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It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre
Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances
dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed
at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in
the present case.)
I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the
annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I
heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It
was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at
As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.
A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to
life on stage
‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.
Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s
L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed
follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high.
The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution
of the CBSO to this concert.
When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities,
upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court
during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined
that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the
opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in
service of his God and his monarch.
Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.
The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.
There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.
The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.
First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.
With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.
Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.
Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).
What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question.
Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although
already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.
So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.
I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.
Some time ago in San Francisco there was an Aida starring Luciano Pavarotti, now in Orange it was Carmen starring Jonas Kaufmann. No, not tenors in drag just great tenors whose names simply outshine the title roles.
06 Sep 2009
Mahler and Ligeti at the Proms?
On the surface, the theme of this Prom seemed to be Sci Fi movies at the Proms. Both Ligeti's Atmosphères and Richard Strauss's Also sprach Zarathustra became huge hits when Stanley Kubrick used them in 2001 : A Space Odyssey. So how did Mahler's *Kindertotenlieder* fit in ?
The Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester certainly aren’t Mahler specialists. The name was chosen by Claudio Abbado when he set up his network of interrelated orchestras which have changed the face of European music. Although none of the performers are aged over 26, it’s not a youth orchestra in the usual sense. These players are carefully hand picked from thousands of applicants, and many go on to play in major orchestras.
Their Schoenberg’s Five Orchestral Pieces was lively and crisp and they did the spectacular moments in Also sprach Zarathustra to great effect. But the real test of an orchestra is how they handle the more subtle moments, rather than the big flashy passages like that striking entree to Zarathustra, which everyone knows from TV ads even if they don’t know Kubrick. The GMJO are very accomplished but there is only so much a musician can do at 20, compared to what he or she might do at, say, 45. So this wasn’t a performance of great interpretative depth, but something to enjoy for its sheer beauty.
Ligeti’s Atmosphères is an abstract soundscape. What seems like huge washes of white noise are created by extremes of detail, “microtonal polyphony”. The music moves in swathes of sound, the strings giving way to a surge of brass, each part played with slight variation. It’s the blend that creates the “atmosphere”. Hence the otherworldy sound of percussion brushes played against the strings of the piano : it’s music going boldly where no man has gone before. No wonder Kubrick heard it as “music from another planet”. Jonathan Nott’s soft focus sometimes underwhelms in other repertoire, but it’s perfect for this work, which is one of his specialities.
How would Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder fare in such a program and with an audience geared up for big movie themes ? The songs are about the death of children, and Ruckert’s poems are so personal that it’s almost painful to read them exposed on the printed page. Yet it’s a mistake to assume that such tragedy should lead to hyperfervid, overly operatic performance. Goerne’s approach was psychologically astute. The father in the poems is so numbed, he can only articulate his pain in brief moments : most of his grieving is inwards. This isn’t a time for histrionics.
Goerne’s approach is also musically astute. Kindertoitenlieder evolves like a miniature symphony. Like most of Mahler’s music, it moves towards a resolution, beyond immediate struggle towards some kind of transcendence. Dark into light. So the final song “In diesem Wetter, in diesem Braus”, starts with a storm. Significantly the storm clears into music of great delicacy and clarity. The dead children have gone into a better place where they will be cared for, “as in their mother’s house”. Miss this, and you miss so much of Mahler’s aesthetic. So “going into another place” isn’t really so far away from the rarified vision of Ligeti’s Atmosphères after all.
This Prom is available online on demand until 11 September on www.bbc.co.uk/proms both in audio and TV rebroadcast.