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classical-music.com | Thu, 22 Aug 2019 16:45:48 +0000
If you’re unable to make it to the Royal Albert Hall for this year’s Proms, you can catch up on what you’ve missed by tuning into BBC Radio 3 or visiting the Proms website and BBC Sounds, which will have broadcasts of every single Prom. As usual, BBC TV will be televising concerts every Friday and Sunday throughout the season, accompanied by Katie Derham’s revamped BBC Two magazine show on Saturday nights.
The Proms season on TV will kick off with a live broadcast of the First Night, split between BBC Two and Four. Also on BBC Four, the BBC Philharmonic’s first performance under their new chief conductor, Omer Meir Wellber (26 July), as well as Joshua Bell (21 July) and Nicola Benedetti (28 July) in Dvořák and Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concertos respectively. A handful of Late Night Proms will also broadcast, including a live performance of Public Service Broadcasting’s concept album The Race for Space. The CBeebies Proms will be filmed for future broadcasts on the CBeebies channel.
classical-music.com | Thu, 22 Aug 2019 09:00:00 +0000
Symphony No. 4 Op. 43 (1932)
Premiered: Moscow, 1961
This is a work of Stalin’s Great Terror. Shostakovich was half-way through it when he was denounced for his opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. In the gigantic first movement, Shostakovich embarked on the longest, most extreme work he was ever to attempt. Rehearsals began but the composer withdrew the work before its intended premiere.
‘It’s so clear from the Fourth that Shostakovich had immersed himself in Mahler, studying instrumentation, an extended type of orchestration. It’s the most amazing work, the way he creates the texture and noise of industrialisation; you can hear the machines, the effort of the labour. Then he unleashes a terrifying, frenzied brutality and, at the end, spiritual devastation which leads towards a complete unknown.
The finale is like a some kind of surrealist nightmare: we can hear clearly the Party at work, the circus, crazy officials, drunk policeman and people confessing to crimes they haven’t committed – the insanity and alienation of the time. Then comes the coda and we arrive in C major, the tonality of the dead. But it moves into C minor: that means (to me) that he was not ready to die yet, but there might be no future. I think the Fourth is actually a masterpiece, and competes with the 14th as his best.'
Vasily Petrenko is, like Shostakovich, a son of Leningrad/St Petersburg, and grew up singing the composer’s songs in its Capella Boys Music School. In 1997 he won first prize in the Shostakovich Choral Conducting Competition and was made chief conductor of the St Petersburg State Academic Symphony Orchestra, during which time he took on the principal conductorship of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic.
On his arrival in the city in 2006, at just 30, he launched a project with Naxos to record all Shostakovich’s 15 symphonies. The series has drawn international acclaim and, as the final instalment is released, he looks back on his nine-year journey. ‘To work with an orchestra on one composer for so many years has meant we could build a style, an approach to his language,’ he says. ‘At first, it felt like an exhilarating challenge: there are huge demands. Now, we are of one mind.’
Petrenko, born a year after the composer’s death, grew up in the Soviet Union. A beneficiary of its uniquely rigorous teaching system, he witnessed its dissolution when he was 15, the re-writing of history books, and even the emergence of a nostalgia for that dark era. He’s in touch with those who remember Shostakovich, and the times through which he lived, but has experienced the Western view of this controversial figure.
‘When I conduct these symphonies in Russia, there’s still an unspoken understanding of the songs, the messages. We talk more about the composer’s personal life. When I conduct in the West, it’s important to give the historical context. There’s still so much we don’t know; the family destroyed many letters when Shostakovich died. The State would probably have requisitioned them anyway.’
classical-music.com | Wed, 21 Aug 2019 09:39:51 +0000
Elgar – Fantasia and Fugue in C minor
Elgar’s orchestration is magical, taking one of Bach’s most austere organ works and giving it a tender, nostalgic touch – the use of the harp in the Fantasia is divine, as is the lead into the fugue with plangent oboe… The fugue itself romps along from its opening strident strings to blasting brass. Elgar makes the fugal lines sing out, and adds wonderful cascading flourishes here and there alongside rasping trumpets and outrageous percussion scoring to add to the orchestral colour. Oliver Condy, editor
Camerata Brasil – Italian Concerto in F, BWV 971 - Allegro
Camerata Brasil’s Bach in Brazil album provided the soundtrack to my summer in 2000, the year of its release. Here you have well-known JSB works combined with the choro, a Brazilian instrumental music style that dates back to the mid-19th century – instruments such as the mandolin, viola caipira and cavaquinho all join in the fun here.
