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Classical music | The Guardian
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Varying background of modern castaways means Radio 4 show features more diverse range of cultures and musical choices

Guests of the BBC radio programme Desert Island Discs are abandoning classical music selections in favour of pop music and power ballads, according to a survey to mark the show’s 75th anniversary.

The Radio 4 programme, devised by broadcaster Roy Plomley during the second world war, features celebrity guests discussing their lives and choosing eight pieces of music, as well as a book and a luxury item, they would take with them to a desert island.

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7 hours ago | |
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While the desire expressed by Sir Simon Rattle and others for a new concert hall is understandable (Report, 18 January), I wonder if it is really relevant to the UK as it stands. The population is multiracial, practising and supporting a wide variety of different kinds of music, not just the western orchestral, chamber music and recital repertory. This would apply not only across arts spectrum but in scientific research. What we need are new centres that can house diverse kinds of music, exhibitions, literary events, science demonstrations etc. These would also have a close relationship with schools and colleges, helping to build a community steeped in and sympathetic to new creative ideas of all kinds. Socially this would be far more harmonious and might even stimulate fresh cross-cultural exchange.
Meirion Bowen
London

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11 hours ago | |
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St David’s Hall, Cardiff
Mahler’s extremes of shrill, manic violence and tender pastoral idyll spoke directly of the world’s predicament and made for a shattering experience

Tragic and catastrophic are the words most often used to describe Mahler’s Sixth Symphony. Yet, in this performance by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, and in the context of the US presidential inauguration just hours earlier, the work carried a newly cataclysmic resonance and foreboding that made for a shattering experience.

In conversation with Sibelius in Helsinki in 1907, the year after his revision of his sixth, Mahler expressed the belief that “the symphony must be like the world. It must encompass everything”. He could not have envisaged the way this particular symphony – with its extremes of violence and tender pastoral idyll – would speak so directly of the world’s predicament over the next century and beyond. Nor could Thomas Søndergård, BBC NOW’s principal conductor, when first embarking on this Mahler cycle, have predicted how potently the shrill, insistent, manic instability of the Scherzo (following the consoling Andante) would here mirror the present. Søndergård’s controlled sustaining of the long finale made it unremitting, with the two fateful hammer-blows and the trombone and tuba’s funerary tones sounding all the more nihilistic. The orchestra played out of their skins.

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15 hours ago | |
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Barbican, London
Under Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra, Mark-Anthony Turnage’s reflective Remembering was in no way discountenanced by being followed by Mahler’s mighty sixth symphony

There are several memorial pieces in Mark-Anthony Turnage’s output. His new work for the LSO and its chief conductor designate Simon Rattle was written in memory of Evan Scofield, son of jazz guitarist and regular Turnage collaborator John Scofield, who died four years ago in his mid-20s.

Remembering is a substantial piece of half an hour consisting of four movements: in a radio interview, Turnage admitted that the result is effectively a symphony.

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15 hours ago | |
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Grand theatre, Leeds
Despite its contemporary Leeds setting, Opera North’s production of Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera does not get to the roots of its Russian fairytale origins

It wouldn’t be Christmas – or more particularly new year – in Russia without The Snow Maiden. Yet Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s fairytale opera has never quite captured the imagination elsewhere: Opera North’s new production claims to be the first fully professional staging in the UK for 60 years.

The archetypes are a little alien, though not that difficult to understand. The teenage Snow Maiden is the cold-hearted offspring of an unfortunate dalliance between the spring goddess and Father Frost; and now the human population must endure perpetual winter until the Maiden acquires some emotional warmth.

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19 hours ago | |
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Royal Festival Hall, London
With its dialogue replaced by rambling psychobabble, Daniel Slater’s semi-staging of Fidelio was frequently peculiar. Luckily, the music - under Vladimir Jurowski - was in safer hands

Conducted by Vladimir Jurowski and directed by Daniel Slater, the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s concert-staging of Fidelio marked the start of Belief and Beyond Belief, the Southbank Centre’s ambitious, year-long examination of the role played by the spiritual – or its absence – in our lives and culture. Beethoven’s tremendous demand that we acknowledge liberty, justice and human dignity to be inalienable, God-given rights must form an integral part of such a survey, and its meaning is, of course, of most pressing relevance now. The evening, however, had its peculiarities.

