Valery Gergiev’s idea of playing two Mahler symphonies in the same BBC Prom concert – the fourth before the interval and the fifth after – is a product of our special-offer times. If neon-strip retailers can accustom us to buying more than we want by pretending to give it away free, what’s to stop conductors cramming our heads with musical excess?
I can think of no obvious precedent or justification for doing two Mahler symphonies in the same concert. Mahler once performed the fourth symphony twice in the same Amsterdam concert after Willem Mengelberg advised him that the Dutch audience was reflective by nature and would appreciate the opportunity to review the work again, after an intermission drink.
On other occasions, he performed sections of two or three different works, usually some songs and a symphonic movement, but he did not (so far as I recall) ever conduct two symphonies in the same night. So what’s the point?
Well, Gergiev is a high-energy conductor who likes to perform Soviet-style Stakhanovite feats, beating all Kremlin targets and collecting his medal on the first of May. There is also an iconoclastic streak to the man, a desire to shatter western moulds and do things in his own inimitable way. He has a genuine fascination with Mahler’s personality and he is perfectly entitled to try something that never crossed the composer’s mind.
It is not, by any measure, a crass idea. There is much that appeals to me about pairing two symphonies that musicologists split into different periods of Mahler’s life – the fourth in his so-called Wunderhorn period, and the fifth in the middle span of non-vocal symphonies. Putting them together makes a nonsense of these academic categories, and I’m all in favour of that.
There is also great merit in hearing Mahler’s music sequentially. I once staged a performance in Stockholm of all ten symphonies in a day – played in the four-hand piano versions, and immensely revealing of the connective tissue in Mahler’s creative constitution. None of us who heard the set, start to finish, would ever hear Mahler again in the same way.
So, though I’m suspicious of the supermarket ethics and unconvinced by Gergiev’s hit-and-run tactics, I am really keen to hear two Mahler symphonies back to back on August 5th. Camilla Tilling is the soloist in Mahler 4 – I like that, too. See you there.
The first three nights of the 2010 BBC Proms, announced today, consist of
– Mahler’s Symphony of a Thousand, conducted by Jiri Belohlavek;
– Bryn Terfel singing Hans Sachs in a Welsh concert staging of Wagner’s Mastersingers of Nuremberg;
– and Placido Domingo as Simon Boccanegra in a production transferred from the Royal Opera, Covent Garden.
The cost of a weekend ticket for these three shows – if you’re quick and lucky enough to land one – is as little as £12.50 ($19). Nowhere on earth can prime performance be heard for such a minimal outlay. Booking opens on May 4, right here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/proms/2010/booking/
If you don’t manage to score these top tickets, here are the ten Lebrecht unmissables from this year’s 76 events, priced from £5 upwards:
Prom 19 31 July Sondheim at 80, with Terfel, Maria Friedman, Simon Russell Beale
Prom 26 5 Aug Gergiev conducts Mahler 4, followed by Mahler 5
Prom 34 10 Aug Vienna Night: Schreker, Korngold, Mahler 7; cond Metzmacher
Bach Day 14 Aug Complete Brandenburg concertos, cond J E Gardiner
Prom 42 17 Aug Pärt, Britten, Huw Watkins, Shostakovich, cond. Ed Gardner
Prom 46 20 Aug Mosolov, Pärt, Ravel, Scriabin, cond. Salonen
Prom 47 20 Aug Cage, Cardew, Skempton, Feldman, cond. Volkov
Prom 52 24 Aug Sydney Symphony Orchestra with Grimaud and Ashkenazy
Prom 61 31 Aug Glyndebourne’s Hansel and Gretel with Alice Coote and Lydia Teuscher
Prom 66 4 Sep Rattle and Berlin Phil in Strauss 4 Last Songs (Mattila), Schoenberg, Berg and Webern.
I was thrilled to learn this morning that Katie Derham is joining the BBC to present the Proms on television and radio. It is a significant step in Mark Thompson’s strategic review to reverse the insistent dumbing down of culture that has raged in recent years.
The Proms has been a particular target of the dumb clucks who run the main TV channel. First, they imposed as presenter the grinning gardener, Alan Titchmarsh, a cuddly fellow who endeared himself to the nation’s middle-aged female spread but who knew and felt so little about music that a speaking autocue would have injected more passion into his links.
After an upsurge of public discontent, and a number of attacks in my column (starting here), Titch was replaced by a so-called ‘professional presenter’, a sometime lawyer named Clive Anderson who stumbled over the simplest of names and missed the obvious jokes.
