Jimi Hendrix's Hey Joe Live by Turtle Island Quartet

In 1969 David Balakrishnan, then a teenage violin student, attended a Jimi Hendrix concert in Los Angeles that led him to reconsider his approach to his instrument, and to music more broadly. He began learning some of Hendrix’s guitar solos on the violin, and he decided that his repertory should embrace both classical music and pop. As a composer he extended that philosophy to his own music.

Read the full article in The New York Times here.

Visit Turtle Island Quartet here.

Wo ist das Orchester?

From Die Zeit: Germany’s orchestras in cartographic form (click to enlarge).

As the accompanying article makes clear, there’s no other country where orchestras are quite so evenly distributed, geographically speaking. No wonder so many Germans appreciate classical music. It’s so much easier when it’s right there on your doorstep.

[via Intermezzo]

James Levine steps down from Boston Symphony

James Levine, music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, is to relinquish the role at the end of the current season. Dogged by ill health, he has had to cancel an increasing number of appearances with the orchestra. The search is now on for a successor, though the BSO are also considering a new role for Levine, who has led them since 2004.

Read the full article in Gramophone here.

How to sell classical music to a new audience

Gabriel Prokofiev, classical DJ, composer and grandson of Sergei:

The current concert format is old-fashioned. It’s based on rules devised by the bourgeoisie at the turn of the 19th century to protect and elevate their culture. They tried to make it this semi-religious experience, sacred and serious. But in Mozart’s time concerts were more informal: Mozart expected one movement to be played, he didn’t expect a perfect rendition of the whole symphony. I know plenty of people who feel intimidated by a classical concert. They feel as though there’s some sort of code, some sort of language they’re just not worthy of knowing. I went to the ballet to see Romeo and Juliet, by my grandfather. I’m not joking, I turned up a minute late and they wouldn’t let me in. I missed the whole of the first act. That’s part of the formality of these kind of events. Why do they start at 7.30pm? For the past six years I’ve been running classical club nights upstairs in the Horse & Groom pub in Shoreditch, East London. The live music doesn’t start until nine o’clock. There’s a DJ between acts, people can have a drink and chat. If they don’t like the piece they can move to the bar. It’s what people are used to at pop gigs. We’re reaching out to a younger audience.

Read the full article in The Times here.

Bargemusic keeps reinventing itself with new programs

There is usually a moment early in any concert at Bargemusic when even listeners who have spent many evenings hearing music in this converted coffee barge find themselves wondering why they couldn’t have found something to do on dry land. The barge, moored on the Brooklyn side of the East River — near the River Café and a stone’s throw from the Brooklyn Bridge — is a boat, after all, and it is given to the gentle rocking motion that mariners love and landlubbers can find mildly disconcerting.

But part of the magic of Bargemusic is that you quickly forget about the motion. When you take your seat, you face a stage set before a large window that offers a spectacular view: the river, with its varied traffic, and the looming cityscape of Lower Manhattan. The performances, by an expansive roster of regulars, as well as visiting ensembles and soloists, are typically so involving that they eclipse even the view.

Lately the programming has been increasingly inventive, as Mark Peskanov, the violinist who has been Bargemusic’s president and executive and artistic director since 2006, has added a new-music series (Here and Now), an early-music series (There and Then) and jazz concerts to the diet of standard repertory solo and chamber works that has been Bargemusic’s main fare. All told, the barge presents about 220 concerts year round.

Read the full article in The New York Times here.

The Met Orchestra conducted by Pierre Boulez

The list of significant conductors who have never appeared at the Metropolitan Opera grew shorter during the past two seasons with the acclaimed house debuts of Daniel Barenboim, Riccardo Muti and Esa-Pekka Salonen. One notable maestro, Pierre Boulez, remains on that list, and at 85 he is not likely to commit to a Met production, which would involve several weeks of residency.

But Mr. Boulez was at least enticed to conduct the Met Orchestra, and that long-awaited concert took place on Sunday afternoon at Carnegie Hall. The program — Bartok’s mysterious ballet score “The Wooden Prince” and Schoenberg’s operatic monodrama “Erwartung” — was tailored to Mr. Boulez’s expertise and interests. The concert was a triumph. I lost track of the number of times Mr. Boulez and Deborah Polaski, the compelling soprano soloist in the Schoenberg, were brought back to the stage during the long final ovation.

