Archive pour August, 2014

To walk (out)… or not to walk

29 August 2014

The New York Times devotes a piece to an interesting aspect of attending live shows, whether theatre or music related. Once you can answer the question “When is it acceptable to let a latecomer get to its seat?” (you may want to read The Delayed: To Sit or Not to Sit), you may want to address its flip side. “Should you walk out of a performance if you feel that it’s not up to your standards?”

If some off-the-wall theatre productions may lead themselves naturally to this (when you are faced for example with a distorded brain child of a somewhat megalomaniac directors), classical music may seem a little bit different. If I had decided to walk out of a performance every time I was in a humdrum moment, I would most certainly have missed out on something quite extraordinary that came right after it. A sure give-away sign for me that I am getting a bit (or a lot) bored is when I start to fumble through the program, start reading notes (I generally do this on the way back, to prolong my experience), or become fully aware the minute details of the harmonic progression of a piece. When I am taken away by a piece, engulfed in the emotion, rarely do perfect pitch related matters ever come into consideration.

So I guess you will want to know if I did walk out of a performance? I will admit that I did leave at intermission a couple of times, but only once in the middle of a concert, a jazz pianist whose name I have blanked out of my memory (far from being famous), because he was extremely arrogant, couldn’t play properly and that after a while I felt almost disgusted by the way his bass player was handling himself. Besides this, no. I behave myself entirely and stay put. For that matter, I never quite understood how you can walk out on a contemporary music piece for example on the evening of its premiere (unless maybe the piece lasts 12 hours). 

You can read this very interesting New York Times’ article here…


TV and opera

26 August 2014

Yes, of course, TV and opera sort of go hand in hand if you think of the expression “soap opera”, but articulating a classical music series around TV shows, have we gone too far in wanting to “reach out” to an overstimulated audience? Yet… One must admit that all the seduction, obsession, deception – not to mention incest and heartbreak – that fans have come to love on Games of Throne can certainly be associated with a lot of the traditional operatic plots.

The One World Symphony has selected three TV shows to be featured in its Operasodes season: Game of Thrones, New Girl and Hannibal, the opera featuring the not-so-delightful character from the TV hit show.

The Guardian talked about this recently. Read about it here…

Stage fright and addiction

22 August 2014

One generally doesn’t associate drugs and classical music. Everybody knows that the “wild” musicians are the rock stars, right? Is is not as simple as this, as demonstrated Addicts’ Symphony, a documentary to be presented on the British Channel 4 network next Wednesday. Here, drugs are not taken because the musicians decided to “party hard”, but mainly to help with panic attacks about playing in public. The subject of beta-blockers, a common “help” to deal with stage fright for symphony musicians, is still a pretty hush-hush subject. Others will choose to drink or take Valium, amphetamines, cocaine or heroin, we learned in the documentary.

Ten musicians spoke about their problems and, along the process, were coached by the London Symphony Orchestra with the goal of performing a concert alongside them.

The Addicts’ Symphony is the brainchild of James McConnel, a composer who fought his own battle with alcoholism – and whose son, Freddy, died from a heroin overdose aged 18.

You can read more about the phenomena in this recent article in The Guardian…


Born in August: Nicolo Porpora

19 August 2014

The Italian composer was born in August 1686 (experts are unsure if it is on the 10th or the 19th), 328 years ago. If one may now remember Porpora as one of the two opponents in the War of operas – the other being Handel -, we too often forget that he had a stellar reputation when alive. First he was choir master for prince Philip of Hesse- Darmstadt in Naples, then for the ambassador of Portugal, was a music teacher for many famous vocalists, including Carlo Broschi, known as Farinelli, Uberti (il Porporino), Senesimo, la Molteni, J. A. Hasse and his first librettist Metastasio. He was considered the greatest castrati teacher of the century and the singers would visit him regularly, even when their career was in full swing. He was also famous as a composition teacher. He taught Joseph Haydn (who lived at Porpora’s house and, in exchange for lessons, worked as valet and accompanist) and he stated that with him he learned “the true fundamentals of composition”. From 1718 on, his works (about 50 operas upon his death) were performed on every stage in Italy, as well as in Vienna, Munich and Dresden. He was admired for the fluency of his recitatives.

