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Instrumental Music
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Vocal art
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Persons
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Dates of classical music

Russian Musical Passion in Xiamen


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It’s hard to imagine the suffering Russian people endured between the 1st performance of Tchaikovsky’s piano concerto no.1 and the premier of Shostakovich’sRussian classical music in Xiamen 11th symphony in 1957. The juxtaposing beauty’s of the two pieces eerily capture the change in Russian mentality after the nation had passed through 80 years of hell: two world wars, a civil war, two revolutions and the brutality of forced collectivism and the Great Purge: where more than 650,000 Russians were shot, at 1000 people per day.

Eager to become a cultural centre of China, and perhaps Asia, Xiamen and its philharmonic displayed musically refinement in its performance of these two classical masterpieces. Conducted by Zhu Hui, the Xiamen Philharmonic performed at the new concert Hall on Hubingdong road on Friday night (27th/Nov/09). Maestro Zhu – short in height but tall in vigour – lead the orchestra powerfully, drawing from the music both the rich emotional landscape and colourful melodic currents. Joining him for the Tchaikovsky piano concerto, which is considered one of the most popular, was the gifted soloist Wang Jia who wrestled happily with the octave heavy score.

The Philharmonics new music hall outdoes itself. Seating is both comfortable and private while the thoughtfully placed lightning helps create a sophisticated atmosphere. The curved angles of the architecture complete a setting perfect for classical musical. The evening started when Wang Jia, blonde streaks eluding to his showmanship, entered to a round of applause followed closely by the statesman like Zhu Hui.

The opening of Tchaikovsky’s piano concerto paints life in late 19th century Russia as a optimistic and free spirited place. The sharpness of the string sections early staccato runs, which also show off the acoustic success of the new music hall, took the Xiamenese Audience on a cheerful tour of orchestral sound and timbre. Joining the action with a flurry of “end to end” piano passages, Wang Jia’s captured the attention with Tchaikovsky’s famous opening melody.

Born in Shenyang, Wang Jia learned his musicianship in both Shanghai and Germany before going on to win a cabinet full of national piano competitions. Intriguing like so many young successful Chinese, Wang has a understated, physically compact playing style expressing itself most evidently through his distinctive, tai-chi like, hand movements.

The third movement, who’s virtuoso piano writing could electrify the entire Siming district, brought to life a sense of daring and eagerness in the listener. As with a lot of classical music, orchestral players often favour one movement over others and the energised playing of the last movement eluded to this favouritism. The piano and orchestra where in sync thought-out the movement, weaving the music together and reminding us of the attraction of concerto’s. The final notes, with orchestra and piano at full velocity, collided with the audiences applause before the last note was sounded.

Shostakovich’s 11st symphony opens with the soft trembling of the string section. The trembling notes hold steady and slowly envelope the hall with a feeling of sombreness. A feeling which the composer would have experienced throughout his life in Russia. Rising from this atmosphere a lonely trumpet adds depth to the mood, reminding us of Shostakovich’s brass heavy orchestration style.

For this second piece, the philharmonic is full with 67 players (as per scoring – minus one harp) including a large brass and extensive percussion sections – all of which are richly exposed over the four movements. If Russian was a lonely, defeating place in Shostakovich’s time then the first movement captures this mood overwhelmingly. The combination of focused concentration and the oriental inclination to expressionlessness, gave the orchestral players the appropriately forlorn ‘expressions’. Maestro Zhu, unembellished for much of the first movement, urged the youthful orchestra through the dramatic scoring carefully.

The drama came to life in the second movement. It was Shostakovich’s intent to express the tragedy of Bloody Sunday in this movement. The solo’s by both the oboe and bassoons were particularly outstanding and it was real pleasure to hear the full power of the Xiamen philharmonic crescendo into the climaxes of the movement – the kind of loud orchestral playing that send tingles down the spine.

The final two movements are bound together by percussion driven marches. Both movements are a chilling tribute to the impact violence played in Russia history. Screaming brass melodies reminded us of the ultimateness of death. Visually, the trusting action of the violins bows, up and down, up and down, conjure images of falling swords. And the onslaught is complete with the unfaltering beat of the drums – mercilessly driving the violence forward.

Intertwining revolutionary theme songs learned during his socialist upbringing, Shostakovich maintains the seriousness of the symphony while giving the music “a film score without the film” taste. Listening to the symphony, there can be no doubt that Russia was a dramatic place in Shostakovich’s lifetime. Some say that the Eleventh is a requiem for his generation – what I can say for certain is the passion of this music was brought vividly to life by the philharmonic – a sign of good things to come for Xiamen.

Whats on Xiamen

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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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