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Felix Mendelssohn

Thursday, January 19, 2017


Classical iconoclast

January 12

Game changer ! Elbphilharmonie grand opening

Classical iconoclast Das Eröffnungskonzert der Elbphilharmonie, the opening concert of the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg. The building looms like a giant ship on a promontory on the harbour: a reminder of Hamburg's maritime and commercial heritage. The lower floors match surrounding buildings, while the upper floors and roof reflect the skie : an inspired concept in architectural terms.  But what really makes the Elbphilharmonie interesting is that it's a game changer in many ways, with the potential to transform the whole way the European music business operates.   "Freude" said the grandees making speeches, which is significant, for great art is inspired by joy, not small=minded negativity. The creative genius of Beethoven stood  at the start and finish of this communal celebration, with the Overture to the Creatures of Prometheus op 43 and the sublime Symphony no 9.  In Greek mythology, Prometheus stole fire from the gods to empower men, an act which symbolizes enlightenment. That's why the arts matter. They generate creativity and, with that, the enthusiasm that generates change in many things, including economic regeneration. This new hall is a landmark that could challenge the dominance of Berlin and Paris. Not for nothing, the concert honoured Johannes Brahms, Hamburg's native son, who lived in Vienna, but remained, at heart, solidly North German.  In Britain, we've no way to compete, since British arts policy favours micro-endeavour. The fact is, excellence needs vision, and commitment.  The long-term benefits to the nation are infinitely greater than can be measured in simple terms.  The drive that went into making Hamburg the major port that it is, is the kind of drive we need in the arts. Thomas Hengelbrock and the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester chose a programme that demonstrated what the new building can do. The platform, larger than usual, nestles surrounded by different tiers of seating, rather like Berlin and Paris, so sound resonates more evenly than in conventional coffin-shaped halls.  Bernd Alois Zimmermann's Photoptosis (1968) tested the acoustic to the limit. Scored for a very large orchestra, the piece can be very loud indeed, but here what struck me most was the richness of sound, not the volume. The big climaxes are carefully constructed, with myriad layers of detail, some so subtle they can get lost. Yet in this hall, even the most refined components can be heard and relished.  Suddenly, the hall was plunged into darkness, small rows of lights shining from the dense gloom like stars. The plangent strains of a Praetorius motet rang out, as if being heard across the centuries. In a split second, the 16th and the 20th century connected. Also, from an eyrie above the platform, the orchestra's principal oboe played Pan, from Britten's Six Metamorphoses from Ovid op 49. Philippe Jaroussky sang Italian baroque airs, accompanied by harp, from a position above the stage, the clear, pure beauty of his voice carrying effortlessly round the large auditorium., In one of the interval clips, he's seen testing the acoustic by exploring with his voice as he walks around.  Then, Messiaen and Wagner, sounding clear and crisp. What a joy it must be for an orchestra to play in these surroundings, especially as the off-stage facilities are luxe class compared to many less generous venues. The best orchestras will now want to visit Hamburg: this superb acoustic will lift the game for everyone. Read more HERE about the technical aspects that make the acoustics in the auditorium. For this grand opening gala, the whole Philharmonie building exterior became the backdrop for a spectacular light show. This, too, made a statement, since the light show would have been visible across the harbour. The Elbphilharmonie light show could become a feature of Hamburg's civic life, just like the way Hong Kong skyscrapers become a gigantic canvas for illuminations during the Christmas season (where the flat outside wall of the main local concert hall is the focus of a light show)  The arts aren't just for toffs. Involving the wider community outside the concert hall is a form of outreach and education without distracting from the main business of music making.  Indeed, excellence "is" education. It opens up ears and minds.  This programme also featured Wolfgang Rihm, billed as"Germany's greatest living composer", though he couldn't attend so Hengelbrock raised a placard with Rihm's name on it , a nice humorous touch.  Rihm, Zimmermann and Rolf Liebermann, together with Mendelssohn and Brahms, Wagner and Beethoven: another point being made, that audiences can cope with diversity without having to be coddled. There are other halls in the new Philharmonie, better suited to smaller ensembles and chamber music. There's another concert on Sunday which will also be broadcast. Click on photo at right to see the building in cross-section. Yet another reason why the Elbphilharmonie is a game changer : It represents a new way of bringing music to audiences. HD was a start, but stymied because it depended on cinema distributors who didn't make enough money to promote it. But modern technology means that audiences can listen any time they want online, wherever they may be.  Investing in orchestra-led, or opera-house led  streaming means that those who make music get the full benefits of marketing, and also have greater control over artistic content.  Can record companies still control the market and create instant media darlings when there's good music around for those who care about quality as opposed to celebrity  No more provincial boundaries. And so the concert ended with the Ode to Joy, Beethoven 9, Bryn Terfel, Pavol Breslik, Wiebke Lehmkuhl, Hanna-Elisabeth Müller, the NDR Choir and the Choir of Bayerischen Rundfunks.  "Alle Menschen wurden Bruder"!" we've heard that thousands of times, but this time it felt fresh and real.

