It’s less than forty-eight hours now until recording sessions begin for volume 4 of Bobby and Hans- the complete symphonies of Hans Gal and Robert Schumann. We’re all very excited that the day is nearly at hand. YOU made it happen!
Interest in the project continues to pick up. Performance Today, American Public Media’s national digest of live classical music, has just rebroadcast our performance of Schumann’s 2nd Symphony, recorded in December 2011 as part of the sessions for volume 2 in the series. They’ve also included a selection from our recording of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde, sung by the incomparable tenor Brennen Guillory. You can listen to the program online until Thursday the 5th of December here.
Also in America, Listen Magazine has published a new essay on “The Case for Hans Gal.” It’s in the Winter 2013 issue- on newsstands now or subcribe online. You can get a sneak peak here.
Finally, this memorable graphic from Zoe was one of the iconic images of the campaign:
Well, thanks to your generosity and tenacity, we can now fill in the blank box with the cover for vol 4, which will be released in March:
Photo by Benjamin Ealovega
We look forward to seeing many of you on Tuesday. Thank you so much for your support!
The team at Listen Magazine (a great magazine you should subscribe to if you read this blog) gave me the chance to “make the case” for the music of Hans Gal. My response is in the Winter 2013 issue, on newsstands now. There are also cool features on Jonas Kaufman, an article on Wagner by Jens F Laurson and a very interesting piece on the meeting of Marian Anderson and Sibelius.
Re-blogged from the Bobby and Hans Campaign Indiegogo page
The countdown to our final Bobby and Hans project is underway. In one week, the orchestra will take to the stage for the first live performance of Gal’s First Symphony in over 43 years.Concert details are here.
There’s been a surge of interest in the project you made possible over the last few weeks, so we thought we might take a moment to update you.
Over at Capital Radio, music programming director Kent Teeters offers up an audio review of vol. 2.
The audiophile magazine Positive Feedback reviews vol. 3 in their most recent issue. “Woods, proves a persuasive advocate for the score, balancing an ear for detail with a sense of the music’s long line; … they produce polished, full-bodied sounds and phrase expressively.”
There’s an essay on Gal in the current issue of Listen Magazine. Ken discusses Gal’s life, music and importance, and offers a behind the scenes look into the process of learning and recording this long-lost music. “In 2009, I wrote a blog post entitled “Who is Hans Gál and why are you recording his music?” On that September morning, Gál was, in the words of one colleague, “the very best composer in the world that nobody has ever heard of.”
Fanfare Magazine has a review in their current issue for volume three in our series. “Woods’s album is a valuable addition to our understanding of the 20th-century symphony.”
Bob Shingleton, aka Pliable, cites our Indiegogo campaign in a stinging critique of classical music’s misplaced priorities. “Recordings of Hans Gal’s Symphonies by Kenneth Woods and Missy Mazolli’s opera are just two important projects that relied on crowdfunding. $13,500 was needed to deliver the acclaimed Gal Symphonies; 0.08% of the amount reportedly paid each year to Gergiev”
Radio host Rich Samuels at WORT-FM continues to broadcast performances from our series. His most recent show included the complete recording of Gal’s 2nd Symphony, which you can listen to online until Thanksgiving this week. The Gal starts at 2 hours 8 minutes
A review from Andrew Achenbach on the Classical Ear for volume 3: ”Woods and the Orchestra of the Swan 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.”
Where possible, once I’ve learned and digested a score and forgotten everything I’ve ever heard other conductors and orchestras do in concert and on recordings, I like to do some serious comparative listening. It’s always interesting and often incredibly helpful see what conclusions other performers have come to about the piece at hand.
Video is often even more instructive. One can see what the conductor was actually doing: this is usually very helpful and interesting, and occasionally rather terrifying. Video also gives one a chance to see what bowings the orchestra is using, and how the players communicate with each other. It’s not at all unusual to listen to an entire performance I find wrong-headed, disappointing or sloppy, only to stumble on one idea, one bowing or one moment that makes the whole process worthwhile.
As I look ahead to recording the last installment in my Schumann cycle with the Orchestra of the Swan on December 2nd and 3rd, I came across two videos which I thought made for an interesting comparison, so I’ve decided to share them here. One is a performance (alongside a bit of rehearsal footage) of the group Spria Mirabilis, who play (very well) without a conductor.The other is by the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, conducted by Yannick Nezet-Seguin.
The reason the comparison is interesting is because the two groups are of similar size and share a number of the same players (most importantly Lorenza Borrani, who leads both groups) and the two performances were recorded only a couple years appart.
I’d welcome your reactions and comments- especially if we can get beyond “I liked the ________ one better.”
