Clarinet Gets Acrobatic Workout

In his brilliant Clarinet Concerto, Magnus Lindberg exploits myriad facets of what the instrument can do, from playing soaring melodic lines to making almost rude-sounding noises. He composed the work in 2002 for the remarkable clarinetist Kari Kriikku, who performed its United States premiere with the New York Philharmonic, led by Alan Gilbert, on Saturday evening at Carnegie Hall.

Mr. Kriikku, a physically flamboyant player of Olympian virtuosity, tackled with aplomb the athletic demands of this rewarding and rigorously constructed single-movement work, whose five sections have allusions to Brahms, Debussy and jazz. Making his debut with the Philharmonic on Saturday, Mr. Kriikku played with a glowing tone and sensual spontaneity in the rhapsodic interludes. He offered a breathtaking cadenza, performing acrobatic feats in the instrument’s highest range.

While some contemporary composers view the symphony orchestra as archaic, Mr. Lindberg (the Philharmonic’s current composer in residence) has called it “his favorite instrument” and “the perfect typewriter where you have all the keys.” In this concerto he gives the orchestra a workout that results in dense, shimmering soundscapes, whose kaleidoscopic colors were aptly illuminated by Mr. Gilbert.

Read the full review in The New York Times here.

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Los Angeles Philharmonic 2010/11 Season

Los Angeles (February 16, 2010) – Los Angeles Philharmonic Music Director Gustavo Dudamel and President and CEO Deborah Borda today announced the 2010/11 season of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Dudamel and the LA Phil move into the second season of their partnership, one which allows for a greatly expanded presence for Dudamel in Los Angeles. The momentum and initiatives of Dudamel‟s inaugural season continue with 12 new commissions, 9 world premieres, 5 U.S. premieres, 5 West Coast premieres, 2 composer-based festivals, a major European tour and a series of artistic partnerships. The vibrant season, which embraces innovation, excellence and commitment to community, is further embodied in the expansion of YOLA, along with a spectrum of imaginative presentations and the continuing tradition of introducing rising artists and composers.

Read the full press release here [PDF].
Read the coverage in the Los Angeles Times here.

New York Philharmonic Press Conference Live on Twitter

Tune in at Noon as we tweet live from our press conference as Alan Gilbert & special guests announce the 2010/11 season!

Alan Gilbert and the Philharmonic begin 2010/11 with a world premiere by Wynton Marsalis, performed with the JALC orchestra.

Director/Designer Doug Fitch is back to stage Janacek’s “The Cunning Little Vixen.” He wants to create a “meta-forest” in Avery Fisher Hall.

Composer-In-Residence Magnus Lindberg returns in 10-11; Gilbert conducts his groundbreaking Kraft, with instruments made from car parts!

Anne-Sophie Mutter is the NYP’s new Artist-In-Residence. She’ll perform premieres with Gilbert and MTT; chamber music, a recital and more.

Hungarian Echoes: Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts three weeks of Bartok, Haydn & Ligeti. Guests include Aimard, Mustonen & Michelle DeYoung…

Alan Gilbert and the Phil will play the Brahms triple with Shaham, Ax, and Ma for the @CarnegieHall 120th Anniversary!

Read more in The New York Times here.

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Good old Beethoven beats Holt's new ghosts

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra was in fantastic form at Roy Thomson Hall on Wednesday night under visiting Scottish conductor Douglas Boyd. Interestingly, in a program that featured the North American premiere of a new work, it was one of the most over-performed and over-recorded pieces of symphonic music that made for the most rewarding listening.

Under Boyd’s iron grip over the assembled instrumentalists, Ludwig van Beethoven’s ba-da-ba-daaa Symphony No. 5, first heard in the Vienna of 1814, sounded as fresh as if the ink were barely dry on the page. The orchestra was tight and intensely detailed in articulation as Boyd led a performance deeply intense in its dynamic contrasts and varying speeds.

So many nuances in Beethoven’s score were double-underlined to pique our interest that the “aha!” moments tumbled off the stage in rapid succession. The same was true for the evening’s opening piece, the short but equally dramatic overture to Beethoven’s opera, Fidelio, which had its premiere the same year.

Quite simply, this was symphonic playing at its most engaging.