With his acute ear for color and texture, Mr. Boulez can usually elicit a certain sound from whatever orchestra he conducts, especially with musicians as skilled and responsive as these. In Bartok’s “Wooden Prince,” written in 1917, the orchestra played with warmth and radiance yet uncanny clarity, a Boulez hallmark.

Read the full review in The New York Times here.

Is high culture too pricey? Not at all!

How affordable is high culture? One great myth of our time — surely up there with Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and the Prince of Wales’s supposed eye for fine architecture — is that tickets for opera, theatre, ballet and orchestral concerts are too expensive, especially for the young. It’s a well-known medical fact that your blood boils more often as you get older. But few things set my corpuscles seething more than this oft-repeated chestnut.

In Britain, at least, it’s nonsense — as a music blogger (intermezzo.typepad.com) has just reminded me. She compared prices for top-range British orchestral concerts with similar events abroad. The cheap tickets to hear London’s orchestras range from £7 to £9 — same as a cinema ticket, and lower than at many pop and comedy venues. For comparison, when the Los Angeles Philharmonic perform with top soloists and conductors the cheapest seat is £30; and at the Berlin Philharmonic it’s a wallet-draining £46.

Read the full article in The Times here.

The New York premiere of György Ligeti’s “Grand Macabre”

Over the years many symphonic institutions have tried, with inconclusive results. In his first season as music director of the New York Philharmonic, Alan Gilbert is pursuing a more experimental, potentially more exciting, agenda. For the New York premiere of Gyorgy Ligeti’s “Grand Macabre,” opening a three-night run on Thursday at Avery Fisher Hall, he has opted for a portable multimedia staging by the diminutive production company Giants Are Small, based in Sunset Park, a blue-collar neighborhood in Brooklyn.

Read the full article in The New York Times here.

Nicolas Hodges @ Zankel Hall

The British pianist Nicolas Hodges is best known as an astute interpreter of contemporary works, no doubt because his discography is weighted heavily toward new music. But his program biography points out that as a teacher — he is a professor at the Staatliche Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst, in Stuttgart, Germany — he encourages his students to avoid specializing in either new music or the standard repertory.

At his recital at Zankel Hall on Tuesday evening he surrounded thorny scores by Frederic Rzewski and Henri Dutilleux with sonatas by Beethoven and Schumann. Mr. Hodges brought considerable energy to everything on the program, but he seemed most fully engaged by the modern scores.

In Mr. Rzewski’s “Nanosonatas,” Book I (2006), Mr. Hodges had a score that demanded ingenuity and technique, and he appeared to relish its challenges. Its seven pieces are steeped in the extremes of keyboard writing: the highest and lowest registers of the piano, a broad dynamic sweep, dense passages offset by sparseness and silence, and jackhammerlike forcefulness set beside gauzy introspection. Striking the piano percussively was required too, as was reciting lines from Genesis (the section about God’s reaction to the murder of Abel).

Read the full review in The New York Times here.

Liszt: Orpheus; Ligeti: Violin Concerto; Bartok: Suite from The Wooden Prince

Renaud Capuçon; Berliner Philharmoniker/David Robertson

Philharmonie, Berlin, 9 May 2010

The first work on the programme was Liszt’s Orpheus. It was in Weimar, under contract as court Kapellmeister, that Liszt embarked on the composition of a new genre of orchestral music, the symphonic poem. This genre was to give full embodiment to the breadth of the composer’s aims, philosophical and poetic as well as music. But what at the time must have been vanguard has since settled comfortably into the category of easy-listening as far as classical music is concerned.

Appropriately enough the work opens with two harps acting as mimesis of the Greek poet’s lyre. Themes follow each other unevenly, signalling an extension of the sonata form towards something purely evocative, a searching by way of music for something only music can search for. As a concert-opener it’s perfect, not too long or demanding, lush on the ears. And here it was brought off well, Robertson measuring the work well in gradually bringing us to the crescendo at the work’s end.

This was followed by Ligeti’s Violin Concerto. A couple of years ago I saw this work performed by the London Sinfonietta along with its dedicatee and original soloist, Saschko Gawriloff. It was excellent then, but this performance by the Philharmoniker with the young Renaud Capuçon was if anything even better.

Read the full review in on musicalcriticism.com here.