Friday, August 16, 2019

Friday Miscellanea

Over at the NewMusicBox site there is an article on THE CATALYST-CONDUCTOR: CONDUCTORS AS MUSICAL LEADERS FOR THE 21ST CENTURY.
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.

Kissin Review in the Salzburger Nachrichten

I haven't used my German in so long that I can only get the vaguest sense of the review in the paper today by Derek Weber, but Google translate might help! The headline is "Evgeny Kissin erreicht einen Gipfel der Klavermusik" which translates as "Evgeny Kissin reaches a pinnacle of Klaver music." Ah, so that's what "Gipfel" means. The reviewer mentions Kissin's expertise with Chopin and his crystal-clear touch and says that he places his chords well. There is an odd comment about how individual notes are a piquant spice for the underlying structure and the reviewer goes on to add that the challenging pinnacle of the Beethoven works might lead a Chopin specialist to bring new colours into play. He speculates that this might also make him less willing to take liberties.

So, good review, though there is the slight undercurrent that perhaps a Chopin specialist doesn't quite command the inner core of the Beethoven piano sonatas.

For your edification, here is Evgeny Kissin playing the first movement of the "Hammerklavier" sonata at the Verbier festival two years ago:


Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Evgeny Kissin, Grosses Festspielhaus

All three of the piano performances I have seen here have been by Russian masters: Grigory Sokolov, age sixty-nine, well-advanced in his career, Igor Levit, age thirty-two, at an early stage in his, and Evgeny Kissin, age forty-seven, right in the middle of his. Last night was Kissin's performance to a packed house at the big concert hall:


The program was, to my taste, excellent, comprising three Beethoven sonatas and the set of variations, op. 35. The sonatas were the popular Pathétique, Tempest and Waldstein from his early and middle periods. They were very well-performed with clear and distinct textures and a robust dynamic range. Very occasionally I detected a tiny bit of sloppiness in the very fast passages, but that was minor indeed. Excellent program, brilliantly delivered with lots of brio. The enthusiastic audience demanded some encores and he played three. Unlike Sokolov, he plays very encore-like encores. Flashy, insubstantial pieces with a lot of fingerwork and no, I didn't know any of them. I can only reliably identify guitar encores as that was my instrument as a performer.

One wonders why Sokolov played six, but Kissin only three encores? The audience seemed equally thrilled with both artists. I think that it is partly the character of the encores. Sokolov's feel like an extension of the program as they are always substantial pieces in their own right, even the shorter ones by Rameau. But with Kissin, they are very much the equivalent of a musical dessert and not to be lingered over too much. Also, his second encore was, in my view, poorly chosen: it was much too long for what it was and grew tiresome.

Seeing three great artists in the course of a week is quite an education in the current state of pianism. I wish I could stick around and hear the delightful Khatia Buniatishvili on the 21st, but I do have to get back to my other life. She will be playing a rather Lisztian program of his transcriptions of Schubert lieder, then Mazeppa and a Hungarian Rhapsody and ending with Stravinsky, Three Movements from Petrushka.

The Salzburg Festival is indeed a feast. I have focussed on orchestral and piano concerts, but there is a rich variety. Tonight, for example, the artistic director of the festival, Markus Hinterhäuser, accompanies baritone Matthias Goerne in a staged performance of Winterreise by Schubert.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Vienna Philharmonic, Grosses Festspielhaus

Last night I attended the Vienna Philharmonic concert in the large hall with some friends. The program was supposed to be the Prelude to Parsifal, Death and Transfiguration by Richard Strauss and, in the second half, the Symphony No. 14 by Shostakovich. As it turned out they dropped the Wagner without making any announcement which confused me all to heck for a while as I haven't heard either piece for decades and didn't quite know what was going on at first.

The Strauss was a wonderful performance, the Vienna Phillies showing just how to play a masterpiece of orchestration. After the pause, with the orchestra honed down to just a reduced string section and four percussionists and with the addition of soprano and bass soloists, they gave an outstanding performance of the Shostakovich, in Russian. I know this piece, and all the Shostakovich symphonies, quite well and have to say that this was the first time I fully appreciated it! What amazing and creative use of the strings. There are several sections in which he has half the strings playing col legno in unison with the others playing pizzicato. What a remarkable and very subtle effect. Just listening to the CD I wasn't quite sure how he was getting that sound.

The big question with this symphony, in eleven movements setting poems about death, is why it is called a symphony at all, and not a song cycle. The notes discuss Shostakovich's pointing to the return of themes, especially one from the first movement in the last movement, as to why he decided to call it a symphony. Also, it is not a cantata because there is no choir. In any case, great piece and I found this live performance quite fascinating.

The hall beforehand:


And with the orchestra:


We had pretty good seats in the balcony.

