June 2012 - Posts
I've been a bit lazy recently in getting my posts about the always fascinating magazine Opera News , so I'lll combine coverage of June and July . The June issue has extensive information about the many great Summer music festivals about to begin , and many of these have opera performances, both staged and in concert form . The world fampous Tanglewood festival in Massachusetts, Summer home of the Boston symphony , celebrates its 75th anniversary , and renowned Swiss conductor Charles Dutoit will lead a performance of the quasi-operatic oratorio "The Damnation of Faust" by Hector Berlioz . The Boston symphony will play a variety of concerts under a variety of emoinent conductors . The Ravinia festival in Illionois is the Summer home of the Chicago symphony , Among the vocal offerings there are familiar operas by Mozart and rarities by Kurt Weill and Franz Schreker .
The Aspen festival in Colorado will feature a production of John Harbison's operatic version of The Great Gatsby, premiered about a decade ago at the Met . The San Francisco opera has a brief Summer season with productions of Mozart's The Magic Flute,Verdi's Attila, and Nixon in China by John Adams . Te Santa Fe New Mexico opera , which performs in its own special outdoor theater will have productions of Tosca, Arabella by Richard Strauss , and interesting rarities such as King Roger by Karol Szymanowski and Rossini's Maometto Secondo .
The Caramoor festival ,located in Westchester county just north of New York, will offer a Rossini rarity called Ciro in Babilonia conducted by Bel Canto specialist Will Crutchfield with the resident Orchestra of St. Lukes on NYC. The Glimmerglass opera festival in Cooperstown,NY, home of Baseball , willl perform the 17th century French baroque opera Armida by Jean Baptiste Lully ,Lost In The Stars by Kurt Weill , and Verdi's familiar Aida .
The Bard college Summer festival ,just north of New York , will feature among other things, the rarely performed opera Le Roi Malgre Lui (the king in spite of himself by 19th century French composer Emmanuel Chabrier . The Lincoln Center festival, which features dance ,drama and film as well as music , will offer the N.Y. premiere of Emile , by Finnish composer kaaia Saariaho , one of today's leading women composers .
The July issue focuses on the art song repertoire , with interviews with the renowned Dutch soprano Elly Ameling and Canadian baritone Gerald Finley , both renowned fo rsinging German lieder and other song repertoire . Russell Platt,music editor of the New Yorker magazine , discusses the great lider of Austrian composer Hugo Wolf (1860-1903 ), In the June issue , an article called "The Girls of Summer", has brief interviews with such renowned sopranos and mezzos as Elisabeth Futral, Stepanie Blythe , Patricia Racette , Ewa Podles , and others on their plans for this Summer .
Opera News roving correspondants have reviews of opera performances from New York,Chicao, Dallas, Brussels , Glasgow,Milan, Houston,Miami , Madrid, Toronto, Berlin and London . There a re CD reviews of new recordings of Massenet's Werther, Wagner's Meistersinger , Parsifal, and new releases from Sony Classical's issues of historic Met performances from the past, as well as song and aria recitals by various singers .
There are also DVD reviews of live performances of such operas as Berg's Lulu, Mozart's Abduction from the Seraglio , Aida, La Boheme, and Verdi's Macbeth from a variety of leading opera houses around Europe , Even if you arne't an opera fan, Opera News could very well make you desirous of becoming one !
I recently borrowed a CD of music by a promising young Amercan composer named Jay Greenberg from my library . His name is Jay Greenberg, and he was born in December 1991 . Although his parents are not professional musicians , his father being a professor of Slavic languages at Yale , he showed amazing musical talent as a small boy , and began composing before his tenth birthday . Young Jay attracted the attention of a couple of noted composers who teach at Juilliard , and came under their tutelage as a student in Juilliard's renowned pre-college program .
The CBS Sunday program 60 Minutes has featured him not once, but twice ! One of his teacher's has called the lad a child prodigy on the level of Mozart , which is high praise indeed . So far, He has written no fewer than five symphonies , a sonata for cello and piano , a quintet for strings , a concert overture inspired by the 9/11 catastrophe , and assorted other works .
