Friday, August 30, 2019

Friday Miscellanea

The audience at Salzburg last Sunday left no doubt as to their feelings about the #METOO accusations launched at Plácido Domingo: they gave him a standing ovation as soon as he walked onstage: Plácido Domingo gets standing ovation at Salzburg.
Plácido Domingo received a standing ovation as he took to the stage at the Salzburg Festival on Sunday, a concerted show of support at his first performance since nine women accused him of sexual harassment in a report by The Associated Press.
Domingo and his co-stars in a concert of Verdi’s tragic opera “Luisa Miller” all shared in 10 minutes of applause at the end of the show -- but a standing ovation at the start of the show was for the 78-year-old opera legend alone. The singers walked out single file and the applause intensified as Domingo, second to last, appeared from behind the curtain, growing to a crescendo until most of the house was on its feet.
The European and American reactions seem very different as a number of upcoming performances in the US were cancelled as soon as the accusations appeared. Not in Europe.

The Vienna State Opera has issued a statement (via Slipped Disc) which seems quite fair:
"Austria is a state governed by the rule of law; the facts presented to date tell me that a) no charges or police investigation currently exist against him; b) the Los Angeles Opera, where unlike the Wiener Staatsoper he plays a role in the decision-making, has launched an investigation; c) the presumption of innocence applies; and d) we know of no allegations in our area of responsibility. Indeed, Plácido Domingo is valued both artistically and as a human being by all in this house. We shall therefore honour our existing contracts with Plácido Domingo,” explained Staatsoper director Dominique Meyer.
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We live in a therapeutic era: even the mental health of musicians can be farmed out to professional care. The Globe and Mail has an article: How this music boss is boosting his artists’ mental health.
A few years ago, Menno Versteeg saw a therapist for the first time. A 20-year veteran of the music industry, both as frontman for the soon-to-be disbanded indie-rock group Hollerado and as head honcho at Toronto’s Royal Mountain Records, Versteeg had long bought into the conceit of the tortured artist – that great art needs to be suffered for. Mental health be damned, fist fights, addiction and extreme anxiety were the price to pay for the right to earn a meagre living as a touring musician. “I could never afford any type of professional help,” he says with a shrug.
On the one hand this seems like a good idea. On the other hand, I'm not sure I have enough faith in the wisdom of mental health professionals to want them in charge of my neuroses.

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Here's a little addendum to the Salzburg trip from Slipped Disc: Salzburg Scores 97%, meaning that 97% of the tickets available were sold, a total of 270,584. That's a lot of concerts!

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I've adapted to a lot of new technology and welcomed some of it with enthusiasm and gratitude, but I just haven't gotten into music streaming apart from YouTube. Maybe I will reconsider after reading this update in the LA Times about classical streaming services:
In 2012, the Los Angeles Philharmonic won a bewildering Grammy for a performance of Brahms’ Fourth Symphony, conducted by Gustavo Dudamel. It was bewildering because there was no way for the jury to know how terrific a performance it actually was. The recording was released exclusively on iTunes as an mp3 download with all its acoustic life drained out of it. There was so little information about the recording that if you listened on your iPod, you hardly knew what in the hell you were hearing.
Seven long years later, this Brahms’ Fourth, newly offered as an Apple digital master (and available now on other services as well), finally has acquired the proper sonic attire to deserve its Grammy. We’ve entered a new era, a world we need to learn how to negotiate and wisely manage, given its promises and pitfalls. The rewards are wondrous. The dangers may be worse than you might imagine.
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This is a weird story: British conductor Daniel Harding is taking a year-long sabbatical to fly airplanes as a commercial pilot: Conductor Daniel Harding to take sabbatical to fly planes.
‘I am fascinated by the feeling of flying a plane,’ he continued. ‘In the spring I will join Air France as a co-pilot and in the 2020/21 season I will take a sabbatical as an orchestra conductor…to dedicate myself to flying.’
In February of this year, Harding announced his intention to step down as Music Director of the Orchestre de Paris at the end of this current season. He also serves as Conductor Laureate with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra and as Music Director of the Swedish Radio Symphony.
Is this a sign of the changing values of our time? Didn't people in the professions, doctors and lawyers, take a year off to play music in the old days?

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The New York Times has an article about the new Berlin Phil conductor, Kirill Petrenko: The Berlin Philharmonic’s Anti-Anti-Maestro.
The Philharmonic is a self-governing orchestra. When its players first met in 2015 to elect a successor to Mr. Rattle — who had pushed the orchestra to modernize with ambitious outreach initiatives and daring programming — they initially failed to reach a consensus. (The most discussed candidates, at least in public, included Christian Thielemann and Andris Nelsons, but Mr. Petrenko, revered for his way with the core Central European Romantic repertoire, was always in the running.)
The players met again a month later and elected Mr. Petrenko — who had only performed with them three times, but wowed them. A sour note was struck when some German press accounts, noting that Mr. Petrenko would be the first Jewish conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, were condemned for including anti-Semitic stereotypes.
I also noticed a number of nasty comments about him over at Slipped Disc. The whole NYTimes piece is worth reading.

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Controversy has seemed to follow pianist Ivo Pogorelich at every move, even from the beginning. In 1980, when the 22-year-old whiz kid from Yugoslavia failed to reach the final round of the International Chopin Competition, the revered pianist Martha Argerich, who declared him a "genius," stormed off the jury in protest. Naturally, the dustup helped launch his career. With a brooding pout, movie star looks and a high-powered record deal, Pogorelich was an instant celebrity. He told one journalist he could get a review just by cleaning the dust off his piano.
But Pogorelich became polarizing. Blessed with a dazzling, seemingly effortless technique and a searching mind, the pianist routinely gave eccentric performances, pulling familiar music out of shape. In 2006, New York Times critic Anthony Tommasini closed a Pogorelich review by saying: "Here is an immense talent gone tragically astray. What went wrong?"
I have a Pogorelich story. A music critic friend of mine attended two back-to-back performances of Pogorelich playing the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 with the Vancouver Symphony at the exposition in 1986. After the first performance one newspaper critic sniffed that the performance was just not romantic enough. So the next night, he played it in a completely opposite interpretation, very romantic. So there! People are complicated. Creative artists are really complicated. Read the whole article, because it is an interesting example of different ways you can approach music criticism.

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For our envoi today, here is Plácido Domingo with "Nessun dorma" from Puccini's Turandot.

Incidentally, Joseph Kerman selects Turandot as a particular example of a bad opera in his book Opera as Drama. He doesn't like much else by Puccini either. Or Richard Strauss.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Retro Book Review: Kerman on Opera

I rarely do reviews of current CD releases, or books for that matter. It's just too common! I do the occasional "retro" review, meaning a review of something that came out a long time ago and is still important so we know it's good. Case in point, a book published in 1956 by Joseph Kerman, one of the great musicologists of our time. He published an excellent book on the Beethoven quartets that I have spent a lot of time with and one of the last books he wrote before passing away was a brilliant book on Bach keyboard fugues published in 2005. Opera as Drama, the 1956 book, was actually his first book, but it remains significant today.