The Vienna Philharmonic, of course, likely have no superiors in the world at this sort of repertoire. This was one of the best orchestral performances I have heard. Two others of note were the Frankfurt Radio Orchestra with a terrific Rite of Spring two years ago and the St. Petersburg Symphony doing Glinka and the Shostakovich Violin Concerto, also two years ago.

Tonight is Evgeny Kissin with an all-Beethoven program.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Alcina, Haus Für Mozart

I was a little closer this time, sixth row of the first balcony:


Small baroque orchestra of fifteen or so including harp, theorbo and harpsichord continuo instruments. The theorbo was particularly outstanding and it seemed I could hear every note, which surprised me. Could they be amplifying? The musicians, by the way were Les Musiciens du Prince--Monaco, a still-living instance of aristocratic patronage!

It often seems to happen when I see an opera in Europe: the staging was just amazing. There was a large partition about halfway back from the front of the stage. It was on a turntable so from time to time it rotated. The partition was acoustically transparent as one aria was sung from behind it. It was like a scrim in that you could see the figures behind it in ghostly outline. It was also like a mirror in that you could see reflections of the characters in front of it! And all this was controlled by how the stage was lit. Lots of other amazing things. At the end of Act II a whole ghostly forest was lowered onto the stage from above.

I foolishly didn't study the plot of the opera before so I was mightily confused throughout. Also, the program had notes only in German. It also didn't help that the role of Ruggiero, a knight, was sung by a countertenor and the role of Bradamante, Ruggiero's bethrothed, was sung by a soprano, but disguised as her brother, Ricciardo. There are various other lovers and lost children. I really enjoyed the staging and the music and the singing was marvellously agile. Excellent production. But I gave out after two one-hour acts and limped home. After all, I have another concert tonight: the Wiener Philharmoniker.

Oh, my favorite bit from the program was the job title of one Thomas Meier, listed as Hochgeshwindigkeitskamera--Aufnamen which means, I think, "high-speed camera operator."

On the way to the opera I passed by the Hotel Sacher Salzburg where I plan to indulge in some Sachertorte before I leave.


Just outside the hall is a little booth selling champagne:


Yes, life is tough at the Salzburg Festival. Mind you, the locals are very fierce in the line up for the refreshments at intermission. I was elbowed out of the way twice trying to get an orange juice.

Igor Levit, Haus Für Mozart

Last night was the Igor Levit concert in the smaller and older hall next to the Grosses Festspielhaus. Salzburg has a lot of concert venues. This one, also used for opera, is quite vertical and my seat was way back in the second balcony.


Here is the exterior:


Both this and the Grosses Festspielhaus back right on the little mountain that the Hohensalzburg castle sits on:


Just across town is another little mountain, but I forget the name:


And here is the crowd, gathered for refreshments before the concert:

Click to enlarge any of these photos

Now for the concert. Mostly Beethoven, and Evgeny Kissin's concert tomorrow will be all Beethoven. In between the Bagatelles op. 126 and the Diabelli Variations was the Adagio from Mahler's incomplete Symphony No. 10. I really enjoyed both the Beethoven opuses, but can't say the same for the Mahler. Of course I am not a Mahler fan to begin with, and he seems even less interesting on piano. Levit had two basic modes in this concert: in the Beethoven he was angular, capricious and dynamic, but in the Mahler and the encore, Peace Piece by Bill Evans, he becomes lethargic and self-indulgent to a fault. The Mahler, especially the long, drawn-out ending, seemed simply interminable, with very, very little going on. Now obviously this is a matter of taste as the audience, full of Levit fans, seemed very pleased with the concert. It could simply be a demographic thing. I am from an older generation and it seems incongruous to see a pianist of Levit's stature perform in a long-sleeved t-shirt. And a lot of the slow-moving lingering might appear, and be, to the younger people, profound feeling.

So those are my impressions. Today is quite full with two concerts: at noon the generalprobe of Handel's Alcina with Cecilia Bartoli and this evening, the Vienna Phiharmonic playing Wagner, Richard Strauss and Shostakovich, the rarely heard Symphony No. 14.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Mozarteum and Mirabell Palace

The Mozarteum, while one of the world's greatest music schools, is very unprepossessing on the outside. It consists of a number of grey blocks with little character:



It is, I believe, like a full-fledged university, but with only one department: music. Next to the Mozarteum is the Mirabell Palace, originally built in 1606 by the Archbishop Wolf Dietrich Raitenau for himself and his mistress Salome Alt. Back then archbishops had mistresses, apparently, while nowadays only the king of Thailand does.

Salome Alt
The palace was rebuilt a few times and it is surrounded by extensive gardens that I walked around in today.






And overlooking the gardens is just the kind of place I would like to have if I lived in Salzburg:


Let's have a little music. This is a piece I am going to hear played by the Mozarteum Orchestra on August 10, one of a group of divertimenti by Mozart sometimes called the "Salzburg Symphonies" written soon after his return from Italy in his mid teens. This is the Divertimento K. 137 in B flat: