Thursday, August 25, 2016
View over Paris, at dusk, from the Maine-Montparnasse tower ‘For I assure you, without travel, at least for people from the arts and sciences, one is a miserable creature!’ stated Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart . For generations, composers and choreographers have been inspired by exotic settings around the world to create their art. Use our destination guide to plan your holiday to the places that inspired the great stories, characters, music and dance this Season. And if you can’t get away for a physical holiday then escape to a magical destination by watching a performance at the Royal Opera House. Rhineland, Germany Middle Rhine River, Germany Vincenzo Bellini ’s Norma is set amongst the Druid temples and sacred groves of Roman-occupied Gaul . Your local travel agent may look at you strangely if you try to book a trip to Gaul, considering it hasn’t existed since the fifth century, however you can travel to Germany west of the Rhine river to explore remnants of Gallic and Roman civilisations. Fly into Frankfurt and use Bingen am Rhein, originally a Gallic settlement, as a gateway to Rhineland-Palatinate region. Hike the Soonwaldsteig Trail and picture the Druids’ mysterious rituals in forest groves, as you search for Celtic and Roman ruins. Visit the Hillfort of Otzenhausen , a key Celtic fort in the 1st and 2nd centuries BC and the Belgnium Archaeology Park with its collection of Celtic and Roman artefacts. Continue to Germay’s oldest city Trier , where you will see vestiges of Roman conquest including a Roman city gate, amphitheatre, baths and a Roman bridge still used by traffic. Celebrate the end of your tour with local wine from the Moselle region. Norma runs 12 September–8 October 2016. Tickets are still available. It is a co-production with Opéra National de Paris. Seville, Spain View of the Cathedral of Seville and the Archivo de Indias With its historic architecture, cobbled streets, sunny squares and orange trees, Seville has captured the imagination of many composers. Once the European gateway to the Americas, Seville led the way in the cultural achievements of the Spanish Golden Age, gaining fame in 16th and 17th-century literature. Seville's colourful and romantic reputation makes it the setting for over 100 operas including Carmen , Don Giovanni , Fidelio and, of course, The Barber of Seville . Start your tour of the ‘opera city’ at St Thomas Street, the supposed location of Figaro’s house, amidst some of Seville’s most impressive landmarks: the Moorish palace of Alcázar, the largest Gothic cathedral in the world and the 16th-century Archivo de Indias. Check out the Royal Tobacco Factory (now a part of the University of Seville), the setting for Act I of Carmen and an exemplar of 18th-century architecture. Make your way through the narrow streets of the Santa Cruz neighbourhood where many of Figaro’s adventures took place. At the corner of Argote de Molina and Segovia Streets you can picture Rosina’s Balcony and sing a few lines of ‘Ecco, ridente in cielo’ . Don’t forget to stop off for some of Seville’s famous tapas and flamenco, then complete your tour with a visit to the magnificent Plaza de toros de la Maestranza . Immortalised in Carmen, it is arguably the most impressive bullfighting ring in Spain and nearby stands a monument to Carmen herself. Il barbiere di Siviglia runs 13 September–11 October 2016. Tickets are still available. Suffolk, England Cottage in Suffolk, near Flatford ‘There exists in my imagination a life in the country of eternally late spring, a leafy pastorale of perpetual sunshine and the humming of bees – the suspended stillness of a Constable landscape of my beloved Suffolk…,' wrote choreographer Frederick Ashton . Don’t be fooled by the Gallic title: La Fille mal gardée is actually one of Ashton’s most quintessentially English ballets . Search for the Suffolk of Ashton’s imagination in ‘Constable Country ’, along the River Stour and Dedham Vale. To truly soak up the serenity of the countryside, explore it on foot or on bicycle following the Painter’s Trail . Experience the fruits of Suffolk’s agricultural heritage with a ‘foodie tour’ of the historical towns and villages of Bury St Edmunds, Lavenham and Sudbury, or time your visit to coincide with one of the local food festivals. See Suffolk’s pastoral side by visiting the working farms around Ipswich or the quintessential Suffolk village of Somerleyton with its thatched cottages around a village green set between grazing sheep on verdant slopes. Fancy continuing your journey further afield? Make your way to Colne in Lancashire, the home of clog dancing, to discover the origins of this English folk dance which features in La Fille mal gardée . La Fille mal gardée runs from 27 September–22 October 2016. Tickets are still available. Saint Petersburg, Russia Saint Petersburg, Russia. Palace Embankment, house 38 (Winter Palace) © A.Savin, Wikimedia Commons Travel to the land of vodka, babushkas and the Bolshoi Ballet to track down the settings of Anastasia and The Nose . Make a beeline for Saint Petersburg , Russia’s second largest city, the