A new review from Andrew Aschenbach, editor-in-chief of the new app “Classical Ear”
Gál: Symphony No 2 in F major, Op 53; Schumann: Symphony No 4 in D minor, Op 120
Orchestra of the Swan / Kenneth Woods
Now here’s quite a find. Austrian-born Hans Gál (1890-1987) took flight from Nazi Germany in 1938, eventually settling in Edinburgh (where he became a much-loved figure in that city’s musical life). The Second of his four symphonies dates from 1943 after a period of great personal tragedy, yet there’s no hint of mawkish self-pity in the ravishingly beautiful, profoundly consolatory Adagio slow movement (the work’s emotional core), while the preceding scherzo positively winks with gleeful mischief. Above all, Gál develops his memorable material with the natural resourcefulness and sureness of purpose that are the hallmarks of a true symphonist. Kenneth Woods and the Orchestra of the Swan (which is based in Shakespeare’s Stratford-upon-Avon) lend this radiant and substantial score the most eloquent and affecting advocacy, and go on to give a comparably accomplished and invigorating account of Schumann’s masterly Fourth Symphony – a strikingly fresh-faced, spontaneous-sounding display, full of illuminating touches, personable warmth and genuine freshness of new discovery. Do investigate this bold, enormously rewarding coupling.
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The music world has reacted this week with a mixture of genuine moral outrage and cynical Schadenfreude to one conductor’s recent take on the place of women in the conducting world.
For all the howls of indignation, what I haven’t seen from most people writing about the issue is a knowledge of the talents, achievements and potential of almost any actual women conductors other than the current music director of the Baltimore Symphony (very occasionally someone mentions the current conductor of the Hamburg Opera), whose name has been mentioned in virtually every news and opinion item related to the story so far, including the retraction/apology issued by the conductor whose comments started the whole conversation.
I’m reminded of the days when, as a young person, I used to find myself visiting parts of the deep South (my parents are both from Atlanta) and I’d be shocked to hear so many otherwise apparently respectable people sitting around in supposedly polite company talking about how all the ills of society, from the schools to the streets, were being caused by “the blacks.” When I finally got old enough and brave enough to call them out on their casual racism, they would always explain that they weren’t really racist because they had the utmost respect for this or that specific black person- always one off a small list of candidates. “I’m not prejudiced black people- some of them do great things! I have tons of respect for Bill Cosby!” they would protest, very occasionally substituting Martin Luther King Jr or Sidney Poitier.
Although the context and the conversation here are substantially different, too many people on all sides of this debate are too content to sit back and say “I have tons of respect for women conductors- the current music director of the Baltimore Symphony is great!”
I’ve only met the current music director of the Baltimore Symphony once when I was student, but I feel confident in guessing that at this stage of her career, being the one name everyone seems to grab for when desperate to mention a woman conductor they respect is getting old. That’s why I’ve left her name out of this blog post.
I think that many people writing about this issue, proclaiming the viability and importance of women on the podium, need to get beyond the “Bill Cosby” clause and get out there and get to know the work of some other women conductors.
The music press have been behind the curve on this issue for a long time. I think it’s the height of laziness for any journalist to ask the seemingly ubiquitous question: “why are there no women conductors?” Of course there are women conductors! Why don’t you know who they are and where they are working? “It’s not us,” say the question-askers in their own defense “We’re totally well-informed on women conductors- we love the current music director of the Baltimore Symphony!”
I thought long and hard about creating a list of great women colleagues here, but as a performer myself, I try not to get into the slippery business of ranking my peers, and I’d feel awful if I caused hurt to a friend or student by omitting their name, and it’s very awkward an probably unfair for one performer to write critically about another. This is really work for a journalist.
So, dear music journalists, here is your challenge: write a feature article profiling at least 20 to 30 women conductors working today.
Many of my brilliantly gifted female colleagues know all-too-well the frustration of trying to get a critic to come to their concert or trying to get their latest CD reviewed. Find them- pay attention to them! Get out there, dear journalists, and please get beyond the absolute top-tier of major orchestras. If you want to know who is really up and coming, you’ve got to look at youth orchestras, community orchestras, university groups, new music ensembles, collectives and people in minor staff positions. Of course, there are a lot of important and well-established women conductors in the field making major professional careers other than the current music director of the Baltimore Symphony. Don’t forget them. Your list should include conductors at all stages of career and life.
