royal de Liège in music of Chabrier, Falla, and Ravel, with pianist Eric Le Sage as soloist. [RTBF]

  • Gennadi Roschdestwenski leads the Russian State Philharmonic Orchestra in Hubert Parry's third symphony, Frederick Delius's piano concerto (with soloist Viktoria Postnikowa), and Peter Maxwell Davies's St. Thomas Wake, recorded last year at the Moscow Conservatory. [ORF]

  • Early music from the RheinVokal Festival last year, with countertenor Andreas Scholl and harpsichordist Tamar Halperin performing music by Dowland, Campion, Halperin, and Haydn. [RTBF]

  • Pierre Boulez conducts Scriabin's Le Poème de l'Extase, recorded in 2009 for Scriabin's 100th birthday at the Wiener Konzerthaus. [ORF]

  • The Apollon Musagète Quartett performs music by Tchaikovsky and Schubert at the Schwarzenberg Festival in 2013. [ORF]

  • Have a listen to the Munich recording of Friedrich von Flotow's opera Martha, starring Lucia Popp (Martha), Doris Soffel (Nancy), Siegfried Jerusalem (Lyonel), and Karl Ridderbusch (Plumkett), recorded in 1977. [ORF]

25.4.15

Le Corbusier and Fascism

In France it has been customary to sweep the Vichy period under the rug, except when a major cultural figure's connections to that part of the past can no longer be ignored. Last month there was such a connection alleged with composer Henri Dutilleux, which was ultimately shown to have been exaggerated. Another case in the news this week is modernist architect Le Corbusier. Marion Cocquet spoke to Antoine Picon, president of La Fondation Le Corbusier about it ("Qui a peur de Le Corbusier ?", April 25) for Le Point (my translation):
Just when the Centre Pompidou is devoting a major retrospective to him, the architect is taking some hits: three books have appeared that underscore his fascist sympathies. We knew about his belief in regenerated man, healthy in body and of use to a mechanized society. Xavier de Jarcy, Marc Perelman, and François Chaslin go farther, recalling his friendship with the doctor Pierre Winter or the engineer François de Pierrefeu, eugenicists and members of fascist splinter groups in the 1930s, drawing attention to antisemitic parts of his correspondence, underscoring his conception of a hygienic war and his stay in Vichy between 1941 and 1942.

In that more fascist era, where must we place Le Corbusier?

It is clear, first of all, that he was attracted to those ideas of authoritarian planning. This is not new, and the Le Corbusier Foundation, where his correspondence has been available for more than twenty years, has never tried to hide it. Furthermore, there is evidence that Le Corbusier was flattered by the attention given to him by the fascists and thought some of their ideas were interesting. For a time, he admired Mussolini, and he went to Italy hoping for commissions. But he also repeated many times that he was not a fascist, and he was never tempted by Nazism. One is always reminded of the example of the Italian Giuseppe Terragni who designed the Casa del Fascio in Como, but we forget that the Germans wanted to raze the Weissenhof Estate in Stuttgart, created by Mies van der Rohe! Le Corbusier represented a style of architecture that most fascists found Arabized, fraudulent, foreign...
Picon, who teaches at Harvard, adds that "if there is a reproach to be made against him, it is that he had no political sense." His belief in the superiority of his architectural ideas led him to such ill-considered alliances. At best it may be described as naive.

24.4.15

Evgeny Kissin, Master of Prokofiev

available at Amazon
Chopin, Sonatas (inter alia), E. Kissin
(Sony re-releases, 2014)
One of the highlights of any Ionarts season is a concert by Evgeny Kissin. The latest opportunity to hear the Russian virtuoso came on Wednesday night, in an uncompromising program presented by Washington Performing Arts in the Music Center at Strathmore. An inner core of deeply felt emotional masterpieces -- Prokofiev's fourth sonata and sets of Chopin nocturnes and mazurkas -- bolstered by showier Beethoven and Liszt on the ends. Those more profound pieces at the heart of the program were the high point, while Kissin left no doubt as to his near-unassailable technique in the outer ones.

