Showing posts with label Daniel Barenboim. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Daniel Barenboim. Show all posts

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Barenboim: a Chopin recital

...And while I continued to hunt for Barenboim playing Schubert, after I found the two-pianos trailer with Argerich, I then found him in a sensational Chopin recital from Warsaw in Chopin year, 2010.

Listen to the way Barenboim seems to orchestrate at the piano; the range of colour he can draw from the instrument, as if controlling woodwinds and string sections; the way he builds a sense of narrative and allows absolute logic to meld with on-stage spontaneity - e.g. in the "Heroic" Polonaise and the Minute Waltz. And the sheer scruff-of-the-neck way that his musicianship can grab you and command you to listen to the whole concert even when you thought you'd just dip in and hear the F minor Fantasy before getting back to everything else you were meant to be doing today...

I'm off for a spot of summer opera hopping soon - encompassing Monteverdi, Verdi and my first-ever trip to Bayreuth - so I'll shut up now and let the music do the speaking.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Friday historical-to-be: Barenboim and Argerich in duo

I was hunting for film of Daniel Barenboim playing Schubert, when I came across this trailer for a new release featuring him and Martha Argerich playing works for piano duet and two pianos. Schubert, Mozart and The Rite of Spring, no less, recorded live at the Philharmonie in Berlin. This isn't historical yet, but it's a history-worthy occasion.

Barenboim, meanwhile, has written the only wise and constructive article I've yet read about the horrifying conflagration in Gaza. Here it is. Please read.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Top ten happy things about the BBC Music Magazine Awards

1. It was a great honour that this year I was asked to be on the jury. I was only able to emerge around Christmas from underneath the biggest heap of CDs that has ever colonised my study (dividing brooms syndrome) - but there could be many worse things in life than listening to c250 five-star discs in quick succession and exploring them over copious quantities of tea with respected colleagues. We had a ball, really. Best, in most categories we pick three and it is you, the readers, who vote for the one you want to win.

2. Alisa Weilerstein's Elgar and Elliott Carter cello concertos - with the Berlin Staatskapelle conducted by Daniel Barenboim - won Recording of the Year. Very wonderful it is. Here's an introduction to it. (And here's an introduction to Alisa herself over at Sinfini.)



3. At lunch I "was sat" next to Igor Levit, who was voted Newcomer of the Year. Perhaps paradoxically, he is already jolly well known: his debut CD of late Beethoven sonatas for Sony Classical sparked the sort of superlatives you don't see too often. Last year I interviewed him for the cover feature of International Piano. He is one of a remarkable bunch of pianists currently zooming to fame in their twenties: youngsters who already know their own minds and musicianship so well that they play with the assurance of seasoned masters. It's arguably the most interesting crop of young pianists we've seen in a long time, also including Grosvenor and Trifonov - all very heartening. Presenting yourself on the recording scene for the first time with with Beethoven's last five sonatas indicates no small ambition, and in Igor's case gambling on this repertoire was clearly the right choice. He will soon be recording some Bach. And incidentally he has a very natty way with ties.

4. Plenty of accolades for Jonas Kaufmann, whose Wagner album won the vocal category, despite powerful competition from an amazing CD of Hanns Eisler by Matthias Goerne. JK wasn't there in person, but recorded a touching video message for us from somewhere on his Winterreise tour, in which he added that the fact that the choice comes from listeners rather than critics makes this the biggest prize of all. I was on Easyjet from Moscow while he was singing Winterreise here the other night, and am I sick as a parrot about missing it or what. (Below: spotted outside the Moscow Conservatoire the other day. Missed him there too.)

5. Additionally, that Tosca from the ROH starring Angela Gheorghiu, JK and Bryn Terfel, with Tony Pappano conducting, grabbed the Performance DVD category. Bryn, who's currently starring in Faust at Covent Garden, was there to collect the award and told us fulsomely about their week of rehearsals for the performances at the ROH at which it was filmed. Angela, he said, moved everyone to tears in the studio when she sang 'Vissi d'art'. Jonas had flown in from New York and promptly got sick, so Bryn didn't hear him sing out until they were on stage. We were treated to an extract of film from Act II, when Cavaradossi sings 'Vittoria!' and Jonas emitted the kind of long, high, off-the-leash note that can flatten the entire music business at a stroke. At that point, said Bryn, even his threatening Scarpia-stare turned into "a small, wry smile," which he was glad the cameras didn't pick up.

