Never do I listen to Britten's Curlew River as an opera-goer. Partly because I've always had to travel considerable distances to hear the piece live, I am, in effect, a pilgrim - and one who happens not to be inclined toward pilgrimages. More than that, Britten's 1964, 80-minute piece about a madwoman looking for her lost son is a confluence of so many things that my expectations about well-made lyrical drama are left far behind. It's an aesthetic vacation of sorts. With ritualistic deliberation and allegorical formality, Curlew River … [Read more...]
Hans Werner Henze: The Last Interview?
Months before his death, he reached back 50 years in his mind to talk about his "odd, old Elegy."
When music starts talking to you in plain English, what - if anything - are you supposed to learn? Imagine a brilliant, engaging lecture on the origins of species encased in an ongoing musical narrative and you have Scott Johnson's Mind Out of Matter. Days after the premiere, I am still wondering what the piece wanted to give me, vs. what, in fact, I got. The aesthetic here isn't pieces for narration and orchestra, but pre-recorded speech embedded into a musical composition - which clearly reached a new level the weekend of Oct. 5 at … [Read more...]
More J.S. Bach cantatas? Yes, and that's good news not just for Bach devotees but for psychotherapists who stand to profit from the guilt that some (though not all) cantatas can induce among those who take them too literally. After centuries of neglect, Bach cantatas are becoming a regular part of the concert landscape, thanks to Bach@1 at New York's Trinity Church at Wall Street and Choral Arts Philadelphia's Bach@7, which mixes cantatas with music by other composers of Bach's time. The 4X4 Baroque Music Festival, slightly uptown from … [Read more...]
London can be just about anything to anybody, but for collectors of classical recordings, whether CDs, LPs or 78s, it's Mecca, equalled possibly by Paris (if only because French recording artists tend to stay home more, so their work has been less-often exported). But during my summer trip to London, the usual haunts had been disappointing. There had been some excellent LP discoveries at Oxfam thrift stores both in Canterbury and Hampstead. In my internet searches, Gramex kept coming up, highly recommended, in a location conveniently near … [Read more...]
Cultural drift has been of particular concern with Dmitri Shostakovich. The world was still very much digesting his extensive output encompassing 147 opus numbers – like those acres of string quartets written near the end of his fraught life – when biographies began appearing, revealing that covert meaning was often more prominent than overt. Subtext eclipsed text, one reason why the Emerson Quartet, for one, observed how the music doesn’t look like much on paper but creates its own world when played. Bit what of the early works? The ones … [Read more...]
Applause seemed inadequate and inappropriate, like some weird contrivance of civilized life at the end of John Luther Adams's Sila: The Breath of the World, performed by a dispersed collection of 80 singers and instrumentalists in its July 25 world premiere at Lincoln Center's Out of Doors festival. It was like applauding God for creating Magnetic North. Or tundra. Or glaciers The title refers to Inuit cosmology: Sila is the force behind the force, that which powers everything from life to wind to weather. That's not out of character from … [Read more...]
Long before I walked into the Park Avenue Armory for Mieczyslaw Weinberg's The Passenger in the much-acclaimed, much-traveled David Pountney production, the opera itself had left me puzzled and underwhelmed, namely in the DVD shot live in Bregenz that preceded the opera's many visits around the world. The final scenes of this opera about Auschwitz and its aftermath were all I hoped they would be in terms of dramatic power. But the rest was undermined by its own less-than-singable vocal lines that had little sense of … [Read more...]
For American composers, over-exposure is a rare and grand accomplishment, especially for someone like Christopher Rouse, whose music is neither pretty nor minimalist. So prolific was he during much of the 1990s that he suffered the typical suspicion: Can anybody write so much, so quickly and still be good? Luckily, there's a second act in this American life. How could there not be with a composer whose voice is so distinctive? Rouse has been Alan Gilbert's composer in residence at the New York Philharmonic, and the conclusion of that was … [Read more...]
The tireless, ageless and ubiquitous conductor Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos is suddenly no longer with us. His death at age 80 from cancer was announced on June 11 - only a week or so after he cancelled all conducting engagements. At that time, one could hope that it was a false alarm, that he was doing the right thing by letting orchestras know that there's trouble, thus avoiding last-minute cancellations amid unrealistic recovery hopes. Fruhbeck was no stranger to illness in recent years, yet maintained the frequent-flyer miles of a man half … [Read more...]
Though I typically love Washington Post music critic Anne Midgette's reasoning and writing, her March 14 column on whether classical musicians should take political stands - forcefully argued and written - is deeply disturbing from the first sentence. Midgette thoughtfully examines the public roles of musicians, asking if they have a duty to speak up for human rights, particularly when the countries that nurtured them are in significant turmoil. For Los Angeles Philharmonic music director Gustavo Dudamel, it's the uprising against the … [Read more...]