Monday, February 20, 2017
On Fenruary 1, 2017, I interviewed violinist Esther Abrami. She was at her home in London. I was in the San Francisco Bay Area, about 5400 miles away. I’m separating the interview into two posts and in this first one, we cover her upbringing, her teachers, and her wonderful violin. It was a very enjoyable conversation! HZ: Did you grow up in a musical family? EA: My parents love music, but I did not grow up in a musical environment. However, my grandmother is a violinist, living in France. HZ: How wonderful for you that your grandmother also plays the violin. Did you see her often as you were growing up? EA: I don’t see her very often unfortunately, but I always love calling her and telling her all about my up coming concerts and the pieces I am practicing. HZ: What performances are coming up for you? EA: I am doing some recording in the U.K. and in France. And in June, I am going to perform Vivaldi’s Four Seasons at the Waterloo Festival, which takes place at Saint Jones Church. In the second half of this concert, I will lead the Blackfriars Camerata orchestra from the concertmaster’s chair in Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony . The date of the concert is June 10th. For the Four Seasons, the date is already up on the Blackfriars Camerata website. It will be on the 10th of June at Saint Jones Church in Waterloo, London. HZ: Please tell me about your violin; I understand that it was crafted by Carlo Giuseppe Testore. (aside) Carlo Guiseeppe Testore was born in 1625 and crafted instruments in his workshop in Milan in the early 1700’s. Esther’s violin is more than 300 years old. EA: Some years ago I went to several shops, as I began to look for a new instrument. At one of the shops I was handed an instrument, and I did not know who the maker was. After playing this violin for two minutes, I said to myself “This is my violin”. I found a connection with it. I have owned it for about five years. I purchased it in Amsterdam. HZ: From your own Web site, I learned that you participated in a Master Class with violinist Shmuel Ashkenasi. Would you share with me and with my readers how that experience was for you? (aside) Shumel Ashkenasi is a music teacher I’m familiar with and have seen his work in videos online and I was interested in how Esther’s experience was with him. EA: Yes… it was a 1-1 session, and it lasted about 45 minutes. He gave me some helpful technical insights on my performance of the Faure violin Sonata. He showed me how he would play it. HZ: Oh, yes… teaching violin is a very complex skill. Back in the day of Heifetz, there also was just one way of playing (the right way, the way the teacher would play it). Later, however, things changed and as an example, the teacher of Yitzhak Perlman, Dorothy Delay , was always interested in how the student might bring new and exciting interpretations to the music … EA: Yes, exactly. My teacher now is Leonid Kerbel , and I have my violin lessons at the Royal college of Music. We always discuss the music that I am working on. And I find that this type of teaching can lead to my being completely inspired. HZ: I understand that you also have a career in modeling? EA: I am a violinist. I am lucky to be able to do some modeling. I have benefited from it; it helped me a lot – especially with yoga… and in other physical ways as a violin player, with my posture, etc. HZ: Tell me about the orchestra conductors under whose direction you have performed? EA: It is interesting how important a conductor is. I find that I connect, emotionally, with what a conductor is doing, and the sections of the music that receive their emphasis. HZ: One of the huge challenges for any performer is the requirement for travel. Have you had to deal with a lot of travel so far in your career? EA: My travel so far has been mostly in Europe, so it has been reasonable. But I hope to come to the US next year, possibly in an exchange program with the Manhattan School of Music. ———— In my next post of this interview with Ms Abrami we will talk about Esther’s description of an upcoming concert in which she will perform three compositions for violin alone. This was really interesting. The selections she will perform are by Khachaturian, Prokofiev, and Biber. So stay tuned to My Classical Notes for the next installment of my enjoyable talk with Esther Abrami. Here she is on YouTube, performing the brief and humerous Scherzo from Beethoven’s Spring Sonata:
Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh The nimble ensemble delivered pithy Mendelssohn and Pärt, while the commanding Ibragimova added ferocious Hartmann and exuberant BachThe Scottish Ensembles’s default setting is flux and dynamism: that’s the mission of this string orchestra, and it makes for nimble conversations within the group. So it was a thrill to hear what happened when they were joined by Alina Ibragimova – a violinist of uncompromising focus and intensity who made the sparring go deeper, quieter, fiercer. Ibragimova is a chamber musician as well as a soloist, acutely attentive to group texture and counterpoint, but there was no question who was in control. She didn’t so much invite as command their attention, and ours. The programme was billed as “Music is Power”, a loose theme through works variously banned, self-censored, emphatically spiritual or plain joyous. A pair of early Mendelssohn string symphonies (the sixth and 10th) were delivered as pithy, boisterous dramas, full of light, shade and bravado. Arvo Pärt’s Silouan’s Song and Pēteris Vasks’s Viatore sounded flinty and serene: the holy minimalism thing can feel tokenistic when plonked into a concert as if to provide a quick hit of transcendence, but this performance didn’t overstoke the meaningfulness. Continue reading...