For me, the two performances raise some very interesting questions about what a conductor does or does not bring to a performance, how players listen and watch with and without a conductor, how an orchestra’s sense of line and meter changes with or without a conductor, and so on.
I normally avoid any discussion of living colleagues here, but in this case, it’s clear that these are both very good performances at a high professional level- what really struck me is that not only are the two performances quite different, the relative strengths and not-strengths are so different.
I think if you take in both performances attentively, you’ll find that it’s not possible to say “it’s better with/without a conductor” but you’ll certainly realize it’s different. For the conductor, it’s a chance to see what the players do when you’re not there than you can encourage the to bring to your rehearsals and concerts, and for the musicians, it’s a chance to see and hear what a conductor can bring to a performance and to think about how you can keep those qualities when you work without one.
Spira Mirabilis (performance starts about 10 mins in)
Chamber Orchestra of Europe
It’s not so much a “I told you so” situation as an “I am still telling you now” one.
Back in September, controversy erupted when a well-known conductor was quoted as saying some bizarre and outdated things on the subject of women conductors.
I wrote a blog post at the time saying that however unfortunate his remarks (and I have no idea if he meant them as reported- my instinct is always to give people the benefit of the doubt), if writers and journalists wanted to improve the balance of opportunities for women conductors, they should spend more of their energy and column inches writing about women conductors:
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.
Some thought I was being unfair to journalists, while others had already taken up the challenge. Jessica Duchen compiled a list of about 100 names of women conductors worth getting to know. Wonderfully, her list has had more hits than any other post in the history of her blog.
However, a month on from the initial controversy, and the conversation has moved on from what one guy may or may not think of women conductors to…. Wait for it….
What several more guys think of women conductors?!?!?!?!?!?!
(For a summary of this month’s news, click here)
So much more coverage in so many important places now means that we know a whole lot more about some men, and very little more about any specific women working today in the field.
So, I’m still telling you…. By all means, name and shame. It’s great linkbait. There are plenty more sexists in the business waiting to be outed. The business will be fairer and less creepy when we’ve seen the last of teachers whose profiles might be summarized as “the ass grabber,” “the man who brought domestic violence into the teaching studio” and the “no chicks in my class” guy. I guarantee you, there are plenty of people out there who know which three guys I just described. I won’t even miss the “breasts get in the way of conducting” guy.
However, if you want to create opportunities for specific, talented and deserving women in the industry, you have to make those women your focus, not men. You’ve got to find women conductors, observe them and write about them in detail and at length. Simply embedding a link to Jessica’s admirable list will not do, nor will adding the two other most obvious names to the now-automatic mention of the current Music Director of the Baltimore Symphony in your blog post about the latest foot-in-mouth moment.
I know- it’s way harder work than simply cutting and pasting something somebody said in an interview with another journalist. But there are so many great stories waiting to be told in the industry that nobody is telling. There are not just remarkable talents out there- there are proper, full-fledged artists who are working in near-obscurity. If you don’t have the resources to take up my challenge of doing detailed profiles of large numbers of women conductors, how about a feature piece on one deserving artist? It’s a job only music journalists can do.
See also this post from 2007 on the subject
A review from critic Jessica Duchen in the November 2013 issue of BBC Music Magazine for Somm’s new recording of music for piano and orchestra by Franck, Falla and Turina with pianist Valerie Tryon
“..loving and attentive performances…atmosphere that could be cut with a butter knife. Woods draws the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra into a rapt stillness…”
A feature in the current (October 2013) issue of Classical Music Magazine on recent crowdfunding success stories includes discussion of the recent Indiegogo campaign in support of the final volume of the Complete Symphonies of Hans Gal and Robert Schumann on Avie Records.
The (now successfully concluded) campaign homepage is here. Recording is scheduled for December 2nd and 3rd of this year in Stratford-upon-Avon, and you can book tickets for the concert here.
Tune in to Vftp later this week for my more detailed thoughts on the crowdfunding experience.
Meanwhile, run, don’t walk, to your local newsstand to pick up your copy of the magazine!
If Sibelius is good, this invalidates the standards of musical quality that have persisted from Bach to Schoenberg: the richness of inter-connectedness, articulation, unity in diversity, the ‘multi-faceted’ in ‘the one’.
Theodore Adorno, 1938
Sibelius fans rejoice.
Earlier this spring I was asked to write liner notes for this fascinating CD of performances by Hans Rosbaud and the WDR Koln of Sibelius and Debussy. The disc is out now, and I encourage you to add it to your collection. Rosbaud was one of the greatest Sibelians of all time, and his Debussy is really first rate. Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy the essay.
