Posts Tagged ‘Anne-Sophie Mutter’

Bumps and Bychkov at MPhil

Thursday, June 25th, 2015

Semyon Bychkov in 2013 in London

Published: June 25, 2015

MUNICH — 2014–15 has been a rough transitional season for the Munich Philharmonic. Lorin Maazel’s sudden resignation a year ago forced its managers into much recasting, and some feeble programs. Then, midseason, came worse news. An irksome pact between Munich’s Bürgermeister Dieter Reiter and Bavaria’s Minister-Präsident Horst Seehofer nixed plans for a needed new concert hall to replace the Gasteig and instead envisioned a joyously slow disemboweling and inner rearrangement of that acoustically poor facility, which would leave the MPhil homeless starting in 2020. The pact sent Anne-Sophie Mutter, Christian Gerhaher and Mariss Jansons into public displays of betrayal, rage and frustration, respectively. But MPhil managers could not whine so loudly because the city owns the orchestra, so, a week behind everyone else, including the testy Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra (also affected), they emitted six splendid bureaucratic paragraphs saying absolutely nothing.

Somehow the musicians have ploughed through this temporum horribilis and on Monday (June 22) managed to sound confident and poised at the Gasteig under Semyon Bychkov. Grandly he propelled them in Brahms’s Third Symphony (1883) stressing contrasts and drama with wide arm gestures. Fine wind contributions, not least from principal horn Jörg Brückner, flattered the score’s textures, and Bychkov took a pleasingly weighty and leisurely approach to the middle movements, observing dynamic markings with care. Ravel’s G-Major Piano Concerto (1931) after the break found everyone on less sure footing, however, despite this being the program’s third iteration. Jean-Yves Thibaudet gave a dull, woolly account of the solo part. Ensemble weakened. The long concert remained in French mode for its conclusion, Debussy’s La Mer (1905), but this listener had to run.

Tomorrow, the same partnership performs in the Pala de Andrè as a guest of the Ravenna Festival. MPhil 2014–15 closes fully with concerts here led by Kent Nagano and Krzysztof Urbański, but in September more headaches loom when Valery Gergiev takes over as Chefdirigent. Systems are supposedly in place to prevent the skimpiness of preparation associated with the new boss. It is unclear what, if any, measures are in place to cope with the political challenge.

Photo © Chris Christodoulou

Related posts:
Trifonov’s Rach 3 Cocktail
Stravinsky On Autopilot
On Wenlock Edge with MPhil
Mastersingers’ Depression
Modern Treats, and Andsnes

Inspiration and Mentoring in the Workplace

Thursday, September 12th, 2013

by Edna Landau

To ask a question, please write Ask Edna.

Over the summer months, I had the opportunity to speak with a number of young people who are currently working in artist management, as well as others who have moved on to different areas of the classical music business. Having felt for a long time that we are not doing enough to nurture the next generation of artist managers, I asked for their opinions and suggestions. Overall, they tended to concur with my supposition; however, they all felt that the situation could be improved despite changes in the industry and the minimal profit margins that many artist managements face. The most immediate problem for those entering the field is the limited opportunities for upward mobility. They often have a music background and are willing to start at a low salary with entry-level responsibilities, with the hope that their situation will improve before too long. They soon learn that there is no built-in system for advancement, and that promotions are often dependent on someone leaving the company since the budget rarely allows for adding new positions unless there are significant new artist signings or touring attractions. What can make a real difference during this indefinite “apprenticeship” period is if those senior to them take advantage of opportunities to inspire and mentor them in ways that will nurture their talents and groom them for future higher positions within the company as they open up. Often this doesn’t happen and when word gets out to other agencies about their promising potential, they are snatched away at a higher salary (which might only be $2500 to $5000 more). Might there not have been a way to trim the expense budget enough to hold on to them? The process of training a new person can be lengthy and time-consuming, and there is always the danger of a dip in morale with staff departures. How can we do a better job of nurturing and mentoring gifted younger talent to avoid the disruptions that regular turnover causes in our businesses? Here are some ideas that we came up with together:

Senior staff should check in on junior employees at least once a week to see how they are doing. They should make sure to offer praise for work well done. They should inform them when visitors might be coming into the office and make every effort to introduce them to one another. Just about everything in the artist management business revolves around personal relationships. People at every level will work harder if they get to meet people with whom they interact on a regular basis. It should go without saying that every individual who works on behalf of an artist at any level should have the opportunity to meet that artist when they visit the office.

