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How to watch concerts from home: the concerts and operas available to stream online during the coronavirus pandemic
classical-music.com Friday, 3 April 2020 22:01:19
The best classical music to discover during self-isolation
classical-music.com Friday, 3 April 2020 17:05:01
Oliver Condy, Editor
When not at my desk, the music I reach for most is by Mendelssohn – in recent weeks I’ve been rediscovering his string quartets which for me are the most perfect balance of poise, sophistication and indulgence.
Only the other day, I returned to a recording of No. 4 in E minor by the Elias String Quartet, the winner of the 2010 BBC Music Magazine Newcomer award. The Ebène Quartet’s recording of Nos 2 and 6 are well worth discovering too. Now – back to my spare room for some editing!
Call of the Champions (titled An American Journey in the US) came out in 2002 and is an album I return to often. Topping out the programme of celebratory and commemorative works by John Williams is his epic Call of the Champions – the official anthem of that year’s winter games in Salt Lake City – and it never fails to thrill.
Williams uses the Latin words for ‘Faster, Higher, Stronger’ (the Olympic motto), sung by Salt Lake City’s world-famous choir. The rest of the programme gathers together some of the composers of other great works for American celebrations, each of which never fail to surprise me each time I listen.
Williams’s gift for melody and orchestral detail shines through in works such as the Hymn to New England, Celebrate Discovery and the brilliant American Journey – a six-part suite written to accompany Steven Spielberg’s visual love letter to America at the millennium. Spirit-lifting music!
With 2020 rapidly turning into the year of gloom, my thoughts naturally turn back to happier times. Such as, say, the summer of 1997. My first year in full-time employment as editorial assistant on Classic CD magazine, this was a time of making new friends, exploring my new home city of Bath (and its many pubs) and, of course, immersing myself in the magical world of classical music.
Part of my soundtrack to that summer was In a Nutshell, the CBSO and Simon Rattle’s glorious disc of orchestral works by Percy Grainger. It’s a wonderfully intoxicating listen, in which the Australian beguiles you with his exotic soundworld both in his own music and in his extravagantly orchestrated arrangements of piano works by Ravel and Debussy. There’s plenty of jollity in there too, mind. I loved it then and, as I sit here with a cheering glass of Sancerre, I love it just as much today.
When I’m feeling overwhelmed with the state of the world, which, at the moment, is most of the time, there are certain albums I always find myself reaching for. Víkingur Ólafsson’s 2018 recording of Bach keyboard works - which went on to win BBC Music Magazine's Recording of the Year in 2019 - is one such album.
It’s almost slightly hackneyed to talk about Bach as the great ‘de-stresser’, but it’s true. His music is a soothing balm in times of great worry, and always brings you back to neutral when your mind has been straying to stressful places, like, for example, the 5 o’clock news briefing. Ólafsson brings such depth and power to his music – he gives it some serious welly and doesn’t pussyfoot around it.
If you’re feeling slightly paralysed by anxiety, I’d recommend switching on track five: the Andante from Bach’s Organ Sonata No. 4. From a place of utter serenity, it slowly bubbles its way through various expansions of the theme, until it finally reaches a place of absolute strength and power. It’s the perfect journey of a piece to give you the get-up-and-go spirit we all need at the moment.
Dutch keyboardist Ronald Brautigam’s fortepiano recordings of the Beethoven sonatas for BIS made between 2004 and 2010 are now gathered together in one box. Brautigam plays on Paul McNulty’s replicas of original instruments dating from 1788 to 1819.
Kovacevich gets to the heart of Beethoven’s sonatas with playing that teeters on the edge of sanity, roars with ferocious power and frequently moves the listener to tears. The finest to date.
BBC announces classical music programme for Culture in Quarantine
classical-music.com Thursday, 2 April 2020 00:06:44
As part of its Culture in Quarantine initiative, BBC Arts has announced a series of classical music broadcasts across its radio, TV and online platforms.