If you really want to see more gender equity on the podiums of the great orchestras around the world, ask what you can do to bring new names and new talents into the conversation.
In doing so, let’s try to avoid looking for a prototype- find a diverse array of individuals. Let’s try to avoid treating these individuals as if everyone were equally gifted and meritorious just because they were female. Far too many people in this industry are afraid to say anything critical about any woman conductor for fear of appearing sexist. This does nobody any favors- there are many, many female conductors out there capable of delivering superb performances of the broadest array of rep. You’re not helping them find their place and their path in the field if you’re afraid to constructively criticize other women who aren’t able to deliver the musical goods.
But Ken, you may say- weren’t you the one just the other day saying “don’t call them women conductors, just call them conductors?” Now you’re telling us to go hunting women conductors.
Well- here’s the thing. As long as Bill Cosby is the only black person one knows by name, it’s pretty easy for anyone else with similar skin color to simply be one of “the blacks.” I’m quite confident that if you really take the time to go to the rehearsals and concerts of a truly diverse group of women conductors, you’ll find that their gender and profession are the only things they have in common. You’ll find a group of individuals with distinct and diverse personalities and skill sets, some who excel in Elgar, others who flounder in Franck, but may persuade in Panufnik. You’ll see leaders of great personal charm and hard-nosed bullies. You’ll meet alcoholics and yoga fanatics. You may end up writing a feature piece for one of the music magazines on “thirty women conductors who are not currently music director of the Baltimore Symphony,” but next time you think of or encounter no. 17 on the list, you may just find yourself remembering them not as number 17, but as “the conductor who galvanized a county youth orchestra into a truly memorable performance of Mahler 1.”
And, hopefully, you won’t even notice that you just caught yourself calling them a “conductor,” and not a “woman conductor” after all.
UPDATE- Journalist extraordinaire Jessica Duchen has been tweeting a wonderfully extensive list of talented female conductors who are not currently the music director of the Baltimore Symphony. I’ll try to paste that list below.
@jessicaduchen Claire Gibault is both conductor and MEP (any others?): http://clairegibault.fr/ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Claire_Gibault … #womenconductors
.@jessicaduchen And the wonderful if deceptively named Laurence Equilby. A brilliant choral conductor. #Accentus
@TobyDeller @jessicaduchen @hollyjmathieson Did anyone mention Tania Miller of Victoria (Canada) ?
@Capriccioblog He’s doing Rosenkavalier next summer – will be really interested to hear that.
@jessicaduchen @kennethwoods Anne Manson. Iona Brown(RIP).
@jessicaduchen Sarah Ioannides was born in Oz but grew up in the UK and now is based in the US. http://sarahioannides.net/ #womenconductors
@JohnofOz Got ‘em both. Interested that more people have tweeted back with Jessica Cottis’s name than anyone else’s.
Another queen of the early music sphere: Jeanne Lamon of Tafelmusik http://www.tafelmusik.org/about/orchestra/bios/jeanne-lamon … (thanks, @JohnGilks)
@jessicaduchen Ewa Strusinska spent some time @the_halle and now works internationally from Poland http://www.ewastrusinska.com #womenconductors
@jessicaduchen also Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla and Kristiina Poska http://www.laphil.com/philpedia/mirga-grazinyte-tyla … http://www.rbartists.at/en/dirigenten_dtl.php?id=486&TACookie=rv3a0901nslhali2lc4gai8035 …
Odaline de la Martinez! http://www.lorelt.co.uk/lontano/odaline.htm …
And please welcome, from Australia, the amazingly named @KellyLovelady http://kellylovelady.com/
The extraordinary and incredible Emmanuelle Haim! http://www.leconcertdastree.fr/ (thanks again, @JohnBroggio)
Next, meet Alondra de la Parra http://alondradelaparra.com/ (thanks, @jjohnstonmezzo)
@roannedods @chiggi yup, we got her already, and here she is again: http://jessicacottis.com/
Susanna Malkki, principal conductor of the Gulbenkian Orchestra, Portugal: http://www.harrisonparrott.com/artist/profile/susanna-malkki … (thanks @JohnBroggio)
Here is Sian Edwards’s website. She is head of conducting at the Royal Academy of Music. http://www.ingpen.co.uk/artist/sian-edwards/ …
@JohnBroggio you just beat me to it as I found Jane Glover’s website!
