A bad album by Joyce Didonato is such a rarity that it warrants serious attention. The release at hand is a live recording of a Wigmore Hall recital just before last Christmas — not so much a recital as a tissue of decorations around a half-hour monologue by Joyce’s favourite composer Jake Heggie, all of them accompanied by string quartet.
Fiona Sinclair is today announced as Chief Executive of the Leeds International Piano Competition. She succeeds Mark Wingate, who completes his three-year appointment as the 2018 Competition closes (6-15 September), joining Artistic Directors Paul Lewis and Adam Gatehouse at The Leeds on 1 October.
Fiona Sinclair is currently Managing Director of Lancaster Arts at Lancaster University. She has been a senior member of the team at Lancaster Arts since 2010 and was previously Chief Executive of the Lancashire Sinfonietta from 2000.
From our quartet diarist, Anthea Kreston:
Neck-deep in rehearsals, my string quartet is enroute to Schwarzenberg, a Shangri-la town nestled in a hidden valley in Austria, filled with historic, half-timbered buildings and home to the famed Schwarzenberg Schubertiade, a months long, yearly festival with multiple events every day, drawing a loyal audience who makes there way here along hours of twisting mountain roads, and stays for days, weeks, to bath in the sounds, smells, and tastes of this protected hamlet.
In addition to our quartet schedule, I am guesting with the Musethica Festival, with daily rehearsals, performances in prisons, schools for differently-abled children, psychiatric hospitals, prisons, retirement homes, bars, and final, formal concerts at the Hanns Eisler Hochschule in Berlin.
Conceived as a Marlboro-style learning experience (each group has two embedded, older professionals with younger musicians) combined with a teaching-outreach element (this week will have more than 30 concerts performed), this has given me a chance to get back to a more “American” style of reaching out to the community. My Brahms Op. 36 has in it, as my “professional” counterpart, the eloquent and deeply musical cellist of the Voglar Quartet, Stephan Forck. In addition, the lower half of the brilliant young French quartet Hanson, and rounding it out, an Austrian violinist and Polish violist. Fascinating stories of an East German quartet from the 1980’s are sprinkled in our rehearsals, and the merits of pure/melodic, vertical/horizontal intonation are fodder for lively lunch and dinner conversations – each meal in a different ethnic restaurant with family-style plates passed around our large, long tables. My other group is the Mendelssohn Octet, with the entire Hanson, another French cellist and the director of the festival, the ebullient and energized violist Avri Levitan. His festival is a roaming one – thus far it has occurred in 8 countries, with hundreds of concerts and educational activities. He is a hands-on director- at every meal (often with his 11 month old baby), organising, managing his staff, and rehearsing 6-8 hours a day (there are 4 more works and many more musicians besides the ones in my two groups).
Yesterday we played two concerts for an all-ages school for differently-abled children. I was heartened by the healthy ratio of teacher/aid to student, and to see the obvious love that the adult helpers felt for their young charges. Next we went to a Psychiatric Clinic, Charité. Walking into the ward, I had a distinctly “Cuckoo’s Nest” feel – the orderlies swabbing the deck, the muted greys of the walls, the peek into a patients room (two cots, two dressers, two lamps), the peeling paint and scrub-wearing aids pushing squeaking carts down endless hallways. The smell of institutional food mixed with strong cleaning products lead us to our performance room – the game tables pushed to the side to allow space for the 20 or so patients (and a hefty, tattooed bouncer-type of staff member). The audience was enthusiastic – from a frail-looking older woman with a plum-sized black eye and freshly-bandaged forehead to bewildered middle-aged people from different walks of life. Some patients were nearly indistinguishable from the workers – one patient had been to multiple Artemis concerts.
What struck me most of all was the feeling in the room during the still and emotionally enigmatic slow movement of the Brahms Op. 36 Sextet. Here Brahms gives the slow, wandering and static melody to the violin, the second violin and viola play the second voice together (one in triplets and one in duple), while the cello lays down one static, long note which causes a kaleidoscope of slow frictions. There is no solution, actually even no question – and I could feel in that room, that we were being pushed inside of ourselves – inside of our troubles and our inability to every really find an answer to the endless quandary of life.
