Posts Tagged ‘Sibelius’

Carydis Woos Bamberg

Sunday, January 4th, 2015

Constantinos Carydis

Published: January 4, 2015

BAMBERG — When the Bamberger Symphoniker replaces its Chefdirigent next year, it could do worse than hiring Constantinos Carydis. The intense but discreet Athenian secured creative and technically superb playing in a Nordic and Impressionist program Nov. 29 here at the Joseph-Keilberth-Saal, confirming skills he has shown in Munich.

Choosing won’t be easy, and there is a preliminary question for this conservative north Bavarian town. Artistry or stability? Bamberg has enjoyed plenty of the latter in incumbent Jonathan Nott, who began in 2000. But unique interpretive approaches are another matter. The Lamborghini-driving British conductor has not forged a strong international profile for the orchestra — Edinburgh performances in 2011, for instance, lacked insight and vigor — and the claim of an “audible leap in quality” under his leadership versus the standards of predecessors Keilberth, Eugen Jochum and Horst Stein is hard to accept.

The job has attractions, not least the direct backing of the orchestra by the Free State of Bavaria, which encourages its deep tradition of touring. (Formed by German musicians expelled from Czechoslovakia, the Bamberger Symphoniker has given 6,500 concerts in 500 cities and still performs mostly away from home.) State broadcaster BR records the ensemble’s work and a few years ago the state helped pay for sound tweaks by Yasuhisa Toyota to its 1,380-seat hall. Built in 1993 with cheap materials and named after Bamberg’s grumpy first Chefdirigent, who held the post from 1950 to 1968, the Joseph-Keilberth-Saal sits on the Regnitz River below a onetime monastery. It probably is “Bavaria’s best concert hall” (another claim) if only because Nuremberg and Munich are so deficient in this regard. The sound is warm, balanced and natural, though high frequencies project relatively feebly.

Carydis, 40, definitely not to be confused with his vain compatriot Teodor Currentzis, 42, will be unlike anyone else the orchestra is considering and may or may not fit Bamberg’s concept of “maestro.” He is selective in the projects he takes on, i.e. not known for a heavy workload. For this debut he was without a jacket and looked disheveled. When in 2011 he was somewhat distressingly handed the Carlos Kleiber Prize — established on Kleiber’s 80th birthday and awarded only once to date, to Carydis — he disappeared for a year’s sabbatical. Not surprisingly he has never held a major music directorship and it is unclear whether he could commit to the scope of such a job. On the other hand, all that he does turns to musical gold. He is highly imaginative and perceptive, meticulous in preparation, equally accomplished in opera and symphonic music, adept in scores by such dissimilar composers as Shostakovich, Falla, Rimsky-Korsakov, Mozart and Offenbach. He is admired where he is best known, in Munich: tomorrow he will conduct a Brahms and Debussy concert, later this month a run of Don Giovanni, and during this summer’s Opernfestspiele a new staging of Pelléas et Mélisande.

This Bamberg concert followed runouts of the same program the previous two evenings in nearby Erlangen and Schweinfurt, part of the orchestra’s duty as a state ensemble. Refinement in the playing, no doubt lifted by repetition, came across immediately in Sibelius’s brute tone poem Tapiola (1926). The conductor reveled in its mostly quiet dynamics, lavishing attention on the woodwinds and propelling its long lines. Loud passages had considerable impact and the sense of purpose never flagged, though tension at times gave way to deathly stillness. In Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune (1894), which followed, Carydis appeared to let flutist Daniela Koch pace and shape the music. She practiced the virtue of playing gently all through the concert, so that her instrument always sounded exquisite; in the Debussy she was guilefully supported by her woodwind colleagues and flattered by the satiny strings, but at its end it was the conductor’s collaboration she went out of her way to acknowledge.

Nielsen’s brooding nine-minute pastorale for orchestra Pan og Syrinx (1918) opened the second half of the concert as a preamble to Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé Suites 1 and 2 (1911 and 1913). Like the Ravel, it relies on a sensuous string sound but places the interest in the woodwinds (clarinet and cor anglais personify the protagonists); agitated outbursts prop up the longer ruminative material. The Bamberg musicians achieved delicacy and much expressive character here, and in the Ravel, always with attention to mood. Carydis permitted no applause before Ravel’s opening Nocturne and looked irked that the Danse guerrière — brilliantly controlled, indeed electrifying — caused an eruption of applause before he could proceed into the Second Suite.

