Saturday, January 30, 2016

CMS Webcast: Bartók Cycle I

On Thursday evening the Chamber Music Society presented the first installment of its Bartók Cycle.  The acclaimed Jerusalem Quartet played this week the first, third and fifth string quartets and next Thursday, in another webcast performance, will play the second, fourth and sixth.

Next to Beethoven's late quartets, those by Bartók are arguably the greatest in the repertoire.  Both composers used the string quartet genre as a form of laboratory in which to work out their musical ideas and to find a path forward.  A 1949 article by Milton Babbitt postulated a "single conceptual attitude" that linked all six Bartók quartets and then went on to discuss the manner in which the thematic relationships among movements affected the structure of a given work.

The Quartet No. 1 in A minor was composed in 1909.  When discussing this work, attention is usually placed on Bartók's failed romance with violinist Stefi Geyer; but far more important than any emotional attachment is what the composer was attempting on a musical level.  The very success of Bartók's endeavor sometimes distracts the listener from appreciating that this was a novice effort in which the young composer was still seeking a way in which to express his vision.  Much more so than in later works, his influences are readily apparent.  The entire structure of the work - from the opening notes that are played by the violins alone - owes much to Beethoven's Op. 131.  Though the work contains only three movements, these are played without pause just as in the Beethoven quartet.   And in the finales of both, themes are likewise recalled from earlier movements.  It's only natural that any composer attempting his first string quartet should be aware of and even somewhat intimidated by the masterpieces created by Haydn and Beethoven.  But there is much more occurring in Bartók's work than a simple tribute to a great composer.  At the time he wrote it, the composer, together with his colleague Kodály, had only just begun his ethnological research into Hungarian folk sources as the two journeyed through the countryside attempting to record this music before it disappeared in the face of modernization.  The real challenge Bartók faced was in finding the best means available to incorporate these folk strands into a recognized genre whose traditions had already been formalized a hundred years before.  Bartók may not have succeeded completely in this first attempt, but he here took a major step forward.

A lapse of eighteen years occurred between the composition of the No. 1 and that of the Quartet No. 3, completed in 1927.  As one might expect, the latter was a much more mature and innovative work.  Although written in four parts, the piece consisted of a single movement to be played without pause.  As such, it was the shortest and most compact of Bartók's quartets and the music for strings incredibly dense.  For the first time, the composer made use of various techniques - sul ponticello (playing close to the bridge), jeté (bouncing the bow off the strings),  and col legno (playing with the wood of the bow) - that would come to characterize his later writing for strings.  He also employed a distinctive form of pizzicato in which the string bounced back with a snap against the wooden fingerboard.  Listening to it, one is conscious of a much more modernist outlook.  Not only is the quartet concentrated in its form, it moves forward with such intensity that it calls to mind the thrust of machine driven pistons.

By time Bartók completed the Quartet No. 5, whose performance ended the recital, he was an internationally known composer.  It was composed in 1934, appropriately enough as a commission from that tireless champion of modern chamber music, Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge.  It was the only work Bartók completed that year and was really the first of the great works he was to produce in the 1930's.  Like the No. 4, the five movements that comprise this piece can be seen as forming an "arch" in which the fourth movement mirrors the second, and the fifth mirrors the first to create the pattern ABCBA.  In the same manner, the themes of the fourth and fifth movements are the inverse of those of the second and first.  In other words, they are played "upside down."  Additionally, the two slow movements, the adagio molto and the andante, exemplify the composer's nachtmusik characterized by dissonance and nature sounds as well as an overwhelming sense of solitude.

Although I have never attended a recital by the Jerusalem Quartet, I have heard several of their performances of the Shostakovich quartets broadcast by CMS and have been impressed by their virtuosity.  I look forward to hearing the second installment of Bartók's quartets next week.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Juilliard Piano Recital: Scarlatti, Debussy, Scriabin, Beethoven, Ravel, Chopin

I went yesterday afternoon to Paul Hall to hear a recital by Juilliard's Piano Performance Forum that featured four pianists playing works by Scarlatti, Debussy, Scriabin, Beethoven, Ravel, and Chopin.  The recital also introduced the school's brand new piano, a Shigeru Kawai built in Japan

The program began with Christian DeLuca performing without pause Scarlatti's Sonata in D major, K. 96 (c. 1745), Debussy's Reflets dans l'eau from Images, Book I (1905) and Scriabin's Sonata No. 5, Op. 53 (1907).  The result was a study in contrasts.  The elegance and clarity of the Scarlatti piece was followed by the dreamy impressionism of the Debussy.  The composer was all his life fascinated by the sea and continually tried in his music, most notably in his long orchestral piece La Mer, to express the ever changing movement of bodies of water.  He confided to a contemporary, pianist Marguerite Long, that he envisioned the opening of the present work as an image of a pebble falling into a small circle of water and creating ripples expanding ever outward.  The work has often been compared to a painting for its use of tone colors.  On the other hand, the mystical Scriabin piece, composed while the composer was living in Switzerland, had an explicit literary program that it shared with the orchestral work Le Poème de l’extase written at the same time.  The sonata is a puzzling piece whose tempos shift rapidly from one moment to the next before coming to an abrupt end.  Though it never completely discards tonality, this ambiguous piece moves away from the composer's early Romantic tendencies and anticipates the works that were to characterize his late period.  In its roughness and abandonment of the traditional sonata form, the one-movement work seems more an expression of the unconscious mind rather than a carefully planned composition.  In his playing of all three works, the pianist showed remarkable poise in moving seamlessly from one piece to the next even though they were so totally different in mood.

The next pianist was Christine Wu who played only a single work, Beethoven's Sonata No. 32 in C minor, Op. 111 (1822).  This was really the centerpiece of the recital and the longest work performed.   I have heard this iconic piece many times, most recently this past November in a recital given by András Schiff at Carnegie Hall.  It is, of course, the last of Beethoven's piano sonatas and one of his final works for that instrument.  Written in only two movements, it leaves far behind the influences of Haydn and Mozart and even of Beethoven's own middle period.  Here, as in his late quartets, the composer seems to be testing the limits of what is possible in musical expression.  It was performed exceptionally well and with a great deal of sensitivity at this recital.

The one-hour program then ended with two shorter works.  First, Christopher Staknys played "Ondine" from Ravel's Gaspard de la nuit (1909).  This is another work in which the composer, like Debussy before him, reveals his fascination with the play of water.  But here it is seen as a shimmering veil from behind which the seductive water nymph addresses the mortal man who beholds her.  Based on the collection of poems by Aloysius Bertrand, "Ondine" is the first of the three movements that comprise Gaspard.  Although perhaps not quite as difficult as the infamous "Scarbo," this is still very much a technically challenging virtuoso piece that demands a light touch as the pianist moves from one nuanced phrase to the next.  Christopher Staknys here did an excellent job of conveying the sense of dreamlike unreality the composer intended.

