Posts Tagged ‘bruckner’

An Italian, and possibly a Swiss, Symphony at the Philharmonie

Friday, January 11th, 2013

By Rebecca Schmid

Journeys have provided powerful inspiration to writers, painters and composers alike, opening eyes to new ways of seeing the world. The broadening of artists’ palettes has sometimes allowed them to capture a landscape more vividly than the natives could themselves. One only has to think of Dvorak’s New World Symphony, Gauguin’s portraits of French Polynesia (colonialist considerations aside), and—at least for an outsider— Mendelssohn’s Fourth, or Italian, Symphony. Riccardo Chailly, guest conducting the Berlin Philharmonic on January 9, juxtaposed this work with Bruckner’s Sixth Symphony, which in a similar vein was likely inspired by a trip to either Switzerland or Upper Bavaria.

Bruckner is easily the most provincial Romantic composer to have entered the symphonic canon, having rarely ventured outside his native Austria and devoting much of his opus to sacred works. Passages of the opening movement of the Sixth deviate strongly from the stormy, fretful tone one associates with his symphonies, with an exotic modal brass motive and a positively sunny melody for the violins. Program notes suggest that an underlying, one could say proto-minimalist, string texture represents the motoric drive of a train, while the trumpets herald new earthly vistas. Chailly’s vigorous, scooping gestures brought out the might of the Philharmonic.

The following Adagio brims with Mahlerian stillness, which the conductor savoured to melting effect. Even if Bruckner was not referring to the Swiss Alps, he suggests a heaven on earth that sounds very close. It is also worth noting that Mahler made several changes to the symphony before it had its first full performance in 1899, 18 years after Bruckner had completed it. By the third movement, the composer has—at least stylistically—returned closer to home terrain, with menacing blows of fate and bombastic, descending tutti passages, although there is an almost classical alternation between forte and piano sections.

The finale further vacillates between the serene and the tempestuous, with declamatory Wagnerian harmonies in the brass contrasted against delicate, protesting pizzicati and a fleeting waltz-like melody that, in the context of a journey, indicates a certain wistfulness for the fatherland. The symphony ends with a fervor that Chailly brought to a resounding close. Although the horns of the Philharmonic have even more precise on other occasions, it hardly mattered in the wider scheme of this bracing performance.

Mendelssohn’s Fourth emerged with tremendous care for dynamic contrast and shape of phrase as Chailly held thorough, but unaffected, control over the orchestra. Most impressive were the perfectly-built crescendi and decrescendi that emerged, particularly in the third movement Con moto moderato, and beautifully rounded, legato lines. Mendelssohn’s economic orchestration at times calls to mind a chamber ensemble, which the Philharmonic brought out through its characteristically tight communication between sections, particularly in the last two movements.

Concert Master of the evening Daishin Kashimoto led the violins with great precision, although the sound could have been warmer in fortissimo passages. Solo Clarinettist Andreas Ottensamer played with particular finesse in the Andante movement, characterized by sensuous, swelling lines throughout the orchestra and a touch of melancholy. True to his ‘German’ spirit, Mendelssohn does not only convey the pleasures of fine wine and sunshine but a deeply introspective, nostalgic view of the world. Perhaps this is why his symphonic portrait of Italy resonates so strongly.

Dresdener Musikfestspiele pay Tribute to Eastern Europe

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

By Rebecca Schmid

The theme of this year’s Dresdener Musikfestspiele, “Herz Europas” (the Heart of Europe), inventively returns the East German city to its roots as a thriving cultural hub. While today’s united Germany is roiled by the end of the ‘Merkozy’ era and Eurobond controversy, the emphasis of the festival (May 15-June 3) on central European repertoire and the cultural proximity of Dresden to the former Hapsburg Empire in effect harks back to a time when the arts served as a better common currency than any fiscal pact. As the Intendant and cellist Jan Vogler pointed out in a discussion, no other part of the world has produced a more influential body of composers than Eastern Europe. Vogler, who took over the festival in 2009, has turned a once provincial institution into an international attraction boasting a roster of coveted artists and ensembles. At the same time, he strives in his programming to strike a balance between the local love of native tradition and a more outward-looking approach. While last year’s theme, “Stars of Asia,” must have seemed positively exotic for the conservative ‘baroque’ city, Vogler—who spends most of the year in New York—hopes to provide a kind of ‘double-window’ from Dresden into international trends and vice versa.