Guardian

January 12

Elbphilharmonie Orchestra/Hengelbrock review – storming debut for hall of wonders

Elbphilharmonie, Hamburg The spectacular possibilities of Hamburg’s new concert venue were celebrated in an imaginative opening concert Hamburg’s new concert hall is Germany’s latest austerity-defying architectural bobby-dazzler. But what about the music? How do you mark the opening of a lustrous new hall that is now, after all the arguments and the overspend, the pride of Hamburg? The conventional thing to do would be to programme a mighty work of the heavens — Beethoven’s Ninth, Haydn’s Creation, or maybe throw down the gauntlet with a specially commissioned new piece.Thomas Hengelbrock and his renamed NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester took a different approach for an opening night attended by German president Joachim Gauck, who made a speech, and chancellor Angela Merkel – back in her native city for the occasion – who didn’t. The opening ceremony interwove speeches and a tribute to Hamburg’s two native musical giants, Mendelssohn and Brahms, with the Roy Blas overture and the finale of the second symphony respectively. Continue reading...




Tribuna musical

January 9

Buenos Aires Lírica and Juventus Lyrica announce their seasons

The two principal private opera seasons have announced their programmes for 2017. Buenos Aires Lírica (BAL) innovates: only two titles will be presented at their tradiitional venue, the Avenida; two will be at the Teatro Picadero, and one will be done jointly with Nuova Harmonia at the Coliseo (coproduced with the Teatro Regional de Rancagua, Chile). Juventus Lyrica will stick to the Avenida and will stage just three operas. At the Coliseo: Monteverdi´s "L´incoronazione di Poppea" (produced by Marcelo Lombardero). April 22 and 23. At the Avenida: not an opera but incidental music to plays: Beethoven´s "Egmont" and Mendelssohn´s "A Midsummer Night´s Dream". June 4, 8 and 10. Picadero: Rossini´s "La scala di seta". Mondays: June 12, 19 and 26; July 3, 10 and 17. Avenida: Puccini´s "La Bohème", coproduction with Rosario´s El Círculo. August 11, 13, 17 and 19. Picadero: Offenbach, Ba-Ta-Clan. Mondays: October 16, 23 and 30; November 6, 13 and 20. Juventus Lyrica (JL). Bellini´s "Norma". May 12, 14, 18 and 20. Conductor (C): Hernán Sánchez Arteaga. Producer: Florencia Sanguinetti. Puccini´s "Turandot". September 1, 3, 7 and 9. C: Antonio María Russo. P: Ana D´Anna. Rossini´s "Le Comte Ory". November 3, 5, 9 and 11. C: Hernán Schvartzman. P: María Jaunarena. Comments on BAL: two coproductions; Picadero on Mondays; inclusion of an operetta. Applied to both BAL and JL: Puccini´s orchestra has to be strongly reduced due to the Avenida´s small pit. Suggestion: if BAL and JL can work with the Coliseo, in the future they should take advantage of that theatre´s big pit. For Buenos Aires Herald