Kissin remains at the top of my list among living interpreters of the music of Chopin, an impression maintained by this performance. In his hands, these pieces had an extemporaneous feel to them, beginning with the gesture of beginning the first nocturne on the program (B-flat minor, op. 9/1) with the right hand almost from nothing, hesitant even to start the piece. Kissin has a fluidity of rubato that sounds like improvisation, not rushed or dragged out sentimentally, but hesitating and impetuous in equal measure, with even the embellishments to the melody sounding not practiced but added on the fly. In all the nocturnes, there were degrees of exquisite softness and exceptional freedom in the runs of the right hand. Six mazurkas, even more intimate pieces, were exquisitely pondered, to the point of almost ignoring the audience: the blue notes savored in op. 6/1, the hurdy-gurdy sections of op. 6/2 and op. 7/3 dark and creaking, the middle section of op. 7/2 more martial.


Other Reviews:

Anne Midgette, Kissin slightly less than telling at Strathmore recital (Washington Post, April 24)

John von Rhein, Evgeny Kissin regales fans with masterful Chopin and more (Chicago Tribune, April 20)

Lawrence A. Johnson, Kissin’s distinctive mastery brings illumination on a rainy afternoon (Chicago Classical Review, April 20)

Tim Ashley, Evgeny Kissin review – reflection and severity from former prodigy (The Guardian, March 23)
After the masterful rendition of Prokofiev's eighth sonata heard at his 2009 recital, as well as his recording of the composer's concertos, one expected great things of the fourth sonata (C minor, op. 29). Prokofiev built this sonata from themes of earlier pieces in his old notebooks, and the piece feels heavily layered, strands on top of strands that Kissin teased apart with careful patience, the first two movements steeped in melancholy but also wistful tenderness. The finale provided all of the fireworks Kissin needed to end the first half, at times cantankerous, heavy-handed, even clownish, all around extraordinary.

The only minor disappointment was a somewhat willful performance of Beethoven's Waldstein Sonata (C major, op. 53), with the first movement bouncing around in tempo, many of the runs just slightly mushed together and the second theme weighty, maybe a little clunky. Little changes and hesitations here and there seemed over-thought, which made the slow movement viscous and oozing. Then there was the third movement, taken at a moderate pace, the bell-like main theme's first note played as if it were an anacrusis. Kissin's trills were immaculate as they buzzed around the trill-laden statement of the theme. The counterpart of this display was Liszt's outrageous Hungarian Rhapsody no. 15 ("Rákóczi March") at the recital's end, which whipped the audience into a frenzy satisfied only by three encores: Chopin's Nocturne in F# minor (op. 48/2), Liszt's arrangement of Paganini's "La Chasse" caprice, and the march from Prokofiev's opera Love for Three Oranges. So much the better that Washington Performing Arts will not make us wait two years for the next concert by Evgeny Kissin, who will return to the Kennedy Center on October 28.

As a postscript, it bears saying, on this official 100th anniversary of the massacre of Armenians in Turkey, that Evgeny Kissin has spoken out for the recognition of this tragedy as a genocide. After the speech by Pope Francis to the Synod of the Armenian Catholic Patriarchal Church earlier this month, more governments may be willing to say the same.

23.4.15

Gardiner's 'Orfeo' on the Road

available at Amazon
C. Monteverdi, L'Orfeo, English Baroque Soloists, Monteverdi Choir, J. E. Gardiner
(Archiv, 1990)

[Survey of Recordings]
Washington is a city overrun with choral singers and early music-heads, as well as the audiences that keep them afloat. Where were all of those people on Tuesday night for the rare performance of Monteverdi's L'Orfeo? Presented by Washington Performing Arts in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, it was doubly rare because it was part of the tour of the English Baroque Soloists and Monteverdi Choir, under legendary conductor John Eliot Gardiner. This was not the first time that we have reviewed the opera live, since it celebrated its 400th anniversary in 2007, when we heard performances by Concerto Italiano and Concerto Vocale Gent, both in Europe.

