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Valery Gergiev

Tuesday, May 23, 2017


Norman Lebrecht - Slipped disc

May 15

Sad news: Brain tumour claims US composer, 66

Norman Lebrecht - Slipped discThe death of Daniel Brewbaker has been reported by friends and family. Daniel, 66, had been suffering for two years from a brain tumour. A composers of great gifts, charm and grace, he was one of the first US composers to be performed in Russia by Valery Gergiev. Based in New York, he spent a long period in Europe working with Hans Werner Henze, Luciano Berio and Henri Dutilleux. Daniel said: ‘I like music that moves me, involves me intellectually, emotionally, and physically. So I would hope to engage listeners in my music on those levels.’

On An Overgrown Path

April 26

What is a music festival?

Iraqi visual artist Riyadh Neam supplies the three accompanying graphics which are used in the booklet for Rahim AlHaj's new CD Letters from Iraq. Riyadh Neam explains that in his paintings depicting the children of post-invasion Iraq in the streets of devastated Baghdad “I’m always trying to show the relationship between stasis and movement, between a still life and a moving life.” He uses color to symbolise the dynamics of his war-torn country, with the dominant grey, black and white symbolising destruction, bright green indicating grief, and red signifying inextinguishable hope. This use of colours to symbolise emotions is a form of the cross-talk between different sensory channels known as synesthesia . Music appreciation involves cross-talk between hearing and emotion, and many celebrated musicians have experienced synesthesia in various forms, including Alexander Scriabin, Amy Beach, Olivier Messiaen and György Ligeti, while the word raga from the Indian classical tradition translates from Sanskrit as 'tone' or 'colour'. Synesthesia is an example of how key creative building blocks are shared across global cultures. We live in an age of globalisation and multi-culturalism, yet classical music festivals are retreating further and further into retrospective mono-culturalism. For instance the 2017 BBC Proms season is programmatically themed around two anniversaries - the Russian Revolution which took place 100 years ago and the Protestant Reformation of 500 years ago. The Russian Revolution strand conveniently allows three Shostakovich symphonies to be programmed including the warhorse Fifth, which will be its ninth performance in seventeen years. Elsewhere in London the SouthBank Centre has been celebrating Belief and Beyond Belief with a festival that does not include even a single piece of non-Western music, but which managed to squeeze in a Shostakovich symphony. Nowhere at the two festivals is there the searing relevance of Rahim AlHaj music and Riyadh Neam's graphics. Classical music festivals should be wide-ranging, joyous and relevant celebrations of the rich variety of the great music traditions. Instead they have become po-faced rituals which plough their way laboriously through the output of Mahler, Shostakovich and a few other favoured composers. Mixing music traditions in a single concert is a notoriously difficult and sensitive task; the Western masterpieces must never be neglected, and fusion projects such as sitar and oud concertos have, rightly in most cases, been greeted with derision. But mixing traditions within a festival - kudos to this year's Aldeburgh Festival for its ragas in Orford Church - or between the two halves of a concert is a realistic proposition. The Salzburg Summer Festival's Ouverture Spirituelle was an outstanding example of the broadening of the festival vision, and Salzburg bravely commissioned programme essays from me for their forays into Sufi and Hindustani music. However this year's Ouverture Spirituelle has drifted back towards the tokenism of the other major festivals and includes the obligatory Mahler symphony. If the reason for this drift is commercial pressures - which I suspect it is - that reason needs examining. Defendants of the classical status quo - and they are many and vocal - will plead that programming is unadventurous because adventurous programming is not commercially viable. Which I do not disagree with; but I do disagree with the view that we have to accept the current stifling business model which dictates that status quo. Classical music festivals are dictated to and dominated by touring celebrity orchestras. The infamous Mahler One at this year's Proms is part of a Pittsburgh Symphony touring programme, and the Shostakovich Five comes from a peripatetic Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra. And financial reality means you can't pay the Pittsburgh Symphony to play Mahler in the second half of a concert with musicians from a non-Western tradition in the first half. Celebrity touring orchestras may fill halls, but they have forced classical music into a repetitive holding pattern whereby festivals have become commercially viable but increasingly irrelevant museums of sound. The stranglehold of the 'London today Edinburgh' celebrity bands - Gergiev and the Mariinsky also play the 2017 Edinburgh Festival - needs to be broken to inject freshness and relevance to the major festivals. Ironically the BBC is perfectly placed to do this with their roster of house orchestras. The BBC orchestras should be differentiating themselves by pioneering adventurous and diverse programming both by widening the repertoire within the Western tradition and by partnering in split programmes with ensembles from diverse backgrounds. But instead all the BBC orchestras aspire to is lucrative overseas tours, preferably to the Gulf States or China. Steve Jobs told us that "A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them". There is a surprising appetite for music from outside the Western tradition. On An Overgrown Path may not represent a statistically significant measure, but it does provide a useful guide. Recent posts here about music from outside the Western tradition and from the Islamicate world in particular - e.g. Bab Assalam from Syria, Rahim AlHaj from Iraq, and the culturally-diverse Haz'art Trio - have attracted very large audiences. Broadening the repertoire at festivals is almost certainly not financially viable within the current top heavy financial structure. But if classical music itself wants to defend its position as an important cultural institution it needs to become more relevant and diverse, and that means changing the current highly restrictive business model. Also on Facebook and Twitter. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).