I think I have had two epiphanies in my life: one was the discovery of classical music, and Bach in particular. The other I only realized recently as it was a very slow epiphany in contrast to the musical one. I think I would call it a "scholarship" epiphany as, over a number of years, I slowly came to a sense of the vast well of the history of civilization and of the scholars who not only chronicled it, but made sense of it and essentially uncovered what was happening. Perhaps the first foreshadowing of this was when, in my late teens, I started reading books on classical music from the local library. But it really only took hold when I attended university at age twenty. I discovered the great threads of the tapestry in philosophy, history and so on. I began to realize that there were certain scholars that actually had a commanding knowledge and understanding of these things. Perhaps the first was Frederick Copleston whose multi-volume history of philosophy I started to read in my first year at university. Actually, I think I am still reading it! I just re-read the first couple of volumes a year or so ago. Later on I discovered the work of historians Oswald Spengler and Arnold Toynbee and still later I became familiar with Joseph Kerman on Beethoven and Richard Taruskin on all manner of musicological topics. Other giant figures in musicology were Charles Rosen on Classical style and Willi Apel on ancient music. I have a somewhat battered copy of his indispensable The Notation of Polyphonic Music 900 - 1600 on my shelf. What do all these disparate figures have in common? They really know their field.

Reading Kerman's book on opera I realize what an utter neophyte I am in this area, despite having played in the pit in three or four opera productions. I know almost nothing! Kerman notices that much of the commentary on the relatively recent musical genre of opera--only 400 years old!--talks largely about the musical techniques and does not delve into the dramaturgy of the form. This is what he tries to rectify.

The book ends with a critical evaluation of two 20th century operas: Wozzeck by Alban Berg and The Rake's Progress by Stravinsky. Regarding the contrasting schools of compositional thought, serialism in the former and neo-classicisism in the latter he says:
Both stylistic principles have been miserably abused, and both schools protect their fair share of the talentless. The great trouble with conventional discussions of contemporary music is that they center too much on style, and not enough on meaning. Style for what? The critical disparity is natural enough; meanings are hard to estimate while artists are in the process of formulating them, and hard to express under any circumstances. In the field of opera, perhaps, these difficulties are a little less intense than with purely instrumental music. We can see and say what an opera is trying to project. These masterpieces of Berg and Stravinsky are bigger than their schools, and it is parochial to regard them simply either-or as signposts to “the music of the Future.”
Kerman, Joseph. Opera As Drama . Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
 This is the kind of intensely learnéd and critically aware scholarship that is so rare these days.

This is the Vienna Opera production of Wozzeck, released in 1988. This is just Act I, but you can find the rest on YouTube. I first heard this opera forty years ago, but I only now realize how little I understood it!

Monday, August 26, 2019

Blogging, Interrupted

A thunderstorm on Thursday fried my modem so I wasn't able to do much blogging on the weekend. As a result, however, I finished reading most of Joseph Kerman's fascinating book Opera as Drama in which he casually mentions that Tosca really is a crappy opera and The Marriage of Figaro is actually better than Don Giovanni. These remarks were regarded as scandalous when the book was originally published in the 1950s. I think I might do a retro book review on this one.

I'm also hard at work listening to the rest of the Salonen box and there will be two more reviews coming up on that. He really dragged me, kicking and screaming, into listening to a lot of fairly unfamiliar repertoire. How we tend to fall into ruts!

The first piece on the next disc in the box is the Violin Concerto No. 1 by Prokofiev with Cho-Liang Lin, violin soloist. This doesn't seem to be on YouTube, so let's listen to Hilary Hahn with Lorin Maazel conducting the Bavarian Radio Orchestra.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Salonen's Complete Sony Recordings, part 3

This review will cover discs 30 through 39.

  • Olivier Messiaen: Des canyons aux étoiles... Movements one through nine, Paul Crossley piano and the London Sinfonietta, recorded in 1988. I don't know this piece as well as some other Messiaen. At well over an hour and a half, Des canyons is a very substantial piece. The solo piano has a great deal to do and the sixth movement, Appel interstellaire, is for solo horn (played by Michael Thompson) and is extraordinarily difficult. There are also a number of unusual percussion instruments such as the geophone, invented by Messiaen specifically for this piece.
  • Des Canyons continued with movements ten to twelve plus Oiseaux exotiques, Couleurs de la cité céleste Oiseaux exotiques is quite an exotic piece itself, written for solo piano and orchestra of winds and percussion. It uses a great deal of birdsong as basic material and the rhythms are derived from the Carnatic music of southern India and ancient Greek music. Couleurs is written for roughly the same ensemble of solo piano, winds and metallophones. It is rather hard to review performances of works like these. One longs for the scores, but comparison with the performance would merely give one a sense of how accurate it was, not how expressive or authentic it was. So we are thrown back on the originality and expressiveness of Messiaen's approach to music.
  • Carl Nielsen: Symphony No. 1 in G minor, [Little] Suite for String Orchestra in A minor The first disc of Salonen's survey of all the symphonies and much of the other orchestral music of the iconic Danish composer is very well done. All the discs are with the Swedish Radio Symphony who bring a solid, meaty strength to the performances. The recording is from 1986.
  • Carl Nielsen: Symphony No. 2 "The Four Temperaments,"Aladdin Suite The Second Symphony is a real advance over the first, much more intense and dynamic and this is an excellent performance with lots of expressive juice. The disc also contains his brief symphonic poem Pan and Syrinx and the seven movement suite of incidental music to Aladdin. Recorded in 1988/89.
  • Carl Nielsen: Symphony No. 3 "Sinfonia espansiva," Symphony No. 6 "Sinfonia semplice" The Symphony No. 3 was a much bigger success than his previous symphonies with many international performances in the first few years after its premiere. It is unique in that the second movement has wordless parts for soprano and baritone. The first movement is powerfully syncopated with a lot of drive that the Swedes really deliver. The Symphony No. 6 is the most challenging with unusual textures and harsh harmonic passages. Possibly the only symphony to end with a single low note from a solo bassoon.
  • Carl Nielsen: Symphony No. 4 "The Inextinguishable," Helios Overture Written during the first part of WWI, this is one of Nielsen's most successful symphonies. The title refers to what the symphony is "about": the inextinguishable will to live. The irony is that this was composed at the precise moment that European civilization was engaged in a suicidal war. The last movement features a duel between two sets of tympani. One interesting element of Nielsen's symphonic style is the prominence and independence of his percussion parts which often have a nearly "melodic" role.
  • Carl Nielsen: Symphony No. 5, Maskarade By the time you get to the Symphony No. 5 you recognize that Nielsen's symphonic voice, though certainly sharing a general approach with Beethoven and Brahms, is distinctly different. His colors and textures have more edge and his developments follow they own sorts of rules. the Fifth, like the Fourth before it, has an obsessive use of percussion, especially the snare drum. While the mood of the Fifth, dating from 1922, certainly has a deal to do with the horrors of the First World War, it has no program as such. Denmark's national opera is Nielsen's comic Masquerade and the disc ends with three orchestral excerpts. As before, these performances are outstanding. I have previously listened to the Blomstedt/San Francisco complete set and, for some reason, did not find the music interesting enough to investigate further. Not the case with this set, which is quite compelling. The recording dates from 1987.
  • Jean Sibelius: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D minor, Carl Nielsen: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra I know the Sibelius concerto from Salonen's recent Deutsche Gramophon recording with Hilary Hahn. There it is heard alongside the Schoenberg Violin Concerto. The Sibelius is a lovely piece and this disc enables us to do a side-by-side comparison of the two Nordic masters. The Sibelius is with the Philharmonia Orchestra and the Nielsen with the Swedish Radio Symphony and the recordings date from 1987 and 88. Sibelius and Nielsen are almost exact contemporaries, both born in 1865. Sibelius lived longer, but wrote little in his later decades so their productive years overlap exactly. Sibelius seemed to come up with more winning melodies and saw earlier success. Nielsen is less overtly charming and his success came later. In fact, his orchestral music didn't really become part of the mainstream repertoire until the 1960s. His Violin Concerto is a bit grittier and more intently focused than Sibelius' though certainly not lacking in beauty.
  • Carl Nielsen: Saul og David, Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra, En fantasirejse til Færøerne, Concerto for Flute and Orchestra, Fynsk foraar (eight short movements) This disc completes Salonen's survey of the orchestral music of Nielsen and includes his other two concertos, both for solo winds, the Prelude to Act II of his opera Saul and David as well as his tone poem on a journey to the Faroe Islands and the "lyrical humoresque" on springtime on Funen, an island where he spent a great deal of time. The concerto for clarinet makes good use of both the comic and virtuoso aspects of the instrument but also brings out a good deal of intense expression. Nielsen's background experience with bands proved useful in both this piece and the concerto for flute.
  • Sergei Prokofiev: Romeo and Juliet The ballet was written largely over the summer of 1935 but not premiered in the Soviet Union until 1940. The full ballet, in four acts, takes an entire evening to perform. Excerpts from each act have been selected for the recording which was made in 1986 with the Berlin Philharmonic. The famous "Dance of the Knights" is found in Act I. You can certainly hear why the Berlin Philharmonic are so admired for their low bass sound.
That brings this part of the review to an end. I think I will have two more parts with about ten discs each. Later I will have some comments on Salonen's conducting in general.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Friday Miscellanea