Liza Ferschtman (violin), Het Gelders Orkest/Bakels (Challenge)Oh, not another Mendelssohn violin concerto recording, I hear you cry. Well, yes, but wait: this one is worth exploring. These Dutch musicians treat the piece as a chamber work, the cut-down forces of the Het Gelders Orkest giving light and airy support to Liza Ferschtman’s carefully judged, singing solo line. It works beautifully, particularly in the dancing central andante. Ferschtman changes gear for the Octet, Op 20, driving the inexhaustible exuberance of this youthful piece with thrilling intensity, her fellow string players responding with similar dash and verve. Recommended. Continue reading...
Gayane Khachatryan, 23, from Yerevan, has won the audition for Vorspieler of the Gewandhausorchester cello section, equivalent to assistant principal. Gayane is a former member of the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra and a graduate of the Gewandhaus Mendelssohn-Orchesterakademie.
Interesting things coming up with the Philharmonia Orchestra at the Royal Festival, in contrast to the sad blandness that marks the South Bank's antipathy to serious music. Next for e will be Esa-Pekka Salonen's concert on 19th Feb with Pierre-Laurent Aimard playing Ligeti's Piano Concerto, The complete Debussy Daphnis et Chloé and .Stravinsky's "lost" Funeral Song - read more here about the premiere where Gergiev conducted it in context with Eimsky-Korsakov and The Firebird. On 2nd March, Pablo Heras-Casado conducts Stravinsky The Firebird complete 1910 version with de Falla and Ravel. Preceding this an early evening concert with Pascal Rophé featuring Isang Yun whose music isn't heard nearly as often as it should be. Benjamin Zander returns to London after along absence on 13th March in an all-Beethoven concert which includes Beethoven 9. Then Jakub Hrůša conducts Brahms on 23/3 and Dvořák 6 on 6/4. The early evening concert that day features Bent Sørensen who's very good. Salonen and Pierre Laurent again on 4/5 and 7/5 first with Debussy and Boulez, then with Bartok and Mahler 6.Veteran Philharmonia emeritus Christoph von Dohnányi conducts Schumann and Mendelssohn on 8/6. Elgar and RVW Sea Symphony with Roderick Williams on 29/6. The Philharmonia's 2017 2018 season kicks off on 28/9 with an unusual concert in which Salonen will conduct Sibelius 6 with Thorvaldsdottir and Bjarsen. Since Sibelius so dominates music in Finland, Salonen avoided conducting him until he felt he had something original to express. When Salonen did turn to Sibelius his insights were a revelation. I'll never forget his series at the Barbican a dozen years ago. Infinitely better that a conductor should approach things like that rather than churn things out on autopilot like some wildly popular conductors I won't mention. Equally exciting, Salonen conducts Mahler 3rd on 1st October, which he conducted when the Royal Festival Hall reopened 10 years ago after renovations. What a revelation that was, too, full of energy, light and freshness ! He's conducting Mahler 9 on 30 November, another must go. Also a must for me, on 8/10 Smetana Ma Vlast with Jakub Hrůša. Lots more, too much to write about. And then it's Xmas all over again.
