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Dmitri Shostakovich

Sunday, June 26, 2016


Norman Lebrecht - Slipped disc

June 24

‘I’m not allowed to talk about my stolen violin’

Norman Lebrecht - Slipped discThis week’s episode from the diary of Anthea Kreston, American violinist in the Berlin-based Artemis Quartet: When my violin was stolen on the train last week, I had the second experience with what I will now call the “dragon dance”. This is when, in an extremely time-sensitive, intense and complex situation, each member of the Artemis Quartet immediately assumes a super-power persona and the three (I don’t think I am yet in full-power mode) of them begin what seems to be a intricate and non-choreographed ballet. The first time I experienced this was when Ecki’s cello was denied entrance to a flight. One member stayed at the counter to work on the problem, one rushed ahead to hold the gate, and one worked with our secretary and travel person to find a solution. Speed, cunning, creativity, strength and charm were the powers used. No discussions, just three people swirling off to solve this problem, all avenues somehow seen at once and converging to a positive outcome. The second time this happened was the moment when I realized that my violin had been stolen from the fast train from Berlin to Freiburg. You know that moment in any movie with a dinosaur, when a dinosaur first locks eyes with the audience, and we all realize for the first time, “this creature is vastly superior to me in every way and I am about to be crushed”? That is how it feels. In a good way. I am an auxiliary dinosaur member. Or – to put it in a more contemporary setting – the moment when Rhaegal and Viserion emerge from the dungeons of Mereen to join Drogon to take back Meereen from the Masters. Oh gosh, can I be Daenerys? Not yet. Not yet. But I am working on it! I am not allowed to talk about my stolen violin at the moment – there is an investigation underway and mum’s the word until I hear otherwise. But I can tell you a bit about the moments immediately following the disappearance. After my seat-partner said someone had taken the violin and headed to the back of the train, I went to find the rest of my quartet, who were spaced out throughout the train. The first one I found was Gregor, the violist. We were about 20 minutes from the next stop. He grabbed his suitcase and bag, and I put his viola on my back. As I swept forward to find Eckart (the cellist), Gregor went backwards to the conductor to report the theft and to have police notified at the most recent stop. Next Eckart was found, and he took his things to go gather information from witnesses before he and I were to get off at the next stop to meet with police. Vineta (violinist) quickly gathered photos of my violin and put an SOS on social media. I contacted Norman at Slipped Disc. As Eckart and I left the train, witness information in hand, Gregor was sweeping bathrooms for any evidence of a discarded case or any clues. Vineta was on the phone with our secretary, publicist and manager to secure a borrowed violin for the concert which was to begin in short order. Eckart and I rushed to the police to make a full statement, and were able to get a train in just enough time to arrive at the hall, where 4 violinists were waiting, cases in hand, to lend me their precious instruments for the concert. No one broke a sweat, no one raised a voice, not one negative vibe was exuded. I tried each violin for a minute, quickly chose one, and we went to change for the concert, now 27 minutes until curtain. I had this time to get used to the violin and get changed. I noticed that this violin had a sweet tone, and the quartet said they were used to a louder and clearer tone from me. It was a beautiful violin for sure – but when I tried the opening of the second movement of Beethoven Op 59 #1, all that came out was a series of small squeaks – like a little happy mouse. I was also terribly out of tune. I decided, after getting changed, to use my last precious minutes to play scales in 4ths, 5ths, and octaves, and to play Meditation from Thais for bow control. As we headed out to stage, we looked at each other and shared a moment of resolve. The violin was shaky to start, but quickly we gained confidence together. I knew that I was going to have to adjust (we all would) on the fly – so I decided to enjoy the experience – to allow my mind and body to find its way, not thinking too much, but just trusting and forgiving. After the first piece, the quartet back stage gave me a big thumbs-up – all is well. During the Shostakovich I began to recognize the strong and weak parts of this instrument, and shifted my fingerings and bowings to suit – for a loud g string solo I decided to take it to the d string to avoid wolfs that I had found. A soft sad solo that I normally begin high up on the A string I took with backwards bowings – the touch at the frog was still eluding my complete control. During intermission I checked my phone – over 70,000 instrument shops had been notified in the States, a mass-email had been sent to all Violinists.com members, Norman had put up a notice on Slipped Disc, and we were soon to have over 100,000 views on Facebook. A country-wide notice for German violin shops had been sent by Andreas Kägi in Berlin. Things were moving quickly. But – now on to Beethoven. For me, Beethoven has always required the utmost in concentration and perfection from me – there are unlimited numbers of things I must do and react to – the control and musical demands are relentless. This was no time to let my mind wander – I must be at the top of my game. The opening solo in the second movement (Op. 59 #1) is one of those places which seem so simple – so easy in the practice room. Just 4 bars, pianissimo, first position. But it can come out sounding as if someone just threw some marbles in the washing machine and hit “start”. And also – everyone has the same solo one after the other, so comparison is quick and obvious. This is the solo that I completely bombed in the quick dress rehearsal. But – it was totally fine in concert – I had a little supportive eye contact with Vineta – all is well. Then – the solo note at the beginning of the devastatingly tender slow movement. A single c, piano, played by the second violin before the rest of the quartet enters – a feeling of suspension, desolation, timelessness and urgency – both a hollow sound and a sound which gives birth to a tender sadness – this is what my personal goals are for this moment. But, as string players know – a changing of a bow can be more difficult that the changing of an instrument. I closed my eyes and it came out – different from my Becker, but it came. After the concert, I met the owner of the instrument. We talked as I headed to the CD signing area. We had not had time to speak before the concert – I did not know what I was playing. She told me – an Amati – with gut strings! So – I was playing on an an instrument that was 300 years old, and on gut strings for the first time in my life. Gut strings – the way strings were made before metal strings were invented – have a warm sound but are softer and go out of tune very quickly. I did notice that I had to adjust a lot in the concert – after the first several minutes, I could not play open strings anymore, and used my fingers to dampen and adjust as I went. As a second violinist, my duty is often to supply the middle of chords – often on double stops. My fifths required minuscule acrobatics during this concert, but I didn’t want to be tuning between each movement so I just adjusted. The owner of the violin said – “well – that is certainly the first time Shostakovich has been played on this violin – I didn’t know it was possible!”. I am glad, in retrospect, that I didn’t know what I was playing – better to just trust your instincts and jump in. So – maybe some day I can talk about the next day – but for now I cannot speak about it. I had a flight booked back home, but I needed to go to that train station – Mannheim – where the violin disappeared. I stayed awake and make posters for taping up – American style. In the morning, Gregor called the Mannheim police and told them I wanted to come, talk, look, tape up posters, see video footage. They were nice but firm – it is illegal to tape up posters and to see the footage. No point in coming. The quartet said – don’t go! There is no point. But – I did. I had to. I wanted to meet the police, make a personal connection, walk around the train station. It was quite a day – maybe I can talk about it next week. Until then – an amazing thing did happen. By the time I got home late the next night, a donor had come forward. I have, on indefinite loan, a beautiful Italian violin from the 1700’s and a gorgeous bow. It happened. I don’t know how, but it did.

