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Classical music | The Guardian
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Royal Albert Hall, London
David Zinman's final concert as chief conductor of the Zürich Tonhalle was a superb example of his intelligent musicianship

This beautiful Prom marked the end of an era. It was David Zinman's last concert as chief conductor of the Zürich Tonhalle, and it brought to a close a 20-year partnership that has ranked among the most distinguished and consistently successful of recent years. The bittersweet feel of the occasion was captured in a programme in which sadness and celebration went side by side: Strauss's Till Eulenspiegel and Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony flanked Dvoák's Violin Concerto, with Julia Fischer as soloist. All three works were performed with the intelligence and emotional refinement that are integral to Zinman's style.

Till Eulenspiegel was all elegance, wit and disarming grace, a portrait of a roguish charmer, rather than a prankster. Zinman's understanding of Strauss's need to balance narrative and sentiment with classical structure was exceptional, and the logic of the underlying rondo was delineated with considerable clarity.

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5 days ago | |
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Beethoven's Pastoral is no musical cul-de-sac, writes Tom Service. It's a radical work, and in its final movement is music more purely spine-tingling and life-enhancingly joyful than almost anywhere else in his output

This week, Beethovens Pastoral Symphony, his Sixth. Well, it does what it says on the tin, doesnt it? A sentimental romp through the Viennese countryside, a programmatic sideline to the central sweep of Beethovens development, a gentle counterpart to the fire and brimstone of the Fifth Symphony and the bacchanal of the Seventh.

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6 days ago | |
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For Weir, the first woman in the position, it means supporting composers and exploring the state of music education

Judith Weir must be the most modest master of the Queen's music in the job's 388-year history. "The palace asked a lot of people who it should be, and I said Jonathan Dove would be the best person," she said, after her appointment was confirmed on Monday. "But they took no notice of me and a few weeks ago they told me they had had the most suggestions that it ought to be me so well done."

But it's a mistake to read 60-year-old Weir's self-deprecation as a sign that she is not up for the public profile of the role. I first met her more than a decade ago, but have never known her to be more relaxed, forthcoming or fired-up. Weir, who is the first woman to hold the job, is clearly going to be in her element as she tackles this position.

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6 days ago | |
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Isle of Eigg, Hebrides
This inaugural event showcased a wide range of music from Jens Lekman to cellist Olly Coates' Messiaen but the island was the real star

Could there be a more magical setting for a music festival? The little Hebridean island of Eigg is a gem: tucked between Skye and Ardnamurchan, flanked by craggy Rùm and tiny Muck, topped by its iconic knobbly An Sgùrr. The ferry trip involves whale and dolphin spotting; and the campsite is a white sandy beach, perfect for morning swims among the seals. In recent decades, Eigg has become famous for its progressive collective land ownership (its residents bought the island in 1997), and that community spirit was evident everywhere at the festival from locals giving punters lifts on the back of pick-ups to headline acts taking voluntary shifts on the bar. It's a cliche, but the star of the show was the island itself.

Strictly speaking, this was Howlin' Fling's inaugural year, though the festival has provenance. Run by musician and Eigg resident Johnny Lynch, AKA the Pictish Trail, it's the successor to the Fence Records' Away Game, held before Fence imploded in 2013 and Lynch set up his own label, Lost Map. Mercifully, the weekend bore few vestiges of that acrimonious split, aside from the odd cheeky quip.

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6 days ago | |
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Royal Albert Hall, London
The orchestra and increasingly controversial conductor's Mahler lost sight of structural tautness in a quest for emotional vividness

Drawing its players from ensembles worldwide, the World Orchestra for Peace was founded by Georg Solti in 1995 to mark the 50th anniversary of the UN. Valery Gergiev has been the orchestra's conductor since Solti's death in 1997, and their latest Prom took place against the escalating controversy over the conductor's support for Vladimir Putin, which feels incongruous with the WOP's reconciliatory aims and egalitarian ethos. Protests have greeted some of Gergiev's recent appearances with the LSO and at New York's Carnegie Hall. The Prom passed without incident, though the Albert Hall was only three-quarters full, which would have been unthinkable for this concert a few years ago.

The evening opened with the European premiere of Roxanna Panufnik's Three Paths to Peace, commissioned by the WOP in 2008. Panufnik's starting point is the story of Abraham and its importance to Judaism, Christianity and Islam alike, and her score emphasises the need for tolerance by depicting the sacrifice of Isaac through the traditional music of all three faiths. The best of it is sensuously appealing: Sufi drum rhythms drive Abraham through his spiritual crisis; a tapestry of string figurations, gradually resolving into a monotone, eventually reasserts calm.