The city of former East Germany has received a face lift in recent times, from the reconstruction of the Frauenkirche in 2005 (sixty years after the Protestant church was bombed to the ground) to Daniel Liebeskind’s provocative redesign to the Museum of Military History—a wedge of concrete and steel that slices through the traditional architecture—last year. Boxy post-war buildings line the outskirts of the shell-shocked city while fancy new hotels abut the cobblestone streets of the city’s small but opulent center, where the rebuilt Semperoper stands as a monument to the heyday of late German Romanticism (the original 19th-century building premiered works by Strauss and Wagner). The resident orchestra, the Staatskapelle Dresden, has already cemented its relationship with the incoming Music Director Christian Thielemann—who, according to Vogler, may have filled Karajan’s shoes as a leading conductor for many in Germany, unfortunate political allusions aside.

Thielemann with the Staatskapelle Dresden (c)Matthias Creutziger.

The program notes to a performance of Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony, presented as a co-production of the Staatskapelle and the festival, go as far as to compare the collaboration to a fated marriage, with the symphony acting as testimony. While a couple of my colleagues from the Music Critics Association of North America found the performance lacking a sense of arch at the expense of attention to dynamic detail, it is hard to deny the authenticity Thielemann brings to this music, with its triumphant Wagnerian brass and inner torment. Performing a 1939 edition that melds Bruckner’s original score with a modified version he penned between 1887 and 1890, the young Karajan kept the orchestra flowing like a well-oiled machine, with the Staatskapelle’s strings providing a full-bodied sound reminiscent of the Vienna Philharmonic. As a tuba solo hovered over a rising string motive in the final movement Feierlich, nicht schnell (a passage not included in the original score), history seemed to stand still.

To be sure, Dresden cannot as easily rest on its laurels as the long established Salzburg or Bayreuth festivals, yet the former imperial city of Saxony boasts its own lineage of noble interest in the arts. Princess Amalie, daughter of Prince Maximillian and the Princess of Parma, wrote a total of twelve operas based on her own libretti between 1816 and 1835, the last of which—La Casa Disabitata—was retrieved from an archive in Moscow with rights to a single unstaged performance at a 17th-century Lusthaus in Dresden’s Großer Garten this year. The grounds remain largely untended and the salon unrestored, yet the faded glory provided a fitting context for this mock opera buffa involving an orphan, Annetta, who is given shelter in a vacant house owned by the nobleman Don Raimondo where the poor poet Eutichio has secretly taken refuge. In the end, Raimondo and Annetta are finally able to acknowledge a mutual crush, while Eutichio and his wife Sinforosa also overcome their differences.

The plot is somewhat half-baked, and the music can be succinctly described as a rehashed Mozartean farce with shades of Cimarosa and Rossini. Amalie’s attempt to extend the formulaic final coda may reveal a poor grasp of dramatic tension, but at least she had the good taste to resist the lure of courtly indolence by immersing herself in the Mozart-Da Ponte masterpieces. Eutichio even breaks out into a meta-dialogue between Don Giovanni and the Commendatore before Annetta bursts in with her new keys while the poet waves a plastic pistol in his defense. As Eutichio, Matthias Henneberg was a bit of the sore thumb in a cast of otherwise budding young singers as he struggled to tailor his mature bass to the small resonant space. The lyric soprano Anja Zügner gave a stand-out performance as Annetta; Tehila Nini Goldstein (Sinforosa), Allen Boxer (Callisto, the house caretaker) and Ilhun Jung (Raimondo) also displayed fine musicianship to accompaniment by the Dresdner Kapellsolisten under Helmut Branny.

Just around the bend from the grassy promenades of the Großer Garten sits the monumental ‘Gläsener Manufaktur,’ a largely transparent glass and steel complex erected in 2002 that serves not only as a Volkswagon production plant but an event space. On a small stage beneath suspended half-built sedans with their engine parts exposed (call it factory chic), violiniste du jour Patricia Kopatchinskaja joined with both her parents and two other friends for an evening of gypsy-inspired music from Bartok to Ravel. The contrast of her father’s 120-year-old cimbalom with the industrial surroundings and the faint sound of a machine whirring (apparently an air-conditioner to counteract the heat produced in manufacture) was somewhat jarring for this listener, and Kopatchinskaja’s correction to the program notes that this music should not be considered ‘coffee house’ fare despite the fact that she hopes we can all drink coffee through the economic crisis only drove home the irony, but her ensemble’s spirited, authentic musicianship eventually created a world of its own, culminating in an encore of the full quintet performing to the Balkan dance melody “Hora Stacato.”