Gardiner, who turned 72 on Monday, formed his Monteverdi Choir over fifty years ago to give a performance of the composer's Vespro della Beata Vergine, a masterpiece even greater than L'Orfeo. In only two cities on this tour, Gardiner will lead a performance of the so-called 1610 Vespers alongside L'Orfeo -- sadly, not including the District of Columbia. The Gardiner recording of L'Orfeo was crucial in my musical formation, but it is no longer my favorite. Likewise, while Gardiner's approach to the work has changed somewhat since that recording, made in London in 1985, this performance was good, but not necessarily great. The forces were essentially the same here as on the recording, with slight number changes in recorders, trumpets, cornetti, and theorbos: there were even a few senior players in the ensemble who took part in that landmark recording.


Other Articles:

Anne Midgette, Gardiner leads pastoral celebration with memorable ‘Orfeo’ (Washington Post, April 23)

Janos Gereben, It's News to Me: No Hint of Aging for Orfeo (San Francisco Classical Voice, April 22)

Georgia Rowe, Monteverdi's great 'Orfeo' gets the classic John Eliot Gardiner touch (San Jose Mercury News, April 16)
Tenor Andrew Tortise was a fine Orfeo, one of the first virtuoso roles in operatic history, with rhythmic delight in Vi ricorda o bosch'ombrosi (an early example of the serenade aria type) and effortless beauty of tone and control of fast runs in Possente spirto (perhaps the first true operatic showpiece). The tone of his voice is quite pretty, flexible and light but with a satisfying resonance, casting a spell over the listener in that latter aria sung to Charon. (He did have one rather extensive memory slip in the second stanza of Qual onor, which we can chalk up to travel fatigue, something that may also account for the occasional scratchiness in his voice.) Francesca Aspromonte brought a clarion soprano and playful stage presence to the music of the Prologo and the Messagiera. Soprano Mariana Flores had a darker, somewhat softer tone as Eurydice and La Speranza. Bass Gianlucca Buratto made an imposing Caronte and Plutone, with impressive low notes, and Francesca Boncompagni was a silvery- light Proserpina.

The performance added up to about twenty minutes more than the length of the recording, this with no intermission and no pauses allowed for applause. The recitatives and in some cases the metered music was allowed a little more room to expand, but by and large Gardiner has stuck with his reading of Monteverdi's score, leading with a consistent and gracious hand. On the instrumental side, generally excellent, the cornetti had a bit of a rough night, right from the crucial opening Toccata, and there was an early solo violin entrance in the shepherds' scene. The addition of tambourine and drum, as well as vigorous hand clapping, enlivened many of the the choral and ballet scenes, danced by a few singers from the polished and puissant Monteverdi Choir as part of a rather successful semi-staging. The harp solo in the middle of Possente spirto was particularly fine, with harpist Gwyneth Wentink giving voice to the lyre of Orpheus.

The tour of these Monteverdi performances continues on to California (Costa Mesa and San Francisco), Princeton, and New York. The Carnegie Hall performance of the 1610 Vespers will be broadcast on WQXR (April 30). Do not miss it.

A Pollock in Venice

"[It's] a stampede... of every animal in the American West, cows and horses and antelopes and buffaloes. Everything is charging across that goddamn surface."
—Jackson Pollock
After eighteen months of conservation and cleaning at the Getty Conservation Institute in Los Angeles, Jackson Pollock's first large-scale work, Mural, approximately 8' by 20' in size, is now on display at the Guggenheim Foundation in Venice, as part of a traveling exhibit, Jackson Pollock’s ‘Mural’: Energy Made Visible.

Commissioned by Peggy Guggenheim for the entrance to her New York townhouse, Mural echos the work of his early mentor Thomas Hart Benton and the Regionalist style, Native American imagery, and Works Progress Administration (WPA) and Mexican muralists. Some see it as America's response to Picasso's Guernica.

