Meet Yuja Wang

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To the outside observer, Yuja Wang, may seem more like a Rock ‘n’ Roll star than a concert pianist. With her outlandish dress sense and shock of black hair that would make Sid Vicious weep, the Chinese musician does not necessarily fit the stereotype of a classical virtuoso.

In person, the 29-year-old seems an effulgent, if slightly idiosyncratic character. Her smile is infectious, her laugh even more so, and she doesn’t immediately appear to be the one who is currently turning the world of classical music on its head. Yuja Wang’s playing bears all the hallmarks of a gifted pianist: an energetic joie-de-vivre coupled with unbelievable dexterity; a genius that transcends the tradition of classical piano. Such brilliance from the young starlet has earned her a spot at Beijing’s National Centre for Performing Arts (NCPA) as its first artist in residence, comprising six curated concerts, as well as masterclasses, lectures, and more.

But beneath the bright and bubbly persona and incredible skill, there is a Daedalian, almost contumacious streak to the musician.

Born in 1987 in Beijing to a dancer mother and percussionist father, Wang began studying piano at the age of six. A year later she began a three-year course at the Chinese capital’s Central Conservatory of Music, after which she travelled alone to study at the Mount Royal Conservatory in Canada. By 15 she had been accepted into the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, studying under renowned piano teacher Gary Graffman.

Read the full story here.

Kirill Petrenko in conversation with Alexander Bader

In this interview with the Berliner Philharmoniker’s clarinetist Andreas Bader, conductor Kirill Petrenko tells how his exciting programme concepts come about, how he builds his work with an orchestra, what he sees as an effective rehearsal, and how he finds his sound ideal.

Kirill Petrenko and Alexander Bader in conversation / Recorded in the Berlin Philharmonie, 21 December 2012.

Interview with Andris Nelsons : Stalin’s influence on Shostakovich

The marvelous German violinist Christian Tetzlaff joins Andris Nelsons and the BSO for Beethoven’s peerless Violin Concerto, which, through its lyricism, intensely musical virtuosity, and expansive scope elevated the genre of the violin concerto to ambitious new heights. Shostakovich-a Beethoven devotee-purportedly wrote his Symphony No. 10 as a response to Joseph Stalin’s death in 1953. Considered one of his finest, most characteristic orchestral works, the musically and emotionally rich Tenth seems partly to have been an exorcism of his conflicted personal feelings toward the Soviet dictator.

For self-preservation and to support his family, Dmitri Shostakovich was forced for much of his career to subjugate his social/political ideology to the dictates of Stalin. But while he was churning out a body of public music that Soviet authorities would consider appropriate to a Stalinist agenda, he was also composing a very different, intensely personal style of music for himself. When Stalin died in 1953, Shostakovich and other Soviet artists were finally allowed the freedom to make their true creative expression public. Just four months later, Shostakovich began writing his powerful, enigmatic Symphony No. 10, celebrated as one of the first major works of art created in post-Stalinist USSR, becoming a symbol in the country of cultural awakening following the demise of Stalins relentless oppression.

Simon Rattle on Gustav Mahler

Do you remember when you heard the music of Gustav Mahler for the first time?

I am not sure. I grew up in Liverpool when they were doing what was actually the first European Mahler-cycle with the same orchestra and conductor. It’s extraordinary to think of that – this was the middle of the ‘60s. But no-one in Europe had played all the symphonies with the same conductor at this time. It had only been done in Utah, by the Utah Symphony Orchestra. And look – one forgets how off-centre Mahler was at this time, before Bernstein, before etc. etc. Berthold Goldschmidt had only just performed the Mahler Third for the first time in Britain; that was in 1962. I have still a magnificent tape of that. So, Sir Charles Groves and the Liverpool Philharmonic, they did two a year for five and a half years, because they also did Das Lied von der Erde, they also did the early version of the completed Tenth. And I can remember, because I was studying: violin with one player in the orchestra, percussion with another, and they said: “Ah! We’re on our twice-yearly struggle with Mahler”.