Here is an item from The Guardian that might spark some comments: The 30 best films about music, chosen by musicians.
There is, of course, far more to these movies than money-spinning: a good biopic or documentary can bring the songs to life, and illuminate the struggles of their creators. But what do musicians make of this lively cinematic category? We asked six eminent songwriters – including a few who have scored movies, and others who have been the subject of movies – to each pick their five favourite music films.
So I guess we won't see much about films about classical musicians. There are some interesting films on the list like Latcho Drom, but they are mostly pop-oriented. Even though I shouldn't have a vote as I religiously avoid films about musicians, I would rate Amadeus as the best film about music.

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Here is a video clip that might interest you: how Steinway pianos are made. Not sure what has changed since Steinway was bought by a hedge fund in 2013.

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There are people who curate libraries? Gwyneth Paltrow Hired a Personal Book Curator—Here's What He Chose For Her Shelves. I volunteer to curate a music libary for you--but it won't be based on color!
Thatcher Wine, a long-time bibliophile and collector, tapped into this concept in 2001, sourcing rare, out-of-print books to build beautiful libraries based on interest, author, and even color for his clients. Since then, Wine has curated the bookshelves of Gwyneth Paltrow and New York’s NoMad hotel; fans include Laura Dern and Shonda Rhimes.
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Visiting Slipped Disc via the back door, here is a review by Norman Lebrecht over at Ludwig van Toronto:
Pfitzner’s fallen reputation is sometimes ascribed to his gruesome flirtation with the Nazis but this concerto suggests something more organically at fault. Each of four movements is introduced by a promising idea, which promptly gets lost in a mound of bombastic waffle. I have seldom heard a piece that is so utterly all-over-the-place, so directionless and devoid of purpose that the eye strays to the wristwatch (only 40 more minutes to go) and the ear prays for an armistice.
I do so enjoy negative reviews like these. Much more entertaining than the usual puff piece.

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Hat tip to Slipped Disc for this entertaining clip of the top five page-turn disasters:

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Alex Ross has a piece up at The New Yorker on an opera that fascinates him: The Endless, Grisly Fascination of Richard Strauss’s “Salome”
For a long time, few people took “Salome” seriously. Strauss, who affected the manners of a card-playing businessman, appeared not to give it much deep thought himself. At an early rehearsal, he said, “Gentlemen, there are no difficulties or problems. This is a scherzo with a fatal conclusion.” One who did register the opera’s importance was Schoenberg, who, circa 1906, often had its score open on his piano. “Perhaps in twenty years’ time someone will be able to explain these harmonic progressions theoretically,” he said to his students, six of whom accompanied him to “Salome” in Graz. (So I discovered by reading hotel guest lists in the Graz newspapers.) Many of the building blocks of Schoenberg’s post-tonal style—which came into being between 1907 and 1909—can be found in “Salome,” which introduced a new kind of frenzied, helter-skelter aesthetic into the music of the day. One recurring tic is a rapid run of notes that gives way to a trill—a kind of scurry-and-shake gesture. This became part of the lingua franca of modern music.
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The work is the latest blow to the 10,000-hour rule, the idea promoted in Malcolm Gladwell’s 2008 book, Outliers, which has been taken to mean that enough practice will make an expert of anyone. In the book, Gladwell states that “ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness”.
“The idea has become really entrenched in our culture, but it’s an oversimplification,” said Brooke Macnamara, a psychologist at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. “When it comes to human skill, a complex combination of environmental factors, genetic factors and their interactions explains the performance differences across people.”
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Wynton Marsalis has written a violin concerto and the premiere recording features soloist Nicola Benedetti. The Violin Channel has the story and here is the first movement, Rhapsody:

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Terry Teachout discovers an interesting quote from Lennox Berkeley:

“True originality in an artist does not consist in his being peculiar, but in his being peculiar to himself.”

Lennox Berkeley, “Britten and His String Quartet” (The Listener, May 27, 1943)

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Let's have some Lennox Berkeley (pronounced "Barkeley") for our envoi today. Encouraged by Julian Bream he composed quite a lot for guitar including a song cycle and a concerto. Here is his Sonatina, op. 52 recorded by Tal Hurwitz in a studio at the Mozarteum in 2012:

Thursday, August 22, 2019

There Is No Such Thing As "Perfectly In Tune"

Wow, I see I never had a "tuning" tag before. First I do want to just admit a small caveat: yes, given certain stipulations and an entirely digital environment with synthesized instruments, you can have everything perfectly in tune. But it will sound artificial--because it is. With acoustic musical instruments or with a mixture of acoustic and electronic instruments, perfect tuning is impossible.