The old chestnuts were meant to contrast with a percussion concerto written by British composer Simon Holt for his countryman, Colin Currie. Premiered to critical praise in 2008, a table of noises certainly managed to live up to its title, but that’s faint praise.

Holt’s piece is a series of six solo vignettes and five orchestral meditations titled “ghosts.” Each section allows Currie to connect with a different compartment of his percussionist’s tool box, giving the audience much to marvel at.

The reduced orchestra relies mostly on the winds for its contribution, but the sounds are episodic.

Currie is phenomenally gifted, but the music repeatedly failed to connect the soloist in a dialogue with sections of the orchestra. Instead, the music is more babble than speech. It is like a child in a proverbial candy store of rhythmic and percussive temptations, each sampled greedily, but none savoured.

Holt’s music certainly engages the gut as well as the intellect. But there’s little for the heart, whereas the two Beethoven pieces satisfied all three – and then some.

[via Toronto Star]

Luigi Nono: Out of the Shadows

Although many consider him one of the most significant musical figures of the 20th century, American audiences still haven’t caught up to Luigi Nono. The Italian composer — a leader in the postwar avant-garde, and a contemporary of Boulez and Stockhausen — remains something of an enigma in the West.

The San Francisco Contemporary Music Players venture where others fear to tread. The ensemble’s March 1 program at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Forum, which features Nono’s late-life masterwork, La lontananza nostalgica utopica futura, may represent the sole opportunity to hear the composer’s music performed in the Bay Area this season.

Nono, who was born in Venice in 1924 and died there in 1990, was often at the forefront of the 20th century’s musical developments. Beginning in the 1950s, his early works blazed a trail through pointillism and serialism; his first major work, The Canonic Variations, is based on a tone row from Arnold Schoenberg’s Ode to Napoleon (in 1955, Nono married Schoenberg’s daughter, Nuria). Nono’s overt preoccupation with politics contributed to anti-Fascist works such as Il canto sospeso in the 1950s and ’60s and a pioneering use of electronica in the ’70s. The 1980s saw the composer creating mature works, including the string quartet Fragmente – Stille, An Diotima and Caminates … Ayacucho for contralto, flute, choirs, orchestra, and live electronics. The opera Prometo, the finest expression of his “theatre of consciousness,” is Nono’s masterwork.

Read the full article in San Francisco Classical Voice here.

The Darmstadt school's British invasion

In many ways, Darmstadt is a typical German city. It has a local beer, an opera house, parks and museums and an efficient tram network, and one night in September 1944 it was devastated by an Allied bombing raid. When people emerged from the shelters, they discovered a city in which four out of every five buildings was ruined. A year later, with the second world war over, reconstruction began. The fabric of the city was slowly restored – buildings, jobs, a political structure – and in the process, more or less by accident, something remarkable happened.

Casting around for ways to regenerate cultural life in the city, its new mayor, Ludwig Metzger, was persuaded by a local musicologist, Wolfgang Steinecke, to consider the possibility of establishing an institute for contemporary music. Because Darmstadt was in the American- controlled zone of occupied Germany, Metzger and Steinecke needed the approval of the American forces to develop their ideas and by happy coincidence the officer in charge of such initiatives was a former Harvard University music student, Everett Helms. The permissions were granted, and in the summer of 1946, American army trucks delivered grand pianos to a hunting lodge on the outskirts of Darmstadt, the temporary home for the first “courses for international new music”.

The courses were initially intended to denazify German musicians by introducing them to the modern music of the 1930s and 40s, music by Bartók, Hindemith, Schoenberg, Stravinsky, all of which had been outlawed as “degenerate” under Hitler. But soon new music by the next generation of composers became part of the courses too and by the early 1950s, the summer school, now subtly redesignated as the “international courses for new music”, was acquiring a reputation as the meeting place for aspiring avantgardistes not only from Germany but across Europe and beyond.

Read the full article in The Guardian here.

