Sunday, April 30, 2017
From our string-quartet diarist, Anthea Kreston: I am exhausted. Totally and utterly exhausted. My eyes feel like they need to be moisturized, and I could go for a full-body detox, or a week in Michael Jackson’s Hyperbaric Chamber (recently rediscovered in a storage unit). I am wrapping up the end of the season with quartet, and on Monday we head in to a modified six-month sabbatical, one which was planned three years ago, before the events which eventually lead to uprooting my family from our sleepy little town in the Pacific Northwest, and on three weeks notice beginning our lives anew in a new culture, a new way of life. After I joined, we decided to open the sabbatical on any mutually free days, and so we do meet occasionally, for a concert here or there – in Krakow, Brussels, or the Netherlands. When I learned of the sabbatical I thought to myself – goodness – what will we do in Berlin for six months? We have no connections, we know no musicians or presenters. But, as the year progressed, we did begin to make connections – and to strengthen old ones in the United States. And now I find myself in a veritable tornado of concerts. A musician’s dream – a buffet of musical opportunities a person wouldn’t even dare to add to a bucket list. On Monday I begin putting together all 10 Beethoven Violin Sonatas for a concert series in Berlin. Amongst those rehearsals is the Mendelssohn Octet with an incredible cast of musicians, as well as the odd chamber music reading session with new friends. Then – I get to play as a substitute with the Berlin Philharmonic. Bucket list extraordinaire. I got a call also to be assistant concertmaster for an incredible Opera Orchestra, but I was already scheduled for Berlin. What??? Crazy, absolutely crazy. Then, I head to Italy for a tour with Performance Today – American Public Media’s legendary and utterly charming and insightful host Fred Child leads four busses of classical music enthusiasts through Italy, by deluxe boat and bus, and has asked me to be the guest soloist for the tour. Vivaldi Four Seasons in Venice, three recitals, daily interviews, and I think I even get to be one of those people who hold the microphone in front of a bus and talk. Maybe I can have that super chair by the bus driver that folds up and down. I will also be leading a book discussion group – I love to do this. And of course answering questions about this Diary. A smattering of quartet concerts happen before our family heads to Northern Italy for two weeks with Amelia Piano Trio (yeah Amy Yang! I miss you) – several concerts – and teaching old students from Oregon as well as new students we bring from Berlin, all in a small magical town in the Dolomites. Next – I will be teaching and performing at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. And we return from the States just 2 days before school restarts. So there went the Sabbatical. It has disappeared before we even had a minute to catch our breaths. My late evening practice sessions with my hotel mute have taken a completely different bent – the Chaconne, Janacek violin sonata, Kreisler and Biber replace what was once the second violin parts of the major quartet literature. Am I a different violinist now? Absolutely – my nuances are more varied, my commitment to emotional detail refined. Will I still get a little crazy and go too far sometimes? I can’t imagine life and music without that!
We’ve had a quick flip through the season and come up with these unmissables: 1 Barenboim conducts Birtwistle premiere (July 16) 2 A European Requiem by James MacMillan – couldn’t be more timely (July 30) 3 William Christie conducts Handel’s Israel in Egypt (Aug 1) 4 Bychkov conducts Khovanshchina (Aug 6) 5 Rattle conducts Gurrelieder (Aug 19) 6 La Scala Orch plays Respighi (Aug 25) 7 Cincinnati plays Copland’s Lincoln Portrait – also timely (Aug 27) 8 Peter Maxwell Davies’s Eight Songs for A Mad King (Sept 2) 9 Mendelssohn Day with Freiburg (Sep 3) 10 Prom 19: Relaxed Prom The BBC’s first ever Relaxed Prom is suitable for children and adults with autism, sensory and communication impairments and learning disabilities as well as individuals who are Deaf, hard of hearing, blind and partially sighted.
Fanny Mendelssohn died at the age of 41, having written 500 pieces. That's ... a lot. And more keep being discovered: "In only March of this year, it was discovered that her Easter Sonata, once credited to her brother, was actually hers, and it was played live under her name for the very first time this year."