But we hear things all the time that sound really in tune, don't we? Yes, but that is because our sensitivity to tuning is both conditioned by habitual listening and limited by our sensitivity. Some composers, like Harry Partch or Ben Johnston, seem to have an enormously greater sensitivity to small pitch differences than most people. For this reason they developed tuning systems that use smaller intervals than the usual ones.

The standard, at least since the late 18th century, system of tuning is called "equal temperament" and it divides the octave into twelve equal parts which enables the modulation to every possible key. Prior to this, with the more or less unequal tuning systems, all keys were not equally useable. But the cost of this usability was the loss of the purity of the intervals derived from the overtones of vibrating strings. Systems like Pythagorean tuning used perfect fifths, but this resulted in some very out-of-tune intervals. The meantone system tried to resolve this problem by making all the fifths a bit narrower, but there were still unusable intervals. The adoptation of equal temperament made all intervals equally usable, but the cost was that all intervals are, just slightly, out of tune!

Sometimes you might see a guitarist struggling with tuning the instrument. This comes from an ignorance of how equal temperament works. As your ear improves you start to notice that when you play an E major chord, the third string sounds out of tune. The reason for this is that on the guitar the sixth string overtone series is quite audible and way up there is a G# that is a Pythagorean interval which is flatter than an equal tempered G#. So the third string sounds sharp if you are playing an E major chord. So you adjust the tuning of the third string a bit. But when you play a C major chord the third string open G natural sounds flat! So you go back and forth and typically end up somewhere in the middle, in effect, tempering the tuning a bit. The solution? Never tune with an E major chord, use E minor instead.

But the same problem exists in more complex environments as well. Piano tuners have to ignore the overtones from the lower strings when tuning the higher ones. Bowed instrument players often adjust the tuning of notes to make them more pure (or perhaps sometimes less pure) according to the context. Singers do the same. Wind instruments also make these kinds of adjustments. If you listen just to a certain point of sensitivity it all sounds perfectly in tune, but the closer you listen the more you get the feeling that everything is just slightly out of tune. Which it is.

Here is the Pachelbel Canon three different tuning systems: Just intonation, meantone and equal temperament. Can you hear the difference?

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Salzburg, Ich muss dich lassen

I promise this will be my last Salzburg post--well, until next year, perhaps. I was just tidying up my iPhone and noticed a couple of photos I had taken and forgotten about. Here is a photo of Hohensalzburg fortress from the terrace bar near my hotel:

Click to enlarge

It's a bit hazy because I zoomed in. On my next to last day I went for a nice lunch at the Hotel Imbauer Pitter where I had an excellent wienerschnitzel and an Aperol sprizzer, the hip drink in central Europe these days. On my way out I noticed the dessert cabinet and thought, you know, I really need to come back here some day. If that doesn't make me seem too much like Salieri in Amadeus eating those Viennese pastries... But these just looked so tasty:

At the top is strawberry cream cake and below is cream cheese cake. In the photo below, on top is raspberry chocolate mousse cake and below nut cake, or perhaps cake with nuts? Hazelnut cake? Anyway, they seem to have a lot of great desserts and none of the ones I tried (just a few, I swear) were as sweet as they would be in North America.

Alexandra Dovgan, piano

The very day I arrived in Salzburg there was a very special concert by Alexandra Dovgan (sadly, too early for me to attend). Special for a couple of reasons: one was that Grigory Sokolov, who was playing the next night, endorsed her talents, which I have never heard him do before; and second, she was born in 2007 which makes her twelve years old. Here is the Salzburger Festspiel writeup.

And here is what Sokolov had to say:
‘This is one of those rare occasions. The twelve-year-old pianist Alexandra Dovgan can hardly be called a wonder child, for while this is a wonder, it is not child’s play. What one hears is a performance by a grown up individual and a person. It is a special pleasure for me to commend the art of her remarkable music teacher, Mira Marchenko. Yet there are things that cannot be taught and learned. Alexandra Dovgan’s talent is exceptionally harmonious. Her playing is honest and concentrated. I predict a great future for her…’
Grigory Sokolov
In December of last year she played a Mozart concerto in a regular season concert with the Moscow Philharmonic. Here, have a listen:

Music as a "Private Language"

If you are a "contemporary classical composer" which is a complicated and misleading description, you inevitably have to wrestle with issues that a practical musician like a pop or hip-hop songwriter does not. Mind you, they have their own problems, but they are different ones. Our problems, as composers, have to do with aesthetics, communication, innovation, tradition and the whole idea of a musical "language". Of course, as has been noted many times, music is not a language. If it were, then there would be a dictionary in which one could look up the meaning of musical notes and phrases and, despite the best efforts of music semiologists like Kofi Agawu and Jean-Jacques Nattiez, there really isn't. Music, instrumental music without words, remains stubbornly general and abstract, communicating mood and atmosphere and not specifics like language does. Music is more poetic than poetry, one might say.

For contemporary composers a very keen problem has arisen which is that the traditional musical forms and genres from chant to sonata form to impressionism and minimalism have all used a "vocabulary" of pulse, melos and harmonic tension to structure and express mood and atmosphere to the listener. The modernists, struggling with the idea that all traditional tonal forms were exhausted and with the crushing blow to European civilization of the First World War, decided to toss aside all that and, as it were, start from zero with atonality and then serialism. Another strategy was to diminish the whole idea of narrative by using aleatory techniques.

For a very detailed discussion of how this happened as seen through the writings of Theodor Adorno and some conservative responses to it in the writings of Roger Scruton, read this post by Wenatchee the Hatchet:

Quoting from the Adorno book of essays, p. 652
... The paradoxical difficulty of all music today is that every music that is written is subject to the compulsion to create its own language for itself, while language, as something that by virtue of its own concept exists beyond and outside of composition, as something that carries it, cannot be created purely by the will of the individual.
This is an issue I have brought up in a previous post. The problem I have with the music of advanced modernism, Boulez for example, is that he seems to have constructed a brilliant kind of private language that most listeners can find no window into. I connected this with the "private language" argument of Ludwig Wittgenstein:
The private language argument argues that a language understandable by only a single individual is incoherent
Not only incoherent, but incapable, in my view, of expressing either beauty or ugliness and therefore of little aesthetic value.

It took me quite a while, but my personal solution to the problem was to become a synthesist, one who happily will use both harmonic and aleatory techniques in the service of some aesthetic goal. I have not been tempted by serialism, but I wouldn't entirely rule it out. I think that the experimental music of the 20th century opened a host of windows and doors, few of which have been thoroughly explored and exploited for their expressive possibilities.

