Pianist Wang builds bridge from 'heart to the fingers'

Building a career as a solo pianist is rarely easy. Hundreds of talented young pianists graduate from the world’s conservatories and universities every year. Finding a place for themselves in a crowded field can be daunting.

Xiayin Wang, a young pianist who will make a set of appearances in Chicago starting next week, seems to be finding her way. Born in China and a prize-winning student at the Shanghai Conservatory, she came to the United States in 1997 for college-level work at the Manhattan School of Music. She has performed at Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall, and her recently released CD of music by Scriabin is full of color and an infectious sense of propulsive rhythm.

As an artist, Wang (her name is pronounced sha-EEN wong) grew up in two worlds. Her father plays the erhu, a traditional Chinese instrument that resembles a two-string fiddle, and her training in Shanghai focused relentlessly on developing a proper keyboard technique. But she studied Western classical music, whose greatest piano works require a strong emotional commitment as well as formidable technique. Straddling two worlds, she said, has given her an unusually flexible approach to her career. She enjoys playing jazz and tango as well as classical music.

Read the full article in Chicago Sun Times here.

2008 review in The New York Times here.

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Music review: David Aaron Carpenter, violist

One of the good things about violists is that they have repertoire nobody else knows about.

David Aaron Carpenter‘s impressive recital at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music on Sunday afternoon, presented by San Francisco Performances, offered more than just the spectacle of a gifted young artist coming into his own. It also included some first-rate music that shows up all too rarely on concert programs.

The effect, at least during the first half of the program, was to leave a listener with a distracting embarrassment of riches. Here was Carpenter, joined by pianist Julien Quentin in a performance marked by wonderful fervor and eloquence, and here too were delectable, fascinating pieces by York Bowen and Rebecca Clarke that were probably known only to the hard-core viola aficionados in the audience.

Read the full article on SFgate.com here.

2007 review in The New York Times here.

Anne-Sophie Mutter in United Arab Emirates

“Excuse my English,” Anne-Sophie Mutter says with a laugh. “I know it’s rather flowery, but that’s as good as it gets.” As it turns out she speaks it better than I do; her German must be a model of rhetorical control.

Still, it’s clear why, as one of the finest violinists in the world, she might feel her second language ranks poorly as a mode of expression. It is our good fortune in Abu Dhabi that we’ll get to hear her fingers do the talking when she comes to the Emirates Palace to play a trio of violin trios this weekend as part of the Abu Dhabi Classics season.

For now it’s only worth noting that, in music as in speech, Mutter seems to have been reconciling herself to floweriness.

Read the full article in The National here.

Concertgebouw: downloads for Valentine's Day

In anticipation of its D.C. performance on Monday (and its performances at Carnegie Hall the two days after that), the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra is making a Valentine’s Day gesture to American audiences by offering ten free downloads from its website. And we’re talking complete symphonies, not excerpts: the Brahms Second, — including performances of Brahms’ Second Symphony (with Mariss Jansons), the Bruckner 8th (Haitink), the Dvorak 8th (Giulini), the Mahler 1st (Bernstein), and others.

Read the blog in The Washington Post here.

Martin Scorsese's new film 'Shutter Island' has bold soundtrack

Alex Ross of The New Yorker notes that millions of Americans will enjoy music by an unusually long list of intrepid composers when Martin Scorsese’s film “Shutter Island,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio, opens Feb. 19. The list includes names from — surprise! — the heart of avant-garde classicism: Giacinto Scelsi, John Cage, Lou Harrison, György Ligeti, Morton Feldman, Krzysztof Penderecki, Alfred Schnittke, Nam June Paik, Ingram Marshall and John Adams.

“This fairly bold lineup of composers, which would cause the average orchestra subscriber to flee in terror, appears on the soundtrack to Martin Scorsese’s film “Shutter Island.”Scorsese’s music supervisor is Robbie Robertson, the former lead guitarist of The Band, who has consulted on many of the director’s movies, notably “Raging Bull” and “The King of Comedy.” “This may be the most outrageous and beautiful soundtrack I’ve ever heard,” Robertson says, in a press release. It’s hard to argue with the claim, given that the playlist includes Cage’s “Music for Marcel Duchamp,” Scelsi’s “Uaxuctum,” Feldman’s “Rothko Chapel,” and Ligeti’s “Lontano.” Ligeti and Penderecki come out of the familiar Kubrick playbook—“Lontano” figured memorably in “The Shining”—but many of the other selections are unexpected, most of all the choice of Mahler’s Piano Quartet in A Minor. (Via Bryant Manning.)”