Let’s not forget arch-Mozartian Jane Glover: http://www.janeglover.co.uk/
@chiggi thanks, Charlotte!
@prima_donnaanna brilliant. Proves there are plenty of them to tweet about!
And there’s @niallewelynj, young conductor being nurtured by CBSO among others
Here is JoAnn Falletta’s website: http://www.joannfalletta.com/
And there’s Eve Queler of New York: http://www.evequeler.com/
@jessicaduchen Let’s not forget that the Ulster Orchestra has a female music director, JoAnn Falletta?
@nfmusic yes indeed.
@prima_donnaanna yes, she was absolutely up there in my second tweet!
So, that was 7, without even trying very hard.
Simone Young is extremely well-established on the international circuit http://www.simoneyoung.com/titel/
…and the also brilliant Xian Zhang. http://www.harrisonparrott.com/artist/profile/xian-zhang …
The brilliant Julia Jones: http://www.oper-frankfurt.de/en/page652.cfm
Next, the Estonian Anu Tali http://www.harrisonparrott.com/artist/profile/anu-tali …
Next, 2 Brits: Monica Buckland Hofstetter http://www.buckland.ch/english/news.htm … and Jessica Cottis http://jessicacottis.com/
Yes, we need more women conductors. How about some orchestras booking them? I can suggest some. First, Zoi Tsokanou. http://www.zoitsokanou.com/
@kennethwoods @KellyLovelady Great post! Add Rosemary Thomson, Music Director @OkSymphonyOrch (British Columbia, Canada)
Hans Gal’s Violin Concerto was premiered in 1933, just weeks before Hitler came to power. The concert was conducted by the great Fritz Busch, and Georg Kulenkampff, then the most famous violinist in Germany, was the soloist- at that moment, Gal stood atop the musical world.
Less than 100 days later, he was unemployed and unemployable. His music was banned. The Violin Concerto was not played again for over 70 years.
Your donation can help right that wrong.
And, you’ll love the disc!
Last night, BBC Four gave us one of the richest evenings of television I can remember seeing in the 10 years or so I’ve lived here. A digest of the best of this year’s contemporary music offerings at the Proms, it was a diverse and exciting array of great pieces really well performed. It did a fantastic job of showcasing the virtuosity and irreplaceable value of the BBC orchestras, the unique power of the Proms to take new music to vast audiences, and, most importantly, it was all first rate music.
It’s a pity that some pieces were only excerpted, but the BBC has, in this case, made great use of their online capabilities by making complete performances of some pieces that were not shown in full available on their website
If you’re in the UK and missed the live broadcast, do catch it on iPlayer in the next 6 days
If you’re abroad, keep an eye on YouTube- most televised Proms seem to end up there within a week or so.
Congratulations to John McCabe, David Matthews, Colin Matthews, Thomas Ades, James MacMillan and the rest of the gang.
Update time- only 72 hours left. That’s just 3 days until Ken’s crowd-funding days are over for ever
This has been a great week overall- so many generous donations have come in from all over the world, and we’ve had a tidal wave of tweets, likes, blog posts and shout outs. We’ve made amazing progress.
But today was a set back- very slow on the donation front in spite of lots of encouraging efforts from supporters to get things going. Another day like this, and we’re going to be in dire shape.
I can’t believe we won’t be successful- I just know there are more than enough people out there who have enough musical perception and moral center to see the urgency of giving a composer like Gal a chance at the listenership history and the National Socialists managed to deny him. I can’t believe we can’t find a few hundred people who would give £10 each or a few dozen who would give £100 each to make this CD happen.
Believe me, there’s nothing I want to do more now than take a long vacation from all social media and email, but I can’t believe there aren’t enough folks out there who care enough to make this campaign a success. Somehow, in spite of all of our work so far, we’ve either not reached your heart, or we’ve made you tune out.
If you’ve tuned out, please remember- we’re just hacks at this stuff. We’re musicians, not marketing gurus. Don’t hold our lack of communication skills against us. If you’ve like us to shut up, just give us some cash so we can put this thing to bed.