Now what would be a good envoi for today's post? How about something by Mozart, in whose music Wagner (quoted by Adorno) claimed to be able to hear the "dishes clatter on the table" i.e. that it was mere tafelmusik, music written to accompany banquets and hence full of clichés. While there was certainly reams of music like that written and performed, most Mozart rises rather above that! Here is one of the Salzburg symphonies Mozart tossed off at age fifteen upon returning from a trip to Italy:

Salonen's Complete Sony Recordings, part 2

Blogger won't allow me to continue the numeration from the previous post, so I have defaulted to bullet points. The first disc is actually number 20 and the last number 29. So there will be a couple more posts before I am finished.
  • Witold Lutosławski: Fanfare for Los Angeles Philharmonic, Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, Chantefleurs et Chantefables, Symphony No. 2 I attended a lecture given by Lutosławski at McGill in the 70s where he talked a lot about his use of aleatory techniques. I wish I had been more interested at the time as now I am doing something similar myself! In any case, this is an interesting disc of an interesting composer. The music is more lyrical than you would expect despite being non-tonal. He does a great deal with tone-colour and contrasting groups of instruments in the symphony.
  • Witold Lutosławski: Fanfare for Los Angeles Philharmonic, Symphony No. 1, Symphony No. 4 The Lutosławski symphonies are spread out over six decades from the first, completed in 1947, to the fourth, in 1992. The style of the Symphony No. 1 is not radically different from that of, for example, the Symphony No. 5 of Prokofiev, composed at roughly the same time, though the Lutosławski is more motoric with more structural clarity. The Symphony No. 4 is in the two-section structure that he first explored in the Symphony No. 2 where there is an episodic section followed by a section in continuous development.
  • Witold Lutosławski: Symphony No. 3, Les Espaces du sommeil There is a lot of Lutosławski's technique of "limited aleatorism" in the Symphony No. 3 where the exact pitches are notated, but the rhythmic element is left to the players. Les Espaces du sommeil was written at the request of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. One thing that all of Lutosławski's symphonies share is conciseness: the Symphony No. 3, for example, is only thirty minutes long and the 4th is around twenty-one minutes. As opposed to the Mahler 3rd, which runs around one and a half hours.
  • Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 3 I've not been fond of Mahler in recent years, so I was hoping that Salonen's interpretation might rescue Mahler for me--that was at least partially true! Salonen doesn't do melodrama, but he is pretty good at drama and this performance is a bit tauter and more incisive than many others. I don't think that Mahler needs any indulgence in the interpretation! I appreciated the clean and precise delivery of the LA Philharmonic.
  • Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 3, continued Good pacing, good singing from Anna Larsson, the alto soloist, great work from the brass section and overall an excellent performance. I enjoyed this a lot more than I usually enjoy Mahler.
  • Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 4 At under an hour in duration, the 4th is one of the shortest Mahler symphonies. This performance is crisp, clean and focussed. Barbara Hendricks sings the vocal part in the last movement.
  • Gustav Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde This has long been my favorite piece by Mahler, a symphony in all but name using German translations of classic Chinese poetry. This is the version for two male voices: Plácido Domingo, tenor, and Bo Skovhus, baritone. The orchestral parts seem a bit clearer than I am used to and the opening of Der Abschied is especially rich and resonant. Some excellent singing in this recording.
  • Wynton Marsalis: All Rise What is this anyway? A blues cantata? Jazz oratorio? Marsalis' notes for the premiere performance aren't too helpful: "All Rise is structured in the form of the Blues, 12 movements to the 12 bars. It is separated into three sections of four movements; each section presents different attitudes about the uncontrollable rush of experiences in the quest for happiness. The first four movements are joyous, the second four are more somber and poignant, and movements 9, 10, and 11 are dance movements. Movement 12 is the gospel 6/8 shuffle; a dance, but not in a secular sense." I almost hate to say this, but the first few movements sound vaguely like a little Leonard Bernstein mixed with Carl Orff, and, ok, just a soupçon of neo-classical Stravinsky.
  • Wynton Marsalis: All Rise, continued The second disc, beginning with El "Gran" Baile de la Reina, has some pretty nice jazz.
  • Olivier Messiaen: Turangalîla-Symphonie I've noticed that this piece is getting more and more performances these days--and so is Des canyons aux étoiles, being given at the Proms this year. The first thing I notice is that the pacing is a little less hysterical and more organized than some other recordings of the piece. If you don't know this amazing work, here is a fairly substantial post I did on it a couple of years ago: This recording with the Philharmonia Orchestra dates from 1985.
I'm fairly sure I don't have the specific technical training to precisely evaluate Salonen's conducting, but I do have ears, and aesthetic sensibilities and some knowledge of the repertoire, so that helps. Also, I think that one way to evaluate the work of any musician is to look at what kind of repertoire he or she focuses on. One thing I like about this box is that it exposes me to music that I would likely not otherwise spend time on. What is worth our time is one of the big aesthetic questions. In general, Salonen's conducting seems to bring out interesting counter-melodies, it is rhythmically clean and emphasizes rich orchestral color, when appropriate.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Friday Miscellanea

In addition to their traditional duties within established institutions, an increasing number of conductors run independent organizations, launch musical and civic initiatives, serve as catalysts for the development of new work, and use their positions to cross disciplinary boundaries. In bypassing institutional gatekeepers, these conductors have brought relevance, vitality, and an expanding number of previously unrepresented voices into the field. Indeed, the dynamic new “catalyst-conductor” could help bring the revitalization that the classical music industry so desperately seeks.
Well, yeah, but that sounds rather a lot like corporate happy-talk.
At the small-budget organizations I led, I was involved not only in the musical and programming activities but also oversaw marketing, fundraising, production, and other areas. I learned about all aspects of administration, moved percussion instruments, built opera sets, recruited board members, folded solicitation letters, and created budgetary spreadsheets. It was an insanely packed life that was only possible to sustain for a limited period. Throughout most of my 20s, my peak score study hours were 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., after the rehearsals and meetings were complete, emails were answered, and I could have a solid chunk of time without interruption.
That sounds more like today's "gig economy." The whole article is worth reading for its examination of the changing role of conductors.

