Saturday, October 17, 2015

We Got Rihmed

Orpheus Chamber Orchestra’s October 15th season opening celebration featured much undifferentiated playing. The program was intelligently designed to showcase the New York premiere of Wolfgang Rihm’s Duo Concerto, written for a married duo, cellist Jan Vogler and violinist Mira Wang. It is difficult to assess their undoubtedly noble efforts past an orchestration thicker than caulk. Mr. Vogler played on a large podium stage center, but this did not aid to his projection as it did to the visibility of his physical gesticulations and the serious commitment of his hair to the performance.

The comely Ms. Wang managed more audibly to struggle through the contrapuntal tonalische miasmas, written in a harmonic language by the preĆ«minent post-modernist German composer that could be simplistically called valedictory, like the late works of Alban Berg. This uninspired work punishingly asked the soloists to compete against colorless clotted textures; indeed, a concert companion aptly described it as “morose hysteria”.
Perhaps this work would be better scored as a string septet. 

Friday, October 16, 2015

Pollini at Carnegie

 Maurizio Pollini again honored the stage of Carnegie Hall nearly 50 years after his debut, on a brilliant temperate October Sunday afternoon. An elegant, dignified and stooped man of 73, his program featuring Schumann and Chopin demonstrated exactly these qualities. If he performed as if a generation older, there were nevertheless remarkable attributes.

      The opening and better half began with Schumann's B minor Allegro op.8, and, if the mood for the program was established as phlegmatic, it was also intriguing, often sublimely textured and limpidly phrased. Mr. Pollini's trademark structural clarity balanced well a muted tonal reticence, as his grand melodic narrations contrasted with rhythmically approximate supporting material. Schumann’s C major Fantasie, at times divine in harmonic depth, might at this point be better in the recording studio than the concert hall, but there was so much that was strikingly arresting and noble, especially in the outer movements, that readers must accept my courtesy not to elaborate further.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Let Them Eat Rosin

   A classical violinist of great wealth and privilege publicly posts a tweet that could, at best, be described as racially insensitive concerning Chineke! - a newly formed all-black orchestra in Europe.

    The half-white, half Asian Anne Akiko Meyers represents the two tribes that overwhelmingly dominate classical music now. Koreans came to Western music after the Korean War, the Japanese after WWII and the Chinese after Mao. Like Russia during Peter the Great, this assimilation and dissemination of European art was one effort to compete with the mightier and more affluent West.  History has condemned people of color to a disadvantage, and if this reality and the attitudes of non-minorities are changing slowly, anything that makes this transition easier is welcome. Classical music is immensely expensive; besides decades worth of lessons there is the issue of equipment; a fine career in this fiercely competitive field demands the very best of what can be often priceless instruments. Could this be why there seem to be more black opera singers than instrumentalists?

Generations of support from a culture that treasures and nurtures this art-form increases the exposure and the chance of developing creative genius. Why would black, Latino or Muslim people bother themselves with the music of an oppressive class as they struggle to feed their families? The Sphinx foundation in America has to be applauded: it has made a great difference in giving minorities a helping hand into this rarefied realm. The brand new Chineke! Orchestra will certainly reveal this music to many that would not have heard it otherwise.

Is an all-black orchestra a gimmick? Yes. Is it necessary? Most definitely, especially if you value the music of the west of the past half-millennium as representative of arguably the greatest period of humankind. It has been noted that the Chineke! is not needed, because music is a universal language. Music IS universal, but the language must be learnt to be understood, to be essential. 
Anne Akiko Meyers’ post read "I wonder if you have to be black to solo with this orchestra? #reversediscrimination.”  As it is well known she has two Stradivaris and a Guarneri del Gesu whose combined value exceeds $20 million, it colors the tone of her comment, coming thus from the pinnacle of the socio-economic scale, to a one of a petulant brat. It is apparent that she realized the foolishness of posting a racial indictment and deleted it very quickly. Until a torqued apology was finally forced from her many days later, none of the usual blogs, broadsheets or magazines picked up on this story, despite the online firestorm of consternation.  We wonder just how much that cost.