So what does the music sound like ? For one thing, it's extremely well-crafted and technicaly assured . The CD, which is on the Sony Classical label , features his 5th symphony and the quintet for strings, written for two violins, one viola and two cellos, the same as the great string quintet by Franz Schubert . It's entirely tonal, and not at all outlandishly avant-garde . In fact, it would not have sounded avant-garde 70 years ago . The knotty music of the venerable American composer Elliott Carter is far more modernistic despite the fact that at 103 , he is old enough to be Greenberg's great grandfather .
One thing it seems to lack is a distinctive personal style which is uniquely his own . It sounds at times like Hindemith , Bartok or Shostakovich . But he could certainly develop his own unmistakable personal voice with time . Many great composers did not find their own voices until they gained maturity .
The symphony is performed by no less than the distinguished Uruguayan-born conductor and composer Jose Serebrier , leading the world-famous London symphony orchestra, and the quintet is performed by the renowned Juilliard string quartet with an extra cellist , and both performances are excellent . A young composer could not hope for better recdordings .
It should be interesting to see how this remarkably gifted young man develops as a composer . Will he become a truly great one ? Only time will tell .
The irrepressible composer,critic,teacher and blogger Greg Sandow is at it again, bless him, at his blog at artsjournal.com . A recent post discusses a recent survey by 60 Minutes magazine about which kinds of music people found most easy or difficult to loisten to . 900 people were questioned and asked to rank Heavy Metal , Country music Hip Hop and classical according to how easy or difficult they are to listen to .
The most difficult ? The majority said Heavy metal . Only a small percentage said classical . Interesting, but what kind of classical music have these people heard ? Sandow sets up his usual straw men of classical musicians and fans supposedly praising the lofty complexisty and profundity of classical and looking down at the Neanderthal public which is too stupid to appreciate it etc.
But classical music is a vast field with vastly differing kinds of music ranging from quite simple to mind-bogglingly complex . Naturally, not too many people like to spend their time with the most complex kind , although some do and don't mind the challenge at all, including yours truly . In classical, there are works as simple and straightforward as Vivaldi's The Four Seasons and Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik , and works by composers such as Elliott Carter, Pierre Boulez, the late Milton Babbitt and others which are abpout as easy to grasp as a treatise on nuclear physics or advanced mathematics .
Sandow cites the cliche abpout the way so many people enjoy classical music because's so "relaxing" and "sweetly melifluous". Certainly, some classical music is beautiful , melifluous and soothing . Then he compares classical with the raw power of Heavy Metal, sayuing that htis is music that really makes people sit up and pay attention .
Well, there are quite a few classical works which make Heavy Metal sound like a lulaby ! A 100 piece orchestra can generate more raw power than any Rock band, which needs amplification,anyway . Not only that, it has something you just don't get in rock - dynamic constrast, or many gradations of loud and soft, from almost inaudible to the wake the dead and cause earthquakes level .
Some examples of these would be "The Ride Of The Valkyries" , from Wagner's Ring, Die Walkure to be specific , Stravinsky's Rite of Spring , Prokofiev's Scythian Suite , Hekla by the obscure Icelandic composer Jon Leifs ( 1899 - 1968 ), which portrays the mighty volcano of that name , the Alpine symphony of Richard Strauss, which has a section describing an alpin storm which will make you run for shelter , Prokofiev's infernal symphony no 3 , Ottorino Respighi's symphonic poems The Pines of Rome and Roman Festivals , Mahler's gargantuan choral symphony, his 8th, written for everything including the kitchen sink .In fact, many Heavy Metal musicians really love these loud works and think they're cool as all getout . But these classical composers also wroite plenty of quiet,reflective music,too .
The five string quartets of 103 ! year old American composer Elliott Carter may call for only two violins, a viola and a cello , but they are mind-bendingly intricate works , filled with unbelievably complex and irregular rhythms , and so many different ideas going on at the same time that it will make you rmind reel . Not much noise, but an awful lot to ponder .
