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Dates of classical music

Cherevichki in Royal Opera


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20th will witness the opening of the Royal Opera’s first ever production of Tchaikovsky’s Cherevichki (usually, though according to Richard Taruskin, incorrectly, rendered in English as ‘The Tsarina’s Slippers’). Alexander Polianichko will conduct an almost entirely Russian cast, directed by Francesca Zambello. Mr Polianichko was kind enough to speak to me about the work and production. I started by asking him how the rehearsals were going.

Alexander PolyanichkoA. Polyanichko: Fantastic! They’re really great. Today, I think, was the second, yes the second, stage rehearsal, and we have already done half of the opera. We have been working hard on the balances, because, when you have the scenery, you have to remeM. Berryer that it can reflect sound and that the orchestra always prefers to play loudly…! It is a big orchestra, of course, Tchaikovsky’s orchestra: opera in the grand style.

M. Berry: How many strings are you using?

A. Polyanichko: A minimum of six desks of first violins, down to four or maybe five double basses. It’s a big sound. And there is the chorus too: smaller than in Tchaikovsky’s time, a little, but that is a matter of costumes and so on – and also, though I can’t really say this, the crisis we have at the moment…

M. Berry: No, of course, I understand…

A. Polyanichko: And it’s mostly a question of balance anyway.

M. Berry: This is the first time Cherevichki has been done at Covent Garden.

AP: It’s not strange, because in Russia, it is not very popular as well. You know the recordings of Cherevichki? One of them, from the Bolshoi Theatre, is from 1947/48, under [Alexander] Melik-Pashaev. There is a later one from [Vladimir] Fedoseyev. And the recordings sound totally different, that one thirty or thirty-five years later. More recently, [Gennadi] Roshdestvensky recorded it in 2000.

M. Berry: On Chandos?

A. Polyanichko: Yes, that’s right. The situation is very different from Onegin or The Queen of Spades. If people hear those, they can discuss whether the tempi are slow or fast, but in this case, it is such an unusual work, they don’t know.

M. Berry: Which gives you a certain freedom, I suppose. There are fewer expectations; there is no real performing tradition.

A. Polyanichko: Yes, we can follow the types of voices we have, the characters on stage. What is really difficult to do is to make people realise that this is comedy. When you hear a Rossini overture, you know this is going to be comic. In this opera, so many moments do not sound comic; they sound desperate.

M. Berry: There is sadness?

A. Polyanichko: Yes, it’s interesting, but it is part of the score. At the ends of the second and fourth acts in the score – though we are performing it just in two acts – there are beautiful scenes, these characters, this teacher, this is really comic. We need to show this, to make it funny.

M. Berry: Have you discussed that with the director?

AP: Yes, Francesca realises this. And the costumes too, they really help with this. And I have to find a way through the music to show the comic side, to show the orchestra this.

M. Berry: And to show the audience that the players are enjoying themselves.

A. Polyanichko: Of course: that’s very important. But they need to sound beautiful, and support the voices; they need to be light enough to do that.

M. Berry: This all, I suppose, stands quite distinct from the ideas many people have of Tchaikovsky: sadness and tragedy. They are used to the symphonies, Onegin, and so on, and this will show another side to him, at least in part.

A. Polyanichko: Destiny, they know from the symphonies.

M. Berry: Fate, which is always there, which suffocates.

A. Polyanichko: You know how important that is in the symphonies. It is always there. Perhaps you need to kill somebody or yourself. Lensky should die; Hermann should die…

M. Berry: Everyone should die. It would be better if they had never been born – just as in Greek tragedy.

A. Polyanichko: Yes, exactly. And Mazeppa should die too. This is different, though, and so new to everyone. I was looking in a very big dictionary in the Covent Garden shop, there are more than a thousand operas, and here are only Onegin, The Queen of Spades, and Mazeppa, and that’s it. All these operas, the history of productions, but only three by Tchaikovsky, no Cherevichki at all, or operas like The Maid of Orleans. Cherevichki is a fantastic opera, though, and Tchaikovsky started his conductor’s career with it. It was his first ever conducting experience.

