by Tom Huizenga
Three of today's most fascinating violinists have new albums, including Augustin Hadelich, who pairs off with Spanish guitarist Pablo Sáinz Villegas.
The violin, though centuries old, remains a popular yet remarkably unwieldy instrument. Just squeezing the contraption between your chin and shoulder, then raising your bow arm to the proper height, is enough to induce a pinched nerve. Yet every day countless numbers of people try to make the instrument sing.
Three of the most distinctive violinists have released new albums. Viktoria Mullova continues her exploration of music by J.S. Bach, while Augustin Hadelich teams up with a Spanish guitarist and the adventuresome Carolin Widmann presents an expressive canvas by Morton Feldman.
by Anastasia Tsioulcas
June 21st has come to be one of our very favorite days on the calendar. It's not just the first day of summer (though there is that). It's also time for Make Music New York, which presents about 1,000 — yes, 1,000 — free outdoor concerts across the city in a single day.
Last year, we commissioned Philip Glass to create a choral work that could be sung by anyone who wanted to give it a go — and the world premiere was in the middle of Times Square, led by the excellent New York-based conductor Kent Tritle.
After that amazing and profoundly gratifying experience, we decided that for 2013, we'd try a different kind of matchmaking. We paired artists who had never before met or worked together, but we thought could create a brilliant collaboration: composer, installation artist and percussionist Eli Keszler and the inventive percussion quartet So Percussion. With a combination of piano wires suspended from the Manhattan Bridge, motors and a small battery of bowed percussion, their world premiere, called Archway, promises to be something really memorable.
Working with Make Music New York, the New York City Department of Transportation, the DUMBO Improvement District, the PAN ACT Festival and our colleagues at Q2 Music to realize this project, we're inviting the public to this singular event: the world premiere of Archway at the DUMBO Archway in Brooklyn (between Anchorage Pl. and Adams St.) this Friday, June 21, at 6:30 PM.
Scored for snare drums and crotales played with mallets and bows, the sonic context for this world premiere is Keszler's installation, also named Archway, that uses stretched and tuned piano wires to create a dynamic piece in and around the DUMBO Archway. The wires are struck with small mechanical beaters that resonate the strings, creating shifting overtones within each string and collectively as a unit. The entire installation will be built on site, heard — and then disassembled in the course of this one day.
Want a preview of Keszler's and So's amazing work? Check out these videos of two of their previous projects.
Eli Keszler's installation Cold pin at the Boston Center for the Arts in February 2011:
And here's So Percussion's John Cage-apalooza at the Tiny Desk last year:
Audio for this story from All Things Considered will be available at approximately 7:00 p.m. ET.
Violinist Amandine Beyer holds Mozart's own violin backstage at Boston's Jordan Hall on Monday.
The violin and viola that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart played himself are in the United States for the first time ever. The instruments come out of storage only about once a year at the Salzburg Mozarteum in Austria. The rest of the time, they're kept under serious lockup. I talked to the musicians who got to play them at the Boston Early Music Festival earlier this week before the violin's New York premiere at the Austrian Cultural Forum New York tonight.
I could feel my heart stop. My fingers were trembling. And I'm pretty sure I had a huge smile on my face as I tucked the violin under my chin. The instrument that Mozart used to perform his own concerts! And professional musicians got the same thrill at the Boston Early Music Festival.
For safety's sake, the violin and viola were flown here on separate airplanes. But the six-person team from the Salzburg Mozarteum who are safeguarding them don't make for a very flashy entourage. There are no huge, beefy guys in shades with crossed arms. No SUVs with blacked-out windows. Instead, there's just a small huddle of frankly not very intimidating-looking Middle Europeans.
"Our main thing is to travel so unspectacular as possible, that nobody should know what is inside the cases," says Gabriele Ramsauer, the director of the Mozart Museums. She and the rest of the team refer to the violin and the viola simply as "The Luggage," and the instruments are being held in an undisclosed location during the tour.
They were made in the early 18th century as workhorse fiddles — sturdy and plain, and meant as tools. They're not as splendid or highly ornamented as the instruments you would find at a royal court during this time, or the instrument a full-time virtuoso would use. But they still are the vessels of Mozart's legacy.
The violin, made in Bavaria by a member of the Klotz family, was the one he most likely used to perform his own violin concertos on tour in Mannheim, Germany; and Paris. The viola is an Italian instrument of about the same period, but its maker is unknown. They're quieter than modern instruments and produce less brilliantly colored tones. They force the audience to lean in to appreciate them.
Backstage after the Boston concert, Miloš Valent said it was hard to describe the feeling he had playing the viola Mozart used in Vienna to jam with friends like Franz Joseph Haydn. "For a musician," Valent says, "who is living with music his whole life and Mozart is someone who is somebody who is really, really important in life, to touch his instrument is something extremely personal."