Norman Lebrecht - Slipped disc

June 17

The complete Shostakovich on one CD

From the Lebrecht Album of the Week: The three works on this album encompass an entire composing life. The first piano trio was written by a 17-year-old for his girlfriend in 1923. The mastery is already undeniable and the thumbprints instantly recognisable: pathos, scepticism and the juxtaposition of polar opposites. This is not the way most of us would go about wooing the love of our life. Shostakovich was always an original, even at his most eclectic. Everything he writes can be interpreted equally as its opposite, a device that became the key to the composer’s survival in Soviet Russia… Read on here and here.




Norman Lebrecht - Slipped disc

June 16

Shanghai Opera checks in at English National Opera

It has just been announced that Shanghai Opera have booked the London Coliseum, home of English National Opera, in August. We are going to see a lot more of this kind of thing. press release: Shanghai Opera House make their UK debut – presenting the European premiere ofThunderstorm, based on the famous Chinese drama by Cao Yu Following a successful visit to the London Coliseum by Shanghai Ballet in 2015, Shanghai Opera House make their UK debut with four performances of Thunderstorm, an opera by Chinese composer MO Fan, based on the famous play written by CAO Yu. Conducted byZHANG Guoyong and directed by ZHA Mingzhe, Thunderstorm opens at the London Coliseum on Thursday 11 August for four performances. Thunderstorm began life as a play, written by CAO Yu and premiered in 1935. It is one of the most popular Chinese dramatic works of the period. The story unfolds in the space of one day and centres around the disastrous effects of rigid traditionalism and hypocrisy on the wealthy, modern Zhou family. The operatic version of Thunderstorm was premiered in May 2006 at the Shanghai Oriental Art Center to celebrate Shanghai Opera House’s 50th anniversary. The performances at the London Coliseum mark the European premiere of Thunderstorm. ZHOU Puyuan, master of the Family of Zhou has a son ZHOU Chong with his wife Fanyi, but his elder son ZHOU Ping was born by his former maid Shiping. Fed up with her imperious husband, Fanyi starts an affair with ZHOU Ping her stepson. The fearful ZHOU Ping seeks solace in his relationship with Sifeng the young maid, who then becomes pregnant. One evening during a thunderstorm, Shiping comes to the family house by accident, and then it becomes clear that she is also the mother of Sifeng. Sifeng, finding it hard to accept that her lover is in fact her brother, runs into the thunderstorm and is stuck by lightning. ZHOU Chong, who has always been Sifeng’s secret admirer, dashes out to save her but is also killed instantly. ZHOU Ping kills himself in despair, while Fanyi and Shiping become mad. ZHOU Puyuan loses his whole family within one day. Composer and librettist MO Fan has written a wide variety of works including operas, dance dramas, cantatas, tone poems and concertos. His works have been performed across Europe and Asia. MO Fan has twice been the recipient of the prestigious Wenhua Prize – winning forThunderstorm at the 8th China Arts Festival in 2007 and for another opera Tu Lou in 2013 at the 10th China Arts Festival in 2013. Vice President of the National Theatre in China, ZHA Mingzhe is one of China’s most accomplished directors. Known for his moving portrayals of the ordinary lives of Chinese people, ZHA Mingzhe has won many national awards, including “Excellent Director in the New Century” by the Chinese Dramatists Association and the magazine Chinese Theater in 2005. ZHANG Guoyong is the Principal Conductor of Shanghai Opera House, Professor and Dean of Conducting at Shanghai Conservatory of Music and Vice Chairman of the China Musicians Association. He has conducted throughout Europe and Asia including with Russian State Orchestra, Russian Philharmonic, Tokyo Philharmonic and Hong Kong Philharmonic and is an expert in Russian works, especially the music of Shostakovich. In 2006, he was invited to sit on the jury of the 8th Cadaques International Conducting Competition.