Read the full interview here.

UE Mahler Interviews: Simon Rattle from Universal Edition on Vimeo.

James Rhodes interview: this clown can play Beethoven

No cheesy crossover, no TV ad favourites, but Bach partitas, Beethoven sonatas, Chopin études and wild, sprawling piano fantasies by the crazed 19th-century composer Charles-Valentin Alkan.

And he’ll be playing them live, too, in venues where classical music has never been heard: the Latitude festival, for example, a sort of highbrow, right-on Glastonbury held on the Suffolk coast in July. Next Wednesday he performs in the Udderbelly, a tent in the shape of an upside-down purple cow on the South Bank.

The cover of Rhodes’s second album (the last before Warner snapped him up) shows him dressed like a mime artist at a psychedelic rave: face slathered in white make-up, a smear of scarlet lipstick, plastic trousers – one leg red, one blue. When it came out, I wrote a blog post asking: “Why does this clown think he can play late Beethoven?”

Read the full interview in The Telegraph here.

Interview with Antonio Pappano

We are having an early lunch. Antonio Pappano, music director of the Royal Opera House, has blocked off the afternoon for a recording session at EMI’s Abbey Road studios in north London, and needs to be there by 2.30pm. The restaurant where we are to meet is five minutes away, but the choice is not purely one of convenience. L’Aventure, I discover during lunch, is Pappano’s favourite London dining place. He held his 50th birthday party there last December.

The midday sun is out and so are the tourists. Abbey Road, in the leafy suburb of St John’s Wood, has long been a place of pilgrimage for fans of the Beatles, who made most of their recordings there. The tourists are busy snapping pictures on the pedestrian crossing immortalised on the cover of the group’s 1969 album Abbey Road. But the studios’ status owes just as much to the great composers and conductors who have worked there since the 1930s – a tradition Pappano will continue at his recording session after lunch.

Pappano holds one of the most powerful positions in classical music. At Covent Garden, where he became artistic supremo in 2002, he controls the choice of operas and singers. Since 2005 he has played a similar role in Rome, as music director of the Orchestra of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Italy’s premier concert ensemble. He is also one of a dwindling number of conductors to have a recording contract. His recent EMI versions of Verdi’s Requiem and Puccini’s Madama Butterfly (which this week each won a Classical Brit award) have set a benchmark for modern interpretation of these works.

Read the full interview in The Financial Times here.

Sam Stander interviews Laurie Anderson

On a sparsely furnished Zellerbach Hall stage, armed with her skeletal violin, Laurie Anderson looked like the last player left after the orchestra had wandered off. But on Saturday, as she orated and played her way through her latest performance piece, “Delusion,” she exuded nothing but accomplished mastery.

Commissioned for the Vancouver 2010 Cultural Olympiad, the work develops Anderson’s career-long fascination with language and persona. Since before her 1982 debut record Big Science, she’s been fusing spoken-word storytelling with singing and experimental electronics. Here, she recounts dreams and treats various broader themes, switching between her natural voice and a booming masculine vocal filter named Fenway Bergamot.

“Delusion” shares some content with her upcoming album, Homeland, but it began its life in play form. “I thought, I’m going to try to write a play,” she recalled, speaking a couple days before the performance, “because I was working with a lot of sort of jump-cut type material, and I thought, how is that going to sound as a language where two people aren’t quite connecting as a conversation?”

Read the full article and listen to the interview in The Daily Californian here.

Michael Tilson Thomas interview in The Washington Post

Michael Tilson Thomas is a conductor — he heads two orchestras (the San Francisco Symphony and the New World Symphony), has won 10 Grammys and led the YouTube Symphony at Carnegie Hall — but he comes from a family of actors. His grandparents were major stars of the Yiddish theater a century ago, creating Yiddish versions of everything from “Hamlet” to Wagner’s “Parsifal.” And he is keenly aware that acting is in his blood.