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The New Statesman has a piece on the perennial (and extremely tiresome) topic of Beethoven's political dimension. Beethoven’s political resonance: Beethoven was a musical revolutionary – but was he a political one, too? Let's see if the author brings anything new to the table:
On 2 July 2019, the 29 Brexit Party MEPs attending the European Parliament in Strasbourg turned their backs as a saxophone quartet and an opera singer performed the European anthem. Their protest caused discord. The European Parliament’s then president, Antonio Tajani, said it was “a question of respect”. Richard Corbett, the Labour Party’s leader in Europe, described the gesture as “pathetic”. The tune of the anthem in question is “Ode to Joy”, an extract from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.
Argh! I think anyone with a shred of musical decency would not only turn their backs on a rendition of the theme from the last movement of the Symphony No. 9 by Beethoven performed on saxophone quartet and singer, but would flee from the scene post-haste. After mentioning some of the ways that Beethoven's music has been seen to have a political aspect she goes on to say:
The significance of this political undercurrent has not been overlooked – in 2012 Nicholas Mathew published a biography entitled Political Beethoven – and it is also the chief motivation behind John Clubbe’s new study of the composer, Beethoven: The Relentless Revolutionary. In it he argues that Beethoven’s “complex greatness” can be attributed largely to his engagement with the political turmoil of the time; that his revolutionary spirit, inspired by Napoleon, gave way to revolutionary music.
The writer,  Emily Bootle, does quite a good job of walking us through Beethoven's personal history as well as the way he has been mythologized over the years. In reviewing the new book by John Clubbe, she makes this very good point:
Without musical analysis, the argument for political influence becomes one of correlation rather than causation: to believe the music is politically charged, surely we need to know what exactly makes it so.
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Alex Ross has a piece up at the New Yorker: Erich Wolfgang Korngold, the Opera Composer Who Went Hollywood.
“That sounds like film music” is a put-down that deserves to be retired. The usual intention is to dismiss a work as splashy kitsch. Over the past century, though, enough first-rate music has been written for the movies that the charge rings false. Hollywood composers have employed so many different styles that the term “film music” has little descriptive value. Worst is when the pejorative is used to discount figures who brought distinctive personalities to the scoring business, thereby elevating it. Such was the fate of the composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold, who began his career, in Vienna, as one of the most astonishing child prodigies in musical history and who reached maximum fame writing film scores, in Los Angeles, in the nineteen-thirties and forties. A master of late-Romantic opulence, Korngold shaped the sonic texture of Golden Age Hollywood. To say that his work sounds like movie music is an elementary fallacy, a confusion of cause and effect.
Ok, that's a pretty good opening argument. Ross goes on to give us some detail about Korngold and to talk about the music performed at the Bard Music Festival. Well worth reading. But let's take a look at that opening argument. What does it mean to say that something "sounds like film music"? Could there be any actual musical qualities that are being referred to? Perhaps some might be splashy kitsch, but that is rather a straw man. Film music might indeed use some striking orchestrations and textures, but what really distinguishes it is that it is an accompaniment to a visual and dramatic narrative. In other words, the story is on the screen, the soundtrack merely supports it (often by giving an ominous atmosphere to a mundane visual). For this reason, film scores tend to be weak in overall structure and have an episodic feel because it is not their job to drive the narrative, but to support it. A free-standing symphonic score, in contrast, carries the entire dramatic weight. And yes, it is pretty much that simple. The other reason Korngold was not given his due was that he was, like others in his generation, an apostate from the church of modernism and it was the modernists that controlled the historic narrative until fairly recently.

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Some surprising and depressing allegations against Plácido Domingo this week. Read the account in the LA Times for what seems a balanced treatment.
I happen to be listening, as I write, to a broadcast from this summer’s Proms in London of a glorious performance of Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto featuring Martha Argerich as soloist. This is one the most popular concertos ever written (and turned into a pop song as well), and Argerich is an incomparable pianist.
Well, Tchaikovsky happened to be a vile anti-Semite. And, Argerich happens to be an unrelenting defender of her ex-husband, the conductor Charles Dutoit, who has been accused of not only unwanted sexual advances but actual rape, which he denies. Argerich refuses to perform in the U.S. as long as Dutoit remains persona non grata here. He still gets gigs in Europe, Russia and Asia, where response to #MeToo charges generally is less reactive without a day in court. That is to say that norms are still not universal and may explain why Domingo remains welcome in Salzburg.
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Ludwig Van in Toronto has a really interesting discussion of how classical music is booming in China: The Piano Market Is Booming, And It's All Because Of China.
From 2013 to 2017, the number of orchestras in China leaped from 32 to 82. In 2019, the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra celebrated its 140th season, and the orchestra, along with its conductor, was recently signed to the prestigious Deutsche Grammophon label for a multi-year deal.
It’s an unprecedented explosion of appreciation for Western classical music, and for one instrument in particular. There are many internationally prominent Asian violinists like Korean Kyung-wha Chung, but for the Chinese public, the influence of superstars Lang Lang, Yundi Li, and other pianists has created a tremendous momentum for the piano in particular. It is estimated that over 40 million Chinese kids are studying the piano today, with some sources going as high as 50 million.
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Can we have a Friday Miscellanea without a single item from Slipped Disc? Why yes, yes, we can!

For our envoi, the absolutely lovely Lucia's cavatina from Lucia di Lammermoor by Donizetti sung by Anna Netrebko with the St. Petersburg Philharmonic conducted by Yuri Temirkanov:

And another spectacular soprano, Regula Mülemann with two movements from Exsultate Jubilate by Mozart.

Why this focus on sopranos? Do I have to have a reason?

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Blogging Will Recommence Shortly

I'm back in Music Salon World Headquarters and working on tomorrow's miscellanea. Also, look forward to the rest of my review of the big Esa-Pekka Salonen box from Sony and all sorts of other good things.

It is basically a two-day trip getting back from Europe. First there was a feeder flight on Austria airlines (all they play on the airplane sound system is Viennese waltzes and Mozart), then the long, long eleven hour flight to Mexico City. Frankfurt airport is quite big and I found a place to have some lunch between flights. Pretty good food and the prices were reasonable:

I went through the security check in the tiny Salzburg airport so didn't have to do it again in Frankfurt. A very nice Lufthansa lady gave me an upgrade to what they call "premium economy" which is supposedly more legroom, more refreshments and better meals. Can't testify to the legroom because she also gave me a seat at the emergency exit, so there is no seat immediately in front. The meals were good, though.

It was around 7:30 pm  before I got through immigration and baggage pickup in Mexico City and as that was plus seven hours for me, i.e. 2:30 in the morning, I just couldn't face a three hour bus ride. So I headed for my usual hotel, the Courtyard Marriot. I was in a different end of the terminal and got some very bad directions so I went the wrong way and ended up in front of the Camino Real hotel at the other end of the terminal. I had never stayed there and couldn't face the long walk back so I took a room. Big mistake! Public service announcement: do not stay at the Mexico City airport Camino Real. It is very expensive and the breakfast is a joke. Haphazard and confused management and stodgy design. The rooms are ok. The Courtyard Marriot is much cheaper and much better with a terrific breakfast buffet. You're welcome!

Here is something I learned on this trip to Europe that would have helped me out at the airport finding the hotel: use the map function on your smartphone to give walking instructions when you are in strange cities! For some reason I never tried that before, but it works pretty good. That's how I found the wineshop and how I found my hotel in Salzburg one day after taking a wrong turn. Now I'm sure everyone reading this already does this as I came late to the iPhone, but if you haven't used it, it works great.

Let's see, when I left they were just premiering their production of Oedipe by George Enescu, a piece I am completely unfamiliar with. This is the prelude and act one from a different production:

If I go again to the festival, and I well may, I think I would try to attend all the operas as that seems to be where the most creative energy is directed. This year they put on nine operas in one month, nearly all of them new productions (possibly all? anyone know?). Wow!

Monday, August 12, 2019

Let's Talk About Clothing

I live in what is, in Mexico, an expensive town. At the very top, it is possible to spend $50 on a meal for one (with wine) and $1,000 on a hotel room. Normal prices for these items are $10 and $100. So Salzburg does not look to me too terribly expensive. Meals are not cheap, but they are very high quality. Taxis are similar to rates elsewhere. Wine is also quite reasonable for the quality. But when it comes to clothes, different story.