As with anything Pollock, it was not an easy commission. He signed a gallery contract with Guggenheim in July 1943. The terms were $150 a month and a settlement at the end of the year if his paintings sold. He intended to have the mural done by the time for his show in November. However, as the time approached, the canvas for the mural was untouched. Guggenheim began to pressure him. Pollock spent weeks staring at the blank canvas, complaining to friends that he was "blocked" and seeming to become both obsessed and depressed. Finally, he painted the entire canvas in one frenetic burst of energy on New Year's Day of 1944.

In 1947 Guggenheim closed her gallery and returned to Europe. She had no room for Mural in her new canal-side quarters in Venice and donated the canvas to the University of Iowa.

22.4.15

On Forbes: Free Speech, Rachmaninov And Twitter Posts: How The Ukrainian War Invaded Toronto's Stage


Free Speech, Rachmaninov And Twitter Posts: How The Ukrainian War Invaded Toronto's Stage


...The answer (quoted via Musical Toronto) from the Toronto Symphony Orchestra came soon: “Due to ongoing accusations of deeply offensive language by Ukrainian media outlets, we have decided to replace Valentina Lisita… Valentina Lisitsa’s provocative comments have overshadowed past performances. As one of Canada’s most important cultural institutions, our priority must remain on being a stage for the world’s great works of music, and not for opinions that some believe to be deeply offensive.”

This is perhaps the key quote, certainly the aspect that justifies the waves this issue created: The TSO just suggested that it was OK to cancel the appearance of an artist who holds and expresses, in a TSO-unrelated context, “opinions that some believe to be deeply offensive.” Let that one melt on your tongue....



Continue reading here, at Forbes.com

21.4.15

New Orford String Quartet


available at Amazon
J. Hétu, Complete Chamber Works for Strings, New Orford String Quartet et al.
(Naxos, 2014)
Charles T. Downey, Note perfect, but lacking life
Washington Post, April 21
The New Orford String Quartet, formed in Canada in 2009, had a mixed debut at the Phillips Collection on Sunday afternoon. The quartet gave a nearly note-perfect performance in two monuments of the string quartet literature from the later careers of Haydn and Beethoven, but beneath the immaculate sheen, the music didn’t always come to life as it should.

In the first quartet from Haydn’s Op. 76 set, the musicians were at their well-blended best in the Adagio sostenuto. The opening movement was on the frenetic side... [Continue reading]
New Orford String Quartet
Music by Haydn, Beethoven, Tim Brady
Phillips Collection

SEE ALSO:
Alan G. Artner, New Orford String Quartet at Winter Chamber Festival (Chicago Tribune, January 10)

20.4.15

Peter Oundjian in Technicolor


available at Amazon
Musorgsky, Pictures at an Exhibition, Toronto Symphony Orchestra, P. Oundjian
(TSO, 2008)
Charles T. Downey, Guest conductor sets a fast tempo for Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (Washington Post, April 20)
It can be a fine line between energetic enthusiasm and manic excess, especially with the sonic resources of the modern orchestra brought to bear. In his guest appearance with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra on Saturday evening in the Music Center at Strathmore, conductor Peter Oundjian seemed to aim for the former but sometimes ended up with the latter.

Starting with a Haydn symphony, No. 96 in D (“Miracle”), instead of an overture was an idea that should be encouraged... [Continue reading]
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
With Peter Oundjian (conductor) and Katherine Needleman (oboe)
Music Center at Strathmore

SEE ALSO:
Tim Smith, BSO produces colorful 'Pictures' with Peter Oundjian (Baltimore Sun, April 18)

Charles T. Downey, Oundjian with the BSO (Ionarts, May 25, 2012)

19.4.15

Perchance to Stream: Cherry Blossom Edition

Here is your regular Sunday selection of links to online audio and online video from the week gone by. After clicking to an audio or video stream, you may need to press the "Play" button to start the broadcast. Some of these streams become unavailable after a few days.