Ossian on the banks of the Lora - Francois Gérard 1801Despite inspiring some of the most sublime music ever written (Mendelssohn) and founding the Scottish tourist industry, Fingal was a fantasy. Schubert set several texts attributed to Ossian, supposedly a 3rd century Celtic bard. I've been listening to Loda's Gespenst D150 (1815). Der bleiche, kalte Mond erhob sich im Osten. Fingal's soldiers sleep, their blue helmets glittering in the moonlight. But Fingal doesn't sleep. He looks toward Sarno's tower (see it in the pic?) . Suddenly ein Windstoß rips down from the mountains. It's the phantom Loda, umringt von seinen Schrecken. Defiant, Fingal raises his sword. Schwach ist dein Schild, Kraftlos dein Luftbild und dein Schwert. You're a windbag, Loda! The text is heroic declamation - no ornamentation in the piano part, little lyricism in the vocal line. Then Loda speaks. Ich dreh' die Schlacht im Felde der Tapfern.....Mein Odem verbreitet den Tod. Fingal isn't fazed. His phrases are hurled like thunderbolts, Faß die Winde und fleuch! the piano pounds affirmation. Loda advances but Fingal spears him. Der blitzende Pfad des Stahls durchdrang den düstern Geist, and Loda disintegrates in a puff of smoke, and Fingal goes back to his men. Considering the histrionic potential of this text, Schubert's setting is fairly straightforward. The lines aren't difficult to sing but the song runs around 12 minutes and needs a singer who can do drama without taking the mickey, because the poems were taken very seriously indeed, and were, in many ways, the germ from which grew the whole Romantic revolution . In an age before widespread media coverage, Scotland and Ireland were wild, unknown regions, beyond civilization. The Ossian poems captured the imagination because central Europeans could project their own concepts onto an exotic template. Fingal and Ossian served a function like the gods of Classical Antiquity, as depicted in the 18th century blended with the concept of idealized Primitive Innocents, as in Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Even if Mendelssohn realized that the poems weren't authentic, by travelling to Fingal's Cave, he was making a pilgrimage of sorts to the source of an imaginary world where things could happen beyond the bounds of convention. Names like "Carric-Thura" and "Sora" and "Comhal" thrilled, precisely because central Europeans didn't know what they meant, because they sounded wildly exotic. This song is unusual because it's not strictly speaking by James Macpherson but by Edmund, Baron von Harold, born in Ireland, but resident in Düsseldorf from a very early age. When the craze for Ossian swept Europe, von Harold might have spotted an opportunity to "translate" yet more manuscripts that weren't lost so much as non-existent. Indeed, it seems that von Harold didn't actually speak Gaelic, so his sudden discovery of Dark Age documents is improbable. Fingal and Ossian represent the creative spirit, precursors of the 19th century fascination with strange lands and myths. So Loda was an apparition? Loda, Fingal and Ossian served a purpose even if they were fantasy.
Felix Mendelssohn (3 February 1809 - 4 November 1847) was a German composer, pianist, organist and conductor of the early Romantic period. Felix Mendelssohn was recognised early as a musical prodigy, but his parents were cautious and did not seek to capitalise on his abilities. Early success in Germany, where he also revived interest in the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, was followed by travel throughout Europe. Mendelssohn was particularly well-received in Britain as a composer, conductor and soloist. His essentially conservative musical tastes however set him apart from many of his more adventurous musical contemporaries such as Franz Liszt, Richard Wagner and Hector Berlioz. The Leipzig Conservatoire which he founded, became a bastion of this anti-radical outlook. Mendelssohn's work includes symphonies, concerti, oratorios, piano music and chamber music. His most-performed works include his Overture and incidental music for A Midsummer Night's Dream, the Italian Symphony, the Scottish Symphony, the Hebrides Overture, his Violin Concerto, and his String Octet. After a long period of relative denigration due to changing musical tastes and anti-Semitism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, his creative originality has now been recognised and re-evaluated. He is now among the most popular composers of the Romantic era.
Great composers of classical music