Daniel Barenboim: promoting peace through classical music

Exploring how classical music contributes to peaceful coexistence in crisis regions around the world has helped define Daniel Barenboim’s life work.

‘Barenboim or the Power of Music’ is a documentary that examines Barenboim as not only one of the most outstanding conductors and pianists of our time but as a deeply political man as well. Barenboim has said that every great work of art has two faces, one toward its own time and one toward the future, toward eternity. In November 2017 this progressive thinker and free spirit turns 75.

The film begins with the opening of the Pierre Boulez Saal in Berlin in the spring of 2017. The concert hall named after Barenboim’s close friend Pierre Boulez and designed by star architect Frank Gehry seats 700 people. The oval shaped space located in the heart of Berlin is more than just a spectacular new venue for classical and contemporary chamber music; young musicians from the Middle East – Jews, Christians and Muslims – are given the opportunity to study and play music together here. The idea behind the Barenboim-Said Academy in Berlin grew out of a project that Barenboim and his friend, the intellectual Edward Said realized in 1999 when they founded the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra made up of Israeli and Arab musicians. The viewer gets a vivid sense of Barenboim’s lifelong view that any solution to political conflicts, such as those in the Middle East, can only be cultural and personal, and not decreed by policy-makers.

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Ravel’s ‘Pavane pour une infante défunte’

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Pavane pour une infante défunte (Pavane for a Dead Infanta) is a well-known piece written for solo piano by the French composer Maurice Ravel in 1899 when he was studying composition at the Conservatoire de Paris under Gabriel Fauré. Ravel also published an orchestrated version of the Pavane in 1910; it is scored for two flutes, oboe, two clarinets (in B-flat), two bassoons, two horns, harp, and strings. A typical performance of the piece lasts between six and seven minutes. It is widely considered a masterpiece.

Conductor: Andre Previn
Orchestra: London Symphony Orchestra
Recording: 1980.

Stravinsky’s ‘Suite For Small Orchestra No.1 and No.2’ recorded in Italy in 1953

The Suite For Small Orchestra No.1 was composed between 1917 and 1925. This miniature work, comprising an introduction and three national dances, is notable for its prominent rhythms and rich orchestral colouring.

Suite No.2 is extremely witty and rhythmically varied. The employment of the piano obligato, tuba, and the colourful application of the percussion instruments are described as particularly original orchestral effects.

Conductor: Hermann Scherchen
Orchestra: Orchestra Sinfonica della Rai di Torino
Recording: November 6, 1953

Did you know that Verdi composed a string quartet?

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Giuseppe Verdi’s String Quartet in E minor was written in the spring of 1873 during a production of Aida in Naples. It is the only surviving chamber music work in Verdi’s catalogue.

Verdi’s production of Aida in early March, 1873 was delayed due to the sudden illness of soprano Teresa Stolz. Verdi focused his time in Naples on the writing of his first chamber work, the String Quartet in E minor. The work was premiered two days after the opening of Aida during an informal recital at his hotel on April 1, 1873. The names of the original performers survive only as Pinto brothers, violins, Salvadore, viola, and Giarritiello, cello.

Verdi commented on the work, saying “I’ve written a Quartet in my leisure moments in Naples. I had it performed one evening in my house, without attaching the least importance to it and without inviting anyone in particular. Only the seven or eight persons who usually come to visit me were present. I don’t know whether the Quartet is beautiful or ugly, but I do know that it’s a Quartet!”

The quartet also exists in a version for string orchestra.

The Quartet is scored for the usual string quartet complement of two violins, viola, and cello.

  1. Allegro
  2. Andantino
  3. Prestissimo
  4. Scherzo Fuga. Allegro assai mosso

 

Daniil Trifonov – Fantaisie-Impromptu In C-Sharp Minor, Op. 66

Listen to Chopin’s “Fantaisie Impromptu” played by Daniil Trifonov. Daniil Trifonov’s new album contains Chopin’s two beautiful piano concertos in fascinating new orchestrations by pianist-conductor-composer Mikhail Pletnev. Alongside the concerts Trifonov presents Chopin’s solo works and pieces by Mompou, Schumann, Tchaikovsky, Grieg, and Barber paying homage to the genius who, in Trifonov’s words, “revolutionized the expressive horizons of the piano.”