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6 days ago | |
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From Coppélia and Pygmalion to Mannequin and Buffybot, artists love playing games with lifesize dolls. It's a trail of lust, obsession and beheadings

Coppélia is one of the sillier corners of the ballet repertoire. Franz, a handsome young villager, spies his perfect woman and instantly falls in love, and his fiancee Swanilda flips out. When the "other woman" turns out to be a life-sized doll, everyone has a good laugh about it and lives happily ever after.

Erina Takahashi, who'll be dancing the part of the doll in English National Ballet's upcoming production, says it is "such fun to do". But this is a story with dark undertones. The dollmaker, Dr Coppelius, attempts to sacrifice Franz in order to bring his creation to life, and the ballet's source material, ETA Hoffmann's short story The Sandman, features a sinister eyestealing alchemist.

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7 days ago | |
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Holland Park, London
The music of Bellini's opera struggles to match the modern context into which it's thrust by Olivia Fuchs

Bellini's opera is set in ancient Gaul during the period of Roman occupation. Designed by Niki Turner, Olivia Fuchs' staging places it in some non-specific modern context the equivalents of the Gauls might be eastern European Roma. During the overture, soldiers in contemporary combat uniform violently abuse women within the perimeter fence of a concentration camp, raping several of them and recording the act on mobile phones. It's a deliberately shocking image and, not surprisingly, Bellini's writing does not match it; indeed, it is hard to think of any music that could.

Norma, though, does not deal with occupation from a political viewpoint; instead, it explores its impact on the personal lives of a handful of individuals, both oppressors and oppressed. Where Holland Park's evening scores highly is in some of its central performances, and in the conducting of Peter Robinson, who leads the City of London Sinfonia in a reading that lacks nothing in impetus while keeping faith with the nuances of Bellini's style. It is on this level rather than that of the production's artificial hand gestures, or its costuming of Norma as a 19th-century diva, or in the surtitles' repeated references to the goddess Gaia, who is never mentioned in the original that the evening gains a measure of genuine success.

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7 days ago | |
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Royal Albert Hall, London
Two contrasting concertos finally got the fastidious China Philharmonic playing with some passion

The China Philharmonic, with its artistic director Long Yu, is the first of a series of orchestras, mostly from the far or Middle East and Australia, to make their debuts at this year's Proms, though neither they nor Yu are by any means strangers to the UK. Founded in 2000, the CPO was heard at the Barbican five years later; Yu, meanwhile, returned to conduct the BBC Symphony last year. A fine orchestra, with superb woodwind, they play with fastidious precision and considerable elegance. Yu, however, seemingly favours interpretative detachment. Though there are strengths and weaknesses in his approach, the emotional pitch of the evening was, if anything, too cool.

The love scene from Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet admirably avoided syrupy sentimentality, though the Capulet-Montague brawls were short on both violence and excitement. Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, in Ravel's orchestration, contained some ravishing things, such as the poised, dreamy Vecchio Castello, though the work's darker moments, Gnomus and The Hut on Fowl's Legs, failed to disturb. Yu's choice of a curtain-raiser, meanwhile, was Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance March No 4, done with a metronomic rigidity more military than ceremonial.

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7 days ago | |
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Glyndebourne, East Sussex; Linbury Studio, Royal Opera House, London
Glyndebourne's impeccable new Traviata is a palpable hit. And at Covent Garden the passion is all porcine

Family tensions, like death and taxes, are unavoidable. However changed our society may be, however liberated, Verdi's quintessentially 19th-century tragedy La traviata has at its core the unfashionable and yet undeniably timeless and often disturbing notion that family reputation still matters.

Tom Cairns's superb new production for Glyndebourne uses this tension to lift the piece out of its belle epoque straitjacket and place it in suspended time, both faithful to its roots but also modern and relevant. That's an achievement in itself, but fuse it with a stellar cast and inspirational conducting and a very rare alchemy begins to bubble.

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8 days ago | |
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La Nuova Musica/Bates
(Harmonia Mundi)

This inspired coupling brings together three of the most powerful small-scale early oratorios: Charpentier's Le Reniement de Saint Pierre, telling of St Peter's denial of Christ, lasts less than 15 minutes but is as wrenchingly emotional as any Passion, and its final chorus as Peter weeps is one of the most crushingly dissonant passages in the music of the 17th century; his story of the sacrifice of Abraham (pre-echoing Britten's first Canticle) is equally concentrated. Carissimi's Jephte is under 25 minutes and also ends with a chorus of weeping on the death of Jephte's daughter. To these affecting narratives (separated by instrumental interludes by De Brossard), La Nuova Musica bring superbly straight tone, unerring tuning and plangent phrasing.

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8 days ago | |
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