Norman Lebrecht - Slipped disc

June 15

The concert after my violin was stolen

Anthea Kreston, American violinist in the Artemis Quartet, had her violin stolen yesterday afternoon on the Berlin-to-Freiburg train. Last night, she went on stage with the quartet, playing a borrowed instrument. Afterwards, sleepless and resilient, our weekly diarist Anthea went online to tell Slipped Disc readers how she coped. Yesterday afternoon, as I was taking the train with my quartet to Freiburg from Berlin, my violin was stolen. The train was searched, hours were spent in the police station, and when I arrived at the hall for the concert, four incredible and generous violinists were waiting for me, offering their violins for the quickly approaching concert. The details mimic other similar events, but my personal reaction was different than I would have expected. This violin, a 1928 Carl Becker from Chicago (the first family of makers in the USA – often referred to as the Strads of the States) was a gift from my grandfather. It has been by my side since age 14 – has spent more time with me than any person or thing. It is truly my sidekick. It has my voice – my Chicago accent – and it has stood the test of time and held its ground in concert and competition against many a mightier and loftier instrument. It is a fighter’s instrument with a warm, powerful dark bottom and a top sound which can cut through anything. It is tender and bold, quirky and reliable. It is me. As I was playing the concert, many things were rushing through my head. This loss, in many ways, sums up my experiences since January. Let go, be open, be yourself no matter what the circumstance. My voice – all of our musical voices – exists independent of any physical thing. We would be the same musicians if we had an injury, lost our instrument, were in a coma. It is inside. By the time I was part-way through the Shostakovich, I could hear myself in the new violin, coming out slowly. I started thinking of a man I once met at a concert in upper state New York. He was from Egypt and had a refugee childhood – going from country to country, living hand to mouth. His parents, white collar workers, did everything from working in belt factories to selling food in the streets to survive. He told me what they said – “we can’t give you a home or possessions, but we can help you learn every language of every country we go to, and this will be your tool. Your future. It isn’t something tangible, but it is very valuable.” He eventually made it to the States, with nothing but the clothes on his back. But, speaking 20 languages opened the door to possibilities and he did make his way. He was a wonderful and warm man – and in his big beautiful house, he had hidden under the floorboards a year’s worth of rice in a barrel. He said that was the first thing he would do when he moved to a new home. He would bury rice. This is what I have now. I left my possessions, I brought my family, and this is simply the last of my possessions that I lost. But, it is inside of me. It came out in the concert. It will always come out – even if I am lucky enough to get old enough to not be able to play anymore. I also, for some reason, keep thinking of the movie Harold and Maude. I haven’t seen it in 15 years but I still have every line memorized. Maude says at one point (she has a love of stealing cars) “Well, if some people get upset because they feel they have a hold on some things, I’m merely acting as a gentle reminder: here today, gone tomorrow , so don’t get attached to things.” I love Maude. Maybe this is the magical moment when someone comes forward with an instrument that I can borrow – you know those people who somehow have incredible instruments on loan? How does that even happen? I don’t have any idea. But – I do have a very bad second violin which I can use, and Gregor has an $89 carbon fiber bow for me. In no time, those will sound just like me too. UPDATE: The German orchestra association has posted a theft notice.



Dmitri Shostakovich
(1906 – 1975)

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.



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