Back in the center of town a few days earlier, Steven Devine conducted the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and English tenor Ian Bostridge in an all-Bach program at the Frauenkirche. The acoustics of the church were a bit too fractious for the clear textures of the period ensemble—a colleague noted an approximately four-second reverb—yet the musicians increasingly settled into the space with their signature elegance. Bostridge, opening with a dedication to Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, gave a tender account of the cantata “Ich habe genug,” although the transcription for tenor did not always flatter his instrument. His timbre found a better match in an aria from the cantata “Lass, Fürstin, lass noch einen Strahl” in which he also revealed impeccable breath control. As no festival would be complete without educational activities, Kristian Järvi was busy rehearsing his Baltic Youth Orchestra together with the MDR Symphony, where he will take over as music director next season. The young musicians, joined by a few professional members, displayed great potential in a performance of Mahler’s Bach Suite at the city’s event space “Messe Dresden,” followed by the MDR in a clean but sorely rushed interpretation of Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony.

Vogler, upholding his commitment to diverse programming, joined Valery Gergiev and the Marinsky Orchestra for his first performance of Honegger’s Cello Concerto, an approximately 16-minute gem that weaves together expressive neo-Romantic lyricism, shades of Gerschwin, and early twentieth-century angst. Vogler shaped the cantilenas expertly and nailed the fast runs of the final movement. Despite the sharply accented style of the Marinsky, Gergiev provided deferential accompaniment, and the music’s precise architecture emerged gracefully. As an encore, Vogler offered a movement from Bach’s Cello Suite in C-major, the lower range of his instrument singing with particular clarity of expression. The concerto was flanked by a somewhat clunky reading of Bartok’s “Miraculous Mandarin” (many noted that Gergiev’s nose never left the score) and Strauss’ “Ein Heldenleben,” which vacillated between the brash and the serene. The orchestra silenced all criticism in an encore of Lyadov’s “The Enchanted Lake,” creating a pianissimo as rich and placid as is earthly possible.

The Dresdener Musikfestspiele has tapped a wealth of potential with a new festival orchestra joining players from top period ensembles such as the Academy of Ancient Music, Concentus Musicus Wien and Il Giardino Armonico, which premiered under Ivor Bolton just after I’d made my way back to Berlin. Vogler also let on that Britten’s centenary will receive some deserved attention next year (the Semperoper has no plans to the effect), including the “War Requiem” with Andris Nelsons and the Birmingham Symphony. Dresden can of course also boast its share of extra-musical attractions, which will surely continue to work to the festival’s advantage. The Alte Gemälde Galerie boasts striking paintings of an intact city by the Venetian artist Canaletto, a sizeable collection of Dutch masters and just launched an exhibit with Raphael’s “Sistine Madonna” at its centerpiece. The local wine industry, despite its northern location, produces a Gold Riesling on par with Alsatian vineyards. As it happens, the Herald Tribune ran a travel story last week about Dresden’s move away from its communist past (always a newsworthy bit) and toward a vibrant cultural life: perhaps the Elbe is indeed bringing in fresh wind again.

A Möst Rewarding Partnership

Thursday, July 28th, 2011

By Edna Landau

To ask a question, please write Ask Edna.

In March of this year, I was invited to speak to a wonderful group of arts supporters in Pasadena, California, by the name of Metropolitan Associates. They were interested in hearing about my career in artist management and in having the opportunity to ask questions about it. In preparing for the talk, I asked what questions I was likely to be asked. Among them was, “What were the most satisfying experiences in your career over the past thirty years?”

Last week, I had occasion to add such an experience to an already sizeable list. As I sat in Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall for three nights of works by Bruckner and Adams, magnificently performed by the Cleveland Orchestra and its music director, Franz Welser-Möst, my mind wandered back to 1981, only two years into my association with Hamlen/Landau Management, when Charles Hamlen and I decided that I would go to Ft. Worth, Texas, to see if there were any pianists in the Van Cliburn Competition whom we might wish to sign. As it turned out, I was totally smitten with the playing of a young pianist by the name of Jeffrey Kahane, who we were very proud to sign after the competition and who has gone on to a brilliant career as both a pianist and conductor. An unexpected by-product of that trip was meeting a manager from Liechtenstein who raved about a twenty-year-old conductor he was mentoring, for whom he predicted a major career. He was intent on giving him to an American manager who would develop his career slowly and intelligently. At the end of the competition, fortunately for me, he decided that I was such a manager and since I felt that this conductor needed to gain more experience before embarking on an international career, he said he would wait until I was ready.

