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Clarke Bustard
The Virginia Classical Music Blog
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Musicologist Michael Church, writing in The Guardian, examines the threats to classical music – not just the Western/European variety but 14 other art-music styles throughout the world – whose continued existence is threatened by outside (mainly Western) musical influences, cultural commercialism and, in all too many cases, religious fundamentalism:

http://www.theguardian.com/music/2015/oct/16/unrest-classical-music-threat

The sad irony in this: As Church notes, most classical musics were originally religious. (He makes an exception of American jazz – mistakenly, I think, given its close relationship with African-American spirituals and gospel music.) Yet religious fundamentalists are the main threat to musicians in much of the Islamic world.

Western classical religious music is also threatened, less overtly and violently, by the “happy clappy” strains of church music, largely emanating from fundamentalist and evangelical sources.
3 months ago | |
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Like belly buttons, listeners tend to be either innies or outies, depending on their age.

That is suggested in a new study by psychologists Jenny Groarke and Michael Hogan of the National University of Ireland in Galway. They find that for younger people listening to music is a social experience, a way of bonding with friends and loved ones or staking a claim to membership in a peer group, while for older listeners listening is an inner, spiritual experience.

For the study, published in the journal Psychology of Music (subscription required for access online), Groarke and Hogan surveyed two small groups of volunteers between 18 and 30 years old and two groups aged 60 to 85. (Middle-aged listeners were not surveyed.)

There is, of course, some overlap between innie and outie listeners – mainly among those who listen to reduce stress or enhance their mood.

Such “emotional regulation,” however, “may be a secondary outcome of music listening,” writes Tom Jacobs of Pacific Standard. “While some younger participants did refer to music’s ability to provide them with a private ‘personal space,’ the bulk of the responses suggest older people are more interested in music as an intense, inner experience, while younger ones view it as a way of escaping bad moods and connecting with friends.”

Jacobs’ report on the study:

http://www.psmag.com/books-and-culture/music-is-a-potent-source-of-meaning

(via www.artsjournal.com)
3 months ago | |
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Oct. 15
10 a.m.-1 p.m. EDT
1400-1700 UTC/GMT
WDCE, University of Richmond
90.1 FM
www.wdce.org

Haydn: Quartet in C major, Op. 33, No. 3 (“The Bird”)
Alban Berg Quartet (Warner Classics)

Alexander Reinagle: Sonata No. 2 in E major
Sylvia Glickman, piano (Orion)

Joseph Woelfl: “Grand Duo”
in D minor
Guillaume Sutre, violin
Steven Vanhauwaert, piano (Sonarti)

Sidney Lanier: “Wind Song”
Paula Robison, flute (Arabesque)

Past Masters:
Schumann: Symphony No. 2 in C minor
New York Philharmonic/Leonard Bernstein
(Sony Classical)
(recorded 1960)

Mahler: Piano Quartet
in A minor
Wu Han, piano
Daniel Hope, violin
Paul Neubauer, viola
David Finckel, cello (Deutsche Grammophon)

Esa-Pekka Salonen: “Nyx”
Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Esa-Pekka Salonen (Deutsche Grammophon)

Debussy: “La Mer”
Berlin Philharmonic/Simon Rattle (EMI Classics)

Michael Torke: “Bright Blue Music”
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra/David Zinman (Argo)
3 months ago | |
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From time to time, I need to work my way through a preoccupation with a piece of music before reviewing a performance of it. To be fair to the performers, I should curb unreasonably high expectations – or at least state those expectations up front.

If, in the process, I can introduce the piece to listeners who don’t know it, or better acquaint those who do, all the better.

This is one of those times.

The music is the Symphony No. 4 (“Inextinguishable”) of the Danish composer Carl Nielsen, which the Richmond Symphony will play on Oct. 16 in the debut of its new Casual Fridays series of talks followed by performances, and on Oct. 17 in the next program of the orchestra’s Masterworks series.

I rate the Nielsen Fourth as the greatest symphony composed in the past 100 years. That’s a minority view – although the minority is not as minuscule as you might imagine.

If not the greatest modern symphony, Nielsen 4 is certainly one of the noblest in sentiment – its motto: “Music is like life, and like life, inextinguishable” – and one of the most explosive in content, punctuated by outbursts from the brass and wailing passages from woodwinds and strings, culminating in a duel between two sets of timpani that sounds alarmingly like an artillery barrage.

Nielsen was “deeply moved by the vast spectacle of life in all its forms, its incessant fight for existence, and, above all, its unmistakably purposive evolution: he was impressed, too, but its extraordinary capacity for surviving, in some form, almost any catastrophe,” Robert Simpson writes in “Carl Nielsen: Symphonist.”