For her part, violinist Amandine Beyer says she couldn't help but wonder if she was channeling some special spirit when using Mozart's fiddle in Boston. "I had all the time this question! But I tried to call this spirit, no? And to say, 'Are you there?'" Beyer says, laughing. "But I think you can do it with every instrument when you play the music of Mozart."
That's exactly the kind of reaction the Mozarteum is hoping for, says its head of research, Ulrich Leisinger. "We listen to the concert and if we close the eyes, we perhaps even think of Mozart playing the violin," he says. "There are typically two methods to deal with historic instruments. One would be to say that we lock it in a shrine and never let anybody touch it again. But we are entirely convinced that you need to play the instruments because these are the messengers of Mozart's music."
And when the musicians in Boston finished playing, not only did they take their bows — but they also thrust the violin and viola forward for their own well-deserved round of applause.
With special thanks to our friends at Classical New England for providing the recordings of the Jordan Hall concert heard in this piece. Next week, we'll have a complete concert video featuring more performances on Mozart's violin and viola, recently recorded live at WGBH's Fraser Performance Studio.
All Things Considered
They were made in the early 17th 18th century as workhorse fiddles — sturdy and plain, and meant as tools. They're not as splendid or highly ornamented as the instruments you would find at a royal court during this time, or the instrument a full-time virtuoso would use. But they still are the vessels of Mozart's legacy.
by Pablo Helguera
Got an idea for a classical cartoon or a reaction to this one? Leave your thoughts in the comments section.
Pablo Helguera is a New York-based artist working with sculpture, drawing, photography and performance. His new book is Helguera's Artunes. You can see more of his work at Artworld Salon and on his own site.
by Cy Musiker
Nathan Gunn and Sasha Cooke star in the new opera The Gospel of Mary Magdalene as Yeshua (the Hebrew name of Jesus) and the title character.
Composer Mark Adamo has made beautiful music out of classic books. His Little Women is among the most produced American operas today. He also wrote the words and music for his operatic adaptation of Aristophanes' Greek drama, Lysistrata.
His latest work, The Gospel of Mary Magdalene, has proven more controversial. The opera, which premieres June 19 at the San Francisco Opera, tells the story of Mary, Jesus and His disciples.
Adamo himself grew up a good Catholic in South Jersey in the mid-1970s. But his mother divorced her first husband, who was abusive, and the church she loved barred her from taking communion — a decision that angered him in his adolescence.
"I challenged my mother and said, 'Why are you not angry?'" Adamo says. "'You're sending us off to Catholic school and Mass and you would like to come with us. But you accept this idea that you can't come because somehow you did something that ended up saving yours and our lives. Somebody said you colored outside the lines, and therefore you're not welcome. Why aren't you angry?' So I'm angry on her behalf."
Adamo is gay and has a husband [fellow composer John Corigliano], and that, too, colors his relationship with his faith. But he says he never imagined writing a New Testament opera until six years ago, when he stumbled on a New Yorker article about Mary Magdalene. She was a Biblical figure often conflated with other Marys, including a reformed prostitute.
Mark Adamo's previous operas include adaptations of Little Women and Aristophanies' Lysistrata.
"It seemed to me that, in context, Mary Magdalene was the madwoman in the attic of the Christian tradition," Adamo says. "She was associated with the body and sexuality, and she was the opposite of the stainless virgin."
The article also covered the 1945 discovery of the Gnostic Gospels, early Christian texts that sometimes contradict the traditional gospels. They present a Mary who is Jesus' best pupil.
Adamo introduces her singing lines borrowed from the Song of Songs — an Old Testament book long associated with Mary that uses sexual metaphors to express a spiritual longing for God.
"My goal was to place sexuality, and female sexuality in particular, back into the center of the myth," Adamo says. "[I wanted] to see how much healing that could possibly affect in the imaginations of people who came to the opera, and wanted to take the journey with us."
Adamo spent a year researching the story, and poured his learning into his libretto. It has 116 footnotes. But Adamo makes a leap of faith, so to speak, when he has Mary and Jesus become lovers, and then marry.
Nathan Gunn sings the role of Jesus — called Yeshua, his Hebrew name — in the opera.
"I know a lot of people get hung up on her being his lover," Gunn says. "They fall in love. It's a very human and beautiful thing.
"They teach each other things, too. It's like the yin and yang symbol," he adds. "He's very yang. He's missing the yin and she's missing the yang. They complement each other."
Sasha Cooke sings the role of Mary.
"One thing I love telling people is that I'm [playing] Mary Magdalene," Cooke says. "They say, 'Oh well, she could have been married to [Jesus]. Why not? We don't know.'"