I noticed in Madrid when I was there a couple of years ago, that clothes were horrifically expensive. I went to this big department store and after browsing the clothes a bit, I walked out, shell-shocked. I had forgotten that. So, I needed some underwear shorts and socks and found a clothing store nearby. Two pairs of shorts and a pair of socks? Nearly 80 Euros!!!

30 Euros for a pair of shorts! Sure, they are good quality, but come on! I get three pairs of Fruit of the Loom underwear shorts from Amazon for $14. And $22 for one pair of socks?

So what is the deal in Europe? Insanely high tariffs? Never import anything from China, Vietnam, Bangladesh? Really powerful domestic clothing industry with a lot of lobbyists? By my estimate, Europeans pay roughly four times what they should for clothing. And I suspect that a lot of that is tax, like the 20% added to the total above.

This concludes our public service announcement for today.

UPDATE: Here, let me show you why I was so nonplussed at the price of socks. Here is my receipt from the wine store where I picked up four nice wines: a Grüner Veltliner (that's Austria's characteristic white grape) from a highly recognized producer, an Eiswein from a small producer (in Canada they are super-expensive), a nice rosé and a Zweigelt (red wine grape) from an excellent region. Total price: just under 58 Euros. Or you could almost buy two men's underwear. Isn't this just crazy?

A Trip to the Wine Shop

I wanted to take home some Austrian wines so I tracked down a wine store this morning which proved to be quite a good one: Rieger Weinshop. I even found an Austrian icewine. More about those when I get back. On the way I got a good view of the Kapuzinerberg, one of Salzburg's in-town mountains. It puts Montreal's Mont Royal to shame for sheer steepness, if not for area:

Tomorrow is a travel day, or rather a two-day travel day, so you won't see any posts for a few days. Leave some comments! If you like the posts on Salzburg, let me know. If you disliked them, then what are you doing here?

Here is a good envoi for today, the "Wine, Women and Song" waltz by Johann Strauss:

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Musing on Austria

The last time I was in Austria was as a student thirty some years ago. It presents such interesting contrasts to where I live now, Mexico, and where I lived for most of my life, Canada. Mexico is struggling not to be a failed state while possessing boundless natural resources: gas, oil, gold, silver, copper, two seacoasts with abundant fisheries, huge tourist industry and a hard-working population. But still, the battle with the drug cartels is ongoing and the educational levels are abysmal. Austria, on the other hand, is very like a paradise on Earth. This is an extremely well-run state with extremely low levels of crime and very high levels of education (gee, I wonder if there is a relationship). Austria's history is interesting. It was once a great, imperial power, ruling over much of central Europe. At the time of WWI the Austro-Hungarian Empire was the second-largest state in Europe, second only to Russia. The 18th and 19th centuries were mostly prosperous and the 19th, at least, fairly peaceful. But then came the horrors of the 20th century: two world wars that first tore away all of her empire and second saw her a mere apprentice to the new horrors of Nazi Germany.

Nowadays, Austria is viewed as being a kinder, gentler Germany with much less weight of guilt than its larger neighbour. I suspect that one factor in this was the movie The Sound of Music, which personalised Austria and separated it emotionally from the sins of Germany. Austria, in some mysterious fashion, also managed to not be divided into separate zones by the four occupying powers at the end of WWII. In 1955 it achieved its complete independence and the occupying powers left.

I was saying that Austria is very like a paradise. It is a mature culture with an enormous amount of historic, aesthetic and human capital. Vienna, no longer the capitol of empire, still has the architecture of one. Austria's cultural capital is enormous, including vast amounts of fine art and architecture, literature and, of course, music. Vienna and Salzburg are two of the most important centres of music in the world and attract large numbers of visitors every season (including myself). For someone who loves music and culture (and skiing too, I imagine), Austria is a wonderful place to be. I suspect it is not so welcoming to entrepreneurs because of the weight of tradition which shows itself in high taxes, a lot of regulation and just the sheer weight of custom. But, with a bit of money, you can live extremely well here.

Speaking of which, almost by accident I wandered into one of the finer hotels here today, looking for a place to eat lunch, and stumbled across an excellent lunch buffet with pretty much everything you could possibly imagine, including a bottomless glass of sekt (they refilled mine three times and started on a fourth when I stopped them and switched to cappuccino). The dishes were too numerous to itemize, but I did take photos of the dessert area. I would tell you what these are, but apart from Sachertorte and Tiramisu, I haven't the foggiest idea!

This one, for example, had an orange-colored baby plum on top, a chocolate mesh, and the dessert itself was a kind of citrusy cream, not too sweet. None of the Austrian desserts I tried was heavily sweetened.

So, ok, this plus Mozart is just one kind of paradise...

A Visitor in the Night

This is going to sound a bit like an opera plot: I was awoken the other night by furtive scrabbling sounds by the window of my room. Pulling back the curtains, I didn't see anything, so I tried to go back to sleep. In the morning I noticed evidence of a visitor in the form of little black "droppings" on the window sill. Without thinking I cleaned them up, but when I reported the incident to the desk downstairs I realized I should have left them as evidence. A bit later I noticed a couple of smaller droppings I missed, so the manager came up to view the scene. I had looked around, including under the bed, but saw nothing. However, they instituted a thorough search and, hours later, after I got back from lunch, they told me that my visitor was a bat! He flew through my partially-opened window and got hung up in the heavy curtains. They captured him for later release and thoroughly cleaned the room. Insects are not much of a problem in Austria so they don't usually have screens on the window.

Speaking of insects, when I was here as a student I noticed these huge hornets flying around a nest just outside the window of my practice studio. They were really huge, making thudding sounds as they bumped against the windowpane! Maybe screens might be a good idea...

Let's have some Heinrich Isaac. Not bat-related, here is his Virgo prudentissima for six voices:

And, as a bonus, here is the quite bat-related overture to Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss II:

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Mozarteum Orchestra: Stiftung Mozarteum Grosser Saal

I heard the Mozarteum Orchestra today and they were very good indeed. Mozart is sort of a good way to end this festival for me. Some of the best performances of these pieces I have heard and that is including recorded versions. The program was the Divertimento in B flat, K 137 written when he was fifteen, the Piano Concerto in B flat, K. 595, written just eleven months before his death and the Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K. 550.

Mozart began composing when he was five years old (a simple minuet) and died when he was thirty-five, so he had thirty good years. With most composers, everything they write before they are twenty is usually what is called "juvenilia" that is, pieces in a tentative or mixed style where the composer has not yet "found" himself. But I don't think I have ever heard a piece by Mozart that you could call juvenilia. He was capable of writing a very respectable aria for soprano and string orchestra when he was nine and he wrote his first opera, in Latin, when he was eleven. The Divertimento K. 137 is a finely written three movement piece for strings that appears entirely mature.

