Opera & ballet
  • «Musica viva» will present Mozart’s opera of «Idomeneo»

    «Musica viva» will present Mozart’s opera of «Idomeneo»

    On December, 5th in the Moscow Tschaikovsky Concert hall within the limits of the philharmonic subscription «Opera masterpieces» the Moscow chamber orchestra and chorus «Musica Viva» under the direction of Alexander Rudin will present the concert version of an opera of Mozart of «Idomeneo». It already the fourth opera premiere «Musica Viva», after the past with stunning [...]

Symphony music
  • Simon Rattle and Berlin Philharmonic

    Simon Rattle and Berlin Philharmonic

    The Berlin Brahms Bombers victory tour came to a premature finish Tuesday night. The leader of the Berlin Philharmonic, Simon Rattle, received a hero’s excited welcome. The Second Symphony proved smashing, as had the first night from this inimitable orchestra’s two-evening visit to Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Chamber music
  • Chamber Music Festival Features Professional Performers

    Chamber Music Festival Features Professional Performers

    The Lake Champlain Chamber Music Festival is entertaining audiences in Chittenden County, with most performances at the Elley-Long Music Center in Colchester’s Fort Ethan Allen. Other shows have taken place at the Firehouse Gallery on Church Street. The festival is new this year, and features concerts as well as classes for students. Soovin Kim started the [...]

Instrumental Music
  • Finnish Composer Bursts Some of Her Own Myths

    Finnish Composer Bursts Some of Her Own Myths

    One of the perils of conducting a public interview with a composer is that you are likely to have your deeply held beliefs about your interviewee’s work shrugged off. That happened to the composer George E. Lewis during his interview with Kaija Saariaho during a Composer Portraits concert at the Miller Theater on Sunday evening. Mr. [...]

Vocal art
  • Ekaterina Shcherbachenko – «I live with sensation something new»

    Ekaterina Shcherbachenko – «I live with sensation something new»

    Ekaterina Shcherbachenko, the winner of competition BBC Cardiff Singer of the World 2009 in Cardiff, has arrived to Moscow at 2 o’clock in the morning. And already early in the morning the call was distributed and we have agreed about interview time, this afternoon. Ekaterina knew that Classica.FM, has first informed on its victory, therefore with [...]

Persons
  • Ingo Metzmacher – I can’t believe it!

    Ingo Metzmacher – I can’t believe it!

    The well-known maestro, active propagandist of modern music, the one, who all Europe worships – Ingo Metzmacher has visited Moscow. Despite a number of possible difficulties – some heavy days, and, in addition, Friday 13, good luck has smiled to our magazine, and we managed to meet the adherent of modern music world and ask [...]

Editor's Column
  • Stuart Lawson: «Time-proven Pursuit of Excellence»

    The hero of today’s interview is like no other. First, he is not a musician but a banker. But obviously he is not an ordinary banker as we are not a business publication and write only about things related to classical music. Stuart Lawson is CEO of HSBC Russia. The bank has won praise for [...]

Dates of classical music

Listel’s: Legendary producer Steven Epstein


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One of the most influential pairs of ears in the recording industry belongs to Steven Epstein. The veteran producer’s name isn’t as famous as those of the iconic artists on his resumé — among them Yo-Yo Ma, Joshua Bell, Wynton Marsalis, Murray Perahia and Sarah Vaughan — but he has significantly shaped the way we hear a wide spectrum of classical music, jazz and Broadway on disc. Epstein’s work has garnered multiple Grammys (including seven alone for Classical Producer of the Year), as well as Edison and Grand Prix du Disque awards.

Steven EpsteinThe instinct for sustained, long-range focus that serves Epstein so well as a record producer manifested itself early, when he was growing up in Queens Village, New York in the ’50s and ’60s. He vividly recalls how, as a toddler, hearing a Columbia LP of Robert Casadesus playing Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 triggered his lifelong love of classical music. Epstein later turned his attention to sound equipment, intrigued by the variant results he experienced from hi-fi equipment. By the time he started high school, Epstein knew he wanted to pursue a career in record production.

“My ears had been opened to what was considered state-of-the-art sound when I started exploring records like The Fabulous Philadelphia Sound on my neighbor’s new Magnavox stereo,” says Epstein. “And I read the liner notes by Tom Frost about his responsibilities as a producer. So I wrote to ask him what qualifications were needed to enter the field. In those days there were no programs in sound technology, so he suggested that I major in music to get overall experience.”

Epstein stuck to his plan, studying violin and earning a degree in music education from Hofstra. He also acquired experience directing classical programming for the campus radio station. After graduating in 1973, Epstein once again wrote to Frost, who was then co-directing Columbia Masterworks (which later became CBS Masterworks). Impressed by his persistence, Frost brought him on board as a music editor. Epstein stayed with Columbia (which later became Sony) for over three decades, soon reaching the level of senior executive producer.

“On my very first day of work, I was asked to edit an album of Rudolf Serkin playing Beethoven sonatas,” Epstein recalls. “It really came down to learning by doing. But the timing was perfect.”

Part of Epstein’s secret through a career of more than three hundred commercial recordings has been to hold on to the intensity of his early passion. Despite the continual awards and honors, he demonstrates a distinctly self-effacing attitude about his role. “I used to be reluctant to offer interpretive points unless it had to do with drawing attention to wrong notes. As I’ve gained experience, I find, more and more, that artists will ask for my opinion on certain matters. Even so, you’re not making a record of what the producer wants but of the artist’s interpretation. You learn to respect the temperament of each artist.”