The first Tibor Junior Competition also put its jurors to work. Organized by Professor Vernikov and joined by Gidon Kremer, this week’s competition involved violinists aged between 14 and 17. Message received:
The Tibor Junior competition is based on unusual principles. Firstly, the guaranteed anonymity of the participants. The jury knows only the names, ages and nationalities of the candidates and has no access to their background or the identity of their teachers.
Duets were played either with another candidate or with a jury member. This addition places focus on communication, both sharing and listening, and puts the music, not the musician’s ego. At an educational level, the duet with one of the jury members also offers a magnificent learning opportunity for the candidates.
This notion of “collaboration” with the Jury was also embodied by the fact that the eliminated candidates automatically joined the ranks of the jurors for the following rounds. This proved an opportunity for these candidates to interact and exchange ideas with prestigious soloists and teachers whilst also developing their critical listening skills. The voice of these young jurors as well counted towards the final decision along with that of the musicians of the Kremerata Baltica orchestra, the group which very succesfully collaborated with the candidates in the 2nd and 3rd round.
14 candidates of 11 nationalities took part in the final phase of the competition in Sion (Switzerland).
The jury, without a chairman, consisted of Ana Chumachenko (Germany/; Yuzuko Horigome (Japan); Miroslava Kotorovych (Ukraine); Gidon Kremer (Latvia) Kyung Sun Lee (South Korea) Svetlin Roussev (Bulgaria); Pavel Vernikov (Israel/Suisse).
The winners were:
1 Masha Lakisova (USA)
2 Iris Scialom (France)
3 Qingzhu Weng (China)
=3 Arthur Traelnes (Switzerland)
Luisa Mandelli, who sang Annina opposite Callas in Luchino Visconti’s production of La traviata at La Scala, has died just short of her 96th birthday.
Mandelli, who spent her later years in the Casa Verdi for retired singers, made her debut as a page in Rigoletto in 1953. She was a company stalwart for the next three decades.
Speaking last night at the Megève Festival in the Frech Alps, I was slightly disconcerted to find that no-one in the audience knew the name of Ferenc Fricsay, the brilliant Hungarian conductor who was brought to Berlin in 1947 to head the new RIAS radio orchestra, serving also as DG’s house conductor.
Fricsay died young of cancer in 1963.
Yesterday the Berlin Senate Department for Culture and Europe unveiled a commemorative plaque in his honour.
The remarkable pianist Markus Pawlik, a noted Schnabel specialist, has shared with us a letter from Artur Schnabel to his American lover describing a post-War dinner with his sometime colleague Wilhelm Furtwängler. It is a chilling document, demonstrating that the great conductor was in total denial about his dubious role in the Third Reich. It is the most vivid evidence I have seen of WF’s moral ambiguity:
Last night Furtwängler and wife came to see me. It was partly pleasant, partly opposite. So far it seems to me that these Germans cannot be helped, nor can they help themselves. He demonstrated the same old blending of arrogance, cowardice, and self-pity. After the first “world war” the German leaders circulated as facts what obviously had been fake. For instance: that they had lost the war only because the home front had stabbed the army in the back. The Germans had no guilt whatsoever in the outbreak of that war: that was another of their entirely baseless catchphrases. Now Furtwängler went as far last night (he got terribly excite, hysterical, shouted and roared), as to say that he has never known any Nazi. And that Germans and Nazis are not only absolutely different beings but hostile to each other. That millions of Germans are now murdered daily, and that the whole world shows its decadence by its total lack of charity. He admitted, however (without having been asked) that he has had quite a good time during the “regime.” What a confusion! Poor creature; he would love to do away, with some magic, with that whole spook – after it had failed.
A.S. to V.F
Sils Maria, July 29, 1947
Artur Schnabel Walking Freely on Firm Ground
Letters to Mary Virginia Foreman 1935–1951
Werner Grünzweig, Lynn Matheson, and Anicia Timberlake (eds.)