While Nielsen’s Fourth Symphony is supremely uneasy listening, it is supremely uplifting at the end, when a yearning chorale that has struggled throughout the piece to make itself heard finally prevails. This triumphantly soulful climax has few parallels in the symphonic canon.

The “Inextinguishable” was composed in 1914-16, the years of the bloodiest battles of World War I. Denmark was neutral, and Nielsen was nowhere near the front lines; but no composer from the warring countries came as close to distilling into a piece of music the crushing anxiety, the shock and terror of battle, the dim, sweet memories of times before the horror, the desperate clinging to hope, experienced by combatants and civilians during this murderous, seemingly endless conflict.

Others, notably Dimtri Shostakovich, would mine this dark vein during and after the Second World War. In the First, however, Nielsen and his Fourth Symphony stood alone.

* * * 

As I write this, I’m listening to a concert performance of the Nielsen Fourth by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Jean Martinon conducting, broadcast in 1966, shortly before they made their still-unsurpassed RCA Victor recording of the work. You can hear the broadcast on YouTube:

Part 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z7n63zb8BXw
Part 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CQPG69x2rIM
Part 3: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fahv5CpJlnQ
Part 4: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gP1t-XdXf30

Grainy, blowsy monaural sound, patches of radio static, precarious instrumental balances and occasionally rough-and-ready playing notwithstanding, this live performance is even more potent than the subsequent recording.

Martinon’s is one of the three most compelling Nielsen Fourths in my listening experience. The others are a 1960s recording by Igor Markevitch, conducting the Royal Danish Orchestra, reissued on CD by Klassichaus Restorations – http://klassichaus.us/ – and the still-vivid memory of a 1971 concert performance by Washington’s National Symphony Orchestra, Antal Doráti conducting, in the then-new Kennedy Center.

Martinon, Markevitch and Doráti were orchestral composers as well as conductors, and that may figure in their success as interpreters of the Nielsen Fourth. To negotiate the complexities of this music and get to its expressive heart, it must help to have labored in the weeds of composition yourself.

It may bode well for the forthcoming Richmond Symphony performances that conductor Steven Smith is also a composer. This will be Smith’s first go at the “Inextinguishable.” Also the first time for the orchestra’s principal timpanist, Jim Jacobson, who will be dueling with Robert Jenkins, and likely the first Nielsen 4 for most of the rest of the orchestra.

The thrill of discovery, plus the tension of playing an unfamiliar and challenging work, can light the fire that needs to burn in this music – the fire you hear blazing in that Chicago broadcast.

* * *

Not all composer-conductors hit the mark, though. Leonard Bernstein, who led the international revival of Nielsen’s music in the 1960s, recorded an “Inextinguishable” with the New York Philharmonic (Sony Classical) that is riddled with excesses and eccentricities. A generation later, Esa-Pekka Salonen, one of the most celebrated composers of symphonic music at work today, is only dutifully literal in the Nielsen Fourth that he recorded with the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra (Sony Classical).

Other prominent conductors have stumbled, even fallen on their faces, in this piece. Herbert von Karajan’s recording with the Berlin Philharmonic (Deutsche Grammophon) is harshly martial and soulless; Max Rudolf’s with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (US Decca) and Zubin Mehta’s with the Los Angeles Philharmonic (London/Decca) are inexplicably dull; Yehudi Menuhin’s with the Royal Philharmonic (Virgin Classics) and Simon Rattle’s with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (EMI Classics) are heartfelt but wayward.

Herbert Blomstedt, who twice led recorded cycles of Nielsen’s six symphonies, the second time with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra (London/Decca), conducts the Fourth with spirit and virtuosity but, to my ears, without realizing the passionate urgency or the reach for the transcendent that this score cries out for. Osmo Vänskä, with the Royal Scottish Orchestra (Bis), comes closer; Neeme Järvi, with the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra (Deutsche Grammophon), closer still.

The Järvi would be my first choice among digital-era recordings of the “Inextinguishable.”

Among recent recorded Nielsen Fourths, Alan Gilbert’s with the New York Philharmonic (Dacapo) and Sakari Oramo’s with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic (Bis) are faultless in execution and spectacular sonically – both are super-audio releases – but expressively underheated. Gustavo Dudamel’s live recording with the Gothenburg Symphony (Deutsche Grammophon) is more fiery, but, à la Bernstein, prone to romanticized outpouring.

Nielsen is not Tchaikovsky.

Nor is he Sibelius.