If possible, managers should give their associates/assistants opportunities to listen to conversations that might be particularly enlightening (at least to one side of the conversation, if using a speaker phone is awkward). There is no better way to learn how to negotiate fees than to eavesdrop on a manager adroitly navigating their way through a demanding negotiation. Managers should also share with their assistants details of some of the challenges they have been encountering, asking how they might have dealt with such challenges and leaving ample time for questions. Once managers and their assistants have worked together for a while, it becomes especially meaningful if they invite them to artist meetings. It demonstrates to the artist that they have a team to turn to at all times and it is very gratifying to the assistants to feel trusted in this way. An additional way to convey a sense of trust is to give the assistant a small project to handle on their own, with the prior understanding of what is to be undertaken and the desired goal. Constructive feedback (and hopefully praise) at the end of the project helps enormously to build confidence and a sense of achievement.

An incalculable amount can be learned by being cc’d (or blind copied) on e-mails.  When Charles Hamlen and I headed up Hamlen/Landau Management and later IMG Artists, we circulated our daily correspondence to anyone who felt inclined to read it. Managers tend to travel a great deal and sometimes it can be difficult to keep up with everything while on the road. An informed junior colleague will be up to date on their activities and will be familiar with their style of dealing with artists and presenters—a great advantage during the manager’s absence.

No matter what challenges crop up on any day, it is important for the senior artist manager to present a positive and upbeat demeanor to junior employees. If they often come across as exhausted and frustrated, they could seriously cause a young colleague to wonder if this is a direction they should personally be contemplating. All of us who have spent a great deal of time in the artist management business and the classical music industry in general undoubtedly feel that the joys of our work far outweigh any possible drawbacks. Our only hope in attracting new gifted talent to the field is to demonstrate that joy and communicate it regularly to those around us.

In thinking about colleagues of mine with the greatest longevity in our business, I was drawn to contact R. Douglas Sheldon, the greatly respected Sr. Vice President and Director of Columbia Artists Management Inc. (CAMI). He kindly agreed to meet with me and share some personal insights gained over 47 years with the company. He came to CAMI in 1966 from the Rochester Philharmonic and started out as the Midwest booking representative. There was no formal training but he learned from watching Ed Kneedler, who ran the booking department, and later from Sheldon Gold and Ronald Wilford. He also cites as mentors such legendary presenters as John Edwards (Chicago Symphony), Bill Dawson and Fan Taylor (both managers of the University of Wisconsin cultural presentations), Al Edgar (with whom he founded the Ames International Festival in 1969) and Chicago impresario, Harry Zelzer. After four years, Mr. Sheldon became Director of Booking, a position he held until 1979. His subsequent work has focused on management of leading artists and orchestras, as well as developing younger talent. Anyone who comes in contact with Doug Sheldon surely has no doubt of his total dedication and passion for the business, which must have played a big role in keeping an associate such as Mary Jo Connealy working alongside him for 25 years (until her untimely death in 2005). She began as his second secretary, handling itineraries, logistics and tour budgets, but brought with her a strong musical training and an acute ear for talent. In her seventh year at CAMI, he asked her to travel with violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter for three Canadian dates during a recital tour. The respect that had begun to develop between the two solidified during that time and led to close work together over many years, yet at no point did Ms. Mutter question Mr. Sheldon’s ongoing dedication to her and the development of her career. Ms. Connealy went on to become a Vice President and beloved artist manager at CAMI.

Doug Sheldon spoke to me about young people applying for jobs at CAMI today. Their first question is often about the path for promotion at the company. He tells them that there is no “path,” but offers to introduce them to a good number of people who started at the most basic entry level and now occupy significant positions. He explains that they succeeded in earning the company’s and its artists’ confidence and created their own path. I asked how he personally helped some of them along the way. He spoke of the importance of sharing information, philosophy and context. He further explained that there is no point in asking someone to handle their first fee negotiation if they don’t possess background on the artist and presenter and understand the significance of the date and the depth of the relationship that led to the negotiation. He was also quick to add that one should always remain open to hearing from younger colleagues as “their ideas can be better than your own.”

Doug Sheldon spoke of his team of six as “helping him accomplish what he could never do on his own.” For that reason, he feels they should know as much as possible about his work. He has daily interaction with them and they have total access to his e-mail correspondence. One imagines that with this style of working, everyone wins. I recall attending Doug Sheldon’s 60th birthday party during which Zarin Mehta, among others, made a toast. He said that he could sum him up in just one word: integrity. I am sure that all of us who have been privileged to work in the artist management field for a long while strive to bring integrity, first and foremost, to everything that we do. We must dedicate ourselves to sharing that goal with our younger colleagues and give them the tools with which to achieve it.

To ask a question, please write Ask Edna.