The final work was Chopin's Scherzo No. 3 in C-sharp minor, Op. 39 (1839) performed by Anna Han.  Like all the other works on the program, this was a virtuoso piece obviously chosen for its difficulty.  As the Wikipedia article notes: "This [the main theme] is particularly difficult to perform, due to the technique needed to accurately and quickly execute the running octave patterns."   Written while the composer was staying with George Sand at the Majorcan monastery Valldemossa, the piece creates its dramatic intensity by moving from its home key to that of D-flat major before returning to C-sharp minor and then ending in C-sharp major.  The pianist here gave a brilliant performance of the work that brought the entire recital to an exciting close.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

CMS Webcast: David Shifrin and Gloria Chien

On Thursday evening, the Chamber Music Society webcast live a recital from the Rose Studio that featured clarinetist David Shifrin and pianist Gloria Chien in a program that was neatly divided into three distinct segments, each offering music from a different period.

The program began with a selection of French works from the twentieth century.  First was the Sonata for Clarinet and Piano in B flat major, FP 184 (1962) by Francis Poulenc.  This was a late work written shortly before the composer's death and it came as something of a shock to realize over how long a period of time the composer's career had extended.  I had always associated Poulenc with Les Six, the group of composers brought together by Jean Cocteau and most often linked with Paris in the immediate aftermath of World War I (the only collaboration to which all six contributed, L'Album des Six, was in fact completed in 1920).  But the composer did indeed remain active through his last years.  Commissioned by Benny Goodman, Poulenc was to have accompanied the famous clarinetist at the sonata's premiere but died before that Carnegie Hall performance took place.  His replacement as pianist was Leonard Bernstein.  I thought the most intriguing section was the second movement Romanza marked Très calme.

Next came two movements from the well known piano suite, the Children’s Corner (1906-08) by Claude Debussy, here arranged for clarinet and piano by David Schiff.  In order of performance the two selections were "Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum" and "The Little Shepherd."  This was followed by another Debussy work, the Première rapsodie for Clarinet and Piano (1909-10) that David Shifrin described as a pillar of the clarinet repertoire and that was originally composed by Debussy, who was a member of the Conseil Supérieur of the Paris Conservatoire, for that school's clarinet examinations.

After a ten minute pause, the musicians returned to the stage to perform contemporary works from the twenty-first century.  The first of these was by Paul Schoenfield, the Sonatina No. 2 for Klezmer Clarinet and Piano (2014), originally commissioned by the Clarinet Commission Collective, a consortium of almost fifty clarinetists seeking to enlarge that instrument's repertoire.  Afterwards, the musicians performed Sholem-alekhem, rov Feidman! for Clarinet and Piano (2004) by Béla Kovács, Professor of Clarinet at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest.

I have to admit it was the third segment of the program I found most enjoyable.  After a second ten minute pause, the two performers ended the recital with two nineteenth century works.  The first piece was the Concert Fantasia on Themes from Verdi’s Rigoletto for Clarinet and Piano, the best known of the fifteen operatic fantasies by the Italian clarinetist Luigi Bassi.  I had never heard the piece before and found it quite novel to encounter the familiar tunes here arranged for clarinet.  The second and final work was the Introduction, Theme, and Variations for Clarinet and Piano (1819) by Gioachino Rossini.  David Shifrin joked before beginning that he hadn't known the theme had been taken by Rossini from La donna del lago until he performed it at a benefit honoring Marilyn Horne and she thanked him profusely for playing "her aria."

The two musicians returned to the stage for an encore, the Clarinet Lament by Duke Ellington in another arrangement by David Schiff.  The pair played the jazz piece with the same elan they brought to the more serious "classical" works and received a huge ovation from the audience.  It was well deserved.  Both David Shifrin and Gloria Chien are consummate musicians and together gave an incredibly satisfying performance.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Met Opera: Diana Damrau Sings in Les pêcheurs de perles

On Wednesday evening I went to the Met Opera to hear one of the most anticipated performances of the season, the new production of Les pêcheurs de perles, a long overlooked work by the composer Georges Bizet.  This season marked the first occasion on which the opera had been staged at the Met since Caruso had sung the role of Nadir in 1916.

While Bizet is today known to the public for only one opera - his hugely popular Carmen - he was actually far more prolific than his lack of credits might suggest.  His talent was recognized early on by the French musical establishment.  He was a student of Fromental Halévy (who later became his father-in-law), a protege of Gounod, and winner of the prestigious Prix de Rome.  More than other composers, however, Bizet was the victim of bad luck throughout his short lifetime.  Many of his projects had to be abandoned when it became evident that they would not be produced.   In that era Paris's two major venues, the Opéra and the Opéra-Comique, were not receptive to new works and the composer was instead forced to rely on the Théâtre Lyrique, then managed by Léon Carvalho.  It was there that Les pêcheurs premiered in 1863.  This company had problems of its own though.  The initial run of La jolie fille de Perth. the opera best received during Bizet's lifetime, was cut short after eighteen performances in 1866 due to the financial difficulties Carvalho was then experiencing.  Carvalho finally went bankrupt in 1868 and as a result was forced from his position at the theater.  This failure aborted the production of Halévy's Noé, a work Bizet had completed as a tribute to the late composer.

Bizet had originally intended to make his operatic debut at the Opéra-Comique, whose contract with the French government required it to stage works by winners of the Prix de Rome, with a one-act piece entitled La guzla de l'Emir.  At the same time, in order to retain its own grant, the Théâtre Lyrique was also required to put on a work by a winner of that same prize so long as it was that composer's first commercial production.  Bizet quickly withdrew La guzla and went forward with Les pêcheurs.  The libretto Carvalho provided to Bizet, though, was of the poorest quality imaginable.  Written by Eugène Cormon and Michel Carré, it was described by The New York Times critic Donal Henahan in 1986 as ranking "right down there with the most appallingly inept of its kind."  The text's characters were one-dimensional, the plot filled with improbable coincidences, and the ending weak.  In spite of this, Bizet came up with music that was thoroughly enjoyable and filled with beautiful arias, most notably the duet Au fond du temple saint.  The opera proved to be a success with audiences but not with critics. Discerning in the music the influence of Wagner, they were almost uniformly hostile. The exception, perhaps for that very reason, was Berlioz.

Following Bizet's death and the opera's revival in the 1880's, revised editions of the work were published and the ending altered to create a greater sense of drama.  A trio composed by Benjamin Godard was added to the final scene.  Until fairly recently, this revision became standard in what few productions were staged.  The version used at the Met on Wednesday evening, however, did its best to honor Bizet's original intentions and instead followed the critical edition published by Edition Peters in 2002.

