Thursday, May 25, 2017
Liszt in concert, 1842 by Theodor Hosemann The enduring image of Liszt as a long-haired piano virtuoso dies hard. His playing met with frenzied responses across Europe in the 1830s and 40s, bringing him wealth and fame. His scandalous love affairs have only cemented our impressions of him as a 19th-century rock star – so much so that Ken Russell could cast lead singer of The Who Roger Daltrey as Liszt in his extravagant biopic Lisztomania . But in fact this phase of Liszt’s career ended early: he was only 35 when in 1847 he abruptly gave up public concertizing and settled in Weimar, a provincial German town. To his contemporaries, this decision seemed bizarre. What made him leave it all behind? Liszt had a definite agenda when he quit: he wanted to make his mark as a composer. And while it was perplexing to his friends, it was this very decision to stop performing which has cemented his legend and ensured he is more than a historical footnote today. In an era before recorded sound, Liszt’s pianistic abilities could only be appreciated by those who heard him live – whereas a composer could achieve a kind of immortality. Not that Liszt had waited until his pianistic retirement to start composing. In his era, every performer customarily wrote music for his or her own use. Many of Liszt’s works that are most popular today – including the fiendishly demanding Hungarian Rhapsodies and Transcendental Studies – were first composed before he left the concert trail. But the versions we hear today were actually extensively revised by Liszt after his retirement. The differences can be startling: for example, one of the Twelve Great Studies was repackaged as Mazeppa , the new title an allusion to Victor Hugo ’s poem . This new association with a story about a rebellious Ukrainian count, strapped to the back of a wild horse and driven out into the wilderness to die, puts the piece’s thrilling virtuosity in an evocative new context. In addition to these revisions, the entirely new works that Liszt wrote for the piano transformed the genre, and would influence composers for generations to come. Liszt’s masterpiece for solo piano is undoubtedly the Sonata in B minor , a ground-breaking work that astonishingly unites the variety of the Classical multi-movement sonata with the formal coherence and grandeur of a single-movement work. Liszt takes a handful of short ideas and brilliantly combines, reshapes and transforms them into a 30-minute unbroken whole. The music moves from barnstorming virtuosity to the most inward-looking tenderness, with everything in between. Liszt’s innovations were by no means confined to works for solo piano. As early as 1839 he had envisaged writing an orchestral work based on what he considered to be one of the supreme works of literature: Goethe ’s Faust . The Faust-Symphonie is a tour de force of imagination that powerfully draws the drama’s three chief characters, who are each described in a complete movement (Faust – Gretchen – Mephistopheles). Alongside the Faust-Symphonie Liszt can be credited with the invention of the symphonic poem : single-movement works with a title and preface linking them to extra-musical subject matter. By focussing on such story-telling, ‘programmatic’ music, Liszt placed himself at the vanguard of musical progress. The symphonic poem was later taken up by composers as diverse as Dvořák , Tchaikovsky , Strauss and Sibelius . For all his innovations, Liszt’s new career was not easy. In contrast to the acclaim he had met with as a pianist, the experimentalism of his compositions remained controversial, and even today his orchestral music is rarely heard live. But his many advances – in the vocabulary of the solo piano, in harmony, in crafting dramatic music for the concert hall – ensure that Liszt’s legacy as one of the most dynamic figures of the 19th century is secure. Marguerite and Armand , set to Liszt’s Sonata in B minor, runs 2–10 June 2017 in a mixed programme with The Dream and Symphonic Variations . Tickets are still available.
Jovanka Trbojevic, a Finnish composer of Serbian origin, has died after a protracted illness. Raised in Belgrade, she began her studies in Prague and moved on to the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki. She received several orchestral commissions and won the 2008 Prix Italia for a large radiophonic work, CreationGame. She was lately engaged in writing an opera for Helsinki Chamber Choir.
Cleveland Institute of Music has recruited violinists Ilya and Olga Kaler to the CIM String Faculty from the start of the 2018-19 academic year. Ilya won the Gold Medal at the Tchaikovsky competition in Moscow, the Sibelius in Helsinki and the Paganini in Genoa. Olga is an outstanding soloist and teacher.
