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Sage, Gateshead
The young players touched on swing and bebop before scaling Richard Strauss's massive An Alpine Symphony

The National Youth Orchestra of Scotland has a very distinct personality from Britain's other young ensembles. The intake is greater, ranging from ages 12 to 25, and it is the only youth orchestra to offer specialist courses in jazz.

The swing element could be keenly felt here in the exuberant opener, William Walton's wonderfully erratic Johannesburg Festival Overture, which the composer described as a "non-stop gallop slightly crazy, hilarious and vulgar". The young players obeyed those instructions to the letter.

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15 hours ago | |
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As a festival of Beckett's work opens, its director Sean Doran reveals how the playwright's love of music from Haydn to Beethoven to Schubert underpinned his drama

"Music always wins" may be an unexpected statement to come from a Nobel prizewinner for literature. But those who knew Samuel Beckett also knew that his was a life embedded in music, both making and listening to it, usually in the company of friends. The writer uttered his three-word resignation when composing his radio play Words and Music, itself probably triggered by an occasion at the piano with his Romanian composer friend Marcel Mihalovici. Both were labouring over Mihalovici's operatic version of Beckett's play Krapp's Last Tape, for which Beckett had agreed to write the libretto. Re-engaging with his own words at the behest of music was a struggle. But it led him to the creation of two highly innovative radio plays where music itself became a central character: as well as Words and Music there was Cascando; his composer cousin John Beckett writing the original music for the former, and Mihalovici for the latter.

Music was always going to win out for a schoolboy sent to lessons with two German spinsters in a place called Stillorgan where the young Beckett grafted at the piano, and word had it that his style of playing was "intense". His cousin Morris Sinclair recalled evenings accompanying Beckett on the violin and remembered "well with what conviction and elan he would play the last movement of Beethoven's Pathétique. The intensity of his absorption was almost ferocious." In the late 1960s, when his sight was beginning to fail, Beckett wrote a humorous description of himself: "... bought a little German piano (a Schimmel) in the country and take it out on Haydn and Schubert ... my nose so close to the score that the keyboard feels behind my back. Get it by heart in the end and lean back."

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17 hours ago | |
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Royal Albert Hall, London
Rameau's vivid, emotionally immediate Grand Motets brought a flavour of his importance as a composer of sacred music to the anniversary celebrations

The Rameau anniversary celebrations have tended, inevitably perhaps, to focus on his importance as an opera composer. He only began writing for the stage late in his career, however, and for their late-night Prom, William Christie and Les Arts Florissants turned their attention to an earlier period in his life and the three Grand Motets, his important contribution to sacred music.

The pieces are shrouded in mystery. They date from around 1715, though the third of them, In Convertendo Dominus, was revised in 1751. We don't know whether they were intended for church or concert performance. Their style pictorial, vivid and emotionally immediate pre-empts that of his operas, leading to discussion as to whether they are ultimately to be understood as devotional or dramatic.

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1 day ago | |
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Royal Albert Hall, London
This was a classy, enthusiastic ensemble and Sascha Goetzel the consummate showman at this Middle East-inspired evening

Founded in 1999, the Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic is the second orchestra to make its Proms debut as part of this year's "global visitors" series, and the impact it made with its flamboyant principal conductor, Sascha Goetzel, was tremendous. The bulk of the programme consisted of western European works inspired by the Middle East, some of them over-the-top, some teetering uncomfortably on the edge of orientalism. But they're a classy, enthusiastic ensemble, and Goetzel is the consummate showman.

The programme allowed them to display their technical security over a wide stylistic range. Mozart's overture to Die Entführung aus dem Serail whirred dexterously, while Handel's Arrival of the Queen of Sheba, which they played without Goetzel, was all lightness and grace. A group of works from the 19th and early 20th centuries, meanwhile, showcased Goetzel's fine sense of orchestral colour and the virtuosity of the BIPO's playing.

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1 day ago | |
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Norwich Theatre Royal
Theater Freiberg's production of Wagner's complex opera was impressively sung

Once one of the most popular of Wagner's operas, Tannhäuser is something of a rarity in the UK nowadays, so its appearance as the second work in Theater Freiburg's brief visit to East Anglia was all the more welcome. Perhaps its hero's inner conflict between sexual and spiritual love no longer seems as dangerously compelling as it did in the Victorian era, though Wagner's treatment of the subject is characteristically complex. In any case, Eva-Maria Höckmayr's direction gives it further ambiguity by diminishing the distance between Venus who is here initially dressed as the Virgin Mary and Elisabeth, who in physically resembles and draws close to draws close to the pagan love goddess in the final scene, as opposed to representing her complete antithesis.

