Archive pour May, 2009

Kent Nagano’s last performance with the Berkeley Akademie

30 May 2009

Berkeley Akademie will feature the final performance of its season tomorrow night with Bach’s Italian Concerto (in a modern arrangement for chamber orchestra by Joachim F. W. Schneider); Charles Ives’ Symphony No. 3 (“Camp-Meeting”) and Beethoven’s Septet in E-flat Major, Opus 20. It will be Kent Nagano’s final performance as music director of Berkeley Symphony, though he’ll continue to lead the Akademie.

Read the details in this Berkeley Daily Planet‘s article.

In praise of the amateur

28 May 2009

In the late 18th-century, there was nothing condescending in the idea of being an amateur. Amateurs were, quite simply put and true to the first sense of the word, people who loved music. They could be patrons, quite obviously, but also performers and even composers. Prince Louis Ferdinand, a contemporary of Beethoven, was after all himself a composer. It is amateurs, not professionals, who founded the mythical Musikverein in Vienna and, one stops to think of it, Schubert was possibly the biggest amateur of them all, most his works being premiered in informal gatherings, the Schubertiades.

Anne Midgette, critic at the Washington Post, has dedicated two posts of her blog to the matter this week. The first, a general presentation, can be read here. The second talks about the difficult role of the music critic, a person that loves music but cannot give unfounded praise. But what exactly does it mean for a critic to love music? Read her answer there.

MIMC: Winners revealed

27 May 2009

American soprano Angela Meade has won the 2009 edition of the Montreal International Musical Competition last night, a prize worth $30 000, doubled with an Analekta recording. Her powerful voice, her superb technical control and her true professionalism – it’s not every young singer who can say that she stepped in to replace an indisposed Sondra Radvanovsky at the Met! – wowed the audience. She concluded her program with “Casta Diva” from Norma, a rather gutsy choice, considering the number of legendary performances of the aria and a remarkably powerful “Pace, pace” from La forza del destino that brought the crowd to its feet for the only stand-up ovation of the evening. No one will be surprised if (when) she wins the Audience Prize tomorrow night, at the official ceremony held before the gala concert.

Canadian soprano Yannick-Muriel Noah took second place ($15 000) and American baritone Andrew Garland third ($10 000). Both will also sing tomorrow night, as well as two prizewinners from previous editions, Joseph Kaiser and Julie Bouliane.

Saturday, May 30 at 1 p.m. on CBC Radio 2 (including on the Web), Saturday Afternoon at the Opera will feature a 4-hour special programme of MIMC Voice 2009 highlights.

The Final round will be available online starting May 29. The video concerts of the Semi-Finals will also be posted for one year on Espace classique.

Beethoven’s Fifth: Become a Critic

25 May 2009

Ideal critics should have all the important works of at least one hundred composers and the representative works of many others at their fingertips. They should also know how to play an instrument (or more than one), in order to understand the challenges of interpretation every musician faces, and, why not, be able to master the subtleties of conducting an orchestra.  Their knowledge of musical theory, analysis, composition and the history of music ought to be encyclopaedic. Foreign languages constitute an essential basis to appreciate a singer’s articulation, and determine how a text is appropriated. An exemplary curiosity is necessary to follow interesting performers and to grasp the connections that link a musical work to other artistic forms, be they literature, the theatre, dance, painting, sculpture, architecture or film. Naturally, all that knowledge must be expressed eloquently.

Since there is no such thing as perfection, let us now revise our criteria. What essential functions do critics, whether they are professional (and write for a daily paper or specialized publication) or simply amateurs, serve? (You have to admit that a complimentary comment on a work or performance on the part of a friend will be as persuasive, if not more so, than a long complicated speech). We could define some of the general directions critics should follow, but basically they ought to facilitate the artistic and emotional connections of the listeners to a musical work and kindle their enthusiasm. To do so, critics must stimulate and guide without letting their own perceptions squash those of the audiences they are addressing, and also, if possible, widen their field of interest.

Never would it enter our minds to impose an immutable point of view or critical approach. Rather, we’d like to recommend a few ways to hone your perception and especially increase your enjoyment.  Are you ready to take on this new challenge?
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Inside the Fifth

23 May 2009

The key of C minor, not often used at that time, gives the work a feeling of drama and tragedy. The well-known rhythmic motif of the first movement, which everyone immediately recognizes, and which was meant to stand for “fate knocking at the door”, according to Beethoven (a claim musicologists now generally discredit), became the Allies’ rallying cry during the Second World War  – in Morse code the letter V of “victory” is three short taps followed by a longer one. It serves as the basic material not only for the movement but also for the whole symphony.