ROSBAUD CONDUCTS SIBELIUS AND DEBUSSY
“I have a very clear memory of his rehearsals because I learned so much from his extraordinarily “professional” attitude to whatever he was working on. I learned the practical side of conducting from watching him, from talks with him and from him I came to understand the essential relationship between the score as written and the score as performed”
In the early 1930s, as the music world came to recognise that Jean Sibelius’s compositional silence was might be permanent (his final masterpiece, Tapiola, was completed in 1926, and in 1931–2, word got out that he’d destroyed his Eighth Symphony in despair), tributes to his importance began to pour in. New York Times chief critic Olin Downes hailed Sibelius as the most important composer of the 20th century, a figure on a par with Beethoven. Bengt von Törne considered Sibelius a more important figure than Mahler or Schoenberg, and Sibelius enjoyed a huge reputation in the United Kingdom, earning the admiration and endorsement of Granville Bantock, Constant Lambert, John Barbirolli and Thomas Beecham.
This lionisation of the unapologetically tonal Sibelius clearly irked the influential philosopher and music theorist (and long-time advocate for the music of the Second Viennese School) Theodore Adorno, who, enraged by von Törne’s pamphlet on Sibelius, responded with an all-out critical broadside in the journal Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung. Adorno derided Sibelius as a ‘scribbler’, someone ‘at the level of amateurs who are afraid to take lessons in composition’. Soon, other influential voices joined the chorus of derision. Composer and critic Virgil Thomson (charmingly wrong about so many facets of 20th-century musical life), writing for the New York Herald Tribune, endorsed Adorno’s assessment and as late as 1955, theorist, composer and conductor René Leibowitz went so far as to describe Sibelius as ‘the worst composer in the world’ (one is tempted to invoke the cliché about composers who live in glass houses not throwing stones). Adorno’s attack on Sibelius went beyond a mere trashing of his accomplishments as a composer: Adorno suggested that Sibelius’s palpable connection to Nature was somehow in sympathy with the ‘Blut und Boden’ ideals of National Socialism, a completely odious and unfounded accusation, but one which seemed to stick for many years in post-war Germany.
From his early years at the Frankfurt Radio Symphony in the 1920s, conductor Hans Rosbaud (1895–1962) recognized the unique potential of the radio orchestra to educate audiences, expand the repertoire and shape the way people think about music. With Sibelius’s reputation in ruins after the Second World War, Rosbaud became the single most important interpreter of and advocate for his music in the German-speaking world. Rosbaud’s modernist credentials were above reproach – his stature as an authority on the music of the Second Viennese School surpassed that of even Adorno. He was widely considered the greatest living conductor of the music of Arnold Schonberg, with whom he maintained a close lifelong friendship. In his later years, he would become an important advocate for the music of the post-war serialist school of composition at the Donaueschingen Festival. Additionally, Rosbaud was one of the few leading conductors of his generation based in Germany (along with Eugen Jochum and Fritz Busch) to avoid any ethical entanglement with the Nazis. Given this combination of reputation for moral integrity and stature as an authority on the 20th-century musical canon, Rosbaud was uniquely well qualified to advocate a reassessment of Sibelius. Rosbaud had helped to invent the model of the modern radio orchestra in the 1920s and for him, the combination of generous rehearsal time, relative freedom from box office worries and radio’s power to reach an audience beyond the walls of the studio or concert hall made a group like the Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra the perfect partners for instigating such a reassessment.
The Sixth Symphony is Sibelius for Sibelians – it has never attained the popularity of works like the Second and Fifth, and in 1950s Germany, it would have been almost completely unknown to players and audiences. But meticulously prepared by Rosbaud, who understood Sibelius’s language as few conductors ever have, this performance comes across not as a one-off by an orchestra getting to grips with a work well outside their repertoire, but as music completely in their bones.
Although Rosbaud’s posthumous reputation has rested largely on his performances of German repertoire, he was a musician of deeply international tastes, who gave influential early performances of works by composers as diverse as Stravinsky, Bartók, Milhaud and Poulenc. Throughout his career, he manifested a special affinity for French culture and music. During the Second World War, Rosbaud took up the position of General Music Director in Strasbourg after the annexation of Alsace. Despite the blatant attempts of the Nazis to ‘Germanify’ the region, Rosbaud proved a sensitive musical diplomat, defending the interests and positions of local musicians, building support and trust in the community, and maintaining, even enhancing, the Strasbourg orchestra’s reputation in French repertoire. After the war, Rosbaud was the first conductor German-speaking conductor invited to perform in France.