If we haven’t reached your heart yet? Well, we’re going to give it our all for 72 more hours. Maybe you should start with the music? Follow the link here to the “Bobby and Hans Listening Room” and check out the stream of the first movement of the Concertino for Violin and Strings (near the bottom of the page), written during Gal’s difficult years between becoming a “non-person” in Germany and settling into a new life in Scotland. It was written with no prospect of performance, and sat in a drawer until after the war. This was the first recording.
If it doesn’t reach your heart, I worry for us all!
Sorry to bother you again!
By now, I’ve been in touch with most, if not all of you about the Orchestra of the Swan’s campaign on Indiegogo to fund the fourth and final volume in our series of the symphonies of Hans Gal and Robert Schumann.
Hans Gal (1890-1887) was one of music’s good guys- one of the best and brightest of the generation of Viennese composers who succeed Richard Strauss and Mahler. Had he not been pushed into exile and obscurity by Hitler and the Nazi’s in the 1903′s, I’m sure he’d be a standard repertoire composer. As it is, this project will not only be the first complete cycle of recordings of his symphonies, it is also the first time any orchestra has played all the symphonies in concert. Ever. When we performed his Second Symphony last December, it was the first time that amazing work had been heard live since the early 1950′s. When we finish the cycle in December, with your help, it will be the first live performance of the First Symphony in over forty years.
We’ve made great progress in the campaign so far, and attracted a lot of media attention, but we need to seal the deal.
Orchestral recordings are incredibly expensive- before even launching this campaign, we’d raised more than 3/4 of what we need. If we don’t succeed in raising the approximately £6k we still need, we risk losing the +£30k we’ve already got from other sources, and missing our window to record in December. It would be heartbreaking and a huge setback for the cause of this wonderful music.
Crowdfunding is a very mixed blessing- yes, it can make great projects like this possible, but it also means we all have more worthwhile projects and ideas vying for our attention. I wouldn’t be coming to you if we didn’t need your help.
The hours are slipping past. Just five days remain. Please help.
I’ll end with a collection of recent press so you have some idea about how important this project is.
If everyone who gets this email gives something, whatever you can, and forwards it to a friend, we can finish this campaign in hours rather than days.
Thank you so much, and I promise, after this, I am done with crowdfunding
If you don’t know Gal’s music, you can listen to samples of all the CDs so far here.
An extensive review released yesterday from MusicWeb which talks extensively about the importance of this series of recordings ”Hans Gál is gradually becoming better known. It is quite shameful that a composer as good as he was should have lived amongst us, and taught so many students, for forty years, yet should still have to be brought out from the shadows into the light of recognition.”
A blog post from Jessica Duchen, music critic for The Independent ”Hans Gál is one of music’s most scandalously undersung, underplayed, under-recognised good guys. I first saw his name as a child, as my dad had his admirable books on Schubert and Brahms – yet scarcely heard a note of his music”
Blogger and critic Robert Hugill ”Since then Gál’s name has cropped up periodically, but his music still does not receive the recognition it deserves. Like a number of other Jewish musicians Gál and his family fled to England in the 1930′s but his music never recovered, though he went on to have a career as a distinguished academic at Edinburgh University, his works were not played very much. Now the Stratford-upon-Avon based Orchestra of the Swan are recording all of Gál’s four symphonies conducted by Kenneth Woods. ”
A news item from ClassicalSource ”The first three recordings of Gál’s symphonies have been broadcast in their entirety countless times, reviewed and discussed in outlets as significant as National Public Radio’s All Things Considered, American Public Media’s Performance Today, BBC Radio 3’s CD Review, the Sunday New York Times, the Sunday Washington Post, the Guardian, the Saturday Telegraph and all the major musical journals, review magazines and websites. For the first time in generations, Gál’s symphonies have been reaching a broad international audience.
Recent review from Gramophone Magazine
Recent review from International Record Review
Composer and Guitarist Gerald Garcia lends his voice
Former Gramophone editor James Inverne already has vol 4 pegged as a highlight of 2014 ”…the first recorded cycle of symphonies by the much neglected (though slowly, perhaps, now returning to fashion) composer Hans Gál. Woods, the Orchestra of the Swan and the label, itself, have really done their reputation no end of good with this series, with Gal played alongside Schumann symphonies.”
I finished writing the slow mvt of my new quartet today. Very excited and relieved to reach the double bar.