6. Chamber category winner: the Ebene Quartet's gorgeous, impassioned, searingly intense recording of Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn. You couldn't hope for a more convincing advocacy of the neglected sister in this family duo than this from the lovely chamber-music boy-band of Paris; besides, the F minor Quartet comes leaping off the page as Felix's musical mid-life crisis that should not have been his swan-song, but was. With my Mendelssohnian hat on, this was my Record of the Year.



7. Rachel Podger's fascinating and velvety solo album of baroque violin rarities, Guardian Angel, scooped the Instrumental category. The first time I encountered Rachel was nearly 20 years ago in a festival in Australia, when she and her ensemble played their way valiantly through more than three hours of Telemann in high heat... Since then we've been watching her growth as an artist and now she is in her prime and flowering. This is the album of hers I have enjoyed the most, ever; sophisticated performing filled with sensitivity, intuition, character and insight. Brava! I'd also like to put in a good plug for another shortlisted disc, Richard Egarr's Bach English Suites, which I adored (yes, you read aright: I loved a harpsichord album.)

8. Orchestral went to Riccardo Chailly's Brahms Symphonies with the Leipzig Gewandhaus. They don't come much better than that. Yet for some of us, the surprise wild card of the year was a blistering account of the Strauss Alpine Symphony from...the Sao Paolo Symphony Orchestra under Frank Shipway. Fair blew my socks off, that one.

9. Other highlights included a gargantuan quantity of Britten wins, a Premiere award for George Benjamin's opera Written on Skin, a vast film about Cavaillé-Coll and his organs, and the first-ever App Award, which went to the Touchpress/DG exploration of the Beethoven Symphony No.9. You can see the full list of winners on the magazine's website, here.

10. Last but not least, two dear friends and colleagues whom I've known separately for years told me that they're an item. This was the news of the whole day that made me happiest. Cheers, chaps!

Monday, July 29, 2013

A very spoilt opera lover's home thoughts from abroad

So last night, here in Munich, I heard Don Carlo with Jonas Kaufmann sounding perhaps the best I've ever heard him (and you know how good that is), Anja Harteros sounding like a platinum-plated Maria Callas only possibly better, Rene Pape sounding like King Marke as King Philip II and a baritone new to my radar, Ludovic Tezier, as Rodrigo sounding like a presence who will dominate his repertoire to very fabulous effect for years to come. How many great voices can you have on a stage at any one time? It occurs to one that - perhaps unusually for a Verdi performance - one could reassemble the same team for a certain thing by Wagner to fine effect, one named Tristan und Isolde...

But oh dearie dearie dear... I went and missed Barenboim's Gotterdammerung at the Proms, and today have been inundated with messages full of overjoy, overwhelmedness or plain old Schadenfreude from those who were there, or heard it on the radio, or who are calling for a Ring cycle to become a regular feature of the Proms, please, something I will second with all my heart (provided it's done by the right performers). After a 20-minute ovation, Barenboim made a speech declaring that what the audience had been through with him and his musicians was something he had never even dreamed of. Can't manage to embed the code for some reason, so please follow this link to hear it: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01ddfdr

Extra plaudits for the Proms this year for having made me seriously question the wisdom of taking a summer holiday abroad while they're on.



Saturday, July 27, 2013

Dragon-slayer: Lance Ryan IS Siegfried

Here's my write-up for the Indy of last night at the Proms, where things are turning seriously steamy in the Ring. A slightly less packed turnout for this one, perhaps because the temperatures in the hall have been in the news, but hey, there was more air for the rest of us as we rushed back for episode 3. If this is what happens in a Wagner anniversary, please can we have another next year? I mean, he'd have been 201 - isn't that worth celebrating too?

Shock confession: this is the first time I have actually enjoyed Siegfried. The first act can be heavy going and unless you have a top-notch chap in the title role, so can the rest. It needs to be done very, very, very well, all round, to succeed (at least where my ears are concerned). This one...just flew by, with laughter, tears and suitably raised consciousness. Where's it been all my life?

If you were wondering whether to go to Gotterdammerung on Sunday, but hesitated: stop thinking and just go. I can't, as I'll be in the only other place an opera buff (never mind critic) should be just now, which is in Munich, listening to Jonas in a spot of Verdi. But even with that to look forward to, I am sick as the proverbial parrot about missing the last night of this Ring cycle.

Left, Canadian Heldentenor Lance Ryan as Siegfried (not as he looked yesterday, of course). He simply owned the role and thus the evening.