After he left London in 1736, we lost his trace up until 1744, when he premiered his opera Le nozze di Ercole ed Ebe and a Stabat Mater the following year. In 1748, he was named Kapellmeister of the prince of Saxony and was very close to princess  Marie Antonia Walpurga, the wife of Frederick IV. She took lessons in voice as well as in composition. After a few years in Vienna, he came back to Naples and died ther on March 3, 1768.

You can listen to excerpt of some of his operas on the album Handel and Porpora: The London Years





3rd edition of the Virée classique

14 August 2014

For the third year in a row, the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal presents its Viree Classique festival. Get to the Olympic Park early tonight to listen to a free outdoor rendition of the classic Carmina burana (you may want to get it back into your ear before hand here…)! Concert starts at 7:30 p.m sharp.

Tomorrow night and Saturday, head for Place des Arts and be part of the fun! The offer is gigantic: 30 forty-five minute concerts, ranging from solo recitals and chamber music to full orchestra programs, six of which are conducted by OSM music director Kent Nagano.  Featured soloists include violinist Vadim Repin and Veronica Eberle, pianists Marc-André Hamelin and Karin Kei Nagano (both in recital and in a chamber music setting), organist Jean-Willy Kunz,  the Cecilia Quartet, and a rare treat is offered tomorrow at 10 p.m. with a concert rendition of Leonard Bernstein’s opera A Quiet Place.

Free activities (from “learn to conduct” activities to group drumming with Baratanga) will add to the festive, almost over the top atmosphere. More info here…


Film music: some dynamic duos

12 August 2014

The Criterion Collection just released a box set with all the important Jacques Demy films. Movie buffs may be excited to take an in-depth look at some of the classics he produced, but music lovers will be most thrilled to hear once more all the wonderful soundtracks Michel Legrand wrote for Demy’s films. Legrand and Demy’s partnership is far from being unique of course in the history of the cinema. The Sergio Leone films would have been certainly less iconic without Ennio Morricone’s scores as Steven Spielberg’s blockbusters, if it were not for the very powerful music John Williams wrote for those. Let’s not forget either Alfred Hitchcock and Bernard Herrmann, Federico Fellini and Nino Rota or Tim Burton and Danny Elfman.

A look – and listen – back to some of those most memorable teams can be found here…

Nino Rota’s score for Amarcord as a bonus.

Samuel Beckett and music

8 August 2014

“Music always wins” may have seemed like an unexpected statement coming from Samuel Beckett, a Nobel prizewinner in literature, celebrated for his iconic plays as well as his novels, written in English or in French. But it comes as no surprise that he would include this line in his radio play Words and Music when one digs a bit more into Beckett’s life. He made music on an almost daily basis, listened to it constantly, whether alone at home or with friends. He was an avid concert-goer, whether he lived in Dublin, London, Berlin or Paris. He just loved the pianists Yves Nat, Alfred Cortot, Artur Schnabel, Solomon Cutner and Rudolf Serkin.

His piano playing, even in his youth, was considered “intense”. His cousin Morris Sinclair remembered well “with what conviction and elan he would play the last movement of Beethoven’s Pathétique. The intensity of his absorption was almost ferocious.” In the late 1960s, when his sight was beginning to fail, Beckett wrote a humorous description of himself: “… bought a little German piano (a Schimmel) in the country and take it out on Haydn and Schubert … my nose so close to the score that the keyboard feels behind my back. Get it by heart in the end and lean back.”