Now, in Katie Derham, they have found someone who is both presentable and knowledgeable about music, who can express her engagement with the music without sounding either patronising or incompetent. Katie, 39, who lives down the road from me, will be giving up her role as an ITN newscaster and probably also as a Classic FM sleepytime DJ.
She joins the BBC in a week when one of its ratings-hot presenters, Adrian Chiles, swooned off in a huff to ITV. In the realms of television schedulings, her recruitment will be regarded as an industrial counter-coup. In the more important business of ensuring that music is mediated to a mass public, Katie Derham is a long-overdue stride in the right direction.
Proms controller Roger Wright will announce the full programme later today and I’ll present a summary here.
Quite by chance, I have just heard that the BBC will be running a repeat of my Lebrecht Interview with Vladimir Ashkenazy this weekend – the one in which he discloses his recruitment by the KGB and his ‘accidental’ defection to the West.
I may be the last person to know about this programme, but since a lot of people have asked me if they could hear it again, I thought I should pass on the information.
The broadcast is on Radio 3, Sunday night at 2130, at which time I shall – quite by chance – be having a private conversation with Mr Ashkenazy about this and that.
The details can be found at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00cx88k.html and the programme can be heard online for a week.
Mariss Jansons, a rare sighting in the opera house, has been forced to cancel on the Vienna State Opera’s revival of Carmen for a bout of surgery that will put him out of action for the next 2-3 months.
Jansons, who heads the Amsterdam Concergebouw and the Bavarian Radio orchestra, is unlucky at opera. He suffered a heart attack while leading an Oslo Bohème in 1996 and, apart from a stunning Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk in Amsterdam, has little to show for his love of opera other than scratched plans. At 67, he has just renewed his Munich contract to 2012.
Stepping into the Vienna vacancy is Jansons’ only acknowledged pupil, the brilliant young Latvian condcutor Andris Nelsons, music director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. Nelsons, 31, is Vienna’s favourite standby. In June 2008 he took over Pique Dame from the cancer-stricken Seiji Ozawa, followed by Tosca and Madam Butterfly. The Vienna Phil liked him so much they booked him for a concert debut.
Press release follows.
Andris Nelsons springt für Mariss Jansons an der Wiener Staatsoper ein und dirigiert die Neueinstudierung von Bizets „Carmen”
Hannover, 19. April 2010. Am 3. Mai und an mehreren darauf folgenden Vorstellungen übernimmt Andris Nelsons die musikalische Leitung der Neueinstudierung von Bizets Carmen. Er springt für Mariss Jansons ein, der aus gesundheitlichen Gründen seine Mitwirkung absagen muss. Die Iszenierung ist mit Elina Garanca als Carmen, Anna Netrebko als Micaela, Massimo Giordano als Don José und Ildebrando D’Arcangelo als Escamillo hochkarätig besetzt.
„Ich hoffe aus tiefstem Herzen, dass es Mariss Jansons bald besser geht. Das ist im Moment das Wichtigste”, so Nelsons. „Natürlich fühle ich mich sehr geehrt und bin dankbar, dass Ioan Holender mich gefragt hat, für Maestro Jansons einzuspringen. Ich freue mich, diese wundervolle Oper zu dirigieren. Natürlich ist es eine große Herausforderung für mich, für Mariss Jansons zu dirigieren, den großartigsten Dirigenten aller Zeiten.”
Nelsons sprang im Juni 2008 an der Wiener Staatsoper für Seiji Ozawa ein und übernahm „Pique Dame”, später dirigierte er „Tosca” und „Madame Butterfly”. Im Juli debütiert er mit „Lohengrin” bei den Bayreuther Festspielen. Sein Debüt bei den Wiener Philharmonikern folgt in der Saison 2012/2013
Konzertdirektion Schmid, Nina Steinhart, Königstraße 36, 30175 Hannover,
Stephen Johns, V-P of artists and repertoire for EMI Classics, is on his way out. Before the axe starts falling in the next wave of Terra Firma cutbacks, Stephen has lined himself up a new venture as artistic director of the Royal College of Music.
The idea is that he will train students to find a foothold in the performing sector – and, perhaps, in whatever corners are left of the mainstream record industry.
It’s a smart move by the College and its principal, Colin Lawson, and a sad day for EMI where Stephen looked after, among others, Simon Rattle, Bernard Haitink and the Belcea Quartet. Would the last one to leave please turn out the lights?
Press release follows below.
Royal College of Music
appoints Artistic Director
The Royal College of Music (RCM) is delighted to announce the appointment of Stephen Johns as its first ever Artistic Director.