The piano concerto was very well played by Francesco Piemontesi, a young Italian pianist. He played an encore and I am going to go out on a limb and say it was probably by Schubert, though I am not sure of the piece.

The final piece, the Symphony no. 40 was as well played as I have ever heard it: crisp, dynamic, energetic and passionate. I was most interested to see that the horn parts were played on natural horns without valves. I found they really added a lot as their sound, especially in the upper register is much brighter and has a tinny edge to it that I really like. I don't mean "tinny" in a bad sense, just that the sound is flatter and cuts through more. The rest of the winds looked like modern ones so I wonder if the Mozarteum orchestra is in transition to an original instruments group. The conductor, the English Andrew Manze certainly has experience in that area.

The concert was in the Grosser Saal of the Mozarteum (not to be confused with the Grosser Studio) which is a lovely hall with an 18th century ambiance:

If you look very closely you might be able to see the natural horn held by the fellow kind of in the middle, second row from top:

Click to enlarge
Afterwards was a nice dark weissbier and half a pig's knuckle for lunch. It looked ok, but was rather tough and salty, the first disappointing dish I have had here.

Wrapping Up the Festival

I'm sorry I can't stay for a few more concerts: there is the Camerata Salzburg conducted by Roger Norrington doing Mozart, Stravinsky and Haydn, a piano recital by Arcadi Volodos, another by Khatia Buniatishvili, Verdi's Requiem with the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Muti and on and on. Today's weekend Salzburger Nachrichten had three reviews. Four actors did a complete reading of James Joyce's Ulysses in the Landestheater which sounds fascinating. There were also reviews of the production of Winterreise and of Alcina. I really wish I hadn't forgotten so much German!

Today I am seeing a matinee of the Mozarteum orchestra doing a Mozart Divertimento, K. 137, the Piano Concerto, K. 595 with Francesco Piemontesi, and the Symphony No. 40. Conductor is Andrew Manze. And that will be it for me this year.

Here is that concerto with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe conducted by Trevor Pinnock, Murray Perahia, piano.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Innsbruck, ich muss dich lassen!

Just got back from a little day trip to Innsbruck and I have to confess that half the reason I went was because of the famous piece by Heinrich Isaac (and the other half was to take a train trip through the Alps). I didn't stay for the opera because I didn't know if there were tickets and I didn't want to stay overnight. But the trip was nice. Salzburg is proud of its newly-rebuilt train station:

Click to enlarge
With a lovely view of the Alps:

And nice new trains as well:

Austria feels like one big park. Everything seems so tidy and manicured, even in the countryside:

Innsbruck reminds me of Whistler or Revelstoke in British Columbia. It is like a town surrounded by ski hills:

Lots of lovely mountains on the way:

While there I ran across an Italian restaurant and had a pizza, their specialty. This was a single person Quattro Stagioni that I could only eat half of:

Our envoi must of course be the four-part song by Heinrich Isaac, "Innsbruck, ich muss dich lassen."

Friday Miscellanea

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Mozart's opera Idomeneo is being performed today, but I am planning on taking the train to Innsbruck, mainly for the trip through the mountains. Innsbruck has its own festival right now of early music there will be an opera performance there tonight as well, of La Merope by Riccardo Broschi, though I will probably just come back to Salzburg before. Tomorrow I will be at a matinee performance of Mozart by the Mozarteum Orchestra with an early divertimento, a late piano concerto and the Symphony No. 40. Should be a delight.

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The BBC has an article on one of the most popular and perennial tunes in all of music history: La Folia.
La Folia has a long history. Its distinctive chords first developed out of the folk music of late 15th-Century Portugal, where it was used in popular festivals. Its name – ‘folly’ or ‘madness’ in Italian – refers to the frenzied way peasants twirled to the music. In Santiago de Murcia’s Codice Saldivar No 4, Renaissance writer Covarrubias describes La Folia as ‘very noisy’ while another highlights its ‘vivacity and fire’, its dancers ‘making gestures that awaken voluptuousness’.
So, sounds a lot like "Anaconda" by Nikki Minaj!

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In case you missed the reference before.

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Yes, I know, a shockingly abbreviated miscellanea this week. But I've been busy! And there just weren't a lot of interesting items unless you want to read all about the Curtis Institute's long history of sexual abuse problems and their ham-handed attempt to respond to criticism with a cone of silence. So let's end with a couple of envois. First, La Folia in a setting by Corelli:

Next, the overture to Idomeneo by Mozart:

Thursday, August 8, 2019

A Nice Austrian Lunch

I quite like Austrian food which seems a bit lighter than German food. For lunch today I went to a garden restaurant and had a dark wheat beer:

And a large bratwurst with potatoes, sauerkraut (which was actually a bit sweet) and mustard with onions:

Click to enlarge
I almost remembered to take a photo first, so there are just a couple of bites missing from the end!

Tourist Day: the Hohensalzburg Fortress

The most salient architectural feature of Salzburg is the looming Hohensalzburg fortress, one of the largest medieval fortresses still in existence, which sits high on the Mönchsberg mountain, named after the Benedictine monks of St. Peter's Abby at the northern foot of the mountain. The other big mountain in the municipality of Salzburg is the Kapuzinerberg, named after a Capuchins cloister sited on the mountain. I put a photo of it up the other day, mentioning I didn't know the name of that mountain--it lies across the Salzach from the Grosses Festspielhaus.

Incidentally, on most sides of Salzburg, except directly to the north, everywhere you look there are forbidding looking high mountains--you just get the slight feeling you are on the edge of Mordor.

Click to enlarge this, and other photos
So yesterday, some friends and I did the Hohensalzburg fortress tour and by the end we wished that the fortress hadn't been quite so large. Luckily you don't have to climb hundreds of feet of steps as there is a funicular that takes you right to the top. Once there, there is a tour, with audio commentary, that takes you through one side of the structure with a display of portraits of the archbishops and models of the various stages of construction. Oh, yes, why archbishops? One doesn't usually find archbishops building a lot of grand fortresses, does one? The Prince-Archbishopric of Salzburg was an ecclesiastical principality and state of the Holy Roman Empire and also ruled over salt, gold and silver mines. The salt was transported to various marketplaces by means of the Salzach river. Perhaps the most powerful and last of the feudal rulers was Leonhard von Keutschach who ruled in the years around 1500. His coat of arms prominently included the image of a turnip which you see everywhere in the fortress.

There is also a museum with lots of interesting medieval artefacts and a separate building containing the archbishop's private residence.

Some photos:

The fortress looking up from the old market square
And after ascending in the funicular
Looking down on historic Salzburg from the fortress
There was one interesting musical item in the fortress, the so-called "Salzburg Bull" a mechanical organ using a player-piano roll:

Used mainly for calling workers to their tasks as it could only play notes in F major
If you look closely at the shield decoration over the arch, you can see one of the famous turnips:

Contemplating the mysteries of the turnip
The music room in the residence of the archbishop
There was an interesting street musician playing in the Alt-Markt, a hammer-dulcimer player:

And that was our tour of the fortress.