Members booking has now started for the Three Choirs Festival, this year inn Worcester, in the heart of "Elgar Country". The first Cathedral concert on Saturday 22nd July will begin with Elgar (Great is the Lord), and there will be, as always, the Dream of Gerontius (Roderick Williams) but its highlight, conducted by Peter Nardone, should be Michael Tippett's A Child of Our Time, written in wartime, confronting violence, in the belief that good can vanquish evil. Benjamin Britten will be on the programme too (Four Sea Interludes) : not a composer normally connected with the Three Choirs, but included because the Festival reaches out to all. Fundamentally, the Three Choirs Festival is Christian Communion, though you certainly don't have to be Christian to be welcome, and this year's themes deal with issues of faith and hope in troubled times. Thus Mendelssohn St Paul on the evening of Sunday 23rd July, where the forces of the magnificent Three Choirs Festival Chorus will be heard in full, magnificent glory, with the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Geraint Bowen. In the days of the early Church, the faithful were oppressed. But Paul switched from persecutor to convert, remaining firm in his mission, even unto martyrdom. Bach's influence runs powerfully through this oratorio. There are wonderful chorales, ideally suited to the Chorus, and strong, dramatic parts for the soloists, all built on an austere bedrock that connects to the concept of a radical new faith whose adherents were prepared to die for what they believed in. Even more rough-hewn and almost savage, Janáček's Glagolitic Mass on Wednesday 26th July. In early Czech tradition, thousands of worshippers would gather together to sing in communal affirmation. Janáček, an atheist, who played organ in churches, aimed for something quite unorthodox. Thus his use of an old Slavonic dialect, rather than Latin. His passion for the outdoors inspires the piece. "My cathedral ", he said, was “the enormous grandeur of mountains beyond which stretched the open sky…...the scent of moist forests my incense”. I've written extensively about the Glagolitic Mass and its composer, please see HERE and HERE. This evening's concert will also feature Torsten Rasch A Welsh Night and Richard Strauss Metamorphosen. "An English Farewell" for the final night of the season on 29th July, a superb programme with Gerald Finzi's Die Natalis with Ed Lyon, whom I should really like to hear in this piece as he's very impressive. Dies Natalis is transcendental, mystical and ecstatic by turns : utterly unique, and one of the quirkiest masterpieces in English music. Again, it's a piece I've written a lot about over the last 20 years. Please see HERE and HERE for example. Lots more on Finzi on this site, too. Dies Natalis addresses the miracle of birth, but Herbert Howells' Hymnus Paradisi addresses the horror that is death, particularly the death of a child. Heard together, Dies Natalis and Hymnus Paradisi should be quite an experience. One a star turn for a soloist, the other a star turn for choirs. Please read HERE what I've written about Hymnus Paradisi in the past. Also on the programme, Raloh Vaughan Williams's Serenande to Music, which will give sixteen singers a chance to shine. The Philharmionia will be conducted by Peter Nardone. But the Three Choirs festival is much more than big Cathedral concerts. Part of its appeal lies in the friendly, community atmosphere, where people come together for smaller-scale concerts, talks, events, excursions and meals. Literally, breaking bread and sharing in the spirit. Choral Evensong every evening, organ recitals (including Saint-Saëns Symphony no 3), early and Tudor music, premieres of new work, Shakespeare plays, a visit from the Choir of King's College Cambridge, and this year an unusual afternoon of Tudor Symphonies (with Andrew Carwood and the Cardinall's Musick). .Visit the Three Choirs Festival website for more.
Our diarist, quartet violinist Anthea Kreston, takes stock of her first year as an American in Berlin and decides that what her family really needs is … a house. Somewhere near the music director’s. (Also where Mahler went to find a bell for his second symphony). Anthea has put in a bid: I am on my way to Madrid. New repertoire – Webern Langsamer Satz, Schumann 2, Beethoven 130 with Große Fugue – mixed in with a handful of old pieces. In addition, we have four new pieces to learn in the coming weeks – Shostakovich 7, Mendelssohn 44/1, Mozart 590 and Dissonance. We were a part of a festival in Norway last week – nice to mix with others over the breakfast buffet or post-concert meals (one of which featured delicious reindeer – I am vegetarian – but the looks of satisfaction on the other musicians’ faces told all). From Tanja Tetzlaff to members of the Berlin Philharmonic, to folk musicians, late-evening meals around large, rough-hewn tables, nestled in the second floor of a half-timbered building, infectious laughter and fast new friends abounded. With a 6 month sabbatical coming in May, my family has a time to reflect. The quartet sabbatical was planned three years ago. When Friedemann tragically took his life two years ago, and with my joining a year later, the sabbatical was opened slightly, to allow for flow during those 6 months and a continuing deepening of our new, shared quartet sound and concept. So we will play occasionally from May to October, but other projects have been planned – solo cds, tours, etc. Last week, the day Jason came back from his 2 1/2 weeks in Japan and Korea, I was heading out the door to catch a train for that evening’s concert. Jason would be home for bedtime, and our babysitter was covering until then. As I slung my violin over my shoulder, and kissed the girls goodbye, I felt the urge to jump in the car and have a proper, American-style road trip. I quickly dig out our binder of “non-classical” CDs, grabbed some trail mix, and headed out the door for some loud car sing-alongs and pedal-to-the-metal driving. As I headed out of the city, I stopped to fill up, and, for old-times-sake, got a large hazelnut coffee, some corn nuts, and some double mint gum. As I slipped in one cd after the other, I began to realize my quick cd grab somehow chronicled major periods of my life. My early teenage years – the Beatles “Abbey Road” and Cat Stevens. Curtis years – NAT King Cole “Love is the Thing” – which accompanied me through a late teenage almost-to-the-altar engagement to an older conductor. They Might Be Giants “Flood” – my post- Curtis life, including living on a commune in Oregon, and moving to Oberlin with my best childhood friend, who had just recently dropped out of college. Jeff Buckley “Grace” – again another boy-centered cd – my year with the motorcycle-riding tattooed violinist of an Irish Metal band. Then to Jason, my partner for these past 20 years – Rushmore soundtrack. As the city receded in my rearview mirror, the countryside, so similar to the MidWest in many ways, created that feeling I was craving. A kind-of free-association, reflective and dream-state. The next morning, I woke very early, and headed back to Berlin, through the early morning mist. I was eager to see my family, now whole again, and to reconnect. I had several revelations during the drive, one of which is the desire to find a new living situation for our family. Something quiet – a house – with a backyard. When I returned and we had our family meeting, it seemed like this decision could possibly be the final puzzle piece of our adjustments to this new life and country. Tomorrow, we go together to look at a beautiful house in Zehlendorf. The realtor thinks we have a good chance – our papers are in order. A bakery and a lake in walking distance, and the sbahn to get me to work and airports. Simon Rattle apparently lives in the neighborhood. The next phase of our lives awaits.