former Imperial capital and birthplace of Dimitry Shostakovich among many others. Tour the significant Romanov palaces. Visit Peterhof Palace (Princess Anastasia's birthplace) and Alexander Palace , the family's favoured residence and where the Imperial family were held under house arrest in 1917. A highlight of St Petersburg is the Winter Palace , a symbol of the Russian Tsars, where the Romanovs spent their winters and hosted lavish balls before it was captured by the Bolsheviks. Tombstones in the Peter and Paul Cathedral mark the final resting place of Tsar Nicholas II and his family. Is Anastasia one of the three daughters whose remains rest here? Find Shostakovich's birthplace on Podolskaya Street and perhaps catch an opera performance at the Mikhaylovsky Theatre where The Nose had its premiere in 1929. Take a trip down Sadovaya Street where Major Kovalyov lived the short story by Gogol that inspired the opera. Trace the Major’s pursuit of his nose down to the site of Saint Isaac's Bridge on the Neva River, over to Kazan Cathedral , and onto Nevsky Prospect – the main street of St Petersburg – where you might lose your nose in the crowds but can catch up on your shopping. Anastasia runs from 26 October–12 November 2016. Tickets are still available. The Nose runs from 20 October–9 November 2016. Tickets are still available. Bavaria, Germany and Venice, Italy Gondolas and palazzos on the Grand Canal in Venice Immerse yourself in local tipples and cuisine when touring the settings of Les Contes d'Hoffmann . Your first stop should be Nuremberg in Bavaria, for the prologue of your tour and Hoffmann's tales. Head for the Old Town to get a feel for the city in Hoffmann’s day. Search for an atmospheric tavern and settle in for a glass or two of dark local beer, a plate of bratwurst sausages and get swept up in the romantic atmosphere. While in Germany, skip ahead to Act III with a visit to Munich and put on some Lederhosen to join the party in its one of its boisterous beer halls while searching for a singer called Antonia to fall in love with. Spend a few days in magical Venice , 'the floating city', wandering the atmospheric canals and piazzas. Take a gondola ride down the Grand Canal and look for Giulietta's palazzo as you float along being serenaded by your gondolier. Finish off with a lavish Venetian feast in a canal-side restaurant. Les Contes d'Hoffmann runs 7 November–3 December 2016. Tickets are still available. Northern France and Louisiana, USA Road leading through desert in Texas Ah, Paris. The ‘city of love’ has inspired many operas and is, of course, a worthy addition to any travel itinerary but let’s move along to some of the other settings of Manon Lescaut . Head to Amiens , a transportation hub in Manon’s day. Pull up a chair outside a café in Place Gambetta to imagine Manon's carriage pulling up as the chorus sings ‘Giunge il cocchio d'Arras!’ Make your way to the northern coast of France and explore the harbour of Le Havre , where Manon was imprisoned before being deported to Louisiana. See if you can find a ship to take you across the Atlantic Ocean as Manon did; otherwise fly to New Orleans where you should spend some time hanging out in jazz bars and eating Creole food before searching the outskirts of the city for the desert where Manon meets her fate. Unfortunately you won't find any real deserts in this area of rich alluvial land of the Mississippi delta but you can find windswept grasslands in the Cajun Prairie in southwest Louisiana. To experience some proper ‘feel-thirsty-just-by-looking-at-it’ desert, it’s best to road trip to nearby Texas and Chihuahua in neighbouring Mexico. Manon Lescaut runs from 22 November–12 December 2016. Tickets are still available. This is a co-production with Shanghai Grand Theatre. Have you been inspired to travel by any operas or ballets? Tell us about it in the comments.
We have been sent a list of the 100 most searched classical pianists on Wikipedia, the global reference site. Since the site lists every musician who ever touched a keyboard as a pianist, it’s not suprising that Mozart comes first with an average 5,631 searches a day, Beethoven second with 4,668 and Chopin third with about half as many. The big eye-opener is who comes fourth. It’s John Cale, one of the founders of Velvet Underground and about as classical as Johnny Rotten. 5 Gershwin 6 Liszt 7 Stravinsky 8 Ludovico Einaudi, the icy Italian minimalist 9 Herbie Hancock 10 Leonard Bernstein, averaging 1,077 searches a day 11 Rachmaninov 12 Shostakovich. No one else tops 1,000 searches a day. The findings, collated over viewings in the past two weeks, suggest that Wikipedia needs to tighten up its search criteria to define what is classical and what is a pianist. Among other personalities listed are Samantha Bentley, an English porn star (421 views) and Mark Rutte, Dutch prime minister (338). It may be safely assumed that those searching their names on Wikipedia are not planning to book them for a Liszt concerto. From the above data, we have compiled a mini list of professional concert pianists still alive and playing. Click here for thrills and spills.