The second and third concerts of the Buenos Aires Philharmonic´s subscription series at the Colón coincided in two factors: maestros that had never conducted the Phil and innovative programming. One is old, Finnish, talented and excentric; the other is middle-aged, Italian, very effective and enthusiastic. Leif Segerstam has been here before, Claudio Vandelli made his debut, and both had soloists from the orchestra in premières. Segerstam has changed enormously since his debut here in 1973 conducting Mozart´s "Le Nozze di Figaro". Then he was slim, 32 and almost at the start of his brilliant career; decades passed until he visited us at the helm of the Helsinki Philharmonic some years ago in programmes that stressed Sibelius and one of the conductor´s myriad symphonies. He was transformed into a Nordic overweight patriarch with a huge beard, but his command and musical sensitivity were quite evident. I also had the good luck of appreciating him as a Wagnerian in Vienna (February 2009) with a splendid "Lohengrin". Now in his late seventies, he has serious locomotion trouble and barely manages to climb the two steps to the podium, but his arms respond well and his capacity remains. He started and ended with Sibelius: the iconic "Finlandia" in a rousing performance, and the very welcome second time at the Phil for the Third Symphony, premièred by Pedro Calderón in 1973. Anecdote: at the time the programming was in the joint hands of Calderón (then Principal Conductor) and myself, and curiously he wanted to do Third symphonies and so did I; so he exhumed Mahler´s Third after forty years of its Fitelberg première and I programmed the première of Dvorák´s Third (Smetácek), played complete (not with cuts as happened in Diemecke´s integral of Dvorák symphonies). The Sibelius Third also had a performance (rather good) at the Facultad de Derecho by the Lanús Symphony three years ago and I was there, attracted by the chance to hear it live, for this is a neglected symphony in BA (as is the Sixth) and it doesn´t merit such negligence. Of course the first two are longer and richer but there is much beauty in the Third within its smaller scale. It was finished in 1907 and the composer´s stamp is everywhere, particularly in the attractive melodies of the first movement and the growing tension and density of the final minutes. It had a detailed and impressive reading. The first of two premières was an interesting arrangement by Luciano Berio of Brahms´ Sonata Op.120 Nº1 for clarinet and piano, converting it into a Concerto for clarinet and orchestra. Berio added apposite small introductions to the first and second movements. This is nocturnal, intimate, late Brahms composed in 1894; Berio´s orchestration is at times too loud (the music needs more matte colors, less trumpets) but considering the dearth of clarinet concertos, it is a useful addition to that repertoire. It was premièred in 1986 as a commission of the Los Angeles Philharmonic for its first desk Michele Zukovsky. Probably the execution by Mariano Rey, his counterpart at our Phil, was fully as good, for he is a virtuoso of international standing. I had the curious experience of following the music with the original Brahms score, and I found the interpretation (both soloistic and orchestral) cogent with the marked speeds and articulations. As an encore Rey offered an expressive clarinet adaptation of Piazzolla´s slow, melodic "Oblivion". Can you imagine a composer-conductor presenting his Symphony Nº 302? Surely a Guinness record, that´s what Segerstam did in this work dedicated to the Colón and called "A fundamental and universal musical conscience". Carlos Singer says in his programme notes (and I agree): "he created a gigantic meta-universe irresistible and labyrinthic, cosmic and chaotic". He uses what he calls "free pulsation", "leaving rhythmic decisions to the players". He certainly is "nonconformist, excentric and non-repeatable". He didn´t conduct his 24-minute symphony, of very full orchestration; instead, some players got up and led a particular section from time to time; I suppose rehearsals must have been fascinating to watch, and apparently the Phil coped well. I found it intense, dissonant though tonal-based, and strange; I was left imagining the workings of Segerstam´s psyche and comparing it to other excentric and prolific symphonists such as Havergal Brian and Alan Hovhaness, both quite unknown here. It would be intriguing to have a chance to compare them live. Back to relative normalcy in the following concert. The announced conductor was Alexander Vedernikov, but he fell ill and was replaced by Claudio Vandelli. What impressed me was that the programme was unchanged although it was made up of rarely played Russian music and a première. Reading his biography I understood it: he has been invited for the last ten years by the Moscow State Symphony New Russia and is the second conductor of the Russian Youth Symphony, so he is well versed in the Russian repertoire, although he has plenty of activity elsewhere (he has conducted orchestras of great caliber). He started with an umistakeably Tchaikovskian score, the fantasy overture "Hamlet" (one of his three Shakespearian tone poems, for that´s what they are: the others being "Romeo and Juliet" and "The Tempest"). Written when he was occupied by his Fifth Symphony in 1888, all the hallmarks of his style are there in this unfairly ignored creation: the dark, ominous textures; the melodies charged with sorrow; the vigorous climaxes; the sense of drama. I enjoyed Vandelli´s sanguine interpretation, played by a committed Phil. Johann Baptist Vanhal (Bohemian) had a rather long life (1739-1813) and was staggeringly prolific: 73 symphonies, about 30 concertos, around a hundred string quartets, and 95 sacred works. Very popular and well considered in his own time, but quite forgotten as the Nineteenth Century advanced, the vinyl catalogue after WWII and later the CD rush provoked a thirst for the expansion of the repertoire beyond the greatest names, and