* * * 

Nielsen is too often paired with Finland’s Jean Sibelius, a fellow Scandinavian and exact contemporary (both born in 1865), in musicians’ and listeners’ perceptions, despite their music being quite dissimilar in character and style. (One might as wrong-headedly relate George Gershwin to Roy Harris because they were both American composers born in 1898.)

Sibelius, early on, became a national hero of a nation-in-waiting. Finland had been ruled by Sweden, then Russia, only achieving independence at the end of World War I. Ethnic and national aspiration underlies much of Sibelius’ work, especially his tone poems; and even in the more introspective, expressively ambivalent works of his mature years, such as the later symphonies, his music has an accent and cadence as distinctive as the Finnish language.

One can hear influences of earlier music in Sibelius’ works – echoes of Tchaikovsky in the Violin Concerto, for example – but it would be very difficult to name a composer from whom he “inherited” his style. 

In contrast to remote Finland, Denmark had been a European power from medieval times to the end of the 17th century, and still ruled a substantial empire in Nielsen’s lifetime. Its language and culture are related to those of other Northern European countries. Nielsen, like most Danish musicians, worked from a Germanic template in his formative years – Brahms was a key early influence – and a Germanic kind of compositional discipline continued to inform his music.

As Nielsen developed a uniquely personal style, in the Fourth Symphony and other works from the 1910s, it proved as sharply etched in structure and forthright in expression as that of Beethoven.

Interpreters in search of an attitudinal model for Nielsen’s music should look to Beethoven.
4 months ago | |
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My review for the Richmond Times-Dispatch of Virginia Opera’s production of Jacques Offenbach’s “Orpheus in the Underworld:”

http://www.richmond.com/entertainment/music/article_0396815f-4489-59de-ab06-00ed53bad707.html
4 months ago | |
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Page-turners, the folks who sit on the pianist’s left and try to stay minimally visible during recitals, occasionally are called upon to do more than turn pages and not get in the pianist’s way.

On very rare occasions, they have to do a lot more.

Here’s a spectacular example of page-turner heroics, from a recent recital in Bremen by violinist Christian Tetzlaff and pianist Lars Vogt, when Anna Reszniak nimbly retrieved and reordered scores that went airborne during an encore, Brahms’ scherzo from the “F.A.E. Sonata:”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_TprYVxTDro

“The wonderful Anna Reszniak,” as Vogt hails her in his YouTube posting, is concertmaster of the Nürnberg Symphony Orchestra – and now, no doubt, the page-turner all performers wish they had.

(via www.slippedisc.com)
4 months ago | |
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Sampling the fall’s new releases, from cellists Yo-Yo Ma and Alisa Weilerstein, violinist Anne Akiko Meyers, tenor Jonas Kaufmann and pianists Alexander Paley, Yuja Wang, Lang Lang and Alessio Bax, plus William Lyons’ adaptation of the medieval English “Alysoun” with his Dufay Collective & Voice and mezzo-soprano Angelika Kirschschlager singing “Songs to the Moon,” Jake Heggie’s settings of poems by Vachel Lindsay.

Oct. 8
10 a.m.-1 p.m. EDT
1400-1700 UTC/GMT
WDCE, University of Richmond
90.1 FM
www.wdce.org

Chopin: Scherzo in B flat minor, Op. 31
Lang Lang, piano (Sony Classical)

Bernstein: Serenade
“after Plato’s Symposium”
Anne Akiko Meyers, violin
London Symphony Orchestra/Keith Lockhart (eOne)

Elgar: “Salut d’amour”
Delius: Romance for
cello and piano
Yo-Yo Ma, cello
Kathryn Stott, piano
(Sony Classical)

Puccini: “Turandot” – “Nessun dorma”
Jonas Kaufmann, tenor
Orchestra dell’Academia Nationale di Santa Cecilia/Antonio Pappano (Sony Classical)

Lyons: “Alysoun”
The Dufay Collective & Voice/William Lyons (Avie)

Rameau: Suite in E major
Alexander Paley, piano
(La Música)

Ravel: Piano Concerto in G major
Yuja Wang, piano
Tonhalle Orchestra, Zürich/
Lionel Bringuier
(Deutsche Grammophon)

Jake Heggie:
“Songs to the Moon”
Angelika Kirschschlager, mezzo-soprano
Maurice Lammerts van Bueren, piano (Avie)

Mussorgsky:
“Pictures at an Exhibition”
Alessio Bax, piano
(Signum Classics)

Rachmaninoff: Vocalise
Alisa Weilerstein, cello
Inon Barnatan, piano (Decca)

4 months ago | |
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A newly published study of music that people dislike indicates growing alienation from genres “that appeal to disproportionately white, rural, Southern audiences,” Tom Jacobs reports in Pacific Standard:

http://www.psmag.com/books-and-culture/what-the-music-you-hate-says-about-you

The study, by University of Notre Dame sociologists Omar Lizardo and Sara Skiles, published in the journal Poetics (not accessible online), found that 2,250 participants, asked in 2012 about 18 different styles of music, expressed greater dislike of country, bluegrass, folk and religious or gospel music, than that found in a comparable survey conducted in 1993.