The restorative power of reconnecting with one’s creativity, however massive or meagre it may be, always astonishes me. It’s sad that too often, we drive people to set aside their creative gifts on the grounds that their are more important things to be done, there’s no market for their work, or there are greater talents about. Everyone has the right to create. Everyone has the right to find space in their life to create.
Fellow Earthlings- go forth and write your poems, paint your pictures, play your blues and work out your fugues! And when you’re done, take a second to check out that which your child, your friend, your spouse or your neighbor has been creating in the meantime. If we all did these things more often, life would be richer, our tread would be lighter and smiles would be easier to come by.
In preparing for this vlog, it’s been really interesting to see just how selective coverage of Amanda Palmer’s “not paying the musicians” coverage has been. First, agree with her or not, she does seem to have a philosophical basis for her original decision to ask people to volunteer, nicely outlined in her famous TED talk (when are they going to let me give one of these talks?:) )
It sounds a lot like her real mistake was not realizing how differently everyone sees you and interprets your actions when they consider you to be rich. I remember when I was about to “come out” as a conductor- a violinist friend of mine wisely warned me that for many people, once they see you as an authority figure, they can’t see you as a human being any more. Anyway, not paying the players when you can (or when people assume you can) is always a bad idea.
What I like about Amanda Palmer is her willingness to speak truth to power while simultaneously channeling the spirit of Tom Lehrer. (Would TL ever have dropped the kimono?)
(Warning- Contains nudity)
Read more from the Guardian here and here. An extended piece in the New Yorker (less positive) is here
Support the Gal/Schumann campaign here:
A lovely article from critic, broadcaster and essayist Jon Jacob has been published on his popular blog,Thoroughly Good.
Jon shares some recollections of his own time as and ESO managerial assistant in the 1990's then moves on to an extended interview with Ken.
A short sample follows. Read the whole thing here.
In a geographically small country like the UK, “regional” orchestras have to be good enough to compete directly with national orchestras. You forget that at your peril. These days, orchestras from the major metropolitan centres are queuing up to play in small and medium sized venues. This means that any professional orchestra has to play like a national orchestra in order to survive, but that’s one of the reasons that this orchestra is called the English Symphony Orchestra and not the Worcestershire Philharmonic. Artistically, we believe the orchestra has been and must again become an institution of national significance.
However, there are also compelling reasons for orchestras not to forget where we come from. When it comes to doing educational and outreach work that has a meaningful and lasting impact on people in our communities, being a regional orchestra is a strength. The recordings we make and the works we commission should have lasting international impact, but our work with children, the elderly and other under-served groups enriches the communities where we work in a way that a concert from an orchestra bussed in from London, however great the concert, never can.
We have a once-in-a-generation chance to put the orchestra back on the national stage as an important artistic force, and we’ve got to deliver on that. That means giving powerful performances of well-rehearsed, thoughtful programmes that show we can engage audiences with unfamiliar repertoire and present core repertoire in thought-provoking contexts. On our next concert, we’re playing two works by Mendelssohn alongside one of Hans Gál. All three works are tuneful and fun to listen to, but there are interesting underlying connections- Mendelssohn was the first Jewish composer to breakthrough into the German mainstream, Gál was one of the last generation of Jews to rise to the top of the musical world in Austria and Germany who were then pushed out or worse by the Nazi’s. There are other, less intense connections, too- both Mendelssohn pieces were inspired by his travels to Scotland, where Gál lived for the last 45 years of his life.
So, first up is doing distinctive programmes really well, but we also have to make sure that the ESO is not just the tree that falls in the forest. You can expect the ESO to start performing again in London and other metropolitan centres. We’re looking to have a media presence that includes traditional radio, audio and video streaming and podcasting. We’ve named a composer-in-association for 2014 and we’ve commissioned a new symphony. We’re also anxious to get a first CD or two under our belts.
Strategically, this means finding new friends, developing partnerships and engaging with a whole new generation of ESO listeners, funders and supporters. We can’t do this alone, and that means we’ve got to make the orchestra a cause that lots of people believe in.
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Whether it was folklore or fact, I’m not in a position to say, but in the latter years of his career, it was reputed that Rostropovich’s fee for a performance of the Dvorak Cello Concerto hovered around $80,000. For any of the 60 or so works written for him, however, he was willing to lower the fee to $8,000, and the discount apparently extended to almost anything off-the-beaten-path-ish. Depressingly and unsurprisingly, he mostly went around the world playing the Dvorak Concerto over and over again.