Debussy’s music was still something of a rarity in German musical life in the 1950s, and German orchestras have not always been known for their sympathetic performances of French repertoire. There is nothing ‘auf Deutsch’ about Rosbaud’s Debussy – his tempi flow with languid ease, free of Germanic ponderousness, and the orchestra shimmers with a transparent string sound, plangent winds and a palpable sense of flexibility, agility and nuance. Who would have guessed one would encounter such stunningly idiomatic Debussy performances in 1950s Cologne?
Kenneth Woods (www.kennethwoods.net)
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky seemed to be singularly unlucky in choosing the dedicatees of his great concertante works. He wrote his evergreen Variations on a Rococo Theme for the cellist William Fitzenhagen. As always, Tchaikovsky invited Fitzenhagen to suggest improvements to the solo part, but Fitzenhagen went far further- he re-ordered the variations, cutting one entirely. Amazingly, it was Fitzenhagen’s version of the piece that was first published, much to Tchaikovsky’s outrage, and even more incredibly, Tchaikovsky’s original has only begun to replace Fitzenhagen’s version in the last fifteen years.
Tchaikovsky looking less than impressed with Rubinstein’s reactions to the First Piano Concerto
Things went even worse when Tchaikovsky presented his Violin Concerto to its original dedicatee, Leopold Auer. Auer couldn’t even be bothered to suggest improvements to the violin writing. Instead, Auer dismissed the work as an unplayable monstrosity. Fortunately Tchaikovsky knew the piece’s true value, and went ahead with a premiere by the violinist Adolph Brodsky, and the work quickly became very popular. Auer was eventually shamed into taking up the piece, but he made extensive cuts in the Finale and rewrote several passages against Tchaikovsky’s wishes. Auer was one of the greatest pedagogues of all time—his students included Mischa Ellmann, Nathan Milstein and Efram Zimbalist—and his influence as a pedagogue has meant that many violinists descended from the “Auer school,” including modern soloists as eminent as David Oistrakh, have continued to use his cuts and rewritten passagework to this day.
However difficult these experiences were for Tchaikovsky, they didn’t seem to cause him nearly the distress brought on by his abortive collaboration on the First Piano Concerto with Nikolai Rubinstein. Nikolai Rubinstein was the younger brother of the composer Anton Rubinstein, and a co-founder of the Moscow Conservatory (the Rubinstein brothers were not related to the 20th century piano virtuoso Arthur Rubinstein).
Tchaikovsky had high hopes and specific expectations for his collaboration with Rubinstein on his First Piano Concerto. He had tremendous admiration for Rubinstein’s musicianship and pianism and had every confidence that Rubinstein would play the piece magnificently. He also hoped the Rubinstein could help him to fine-tune the piano writing. Tchaikovsky was a serviceable pianist, but felt the work needed the input of a virtuoso to ensure it was as effective and pianistic as possible.
When the Concerto was completed, Tchaikovsky invited Rubinstein and a few friends for a play-through. Tchaikovsky’s description of the evening three years later to his patroness Nadezzha von Meck still brims with righteous anger.:
I played the first movement. Not a single word, not a single remark! If you knew how stupid and intolerable is the situation of a man who cooks and sets before a friend a meal, which he proceeds to eat in silence! Oh, for one word, for friendly attack, but for God’s sake one word of sympathy, even if not of praise. Rubinstein was amassing his storm, and Hubert was waiting to see what would happen, and that there would be a reason for joining one side or the other. Above all I did not want sentence on the artistic aspect. My need was for remarks about the virtuoso piano technique. R’s eloquent silence was of the greatest significance. He seemed to be saying: “My friend, how can I speak of detail when the whole thing is antipathetic? I fortified myself with patience and played through to the end. Still silence. I stood up and asked, “Well?” Then a torrent poured from Nikolay Grigoryevich’s mouth, gentle at first, then more and more growing into the sound of a Jupiter Tonana. It turned out that my concerto was worthless and unplayable; passages were so fragmented, so clumsy, so badly written that they were beyond rescue; the work itself was bad, vulgar; in places I had stolen from other composers; only two or three pages were worth preserving; the rest must be thrown away or completely rewritten. “Here, for instance, this—now what’s all that? (he caricatured my music on the piano) “And this? How can anyone …” etc., etc. The chief thing I can’t reproduce is the tone in which all this was uttered. In a word, a disinterested person in the room might have thought I was a maniac, a talented, senseless hack who had come to submit his rubbish to an eminent musician….