© Edna Landau 2013

Please note that this column will henceforth be posted biweekly.

Berlin’s Lutosławski Tribute kicks off with Dvořák

Friday, February 8th, 2013

By Rebecca Schmid

The Berlin Philharmonic is celebrating the centenary of Lutosławski with several concerts this month. The first of the series on February 7—featuring his Concert for Orchestra—opened appropriately with Anne-Sophie Mutter, who premiered one of his most important works, Chain Two, in 1988. In an interview I conducted two years ago, the violinist recalled how seeing the score triggered a passion for contemporary music which she continues to nurture. Her appearance at the Philharmonie alongside guest conductor Manfred Honeck took an unrelated historic twist with a performance of Dvořák’s Romance in F-minor, although the Czech composer’s innovative integration of folk music can be seen to have foreshadowed composers such as Bartok and Lutosławski. The last violinist to perform this work with the Philharmonic is Carl Flesch, in 1909. As Mutter also explained to me, she considers herself a kind of ‘great-grandchild’ of the legendary violinist given that Flesch taught her mentor Aida Stücki.

The Romance is derived from the slow movement of Dvořák’s String Quartet in F-minor, with a main melody so melting one understands why the composer was tempted to repurpose it. He gives it a short fugal exposition in the orchestra before the violin enters, wrought well by the transparent timbre of the Philharmonic’s strings, although the sound was tense during later fortissimo passages. Mutter brings a crying quality to her high notes which pushed the Romantic emotion to the edge, and struck a mix of strength and fragility in the cantabile lines, yet the tempo was slightly pressed. The pacing was more solid for Dvořák’s Violin Concerto, and the orchestra warmed up to a more communal sound in tutti episodes. Honeck’s conducting remained deferential, if not slightly meek, but clear. Mutter and the orchestra gave the fast opening movement a glowing but icy sheen, while the inner Adagio swooned with more sentimentality. The final Allegro giocoso was the most exciting. Mutter carved out melodies with the sweet but slick tone that has inspired composers from Rihm to Penderecki, and Honeck brought out the folksy rhythms with natural flair.

Folklore plays an equally important role in Lutosławski’s Concert for Orchestra, which effectively established him as a generation’s leading composer in 1950s Poland. Its rigorous yet experimental development of tonality and rich orchestration certainly qualify it as a modernist masterpiece that deserves to be heard more often in concert halls. The instrumentation of his Concert is full of delicious subtlety, such as a piccolo solo that moves through a dissolving circle of fifths above swirling winds and strings in the inner Capriccio. But it is the final Passacaglia, Toccata e Corale that, for this listener, captures Lutosławski’s genius, with a bass line that is passed through monumental brass to the middle of the orchestra before the outer voices come crashing against it. The violins are left with the melody, a remnant of a culture that once was, against a jarring piano chord as the rest of the orchestra dies. Once the music comes back to life, the counterpoint locks into clockwork before dismantling like a cubist painting (I thought of the Czech artist Bohumil Kubista, a member of the New Secession movement), with dark, atmospheric colors that overcome angst with their own sense of order. Honeck led the work with spirit and spontaneity, and the Philharmonic responded with smooth precision.

Rocky Seas, a Waltz and a Violin Concerto

Friday, October 26th, 2012

By Rebecca Schmid

The programming of the Berlin Philharmonic, while reportedly having gravitated away from the players’ specialty in German repertoire since Sir Simon Rattle took the reins a decade ago, not only gives equal weight to post-Romantic repertoire but consistently illuminates connections between works which seem disparate at first glance. Andris Nelsons conducted the orchestra on Wednesday in a program of Britten, Widmann, Debussy and Ravel that yielded a powerful sense of emotional coherence. Jörg Widmann, a prolific German clarinettist and composer whose opera Babylon premieres in Munich next week (also featuring New Artist of the Month Anna Prohaska), combines neo-Romantic expressivity with avant-garde textures and unrestrained modern angst, much in the spirit of his teacher Wolfgang Rihm, yet in its own impulsive search. His Violin Concerto unfolds in a single, approximately 30-minute movement with a driving, lamenting melody at its center, alternately spurring and diffracting the colors of the orchestra. Structurally, it recalls Rihm works such as Gesungene Zeit, a chamber concerto written for Anne-Sophie Mutter.