As in all Wagner productions these days, there are idiosyncrasies. Venus's acolytes in the Venusberg orgy are religious zealots, including nuns, who extend inviting hands in an attempt to lure Tannhäuser into joining in their pleasurable activities. Later, the singer of the title role is doubled by an actor (Edward Martens) representing "the old Tannhäuser", who is presumably recollecting the action as he mouths the words both he and Elisabeth once sang.

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1 day ago | |
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The largest performing arts organization in the US is threatening to lock out its musicians on Friday, the latest setback for a company and an art form at a dangerous junction


The Metropolitan Opera, the largest performing arts organization in the United States, is scheduled to open its 131st season this September with a new production of Mozarts Marriage of Figaro. But the noise emanating from its house at Lincoln Center in New York is more akin to requiem than comedy.

The Mets contracts with 15 of its unions whose members include singers, musicians, stagehands, costumers, front-of-house staff, security staff and besides expire on Thursday, and neither side expects a deal on new agreements before then. Management is demanding cuts to overtime pay, pensions and benefits amounting to a 16% total reduction, though unions say the figure is higher. The unions want spending cuts from the artistic side and have attacked management for the Mets poor performance at the box office.

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1 day ago | |
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Sviatoslav Richter
(Melodiya, four CDs)

The centenary of the birth of Sviatoslav Richter, the supreme pianist of the second half of the 20th century, falls next March. His legacy on disc is already prodigious though Richter became increasingly reluctant to perform in a studio, a high proportion of his recitals in his last three decades were recorded, and many of those have been already been released and rereleased on a wide variety of labels. But Melodiya begins what promises to be a lavish birthday celebration with a collection of Schubert performances three discs devoted to sonatas, one to smaller pieces, all of which have not apparently appeared before taken from recitals in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory in 1971, 1978 and 1979.

Though not all of the material is quite as new to disc as claimed the 1978 account of the G major Sonata D894, for instance, was issued as part of a Brilliant Classics compilation it is still a wonderful, sometimes magical set, with very decent analogue sound and only occasional audience noise. Schubert was always a central part of Richter's repertory, and where with other composers he was sometimes curiously partial he avoided Beethoven's Waldstein and Moonlight sonatas, as well as Chopin's Second sonata with Schubert he was much more inclusive; the late, great A major sonata was the only significant work he didn't play. There are seven of the sonatas here, including two versions of the E minor D566, one with three movements, one with four. The emphasis is on those early sonatas; as well as the composite E minor work, we get the B major D575, F minor D625 and A major D664, together with two of the later ones: the G major and the C minor D958.

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1 day ago | |
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Worcester Cathedral
Geraint Bowen handled the tricky pacing of Dvoák's sombre, yet hopeful masterpiece with discipline and grace

The Three Choirs festival had already been going strong for almost a century and three quarters when Dvoák came to Worcester Cathedral in 1884 to conduct his choral work, the Stabat Mater. A mere 130 years on, Hereford's artistic director, Geraint Bowen, conducted the present Festival Chorus in a performance commemorating Dvoák's visit.

A substantial work, the Stabat Mater contains wonderfully expressive music that is too rarely performed. The text of Jacopone da Todi's Latin sequence, telling of Mary at her son's crucifixion, is sombre yet ultimately full of hope, and it was for consolation that Dvoák grieving for an infant daughter began to set the words. He would return to the sketch when two more children also died, less than a month apart.

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2 days ago | |
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Royal Albert Hall, London
The BBC Symphony Orchestra perform Jonathan Dove's new work confidently, but it often comes across as background music needing a voiceover

Jonathan Dove's new work takes on the daunting challenge of celebrating the ideas of scientist James Lovelock within a 20-minute orchestral piece. The three movements of Gaia Theory - marked "lively", "very spacious" and "dancing" attempt to convey some of Lovelock's highly influential concepts in purely musical form. "Evolution," the scientist is quoted as saying in Dove's own programme note, "is a tightly coupled dance, with life and the material environment as partners. From the dance emerges the entity Gaia".

Appropriately, the resulting score possesses considerable ongoing rhythmic vitality as well as a good deal of harmonic and orchestral sophistication. A plentiful use of tuned percussion brings splashes of vital colour to music that has a consistently high energy level in the outer movements.

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2 days ago | |
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'We want to communicate the art of opera hoping that it will engage and interest people who normally dont go to see performances,' says opera company's manager

An Italian opera company will don Google Glass for an upcoming staging of Puccini's Turandot. Singers, orchestral musicians and stagehands from the Teatro Lirico di Cagliari, in Sardinia, will wear the futuristic headsets at shows starting 30 July, allowing internet users to watch the opera from each unique point of view.

"We want to communicate the art of opera hoping that it will engage and interest people who normally dont go to see performances," Mauro Meli, the opera company's general manager, told the New York Times. Watching an opera from the perspective of a soprano can be compared to the thrill of watching a football game through the eyes of a midfielder: "If a soccer player wore Google Glass, youd see the ball coming," Meli said.

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2 days ago | |
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