No decision date has been publicly set for the Bamberg appointment (in contrast to the Berlin Philharmonic job, for which a successor to a different Briton will be named in May, to start in 2018 after an equal 16-year tenure). If the new chief on the Regnitz can artistically stretch the musicians, as Carydis did on this visit, he or she will have been better chosen than any long-staying routinier.

Photo © Thomas Brill

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Munich Phil Tries Kullervo

Friday, May 31st, 2013

Munich Philharmonic at the Gasteig

Published: May 31, 2013

MUNICH — Young Finnish conductor Pietari Inkinen waved his arms heartily this week for Kullervo, leading the Munich Philharmonic at the Gasteig concert hall. It wasn’t enough. Sibelius’s impassioned sequence of tone poems (1892) demands wily control of dynamics and balances, and an intermittent spotlight on half-hidden themes. How else to correlate five epically inclined “movements,” two of them vocal, with thin melodic ties and scant symphonic argument?

As performed on May 28, the second and fifth movements (Young Kullervo and Kullervo’s Death) overstayed their welcome, and the 26-year-old composer’s closing apotheosis missed its mark. The painterly start and Brucknerian flashes of the first movement (without programmatic title) did compel attention, helped by eloquent string playing, but the fourth movement’s bucolic refrains, well forward, negated its supposed devotion to war.

Kullervo and His Sister, the central, longest and strongest of the movements — authorized by Sibelius for standalone performance — contrasted the matronly sound of Monica Groop’s mezzo-soprano (sibling and rape victim in this sorry Kalevala tale) with Jukka Rasilainen’s virile, resplendent Heldenbariton. Here and in the last movement, the score needs a substantial men’s chorus, for lines mostly unison. The combined voices of the Philharmonischer Chor München and Helsinki’s 130-year-old Ylioppilaskunnan Laulajat fit the bill thrillingly, even if they could not disguise Inkinen’s unpersuasive approach.

Photo © Andrea Huber

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New York Was His “Howieland”

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

by Sedgwick Clark

It’s a most improbable New York story: Broadway salutes a theater critic, of all things, by dimming its lights during prime box-office time prior to curtain. How often has that happened? No one would have been more astonished to receive this honor than its recipient, Howard Kissel, theater critic of the New York Daily News for 20 years, who died on Friday (2/24) at age 69 of complications from a 2010 liver transplant.

Howard and I shared a Midwestern upbringing and undying gratitude for living in New York City and being able to partake of its wonders. He was as unassuming, knowledgeable, and gentlemanly a member of the Fourth Estate as one could imagine. His critical judgments were direct, perceptive, and never gratuitously personal, laced with a droll, understated wit that always left one smiling. I had met Howard at the Russian Tea Room back in the 1970s when he was arts editor of Women’s Wear Daily and W magazine but only got to know him well in the ’90s. In between, he appeared in his one and only film as Woody Allen’s manager in Starlight Memories (1980). He wrote a biography of David Merrick and a study of Stella Adler’s teaching techniques. We saw each other frequently at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, when we would compare notes and I could grill him about shows I should try to sandwich between my concertgoing. I never received a bum steer.

An S.R.O. audience at Howard’s funeral yesterday shared many tears and much laughter as he was remembered. His sisters, Anne and Judy, affectionately eulogized their big brother, saying that he always seemed to be from another planet, which they called “Howieland.” A friend recounted that Howard had been on a list for a liver transplant for some time, but when the hospital finally called he discovered he had tickets that evening for City Center’s Encores! presentation of Stephen Sondheim’s cult musical Anyone Can Whistle and opted for the show. It would be months before he got a second chance for a new liver.

Musical America was fortunate to have Howard writing theater reviews for its Web site on occasion in recent years, and he blogged under the title “The Cultural Tourist” for the Daily News and, more recently, the Huffington Post, in which he filed his last, bittersweet entry three days before his death. Both the News and the Times printed obits worthy of his charmed life.