  • Watch Juan Diego Flórez and friends (Anna Bonitatibus, Ildar Abdrazakov, Vittorio Grigolo, Luca Pisaroni, and others), at the Wiener Staatsoper, in a charity concert for Sinfonía por el Perú. [ARTE]

  • Jean-Christophe Spinosi leads a performance of Bizet's Les pêcheurs de perles, starring Diana Damrau (Leïla), Dmitry Korchak (Nadir), and Nathan Gunn (Zurga), recorded at the Theater an der Wien in Vienna last November. [Radio Clásica]

  • Ivor Bolton conducts the Orchestre de Chambre de Paris in a concert at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, with music of Mozart, Schubert, Gubaidulina, and Haydn, with violinist Gidon Kremer as soloist. [France Musique]

  • Watch violinist Renaud Capuçon and friends at the Festival de Pâques in Aix-en-Provence, with music by Schubert and Saint-Saëns. [ARTE]

  • Pianist Bertrand Chamayou plays Beethoven's "Emperor" concerto with La Chambre Philharmonique, under conductor Emmanuel Krivine, plus Mendelssohn's fifth symphony. [France Musique]

  • A performance of Wagner's Lohengrin, recorded at Bayreuth in 1962, with Wolfgang Sawallisch conducting Jess Thomas, Anja Silja, Astrid Varnay, and others. [ORF]

  • Listen to a performance of Verdi's Rigoletto from the Opéra Royal de Wallonie in Liège, starring Leo Nucci, Desirée Rancatore, and Gianluca Terranova. [RTBF]

  • Listen to a recital by violinist Maxim Vengerov and pianist Itamar Golan, with music by Elgar, Prokofiev, Brahms, Dvorak, and Saint-Saëns, recorded at the Château du lac de Genval last July. [RTBF]

  • Daniele Gatti conducts a concert with the Maîtrise de Radio France and Choeur de Femmes, the Orchestre National de France, and soloists Karine Deshayes and Lucy Crowe, with music of Liszt, Strauss, and Mendelssohn. [France Musique | Video]

  • Pianist Igor Levit, who is coming to Washington next month, plays an all-Tchaikovsky recital at the Wigmore Hall in London, recorded last January. [ORF]

  • Watch Gianandrea Noseda conduct a concert with pianist Khatia Buniatishvili and the Filarmonica Teatro Regio Torino, recorded at the Festival de Pâques in Aix-en-Provence. [ARTE]

  • Philippe Herreweghe leads Collegium Vocale Ghent and soloists in Purcell's Hail, bright Cecilia, recorded last September in the Church of St. Mary Magdalen in Warsaw. [ORF]

  • From the Opéra Comique in Paris, the chamber chorus Les Eléments, conducted by Joël Suhubiette, perform madrigals from the time of Shakespeare. [France Musique]

  • Listen to sonatas composed in Venice around the year 1700, by composers Antonio Caldara, Tomaso Albinoni, Giorgio Gentili, and others, performed by Opera Stravagante earlier this month in the refectory of the Carthusian monastery of Mauerbach. [ORF]

  • Donald Runnicles conducts the Orchester der Deutschen Oper Berlin, with soprano Laura Aikin, in music of Webern, Aribert Reimann, and Brahms, recorded last September. [ORF | Part 2]

  • The Australian String Quartet plays quartets by Schnittke and Beethoven at a concert recorded in Adelaide Town Hall. [ABC Classic]

  • Patrick Gallois leads the Rousse Philharmonic Orchestra in music of Ravel, Massenet, Franck, and Kantscheli, recorded last month in Bulgaria. [ORF]

  • Tughan Sokhiev conducts the Orchestre national du Capitole de Toulouse in music by Berlioz, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Elgar. [France Musique]

  • Cornelius Meister leads the ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien, in music of Beethoven, Frank Martin, and Strauss, recorded in Graz. [ORF]