Rostropovich’s success in getting composer after composer to write works for him means that the list of cello concertos written between 1950 and the present day is staggering. However, of the dozens of concertos written for Rostropovich, it is really only the first Shostakovich concerto and the Prokofiev Symphony-Concerto which have entered the mainstream repertoire. Even Britten’s mighty Cello-Symphony and Shostakovich’s own masterpiece, the Cello Concerto no. 2, hover at the periphery of the repertoire, often misunderstood by critics and feared by audiences.
But what of the music beyond Britten, Prokofiev and Shostakovich? Let’s take a look at the ten greatest cello concertos written over the last 50 years or so, up to Rostropovich’s death in 2007.
What cello concertos have touched you in recent years? What pieces have made you want to shout to the whole world?
10- Stephen Albert- Cello Concerto
American music seems to still be reeling from the premature loss of Stephen Albert in 1992. I’ve never been lucky enough to perform any of his music, but what I find consistent among pretty much all of my friends and colleagues who have learned and lived with his works is that they’ve been deeply touched and profoundly challenged by the experience. He considered his Cello Concerto his most important work. Written for Yo-Yo Ma and recorded by him on Sony.
9- Luciano Berio- Ritorno degli snovidenia | for violoncello and 30 instruments
The presence of any piece by Berio on a numbered list in any position below one or two just goes to show you how silly lists like this are. Written for Rostropovich and Paul Sacher, Berio said of this piece: “The return of the Snovidenia was written for Paul Sacher and his orchestra, which has performed in January 1977 with Mstislav Rostropovich cello. This is why the work is titled The Return of Snovidenia : the dreams (snovidenia in Russian) Russian revolutionaries are the songs. In contrast to Rostropovich I always had a very idealistic attitude towards the Russian revolution, and I therefore included in the composition, for exorcism almost three revolutionary songs. Return of Snovidenia is first and foremost a tribute to a dream betrayed by history, by men, by Stalinism. I do not think that betrayal can be translated musically, but at the unconscious level is an idea that may well have played an important role. “
8- Schnittke- Cello Concerto no. 2.
Five years separate Schnittke’s two Cello Concertos. The Second is a very great work, but much tougher going than the First- it intentionally seems to lack the payoff for the listener of its earlier companion. If the First Concerto is Schnittke’s response to his own return to life after a devastating stroke, the Second seems to be his response to his return to dying when his health problems resurfaced. Bleak, desolate and unforgettable, if you can hang in for the whole work.
Listen on Spotify if you have it (Torleif Theeden and the Malmo Symphony, conducted by Lev Markiz)
7- Bernd Alois Zimmermann. Concerto for cello and orchestra “en forme de “pas de trios””
When I was studying, Zimmermann was considered the ultimate bad-boy of the avant garde, whose struggles with depression and ultimate suicide all seemed part of an aesthetic of hopeless post-War despair. As the years have gone by, I and many others have gradually come to recognize the music as being more communicative and accessible than we might have thought on first encounter- it’s certainly some of the most viscerally and emotionally engaging and direct music of the last 50 years. The life may have been a tragedy, but the life’s work is emerging as a triumph
6- Ligeti- Cello Concerto.
Ligeti is one of the big-beasts of his era, and his concertos are rightly considered among his best works. This is a work that asks a lot of the listener, but somehow, Ligeti makes it worth the effort, and the originality comes through once you get past some of the cliches of the time in which it was written.
5- Tishchenko- Concerto for cello, seventeen wind instruments, percussion and organ
This is a stunning piece- the best piece on this list by a composer you may well never have heard of. It works brilliantly live and gives a good wind ensemble something fantastic to play with a string soloist. Why isn’t it done more often? Because you don’t know who Tischenko is, and you’re enough of a music geek to be reading this blog. Get to know this piece, and get to know this composer- did he write anything else this good? I don’t know…
4- Penderecki- Cello Concerto no. 2
I can’t think of any composer in recent years who brings out the nitwit in critics and fellow composers like Penderecki. Chances are, if you’re reading a review of a work that misses the mark by about a hundred miles, it’s either of a piece by Schumann or Penderecki. The avant garde establishment have never forgiven him for continuing to grow and evolve, either, even though I would think that even %97.5 of professional musicians would not see what in his later music is supposed to be conservative. Anyway, I think there’s a good reason that Rostropovich asked him for so many pieces- Penderecki really understood the cello. The Second Concerto is the most ambitious of his three major concertante works for the instrument.