The current production of Les pêcheurs has turned out to be an unexpected hit for the Met this season.  At least part of this is due to its strong casting.  I've been an admirer of soprano Diana Damrau since I first saw her two seasons ago in Bellini's La sonnambula.  As Leïla, she gave a polished performance that set off nicely those of the two male leads.  Nadir was sung by tenor Matthew Polenzani and Zunga by baritone Mariusz Kwiecien.  Conductor Gianandrea Noseda did a workmanlike job on the podium.

I was especially pleased by the work of director Penny Woolcock.  This was one Met production that came alive.  It was highly pleasing to look at and served as a fitting vehicle for Bizet's unjustly ignored music.  While this opera may not be on the same level as Carmen, it is still a wonderfully exciting piece that well deserves a permanent place in the repertory.  The current production is an excellent step in that direction.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

2016 Chamberfest (Post 5): Schumann and Messiaen

On Saturday afternoon I went to Paul Hall for the last Chamberfest performance I'll be attending this season.  The program again featured only two works, one by Schumann and the other by Messiaen.

The program opened with Schumann's Piano Trio No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 63 (1847) performed by Alissa Mori, violin; Jessica Hong, cello; and Irfan Tengku, piano.  The pre-college musicians were coached by Timothy Eddy and Sylvia Rosenberg.

The Op. 63, written before symptoms of Schumann's mental illness first manifested themselves, is generally considered the composer's strongest attempt in this genre.  It was, however, not his first.  He had already composed a trio in 1842 that he waited until 1850 to publish as his Op. 88 under the title Phantasiestücke.  One reason for his return to the trio form after an interval of five years may have been the fear of having his accomplishments surpassed by those of his wife.  Clara had the year before completed her own trio, the Op. 17, her first and only four-movement work.  Not only had Clara's trio been successful in private performance, but it had also earned the praise of no less a critic than Mendelssohn.  No matter how much Robert loved Clara, and he definitely did, his attitudes toward women were unfortunately those typically held by men in the nineteenth century.  He once wrote to Clara:
"The first year of our marriage you shall forget the artist, you shall live only for yourself and your house and your husband. Just wait and see how I will make you forget the artist—because the wife stands even higher than the artist.  If I only achieve this much—that you have nothing more to do with the public—I will have achieved my greatest aspiration."
Nothing then could have been more galling to Schumann than to have seen his wife, whose success as a concert pianist he already envied, now acclaimed as a composer.  This at a time when he had not yet himself received any significant recognition for his own attempts at composition.  It may have been Schumann's wish to compete that made him take more care with this work than with previous efforts.  Though he completed the work in only ten days (June 6 - June 16), he had in the past worked even more quickly, boasting of having completed his Symphony No. 1 in only four days.  Schumann's hard work paid off.  Mendelssohn hailed the Op. 63 as "the most masterly trio of the present era."  This is not to say the piece is a flawless work.  Schumann's principal problem was in balancing the parts equally.  Not surprisingly, he gave too much weight to the keyboard and used the strings primarily as accompaniment to or foil to the piano.

Considering their young age, the musicians gave a remarkably professional performance.  I was especially impressed by the work of pianist Irfan Tengku.

After intermission, the program concluded with Messiaen's Visions de l’Amen (1943).  The two pianists were Wei Lin Chang and Chi Wei Lo; their coaches were Joel Sachs and Jerome Lowenthal.

Messiaen wrote this piece for two pianos two years after he had been released from the Görlitz P.O.W. camp where he had composed Quatuor pour la fin du temps; the new work's premiere took place in Paris while that city was still occupied by German troops.  Messiaen had by then been appointed professor at the Paris Conservatoire where he had formed an association with Yvonne Loriod, who was later to become his wife, and he wrote the present piece for the two of them to perform together.  An article on Carnegie Hall's website describes the composer's conception of the work:
"Her part, according to his [Messiaen's] note in the published music, has 'the rhythmic difficulties, the bunches of chords, everything concerned with speed, allure, and quality of sound'; while to himself, at the second piano, he allotted 'the principal melody, the thematic elements, everything demanding emotion and power.' The two pianos together become a percussion orchestra, akin to the gamelans of Indonesia, to which the music seems to look also in its frequent moments of pentatonic character."
Messiaen suffered from a form of synesthesia and associated colors with musical keys.  The key of A, in which most of the work is composed, evoked for him the color blue and thereby the heavenly sky above.  In a sense then the work is literally colorful as its moods change rapidly from each of the seven movements to the next.  In the fifth movement the composer recreates the sound of birdcalls in a manner similar to that which he employed in the third movement of the Quatuor.

Even to a non-musician, it was apparent what a difficult piece Visions was to perform.  The precise coordination required of the two pianists could not have been achieved without long hours of practice.  The level of professionalism and virtuosity they both displayed was extraordinary.

The Messiaen is the type of work I most look forward to hearing at Chamberfest.  That piece, together with Ligeti's Trio for Violin, Horn, and Piano and Schoenberg's Quartet No. 2 were the works of most interest to me this season.  There are, of course, many other twentieth century works - Hindemith's Kleine Kammermusik and Martinů's La Revue de Cuisine spring to mind - that deserve to be heard as well and that I hope appear on Chamberfest programs in future seasons.  As for works from earlier periods, I missed hearing anything by Beethoven as I had just finished reading Jan Swafford's massive biography of the composer; but I did have an opportunity to hear more of Mendelssohn's chamber works in live performance than at any other one time.  I also had a rare chance to better understand how different composers approached the piano trio genre.  Thanks to fortuitous programming by Juilliard, I heard at consecutive performances the Mendelssohn Trio in C minor, his trio in D minor, Schubert's trio in E flat major, and then Schumann's trio, also in D minor in tribute to Mendelssohn.

Monday, January 18, 2016

2016 Chamberfest (Post 4): Mendelssohn and Schubert

On Friday I returned to Paul Hall to hear another installment of this season's Chamberfest.  There were only two works on the program, both of them piano trios, by Mendelssohn and Schubert.

The program opened with Mendelssohn's Piano Trio No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 49 (1839) performed by Pinhua Zeng, violin; Yifei Li, cello; Jiaqi Long, piano; and coached by Jonathan Feldman and Cathy Cho.