Stephen Johns is currently Vice-President, Artists and Repertoire, at EMI Classics. In his twelve years with EMI, Stephen has worked with artists including Sir Simon Rattle, Bernard Haitink, Leif Ove Andsnes, Evgeny Kissin, the Belcea Quartet and the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonic Orchestras. In 2000 he was Guest Artistic Director for Spitalfields Winter Festival. During his career he has earned numerous accolades including three Grammy Awards, four Gramophone Awards and a Diapason d’Or.
Stephen read music at Cambridge where he was an organ scholar, and spent a short time teaching at Trinity Boys School early in his career. He now looks forward to returning to education: “I am pleased to be moving into an area where I can share what I have learned working with artists at the highest level in the studio and beyond. I hope also to help to provide the framework and to inspire the next generation of musicians to find new, exciting and innovative ways to perform their art.”
Director of the Royal College of Music Professor Colin Lawson said: “We are very excited to have appointed someone of Stephen’s calibre and reputation. Creating a role of Artistic Director is a radical new step for a UK conservatoire, one which underlines the College’s commitment to the very highest artistic standards. In Stephen, we have an outstandingly well qualified candidate and I am confident that under his guidance the RCM’s performance profile will grow ever more illustrious.”
Stephen joins the RCM on 13 September.
The American Classical Orchestra is offering free – or rather 2-for-1 – tickets to Europeans who can’t catch a flight home by Saturday night. You will need to show a passport to gain entry.
The program is an all-singing, all-dancing Beethoven 9th with Handel Coronation anthems, conducted by Thomas Crawford (details below). Whether it will be improved by a bunch of castaways checking their blackberrys between movements for signs of life in the skies is a matter of conjecture. Anyway, if you make it to St John’s, enjoy!
Beethoven’s 9th is the FINAle of the American Classical Orchestra‘s Silver Anniversary season; Program to feature 250 musicians and dancers AT st. john the divine
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: All European-nationals who are stranded in the NYC area are invited by the American Classical Orchestra (“ACO”) to be their guest at the finale concert of their 25th anniversary season on Saturday, April 24 (8 PM). Bring your European-country passports and you’ll receive 1 (one) free ticket per person. The music director Thomas Crawford stated “Some of our musicians are stranded in Europe. We are re-enacting a European coronation in a stunning cathedral (help them feel at home!). Beethoven Ninth is a people-uniter, prompts people to want to reach out with gestures of love and humanity. It refers to the power of nature (not volcanoes but the starry firmament). This is an overwhelmingly ‘happy’ concert, thrilling, uplifting, so it will bring joy and familiar ground to those stuck here.”
The American Classical Orchestra will also feature Handel’s Coronation Anthems with 60 dancers, and for the Beethoven 9th, four soloists will be joined by three different choirs, totaling 150 singers. The Coronation Anthems were written for Westminster Abbey, on the occasion of the coronation of King George II in 1727. The performance at St. John the Divine will feature dancers from the Purchase Dance Corps from the Conservatory of Dance at Purchase College, SUNY, and students from the Ballet Hispanico School. Beethoven’s 9th Symphony will feature 150 choristers from Trinity Princeton, Trinity New Haven, and the Cathedral Choir (of St. John the Divine), joined by soloists Arianna Zukerman (soprano), Heather Johnson (alto), Choong Lee (tenor) and Camille Reno (bass). For more information, please visit www.aconyc.org.
About the church: The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine contains the largest nave in the world, and has been the site of some of New York City‘s most breathtaking concerts. Its recent renovation was completed in November 2009, restoring the Cathedral to its original glory, following substantial damage from a fire in 2001.
About ACO: Founded by Mr. Crawford in 1985, the ACO performs classical music on authentic period instruments, specializing in repertoire from the 17th to 19th centuries. The orchestra’s mission is to render music faithful to the Baroque, Classical, and early Romantic eras.
Tickets are $75, $50, $35, Student $15 and can be purchased through the website at www.aconyc.org or please call (212) 362-2727.
St. John the Divine: 1047 Amsterdam Ave, New York, NY 10025
The London Book Fair, which opened this morning, looked more like the Gobi Desert at noon than a hub of industry. Many of the foreign stands were vacant, the publishers and sales staff having failed to reach London through the curtain of Icelandic stardust. ‘Half of our meetings are off,’ one publishers told me. ‘All we’re doing is swapping gossip with competitors.’
‘Do you publish any Norwegian books in Nigeria?’ said one lone foreign exhibitor to another across an echoing aisle. One in five semninars was called off.
The fair was supposed to be the biggest ever, seven percent up on last year and with a huge resurgence of European involvement. It will be remembered as a natural disaster. Only the French were present in significant numbers.