Five years passed, during which I periodically received reviews, all in German, mostly from youth orchestra concerts. One day I was having breakfast with a leading London agent who told me that an amazingly gifted young conductor by the name of Franz Welser-Möst had just stepped into a cancellation situation and conducted a rather brilliant Mozart Requiem with the London Philharmonic. My heart skipped a beat and I nearly ran back to my office after breakfast, fearing that I would now be too late to sign Mr. Welser-Möst to our roster, since news spreads like wildfire in our industry. Fortunately, that was not the case.

After seeing Mr. Welser-Möst conduct the Tonhalle Orchestra in Zurich later in 1986, we formally agreed to work together and subsequently settled on a first North American season (1988-89) that would ease him into the orchestra system over here while still providing him with a high-level artistic experience. His debut was scheduled with the St. Louis Symphony, followed by weeks with the Toronto and Atlanta symphonies. We gradually built the American career while taking great care to balance it with Mr. Welser-Möst’s increasingly busy schedule and commitments overseas. His debut with the Cleveland Orchestra took place in February of 1993 and he returned nearly every season until he assumed the music director position in September 2002.

This coming season is Franz Welser-Möst’s tenth with the Cleveland Orchestra. There were certainly many highlights along the way in Cleveland, in New York and on tour both here and abroad, but I doubt that anyone present in New York last week who has heard his concerts over the years would disagree that these were among the most sublime. The unlikely combination of Bruckner and Adams seemed not only revolutionary but increasingly logical by the end of the week, and both the cheering ovations and the superlatives of the critics demonstrated the artistic impact of this mini-festival in New York during the hot days of summer. As for me, no longer Mr. Welser-Möst’s manager, I had the luxury of sitting back in my seat at each concert and marveling at the mastery and ease that he brought to the performances, as well as the commitment and virtuosity of the players who seemed totally invested in this special undertaking, confident in the results of their nine year association with their music director, and inspired by the opportunity to play Bruckner symphonies with a conductor who shares the composer’s birthplace and tradition. I reflected on the fact that even a truly great artist’s career develops gradually, and that there is no substitute for the hard work and artistic, intellectual and personal growth that propel it to ever higher levels of success. I felt immensely proud to have had the privilege of sharing that experience with Mr. Welser-Möst over the course of 21 years.

Why, you might ask, am I relating this experience in my blog? It is because I consider myself extremely fortunate to have enjoyed a long career in artist management and I fervently hope that young people with training in music might consider the rewards of such a career. The world of artist management is smaller than the number of deserving artists seeking representation. Very few agencies have sprung up in recent years. I recognize that these are difficult times in which to launch such an enterprise but I believe it is possible to succeed. The first step is to learn the trade by working in (or at least interning at) an established agency and thereby seeing how artists’ careers are managed and developed. (While a degree in arts administration or an MBA can certainly prove helpful, especially if one has hopes of starting one’s own agency, there is no substitute for this type of hands-on experience.) Patience will be required in abundance, as this learning experience is gradual; however, I have seen gifted, enthusiastic individuals, still in their 20’s, advance in their responsibilities from logistical to managerial in only three to five years. Some who seem more destined for a career in sales have become booking representatives in an equally short time. What are the most important characteristics of such people? A knowledge and love of music, excellent organizational and writing skills, healthy self-confidence, good psychological instincts, and sensitivity in dealing with people, openmindedness, perseverance and humility. Above all, they seem to exhibit a sense of joy that derives from feeling privileged to work with some of the world’s most gifted performers and giving them the behind-the-scenes support they require in order to rise above the rigors of a life on the road and reach ever higher levels of artistic success. The thrill of sitting in the audience and knowing that you enjoy such a professional partnership with the artist, or that you booked the concert that enabled the artist to earn the adoration of a cheering audience is an indescribable reward for a job well done. The beauty of it is that it can be repeated many times over in the course of a long and meaningful career.

To ask a question, please write Ask Edna.

© Edna Landau 2011