From Time Out:

… London gallery Zabludowicz Collection is launching a new event series that hopes to challenge what it means to stage an opera, and who gets to be a part of one. The programme is still in the works, but the idea is to ‘commandeer’ this cultural tradition and turn it into unpredictable, fragmented and politically charged performance-art pieces. 

At Hot with Excess: A Season of Contemporary Artists’ Opera there will be no familiar pattern of overtures and arias, or the ‘da dum dum dum’ of Carmen’s ‘Habanera’. Instead, you’ll have artists like Trulee Hall delivering a psychosexual production exploring fetishes through song, described by Hall as a ‘mental, spiritual and physical on-stage orgy’. …

Read on here.

 

The Trumpian pianist Lola Astanova, in her new video, is inappropriately attired for January.

And her touch is really heavy in Clair de Lune.

Timothy Walker will retire this summer after 17 years as Chief Executive and Artistic Director of the LPO.

He’s in his early 60s and he’s citing ‘personal and private reasons.’

It’s a good time to go, with Edward Gardner arriving as new music director and the touring market getting a whole lot tougher after Brexit.

David Burke, presently the Orchestra’s General Manager and Finance Director, will become Chief Executive. The artistic director’s post will be advertised, though they surely don’t need one. It ought to be part of the music director’s remit.

Walker, an Australian, has survived a number of financial crises over a period that was marked by artistic stability, grounded in the long music directorship of Vladimir Jurowski. Walker was made CBE in this month’s New Year’s honours list

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The repercussions of Valery Gergiev’s no-show at the Vienna Opera’s Lohengrin are still rolling around world media a week later.

Radio Liberty has found a Russian music critic, Alexei Parin, who defends Gergiev’s lateness as a personal habit ‘for 20 years’ and tells orchestras and opera houses to get used to it.

Aside from the discourtesy to colleagues, audiences and the institutitions where he turns up late, there is a disquieting parallel to Gergiev’s conduct in that of his president, Vladimir Putin.

At meetings with world leaders, Putin is always late. It’s a way of manifesting power and making other people uncomfortable.

That’s what Gergiev does, as poodle to master.

Dominique Meyer was right to give the Vienna audience full account of Gergiev’s bad behaviour. He should not be allowed to get away with it andy more – and I doubt he’ll be invited to La Scala when Meyer is in charge.

 

The Montreal Symphony has announced the death of its retired principal clarinet, Robert Crowley, famed for his introduction to its Dutoit recording of Rhapsody in Blue.

Bob taught two generations of rising clarinet players at McGill University’s Schulich School of Music.

He had also been principal clarinet at Oklahoma City Symphony Orchestra and the Hamilton (Ontario) Philharmonic.

 

We are told that the Vertavo Quartet from Norway were refused a US visa for a tour which shoud have started this week.

The reason they were given by a US official in Oslo was that ‘there are too many string quartets in the US already’.

UPDATE: The administrator of the Vertavo Quartet has been in touch to confirm that they were, indeed, refused visas for the US tour. She does not know the reason for the refusal and cannot confirm that part of our information.

It has been confirmed that the Irish film composer Eimear Noone will conduct an orchestra of 42 musicians in excerpts from five nominated scores at the Oscar ceremonies on February 9.

According to Variety, she’s the first woman ever to wield a stick at the industry bash.

Eimear says: ‘Thank you so much to the incredible Rickey Minor, music director for the Academy Awards and the Grammys for inviting me to participate in his musical vision.’

The soprano Ruzan Mantashyan, ousted from the Dresden Opera Ball after the Azeri tenor Yusif Eyvazov allegedly refused to sing with an Armenian, was last night reinstated.

The Semper Opernball announced: The 30-year-old soprano, born in Yerevan, will sing Tatyana’s great aria from the opera Eugen Onegin by Peter Tchaikovsky in Dresden. ‘The Semper Opera Ball follows its general philosophy of speaking the language of art, bringing artists and cultural workers together and building bridges between nations, cultures and perspectives,’ said Hans-Joachim Frey, first Chairman of the Semper Opera Ball. ‘I am pleased that Ruzan Mantashyan has finally been able to accept a role in Dresden and that all other artists and colleagues who appear at the ball also support this. Mantashyan will be with the MDR Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Kristjan Järvi together with performers such as the tenor Yusif Eyvazov, the violinist Pavel Milyukov, the soprano Julia Muzychenko, the pianist Alexander Kashpurin etc.’

Ruzan writes: I was convinced that culture knows no borders and I’m glad this belief is shared by so many people who supported me with their words and deeds these past few days. I am pleased to inform my listeners that on February 7th, I will sing Tatiana’s aria at the Dresden Opera Ball.’

 

There has been no opera in Paris this month due to strikes, with two premieres called off. Ailyn Perez was due to appear in Tales of Hoffmann. She writes:

In moments and circumstances like what we are observing in #Paris, I am reminded to seek peace, stay calm, and be ready to offer our art to all when the timing is right. Unfortunately, our premiere tonight is canceled. There are at least 3 operas with gorgeous productions with top level musicians, cast, and crew that are hoping to be presented. Hopefully, very soon!
My heart is with you all. Thanks to the support of the great administration @operadeparis and colleagues involved, we are really hanging onto our friendship, hope, and the MUSIC!