Across the cultural industries, the pattern repeats itself. Concerts are being altered, soloists substituted, lectures cancelled, exhibitions postponed. Tales of four-day journeys from Oslo to Brussels are standard conversation. One acquaintance signed on as crew in order to cross the Channel on a freighter. The BBC is looking for an alternative way of getting me to the Czech Republic next week: it may involve a hot-air balloon and a horse and cart.
There are personal tragedies involved among the many inconveniences – of lovers kept apart, memorial events abandoned. The nagging question is not so much whether any one of us is going to reach our intended destinations next week as what will happen afterwards? Will we all go back to square one and carry on flying just as before, or have we learned a lesson about planet abuse and will we review our habits? The longer the ash hangs there, the likelier it is that things will never be the same again. This could be a game-changing moment.
There has been pressure on the arts ever since 9/11 to curb travel budgets and rely less on flown-in stars. The headaches of the past few days will reinforce the urge to cast local. I’m hearing all sorts of alternative plans being floated. Most of them are eminently wise.
The line between music and politics is becoming ever more blurred. Here’s the text of a talk I gave on BBC Radio 3 Music matters yesterday. You can hear it here for a week.
The international Cologne Triennale opens next weekend with the world premiere of a cello concerto. Nothing remarkable about that. The conductor who commissioned it is Semyon Bychkov, newly decorated with a BBC Music magazine award, the soloist is Jan Vogler and the composer is Tigran Mansurian, a contemplative Armenian whose work has been extensively championed by the Hilliard Ensemble, among others.
The significant element in this performance is, however, its date – April 24th, a day that Armenians the world over mark as the start of the Turkish massacres in 1915 that wiped out more than a million of their people. The concert is, in other words, a potentially combustible political event.
Turkey does not like to be reminded of its first world war record and is presently in a tense standoff with the United States where Congress is moving to designate the 1915 slaughter as an act of genocide. The sensitivity of feelings on all sides cannot be underestimated.
Jan Vogler told me this week that the composer Mansurian, faced with a premiere on April 24th, could not avoid telling in his concerto the story of an Armenian family during those terrible years. The concerto, he acknowledges, is a protest piece. The question this triggers in my mind is whether the concert hall is the right place for it.
A couple of week ago you may have heard – or heard about – a handful of agitators who barracked a Jerusalem Quartet recital in the Wigmore Hall. It hardly mattered that members of the quartet are in constant dialogue with Palestinians, or that the Mozart and Ravel they played had no bearing on the Middle East conflict. What the protestors did was to seize the opportunity of a live broadcast to make a political point in the concert hall – and most people felt that what they did was inappropriate, disproportionate and more than a little self-seeking. Radio 3 took the recital off the air and broadcast an edited repeat.
Now if that kind of protest is unacceptable – and I would argue that it always is in a concert hall, no matter how just the cause – why is it permissible, or even desirable, to ventilate hotly contested historical issues from the concert stage itself? Tigran Mansurian is not the first to do so. Kryzsztof Penderecki, in his Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima – later sampled by the Manic Street Preachers in a pop single – seemed to be attacking the excessiveness of the American nuclear strike on Japan in 1945 – a matter that would be disputed by most Americans.
Dmitri Shostakovich, in his Babi Yar Symphony, used a poem by Yevgeny Yevtushenko to highlight the complicity of Soviet citizens and attitudes in the Nazi massacres of Jewish communities – an issue so provocative that the Soviet government went to great efforts to have the symphony suppressed.
This is not to say that historic atrocities should not be commemorated in music. Works like Arnold Schoenberg’s Survivor from Warsaw and John Adams’s 9/11 tribute, On the Transmigration of Souls, allow us to internalise and individualise mass tragedies, drawing out emotions that we otherwise hold in check.
It is when music attempts to deal with one side of a political event that the question of undue influence arises. The concert hall should not have to be as neutral as the BBC in election month or a eunuch in the pasha’s harem. But some care needs to be taken to prevent it being used for political advantage. Music lovers have pretty good propaganda detectors and easily laughed off such Sixties exhortations as Hans Werner Henze’s anti-police orchestral piece, Essay on Pigs, and Cornelius Cardew’s Vietnam Sonata. Nevertheless, what role politics should play in the concert hall remains undefined and I’d be interested to hear your views on the messageboard.
Meantime, the Tigran Mansurian concerto will receive an excellent world premiere in Germany. Jan Vogler insists it reminds him of Schumann and there’s every likelihood that he’ll take it on tour. It will make headlines in at least three countries, some diplomats may be called home and the delicate line between music and politics will be blurred, yielding once again rather more heat than light.