I had just heard Mendelssohn's second trio, the Op. 66, on Wednesday evening and so had an opportunity to experience both pieces virtually back to back.  It's unusual to hear Mendelssohn played with such frequency.  While musicians correctly maintain that the composer's genius is underrated, audiences, though they may not argue the point, often remain aloof.  I think one reason for this lack of appreciation is that Mendelssohn's works are so highly polished, so "perfect" if you will, that little trace of the composer himself remains within them.  It is impossible, for example, to listen to any of Beethoven's late quartets without being constantly aware of the genius standing behind them, almost as if he were physically present in the room with the listener.  Mendelssohn's works, on the other hand, can be strangely anonymous.  Part of this may have to do with the composer's lack of a distinctive personality.  Whatever passions he had, he kept them to himself.  Every account by his contemporaries stresses what a perfect gentlemen he was, invariably temperate, good natured and smiling.  Spending more than ten minutes in such a person's company must have been a maddening experience.  Another reason may have been the great wealth of Mendelssohn's family.  His resources allowed him to place artistic excellence, according to his own standards, over commercial success.  Accordingly, he did not feel as pressing a need as other composers to cater to the tastes of his audience.

Having said all this, the two chamber works by Mendelssohn that never lost their popularity were his Octet, Op. 20, and the D minor trio.  In the trio's case, a dissertation by Ron Regev suggests that Mendelssohn may have cared more about his audience's reaction to this work than to others.  Regev writes:
"On the other hand, the undertone of some of his [Mendessohn's] letters, as well as the final outcome of his debate with Hiller concerning the Trio suggests that he was not impervious to the lure of public affection."
It was Ferdinand Hiller, of course, who persuaded Mendelssohn to completely rewrite the piano part to bring it more into accord with popular tastes.  He later recalled:
"Certain pianoforte passages in it [the trio], constructed on broken chords, seemed to me - to speak candidly - somewhat old-fashioned.  I had lived may years in Paris, seeing Liszt frequently, and Chopin every day, so that I was thoroughly accustomed to the richness of passages which marked the new pianoforte school.  I made some observations to Mendelssohn on this point, suggesting certain alterations, but at first he would not listen to me."
In his paper, Regev goes on to do an exhaustive analysis of all the changes Mendelssohn made in his revised score.  To whatever extent these changes altered the nature of the work, the final result is certainly much more stirring than can be found in many other of Mendelssohn's pieces.  From the cello's opening notes on, the trio captures the hearts of its audience.  One cannot listen without being moved.  The wonderful rendition by the Juilliard musicians, and pianist Jiaqi Long in particular, made this a truly memorable performance.

The second and final work on the program was Schubert's Piano Trio No. 2 in E-flat Major, D. 929 (1827) performed by Chelsea Kim, violin; Issei Herr, cello; Yuchong Wu, piano.  Their coaches, Joseph Kalichstein and Fred Sherry, are both accomplished chamber musicians and well known to New York audiences.

Schubert wrote only two trios, one right after the other in 1827 (although some scholars have disputed this chronology).  After having claimed the E flat his favorite of the two, he dedicated the work to "no one, save those who find pleasure in it."  It's an enormous piece, so much so that Schubert was convinced by his publisher to cut 98 bars from the final movement.  What's surprising is that Schubert arrived at this genre so late in his career.  Aside from a short fragment written while still a student of Salieri, the composer never before attempted this combination of instruments even with the example of Beethoven's "Ghost" and "Archduke" trios before him.  It may have been a question of finding the right musicians.  The first performance was a private one given by Carl Maria von Bocklet, piano, Ignaz Schuppanzigh, violin, and Josef Linke, cello.  The latter two had played at the premiere of the "Archduke" trio in 1814 with Beethoven himself at the keyboard.  The thought of having these two musicians perform his own trio could not but have encouraged Schubert to begin work on his own opus.

The E flat is of a much different character than the B flat.  While the latter is predominantly genial in tone, the former is suffused with a sense of gentle melancholy, most especially in the slow second movement which is said to have been based on a Swedish folk song.  The same sad theme returns in the final movement and this time the sense it projects is one of intense yearning.  The effect is mesmerizing.

Friday, January 15, 2016

2016 Chamberfest (Post 3): Schoenberg and Mendelssohn

On Wednesday evening, after having gone earlier in the day to hear the Wednesdays at One performance at Alice Tully, I attended another Chamberfest session at Paul Hall, this time featuring music by Schoenberg and Mendelssohn.

The program opened with Schoenberg's String Quartet No. 2, Op. 10 (1910) performed by Katherine Lim, violin; Isabel Ong, violin; Robert Donowick, viola; Yu Yu Liu, cello; and Liv Redpath, soprano.  The musicians were coached by Fred Sherry and the great soprano Barbara Hannigan, a specialist in contemporary vocal music.

The Op. 10 is one of the most unusual string quartets in the repertoire - the last two movements set to music poems by Stefan George and call for their texts to be sung by soprano to the accompaniment of the strings.  The quartet proved to be a turning point in Schoenberg's career, what he himself termed "the transition to my second period."  In researching the history of the quartet, I came across an informative article by Bryan R. Simms that traced the personal crises that led the composer to so complete change in direction.  According to Simms, there were two situations in Schoenberg's life that together had a shattering impact on his psyche and caused him to seek a new path.  The first of these was the almost universal rejection his most recent music had received when first introduced in Vienna.  By his own admission, Schoenberg, who had always harbored an inflated estimate of his own worth, had expected his First Quartet, Op. 7, and his Chamber Symphony, Op. 9, to be the keys to his long awaited acceptance as a great composer.  In a 1937 lecture he recollected:
"After having finished the composition of the Kammersymphonie it was not only the expectation of success which filled me with joy. It was another and a more important matter. I believed I had now found my own personal style of composing and that all problems which had previously troubled a young composer had been solved... It was as lovely a dream as it was a disappointing illusion."
The reality proved far different than the composer had imagined.  In regard to the First Quartet, the critic Heinrich Schenker, invited to its premiere by the composer himself, wrote: "If there are criminals in the world of art, this composer - whether by birth or by his own making - would have to be counted among them."  As if this weren't enough, the Chamber Symphony fared even worse on its first hearing.  Describing the work's Musikverein premiere, only three days after that of the First Quartet, attendee Egon Wellesz wrote: "Never before or after has a concert in Vienna ended in such tumult."

It was in reaction to these criticisms that Schoenberg, still in search of acceptance if not outright fame, began work on the Second Quartet.  Originally he had planned to take a step back with this work and to make his music more readily accessible, once again dividing the piece into conventional movements.  After having sketched the first two movements, however, he was dealt a further blow, this one even more personal.  He was abandoned by his wife Mathilde who had run off with the painter Richard Gerstl.  To an egotist such as Schoenberg it had to have been devastating to have received two such rebuffs in so short a time.  It was in near despair then that he turned to the two poems by Stefan George as a means to express his unhappiness. Ironically, it was the inclusion of the Litanei and Entrückung in the third and fourth movements that finally led the composer to the discovery of a new style from which he would shortly thereafter develop the twelve-tone technique.