Max Richter’s Sleep – an eight-hour orchestral work designed to be listened to as you sleep – will be broadcast through the night on BBC Radio 3 on Saturday 11 April, from 11pm to 7am the next morning.
Also on Radio 3, artists will host performances from their homes. Artists include harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani, guitarist Craig Ogden and pianist and cellist Sheku and Isata Kanneh-Mason.
Joining them, composers will be contributing by the writing short musical ‘postcards’ for Radio 3.
The Afternoon Concert series will showcase musicians from the BBC orchestras, who will perform short works of their choice at home. Radio 3 in Concert, usually held in the evenings, will now be broadcasting repeats of earlier broadcasts, as chosen by the ensembles who were set to be featured on the programme in the coming months.
Over on BBC TV, all 19 of the choir members from Tenebrae are coming together online for a virtual choir performance on BBC Four. The singers will come together via video link, under the direction of Nigel Short, to perform an Easter Sunday concert.
BBC Young Musician is also set to return in May with the category finals, hosted – for the first time – by organist Anna Lapwood. Highlights programmes will be broadcast on BBC Four, with full episodes available on BBC iPlayer. The finals have been postponed to autumn.
As part of Beethoven Unleashed, the BBC’s yearlong celebration of the 250th anniversary of Beethoven, the Royal Opera’s recent performance of Fidelio – the great composer’s only opera – will be broadcast on BBC Four.
Radio 3 is also launching the Classical Companion Collection online: a set of articles, quizzes, symphony guides and podcasts based on materials from the BBC archives.
classical-music.com Tuesday, 31 March 2020 17:59:59
In just a few short weeks, Coronavirus has delivered a blow to all aspects of our lives. Schools closed, hospitals overwhelmed, lockdowns imposed and, at the time of writing, cases on the rise. Our hearts go out to anyone affected by this terrible disease.
In the arts world, concert series, festivals and all manner of live music-making have been halted… The arts world is reeling from thousands of cancelled events and many are struggling to come to terms with life off the road.
Musicians, however, are responding with good spirit, many of them performing programmes to vast online audiences via the wonders of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and more. Armed with little more than a smartphone, tripod, broadband connection and a little imagination, many have brought heart-warming concerts direct to our houses.
You can read about some of these in the May issue of BBC Music Magazine, sent to press on 26 March and on sale from 16 April – the first issue in our 30-year history to have been produced entirely remotely.
Many of you will have trouble getting hold of your magazine from the shops – which is why we’ve set up a no-strings way for you to guarantee you get the next few issues. With a small one-off payment, we can send you next three issues to your house – and delivery will be on us. You'll still make a saving on the shop price, and you won't have to set up a Direct Debit, so this is absolutely risk-free. If you order by 29 March, you'll get our May issue, so you won't miss out.
If you live in the UK and are happy to set up a Direct Debit, however, we can offer you even greater saving on your first six issues.
Free Download: Beethoven's Sonata for Piano Four Hands in D
classical-music.com Tuesday, 31 March 2020 16:00:34
‘Hill and Frith have done us a service’
This week’s free download is the first movement of Beethoven’s Sonata for Piano Hands, performed by pianists Peter Hill and Benjamin Frith and recorded by Delphian. The album was awarded four stars for both performance and recording in the April issue of BBC Music Magazine.
If you'd like to enjoy our free weekly download simply log in or sign up to our website.
Once you've done that, return to this page and you'll be able to see a 'Download Now' button on the picture above – simply click on it to download your free track.
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Get three issues of BBC Music Magazine delivered to your door with no direct debit
classical-music.com Tuesday, 31 March 2020 14:10:58
We are here for you. If you're used to buying our magazine from the shops, you can order by 27 April and receive our next 3 issues delivered to your home for the reduced price of £15.27. This offer is risk-free, doesn’t require starting a Direct Debit and still offers you savings on the shop price.
If you’d like an even better deal and are happy to set up a Direct Debit with us, we can offer you greater savings and your first 6 issues for just £9.99. Our US readers can receive the next 3 issues for $9.95. Choose the offer that works for you. Stay safe everyone!
classical-music.com Monday, 30 March 2020 18:44:49
The Polish composer and conductor Krzysztof Penderecki has died aged 86.