  • Music by Tigran Mansurian, including the 2011 setting of the Requiem Mass, performed by the Großes Orchester Graz, conductor Christian Muthspiel, the Vocalforum Graz, and soloists. [ORF]

  • The Wiener Virtuosen perform chamber music by Beethoven, Wellesz, and Martinu, recorded last month at the Wiener Musikverein. [ORF]

  • Have another listen to the Metropolitan Opera broadcast of Verdi's Ernani, starring Francesco Meli (Ernani), Luca Salsi (Don Carlo), Dmitry Belosselskiy (Don Ruy Gomez de Silva), Angela Meade (Elvira), Issachah Savage (Don Riccardo), and others. [ORF]

18.4.15

Ionarts-at-Large: The Takács Quartet in Vienna


The heart of chamber music of Vienna beats in the Mozart-Saal. But the offerings at the Brahms-Saal of the venerable, more famous Musikverein can be tempting, too… and if and when the Takács Quartet calls whence, the resident-ionarts unit will drop whatever he is doing and head over to hear one of our longest standing favorites. Even in an utterly conservative program such as they presented at the Musikverein on Tuesday, February 10th: Schubert, Schubert, Beethoven. And the Beethoven “Razumovsky 1” at that… not that there is anything wrong with that. But it’s not the modern Beethoven à la op.135 which might have been the

17.4.15

'The tintinnabulation that so musically wells'

Sergei Rachmaninoff is a composer whose instrumental music often seems wandering and overlong to me. Not unlike his compatriot Tchaikovsky, whose ballets and operas suit me much more than his symphonies and concertos, Rachmaninoff seemed to benefit from the restraint of a text or story. This is likely why Kolokola, a choral symphony based on Edgar Allan Poe's evocative poem The Bells, is so effective, a grand Rachmaninoff work that never oozes into Rachmaninoff's saccharine sound and does not overstay its welcome. For some reason, the National Symphony Orchestra had only performed the piece once in its entire history, back in 1977, in a concert led by the late Norman Scribner. Vassily Sinaisky made his NSO debut with a spirited rendition of the work, heard last night in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.

The veteran Russian conductor, who resigned from the Bolshoi Theater in 2013 "to avoid conflict" with the new director, came with three fine Russian-trained soloists and a sure hand on this work less familiar outside of Russia. Norman Scribner's choir, the Choral Arts Society of Washington, engulfed the hall in sound in the opening movement ("Silver Sleigh Bells"), well prepared by Scott Tucker. Tenor Sergey Semishkur, after an uncertain and slightly off-pitch introduction, had a more heroic sound in the full parts of this movement, with its lovely parts for celesta and every metallic percussion instrument Rachmaninoff could get his hands on. The slow movement ("Mellow Wedding Bells") had oozing strings and a smoldering melody in the cellos, cushioning the ample tone of soprano Dina Kuznehtsova, wavering only when she had to float that high A toward the end of the movement.

The whole ensemble was most secure in the loud and fast third movement ("Loud Alarum Bells"), with groaning deep woodwinds and the chorus, seated in sections for security, beautifully schooled in swelled crescendi and -- more importantly -- decrescendi. A moody English horn solo introduced the funereal finale ("Mournful Iron Bells"), led by baritone Elchin Azizov with a menacing, dark sound to his imposing voice. Of course, Rachmaninoff here turned again to a quotation of the Dies irae sequence, although in a much more hidden way in this score, contributing to the work's solemn conclusion.


Other Reviews:

Anne Midgette, Debuting conductor offers experienced path through ‘The Bells’ (Washington Post, April 17)

Terry Ponick, NSO, Choral Arts Society ring in Rachmaninoff’s glorious ‘Bells’ (Communities Digital News, April 17)
The evening opened less auspiciously, with a somewhat messy, not quite fully digested performance of the overture to Borodin's Prince Igor, in the form reconstructed by Alexander Glazunov. This brought to the fore some of the more inscrutable qualities of Sinaisky's conducting style, although the musical ideas, especially the dynamic shading, were generally effective. The accelerandi and other tempo changes were not unified, and overall the piece, never before played by the NSO, needed more seasoning.