The second and final work was Mendelssohn's Piano Trio No. 2 in C Minor, Op. 66 (1845) performed by David Chang, violin; Noah Koh, cello; and Christopher Staknys, piano.  I had on Monday evening heard the composer's Piano Sextet, Op. 110, and it was interesting to compare that youthful effort to the mature composer's accomplishment in this trio.  By the time he had written the Op. 66, Mendelssohn was an experienced composer and had attained full mastery of the effects he sought to create.  This was the second trio Mendelssohn had written and if it was not as popular as the Op. 49 it was still a work of genius, particularly in the balance the composer achieved in blending the three parts, giving each instrument a distinct voice while integrating them seamlessly into a whole.  The work proceeds from a fiery opening to a gentle second movement that is reminiscent of Mendelssohn's "songs without words" for piano.  The sprightly third movement scherzo leads directly to a passionate, but not overly dark, finale.  The inclusion of the old Lutheran hymn in the final movement endowed the work with a Romantic flavor.

The coach for the Mendelssohn trio was the distinguished cellist Timothy Eddy.  Quite by chance, I happened to meet him in the Juilliard lobby as I was leaving Monday evening's Chamberfest performance.  I took advantage of the occasion to introduce myself and to thank him for all I'd gained from attending his performances with the Orion Quartet.  In particular, the ensemble's renditions of Haydn's string quartets are as authoritative as any I've heard and have given me a much deeper appreciation of that composer's achievements.  Mr. Eddy was very gracious and kind enough to update me on coming Orion recitals at Mannes and at CMS..

Thursday, January 14, 2016

2016 Chamberfest (Post 2): Wagner and Fauré

I went yesterday afternoon to Alice Tully Hall to hear the second Chamberfest performance I'll be attending this season.  Part of the Wednesdays at One series, the hour long recital featured music by Wagner and Fauré.

The first piece on the program was Wagner's Siegfried Idyll, WWV 103 (1869).  The ensemble that performed it consisted of  Hannah Cho, violin; Katherine Liu, violin; Molly Goldman, viola; Matthew Chen, cello; Sebastian Zinca, double bass; Olivia Staton, flute; Russell Hoffman, oboe; Ning Zhang, clarinet; Andrew O'Donnell, clarinet; Joseph Cannella, bassoon; Jasmine Lavariega, horn; Nathaniel Silberschlag, horn; and Maximilian Morel, trumpet.  They were coached by Raymond Mase and David Chan.  

The Idyll is perhaps Wagner's most atypical work.  In place of his usual heroic style he here adopted a much softer and more lyrical approach.  One hesitates to use the word "genial" in association with Wagner, but this was certainly as close as he ever came to meriting that description.   He even incorporated a German lullaby, Schlafe, Kindchen, schlaf, into the short work.  The occasion for its composition was the birthday of his much younger wife Cosima.  She left a moving account of the first performance in her journal:
"When I woke up I heard a sound, it grew ever louder, I could no longer imagine myself in a dream, music was sounding, and what music! After it had died away Richard came in to me with the five children and put into my hands the score of his Symphonic Birthday Greeting. I was in tears, but so, too, was the whole household; Richard had set up an orchestra on the stairs and thus consecrated our Tribschen forever! The Tribschen Idyll—thus the work is called!"
The composer took the work's theme from a sketch he had completed in 1864. the same year he had begun his affair with the then still married Cosima.   He adapted the same theme again in Siegfried, the third of the four operas that collectively make up the Ring cycle, whose final act he was then finalizing.

Wagner's music was exceptionally well played at yesterday's performance.  I have an excellent recording by the Vienna Philharmonic with von Karajan conducting, but the Juilliard musicians were in my opinion just as successful, if not more so, in infusing the piece with all the tenderness I'm sure the composer intended.

The second work on the program was Fauré's Piano Quartet No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 15 (1879, rev. 1883) performed by Kelly Talim, violin; Charles Galante, viola; Julia Henderson, cello; and Anna Han, piano.  Their coaches were Joseph Kalichstein and Sylvia Rosenberg.

If there was an immediate impetus for Fauré's interest in chamber music, it was the establishment in 1871 of the Société Nationale de Musique, an institute whose avowed purpose was to allow young composers to present their works to the public.  It was co-founded by Camille Saint-Saëns, Fauré's mentor and former teacher, and counted among its members such talents as César FranckVincent d'Indy and Jules Massenet.  Fauré himself later wrote:
"The fact of the matter is that before 1870 I would not have dreamt of composing a sonata or a quartet. At that time a young musician had no chance of getting such works performed. It was only after Saint-Saëns had founded the National Music Society in 1871, the chief function of which was to perform the works of young composers, that I set to work."
It was with this encouragement that in 1877 Fauré produced his violin sonata, the Op. 13, generally considered his first major work.  In 1876 Fauré set to work on the present quartet.  He completed it in 1879 but, heeding the advice of friends, rewrote the final movement in its entirety in 1883.  Even though the composer had experienced some heartbreak along the way - his fiancee Marianne Viardot, daughter of the famous singer Pauline Viardot, had broken off their engagement for reasons never explained - the work is lyrical and generally lighthearted with only a touch of wistfulness to be heard in the third movement adagio.  While yesterday's performance was skillfully done, the quartet itself is one of those pieces often described as "charming," a polite way of saying that while it may be pleasant enough to hear it possesses no great depth or character.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

2016 Chamberfest (Post 1): Stravinsky, Ligeti and Mendelssohn

On Monday evening I went to Paul Hall to hear the opening night performance of Juilliard's 2016 Chamberfest, a series of recitals given every January by Juilliard musicians and their coaches, all of whom pass up a week of winter vacation in order to practice and rehearse.  The program on this occasion featured works by Stravinsky, Ligeti and Mendelssohn