“As a conductor,” he says, sitting over breakfast at the Hay-Adams Hotel, “I’m not interested in telling people, ‘Play the first three notes loud, the next three of them slower, the next two of them shorter . . . ‘ No director would say to an actor, ‘Say the first three words slow, and then wait a beat, and then say the next five more trippingly on the tongue.’ You wouldn’t, because the actor has to become the person. The actor must be the role.”

Tilson Thomas, or MTT, as he is widely known, has become the role himself. A notably boyish 65, his lean, handsome face framed with gently grayed hair, he’s grown into his trademark air of aggressive precociousness; at his age, he’s allowed to be the person in the room who knows the most about everything and to visibly expand when the focus of the conversation is himself. On the day of his Washington visit last month, he’s scheduled to accept the National Medal of Arts from President Obama — one of the country’s highest artistic honors. (He’ll be back in town Wednesday with the San Francisco Symphony when it performs at the Kennedy Center, courtesy of the Washington Performing Arts Society.)

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Tilson Thomas’s eyes are brighter, his skin more aglow than in some earlier incarnations (particularly an infamous bad-boy period in the 1970s). Now, he’s a passionate cook, and fresh off a stint at the Pritikin Center: For more than two months he’s been living without salt, fat, caffeine, alcohol and sugar. “I feel so much better,” he says. “I have more energy. I’m kind of eating the diet my ancestors ate in the Ukraine. Kasha and oat groats, whole grains. I sound like the most boring food faddist,” he says, ever self-aware. “We’ll see how long this lasts.”

Read the full interview in The Washington Post here.

Yo-Yo Ma: Cellist in chief

In 1961, Pablo Casals played for John F. Kennedy at the White House. The concert could be seen as a symbol of the importance of the arts to the Kennedy administration, or as a gesture of honor to a great cellist.

But there’s no question, when the concert is re-created next year as part of the Kennedy Center’s tribute to the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s inauguration, about who will represent Casals. When there’s a commemorative event that calls for classical music, Yo-Yo Ma is almost sure to be the person playing it.

“My involvement in the political arena is to make sure there’s a place for culture,” Ma said in a recent interview over breakfast near his home in Cambridge, Mass. And one of music’s accepted roles is a commemorative one. “Weddings, bar mitzvahs, funerals, an inauguration,” Ma says, “those are the moments when it serves a moment.” And Ma is happy to make music wherever it’s needed. After all, it helps get the message across.

Read the full interview in The Washington Post here.

Wolfgang Rihm: the musical omnivore

The taxi driver knows immediately who I’m going to see when I tell him the address I need in Karlsruhe. “That’s Professor Rihm, right?” I’m a wee bit bemused that someone I’ve never met in this beautiful, stately town near Germany’s French and Swiss borders knows that I’m here to meet its most famous musical resident – Wolfgang Rihm, one of the most brilliant, inventive, and prolific composers alive today. “We pick him up all the time. He doesn’t drive, so he knows us all pretty well. He’s a really nice guy.”

Rihm belongs to Karlsruhe. He was born and raised here, he sang in the city’s choirs, played the church organs, and now teaches at the conservatoire. The flat where he lives is a stone’s throw from his first family home.

Rihm, 57, is a big, hearty, and big-hearted man. “Let me show you my whisky collection,” he says five minutes after I arrive. He’s proud of a handful of rare single malts that have probably never been in the same drinks cabinet together, and we share an astonishingly good 1982 Glenfarclas at his work desk. The desk is the only clear space in Rihm’s rooms, each of which is lined with floor-to-ceiling bookcases. On the floor are piles of CDs and manuscript paper. A Steinway grand piano groans under the weight of scores, books and yet more CDs. It’s an orderly chaos, I suggest. He smiles. “That’s the combination I need. The one corrects the other, so it achieves a kind of equilibrium. Like in my music.”

Read the full interview in The Guardian here.