Wagner would have loved his operas being done at the Proms: to a huge crowd of passionate enthusiasts in the arena who have come from far and wide for the occasion and pay just a fiver to get in. He wanted admission at Bayreuth to be free. It didn't prove very practical, of course, but that was the original idea.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Bristol calling

As a techno-twit, I've been trying to get my head around the dizzying digital heights of the Bristol Proms. Fascinating chats with Tom Morris, artistic director of the Bristol Old Vic and the brain behind the series; Max Hole, chairman of Universal, which is throwing its weight behind the series; and Clare Reddington, digital suprema of Bristol's Watershed. All in the Independent, right now.
http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/classical/features/an-ear-to-the-future-bringing-classical-music-into-the-21stcentury-8728936.html

Meanwhile, here is my review of Barenboim's very steamy journey up the Rhine at the (London) Proms on Monday night, and I am just busy writing up last night's Die Walkure...

Friday, April 19, 2013

Proms 2013: Hear 7 Wagner Operas for £5 Each

You'll need sandiwches, water, strong shoes and even stronger legs - those operas are loooong - but where else in the world can you go to the complete Ring cycle conducted by Daniel Barenboim and starring Nina Stemme, plus Tristan und Isolde, Tannhauser and Parsifal, each with major Wagnerian superstars at the helm, and stand just a few metres from the performers, and pay only £5 a time? Yes, the Proms are back and this is one great whopper of a Wagner anniversary season.

There's some Verdi - though no complete operas (apparently this is down to it's-just-how-things-turned-out, rather than any Wagner-is-best conspiracy, before you ask). And a more than fair pop at Britten, including Billy Budd from Glyndebourne. Fans of Granville Bantock, Walton, Rubbra, George Lloyd and Tippett could also be quite happy with this year's line-up.

The glass ceiling is shattering nicely as Marin Alsop takes the helm for the Last Night, becoming the first woman ever to conduct it. Better late than never, and she is a brilliant choice for the task.

Guest artists on the Last Night include Joyce DiDonato and Nigel Kennedy. Nige will be appearing earlier in the season too, playing the good old Four Seasons with his own Orchestra of Life plus the Palestine Strings, which consists of young players from the Edward Said National Conservatories of Music. Lots of piano treats as well - soloists to hear include Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, the terrific duo of Noriko Ogawa and Kathryn Stott, Daniil Trifonov in the rarely-heard Glazunov Piano Concerto No.2 and Imogen Cooper and Paul Lewis playing Schubert's Grand Duo for piano duet in a late-night Prom.

There's one thing, though, that sent me into meltdown. Leafing through the listings, one turns to 6 August and out leap the words KORNGOLD: SYMPHONY IN F SHARP. I've waited 30 years for this. Erich Wolfgang Korngold's one and only full-blown symphony is coming to the Proms at long, long last. It is being performed by the BBC Philharmonic under John Stogårds. And guess what? I'm supposed to be away on holiday on 6 August. If that isn't the Law of Sod, then what is?

Meanwhile we're promised more TV coverage of the Proms than ever before, and plenty of stuff online, and the invaluable iPlayer to help with catching up. But really, there's no substitute for being there. If you've never been, get a taste of it in the launch film above. Book your tickets now.

Full listings here.








Thursday, April 11, 2013

Kaufmann on Wagner and anti-Semitism

[First of all, wanted to let you know that I'm on BBC Radio 3's IN TUNE today between 5 and 5.30pm, talking about the Royal Philharmonic Awards shortlist, which is being announced this afternoon.]

In an interview with Mannheim Morgenweb the one and only Jonas Kaufmann talks about - among other things - Wagner, anti-Semitism and how to separate them. Below are a few  highlights (any mistakes are either mine or Google Translate's) and the whole thing in German is here. In case you didn't know, he is giving a recital with orchestra in London at the Royal Festival Hall on 21 April including arias by the anniversary boys Verdi and Wagner.


... it appears that you currently working a lot on your piano. Optical illusion?

Kaufmann: No, do not be fooled. I lay on the soft and subtle sounds at least as much value as the large and dramatic. An old rule for singers is: only those who have a sonorous piano can develop a healthy forte. But this concerns not only technical matters, but above all the artistic.

What position do you refer in the matter of Wagner? Can you separate the wonderful work of vile anti-Semites?

Kaufmann: Wagner's anti-Semitic writings and his self-esteem will always be a stumbling block. Even militant Wagnerians wish sometimes that he had only composed, and not written so much. But as for your question, I think you should separate work and man, just as one should distinguish the anti-Semitism of nationalists like Wagner from the antisemitism of the Nazis.