M. Berry: And the father of someone rather famous took part in that performance, didn’t he? Fyodor Stravinsky, Igor’s father, as His Highness, the minister.

AP: That’s right. Historically, these first casts, it can be very strange: when Onegin was first performed, we don’t know who everyone was. We know that four professors from the Moscow Conservatory were in the orchestra, but not all the singers. And it was an extremely small orchestra then, a student production really. But in general, he knew what he wanted, and he had larger orchestras in the big theatres.

M. Berry: The work itself, have you conducted it elsewhere?

A. Polyanichko: No, it is my first time. Unfortunately, even in Russia, it is not very often done. There is only one production, I think, at the moment, in Moscow, which I tried to see, but I haven’t been able to yet.

M. Berry: Is that at the Bolshoi?

A. Polyanichko: No, not even there.

M. Berry: It’s the sort of thing you might have thought Gergiev would have got round to doing, but even he hasn’t then?

A. Polyanichko: No, though he does so much: all repertoire, all composers. He does Glinka and everything onwards.

M. Berry: Even Rubinstein’s The Demon recently, which he brought to London with the Mariinsky, though I couldn’t go. Going back to Cherevichki, there is ballet too, of course, so this is quite a rare opportunity for the Royal Ballet and the Royal Opera to perform together.

A. Polyanichko: Which is quite strange for me, because this is how it ought to be; there is a beautiful ballet and a beautiful orchestra, and they should go together. Tchaikovsky wrote some nuM. Berryers especially for the ballet, but this is not unique. There is a gopak in Mazeppa; the polonaise is a dance too, of course.

M. Berry: As in Onegin.

A. Polyanichko: Yes. He creates dances in all of his operas; so much of his music is dance.

M. Berry: Even in the symphonies, those waltzes.

A. Polyanichko: Exactly. It is such a pleasure here to see beautiful dancing and the choreography is wonderful, really interesting. What is really interesting for me is that we have started to use not only the music written for dance but some of the other music too.

M. Berry: If you have the ballet dancers, you want to use them.

A. Polyanichko: Of course. And this is very typical of Russian operas. You know [Rimsky-Korsakov’s] Sadko? That sort of thing: it is fantastic.

M. Berry: Like The Tale of Tsar Saltan, which the Mariinsky brought a little while ago to Sadler’s Wells.

A. Polyanichko: And there all of these operas by Rimsky-Korsakov. I remeM. Berryer a story I heard about Solti. Somebody asked him about which operas he had conducted, what he wanted to conduct, and he said that he had only scratched the surface. You go to the dictionaries, and there are hundreds and hundreds of operas, thousands and thousands, all in the libraries, covered in dust, like that of the Mariinsky Theatre. Many of these works, commissioned by the Mariinsky, they have only been performed once. Now we wait for them to be rediscovered.

M. Berry: And rediscovery can be such an extraordinary thing, can’t it?

A. Polyanichko: Very exciting.

M. Berry: When one thinks that Monteverdi’s operas had to wait three centuries to be performed once again – let alone those that have been lost, though who knows whether they might turn up in the libraries? And these are some of the greatest operas in the entire repertoire.

A. Polyanichko: That’s true. And I really enjoy Baroque music. I have a lot of experience with this music, in Russia, and here, with the English ChaM. Berryer Orchestra and the Irish ChaM. Berryer Orchestra. But the style: it has changed so much. If you go to a recording by Furtwängler, with nine desks of first violins, six desks of double basses in a Handel concerto grosso, that sounds wonderful. Now we hear people play on old instruments, with four desks of violins; it sounds completely different. But I very much enjoy this music; for me it seems to speak to the soul. Like all music, of course. Sometimes you can hear just a phrase [he sings a descending minor third] and everyone knows that it is sad. There is no explaining.