Soloist Christian Tetzlaff, who premiered Widmann’s concerto in 2007, brought out the music’s direct dramatic qualities in plangent lyricism that escalates into an existential struggle richocheting throughout the orchestra. The players of the Philharmonic performed in precise coordination and with sensitivity under Nelsons. After a long pause toward the end of the piece the music returns with a violent snap in the low strings until the soloist, supported by the violins, climbs out of its tortured state. A celeste chord and gentle gong crash provide closure. This sense of eerie loneliness also penetrated the final moments opening work, the Passcaglia op.33b from the opera Peter Grimes. The soulful viola solo performed over celeste at the close, foreshadowing the death of the persecuted fisherman’s second apprentice, evokes a deserted beach and grey skies, a struggle already expired. Nelsons intelligently gave the viola section emphasis by placing it downstage in front of the celli. The aching string passages in the body of the work, punctured by anxious woodwinds, were a bit studied in this reading by the Philharmonic, but the fluid communication of the players kept the balance naturally in place.

A more lively vision of the sea emerged in Debussy’s poetic masterpiece La Mer, a series of three ‘symphonic sketches’ whose free structure and painterly landscapes have inspired everyone from Luciano Berio to John Williams. The orchestra found its stride in the second movement Jeux de vagues, capturing the music’s buoyancy with more ease than the surging, mysterious quality of the opening De l’aube à midi sur la mer, although wind solos were impeccable throughout. Nelsons brought sweep and youthful energy to Debussy’s vision of dancing waves which escalates into a battle between wind and water in the final Dialogue du vent et de la mer. The impending turbulence emerged with keen dramatic timing before subsiding into triumphant serenity. Ravel’s La Valse, conceived as a poème choréographique, follows the opposite trajectory, gathering its forces into a Viennese waltz à la Johann Strauß before marching brass attacks and Spanish-inflected castanets force the melody to fragment and spin out of control. Program notes infer that Ravel was not only impacted by the fall of the Hapsburg Empire in the First World War but the death of this mother in 1916. The strings of the Berlin Philharmonic reaffirmed their elegant culture of playing as the demonic dance unfurled with a sense of desperation that had been tacitly present the entire evening.

What We’ve Been Doing Lately

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

By Alan Gilbert

Those of us who were involved in preparing for last year’s production of Ligeti’s Le Grand Macabre are remembering the great excitement we all felt in this very same rehearsal room as we prepare for our upcoming performances of Janáček’s opera The Cunning Little Vixen, but are also amazed at how different the space feels. This time Doug Fitch — our brilliant director/designer/costume genius — has created a fantastic, magical landscape, populated with the most gorgeous creations: animal suits, bug antennae, plants and flowers, all fashioned out of found materials and readily-available clothing. LGM (as we referred to the Ligeti) filled the studio with high-tech equipment, making it feel rather like a mad-scientists laboratory. It is a testament to Doug’s incredible range that he is able to be so convincing in such vastly varied ways. I encourage everybody to check out Doug’s Website as well as the video that was made for the Philharmonic’s site to get a real sense of this amazing artist. 

During a break in rehearsal I was talking with Daniel Boico, my terrific Assistant Conductor at the Philharmonic, about how lucky we are to have a job that can be so different from day to day. The world of theater, where we are now, is a totally different experience from what our activities last week, when we were performing and recording Time Machines, Sebastian Currier’s marvelous new violin concerto with, Anne-Sophie Mutter for Deutsche Grammophon. We literally went directly from a listening session of the first edits into a staging rehearsal for the Janáček — the contrast could not have been greater.

It is difficult to believe that only two weeks ago we wrapped up our 11-concert EUROPE / SPRING 2011 Tour which took us to nine cities. Aside from the splendid playing of the Orchestra, night after night, some of my strongest memories from the tour are of the audiences — how intensely concentrated and appreciative they were, and also how distinctly different they were from place to place, from culture to culture. Audiences may not always realize how crucial they are in creating mood in a concert, and the great influence they can make on the inspiration, or lack thereof, of the performers. Many of the Philharmonic musicians were commenting on this as the tour progressed, observing that our performances experienced subtle changes over the trip according to the atmosphere we felt in the different halls.

The Budapest audience was definitely the most shocking: they have an amazing routine that involves rhythmic clapping that gradually increases in speed. Many audiences do this, but what was unusual for us was how slowly the rhythm started; the crowd began the accelerando with such long pauses between each clap that it sounded as if they had rehearsed!

All of the audiences were very quiet during the music, but there was a special intensity we felt in Leipzig; Lisa Batiashvili, one of our soloists on the tour, said that she thinks they have “cleaner ears.”  Perhaps so, or perhaps not, but in any case there was a palpable connection that created a rare musical bond for all of us who were there.  

But now back to rehearsing Vixen: It’s taking shape wonderfully already, and everyone is excited to hear the New York Philharmonic play this luscious score. See you there!

(For more information on Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic, visit