Jazz recording presents its own challenges, Epstein explains, since “you’re not adhering to a written musical score in jazz. These artists are composing from their heart, playing solos on the spot. I’ve learned an unbelievable amount from Chick Corea and Wynton Marsalis. So what kinds of suggestions can I offer? There are some signposts, but the latitude of what is acceptable is different in jazz.

“It’s different in Broadway cast recordings,” he continues, “since you have more involvement over getting the dramatic aspect of the show to come across in the sound production. Producing shows like Adam Guettel’s The Light in the Piazza has been especially fulfilling. The most important thing — for any genre — is to offer an honest overview. You’re not just looking for mistakes but for an awareness of whether the artist is delivering a successful overall performance. That’s why it’s so important for a producer to have a solid musical background.”

Epstein officially retired from Sony a few years ago but was promptly hired back as a consultant. A couple of his recent projects for Sony Masterworks just came out in September: Joshua Bell’s At Home with Friends and the “Zenph Re-performance” CD Rachmaninoff Plays Rachmaninoff. Since he started freelancing, Epstein has produced records for other labels as well, including John Adams’ Doctor Atomic Symphony (Nonesuch) and Marin Alsop’s account of Leonard Bernstein’s Mass (Naxos).

“Creating the most fertile environment possible for an artist is one of my main responsibilities,” Epstein explains. “Another is to make sure the sound is balanced. My philosophy is to create a concert hall experience in an idealized acoustic setting — without all the distractions that come with live performance. As soon as an audience comes in, it affects the quality of sound.” How, then, does he imagine his ideal sound? “I like to re-create the sense that I’m in the concert hall, with music emerging from velvety background abstractness. To accomplish that, I use as few mics as possible. I’ve made many symphonic and chamber music recordings with just two mics, since that allows for a greater sense of depth and more accurate imaging.”

Epstein has an obvious flair for feeling out how the ambience of a given space will translate through the recording process and eventually sound in the comfort of a listener’s home. His memory retains an extensive and detailed repertory of the personalities of particular studios (a good studio, Epstein insists, must have its own “character”), concert halls and churches (which are especially suitable for chamber music). “The venue becomes part of the instrument.” Yet, in all cases, “the goal is exactly the same: to replicate what one perceives as a natural concert hall sound.”

As for the widespread assumption that live performance generates a greater spark than a pristine studio environment does, Epstein suggests the matter isn’t so simple: “Clearly there’s a certain adrenaline that comes out when you have audience. But as a producer, you start to hear how much the musicians are playing out to make sure they reach the last rows. I think there’s an aggressive quality that you hear projected which is sometimes misconstrued as excitement or energy. So I prefer not to record live unless it’s to document a specific event that is historically worthy.”

Epstein’s mentor, Tom Frost, produced some famous examples of the latter with the return of Vladimir Horowitz to Carnegie Hall. Epstein points to his own Horowitz albums as one of his favorite projects of his career. “I was asked to choose from his Carnegie Hall performances between the mid-’40s to the early ’50s — many with duplicate repertoire . . . three albums’ worth of material. My main interest was in selecting great performances, even if the surface noise was less desirable. We agreed that we didn’t want to clean the original lacquers up to such a degree that it would change the sound of the piano. It was important to keep the integrity of the piano sound as Horowitz would have heard it.”

A fascinating twist on archival recordings can be found in Epstein’s recent projects employing the software designed by North Carolina-based Zenph Studios. The Zenph technique allows for “re-performances” based precisely on aging originals but retooled in state-of-the-art digital sound. Epstein first worked with this software in the landmark anniversary reissue of Glenn Gould’s 1955 Goldberg Variations (Sony, SACD multichannel). He has since applied it to Art Tatum’s Piano Starts Here and the recent Rachmaninoff Plays Rachmaninoff (culled from original performances from the ’20s to the ’40s in New York and Hollywood).

Rachmaninoff à la Zenph also appears on the latest Sony crossover release featuring Joshua Bell. Epstein says that crossover, as with any genre, has its share of good and bad (and, he acknowledges, very bad). But in his work with Yo-Yo Ma and associates, the producer has tended to promote cross-pollination rather than the dumbing down of styles. Epstein grows animated when bringing up Bell’s CD, At Home with Friends, which pairs the violinist with numerous singers (including Sting and Josh Groban), instrumentalists and — thanks to Zenph — the past. One of the tracks has Bell (taking the role originally played by Kreisler) performing the slow movement of Grieg’s Third Violin Sonata in partnership with “re-performed” Rachmaninoff. “It sounds so natural to me that I’m very pleased with it,” says Epstein. “And I think the eclectic range of the album as a whole works because it’s all so beautifully played.”

Along with the rapid evolution of sound technology, Epstein is concerned with the paradoxical de-sensitization attributable to today’s all-pervasive recording media on the internet. “Kids are exposed to much more music than ever before, which is great. But it’s mostly through mp3 and other technology that has been dumbed down to present material for the masses. When I was young, we talked about hi-fi — turntables and stereo systems — the way kids now talk about computers.”

The loss is palpable. “I think the vast majority of people are not aware of the incredible ideal of recording technology that is available. The search for high-fidelity reached a peak around the turn of the century with super-audio CD, which allows for high resolution in surround sound. What I’m hoping is that with the advent of broadband throughout the world, it will become easier to download recordings of much higher quality. Perhaps this will resuscitate the era of high fidelity. After all, digital recording changed the whole playing field as it evolved. It’s a much better vehicle for music now than it was back in the early ’80s.”

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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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