The movement follows the sonata form, favoured by many composers of the Classical era. This form implies a structure in three sections (exposition, development and recapitulation) and the use of two principal themes, of contrasting character and complementary tonalities. The two themes are presented in the exposition, then developed more or less freely in the central section before being heard again, lightly modified, in the recapitulation. Beethoven also includes a particularly elaborate coda (from the Italian “tail”).

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Beethoven’s Fifth: the birth of a myth

21 May 2009

Of all of Beethoven’s works, the Fifth Symphony is certainly the best known, most widely performed and most often recorded. The premiere took place on December 22, 1808, in Vienna, under the direction of the composer himself, who was already burdened by deafness. It was part of a four-hour extravaganza that also included the Sixth Symphony, “Pastoral”, the Fourth Piano Concerto (performed by Beethoven), the Choral Fantasy and sung works. The first performance wasn’t too convincing, partly because the musicians may not have been at their best that evening. One month later, it was performed again in Leipzig, but this time to an enthusiastic audience.

When it was performed in Paris almost 20 years later, the critic François-Joseph Fétis wrote in the Revue musicale: “Such a work is beyond music itself; it is not flutes, horns, violins and double basses that we hear, but the world, the universe that rattles.” The poet and playwright Johann Wolfgang Goethe exclaimed: “It is really great, it is absolutely crazy! It makes one afraid that the house might come tumbling down.” André Jolivet referred to the first movement as “one of the most indisputable musical successes of all eras.”

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Beethoven’s Fifth: listening to it differently

19 May 2009

Can you think of a single opening motif that is as well-known as the first four notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony? Has everything been said about this work or is it still possible to listen to it with open ears? In the next few posts, we will highlight a few elements of the ever famous first movement and then, you will be able to become critics and compare two versions of the same work and make up your own mind about the “ideal” version. (more…)

Mahler and Ives

15 May 2009

Nobody would ever dare place Mahler and Ives in the same sentence but, when one pauses to think about this, their paths could have crossed. Indeed, they did as Mahler was well aware of Ives’ symphonic works and even brought scores of the American composer to his country house. English conductor Kenneth Woods share his insight on the subject in this fascinating post, Kindred spirits and spirituality.

MIMC: Changing Lives

13 May 2009

Since it was launched in 2002, the Montreal International Musical Competition has irrevocably changed the lives of numerous prizewinners. Canadian soprano Meascha Brueggergosman, winner of the First Grand Prize of that 2002 edition, now leads a flourishing international carreer and recently took part in the YouTube Symphony concert. Marianne Fiset,winner of the 2007 edition, released recently her second CD on the Analekta label and still feels that the Competition was one of the most intense moments of her life. Armenian pianist  Nareh Arghamanyan, 19 years old when she won last May, released yesterday her first recording, featuring Liszt’s B minor Sonata and Rachmaninov’s somptuous Sonata No. 2, a work she performed in the quarter-finals, that mesmerized audience and jury alike.

No less than 200 hopefuls from 35 countries sent in their applications this year. From that number, 29 young singers, including 11 Canadians, will attempt to seduce an exceptional jury, led by André Bourbeau, co-founder and president of the MIMC. On that panel, the American soprano Edith Bers, Canadian Philip Boswell, Finnish baritone Tom Krause, Spanish impresario Miguel Lerin, Canadian bass Joseph Rouleau, Welsh soprano Gwyneth Jones and American baritone Sherill Milnes will be listening attentively.

Finalists will receive outstanding cash prizes (more than 150 000 $!) and offers from opera companies and concert societies, which are essential for any singer aiming for an international career. They’ll also be featured on an Analekta CD, to be released next year. “Doors open after the Competition,” explains Marianne Fiset, whose agenda keeps filling up.

The Competition will be held May 19 to 29. Finalists will be accompanied by the Orchestre métropolitain du grand Montréal. All the details can be found here.

You can also listen to violinist Jinjoo Choi, 2006 winner, in her first Analekta recording.

Piano jokes

11 May 2009
What do you get when you drop a piano down a mine shaft?
A flat minor.
What do you get when you drop a piano on an army base?
A flat major.

The audience at a piano recital were appalled when a telephone rang just off stage. Without missing a note the soloist glanced toward the wings and called, “If that’s my agent, tell him I’m working!”