He loved the works of his contemporaries, including Poulenc, Debussy, Ravel and Bartók (whose Microkosmos he would play), but Haydn, Beethoven and Schubert were without a doubt his holy trinity. He wasn’t fond of the other two Bs: Bach and Brahms (though he played some of his intermezzi). 

You can learn more about the importance of music for the author in this very interesting article, published last week in The Guardian

Nine: a number bringing back luck?

5 August 2014

Beethoven, Schubert, Vaughan Williams and Dvořák all wrote nine symphonies before they dided. Mahler, superstitious, quickly decided to move right away to a tenth symphony, sadly never completed. Even though he had numbered his two first symphonies 00 and 0, Bruckner passed away as he was writing his Ninth Symphony. Sibelius, on the other had, stopped after eight… and lived an extra 33 years!

To listen to Beethoven’s Ninth, as performed by the OSM under Kent Nagano at the inauguration of the Maison symphonique, it’s here…


Musical friendships: creating tight bonds

1 August 2014

If playing an instrument is a solitary activity (whether in the rehearsal room or on stage), sharing musical moments is generally done in numbers. It is a pretty safe bet to assume that the first caveman who discovered the pleasure of hitting an animal skin transformed into a drum was to join in with the other members of his tribe chanting songs. While it remains the language of the unspeakable and emotions, music is meant to be shared. It is therefore not surprising that several musicians and composers have thus developed close ties. Some composers maintained a relationship of respect, Franz Liszt and Frédéric Chopin, for example. Others rubbed elbows on a regular basis, including Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner (buried side by side) or members of the Group of Five, bound by a deep friendship and the ideals and objectives (Mili Balakirev, César Cui, Alexander Borodin, Modest Mussorgsky and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov). In other cases, the friendship led to love, as it was the case for the couple Robert and Clara Schumann (both composers, even if Clara had a great career as a performer).

Several circles of musicians have emerged over the centuries. Georg Philip Telemann, Georg Frideric Handel’s friend founded in 1704 the Collegium Musicum, which a few years later (from 1729 to 1739), will be placed under the direction of Johann Sebastian Bach. The members of this informal group of amateur musicians met weekly outdoor (weather permitting) or in one of the cafes of the city including the Café Zimmermann, located rue Sainte-Catherine in Leipzig. Bach’s sons and students often joined local and virtuoso musicians who were visiting the city. The designation “Collegium Musicum” has been used many times since, both by amateur and professional ensembles.

Franz Schubert (1797-1828) also was seen in cafes on a weekly basis and performed his new works for or with the musicians who gathered there. In something that looked like today’s “jam sessions”, the Schubertiades brought together twenty participants who read through recent works, chosen according to the available scores and instrumentalists or singers present that day. What better way to get to know and discover music together?

At the beginning of the 20th century, six young composers fresh out of the Conservatoire met every Saturday evening in a small restaurant in Paris: Georges Auric, Louis Durey, Arthur Honegger, Darius Milhaud, Francis Poulenc and Germaine Tailleferre. They were joined by pianists Marcelle Meyer and Juliet Meerovitch, Russian singer Koubitsky, painters Marie Laurencin, Irene Lagut and Valentine Gross and writers Lucien Daudet, Raymond Radiguet and Jean Cocteau. After dinner, the Groupe des six and their friends went to the Foire du Trône or watched the Fratellini brothers at Circus Medrano. The evening ended at Darius Milhaud’s house or at the Gaya Bar. Cocteau would read his latest poems. Milhaud and Auric, joined by Arthur Rubinstein played a six-hand version of Le boeuf sur le toit. The atmosphere was invariably festive.

If composers have always shared the joys and sorrows of creating new works with their loved ones, they often dedicated to their friends (musicians or otherwise) some of their works. If Beethoven refered to a universal friendship in his “Ode to Joy”, the final movement of his Ninth Symphony, Schubert did not hesitate to write for four-hand piano Our friendship is unchanging, an eloquent testimony of how important this universal feeling was to him.