Robert Page, Grammy-winning Director of Choruses for the Cleveland Orchestra from 1971 to 1989 and assistant conductor of the orchestra from 1979 to 1989, has died at the age of 89. After 18 busy years in Cleveland, where he also conducted the opera company, he moved on to rebuild the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh from 1979-2005, making it one of the country’s finest. he was co-founder of Chorus America in 1977 and its president from 1990-1993. Among many triumphs, he conducted the US premiere of Shostakovich’s 13th symphony and made choral settings of Candide arias for Leonard Bernstein. Fine obituary here.
August 5 marks the opening of this year’s Edinburgh International Festival [EIF]. Together with the Fringe Festival’s cladding of some three thousand satellite events, EIF’s exhaustive programme of theatre, music, dance and opera runs until August 29. In the words of The Spectator: “… you can sleep in September.” Founded in 1947, EIF has developed an enviable international reputation for matching the beauty of the city with the attractiveness of its programmes, and it’s always gratifying to run an eye over the roster of events each year, if only to get a shot of reassurance that the arts in live performance are thriving north of the border, Brexit or no. It’s a hazard of working for Naxos that, whenever the names of particular artists or works hit your eye, the brain shortcuts to entries for the same in the Naxos catalogue. And so it proved when riffling through this year’s EIF music programme. The first one was by proxy, in that the multi-talented Barry Humphries is fronting an evening of ‘degenerate’ music from Germany’s Weimar Republic on 8 and 9 August. Racy, degenerate qualities certainly characterise Humphries’ persona Sir Les Patterson and, to a degree, his alter ego Dame Edna Everage. But the latter proves all sweetness and light on her Naxos recording of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf (8.554170 ), to which she stakes a somewhat unearthly claim: “I tend to believe in reincarnation, call me old fashioned but I do, and it may interest you to know that I am the reincarnation of Serge Prokofiev’s mother. She was a wonderful old Russian housewife, and when little Serge was knee-high to a grasshopper she would put him on her knee and croon old-fashioned folk-tunes to him … most of those tunes his mother hummed are in his masterpiece Peter and the Wolf. That’s why I’m an absolute natural to record this work. After all, I actually wrote it in a spooky sort of way, so I ought to know how to perform it—don’t you agree, possums?” Judge for yourself in this extract from the story’s entrance of the cat! There’s a more definitive case for the next artist’s bid for authority on the music in question. The Ukrainian conductor Kirill Karabits’ EIF concert on 20 August sees him directing the Russian National Orchestra in a programme of Mussorgsky, Mozart and Tchaikovsky; the following evening’s programme features works by Rachmaninov, Scriabin and Silvestrov. But in 2013 he treated Naxos music-lovers to the world première recorded performances of Three Concertos for Orchestra (8.572633 ), written in the 1980s by his father, Ivan Karabits. Following Ukraine’s independence in 1991, Ivan Karabits became the country’s leading musical figure. His works reflected three traditions in particular: Mahler, Shostakovich and the folk-music of his native country. His untimely death in 2002 undoubtedly robbed us of many outstanding scores. The critics raved unanimously about the Three Concertos for Orchestra. We hope you would readily agree with their response. Here’s an extract from the opening of the second movement of his Concerto for Orchestra No. 2 . Naxos Artist Marin Alsop appears at the EIF on 22 August directing the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra in a programme of music by Villa-Lobos, Bernstein and Shostakovich. This month also sees the release of the latest volume in her Prokofiev symphony cycle for Naxos with the same orchestra. Their Edinburgh programme includes Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms (8.559177 ), written in 1965 in response to a commission from the Dean of Chichester in England. Here’s an extract from the 3-movement, 20-minute work, scored for mixed choir, boy solo, strings, 2 harps and percussion. Marin directs the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra here in the jubilant closing section of the first movement , a setting of Psalm 100 (Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands). Members of the splendid Australian Chamber Orchestra perform at the EIF tomorrow, Saturday 6 August, and their programme features a curiosity—the re-scoring of Mahler’s monumental orchestral song cycle, Das Lied von der Erde. Arnold Schoenberg began this arrangement for string and wind chamber forces, piano, celesta, harmonium and percussion, but died before its completion; this was eventually achieved by Rainer Riehn in 1983. Naxos Artist JoAnn Falletta has recently recorded the work with members of the Virginia Arts Festival Players, the Attacca Quartet and soloists. The recording doesn’t become available until October (on 8.573536 ), but we can give you a foretaste with this extract from the first movement, The Drinking Song of Earth’s Sorrow . My coda to today’s blog turns from a nod to Edinburgh to many happy returns of the day to Betsy Jolas, the indefatigable French composer who predates the EIF by some 30 years and celebrates her 90th birthday today, 5 August. She’s still going strong: the première of her A Little Summer Suite, a commission from the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, was directed by Sir Simon Rattle just a few months ago. To bow out, then, here’s an extract from a piano trio she wrote in 2007, dedicated to and premièred by the Haydn Trio Eisenstadt, and titled appropriately Ah! Haydn (C7020 ). The 2016 Edinburgh International Festival runs from 5 – 29 August.