Listen here on Spotify
3- Lutoslawski- Cello Concerto
Props to the Proms over the last few years when it comes to cello concertos. Roger Wright must have a well-loved copy of Rostropovich’s classic EMI LP of the Lutoslawski and Dutilleux Concertos in his library, because we’ve finally had them both live in recent times. It seems like a foregone conclusion that this 100th Anniversary year will finally cement Lutoslawski’s place in the pantheon forever as one of the most important composers of his or any era.
2- Dutilleux- Cello Concerto ”Tout un monde lointain”
I wonder how the guys at EMI felt when they sent the master of the Rostropovich Lutoslawski/Dutilleux LP off to the pressing plant. “What do you think guys? Not bad repertoire for all new stuff, eh?” This is more than a cello concerto- it’s a poem a summation and a revelation. Lynn Harrell, one of its greatest advocates said recently of this piece “ I came gradually to recognize that this work is not only one of the top five greatest works for the cello in the last 100 years but that it simply transcends the cello and is a work as important to the history of the greatest music; right alongside Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.”
1- Schnittke- Cello Concerto no. 1.
This was the first Schnittke work I got to know (in recording rather than playing or studying it), and I listened to it pretty obsessively for a couple of months at the time I discovered it. Since that early infatuation, I took a break of nearly 15 years until this May, when I put it on again in preparation for Ensemble Epomeo’s return to his String Trio. Forty minutes later, eyes red with tears I sat spent and shaken in silence for a good 20 minutes after the last note. Schnittke himself wrote of the ending “Suddenly I was given this finale from somewhere, and I’ve just written it down.” I don’t know if I have the physical strength or the chops to play it, but if I had just one more chance to play one more concerto in this lifetime, this would be the one.
Listen here on Spotify (if you have it). (Fourth and final movement, Largo, Torleif Theeden-cello)
Rodrigo- Cello concerto.
Let’s face it, this list is not exactly bursting with easy-on-the-ear tune-fests. Still, I’m sure that every piece on this list can be accessed and loved by any listener who gives themselves to the music. Rodrigo’s Cello Concerto, written in the 1980′s for Julian Lloyd Weber, is not a masterpiece, but it has tunes a-plenty and it’s way more bearable to listen to than that horrible guitar concerto….I admit- I quite like it.
UPDATE- I can see I’ve already achieved a bit of infamy on a guitar forum for my description of the Rodrigo. Apologies for any hurt feelings. It’s sometimes hard to see the twinkle the writer’s eye via a mere blog post- mostly only kidding, guys. It’s not my favorite, for all kinds of reasons, but I don’t really think it’s horrible. Not completely horrible, anyway. Check out the Malcolm Arnold Concerto- a much better piece. Or Gerald Garcia’s, which I enjoyed a lot when I conducted it a few years ago.
UPDATE 2- More Honorable mentions beginning with K
There were quite a few works that didn’t quite make the list, plus some which have come along in the comments below. When you’ve finished exploring 1-10, here are some more great pieces to listen to:
I always find myself wishing I liked Khatchaturian’s music just a little more than I do. There’s a melodic spark there, and a sense of sweep, but I’m not sure the structural waters run all that deep. That said, I do like the Concert-Rhapsody, and the existence of this bit of footage of the composer (decked out like a miliatary gangsta with medals on his tail coat) conducting Rostropovich is a treasure. Rostropovich sounds incredible- sometimes I think he’s most impressive when he makes a decent work sound like a masterpiece.
Kabalevsky- Cello Concerto no. 2
Sticking with Soviet composers whose names begin with K, I left the Kabalevsky 2nd off the list because it belongs more on a mid-20th c list with Britten and Shostakovich (it was written in 1964, so technically falls just barely in my 50 year window). The First Concerto is a favorite of young cellists cutting their young artist competition teeth, but the 2nd Concerto is a really stunning work, and fully of pathos and lyricism. Check out Shafran’s playing on the recording below. He’s a true phenomenon
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