M. Berry: Just feeling?

A. Polyanichko: Yes, just feeling. In music, all of us, all over the world, are in the same place. And the notes, whoever is playing them, are in the same place in the score, of course. This brings us together. It is an international language. 

M. Berry: What about the women in the opera? Many people have said that Tchaikovsky has a rather one-sided view of female characters.

A. Polyanichko: Yes, but you need to remeM. Berryer, when all these people come up to Solokha, she is not a real witch to them, but she is a witch. There are many different characters in this opera, like the schoolteacher, and all of them like to be as close to her as possible, because you can feel a relationship between her and all of them. The orchestra is such an important voice; you can feel that someone is really in love. It is a magical score. We have to follow the characters and find the right expression for them.

M. Berry: It sounds from what you have said as though the rehearsals are going very well.

A. Polyanichko: Yes, we have had two very enjoyable weeks; everyone has worked very hard. And now, Francesca continues her work after every rehearsal. She makes many notes, concerning how things can be made better, and so on.

M. Berry: In something like this, you will never be finished. There will always be alterations, improvements, changes to make things fresh.

A. Polyanichko: Very much. If there are ten performances, then the best will be the eleventh. It’s always better, better, better, better … Every time we take the stage, there are new details to bring out.

M. Berry: The experience of the earlier performances comes into the later ones, and the desire to do something new.

A. Polyanichko: Yes, of course. You try to collect all the pieces of information, all the details, to concentrate on the characters, on beautiful singing, because there are so many wonderful arias. And what’s really interesting – again this is in the Russian tradition – is that there is joy and sorrow, sadness.

M. Berry: Two sides of the same coin?

A. Polyanichko: One could not exist without the other. You can’t feel joy if you don’t feel sorrow. The end of this opera, act nuM. Berryer four, it is just crying. Solokha and Oxana are sure that Vakula is dead. Mother and daughter: they are both in distress. The sadness that you hear in all Russian opera, and also the joy; think of Borodin’s Prince Igor. Mussorgsky too.

M. Berry: Perhaps a little less of the joy in Mussorgsky?

AP: Mussorgsky was a genius. He used this contrast better than anybody. If you remeM. Berryer Boris Godunov, we have just heard a song about a mosquito [the ‘Song of the Gnat’] and suddenly – Boris Godunov…

M. Berry: A musical shadow falls, as well as that of the character on stage.

A. Polyanichko: Exactly. Mussorgsky was a real genius. You know, he was also setting Gogol, in Sorochintsï Fair. It’s the same story, written in 1832. He was born in 1809 and was just 23. And everybody knew this: it was so popular. Rimsky-Korsakov: his Christmas Eve, from the same place. And I’ll tell you what the difference is between Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Tchaikovsky. Tchaikovsky used a librettist; his is written by [Yakov] Polonsky, and it is written in Russian. But Rimsky-Korsakov and Mussorgsky create their own librettos and use the original text. Polonsky’s libretto is in general, Russian, with just a few sentences from the original text, just a few words. And it’s a pity, because you lose some of the meaning of these words. It’s not all ‘correct’ Russian pronunciation, because south of Russia, a ‘g’ sound does not exist; it is always ‘h’. It is like in Bayreuth, in the south of Germany, it is very different from the north. The same in Czech: Janáček’s pronunciation.

M. Berry: Very different in Moravia from in Prague.

A. Polyanichko: Yes, yes. So the sounds are very different, and this can be another comic side to the opera.

M. Berry: Rather like the Viennese dialect in Rosenkavalier?

A. Polyanichko: Yes, that’s right. This is another thing to bring out. Of course you want to show the beauty of the score, but there are so many things to consider.

M. Berry: The very essence of opera.

On which note, I thanked Mr Polianichko very much for his time and said how much I was looking forward to the first night, on 20th NoveM. Berryer.

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Russian composer files a response to Charles Ives

Russian composer files a response to Charles Ives

When american composer Charles Ives (1874-1954) composed a piece he called «The Unanswered Question» in 1906, he couldn’t have dreamed that a Russian composer born in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) in 1953, would, if not quite «answer» his question, at least posit a tantalizing musical meditation on it more than a century later.