By contrast, Mozart's clarinet concerto (A major, K. 622) felt almost too familiar, too cozy and comfortable. Principal clarinetist Loren Kitt was authoritative in the solo part, equally beautiful in phrasing and tone, if perhaps a little too easygoing, certainly by contrast to the playing of Jörg Widmann, who last played the piece with the NSO in 2012. The Adagio here could have been slower, and the concluding Allegro was on the tame side, but Sinaisky and the NSO provided a warm, well-scaled envelope of sound for Kitt. It is hard not to like this piece, one of the most perfect concertos ever composed, not least because it lacks any cadenzas or any over-the-top virtuosic displays.

This concert repeats tonight and tomorrow.

Martin Kasík at Czech Embassy

Martin Kasík had his Washington debut in 2000, garnering a fine review for his Young Concert Artists-sponsored recital at the Kennedy Center, the same year he also played at 92nd Street Y in New York. The Czech pianist came back for a recital at the Strathmore Mansion in 2006, which I am sorry to have missed, based on the beauty of his playing on Wednesday night at the Embassy of the Czech Republic, presented by the Embassy Series. In the intervening years, Kasík has become an exceptional musician and, judging by this video, a talented teacher, even though I do not understand a word of Czech.

16.4.15

Ionarts-at-Large: Trio Wanderer in Romantic Redemption



available at Amazon
J.Haydn, Complete Piano Trios,
Beaux Arts Trio
Philips/Decca





The Trio Wanderer is one of the ARD International Music Competition Prize Winner alumni that make that competition’s name in the chamber music field quite so prestigious. Their recordings (Best of 2009 here, Best of 2012 here, Messiaen) are of library-building quality, rivaled only by the Beaux Arts Trio and the Florestan Trio. In short: worth a trip to the Musikverein’s Brahms-Saal even if that isn’t my favorite chamber venue in Vienna. (Shaped like a coffin and just a little less lively.) Snark aside, it’s not that bad a place to hear Haydn, Schumann, and Tchaikovsky. Nor is it surprising to hear such an ultra-conventional program there, down to the abuse of glorious Haydn as the warm-up piece. (Complauding™*!)

And the Haydn Trio No.43 in C (the Vienna venues every only list Haydn by the incredibly useless Hoboken numbers, as if “Hob.XV/27” was particularly meaningful to everyone but a musicologist with not much of a social life) did indeed sound like a warm-up, sadly. It came and went—with a Presto Finale along the way that was nice for having tried to raise the game, but it veered... and instead of becoming lively by way of extreme speeds it just became

15.4.15

Cannes Set to Open with 'a good film' for a Change

We are a month away from the Festival de Cannes, when Joel and Ethan Coen, who apparently do everything together, will preside as the first co-presidents of the jury. Isabella Rossellini will serve as chairperson of the Un Certain Regard jury, in the year that the festival will honor her mother, actress Ingrid Bergman.

The festival also announced that a French film, La Tête haute by Emmanuelle Bercot, will open the festival. The opening film in recent years has been a more mainstream movie, generally not in competition and often something of an embarrassment, like last year's Grace of Monaco, a film starring Nicole Kidman that went directly to cable in the United States. The record before that was not much better, including Baz Luhrmann's ghastly The Great Gatsby (2013), Woody Allen's tedious Midnight in Paris (2011), Ridley Scott's forgettable Robin Hood (2010), the animated film Up (2009), Wong Kar Wai's My Blueberry Nights (2007), and the execrable Da Vinci Code (2006) -- open laughter reportedly greeted that last one during the screening. Isabelle Regnier has some interesting thoughts on the choice of opening film this year, in an article (« La Tête haute », d’Emmanuelle Bercot, ouvrira le 68e Festival de Cannes, April 14) for Le Monde (my translation):

