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McFadden/Arditti Quartet
(Aeon)

Over the past four decades, the Arditti Quartet have collaborated with almost all the great composers of our time, many of whom, from Elliott Carter to Karlheinz Stockhausen, Giacinto Scelsi to Harrison Birtwistle, have written pieces specifically for the group. But none of the Ardittis' associations have been as long-lasting and productive as that with Brian Ferneyhough. Since they gave the first performance of his Second String Quartet in 1980, Ferneyhough has composed another four full-scale quartets (one of them, the Fourth, involving a soprano setting of a deconstructed Ezra Pound poem) and three smaller works, all for them. Alongside Carter's five quartets, these works are arguably the most important contributions to the quartet repertoire since Bartók, and a complete recording of them is the best possible way for the Arditti to mark their 40th anniversary this year.

There are times, in fact, when the Ardittis' whole style of playing contemporary music seems to have been conditioned by their approach to Ferneyhough's bewilderingly intricate writing, and the negotiations it demands between what the composer specifies with his minutely precise scores and what is humanly possible. The performances on these three discs are wonderfully authoritative. They also include Ferneyhough's first exploration of the quartet medium in the huge Sonatas for String Quartet of 1967, as well as Dum Transisset I-IV, one part of a much larger set of chamber pieces based on music for viol consort by the Tudor composer Christopher Tye, and Exordium, written for Carter's 100th birthday in 2008.

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2 days ago | |
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Musicologist who taught at American and British universities and was a remarkable critic

As a writer, the American musicologist Joseph Kerman, who has died aged 89, brought the highest standards of scholarly rigour and precision to his chosen musical specialisms. He was also a teacher at American and British universities for more than 40 years. But the fact that he was probably the only music academic regularly included in dictionaries of quotations for his description of Puccini's Tosca as a "shabby little shocker" points to Kerman's other role, as a remarkable critic and proselytiser.

Unlike many of his colleagues, Kerman was convinced that thinking and writing about music was too important to be left to academics. For him, writing about music was a humane discipline along the lines of literary criticism, and he deplored the tendency he noted towards arcane jargon and "scientism" in musicology. Producing convoluted explanations of musical mechanisms with the aid of sophisticated analytical tools he felt was a waste of time: what counted was finding a deeper understanding of the values and meanings in the music itself.

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John Shirley-Quirk recorded some superb English music on the wonderfully cheap Saga label in the 1960s (as did Janet Baker). He was accompanied by Martin Isepp at the piano. The recording of George Butterworth's A Shropshire Lad was particularly memorable. I played that piece of vinyl to death. Please, will some enterprising company re-release it?

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Sotheby's estimates 320-page document detailing composer's second symphony will fetch up to £1.5m at auction in May

An autographed manuscript of Rachmaninov's greatest symphony that was assumed lost for nearly a century is to be sold at auction in London.

Sotheby's will announce that it will sell what is a truly remarkable musical rarity, the 320-page manuscript for the composer's second and most-loved symphony, full of his revisions, crossings out and annotations.

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Investigation finds no mistreatment of virtuoso organist Cameron Carpenter who was detained overnight and sent back to Berlin

Home Office ministers have refused to apologise to a Grammy award nominated American classical musician who was wrongly barred from entering Britain last month and detained overnight for seven hours at Birmingham airport before being put on a plane back to Berlin.

The Home Office opened an investigation into the incident after complaints in the House of Lords that the "heavy-handed treatment" of Cameron Carpenter, a virtuoso young organist with a global reputation, amounted to an "absolute scandal".

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When my husband, Ian Purseglove, was born, his life expectancy was five years, and it remained so for most of his 70 years. He had a severe form of haemophilia B, then untreatable, but timely intervention by American medics who were stationed in his native Weymouth for D-day kept him alive when he was a baby. He survived childhood with his mother Winnie's loving care while his father, Bertram, served overseas with the Royal Air Force.

By his teens Ian was already disabled, but he was a prodigious musician who excelled on the piano and organ, and as parish organist at All Saints and St Peter's churches in Dorchester, he was occasionally broadcast on BBC Sunday morning radio services.

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An essential discussion for classical music and its institutions to have starts here...

Important, this: a debate on Class, Race, and Classical Music hosted by London Music Masters at the English Speaking Union. Candace Allen (whose piece on this crucial subject you can read here), violinist Tai Murray, and LMMs Executive Director, Rob Adediran, were the panelists who inspired a wide-ranging, controversial, and challenging debate. Up for discussion, among much else, were the idea of who classical music is for, why we think its so important for the whole of society to have access to it, and what the institutions of music education and musical excellence can do to become part of peoples lives in areas of economic impoverishment and communities who wouldnt otherwise have access or opportunity to be involved in this music.

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Tom Service's guide is shortlisted for creative communication prize in UK's most prestigious classical music awards

A guide to contemporary classical music by the Guardian's Tom Service has been shortlisted for this year's Royal Philharmonic Society music awards, the most prestigious classical music awards in the UK.

Service's Guardian guide, published weekly for a year, began with Elliott Carter and concluded with Karlheinz Stockhausen. It is nominated for the creative communication award alongside the conductor John Eliot Gardiner, for his book on Bach, Music in the Castle of Heaven; classical music iPad apps by Touch Press; and the Channel 4 documentary Chopin Saved My Life.

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3 days ago | |
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Queen's Hall, Edinburgh
The storytelling never dragged, while arias were platforms for deep contemplation in John Butt and the Dunedin Consort's account of Bach's choral masterpiece

There can be no hurry when it comes to the St Matthew Passion. Plenty of performances scoot along, almost apologetic for the three-hours-plus that Bach's full score takes to unfold, only slowing up to wallow in the crowd-pleasers. Not so in this thoughtful, lyrical and beautifully spacious Palm Sunday account from John Butt and the Dunedin Consort.

Whereas Butt's steering of the more concise St John Passion, issued last year, is thrilling for its racy, dramatic thrust, here he embraced the Matthew's scope for expansive reflection. The storytelling never dragged but the arias were platforms for deep contemplation often Butt didn't conduct them at all, leaving expressive direction up to the singers and the lithe continuo band.

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3 days ago | |
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When Henryk Górecki's Third Symphony (Symphony of Sorrowful Songs) became the best selling piece of classical music of all time, the world wondered how he would follow it. Sadly, the Polish composer died in 2010, before he had the chance to premiere his Symphony No 4. Since his death, Górecki's son Mikoaj has worked on the detailed manuscript his father left, and this performance by the London Philharmonic Orchestra recorded on 12 April at Southbank Centre's Royal Festival Hall is the symphony's first ever airing. Górecki's Symphony No. 4 was commissioned by the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Southbank Centre, London, with support from the Adam Mickiewicz Institute (who also supported filming of the performance) and the Polish Cultural Institute in London, The Los Angeles Philharmonic Association, and the ZaterdagMatinee Amsterdam. Continue reading...
4 days ago | |
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