I was not only astounded but outraged by the whole scene. I am no longer a boy trying his hand at composition, and I no longer need lessons from anyone, especially when they are delivered so harshly and unfriendlily. I need and shall always need friendly criticism, but there was nothing resembling friendly criticism. It was indiscriminate, determined censure, delivered in such a way as to wound me to the quick. I left the room without a word and went upstairs. In my agitation and rage I could not say a thing. Presently R. enjoined me, and seeing how upset I was he asked me into one of the distant rooms. There he repeated that my concerto was impossible, pointed out many places where it would have to be completely revised, and said that if within a limited time I reworked the concerto according to his demands, then he would do me the honor of playing my thing at his concert. “I shall not alter a single note,” I answered, “I shall publish the work exactly as it is!” This I did.
The man who came to the rescue would at first glance to seem an unlikely champion for this most Russian of concerti. Han von Bulow was a towering figure in the German musical world. Early in his career he had established himself as one of the great pianists and conductor’s of his day, and had married into musical royalty, winning the hand of Franz Liszt’s daughter Cosima. He came to be Richard Wagner’s preferred conductor, leading many still-legendary first performances of Wagner’s operas, but their reputation soured when Wagner seduced Cosima, who became Wagner’s second wife. Bulow later became very close with Brahms, particularly through their work together with von Bulow’s chamber orchestra at Meiningen, where Bulow’s extraordinary ensemble offered a perfect library to prepare early performances of most of Brahms mature orchestral music.
But Bulow was no strident nationalist, and he had taken a keen interest in the music of Tchaikovsky. The two men met in 1974 and quickly warmed to each other. After the debacle with Rubinstein, Tchaikovsky sent Bulow the new Concerto, and Bulow’s response was as effusive as Rubinstein’s had been vitriolic. In the end, plans for a Moscow premiere by Nikolai Rubinstein were dropped in favor of a performance in Boston in October 1875, with Bulow as soloist and B.J. Lang conducting a pick-up ensemble. Lang’s modest band was only a distant relative of a powerhouse symphony orchestra like the St Petersburg Philharmonic, or the Boston Symphony, which was not founded until 1881. In fact, there were only four first violins available for the premiere.
The international success of the Concerto eventually persuaded Rubinstein of its merits, and he took the piece into his repertoire and played it often. After some time, his relationship with Tchaikovsky healed to the point that Tchaikovsky planned to entrust him with the premiere of his Second Piano Concerto before Rubinstein’s untimely death. Tchaikovsky did finally accept some advice on the piano writing from Edward Dannreuther and Alexander Siloti, and revised the Concerto in 1879 and 1888.
Though the work has always been popular with audiences and most musicians, it has not always been universally admired by critics and musicologists. Many find it problematic that, having conceived one of the most striking and stirring beginnings in any concerto, Tchaikovsky never returns to the music of the opening. However, a careful analysis of the work shows that almost everything that is to follow grows out of motivic cells in the Introduction. In the course of the Concerto, Tchaikovsky quotes several folk songs, including the Ukrainian song “Oy, kryatshe, kryatshe…”as the first theme of the first movement, the French chansonette, “Il faut s’amuser, danser et rire.” (“One must have fun, dance and laugh”) in the second movement and a Ukrainian vsnyanka or greeting to spring in the Finale. Finally the second theme of the Finale is derived from the Russian folk song “Podoydi, podoydy vo Tsar-Goro.” All were melodies that would have been recognizable to Tchaikovsky’s Russian contemporaries, but he also took pains to choose tunes that could be musically connected to each other and to the Introduction.
Perhaps what perplexes so many intellectuals, but has never bothered most listeners, is the subversive way in which Tchaikovsky’s iconic opening intentionally creates all the wrong expectations about what is to come. Where the Introduction is lyrical, passionate and confident, the bulk of the first movement is mercurial, stormy and full of drama and uncertainty, only arriving at a triumphant ending after much struggle.
The Andante simplice that follows is more of an Intermezzo than a proper slow movement, highlighted by a dazzling scherzando middle section. The outer sections are infused with a fluid and effortless poetry, while the middle section exudes quicksilver wit and devil-may-care virtuosity.
Critics of the work have also suggested the Tchaikovsky’s Finale doesn’t provide an adequate counterbalance to the massive first movement, but, in fact, his proportions and the weighting of the musical argument toward the first movement are quite classical. Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, his Emperor Concerto and Brahms’s D minor Piano Concerto all have similarly massive first movements and relatively slight and light-hearted finales. It is the influence of folk music which is felt most keenly in the Allegro con fuoco, both in the in the feverishly driving first theme and the expansive tune which follows. In the end, it is the big tune that emerges triumphant- a perfect companion to that other big tune with which the concerto began.
c. 2012 Kenneth Woods
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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