Thierry Frémaux, the festival's director, has chosen to break the unspoken rule that reserves the gala opening for big-budget films, often American, and not necessarily brilliant in an artistic way. "This year, we wanted to start off with a good film," announced Frémaux, who congratulated himself for presenting a work that "shows a certain commitment." He added: "This is a universal film that poses questions about our society's models; a film that speaks about youth, about the relationship between justice and society, about social and educational mechanisms in place in a country like France to treat cases of juvenile delinquency."
Regnier notes that the film is surely not a political rant and that its casting -- Catherine Deneuve, Benoît Magimel, and Sara Forestier star -- guarantees the festival an acceptable level of star power. It is also the first film directed by a woman to open the festival since 1987, when A Man in Love by Diana Kurys was screened. It is almost certainly a better film than what was rumored for the opening, Mad Max: Fury Road.

14.4.15

New Flute Concerto by Kevin Puts

available at Amazon
K. Puts, Choral Works / Symphony No. 4, Conspirare / Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, M. Alsop
(Harmonia Mundi, 2013)
As noted many times in these pages, opera companies and symphony orchestras must do more to sponsor new works. It is an expensive and mostly thankless endeavor, to be sure, but necessary to keep the art alive and growing. When commissioning composers, organizations tend to give preference to shorter works, which was at the heart of recent discussion online about longer symphonic works of the last two decades, summed up in a cogent piece by Alex Ross. It was William Robin who got the ball rolling with his enthusiasm for one such rare long orchestral work, Play by Andrew Norman -- an enthusiasm I do not really share. The situation is much the same with opera companies: see my comments on the American Opera Initiative at Washington National Opera. The new flute concerto by Baltimore-based composer Kevin Puts, which does not reach the 30-minute minimum set by Robin, is a case in point, not really a substantial work even though it came into being as a clandestine double commission by Bette and Joe Hirsch. On Sunday afternoon the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra gave the piece its local premiere, on a concert that also included Shostakovich's Festive Overture (unbearably loud) and Tchaikovsky's fifth symphony (not reviewed).

Though he is based now in Baltimore, where he teaches at Peabody, Puts grew up in my home state of Michigan, where his father was a professor at Alma College. Puts was launched to national attention when his opera, Silent Night, won the Pulitzer Prize in 2012, but it is telling that this is the first time his music has come under review at Ionarts. His opera and other music I have heard generally suits me, because he does not shy away from tonal styles but is not limited to them in a reactionary way. The first movement was a promising start, if a little too sentimental in a Copland- or Bernstein-derivative way, with a tender cadenza played with a precise tone by soloist Adam Walker that brought the movement to a subdued conclusion.


Other Reviews:

Robert Battey, BSO breathes new fire into familiar classics in Sunday matinee (Washington Post, April 14)

Tim Smith, BSO offers brilliant Flute Concerto by Kevin Puts on program with Russian favorites (Baltimore Sun, April 10)

Joshua Kosman, Cabrillo Fest review: Rouse premiere a revelation (San Francisco Chronicle, August 5, 2013)
Where the piece really fell apart was in the second movement, because of some rather jarring borrowings from Mozart's K. 467 piano concerto. In an interview a few years ago, Puts admitted to an obsession with Mozart, saying, "I go through times when I ask myself, ‘How can I make my music more clear and fresh, like Mozart’s?’ It’s not that I want to plagiarize." Well, Puts may have crossed that line in this piece, where the connection with the Mozart source was announced in the opening phrases, then repeated in slightly more disguised form over and over, only to have an overt quotation appear in the piano near the end. The finale, back in the mode of Bernstein dance, was likewise simplistic and perhaps too much of a cute thing. One felt bad for the percussionist who had to sweat through an overlong passage with constant shaker rhythm, and while the orchestral musicians gave the catchy section for antiphonal hand clapping a rousing performance, it went on so long that it inevitably felt like a gimmick to pad the conclusion. This is the down side of commissioning and presenting new works: there are a lot of misses for the rare hit.