One thing that makes classical so different from other kinds of music is that you cannot really understand it without a context . Why ? Becaise when most people think of music, they think of simple songs with lyrics . But while vocal music is a very important part of classical , much of it is purely instrumental , and if you just hear sounds without some kind of context, some fram eof reference, it will be meaningless to you .
Suppose I tell ask a friend of mine who is not into classical music and knows virtually nothing baout it to listen to a symphony by Brahms on CD . He will ask , what's a symphony, who the heck is Brahms ? What are thpoise strange sounds? Why the heck am I listenoing to this stuff ? You see, he doesn't know that a symphony is a form of classical music , sort of like a sonnet is a form of poetry , and that Johannes Brahms was a German guy from the 19th century who was a composer and wrote it . Maybe I'm exagerating about how ignorant about so many people are about classicla music , but I think you get my point .
Now do you still think classical music is easy ?
Today is the 75th birthday of the eminent Estonian conductor Neeme Jarvi (Nay-meh Yair-vee) , who has achieved international acclaim not only for the excellence of his performances but his tireless efforts to give obscure but desrervng works by a wide variety of composers a hearing ,including those of his native Estonia , a former Soviet republic on the Baltic sea which is now an independent nation .
After studies in his native Estonia and in St.Petersburg when it was called leningrad , Jarvi held positions with the opera company of Talinn,capital of Estonia , and conducted concerts and opera in Leiningrad and elsewhere in the former Soviet Union . But he left the Soviet Union around 1979 and settled in America , while pursuing an international career with such leading orchestras as the Gothenburg symphony of Sweden, the Royal National Scottish orchestra , the Detroit symphpony and New Jersey symphony as music director , as well as those of London, Stockholm, Oslo, Copenhagen , Geneva, Munich , all over America and elsewhere . Jarvi is about to become music director of the Suisse Romande orchestra in Geneva, one of Switzerland's best-known orchestras .
Few conductors have ever had a repertoire as wide-ranging and eclectic as jarvi's . As an Estonian , he naturally has a great flair for the music of Scandinavian composers Sibelius,Nielsen Greig and lesser-known ones from this area , and is the first conductor to bring the music of his native Estonia, which has a surprisingly rich musical tradition to international exposure . Before Jarvi, hardly any one had heard of composers such as Eduard Tubin (1905 - 1982 ) or others whose music he has performed and recorded , not to mention the music of Arvo part (1935 -) whose music is now quite well known internationally .
Jarvi is also one of the finest interpreters of such great Russian composers as Prokofiev, Shostakovich , Rimsky-Korsakov, Borodin ,Tchaikovsky, etc and has also championed the very interesting music of such lesser-known Russian composers as Sergei Taneyev, Mily Balakirev, Nikolai Myaskovsky and others . When he became music director of the Detroit symphony some years ago , he became interested in American composers and performed and recorded music by such once well-known but long forgotten composers as George Whitefield Chadwick , William Grant Still ( one of the first African-American composers to achieve any success ) , and others .
There seems to be no limit to Jarvi's musical curiosity . He does conduct the familiar masterpieces of the orchestral repertoire but has never been content to confine himself to these . Jarvi has made numerous recordings of of-fbeat and standard repertoire for such leading record labels as Deutsche Grammophon, Chandos of England and BIS of Sweden . He has also conducted opera at the Met , the San Francisco opera and elsewhere . He has made acclaied recordings of such rarely heard operas as Tchaikovsky's Mazeppa , Carl Nielsen's Biblical opera Saul and David and Prokofiev's the fiery Angel , and Rachmaninov's three brief one-act operas .
Neeme Jarvi is also the proud father of two sons, Paavo and Krystian, who have also made international careers as conductors . Paavo Jarvi has just stepped down as music director of the Cincinnati symphony, and is currecntly music director of the Orchestre de Paris and the Frankfurt Radio symphony .
The elder Jarvi has put concertgoers and classical CD collectors all over the world in debt for his tireless efforts to widen the repertoire of orchestral and operatic music . Happy birthday,maestro ! As many great conductors have lived to a ripe old age without retiring until the very end , let''s all wish the maestro many more years before the public adn hope for many more recordings of off-beat and intriguing works .