Though ingenious arrangements of works such as the Double Violin Concerto in D minor and Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 all feature on the album, it’s the opening Italian Concerto in F that is, for me, the pick of the bunch. It’s all infectiously buoyant stuff, full of South American sunshine. Mix yourself a caipirinha, sit in the sun… and enjoy! Jeremy Pound, deputy editor
I loved everything about Vikingur Olafsson’s recent Bach disc for Deutsche Grammophon, and I clearly wasn’t alone as it was named Recording of the Year at our Awards. But there is one particular piece that I keep coming back to: August Stradal’s arrangement of the Andante from JS Bach’s Organ (or Trio) Sonata No. 4 in E minor.
I hadn’t come across the Bohemian musician before, but his thoughtful take on Bach seems to tap into its very essence. The music begins in a mood of resigned serenity that builds into something like majestic awe, as if the listener were walking around a deep, still lake to the foot of a towering mountain. It’s peaceful and profound. Rebecca Franks, managing editor
Probably one of the most famous pieces of organ music in the world, Bach’s mighty Toccata and Fugue was transcribed for full orchestra in the 1920s by Leopold Stokowski. The result adds blood and thunder to what was already a spine-tingling piece of music.
Originally performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra, Stokowski’s arrangement came to prominence thanks to its use in the opening segment of Walt Disney’s Fantasia (1940). It accompanies live footage of the orchestra, illuminated by unusual patterns of light, followed by a section of rather abstract animation! Michael Beek, reviews editor
Bach is ripe territory for jazz musicians. A renowned improviser himself, Bach lends himself to the jazz form particularly well. Jazz pianist Brad Mehldau’s 2018 album After Bach responds directly to Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier: Mehldau performs four preludes and one fugue from the collection, interspersed with original compositions taking inspiration from each piece. He switches up tempos, puts things in jerky time signatures and takes the harmonies to unusual places.
Bach’s initial pieces become themes, and Mehldau’s variations. Garry Booth reviewed the album in the April 2018 issue of BBC Music Magazine, writing ‘the original compositions’ densely woven two-handed runs with bittersweet phrasings and accents are a richly satisfying counterpoint to the nuanced but respectful Bach pieces’. Enough said, really. Freya Parr, editorial assistant
classical-music.com | Tue, 20 Aug 2019 18:00:07 +0000
The music for the opening credits of BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing was written by Dan McGrath and Josh Phillips, the composing duo also responsible for the theme tunes for Take Me Out, A League of Their Own, All Star Mr & Mrs and Alan Carr: Chatty Man.
The theme tune is written in a catchy Latin style and is split into four main sections: an introduction, a verse, a chorus and an ending. Because the theme is used over the top of a visual sequence introducing all the contestants, it is a lot longer than most other TV opening credits. As a result, McGrath and Phillips were able to slow down the tempo and do more with it, as they explain here:
‘We thought Latin was the way to go because it’s such an exciting, vibrant style, and it wasn’t going to become tiresome,’ says Dan McGrath. ‘It gave us scope to give it a top line without having a vocal,’ adds Josh Phillips. The top line is played by the brass section.
Some of the other programmes McGrath and Phillips have written for:
classical-music.com | Tue, 20 Aug 2019 15:25:27 +0000
Netflix’s hit fantasy drama Stranger Things reaches operatic new heights in the sixth chapter of its recently released third series.
The eagle-eared among you may have noticed the producers plumping for a bit of Philip Glass to underscore the episode’s final scenes, forgoing the usual (and brilliant) original score by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein.
That said, the show often brings in period (ie ’80s tunes) at key moments.
Though not from the ’80s, music from Act II of Glass’s opera Satyagraha (2001) added a curious dramatic sheen to scenes both apocalyptic and grizzly.
It was a key moment in the story, as the psychic young hero ‘L’ used her power to discover the hiding place of the hideous ‘Mind Flayer’ (a creature born of a parallel world known as ‘The Upside Down’).
The recording, featuring New York City Opera, was front and centre in the action and continued right through the credits.
classical-music.com | Tue, 20 Aug 2019 14:22:56 +0000
Celebrated children’s writer Michael Morpurgo and award-winning composer Rachel Portman have teamed up for a special animated TV adaptation of Morpurgo’s Mimi and the Mountain Dragon, due to air on BBC One this winter.
Rachel Portman is primarily known as a film composer, having written Oscar-nominated scores for The Cider House Rules in 1999 and Chocolat in 2000. She also became the first female composer ever to win an Academy Award, which she received for her score for Emma.
Portman has also written music for television and theatre, as well as a large selection of stage and concert works. She is no stranger to literary adaptations - her opera, The Little Prince, received its premiere with Houston Grand Opera, based on the novella of the same name by Saint-Exupéry.
Portman’s score will be paired with a script by Welsh poet Owen Sheers, and illustrations by Emily Gravett. Portman and Sheers have collaborated before. They were commissioned for the BBC Proms in 2017 to write The Water Diviner’s Tale, a dramatic choral symphony exploring issues of climate change. Morpurgo and Portman have worked together too, writing the Christmas carol 'We Were There' in 2014 for the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and Youth Chorus.