The Gospel of Mary Magdalene was commissioned by David Gockley, general director of the San Francisco Opera. Gockley commissioned Adamo's first two operas when he ran the Houston Grand Opera.
Gockley was disappointed when he found no co-commissioners to help produce the $1.2 million world premiere. He says other companies worried the story was too controversial.
"And they admitted that to me. Others said they're pursuing their own projects," Gockley says. "But I knew when we took this on that it wasn't going to be everybody's cup of tea. And I've been proven right."
Gockley says a local Catholic radio show did cancel an interview with Adamo. But there were no protests when he conferred with local priests and rabbis.
"I'm kind of waiting for some kind of kerfuffle to happen," Gockley says, "and yet the natives are quiet."
Adamo acknowledges the controversial nature of the opera: "The theater is a safe place to talk about risky things," he says.
Both Adamo and Gockley say they expect a good number of journalists and opera directors to be in the audience opening night. Adamo hopes audiences will see that he's not trying to scorn the tradition.
"I love this tradition," Adamo says. "I would not have been able to write it as I wrote it unless I thought the story would gain rather than lose nobility, credibility and passion."
Adamo says he hopes other opera companies see the light and pick up The Gospel of Mary Magdalene after it finishes its San Francisco run in July.
Composer Mark Adamo has made beautiful music out of classic books. His Little Women is among the most produced American operas today. He also wrote the words and music for his operatic adaptation of Aristophanes' Greek drama Lysistrata.
His latest work, The Gospel of Mary Magdalene, has proved more controversial. The opera, which premieres June 19 at the San Francisco Opera, tells the story of Mary, Jesus and his disciples.
Adamo himself grew up a good Catholic in South Jersey in the mid-1970s. But his mother divorced her first husband, who was abusive, and the church she loved barred her from taking Communion — a decision that angered him in his adolescence.
"I challenged my mother and said, 'Why are you not angry?' " Adamo says. " 'You're sending us off to Catholic school and Mass and you would like to come with us. But you accept this idea that you can't come because somehow you did something that ended up saving your and our lives. Somebody said you colored outside the lines, and therefore you're not welcome. Why aren't you angry?' So I'm angry on her behalf."
Adamo is gay and has a husband [fellow composer John Corigliano], and that, too, colors his relationship with his faith. But he says he never imagined writing a New Testament opera until six years ago, when he stumbled on a New Yorker article about Mary Magdalene. She was a biblical figure often conflated with other Marys, including a reformed prostitute.
The article also covered the 1945 discovery of the Gnostic Gospels, early Christian texts that sometimes contradict the traditional Gospels. They present a Mary who is Jesus' best pupil.
"One thing I love telling people is that I'm [playing] Mary Magdalene," Cooke says. "They say, 'Oh well, she could have been married to [Jesus]. Why not? We don't know.' "
by Bill Zeeble, KERA
Cliburn medalists Beatrice Rana, second place winner; Vadym Kholodenko, first place winner; and Sean Chen, third place winner, receive applause from the audience at the final awards ceremony at the 14th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition on Sunday.
Winners of 14th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition were announced Sunday night in Fort Worth, Texas. The competition was held over 17 days.
Vadym Kholodenko, 26, of Ukraine, won the top prize of $50,000, but he said the rankings don't mean that much.
"It's kind of fun for audience, for press. It's interesting to put first, second, 10th and so on. But in life, not so important," Kholodenko says.
And, he says, so much of life involves competing no matter what you're doing.
Cliburn usually presented awards to the winners, but in February he died at age 78 after suffering from bone cancer.
Kholodenko and the other two winners said the competition was hard. Famed composer Bela Bartok once said sarcastically competitions are for horses. But silver medalist Beatrice Rana, 20, of Italy, doesn't feel like a horse.
"Competitions are one of the main ways for us to have a concert pianist career. Competitions can be really for everybody and accessible to everybody. I don't compete very often, but I'm glad that this year we have the opportunity to really play many times after the winning of the Cliburn," Rana says.
She's referring to what many winners consider the real Cliburn prize: three years of management and concert bookings. And winning also usually means no more competitions.
That's something that third place finisher Sean Chen, 24, of Oak Park, Calif., was also happy about.
"This experience has been really awesome but kind of the most stressful thing I've ever done in my life. It's just the nature of the beast. I would be happy to not have to go through it again," Chen says.
But now the pressure of life and career begins.
by NPR Staff
David Finckel is a longtime member of the Emerson String Quartet. Journeys: Tchaikovsky, Schoenberg is his last recording with the group.