Wolfgang Rihm: Quid Est Deus

Since he composed his St Luke Passion for Stuttgart 10 years ago, choral works seem to have figured more and more prominently in Wolfgang Rihm’s output. The Hänssler disc includes one of the most substantial of them, the “cantata hermetica”, Quid Est Deus, composed in 2007. It sets 24 Latin definitions of God as a series of choral statements, often with minimal orchestral accompaniment. There’s an austere, hieratic quality about the writing, and a Stravinsky-like feel to some of the harmony (deliberately or not, a recurring progression almost directly quotes from the Symphony of Psalms), though the orchestral outbursts that ­occasionally punctuate the sequence have a highly wrought expressionist edge. It’s a compellingly concentrated piece, very different from the sparer, earlier works on the disc, which belong to the period in the late 1980s and early 90s when Rihm was influenced by Luigi Nono’s late works. These use spatial effects, dispersing the orchestra around the performing space: Ungemaltes Bild (Unpainted Picture) attempts to convey in sound the spirit of a watercolour series by Nolde, while Frau/Stimme sets a Heiner Müller text for two sopranos, embedding it in fractured, halting orchestral textures from which it emerges piecemeal.

[via The Guardian]

Niu Niu the piano prodigy

PRACTICING the piano is torture for many kids but for 11-year-old Niu Niu, letting his fingers dance across the keyboard is just as much fun as dashing around outside in the sunshine. He is really “playing” the piano.

And this young pianist will soon be “playing” the big time with a solo concert at the National Grand Theater on Tuesday, December 23.

Niu Niu does not have the demeanor many would expect of a pianist. He can’t sit still for a minute, except when he’s at the keyboard.

“I was born in the Year of Ox which is how I got the nickname ‘Niu Niu’,” he said, his two forefingers extending at both sides of his shaking head, resembling an Ox.

The “little ox” – his real name is Zhang Shengliang – is a junior student of the Affiliated Middle School of Shanghai Conservatory of Music, as well as the youngest pianist ever contracted to EMI Music in China.

Although he has never done any piano exams, Niu Niu is a seasoned stage performer. He did his first solo concert in Xiamen in Fujian Province at age six, has performed with well-known musicians such as Lang Lang and Leslie Howard, and on stage abroad in Britain and France.

His recital at the National Grand Theater will be by the youngest pianist ever to perform a solo concert at the venue.

Niu Niu still has school classes to attend and now spends his spare time, about four hours a day, practicing for the concert.

Read the full article in the Shanghai Daily here.

Leonard Bernstein on the Mystery Behind the Music

Imagine this: you drop onto the sofa on a Sunday afternoon, switch on the TV and see a dapper young man with a baton standing before an orchestra and demonstrating the patterns conductors use to lead music in different meters — two, three, four and five beats to the bar. He directs his players in a few examples, bits of Beethoven’s Ninth and Schubert’s Eighth Symphonies, Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf,” Waldteufel’s “Skater’s Waltz.” Then he ups the ante, showing how these simple gestures, with subtle modification, are used to coax a fluid, lyrical performance; a playful reading; or an urgently dramatic interpretation from an orchestra.

For 48 minutes, this young conductor — Leonard Bernstein, caught on film in 1955 — brings you into the musician’s world, talking about how tempo, dynamics and phrasing express a conductor’s feelings and beliefs about a piece, and how that expressivity affects a listener’s perception of the music. And he offers you a glimpse of his preparation for a performance.

“Take this opening bar of the Brahms First Symphony,” he says, and then conducts it. “There are 55 notes in it, being played by 100 instruments, and the conductor has to know them all, or he has no right to ascend the podium in the first place. And this is only one bar out of 1,260 in this symphony.”

Even with hundreds of cable channels to choose from today, the likelihood of running into a show like this is slim.

Read the full article in The New York Times here.

Music review: Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos at the L.A. Philharmonic

For all its fascination with youth, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, while Gustavo Dudamel is away, has hardly become no country for old men. Last month, Lorin Maazel (79) spent two weeks at Walt Disney Concert Hall. Last weekend, Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos (76) was on the podium; he was preceded the previous week by Herbert Blomstedt (82) and will be followed by Charles Dutoit (73).

Esa-Pekka Salonen, when he turned 50 in 2008, printed T-shirts with the slogan “50 is the next 70.” But the fact is, conductors age exceptionally well. A 95-year-old Leopold Stokowski remained a gratifyingly flashy conductor right up to his death in 1975. Nor, I’m happy to report, has the Spanish-German Frühbeck lost his flamboyance.

His manner is courtly. His gestures are sweeping and charismatic. He is a connoisseur of colorful French, Spanish and Russian music. They especially love him in Boston and Philadelphia, where he brings back memories by extracting the ripe, fleshy sounds of their orchestras of yore.

Read the full article in The Los Angeles Times here.