Morpurgo’s story concerns Mimi, a shy girl whose village is terrorised by the Mountain Dragon. Mimi then finds a baby dragon asleep in her family woodshed. Despite a perilous blizzard, she travels through the night to return the baby dragon to her mother the Mountain Dragon. Morpurgo took inspiration from the Engadine Valley in Switzerland. 'I saw children in red hats, cracking whips, ringing cowbells, banging drums, creating a great cacophony of noise, as they paraded up through the village,' says Morpurgo. 'They are driving away wicked spirits, I was told. So began my story of Mimi and the Mountain Dragon'.
classical-music.com | Tue, 20 Aug 2019 10:40:43 +0000
‘Romantic ardour is here in plenty, and the Chandos sound is well up to its resplendent best’
This week’s free download is the second movement, Un Bal, from Berlioz’sSymphonie fantastique, performed by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, conducted by Andrew Davis. It was recorded on Chandos and was awarded four stars in the September issue of BBC Music Magazine.
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classical-music.com | Tue, 20 Aug 2019 09:48:21 +0000
A new role has been created at Welsh National Opera: female conductor in residence. This follows an open call earlier this year for aspiring female conductors, as part of WNO’s programme to work towards gender equality within the industry. Tianyi Lu has been appointed the residency's first recipient.
Born in Shanghai and raised in New Zealand, Tinayi Lu came to the attention of WNO in 2016 when she worked with the Youth and Community team on WNO Youth Opera’s production of Peter Maxwell Davies’s Kommilitonen!. She completed a Masters in Orchestral Conducting at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, after having studied in Auckland and Melbourne.
WNO’s conductor Carlo Rizzi described Lu as having ‘great musicality with a natural charisma on the podium’. Lu currently holds roles as assistant conductor of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and principal conductor of the St Woolos Sinfonia in Newport, having previously been the Dudamel Fellow with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra in 2017/18.
Lu’s new role will begin this month, working closely with WNO’s music director Tomáš Hanus and the WNO Orchestra in the company’s main opera season, as well as youth and community projects. She will aid the music team on a productions of Verdi's Rigoletto and Janáček's The Cunning Little Vixen, before starting work as assistant conductor of Bizet's Carmen. She will also be mentored by conductor Alice Farnham, who was curator of WNO’s symposium on women in music in 2018, which was responsible for the creation of this role.
classical-music.com | Fri, 16 Aug 2019 10:50:47 +0000
Faust et Hélène (1913)
Based on a poem by Eugène Adenis – itself based on Goethe’s Faust – Boulanger crafted a thirty-minute cantata for choir and orchestra, featuring solo parts for mezzo-soprano, tenor and baritone. The work won her the 1913 Prix de Rome, the first time the prize had been awarded to a woman composer. She is said to have written it in just four weeks.
Du fond de l’abîme (1914-17)
This ambitious work, based on Psalm 130, was on Boulanger’s writing desk for a long while, largely thanks to the outbreak of war. During the war years, the composer volunteered for the Franco-American Committee; she also became quite ill during this period. The work is arranged for contralto, tenor, chorus, organ and orchestra.
Another work which Boulanger had to find time to return to during the war years was her take on a Buddhist prayer (indeed ‘a daily prayer for the whole universe’). An intensely spiritual work, it remains one of the composer’s greatest accomplishments and sits in quite stark contrast to the more nihilistic Du fond de l’abîme of the same period.
La princesse Maleine (1916-18)
The writer Maurice Maeterlinck was no stranger to his works being taken on by composers; the most famous example might be Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande. Maeterlinck’s La princesse Maleine, however, was one piece he was quite protective of. The only composer he allowed to take it on was Lili Boulanger. It’s said she identified greatly with Maleine, but progress on the five-act opera was slow and she struggled to complete the work. Only fragments of it remain, which leads most scholars to believe it went unfinished.
D’un soir triste / D’un matin de printemps (1917-18)
This two-part work was completed just a couple of months before her death in 1918, the first half being the moving portrait D’un soir triste (Of a sad evening). Boulanger originally arranged the piece for cello and piano. The second half, D’un matin de printemps (Of a spring morning), is the sprightlier of the two works that make up this musical diptych, and was originally arranged for flute/violin and piano. Both halves were also arranged for piano trio and orchestra.
Pie Jesu (1918)
Her final work, the Pie Jesu is a deeply emotional and personal work that is in many ways her own Requiem. So unwell was she while working on the music, she actually finished it on her deathbed, dictating what was required to her sister. Nadia Boulanger is said to have been so distraught at Lili’s death, she turned her back on her own composing and decided to focus on teaching instead.