thus slowly Vanhal was explored at least partially. There are few concerts for the bass, and so the two by Vanhal, purely classicist, began to be played again. The cumbersome instrument is habitually used in orchestras as the basis for rich string textures, but rarely gets solos to play, let alone concertos. So Osvaldo Dragún, first desk of our Phil, welcomed the chance of premièring Vanhal´s Concerto in D major, a pleasant twenty minutes that allowed the player to show the melodic and the virtuosic aspects of the bass. Dragún also played some of Bottesini´s Variations on the Carnival of Venice tune. A good player of charismatic appearance, he got strong applause. And Vandelli accompanied well. Now to another excentric composer: Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915). He started as a Late Romantic but gradually he went on to an audacious mystical avantgardism. His three symphonies are steps in that sense, crowned by his two great poems: "of ecstacy" and "of fire" ("Prometheus"). The Second Symphony (1901) was marvelously done here by Svetlanov and the USSR State Symphony, decades ago. In five movements (the first two and the last two joined), the music is exalted, turbulent and ample (48 minutes). Vandelli led with enthusiasm and command, getting a big sound out of an attentive Phil.For Buenos Aires Herald
The question is raised by two new studies of the nebulous profession, both in German. Finlands Dirigenten, by the Helsinki critic Vesa Siren , is a compendious attempt to explain why so many recent baton stars come from a country of five million people who speak a language related to no other. Siren suggests some of it is to do with the Sibelius heritage and some with quirky teaching at the Sibelius Academy, which Jorma Panula turned into a production line for fresh batons. These considerations aside, Siren comprehensively dismisses the idea that all Finns come in on size, underlining the temperamental ocean that divides the extravagant Leif Segertam (pictured) from the exceedingly self-contained Paavo Berglund. Finns are nothing if not individualists. Siren’s book is an essential bedside dipper for the limitless eccentricities of Suomi men with sticks. Dirigenten by Peter Gülke is a different kettle of egos. A former music director in Wuppertal, Gülke delivers potted profiles of conductors whom he considers important, from Hans von Bülow to Nikolaus Harnoncourt. Even more notable are his omissions – which is any conductor (except Toscanini and Markevitch) who is not German. So: no Nikisch, Mengelberg, Monteux, Mravinsky, Koussevitsky, Kubelik, Abbado, Muti, Mitropoulos, Talich, Solti, Haitink…. it is staggering to imagine that so myopic and insular a history could be published today in Germany.
Message from Vesa Siren: Congratulations to Sibelius Academy and Sakari Oramo, their next professor of conducting from 2020. This is the famous chair of Jorma Panula, Eri Klas, Leif Segerstam and now Atso Almila, who retires in 2019. Oramo, son of two Sibelius Academy professors, will probably have to give up one of his orchestras – BBC Symphony, Stockholm Phil, Ostrobotnian Chamber Orchestra) – but “I will follow the situation and there is no hurry”, he just said to me. He will continue in London at least until summer 2020 and in Stockholm at least until 2021. Much more on Oramo (pages 773-800) and on Finnish conducting from Kajanus and Sibelius to Santtu-Matias Rouvali and Klaus Mäkelä auf Deutsch in (my book) Finnlands Dirigenten , published next Friday in Berlin. portrait: Norman Perryman Official announcement: Conductor Sakari Oramo has been invited to become Professor of Orchestral Training and Orchestral Conducting at the Sibelius Academy of the University of the Arts Helsinki for the five-year period 1 Jan 2020 to 31 Dec 2024. He succeeds Professor Atso Almila, who will retire when his term expires in 2019. Sakari Oramo (b. 1965) is one of the world’s most sought-after and distinguished conductors. He is currently Chief Conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra. He is also Principal Conductor of the Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra and the West Coast Kokkola Opera. Oramo studied with Jorma Panula in the Sibelius Academy conducting class and graduated in 1992. He also participated in masterclasses given by Ilya Musin and Atso Almila. Before his conducting studies, he studied the violin at the Sibelius Academy and the Utrecht Conservatory in the Netherlands. He was once leader of the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra and a founding member of the Avanti! Chamber Orchestra and continues to perform extensively as a chamber musician and soloist.
Jean Sibelius (8 December 1865 - 20 September 1957) was a Finnish composer of the later Romantic period whose music played an important role in the formation of the Finnish national identity. His mastery of the orchestra has been described as "prodigious". The core of Sibelius's oeuvre is his set of seven symphonies. Like Beethoven, Sibelius used each successive work to further develop his own personal compositional style. His works continue to be performed frequently in the concert hall and are often recorded. In addition to the symphonies, Sibelius's best-known compositions include Finlandia, the Karelia Suite, Valse triste, the Violin Concerto in D minor and The Swan of Tuonela (one of the four movements of the Lemminkäinen Suite). Other works include pieces inspired by the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala; over 100 songs for voice and piano; incidental music for 13 plays; the opera Jungfrun i tornet (The Maiden in the Tower); chamber music; piano music; Masonic ritual music; and 21 separate publications of choral music. Sibelius composed prolifically until the mid-1920s. However, after completing his Seventh Symphony (1924), the incidental music to The Tempest (1926), and the tone poem Tapiola (1926), he produced no large scale works for the remaining thirty years of his life.
Great composers of classical music