Does that work?

Kaufmann: The fact that Wagner's works have been abused by the Nazis does not alter their artistic importance. They belong to the greatest. Many Jewish artists who were expelled by the Nazis from Germany and Austria have also recognised this: singers like Friedrich Schorr had no problem with Wagner being performed at the Met. And someone like Daniel Barenboim has long worked for the performance of Wagner in Israel to be allowed. (Pictured above: Kaufmann with Barenboim.)




Saturday, March 30, 2013

Beethoven: Strength, Inspiration, Revolution!


There've been a few enquiries about my pre-concert talk for the CBSO & Andris Nelsons's Beethoven cycle in Symphony Hall, Birmingham, on 20 and 21 March. Here's the complete text, plus a recording of the movement I took apart via a surprise analogy that worked even better than I'd expected when I started preparing it...


BEETHOVEN, MUSIC AND REVOLUTION


Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, and a very warm welcome to Symphony Hall for the continuation of Andris Nelsons and the CBSO’s Beethoven cycle. 

We’ve got to symphonies numbers 6 and 7 today and it’s a very great pleasure for me to be here to introduce them, as they happen to be my personal favourites of the nine. The sixth is, of course, the ‘Pastoral’ symphony and the seventh was once described by Wagner as ‘the apotheosis of the dance’ – though the conductor Sir Thomas Beecham had to put his own slant on that. He said, “well, what can you do with it, it’s like a load of yaks jumping about.” 

As Elvis Costello once said, talking about music is like dancing about architecture. It’s essentially intangible - but what I’d like to do today is to try to burrow into some of those intangible connections to consider how Beethoven can seem to convey to us the deepest associations between the processes of music and the processes of life and of living. And this might help to show why we think of him as a revolutionary, producing music that inspires idealism the way few others could dream of. 

Daniel Barenboim often says that music is like God because you can’t describe it – you can only describe the effect that it has. There’s no music more associated with Barenboim than Beethoven. Last year you might have caught the series he performed at the Proms with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra of the complete Beethoven symphonies. At the end of the Ninth Symphony he zipped off to the Olympic Stadium and took part in the opening ceremony of the London 2012 games – he was one of eight great humanitarians who carried in the Olympic flag together (pictured). They were dressed all in white, and shortly afterwards I interviewed him and he said he’d felt like a carnation. Barenboim has written and spoken extensively on the links between musical expression and life itself, and of music’s role in society as an art that can encapsulate the deepest and most universal of human processes. His book Everything is Connected is all about this. 

Barenboim says that “Beethoven’s music is universal – it speaks to all people”. The question is, why? How can it be that pieces written for a western classical orchestra some two hundred years ago can communicate so vividly with such a range of people today? And this music really does. 

A few years ago I went to the West Bank to report on some music education projects. Together with some musician friends, I had lunch in Hebron [pictured right - a snap of Hebron from the trip] with an amazing Palestinian lady named Sharifa, who showed us around the historic mosque where the tomb of the Patriarchs is located. Sharifa is an absolute indomitable battle-axe. She has to struggle daily with many very difficult situations. But she has extraordinary spirit and an irrepressible sparkle. Her English was good, but not perfect, and at one point we were trying to explain to her the word “inspiration”. And when she understood, she straight away asked the violinist who was with us to play some Beethoven. She loves Beethoven: she says he gives her strength. She was born and raised far from the music of the western classical tradition in a terribly troubled spot of the Middle East – but to her, Beethoven was the absolute definition of the word ‘inspiration’.

We hear frequently that Beethoven is “revolutionary”. But I wonder why he strikes us that way. His inner strength, of course, is unmistakeable. We know that in 1802 he went through a tremendous personal crisis while he was living in Heiligenstadt, just outside Vienna. He had to face the fact that he was losing his hearing, and for a man who lives body, heart and soul for music, this was the worst thing that life could do to him. In his most famous document, the Heiligenstadt Testament – part will, part explanation, that he wrote for his two brothers – he said: “Such things brought me to the verge of desperation, and well-nigh caused me to put an end to my life. Art! art alone deterred me. Ah! how could I possibly leave the world before bringing forth all that I felt it was my vocation to produce?”. 