The evening began with Stravinsky's L'Histoire du Soldat (1918) performed by Kako Miura, violin; Zachary Hann, clarinet; Joseph Lavarias, bassoon; Brian Olson, trumpet; Addison Maye-Saxon, trombone; Nicholas Kleinman, double bass; and Jake Darnell, percussion.  The musicians were coached by faculty members David Chan and Raymond Mase.  The work, one of the first products of Stravinsky's neoclassical period, was originally conceived as a theatrical presentation with libretto by Swiss writer Charles-Ferdinand Ramuz.  Written at a time when Stravinsky was in dire financial straits - his funds from Russia had been cut off in the aftermath of the Revolution - it was a sort of mini-musical, a far cry from the lavish Ballets Russes productions whose scores he had composed only a few years earlier.  The storyline, a variation on the medieval danse macabre, was adapted from an old Russian folk tale that told how the Devil sought to trick an unsuspecting soldier into parting with his violin.  The setting gave Stravinsky a golden opportunity to display his satirical wit.  It also provided him a chance to explore the idiom of jazz, a genre he had only recently discovered. As he related in Expositions and Developments:
"My choice of instruments was influenced by a very important event in my life at that time, the discovery of American jazz. . . .The Histoire ensemble resembles the jazz band in that each instrumental category—strings, woodwinds, brass, percussion—is represented by both treble and bass components. The instruments themselves are jazz legitimates, too, except the bassoon, which is my substitution for the saxophone. . . .The percussion part must also be considered as a manifestation of my enthusiasm for jazz."
One wonders what jazz Stravinsky could have come across in 1918 Europe while World War I was still in progress.  He later claimed: "My knowledge of jazz was derived exclusively from copies of sheet music, and as I had never actually heard any of the music performed, I borrowed its rhythmic style not as played, but as written."  The music that resulted had a distinctive if unsettling sound that in one movement at least was almost carnival-like.  Midway through the performance there was a pause as violinist Kako Miura stepped offstage to replace a broken string.

L'Histoire du Soldat premiered in 1918 in Lausanne where it was conducted by Ernest Ansermet, another Ballets Russes alumnus and himself a great admirer of jazz.  In addition to the suite for the original seven instruments performed here, Stravinsky also completed an arrangement for clarinet, violin and piano.

The next work was Ligeti's Trio for Violin, Horn, and Piano, Hommage á Brahms (1982) performed by Patrick Doane, violin; Emily Schaefer, horn; and Vatche Jambazian, piano.  Their coaches were Sylvia Rosenberg and Eric Reed.  This was really the most interesting piece on the program.  Before the ensemble began playing, pianist Vatche Jambazian briefly addressed the audience and emphasized the influence Latin and Caribbean rhythms had had on Ligeti's music at this point.  He then dedicated the performance to the late Pierre Boulez.

Even if the subtitle described the work as a homage to Brahms, the connection would at first appear limited to the use of the same instrumentation in both works.  Nevertheless, the two composers, each in his own way, had to deal with the same problem - balancing the brassy sound of the horn so that it did not overwhelm that of its two partners.  But the destabilizing effect of the horn was precisely what Ligeti here sought to exploit.  Beyond that, the composer, at an impasse after having composed Le grand macabre, may have been looking to Hungarian folk music for inspiration just as he had in his early Concert Românesc in which two horns introduce the opening material of the third movement.  Moreover, the use of the horn in the trio's elegiac final movement, marked lamento, added a unique element of pathos that would have been difficult to duplicate with other instrumentation.  In the event, the piece evidently did help the composer find his way forward.  As the Wikipedia article notes:
"The Trio was a turning point in Ligeti’s career. It is considered to be the watershed moment that opened up his "third way," a style that Ligeti claimed to be neither modern nor postmodern."
After intermission, the program closed with a performance of Mendelssohn's Piano Sextet in D Major, Op. 110 (1824) performed by Annika Jenkins, violin; Emily Liu, viola; Alaina Rea, viola; Keith Williams, cello; Douglas Aliano, double bass; Qilin Sun, piano.  The coach was Daniel Phillips, best known as violinist with the Orion Quartet.  In spite of the high opus number (the work was published posthumously), the sextet was an early work written when Mendelssohn was only fifteen years old.  For a composer of any age the instrumentation here was unusual.  Schubert had used something similar in his Quintet in A major a few years earlier, but it's doubtful that Mendelssohn had had an opportunity to hear that work.  It may have been simply that Mendelssohn chose the instrumentation he felt would show the pianist, his sister Fanny, to best advantage.  Despite his youth, Mendelssohn already had an excellent grasp of chamber composition.  He would write his famous Octet only a year later. But the sextet was not as substantial an effort as the Op. 20.  It did have an attractive sound, however, and was important for having been the first piece in which the composer recalled music from an earlier movement (the menuetto) in a later one (the closing allegro vivace).

All the musicians worked hard to give the best possible renditions of their respective pieces.  Considering how short a time they had to rehearse together the level of virtuosity they displayed at the performances was nothing short of amazing.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Met Opera: Sondra Radvanovsky Sings in Anna Bolena

In the 1970's Beverly Sills made history at the City Opera by performing in all three of Donizetti's "Tudor Queens" operas in a single season.  This year Sondra Radvanovsky is attempting to duplicate Sills's feat, this time at the Met, beginning with Anna Bolena which I saw on Saturday afternoon as part of my subscription series.  Later in the season I'll be seeing Radvanovsky as Elizabeth I in Roberto Devereux.

In spite of Donizetti's overwhelming success with such signal works as L'elisir d'amore  and Lucia di Lammermoor, none of the three Tudor operas has ever managed to win wide acclaim.  They were rarely performed during the twentieth century and it's only in the last few decades that they have begun to reappear as part of the standard repertory.  The first production at the Met of Anna Bolena, the same seen on Saturday, was staged only in 2011.  Part of this may have had something to do with how prolific a composer Donizetti was.  During his short lifetime he composed some 70 operas and it was perhaps inevitable that some should have fallen to the side.  Another factor may have been the scarcity of qualified bel canto singers.  This same circumstance kept a number of Bellini's operas from being as frequently performed as they deserved.  Beyond this, though, the opera has long had a reputation for being slow moving.  Rudolf Bing once referred to it as “an old bore.”  This is not really fair.  While it may be true that nothing very much happens in the first scene of Act I, for example, it is on the other hand filled with some of Donizetti's most beautiful music and arias.

Certainly Anna had an auspicious enough beginning.  With a libretto by Felice Romani, who later collaborated with Donizetti on L'elisir, and the legendary Giuditta Pasta in the title role the opera was a stunning success at its 1830 premiere in Milan.  In the next two decades there were a number of performances throughout Europe and the U.S.  Then it was pretty much consigned to oblivion until Maria Callas took over the role at La Scala in a production designed by Luchino Visconti.  All this history made me extremely curious to see the opera for myself and to form my own opinion.

If nothing else, the performance was a triumph for Radvanovsky whose voice soared in the bel canto arias as beautifully as it had several seasons ago when I saw her perform in Norma.  Beyond that, I found the opera itself fascinating and a solid work of art that well deserves a place in the repertory of any major opera company.  Anna's mad scene at the end of Act II was in some ways even more skillfully done than that which Donizetti fashioned for Lucia di Lammermoor.  Even though this was a relatively long work (over 3 1/2 hours with only one intermission), the drama was so absorbing that time passed quickly.