Vladimir Horowitz: the tiger who burnt bright

The German word Klaviertiger — which hardly needs translation — might have been invented to describe the musical and technical prowess of the young Ukrainian-born pianist Vladimir Horowitz, who shot to international stardom when he provoked a sensation as a last-minute replacement in a virtuoso tour de force, Tchaikovsky’s B flat minor Piano Concerto. That was on January 20, 1926, in Hamburg, and news of the young firebrand’s success ensured a sellout of the repeat concert. Two years later, the by then 24-year-old scored an even bigger triumph, with the New York public, at Carnegie Hall, despite disagreements with the conductor, Sir Thomas Beecham, over tempi: the young Horowitz was an impetuous speed merchant in a hurry, but capable of huge sonorities unquenchable by any opening of the orchestral floodgates.

Read the full article in The Times here.

Premiere at last for Prokofiev's pre-Stalin War and Peace opera

Completed – or so he thought – at the moment of his country’s greatest peril with Hitler’s forces camped in the Moscow suburbs, Sergei Prokofiev’s operatic adaptation of Tolstoy’s War and Peace must have seemed a powerful and patriotic artistic response to the horrors of the conflict engulfing his homeland. But it didn’t work like that in Stalin’s world.

Even in the depths of danger Soviet cultural commissars were alive to the taint of bourgeois sentiment and the composer spent more than a decade revising his score under increasing duress to please his political masters. In the end, dying as he did on the same day as Stalin in 1953, he never lived to see his work performed in its entirety.

Later this month British audiences will be treated to the world premiere of the “de-Sovietised” version of the operatic masterpiece written as Prokofiev intended it when it is performed by The Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama and Scottish Opera at the Theatre Royal in Glasgow before moving to the Edinburgh Festival Theatre.

Read the full article in The Independent here.

Nico Muhly and Craig Lucas opera based on a real Internet murder plot

The composer Nico Muhly and the playwright Craig Lucas have crossed the finish line first.

Their opera, based on a real Internet murder plot, will be the first to be staged under a joint commissioning program by the Metropolitan Opera and Lincoln Center Theater, the Met said on Friday.

Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager, has said that the idea behind the project, which began when he took over the Met in 2006, is to develop new repertory and give the compositions the benefit of improving through a workshop process, more of a Broadway method.

The work will make its debut in June 2011 at the English National Opera, which will share in the production’s cost with the Met. It will come to the Met for the 2013-14 season. It will be the fourth time that the Met and the English National Opera have co-produced a show since Mr. Gelb took over, in a system that has essentially turned London into an out-of-town tryout locale for the Met.

Read the full article in The New York Times here.

Ensemble ACJW @ Le Poisson Rouge

IN its modest, underground way a concert that the young musicians of the Ensemble ACJW gave on a brisk night in December at Le Poisson Rouge, the Greenwich Village club for all kinds of contemporary music, was one of the most liberating programs I have heard in years.

The excellent players, participants of the Academy (the select training institute for post-graduate musicians run jointly by the Juilliard School, Carnegie Hall and the Weill Music Institute), impishly titled the program “ACJW Gets Extreme: The Mix Tape.” The idea was to present substantive contemporary music with the trappings of a rock band’s release party.

Though the performances were brilliant, it was the irreverent mixing of works that excited me. The players leapt from the experimental modernist Stockhausen’s “Zodiac” to an elusive, rock-infused new chamber work, “Bow to String,” by Daniel Bjarnason, a trendy young Icelandic composer; from “Semi-Simple Variations,” a spiky 12-tone piano piece by Milton Babbitt, to “Synchronisms No. 9” for violin and electronics by Mario Davidovsky. And so on. Categories be damned.

Read the full article in The New York Times here.

Philadelphia composer Jennifer Higdon scores a Grammy

Among the Grammy winners this year was Jennifer Higdon, a Philadelphia-based composer whose Percussion Concerto received the award for best new contemporary classical recording on Sunday. [2008 recording on Spotify here, ed.]

Local classical music fans may recall that Higdon, a longtime friend of Harrisburg Sympony Orchestra conductor Stuart Malina, was in the audience when HSO performed the amazing new work at The Forum in March 2008.

They may also recall the sustained standing ovation given to principal percussionist Christopher Rose, only the second person to perform the work. Rose moved purposefully around the stage, playing some 20 instruments, including drums, cymbals, gongs, marimba, xylophone and a variety of other noise-making gadgets.

“When I first heard it,” Malina said, “I thought here is a very rare case where a percussion concerto isn’t just about showing off a bunch of instruments. It has a really strong role for the orchestra.”

Malina has been friends with Higdon since the late ’80s, when they met as students at Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music, where Higdon now teaches. The Percussion Concerto, recorded by percussionist Colin Currie and the London Philharmonic Orchestra, is the third of her works to earn a Grammy.

[via pennlive.com]