Posts Tagged ‘Antonin Dvorak’

Paris Protesters Seek a “New World”

Sunday, April 24th, 2016

By: Frank Cadenhead

There is an ongoing protest movement called Nuit Debout in Paris and in other cities around France. Like “Occupy Wall Street” is is mainly frustrated young people. The name “Nuit debout” has been translated into English as “Up All Night”, “Standing Night”, or “Rise up at night.” Young people in the thousands gather in Paris at the Place de la République each night since the movement began on March 31.

It was an immediate response to a proposed modification to France’s labor laws which would make it easier for employers to fire employees, a difficult process and a problem for prospective new business in France. The government’s proposal immediately was opposed by labor unions and other left politicians and groups. Protesters with a variety of other social issues immediately joined the movement. The street protests, which have sometimes turned violent, has lead to this permanent nighttime occupation of one of the most important junctions in Paris.

A young oboist, Clément Lafargue, had an idea for musicians to gather to play Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9, “From the New World,” as an act of hope. The call went out on social media and on the designated night, April 21, some 350 musicians, both professional and amateur, showed up. After only a couple of hours of rehearsal, the symphony was played. A Youtube sample shows that enthusiasm can trump detail:

The 2011 “Occupy Wall Street” movement made a global impact and movements began in European countries. It did not have much impact in France because of the election of a new Socialist government under President François Hollande created the expectation that the economy and social justice would flourish. Since then, however, with the economy of France flatlined and disappointment with Hollande at the maximum, young people are again at the barricades.

With the disappearance of Occupy Wall Street, my own country’s establishment assumed that the protest and the dissatisfaction of young people was over. This understanding is only a hint of how seriously out of touch with the people “those in the know” were. This complete failure can be seen as alarming and is most clearly demonstrated in recent clueless party politics; clueless to the feelings of both Democrats and Republicans who vote with the resulting “outsider” candidates making the biggest impact so far.

East meets West: The National Symphony Orchestra at the Philharmonie

Thursday, November 21st, 2013

Taiwan_NSO_1[1]By Rebecca Schmid

The Taiwan Philharmonic, which also calls itself the National Symphony Orchestra, came to Berlin on Nov.18 as part of the second European tour in its history. With two recent commissions on the program—one by a German composer, the other by an American-trained Taiwanese native—it became clear how global classical music trends have become.

Ming-Hsiu Yen’s Breaking Through, which opened the program, stays true to its title with a clear dramaturgical structure. In the first section of the approximately 14-minute piece, after an exciting drum fanfare, various sections of the orchestra—high strings against brass, low strings against winds—are set into friction with each other, creating an immediate sense that something has to give. The second section builds out of an insistent, mourning motive in the low strings until only glassy textures and xylophone are left, only to rise again into a heroic close.

A post-Romantic feel also extends to Christian Jost’s Taipei Horizon, although a more apt title might be Taipei Apocalypse. The music opens with spurts of atmospheric, extended dissonances. There is some relief when an oboe solo emerges above pizzicati and swirling motives, but the approximately 16-minute work proceeds to march on in a procession of directionless despair, with brushes of pentatonic motives that should lend eastern flair, warring percussion, and morose low strings that have their final word in rumbling double-basses.

The orchestra, under its Music Director Shao-Chia Lü, gave a careful reading of both scores, although the Jost had perfunctory moments. In Breaking Through, the trombones got off to a wobbly start but warmed up to a more even tone.

The Sibelius Violin Concerto, featuring Viviane Hagner as soloist, was less convincing. Despite the Philharmonic’s clean, well-calibrated playing, there was no sense of the spacious mystery or profound melancholy that brings this music to life in the opening Allegro.

The middle movement, which relies on the expressive power of the soloist in passages of naked, soulful lyricism, was even more disappointing. Hagner’s soft dynamics were not trenchant enough, nor did she capture the complex emotions behind the notes. The zesty delivery of the final movement was more satisfying, although the soloist’s tone could have benefitted from more strength.

All sections of the orchestra were in fine form for Dvořák’s Eighth Symphony, which unfolded with fresh energy and elegant phrasing, particularly in the lilting dance-like melody of the closing Allegro ma non troppo. Lü, clearly in high spirits, showed off his flair for the composer with an encore of the Fifth Slavonic Dance. He then brought the soprano Meng-Chun Lin onstage to perform a traditional Taiwanese song.

As the orchestration flowered around her earnest melody, one caught a glimpse of what may be the future of classical music.

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.