The Emerson String Quartet is one of the most acclaimed chamber groups in the world of classical music. Since their founding in 1976, the group has won nine Grammys for its recordings. Now, it has a new album out called Journeys: Tchaikovsky, Schoenberg — and it's the last recording with cellist David Finckel, one of the quartet's longtime members.
On the occasion of the new release, Finckel spoke with weekends on All Things Considered guest host Tess Vigeland about the bittersweet close to to a decades-long partnership.
Let's start with this new album, 'Journeys.' It starts out with Tchaikovsky's Souvenir de Florence, which is the first four tracks.
I will say, listening to the Tchaikovsky, it doesn't really sound much like Florence, does it? At least not the Florence I know — maybe the Florence when the Arno flooded. But you know, it's an amazing work because there are moments of Florentine sunshine and leisurely afternoons. But it's basically a very Russian piece. And it's extraordinary and exciting, and I'm so glad I had the chance to record this with my quartet.
What goes into a recording like this one, and how much of that practice is solitary and how much is with the group?
You know, private practice — it's almost like your underwear. You don't wear it out in public, but you make sure it's in good order before put your clothes on, what everybody sees. The working together in rehearsals in an ensemble is something that you have to plan and schedule, and people take a best guess at how many hours it's gonna take to bring it to readiness for stage or recording studio. And sometimes you over-schedule and sometimes you under-schedule. If you've under-scheduled, somewhere in the session you make up the difference.
What was the experience of recording this last album with the quartet? Was it business as usual? Bittersweet for you?
You have to sort of put on your blinders sometimes and remember that the most important thing you're doing is playing the cello, playing in the ensemble, interpreting the work. I went through this not only with the recording but with all the many "last time" appearances that I made with the quartet. I was well aware that it would be the last time I would play in Florence, or the last time I would play in Munich, or even the last time I would play in New York. But you can't let those thoughts overtake you when you have the business of making music in front of you. So yes, in some ways it was business as usual. But when I had a moment to think that, yes, it was my last Emerson session, it was quite a sensation.
Do you think that seeped into these performances, even just in a small way?
I don't think so. I certainly would not have intended anything to be different in these performances other than what we had intended for the music.
The other piece on this album is by Schoenberg, who is, of course, famously atonal, very difficult to play. How did you come up with this pairing?
The result of atonality, or modulating a lot, is that you don't feel firmly grounded — your world is floating. But you know, for all of us, sometimes our worlds float: We're in transition, we're in turmoil. And this music expresses all those things beautifully and very powerfully. The Schoenberg is not "a-romantic" — it is actually one of the most romantic pieces in the literature. There's a story that goes with it: It was inspired by a poem about two lovers walking in the moonlight, and during this walk the woman confesses to the man that she is pregnant by another man. And after a lot of turmoil, the current boyfriend says, you know, I will accept the child as my own. It's an incredibly romantic and turbulent story, and it's all reflected in the music.
Do you have a favorite moment from this CD?
Well, I have to speak selfishly about the cello solos. Both Tchaikovsky and Schoenberg reserved some of their most glorious melodies for the cello. In the Schoenberg, for example, at the moment where the man announces his forgiveness of his girlfriend, there is an incredibly beautiful, positive cello solo. Glowing, magnificent ... I always feel like just the greatest guy in the world when I'm playing that. Unless I'm playing it badly, but I try not to do that.
In the world of classical music it's quite common to swap out players, but certainly not with the Emerson Quartet — you've been the same since 1979. I'm wondering how you broke the news to your fellow performers, your friends, that you'd decided to leave. Did they have an inkling that it might happen?
I think the other guys were shocked but not surprised; the world knows as well as they do how many hats I wear. And yes, of course, they were the first to know, in a very private way, and we had quite a few long, heartfelt discussions — not so much about my leaving but about the future of the quartet and what shape it should take and what the options were. Just a couple nights ago in Montreal they played their first concert with cellist Paul Watkins. I sent them a bottle of champagne backstage, and in my home at 8 o'clock that evening, I opened a bottle of champagne. So it was a really nice moment. It was the culmination of a two-year project for me to successfully disengage from the quartet and see it continue in high style. It was a very proud and wonderful moment for all of us.
As you look back, do any highlights jump to mind of your time with the Emerson?
There are so many highlights. And a lot of them are just personal. I remember when every single one of the Emerson children was born — you know, when somebody got a call in the middle of the night or had to run away from some rehearsal or concert to be with their wives. We've walked out on stage together when we were all absolutely scared to death and had no idea what was going to happen, and somehow got through it. We've lived through various disasters in concerts together and forgiven each other for them. I mean, these are all highlights of a classical music career and we could not be more fortunate to have them.
Pablo Helguera is a New York-based artist working with sculpture, drawing, photography and performance. His new book is Helguera's Artunes. You can see more of his work atArtworld Salon and on his own site.
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