Radvanovsky had a great deal of assistance from a strong cast in making this performance so huge a success.  The critical role of Giovanna Seymour was taken at the last minute by Milijana Nikolic filling in for Jamie Barton who was ill.  Ironically, Barton herself was a replacement for Elina Garanca who withdrew upon the death of her mother before the run had even begun.  Nikolic may not be an exceptional talent but she was more than adequate here, especially in the dramatic confrontation with Anna that opens Act II and culminates in the duet Sul suo capo aggravi un Dio.

Credit should also be given to Stephen Costello as Percy, Ildar Abdrazakov as Henry VIII and Tamara Mumford in the "pants role" of Smeaton.  Marco Armiliato's conducting was workmanlike and showed a good understanding of the Donizetti's music.

David McVicar's production was handsome in an understated way.  The use of bright red color for the Queen's canopied bed at the beginning of Act II in an otherwise monochromatic set was a nice visual touch that suggested Anna's bloody end without being too obvious about it.  In case the audience failed to appreciate the allusion, the curtain that fell at the end of the act was the same vivid shade of crimson.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

ACJW Ensemble Performs Kurtág, Pintscher, and Schoenberg

I went on Thursday evening to Paul Hall to hear my first recital at Juilliard this season as the ACJW Ensemble, a fellowship program jointly sponsored by Juilliard and Carnegie Hall, performed a program of modern works by György Kurtág, Matthias Pintscher, and Schoenberg.  The auditorium was filled for the occasion and almost every seat taken.

The evening began with Kurtág's Wind Quintet, Op. 2 (1959) performed by Beomjae Kim, flute, James Riggs, oboe, Stanislav Chernyshev, clarinet, Michael Zuber, bassoon, and Jenny Ney, horn.  By the time this piece was written, Kurtág was a more experienced composer than the low opus number would indicate.  He had already been writing for years music heavily influenced by Bartók to whose work he had been introduced early on by fellow composer Ligeti while the two were still students in Hungary.  It was only in 1957 when he arrived in Paris, where he studied with Messiaen and Milhaud and was first exposed to the music of Webern, that Kurtág realized how limited his musical education had been.  He experienced something of a crisis at that point as he came to realize that all his work up to then had been inauthentic.  With the help of psychologist Marianne Stein, to whom he dedicated his Op. 1 string quartet, Kurtág made a new beginning.  Upon his return to Budapest, he continued to follow his new found path.  Though Soviet censorship in his home country was strict, Kurtág had less trouble conforming to its demands than had his friend Ligeti who was eventually forced to flee Hungary once and for all.  One reason for this was that Kurtág's pieces were, by inclination as well as necessity, comparatively modest and low profile.  Reminiscent of Webern's works, they were miniatures in which were compacted whole worlds of feeling.  His Op. 2, played here, was a dense eight-movement work that shifted abruptly from one tempo to the next. So short were the movements that the ensemble actually repeated the first movement so the audience would better be able to absorb it.

The next work was Pintscher's Study II for Treatise on the Veil (2005) performed by Siwoo Kim, violin, Danny Kim, viola, and Michael Katz, cello.  The work drew its inspiration from the two eponymous large scale abstract paintings by Cy Twombly that were completed in 1968 and 1970 and exemplified the artist's "grey-ground" period.  (The second of these is coincidentally now on view at the Morgan Library through January 25th.)  In speaking of the paintings, Pintscher described their impact on his musical work:
"My own Treatise cycle refers to this series of work, while also acting as an hommage to an artist I very much admire; an artist whose work heavily influenced the structural make-up of my very own compositions, especially in recent years... I often find myself wishing that I was able to draw directly onto the sound of the instruments like a painter…"
Interestingly, Twombly's paintings were themselves inspired by a musical work, The Veil of Orpheus (1953) by the French musique concrète composer Pierre Henry, a long recording of the sound of cloth being ripped apart.  The tearing noise went on interminably and was intended by the composer as a representation of Orpheus's loss of Eurydice at the moment he disobeyed the gods' command and turned to look back upon her.

This performance of his string trio was actually coached by Pintscher who, among his other responsibilities, is a Juilliard faculty member.  (He will also become this year the principal conductor of the Lucerne Festival Academy.)  Before beginning the piece, violinist Siwoo Kim spoke briefly to the audience and explained that the composer had suggested to the players that their bowing should in a sense mimic the brushstrokes Twombly had used in creating his paintings.  Kim also spoke of the influence the recently deceased Pierre Boulez had exerted upon Pintscher and then dedicated the performance to the memory of the late composer/conductor.

After intermission, the program ended with Schoenberg's best known work, Verklärte Nacht (1899), that avatar of Viennese fin de siècle decadence.  It was performed very well by Kobi Malkin and Siwoo Kim, violins, Dana Kelley and Danny Kim, violas, and Michael Katz and Andrea Casarrubios, cellos.  The sextet is a haunting setting for Richard Dehmel's verses, and a fine piece of music in its own right, but it has been so overplayed in recent years (it is also scheduled to be performed next week at Chamberfest) that it's now almost impossible to listen to it with equanimity.  The work has become the Schoenberg for people who don't like Schoenberg (i.e., the twelve-tone technique).  It's hard to believe now that this excursion in post-Wagnerian Romanticism could ever have been so controversial as to have been rejected by the Vienna Music Society for having been too innovative in its use of an inverted ninth chord.  Not to mention what in those days was regarded as objectionable sexual content.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Juilliard 2016 Chamberfest Tickets Now Available

Tickets for Juilliard's annual Chamberfest series became available today online only at Juilliard's website.  The weeklong festival of free recitals offers music lovers an opportunity to hear some of the greatest works of the chamber repertoire, many of them seldom performed, played by top level Juilliard musicians.  The recitals, other than the Wednesdays at One performance at Alice Tully Hall and the closing performance at the Sharp Theater, will all be held at Paul Hall.