Classical iconoclast

December 27

Schumann, dramatist : Das Paradies und die Peri, Harding, Paris

Schumann Das Paradies et die Peri (Op 59) with Daniel Harding the Orchestre de Paris from the Philharmonie de Paris, with Christine Karg, Kate Royal, Gerhild Romberger, Andrew Staples, Alloan Clayton and Matthias Goerne last week in Paris, now on arte.tv.  This is an exceptionally interesting performance, because it reveals insight into Schumann's distinctive ideas on musical drama, eclipsed by the revolution Wagner wrought in operatic form.. Das Paradies et die Peri premiered in Leipzig in December 1843, but  Die fliegende Holländer had premiered in Dresden in January at same year. Schumann might seem eclipsed, but he represents an alternative but perfectly valid approach to music as theatre with roots in Germanic traditions like oratorio and Singspiele. Harding's firmly assured, yet refined perspective helps us appreciate Schumann on his own terms. This perceptive  Das Paradies et die Peri follows on from Harding's groundbreaking  Szenen aus Goethes Faust  and from his workon Schumann's symphonies. Eventually, the world will value Schumann as Schumann, not as Wagner manqué.   Die Paradies und die Peri is also seminal because it shows the depth of Schumann's engagement with literary sources. Even for the son of a Leipzig bookseller, Schumann was exceptionally well read and up to date on the latest literary trends. Moore's Lalla Rookh developed the fashion for orientalist fantasy, which intrigued the Romantiker imagination, opening up new horizons  and  alternatives to  western European constraints. The Generic East implied unparalleled extremes, and emotions too wild for Christian convention.  Lalla Rookh is One Thousand and One Arabian Nights on acid. Moore was an opium addict, like Thomas De Quincey and, later, Charles Baudelaire. Nothing like a bit of dope to break inhibitions.  Nonetheless, the literary style of Lalla Rookh is itself utterly relevant. It is written in an exaggerated, verbose style so highly perfumed that it's almost unreadable now, but that was part of its original appeal. Exotic names and words pour forth in hallucinatory frenzy, creating a haze of soporific delights.  How thrilling these references to strange, obscure places, people and objects to readers who had no idea of the real East, or Asia or Africa for that matter.  It was enough that the words sounded wonderful, and, significantly, musical on their own terms."Lalla Rookh", incidentally means "Tulip Face" which  was a compliment in times when tulips were prized imports from distant lands. The very context is inherently theatrical, the drama living in the imagination of the audience. Perhaps these days we're too used to passive entertainment, like reality TV, to comprehend. If anything, Schumann plays down the text so it flowers in his music.  The peri flits freely  between Egypt, Africa,  Syria ^the land of roses", "Cashnere (Kashmir) and other places including "Peristan" (the land of Peris?) and ends up by the throne of "Alla" surrounded by lotus blooms.  but Schumann's music is thoroughly German. Some figures, especially in the choruses, evoke the sturdy rhythms of Der Freischütz or even Der Vampyr, but the general style is distinctively Schumann. The narrative develops not through "characters" as in opera, but through commentary, as in oratorio.  The story, as such, is more allegory than plot.  To achieve her goal, the peri must produce three miracles blood, each episode more symbolic than stageable. Thus the florid text is depicted in indirect speech and in abstract sound. The young hero, for example, in a fanfare followed by tenor (Andrew Staples) and choir, the flow caught in its tracks by the dour tyrant (Matthias Goerne, sounding more bass than usual)  The women's choir weeps : the tyrant lives, the hero dies.  The "action" proceeds through choir ("Sacred is the blood")  and orchestra, surging forwards.  The second Part opens with a depiction of the Nile, (tenor, mezzo, female voices) , the horns inn the orchestra piping out a theme which could come straight from Mendelssohn. Think magic, not historical Eygpt.  The horns add  melancholy gloom. The peri weeps tears for the suffering of humankind, evoked by the interplay of all four soloists.  Kate Royal sings of healing balms, and Christine Karg of repose, cushioned in (possibly) Narcotic perfumes : exquisite songs, separated by delicately muted trumpets, like etended Lieder - one thinks ahead to Schumann's Requiem. The chorus "Schmucket die Stufen zu Allahs Thron" is glorious, the voices sparkling brightly: but still, the peri cannot enter Eden.  Thus the burnished darkness of "Jetzt sankt des Abends gold'ner Schei" (Goerne), broken briefly by the piercing brightness of the female voices. A haunting flute melody rises out of low cello murmurs, and Goerne returns : a quiet bass voice, singing of flowers, summer and the banks of the Jordan. Yet again, dramatic contrasts in sound. "Peri ! Oeri!" the chorus calls, shrilly, morphing yet again to bass baritone tenderness.  Yet aGain, resolution comes from the structure of the piece itself and its musical expression. The soloists interact, joined by chorus and orchestra, and the Angel emerges. Divine intervention ! this is a part Bernarda Fink has done so memorably, that she's hard to forget, but Christine Karg does admirably.  With a flourish, Das Paradies und die Peri ends with joyous tumult.  An uplifting performance, idiomatically refined and true to the spirit of Schumann and to the tradition that inspired him.  More to my taste than the several Rattle performances I've heard, yet also more "modern" than Gardiner and Harnoncourt, though I couldn't live without those.  Modern ? Yes, for Schumann is modern, and timeless, even if the texts he uses might be alien to modern ears.   photo Frédéric Désaphi



Felix Mendelssohn
(1809 – 1847)

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.



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