Jurowski and Slater replaced the opera’s dialogue with an uncredited “meta-narrative,” as the programme called it, delivered – badly – by Helen Ryan and Simon Williams. The central emotional tangle was summed up at the start in a single blench-inducing sentence: “A man loves a woman, who loves a man who is a woman, who loves a man.” What followed was a rambling mix of quasi-philosophy and psychobabble about “hope, our action-source,” replete with phrases like “as Stendhal said,” and “says Tertullian”. Florestan is at one point “trapped in the dark womb of despair.” Pizarro, compared at various times with Napoleon, Stalin, Saddam Hussein and Eichmann, is evil, we were told, because as a boy he was “denied love,” where Beethoven suggests that the true horror of evil is that it can, in fact, be both motiveless and incomprehensible.

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21 hours ago | |
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The pianist talks about striving for excellence in performance, playing in a barn to sparrows and why music education in schools is so important

How do you mostly listen to music?

Most often with headphones on a phone or laptop, given time spent on the road. I try to listen from uncompressed sources (ie not MP3s) when I can, as the data compression can alter tone and reduce ambient information; it often wreaks havoc on piano transients too.

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1 day ago | |
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Simon Rattle is correct: a larger concert hall is needed (Report, 18 January). That said, tickets for concerts in large halls are priced exorbitantly. What procedures and policies will exist to make sure everyone in the UK has equal access to concerts in the proposed new hall – in the same way that museums ensure access for all? That’s as important an issue as the quality of the hall.

Rattle says: “Here we are with maybe the most gifted group of living composers in any country in the world.” Is that wishful, nationalistic thinking? Is it prattle to acquire funding? The reality is that world-class composers are out there in large numbers. It’s simply wrong and unverifiable, however well-meaning, to proclaim the UK as “maybe” the world’s leader. To go down that road transforms what should be an art into an different endeavour where quality is easily mistaken for quantity. Anyone who has ever discussed music knows the futility of compiling a “best of” list.

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1 day ago | |
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About to turn 80, the composer talks about his slow, taxi-driving road to success, and why he is anything but a minimalist…

The American composer Philip Glass, 80 this month, has been one of the dominant, boundary-crossing influences of the past half century. He first won a worldwide following in the 1970s with Koyaanisqatsi, Einstein on the Beach and Satyagraha, and has collaborated with Allen Ginsberg, Robert Wilson, Doris Lessing, Martin Scorsese, Ravi Shankar, David Bowie, Paul Simon and many more. Glass’s birthday will be marked with a production by Scottish Opera of his opera The Trial and a Philip Glass at 80 weekend at the Barbican.

It seems that no one – not you, or Steve Reich, or John Adams – likes being called a minimalist. What do we call you if not that?
Let’s talk about this. The problem is no one is doing minimalism now. It’s music we wrote in the 1970s. It’s over 30 years out of date. It’s a crazy idea to use a description made up by journalists and editors to cover all kinds of music. It’s more confusing than descriptive. What do I really do? Listen to me. I’ve written 26 operas, 20 ballets, I don’t know how many film scores. I write theatre music. I write concert and symphonies too. I’m working on a new film score right now. Then I’ll start a new stage piece. My problem is people don’t believe I write symphonies. But I’m premiering Symphony No 11 in a couple of weeks. These are all different forms of music. Maybe I do too many things.

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1 day ago | |
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Dudok Quartet Amsterdam
(Resonus)

Mozart, Ligeti, Bach? A curious combination but one suggested to the impressive Dudok Quartet Amsterdam when considering musical labyrinths. Mozart uses rhythmic and dynamic ruses to confuse us in his String Quartet No 14 in G major and wrong-foots us completely with a double fugue, while Ligeti employs thickets of micropolyphony to obscure the way through his frightening String Quartet No 2, cogently played by these imaginative players. And the link with Bach? Both composers drew inspiration from the puzzles JS devised in his canons. These mysterious little exercises sometimes come to an abrupt halt, lost in the labyrinth. A neat idea.

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1 day ago | |
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