Composer: Frédéric Chopin
Repertoire: Fantaisie-Impromptu In C-Sharp Minor, Op. 66
Artist (Piano): Daniil Trifonov
Place: New York, USA
Produced by: Sid McLauchlan
Video Director: Michael Joseph McQuilken
Video Production: Jennifer Harrison Newman

Claude Debussy – La Demoiselle élue (1959 recording)

La Damoiselle élue (The Blessed Damozel), L. 62, is a cantata for two soloists, female choir, and orchestra, composed by Claude Debussy in 1887–1889 based on a text by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. It premiered in Paris in 1893.

Nadine Saterereau, Giovanna Fiorini, soloists
Orchestra sinfonica e coro della RAI di Torino, orchestra
Sergiu Celibidache, conductor
30.01.59, recording date

Descent into Oboe Hell

Principal Oboe Olivier Stankiewicz is embarking upon the oboe solo at the end of last Sunday’s performance of The Damnation of Faust when he realises he has a water bubble in his keys.

Tapping to clear it, he accidentally splits his reed. In a heartbeat he leans over and grabs 2nd Oboe Rosie Jenkins’ oboe and continues the solo – Rosie’s oboe has a completely different fingering system to Olivier’s, which does not trouble him even for a moment.

What we didn’t capture on camera: Rosie cleans Olivier’s instrument, fits a new reed and hands it back to him, all in time for their next entries.

And meanwhile, none of the players around them bats an eyelid, and no one in the hall is any the wiser that there has been a drama.

The cameras were rolling because we live-streamed the whole concert which you can watch here:

Iannis Xenakis – Empreintes (For Orchestra) (1975)

Xenakis made use of the resources of the expanded modern orchestra throughout his composing career. Visceral gestures‚ prolonged in sequences of vibrant inner activity‚ typify Xenakis’s Pythagorean ballet for Balanchine‚ Antikhthon (1971). The procedure is fined down in 1974’s Noomena‚ whose chains of sound react against each other at a dizzying rate of velocity‚ while Empreintes (1975) heralds a new phase in its more sustained growth towards a laconic‚ Stravinskian close.

Orchestra – Orchestre Philharmonique Du Luxembourg
Conductor – Arturo Tamayo

Iannis Xenakis – Aroura (for string orchestra) (1971)

Aroura is a composition for strings by Greek/French composer Iannis Xenakis. It was composed in 1971.

The title of this composition should be translated as “Earth”. It was first performed on 24 August 1971, at the Lucerne Festival. It was premiered by Rudolf Baumgartner with the festival’s Lucerne Festival Strings. It was published shortly after by Éditions Salabert.

The piece is in only one movement and takes around 12 minutes to perform. It is scored for four first violins, three second violins, two violas, two cellos and one double bass, even though it is clarified by Xenakis that it can also be performed by a larger string orchestra or ensemble. Aroura makes an extensive use of glissandos, jagged chords, sound clusters and other techniques exploited in avant-garde movements. The piece has a tempo of 𝅗𝅥 = 60 (which means two beats per second). The register of the piece ranges from a C1 (played by the double bass) to D8, played by one of the first violins. First and second violins rarely play unison, but each of the violinist has their own line. Xenakis uses graphic notation up to six times in the score, the first one being the opening of the composition.

In November 29, 1975, Elgar Howarth with the New Philharmonia Orchestra recorded the piece in Kingsway Hall, in London. The recording was released by Decca and Explore Records.

Franz Liszt – Sonata in B minor (1853)

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The Sonata in B minor, S.178, is a sonata for solo piano by Franz Liszt. It was completed in 1853 and published in 1854 with a dedication to Robert Schumann.

Liszt noted on the sonata’s manuscript that it was completed on February 2, 1853, but he had composed an earlier version by 1849. At this point in his life, Liszt’s career as a traveling virtuoso had almost entirely subsided, as he had been influenced towards leading the life of a composer rather than a performer by Carolyne zu Sayn-Wittgenstein almost five years earlier. Liszt’s life was established in Weimar and he was living a comfortable lifestyle, composing, and occasionally performing, entirely by choice rather than necessity.

The Sonata was dedicated to Robert Schumann, in return for Schumann’s dedication of his Fantasie in C major, Op. 17 (published 1839) to Liszt. A copy of the Sonata arrived at Schumann’s house in May 1854, after he had entered Endenich sanatorium. His wife Clara Schumann did not perform the Sonata; according to scholar Alan Walker she found it “merely a blind noise”.

Emil Gilels, piano. Live recording, Naples, Italy – 04.04.72.