My plea that audiences should be given permission to like unfamiliar music is being answered in unlikely places. One example is Sony's Sir Malcolm Arnold: The Complete Conifer Recordings. The centrepiece of this newly released 11 CD box, which retails for around the cost of a single full price CD, is Vernon Handley's cycle of the composer's nine symphonies. These are supplemented by myriad other delights including concertos, overtures and the familiar Scottish, English and Cornish Dances in their less familiar versions for brass band. All the recordings date from the late 1980s and 1990s, and they demonstrate why the sadly defunct Conifer was celebrated for its commitment to recorded sound quality. In recent years Sir Malcolm, who is seen above, has suffered from insidious marginalisation, whereby his symphonic masterworks are resolutely ignored, but his occasional pieces are programmed. Which means that a new generation of concertgoers is growing up perceiving him as a composer of amuse-bouches. To give an example, Sir Malcolm's A Grand, Grand Overture was played at the 2009 Last Night of the Proms, and his English Dances were given an outing in a 2013 English Light Music Prom. But there have only ever been five performances of his symphonies at the Proms, the last in 1994. This despite growing recognition of the worth of Sir Malcolm's symphonic output and its undoubted appeal to audiences steeped in Mahler and Shostakovich. None other than Norman Lebrecht has described him as "the major British symphonist" and Norman wrote this in The Companion to 20th-Century Music (Simon & Schuster, 1992): A sniffy British establishement, suspicious of a former London Philharmonic player who presumed to write symphonies, crossed him off its agenda... he wrote music that orchestral musicians liked to play, and this counted against him with the intellectuals and managers.It takes something truly remarkable to make me agree with Norman Lebrecht. The music of Sir Malcolm Arnold is truly remarkable, and this new overview of his music from Sony offers a unique opportunity to experience its addictive power. So once again I advise, buy or live forever in darkness. Header photo via BBC. No review samples used in this post. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.
I enjoy the artistry of violinist Nicola Benedetti. Here are details about her new recording: Nicola Benedetti plays Shostakovich & Glazunov Violin Concertos Glazunov: Violin Concerto in A minor, Op. 82 Shostakovich: Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor, Op. 99 As performed by Nicola Benedetti (violin), with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Kirill Karabits. Sensational violinist Nicola Benedetti returns with a riveting recording of Shostakovich’s monumental Violin Concerto (No. 1). This new recording follows Benedetti’s major success with Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy and Korngold’s Violin Concerto. Benedetti’s own encounter with Russian music-making began in her childhood, the seriousness and intensity making a powerful impact on the young violinist: “I was thrust into a different world” says Nicola, “a little terrifying, extremely demanding but so loving, so warm”. Together with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and conductor Kirill Karabits, the dark, introspective Shostakovich Violin Concerto is brought to life in a compelling performance packed full of energy and breath-taking passion. The concerto was first performed in 1955 by David Oistrakh, and immediately highly regarded internationally. Glazunov’s Violin Concerto, a late-Romantic work, is notable for its lyricism; Benedetti’s generous, radiant performance is uplifting and beautifully played, as well. Here is an album sampler from this new recording:
Dmitri Shostakovich (25 September 1906 - 9 August 1975) was a Soviet Russian composer and one of the most celebrated composers of the 20th century. Shostakovich achieved fame in the Soviet Union under the patronage of Leon Trotsky's chief of staff, but later had a complex and difficult relationship with the Stalinist bureaucracy. In 1936, the government, most probably under orders from Stalin, harshly criticized his opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, causing him to withdraw the Fourth Symphony during its rehearsal stages. Shostakovich's music was officially denounced twice, in 1936 and 1948, and was periodically banned. After a period influenced by Sergei Prokofiev and Igor Stravinsky, Shostakovich developed a hybrid style, as exemplified by Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District (1934). This single work juxtaposed a wide variety of trends, including the neo-classical style (showing the influence of Stravinsky) and post-Romanticism (after Gustav Mahler). Shostakovich's orchestral works include 15 symphonies and six concerti. His symphonic work is typically complex and requires large scale orchestras. Music for chamber ensembles includes 15 string quartets, a piano quintet, two pieces for a string octet, and two piano trios. For the piano he composed two solo sonatas, an early set of preludes, and a later set of 24 preludes and fugues. Other works include two operas, and a substantial quantity of film music.
Great composers of classical music