This new piece, called «Post-scriptum» by its composer, Victor Kissine, will receive its world premiere with the San Francisco Symphony, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas, in concerts scheduled for 8 p.m. March 4, 5, and 6 and 2 p.m. March 7 at Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco.

Kissine — who makes his home in Belgium, where he is a professor of music at two important conservatories — writes that he was a student at the Leningrad Conservatory when he first discovered Ives’ piece. Considering it a «revelation», he assiduously studied the details of its score, noting that Ives used a trumpet to repeatedly intone his so-called «Perennial Question of Existence». The piece continues, as a series of other instruments offer comments on his question but cannot «answer» it. In his «Post-Scriptum», Kissine engages a series of five sounds, each of which evolves into either a major or minor pitch interval of a third to deal with «the question». During our recent e-mail exchange, I asked Kissine if, in his judgment, an average listener would consider his music in general, and «Post-Scriptum» in particular, to be «beautiful», «pleasing», «interesting» or «shocking» following a first hearing.

He replied, «If the listener finds my music ‘beautiful,’ I’d be overjoyed. I have nothing against ‘pleasing’ or ‘interesting,’ but if he is ‘shocked,’ I’d be disappointed, because this wasn’t my intention at all». Kissine has written a great deal of film music, as well as chamber and orchestral music. However, his approach to composition departs significantly from the assertive, agitated, often ear-grating styles issuing from the fin de siecle era at the beginning of the 20th century.

He explains that his musical language expands to include elements of classical Western-style tonality, 20th-century atonality, minimalism, aleatory sounds and 12-tone techniques, adding that he also uses micro-intervals (notes that fall «between the cracks» of notes on the piano). Further elaborating on his style, he wrote that beyond the four basic parameters of music — duration, pitch level, intensity and timbre — there is yet another: Silence, which he uses to great effect in his compositions.

«Silence», he says, «does not stop the music. It’s part of the music. It’s the flip side of music. Sound without silence wouldn’t exist». In his e-mail, Kissine asserted that he can’t imagine being anything other than a musician and composer. “I started music when I was 5,” he wrote. “So, it was the first language I learned to read. And, the first score I sight-read by myself was ‘Sonata quasi una Fantasia,’ Op. 27, No. 2 by Beethoven (the famous “Moonlight Sonata”). I remember having had enormous problems with the left-hand octaves».

Because his family lived near the Philharmonic Hall in Leningrad, he was taken to musical performances from a very early age. «I especially remember a recital by Sviatoslav Richter which made a great impression me», he wrote. «He was playing ‘my’ Beethoven sonata»! Kissine, father of two and grandfather to a 4-year-old, is a citizen of Belgium, living with his wife in Court-Saint-Etienne, a suburb of Brussels.

Other works scheduled for the S.F. Symphony’s March 4-7 program will be Ravel’s «Valses nobles et sentimentales», Liszt’s «Tasso: Lament and Triumph» and the unabashedly exultant Violin Concerto by another great Russian composer, Peter Tchaikovsky. Its soloist will be Christian Tetzlaff, prizewinning German violinist, who also performs the work with the symphony during its mid-March national tour.

Nobel Prize Concert Classical Music

Nobel Prize Concert Classical Music

Nobel Media, in association with the Stockholm Concert Hall, is proud to present this year’s Nobel Prize Concert – an event of world class stature. The concert is to take place on 8 December as part of the official Nobel Week programme of activities. Tickets will be released to the general public on Friday 29 May.

Stockholm Concert HallMartha Argerich, headstrong, charismatic and technically brilliant pianist, is this year’s soloist at the Nobel Prize Concert. Yuri Temirkanov, Music Director and Principal Conductor for the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic will be leading the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra. The programme comprises Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G major and Prokoviev’s Suite from Romeo and Juliet.