And then, on Tuesday at 7 p.m., Broadway dimmed its lights for a minute in recognition of one of its own.

Looking Forward

My week’s scheduled concerts:

3/2 Carnegie Hall. Vienna Philharmonic/Lorin Maazel. Sibelius: Symphonies Nos. 1, 5, and 7.

3/5 Zankel Hall. Making Music, Jeremy Geffen, moderator. Soloistes XXI. Saariaho: Echo; Nuits, Adieux; Lonh; From the Grammar of Dreams; Tag des Jahrs.

3/6 Carnegie Hall. Boston Symphony/John Oliver. Tanglewood Festival Chorus/John Oliver. Christine Brewer, soprano; Michelle DeYoung, mezzo; Simon O’Neill, tenor; Eric Owens, bass-baritone. Beethoven: Missa solemnis.

Cellphones and Their Ilk

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

by Sedgwick Clark  

Many years ago I was sitting next to the p.r. director of the Berlin Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall when a cellphone went off as Simon Rattle conducted. When the piece ended I asked him if that happened in Berlin. “Everywhere,” he said sadly.   

I left for vacation two days after the cellphone brouhaha at the New York Philharmonic last week, when the ringer in front-row center went off during the last page of Mahler’s Ninth and Alan Gilbert courageously stopped the orchestra until the thing was turned off. The explanation and the miscreant’s subsequent phone apology to Maestro Gilbert got loads of coverage, even on television. But as I passed through the airline’s frisker at Newark Airport I had no doubt what should be done: All concertgoers should be required to pass through metal detectors, and those who fail the test must check their cellphones, blackberries, iphones, et al. in the coat room before they are allowed to enter the concert hall.   

Unmuffled coughing (nearly always in a quiet moment) is annoying enough, but I’ve yet to encounter anyone with a good word to say about cellphone beepers in concerts. I recall the woman at a Philharmonic matinee over ten years ago who answered her cellphone to say loudly, “I can’t talk now—I’m in a concert.” Valery Gergiev ignored her, but I’ll bet Kurt Masur would have turned around and let her have it. (Which reminds me of the story of Sir Thomas Beecham conducting the final six widely spaced chords of Sibelius’s Fifth and several audience members applauding prematurely; he turned around and bellowed, “Savages,” before turning back to the orchestra and finishing the symphony without skipping a beat.)  

I wonder what Herbert von Karajan would have done?   

Gilbert’s Mahler

I heard the first of the series of Gilbert’s Mahler Ninths and found myself among the “some” mentioned by the Times‘s Tony Tommasini who might prefer a more emotional—nay, intense, searching, devastating—interpretation. I cannot go without mentioning Principal Cellist Carter Brey’s solo just before the last page of the work, which in a few seconds conveyed all the Mahlerian eloquence and heart-rending depth I found missing from the other 80 minutes. There are many extraordinary musicians in the Philharmonic, and Brey is among the uppermost.

Time Out for Bard

Friday, August 19th, 2011

by Sedgwick Clark

Last weekend I attended the opening concerts of the Bard Music Festival. This year’s subject is “Sibelius and His World.” There were the usual fascinating works being heard for the first time in perhaps a century (and possibly never again) and some thought-provoking panel discussions as befitting the academic environs. Musically, Sibelius’s early choral symphony, Kullervo, found conductor Leon Botstein and the American Symphony at their most impressive. But we’ll consider these and the second weekend’s treats next week.

We’ll see if Botstein dares to play the ending of Sibelius’s Fourth Symphony mezzo-forte, without ritarding, as written (only Colin Davis has the nerve to do that). To hear if he captures the rich, Romantic humanism of Nielsen’s Third Symphony (“Sinfonia espansiva”). Also to hear his brilliant combination of works for the festival’s final program: Sibelius: Tapiola. Barber: Symphony No 1. Vaughan Williams: Symphony No. 5. Sibelius: Symphony No. 7. He’s set himself a mighty aspiration.

Tune in next week.