The Uruguayan bass-baritone Erwin Schrott has called off a La Scala recital this weekend:

Erwin Schrott is sorry to inform that, due to dental surgery that cannot be postponed, he is forced to cancel the recital scheduled for 26 January 2020.

We hope he’s been flossing.

Opera singers the world over are mourning Franz Mazura, the Austrian bass-baritone who was not only the most charming of colleagues but the outstanding Dr Schön in Berg’s Lulu. In this, as in Berg’s Wozzeck, he was dramatically powerful and uncannily accurate in rendering the counter-intuitive atonal lyrical lines. I saw him once in Lulu: never to be forgotten.

Born in Salzburg in 1924, he made his stage debut at Kassel at the age of 25 and joined the Mannheim ensemble from 1964 to 1987.

He sang at Bayreuth from 1971 to 1995.

He was Solti’s Alberich, Boulez’s Schön, Levine’s Klingsor. In April 2019, he sang Meister Hans Schwarz for Barenboim in Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg in Berlin.

Laua Aikin writes: Rest In Peace, dear Franz. You were a wonderful colleague and inspirational artist. You made the world a better place for so many.

John Daszak: Hearing reports that the great Franz Mazura has died.
What a lovely singer/person/character/colleague he was..
He always had advice, encouragement and a vast library of fun stories for his younger, less experienced singers.
I always thought I was the first to come up with “Manon… Let’s go!” Imagine my surprise when I heard him say exactly that after a coffee break in Munich in 2004… he’d probably been using it for decades…😂
A real gentleman of our business has left us!

Paul Gay: So sad to hear about the passing of Franz Mazura. I had the privilege to share twice the stage with him in Lulu and the last time in Peter Stein’s production. We spent so much time together and he told me so many stories about his life . I regret one thing especially : he said he wanted to be Schigolch when I do my debut as Dr Schön, and it will be obviously without him

 

Welcome to the 21st work in the Slipped Disc/Idagio Beethoven Edition

Symphony no 1, opus 21 (1800)

Beethoven was not quite 30 when he rolled out his first symphony on April 2, 1800 and no-one in the room can have been unaware that he was taking huge risks. The first 12 bars consist of a so-called ‘musical joke’, not in the sense of having the audience helpless with laughter but of forming a bit of a tease before the work picks up speed and gets the punters nodding along. It was five years since Haydn’s last symphony and Vienna was ready for change. There is a big statement in the third movement and the finale opens with another tease before bursting into blitz momentum. In all, the symphony lasts no more than 25 minutes, still a Haydn-like length.

Arturo Toscanini understood this symphony better than anyone. From his scratchy first recording of the finale at La Scala in 1921 to his exhilarating chase with the NBC Symphony 30 years later, Toscanini emanated an assurance that this symphony marks the gateway to modern humanity. Pay no attention to the poor sound: this is great conducting at its greatest, a maestro shaping music to his own ideas.

The earliest Otto Klemperer (Berlin, 1924) is no less imposing, with the conductor holding the orchestra back as if on a leash, before he let rip into a new epoch. The later Klemperer, with the Philharmonia in 1960, is much more beautifully played and even more tightly controlled. There is also a 1937 recording from Felix Weingartner, who would have heard from Brahms and Bruckner how they thought this symphony should go.
No-one conducts like this any more. Maybe we should be grateful for that; it’s all a bit authoritarian.

Herbert von Karajan with the Philharmonia in 1953 is still old-school in the tightness of his control, but always prepared to linger over a lovely phrase or sensual hint. Karajan gets more focussed on beauty and shape in several successive recordings; this is, by far, the freshest and most attractive.

Hermann Scherchen plays fast and loose with players of the Vienna Philharmonic in the early 1950s, incredibke tension and not much over 20 minutes in length. George Szell, in 1964, aims for classical lightness and, with the powerful Cleveland Orchestra, achieves transcendence. It ranks with Toscanini for absolute certainty of purpose.

Christopher Hogwood who recorded a 1980s set of the symphonies with the Academy of Ancient Music seems, by comparison, full of bluff and bluster, also rather dull. If it’s period instruments you’re after, look no further than the supple, elegant and witty Roger Norrington with the London Classical Players in 1989: the class difference is unmistakable. Some find Frans Brüggen (2012) even lighter and more likeable.

David Zinman with the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich uses a new edition of the score in 1998, and the clarity is perceptible. If you want heaviness, go to Gunter Wand, Colin Davis, Wolfgang Sawallisch; there’s no shortage of it.

Among 21st century conductors, Riccardo Chailly stands out above all others with the Leipzig Gewandhaus, adding bounce and brilliance to the proceedings in sound quality of the greatest lucidity. If there is an ideal Beethoven first, this might be it.