“Fairly or not, many Americans associate these genres with racism, religiosity, and a nationalistic mindset. It’s likely that in expressing their distaste for those genres, people outside the South and rural West are symbolically rejecting the belief systems they represent,” Jacobs writes.

The 2012 survey results found less dislike of classical music, opera, jazz, Latin, rap, rock, and heavy metal than in the 1993 survey. Results for show tunes, blues, rhythm and blues and reggae were about the same in the two surveys.

Young respondents with high educational levels “were more likely than their counterparts of 20 years ago to declare their distaste for classical music and jazz, as well as rock ’n’ roll” and were more receptive to rap and hip-hop musics, Jacobs writes. “This suggests they are using rap and hip-hop to differentiate themselves from the older generation of well-to-do Americans.”

(via www.artsjournal.com)
4 months ago | |
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Given the linear quality of music – here in one instant, gone in the next – a piece can be very difficult to understand and appreciate in a single hearing.

It’s hard enough in any unfamiliar music. I can remember listening for the first time to some especially meandering work of a tuneful romantic composer, wondering where it was headed, and ultimately unsure as to how it got from beginning to end.

Grasping advanced modern and contemporary music that isn’t traditionally tonal and doesn’t employ conventional forms of structure and expression can be almost impossible in a first hearing. For even the most willing listener, it often strikes the ear as a succession of random sounds.

Musicians typically try to get past this perceptual barrier with explanation, verbally introducing the piece and playing key themes and other samples before giving a complete performance.

There’s a simpler way, and I’m amazed that more performers don’t use it more often: Play the piece twice.

That’s what The Knights did with Anton Webern’s “Three Little Pieces,” Op. 11, for cello and piano in a concert at Dumbartan Oaks in Washington, Stephen Brookes reports for The Washington Post:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/music/the-knights-charge-into-dumbarton-oaks/2015/10/05/ee9f8148-6b6e-11e5-9bfe-e59f5e244f92_story.html

An instant encore of the Webern pieces – “so perfectly concise that they barely exist,” Brookes observes in his review – added all of 2½ minutes to the program’s length.

Repetition can be harder to accommodate with longer works, but it can reap rewards. My favorite example dates from 1904, when Gustav Mahler conducted the (now-Royal) Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam in his Fourth Symphony, twice in a single concert. The Concertgebouw and its chief conductor, Willem Mengelberg, were soon known as the preeminent exponents of Mahler, and for generations Amsterdam was the music center most receptive to this composer’s music – perhaps because they had been properly introduced.

Most compositions fall between the extremes of Webern’s brevity and Mahler’s length. Still, fitting two performances of a work onto a single program might require omission of one or more other selections. That might rob the program of some musical variety; but it also would give the performers more time to rehearse the unfamiliar piece and give a more convincing performance of it.

Thereby reaping another reward: When musicians play a work (known or unknown) like true believers, with audible concentration, commitment and fluency, they are far more likely to make true believers of listeners.
4 months ago | |
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Chia-Hsuan Lin, assistant conductor of the Fort Wayne Philharmonic since 2014, has been named associate conductor of the Richmond Symphony.

Lin will begin work here in January, as Keitaro Harada reduces his schedule in Richmond. Harada, who recently became associate conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, will remain on the Richmond Symphony roster until May.

Born in Taiwan, Lin began as a percussionist, performing for seven years with the Taipei Percussion Group, and earned degrees in percussion and conducting from National Taiwan Normal University. She earned a graduate degree from the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, and in 2012 began doctoral studies at Northwestern University.

Lin was a semi-finalist in the 2013 Jeunesses Musicales International Conducting Competition in Bucharest, Romania, and the following year was one of three artists chosen for the Emerging Conductor Program, working with the orchestra of the Peninsula Music Festival in Wisconsin.

The 29-year-old conductor also serves as music director of the South Loop Symphony Orchestra in Chicago.

The Richmond Symphony’s associate conductor is primarily responsible for leading programs in the Symphony Pops and LolliPops series, conducting community concerts, directing the orchestra’s Young Performers Program, and substituting as needed for music director Steven Smith and guest conductors on other dates.
4 months ago | |
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