Classical iconoclast

April 22

Formula saves the BBC Proms !

Formula saves the BBC Proms 2017!  This may be the beginning of the end for Sir Henry Wood's dreams of the Proms as serious music. Fortunately The Formula, perfected by much-maligned Roger Wright, is strong enough to withstand the anti-music agendas of the suits and robots who now run the Proms.  Shame on those who rely on formula instead of talent, but in dire straits, autopilot can save things from falling apart.  So, sift through the detritus of gimmick and gameshow to find things worth saving   (Read here what I wrote about The Formula)   Danierl Barenboim is a Proms perennial, for good reason, so we can rely on his two Elgar Proms (16 and 17 July) especially the Sunday one which features a new work by Sir Harrison Birtwistle, Deep Time, which at 25 minutes should be substantial  Pascal Dusapin's Outscape on 19/7, 28 minutes, also substantial Anotherr "regular" Proms opera, Fidelio on 21/7, with a superlative cast headed by Stuart Skelton and Ricarda Merbeth, tho' Juanjo Mena conducts  Ilan Volkov conducts Julian Anderson's new Piano Concerto on 26/7 , tho's the rest of the programme, though good isn't neccesarily Volkov's forte  On 29/7 Mark Wigglesworth conducts David Sawer's The Greatest Happiness Principle  On 31/7, Monteverdi Vespers with French baroque specialists Pygmalion   On 1/8, William Christie conducts the OAE in Handel Israel in Egypt and on 2/8, John Eliot Gardiner, the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists do Bach and my beloved Heinrich Schütz.  On 8/8 Gardiner returns with Berlioz The Damnation of Faust, with Michael Spyres. First of this year's four Mahlers is Mahler's Tenth (Cooke) with  Thomas Dausgaard and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra  Robin Ticciati, back with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra on 15/8 with an interesting pairing, Thomas Larcher Nocturne-Insomnia with Schumann Symphony no 2.   Throughout this season, there are odd mismatches between repertoire and performers, good conductors doing routine material, less good conductors doing safe and indestructable. Fortunately, baroque and specialist  music seem immune.  See above ! and also the Prom featuring Lalo, Délibes and Saint-Saëns with François Xavier-Roth and Les Siècles on 16/8   Perhaps these Proms attract  audiences who care what they're listening to  Schoenberg's Gurrelieder on 19/8 with Simon Rattle, whose recording many years back remains a classic but may not be known to whoever described the piece in the programme "Gurrelieder is Schoenberg’s Tristan and Isolde, an opulent, late-Romantic giant."  Possibly the same folk who dreamed up the tag "Reformation Day" like Nigel Faarage's "Independence Day" Nothing in life is that simplistic  The music's OK, but notn the marketing. Sakari Oramo conducts the BBC SO in Elgar Symphony no 3 (Anthony Payne) on 22/8   Potentially this will be even bigger than the Barenboim Elgar symphonies, since Oramo is particularly good with this symphony, which may not be as high profile but is certainly highly regarded by those who love Elgar   On 26/8, Jakub Hrůša conducts the BBC SO in an extremely well chosen programme of Suk, Smetana, Martinů, Janáček and Dvorák   More BBCSO on 31/8 when Semyon Bychkov conducts a Russian programme  Marketing guff seems to make a big deal of national stereotypes, which is short sighted  These programmes cohere musically, but that's perhaps too much to expect from the new Proms mindset On 1/9,  Daniele Gatti conducts the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Bruckner and Wolfgang Rihm  An odd pairing but one which will come off well since these musicians know what they're doing They are back again on 2/9 with  Haydn "The Bear" and Mahler Fourth  which isn't "sunny" or "song-filled".  It's Mahler,  not a musical.  Gergiev brings the Mariinsky on 3/9 with Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich Symphony no 5.  Another huge highlight on 7/9 : The Wiener Philharmoniker, with Daniel Harding in Mahler Symphony no 6 - so powerful that nothing else needs to be added to sugar the pill   For me, and for many others, that will be the real :Last Night of the Proms   Party time the next day, with Nina Stemme as star guest     



Valery Gergiev

Valery Gergiev (2 May 1953) is a Russian conductor and opera company director. He is general director and artistic director of the Mariinsky Theatre, principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra, and artistic director of the White Nights Festival in St. Petersburg.



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