The programs I plan on attending myself are as follows:
  • Monday, January 11th at 7:30 p.m. - Stravinsky, L'Histoire du Soldat (1918); Ligeti, Trio for Violin, Horn, and Piano, Hommage á Brahms (1982); Mendelssohn, Piano Sextet in D Major, Op. 110 (1824)
  • Wednesday, January 13th at 1:00 p.m. - Wagner, Siegfried Idyll for Chamber Orchestra, WWV 103 (1869); Fauré, Piano Quartet No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 15 (1879, rev. 1883)
  • Wednesday, January 13th at 7:30 p.m. - Schoenberg, String Quartet No. 2, Op. 10 (1910); Mendelssohn, Piano Trio in C Minor, Op. 66 (1845)
  • Friday, January 15th at 7:30 p.m. - Mendelssohn, Piano Trio in D Minor, Op. 49 (1839); Schubert, Piano Trio in E-flat Major, D. 929 (1827)
  • Saturday, January 16th at 3:00 p.m. - Schumann, Piano Trio in D Minor, Op. 63 (1847); Messiaen, Vision de l'Amen for Two Pianos (1943)
I'm really exciting to be attending these great recitals.  I've gone in previous seasons and have always been thrilled by the quality of the performances.  They're really not to be missed by anyone with a love of great music.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Jupiter Players Perform Pauer, Schumann and Schubert

On Monday afternoon at St. Stephen's Church the Jupiter Players performed their first recital of 2016.  The program was entitled Austro-German Gems and did indeed feature works by the German composers Ernst Pauer, Schumann and Schubert.  The real focus, though, was on the nineteenth century arrangers Friedrich Hermann and Robert Wittmann, both of whom did an excellent job in transcribing the two better known works.

The program opened with Schumann's Bilder aus Osten ("Pictures from the East"), Op. 66 (1849), a series of piano impromptus for four hands arranged here for string quartet by Friedrich Hermann of the Leipzig Conservatory.  I have never heard Schumann's original piano version of this work and was able to find very little background concerning it - Did Schumann intend to perform it himself with Clara by his side? - other than a brief note on a sheet music vendor's website:
"As can be seen from the preface of the first edition, Schumann was inspired by the 'Maqama' - a genre of Arab rhymed prose - by the medieval poet Hariri in the translation by Friedrich Rückert. Schumann could not banish the protagonist in the Maqama, Abu Said, whom he likened to the German character Till Eulenspiegel from his thoughts whilst he was writing the works. This explains the 'foreign character' of the pieces."
This five-movement piece highlighted the composer's skill at writing for the piano.  At the time he produced it, Schumann was at the height of his powers and his incipient madness had yet to manifest itself.  The present arrangement was of exceptional quality, so much so that one would have thought the quartet was the original form in which the music had been written.  Hermann was a respected composer himself and had studied as a violinist under Ferdinand David and Felix Mendelssohn.  Through them he had a genuine connection to the older French violin style of Viotti and Kreutzer.

The next work was Pauer's Piano Quintet in F major, Op. 44 (c. 1855) for piano, flute, clarinet, horn and bassoon.  The four-movement piece was written while Pauer was living in England and was dedicated to Franz Lachner with whom Pauer had studied in Munich a decade earlier.  Though Pauer was highly respected as a pianist, the review in The Musical World following the quintet's London premiere was decidedly mixed:
"Herr Pauer's new quintet, coming between Mozart and Mendelssohn, had scarcely a fair chance.  It was like an abstraction between two things of flesh and blood.  The quintet, however, is clever, brilliant for the piano, nicely written for the wind instruments and, though altogether unambitious in style - if style, indeed, it may be said to possess, having no individual character of its own - is very creditable to Herr Pauer's talent as a composer."
I'd have to agree with the reservations expressed by the anonymous reviewer .  The quintet was a pleasant enough work but clearly derivative.  The influence of Mozart's K. 452 and Beethoven's Op. 16, both written for similar instrumentation, could be heard throughout.  Though the piece was well crafted, there were no moments when the music rose above the level of a light divertimento.

After intermission the program concluded with Schubert's Sonata for Four Hands in C major, Op. 140, D. 812 (1824), nicknamed the "Grand Duo," here arranged for piano trio by Robert Wittmann.  Schubert's original version is considered one of his more important works for piano and the best of his four hand pieces.  It is so symphonic in its sound that Schumann at one time thought it a draft for a larger work, and the piece has in fact been orchestrated a number of times, most notably by Joseph Joachim.  After having listened to the arrangement played at this recital, I could easily understand why this should have been so.  The piano trio form seemed hardly large enough to contain the music even though Wittman's transcription was exemplary.  The fact that the trio was performed by such capable musicians - Drew Petersen, piano; Danbi Um, violin; and Mihai Marica, cello - made it that much easier to appreciate Schubert's accomplishment.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Upcoming WQXR Broadcasts from Carnegie Hall - Spring 2016

Now that we're in the second half of the season, it might be a good idea to take a look at some of the upcoming concerts at Carnegie Hall that will be broadcast on WQXR, New York City's classical music station.
  • On Thursday, January 14th, the Philadelphia Orchestra will perform Mahler's arrangement for string orchestra of Beethoven's Quartet in F minor, Op. 95, the "Serioso," as well as his Piano Concerto No. 4 with Jan Lisiecki as soloist.  The program will also feature works by Johann Strauss, Jr. and H.K. Gruber. 
  • On Sunday, January 31st, Jonas Kaufman will be in recital.  This is one of the most highly anticipated events of the season.  I had previously heard this incredible tenor perform in the title role of Massenet's Werther at the Met but wasn't able to get good seats when tickets to the recital went on sale to Carnegie Hall subscribers in August.
  • On Thursday, February 18th, the Budapest Festival Orchestra, with Iván Fischer conducting, will perform Prokofiev's Fifth Symphony.  This is a top-notch ensemble, known for its authoritative interpretations of Bartók, and Fischer is one of the best conductors now active.  On the same bill, Marc-André Hamelin will perform Liszt's Piano Concerto No. 1.
  • On Wednesday, February 24th, violinist Christian Tetzlaff (along with Tanja Tezlaff, cello, and Lars Vogt, piano) will perform a program of piano trios by Schumann, Dvořák and Brahms.
  • Only two nights later, on Friday, February 26th, the Vienna Philharmonic, with Valery Gergiev conducting, will perform a program of works by Wagner, Debussy, and Mussorgsky.  I'll actually be at the hall the following evening when the same ensemble again performs works by Wagner and Mussorgsky.  This will give me an excellent opportunity to immerse myself in the music of this magnificent orchestra.
  • On Wednesday, April 20th, the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of its chief conductor, Mariss Jansons, will perform only one work, Shostakovich's monumental Symphony No. 7, the "Leningrad."
  • Finally, on Saturday, May 14th, Yuja Wang will be in recital playing works by Bach, Schoenberg and Chopin.  I had attended last season's recital when this fine pianist performed a program of all Russian works.  I'm very interested in hearing how she handles other areas of the repertoire.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Happy New Year!

I just wanted to take this opportunity to offer my best wishes for 2016 to all my readers.  I hope you have great happiness and good health all through the year.  As for me, I'm looking forward in the coming year to attending operas, classical music concerts and recitals, and art and photo exhibits and then sharing my thoughts on those events here in my blog posts.

In an effort to promote my novels, I've finally given in to social media and have set up a profile on Facebook.  If anyone has time to spare and wishes to look, the link is below.  Feel free to send me a friend request when visiting.