Penderecki was a revered avant-garde composer, who, as well as writing operas, symphonies and concertos, was committed to sacred music, using sacred texts as the basis for many of his choral works. Venturing beyond the concert hall, his music was also used in films including The Shining, The Exorcist and Wild at Heart.
Having initially studied as a violinist, Penderecki went on to focus on composition at Krakow's Academy of Music in 1954. With Stalinism overthrown in Poland in the 1950s and the end of censorship, it was an exciting decade to be a young composer. Penderecki's early works were avant-garde in style, incorporating extended technique, note clusters and experimental sounds and textures.
Penderecki reached an international audience following the success of his 1960 work for strings Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima, written as a response to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945 and a reminder of the horrors of nuclear warfare. The piece went on to be featured in BBC Music Magazine’s list of 20 works that defined a century.
He was the composer most commonly associated with 'sonorism', a style of music used by avant-garde Polish composers which focuses on the qualities of the sound itself: textures, timbres and contrasts. This was often linked to the creation of new sounds from traditional instruments using extended techniques and graphic notation, a prominent feature of Penderecki's compositions.
Citing his two greatest influences as JS Bach and Monteverdi, Penderecki went on to explore choral music, marked by the St Luke Passion, the first large-scale oratorio by a Polish composer since the 19th century. This was later followed by his Credo andPolish Requiem, the latter of which was dedicated to the heroes and victims of Polish history.
Later in his career, his avant-garde approach developed into more of a focus on neoromanticism. His First Violin Concerto was the first major example of this, with a soaring violin part.
Speaking to BBC Music Magazine in 2019, he said, ‘I was using the elements of different music – always in a form in which I was very much connected to the tradition, although the sounds were different. I was inventing new sounds – using old instruments to make them, particularly stringed instruments because I was a string player.’ He is known for his string works, with his first violin concerto dedicated to and premiered by Isaac Stern, and his second for Anne-Sophie Mutter, a violinist with whom he worked and recorded many times over the years.
Despite never having had any formal training, he conducted many of his own orchestral works in concert and on recordings.
Penderecki's other great passion was his arboretum, located 60 miles outside Krakow and the largest in Eastern Europe, with 1700 different species of tree. 'I go there, to the big trees and put my arms round one of them for a while,' he told James Naughtie in BBC Music Magazine last year. 'It is a huge. That gives me a feeling of power, and peace too.'
The best works by Krzysztof Penderecki
classical-music.com Monday, 30 March 2020 16:32:24
St Luke Passion (1962-66)
Penderecki’s epic work for three solo voices, narrator, three choirs, boys’ choir and orchestra is undeniably dramatic. Its power comes partly from a bold mix of styles, from the avant garde to its nods to the traditions of Bach and Palestrina.
Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima (1960)
This nine-minute scream doesn’t make for easy listening, but its clusters, almost nausea-including pitch changes, and thudding pizzicato and knocking effects are frightening evocations of nuclear annihilation. Original and brave.
The composer’s most ambitious symphony calls for tubaphones – percussion instruments made from gigantic horizontal pipes. Its Carmina Burana-esque opening gives way to music of great beauty, including the breathtaking choral De profundis.
String Quartets Nos 1 & 2 (1962/68)
Penderecki’s uncompromising chamber works explore the sonic capabilities of the quartet – bizarre but totally arresting, and important milestones in Polish music.
Premiered by Isaac Stern, the First Violin Concerto marked a turn towards a more post-Romantic, almost modernist style. Frequently recalling Bartók, Penderecki inserts enthralling musical effects alongside a plaintive, soaring solo violin part.
20 of the best Beethoven recordings of all time
classical-music.com Monday, 30 March 2020 16:00:00
1) For the symphonies, go for Karajan’s refined 1962 version with the Berlin Phil (DG).
2) Otherwise, Nikolaus Harnoncourt and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe offer freshness (Warner).