On the BBC’s Music Matters tomorrow, I discuss the forthcoming premiere of Armenian composer Tigran Mansurian’s Cello Concerto on April 24th, a day that Armenians the world over mark as the start of the Turkish massacres in 1915. It is an overtly political piece of music and Turkey will doubtless make its usual diplomatic protests.
What concerns me here is not the historic event – appalling as it was – so much as the aptness of creating a political flashpoint in the concert hall. I shall post the full text of the talk here on Sunday, or you can catch the streamed broadcast any time during the next week.
And then you can let me have your views.
The League of American Orchestras has published two lists of its most performed national composers in 2008-09, alive and dead. The rankings, which understandably exclude small-scale, choral non-professional and opera performances, restore John Adams to the top of the charts from which he slipped rather miserably in Last Composer Standing.
Jennifer Higdon, newly decorated with the Pulitzer, has a stunningly good result.
Here are the two lists. Make of them what you will.
1 Adams, John 52 (performances)
2 Higdon, Jennifer 49
3 Daugherty, Michael 34
4 Corigliano, John 32
5 Williams, John 31
6 Schwantner, Joseph 23
7 Theofanidis, Christopher 22
8 Kernis, Aaron Jay 20
9 Rouse, Christopher 19
9 Tower, Joan 19
11 Meyer, Edgar 16
12 Stucky, Steven 14
13 Frank, Gabriela Lena 12
13 Torke, Michael 12
15 Argento, Dominick 10
15 Glass, Philip 10
17 Carter, Elliott 7
18 Jones, Samuel 6
18 Schickele, Peter 6
18 Thomas, Augusta Read 6
18 Walker, George Theophilus 6
18 Ward, Robert 6
18 Wuorinen, Charles 6
Alive or dead
1 Copland, Aaron 216
2 Bernstein, Leonard 183
3 Barber, Samuel 173
4 Gershwin, George 129
5 Ives, Charles 58
6 Adams, John 52
7 Higdon, Jennifer 49
8 Anderson, Leroy 42
9 Daugherty,Michael 34
10 Corigliano, John 32
11 Williams, John 31
12 Schwantner, Joseph 23
13 Herrmann, Bernard 22
13 Theofanidis, Christopher 22
15 Kernis, Aaron Jay 20
16 Rouse, Christopher 19
16 Tower, Joan 19
18 Ellington, Edward Kennedy (“Duke”) 17
19 Meyer, Edgar 16
20 Cage, John 14
20 Stucky, Steven 14
I wonder that the rankings of German composers by German orchestras would look like. Or British ones for that matter. All submissions gratefully received.
Last September, there appeared on the market an unusual tribute to the music of the French medieval composer, Guillaume de Machaut.
It was the work of Robert Sadin, a Grammy winning producer, and the artists included the Brazilian guitarist and songwriter Milton Nascimento and the jazz singer Madeleine Peyroux. A limelight project from Deutsche Grammophon, once the pre-eminent classical label, it came from the fertile brain of Universal’s president of classics and jazz, Chris Roberts.
Here is Sadin on its conception:
Our conversation turned to David Munrow, whose early death was a great loss to this world. Munrow had a tremendous vitality – he mastered an astonishing array of instruments and devoted himself to bringing the treasures of medieval and Renaissance music to the awareness of today’s listeners. His recordings have a vibrancy and a sense of adventure which no one who has heard them will ever forget.
Chris raised the intriguing idea of revisiting Munrow’s great album “The Art of Courtly Love,” which features the music of Machaut, Dufay and others. This struck a very responsive chord in me.
Things tend to go worng when the president gets involved, as any White House staffer can confirm, and the first thing to go through the roof is the budget. Before anyone looked at the bottom line, $200,000 had been spent (or so insiders tell me) and the record was not yet in its sleeve.
Still, it was going to be a big hit and the money was going to come back through the tills, right? Wrong. The Art of Love was an unmitigated disaster. US sales stalled at 4,500 copies, on the latest Soundscan check, and the release appears to have been cancelled in most other countries – or trickled out so quietly that it hardly got reviewed.
Certainly, no copy or press release ever came my way. I have since sampled a few sound bytes from the DG microsite and what I have heard is a mish-mash of middle-of-the-road pop blandness, music for an airport departure lounge. The Art of Love? Neither art, nor love.
If ever there was a dud crossover disc, this is it. And it’s a Deutsche Grammophon dud of quite epic proportions. The label is presently telling major classical artists that it cannot afford to renew them. But it manages to blow $200,000 on an idle Roberts whim – and it’s not the first time it has done so. In 15 years of Roberts rule, the yellow label has lost most of its lustre. The departure lounge beckons for someone. I wonder who’s next.