Martha Argerich was born in Buenos Aires in 1941, and had her performing debut at the tender age of eight. Her breakthrough came in 1965, when she won the prestigious Chopin Competition in Warsaw. She has worked with most of the world’s leading conductors, and her repertoire includes Bach, Schumann, Liszt, Debussy, Ravel, Bartók and Prokoviev.

Ms Argerich is passionate about supporting young talent. The year 1999 saw the first International Martha Argerich Piano Contest in Buenos Aires, a competition that she founded and of which she is now the chief judge. She has also instituted the Martha Argerich Music Festival in Japan, with concerts and masterclasses.
The Nobel Prize Concert is held to honour the year’s Nobel Laureates, who attend with their respective parties. Also present are members of the Swedish Royal Family and guests of the Nobel Foundation.

The TV broadcast of the Nobel Prize Concert will be produced by EuroArts and distributed internationally. In Sweden the concert will be broadcast by SVT. The Nobel Prize Concert is sponsored by DnB NOR and Statkraft.

For further information contact:
Camilla Hyltén-Cavallius, CEO Nobel Media +46 (0)8-663 14 83 or +46 (0)70-524 57 70
Stefan Forsberg, CEO Stockholm Concert Hall +46 (0)8-786 02 20 or +46 (0)70-786 02 50

Dallas Symphony Orchestra – «Alexander Nevsky»

Dallas Symphony Orchestra – «Alexander Nevsky»

Sounds that kept provoking smells and colors: Thursday was synesthesia night at the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. Prokofiev’s cantata based on his score for the film Alexander Nevsky took pride of place on conductor Jaap van Zweden’s enterprising program. Before intermission, he typically plugged gaps in the orchestra’s repertoire.

Alexander NevskyWolfgang Rihm currently bears the flag for German modernism and post-modernism. Memoria marked his Dallas Symphony debut – an American premiere and indeed only the third performance of the work anywhere. Like Stravinsky’s late Requiem Canticles, it offers shards of a formal lamentation – in this case for chorus, two soloists and an odd assortment of orchestral personnel. The chorus sometimes hummed and shouted. Offstage batteries of percussion made a furious clamor. I loved the work’s quirky solemnity, and the audience gave it a surprisingly enthusiastic welcome.

One of the orchestra’s own stars, Christopher Adkins, then got his moment in the sun with Haydn’s Cello Concerto in C Major. Lost until 1961, the piece is one of the few Haydn concertos that suggest his preeminence as a composer. Thank goodness van Zweden is making up for all the years the Dallas Symphony neglected his genius.

The sweet richness of Adkins’ tone, closely matched by the orchestral strings, evoked vocabulary you’d associate with tasting dessert wines: I detected overtones of honey, vanilla and tobacco. The cellist’s extended family has been active on the local early music scene, so I was surprised by the frankly romantic, though not self-indulgent, approach here.

The great filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein was fulfilling a commission to prepare the Soviet public for the approaching World War II in Alexander Nevsky. Prokofiev’s soundtrack is inseparable from the images of medieval knights – good Russians, bad Germans – who battle onscreen. The cantata the composer arranged from the score made a great pairing with Rihm’s memorial to the dead of that same war.

Van Zweden seemed to be hurling gobs of paint onto a mighty canvas as he led the piece. The winds produced pungent, saturated colors, underpinned by tubas and contrabassoon, while the pitched percussion overlaid the picture with enamel splashes. Violins shaped delicate transitions between the climaxes piled on climaxes.

The huge Dallas Symphony Chorus blazed brightly when individual sections could revel in exposed lines. All together, the sound could be muddy. Prepared by interim director Terry Price, the chorus managed a convincing attempt at the language, even if the basses lacked that sepulchral low end of their Russian counterparts. Mezzo Gigi Velasco-Mitchell proved a wonderful alternative to the beefy Slavic contraltos we usually hear in the solo. Her singing was as elegant as it was earthy, confirming the excellent impression she (and treble Bryan Leines) had made in the Rihm.

Dallas News

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