An excellent opportunity to explore to the roots of who should share in this art has been squandered.  

 It is time for all of us to look in the mirror, and say honestly what we see. In the words of the immortal Pete Seeger:
"We've all been living upside down
And turned around with love unfound
Until we turn and face the sun.
All of us, yes everyone.”

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Tchaikovsky Competition Finals

In the final round of Tchaikovsky Competition the six violinists were required to perform his beloved concerto with one other of their choosing. This is my simple ranking of these admirable worthy young musicians.

   Haik Kazazyan has the highest musical ideals, if he cannot yet quite completely realize them. The audience's favorite, he was mine as well. (Sibelius)

   Yu-Chien Tsang performed honorably if there were no revelations. He owns a beautiful sound, and undoubtedly plays a magnificent violin. He does not play well with others. (Sibelius)

   Bomsori Kim played safe. She is accomplished enough to afford risks. (Brahms)

   Alexandra Conunova is most interesting, if not ready. She is one I look forward to hear again. (Sibelius)

   Clara-Jumi Kang gave a delightful and racy Tchaikovsky 3rd movement; it was really fun! Maybe, though, do not choose to compete with the Beethoven again.

   Pavel Milyukov's night was not this one. There is time. It will come. (Shostakovitch 1)


Monday, June 29, 2015

Fasten Your Seatbelts...It's Going To Be a Bumpy Night.


   Vowing, after the Indianapolis Violin Competition never to listen to such a thing again, the Tchaikovsky was not even in my crosshairs. However, a dear friend intimated my observations might be amusing. Incapable of surviving 25 24th Caprices and 23 Chaconnes, a dozen hour long recitals seemed possible, if as many Mozart Concertos were not. This disqualifies me to suggest any ranking, yet I do thank all the musicians for their dedication.


     In the violin recital round of the Fifteenth International Tchaikovsky Competition there was some commendable playing and much that was puzzling. 

   The outstanding performer here was Yoo Jin Jang from South Korea, who offered a confident tumultuous Corigliano Sonata with a superb unidentified pianist who had the good grace to dress formally. If her Schumann A minor Sonata was a bit reserved, though earnest, her Schnittke A Paganini solo was vividly colored and played with aplomb.

    This dreadful work was delivered less convincingly by the Russian Pavel Milyukov who seemed unwilling to grapple with the obscurities of this music. His Beethoven Seventh Sonata if at times sweet was slow and small, and his Tzigane was effortful. He has not yet learned to bow, and, why didn't he tuck in his shirt? 

   Another plainly dressed youth was the Norwegian Christopher Tun Anderson who seemed caught unawares, offering uninspired readings of Paganini's Nel cor piĆ¹ variations, Brahms' Scherzo, the Shostakovitch Prelude in C# minor and the Grieg C minor Sonata. 

Friday, February 13, 2015

Le Jardin de Janine

Janine Jansen and Itamar Golan at Zankel Hall Feb 10 2015  

A lovely program of two sonatas coupled with character pieces: the first half devoted to Prokofieff, opening with the Five Melodies, then the F minor sonata. The second half was given to Ravel, ending with Tzigane.
Ms. Jansen is an elegant, refined and dignified artist; her pianist, rather less so. The concert left a strange taste. The Five Melodies have such delicacy, sumptuous harmonies and wry pathos - It seemed that the violinist didn't play through to the heart of the music here and throughout the evening. Perhaps she was accommodating the headstrong brashness of her partner, who, if not necessarily overpowering in volume, was thick, his impasto strokes wearying the listener very quickly. The Sonata was missing a steely bitterness from both players, and in the opening movement, her scales that represent the wind over the graves were even and pristine though not bone-chilling.