Given the desperate need to find common ground between the Christian and Islamicate worlds it is surprising that more attention has not been paid to the influence of Persian literature on 19th century Romanticism, an influence which left its mark on many of the great minds of the West. The bridge between the two cultures was built by the German poet, translator, and professor of Oriental languages Friedrich Rückert (1788-1866) who translated into German the poetry of Rumi (who he described as "a great Sufi"), Sa'di, Jami and Hāfez. It was Goethe's admiration for the gazals (lyric poems) of Hāfez in translation that inspired his West-östlicher Divan (West-Eastern Divan) which was published in 1819 and from which Daniel Barenboim's band takes its name. Little is known about Hāfez. He lived all his life (1320-1389, which is contemporaneous with Chaucer) in the Persian city of Shiraz. He was a Sufi master, philosopher, mystic of Islam and spiritual rebel who wrote more than 5000 poems. Only around 700 of these survive, the rest were destroyed by clerics because of their ecstatic and heretical content encouraging union with the Divine - an action which presaed the persecution of Sufis by today's Muslim fundamentalists. Goethe wrote his West-östlicher Divan both as a tribute to Hāfez - who Goethe referred to as his "spiritual leader" - and as a humanitarian treatise that transcends cultures and centuries. Among the composers who set poetry from the West-östlicher Divan were Franz Schubert, Robert Schumann, Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, Hugo Wolf, Richard Strauss and Arnold Schoenberg. The influence of Hāfez's gazals spread beyond Goethe to Victor Hugo and to the pioneer American transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson, who acknowledged him as “a poet for poets”. Goethe's West-östlicher Divan was also one of the routes that led Nietzsche to Persian culture, a route that led on to Thus Spoke Zarathustra and further onwards to Wagner, Hitler and, surprisingly, to Delius. Goethe's admiration and debt to Hāfez influenced his worldview as well as his poetry. It is often overlooked that Goethe opined that there is "much nonsense in the doctrines of the [Christian] church." (Conversations with Eckermann and Soret, 1832). In his Divan Goethe stresses the benefit of the Sufi teaching of valuing the precious present moment against the Christian attitude of waiting for the next life and therefore, devaluing what God gives humankind in every moment of life. He also denounced sectarianism, saying "If Islam means submission to God, we all live and die in Islam". Goethe read the Qur'an in German translation and his ecstatic poem Mahomets Gesang (The Song of Mohammed) was set in an uncompleted work by Schubert. Much more recently a 2013 project supported by the Goethe Institut à Paris and Festival d'Ile de France brought together in a new music commission which is available in a CD/DVD release the poetry of Hafez and Goethe . The Divān project was the brainchild of the Syrian-born French-resident composer and musician Abed Azrié; Azrié's 1991 Nonesuch album Aromates is acknowledged by John Adams as an influence on Act 1 of The Death of Klinghoffer, and his syncretic Arabic setting of the Gospel of John featured here in 2010. Divān juxtaposes the poetry of Goethe and Hafez, sung in German by tenor Jan Kobow and Arabic by Abed Azrié respectively. The music by Abed Azrié, which is scored imaginatively for bandoneón, violin, string bass and piano, continues the theme of influence, with the German settings indebted to Schubert and Weill, and the Arabic to Azrié's native Syria - see music samples below. The recent barbaric attack at Westminster can only be condemned in the strongest possible terms. But the mawkish and unhelpful outpourings of both the mainstream and social media that followed must also be condemned for different reasons. Much reflective silence leavened by sparing exposure to the mystical power of the axis of eloquence that unites East and West is the only balm that will heal the present wounds. With thanks to Yahya Lequeux of the Naqshbandi Sufi Order. No review samples used. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.
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