But Beethoven’s essential strength, the revolutionary quality, if you like, is not really biographical, at least not solely. Yes, he had huge personal battles to overcome and much tragedy in his life. His ideals are certainly reflected in his works, in some more directly than others. His only opera, Fidelio, for instance, is about a devoted wife who disguises herself as a man to infiltrate a political prison and save her husband from its dungeon. But Beethoven doesn’t ever seem to have been involved with politics beyond his intellectual interest. And of course his deafness, which set in when he was only about 28, would probably have prevented him getting involved even if he had wished to. He had great social and political ideals, though, and he certainly felt the injustices of the world: he was a cantankerous, troubled individual, yet one who, under that facade, felt an enormous compassion towards humanity. 

I heard a theory recently – from the great pianist Murray Perahia – that the real meaning of the so-called ‘Moonlight’ sonata may be something beyond our usual assumption that the publisher added the title for effect. Instead, it’s possible that this heading refers to the so-called ‘children of moonlight’, a term that described the spirits of the unfortunate, the outcasts, people who were denied the sunlight of the Enlightenment – hence the polarity of sun and moon. These spirits would sing of their suffering to the world through the medium of the Aeolian harp, which is played by the wind. Apparently there is good circumstantial evidence to support the theory and it is much in tune with Beethoven’s spirit, to say nothing of the concept fitting the music to perfection. 

So perhaps there Beethoven could consciously have matched image to musical content. But what about the subconsciously revolutionary qualities in the music of his symphonies? And why can they seem revolutionary even to us today? In Beethoven’s time, this music would have sounded not just new, but shockingly new. The overt sense of conflict, the struggle between primal, motivic themes vying for supremacy, sparks flying through the extremities of his contrasts, all that would have sounded incredibly radical around the turn of the 18th into the 19th century. Beethoven was not remotely easy listening for those accustomed to graceful minuets in the background to accompany their dinner. And especially not just after the French Revolution.

But now? We’ve had Mahler, we’ve had Schoenberg, we’ve had Stravinsky, we’ve had, for goodness sake, Stockhausen and Boulez and John Cage. Why does Beethoven still inspire feelings of idealism, and even of political idealism, to ears and minds that have been exposed to so much else?

There are several levels to this. For a start, tonight’s two symphonies are totally different from one another; each is unique. But then, so is every other Beethoven symphony. And so is every single one of his 32 piano sonatas and each of his string quartets. And so on. Beethoven doesn’t repeat himself – the structures of no two works are exactly the same, and each one has not only an individual form but an individual soundworld, an atmosphere that is entirely its own.  

For instance, No.6 is the only Beethoven symphony in five movements and the only one in which three of the movements run through without a break. As for the individual soundworld, the spread-out, lyrical, tranquil melodies of the Sixth Symphony could scarcely be further away from the elemental punch and drive of the Seventh. This sense of constant reinvention, the need to push the boundaries further and further, is just one reason to consider Beethoven not only an innovator but, beyond that, a revolutionary. (And luckily we don't need Fantasia's Pastoral Symphony animation, pictured right, to push its own boundaries any further in this case...)

Now, there wasn’t so much that was new about the idea of a Pastoral Symphony by 1808. Or so you might think. Yet the way Beethoven approaches the idea is entirely new. Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons is probably the work’s most famous forerunner. Vivaldi gave us an extremely pictorial set of concertos with direct sonic depictions of birds twittering in spring, the rain driving down in the summer storm, the skaters weaving around on the ice in winter. Then there was Haydn, with his oratorios The Creation and The Seasons; yet he largely serves his texts: the musical pictures are developed to match the images that the singers evoke.

Beethoven’s difference is that although the symphony may sound pictorial, that isn’t the point of it. Beethoven wanted to evoke not images, but the feelings associated with them.  He provided a brief guide for the programme at the world premiere, with the words: “Pastoral Symphony, more an expression of feeling than painting.” This puts him in a musically pioneering strand with the world of romanticism, where feeling was at the forefront. Yet it’s almost as if he looks forward by about a hundred years towards the symbolist movement, in which emotion and image are completely fused and nothing can be taken at face value. 

I think this was true, in a different way, for Beethoven. For instance, he used to take long walks on which he’d jot down themes he thought of, some inspired by nature - and in 1803, scribbling a melody suggested by the sight of a river, he wrote "The greater the river, the more grave the tone." Those words could suggest that he’s not thinking of what he sees, but of what more that image suggests to him in terms of association, and metaphor, and his emotional response to that.

But there are processes inside the fabric of the music itself that while entirely abstract can still produce some startling results when you look at them in detail. To me, the second movement of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony represents a special summit of achievement. I’d like to draw on Barenboim’s idea that the processes of life and music are connected to show you why I think this music strikes us as revolutionary, at that deep, abstract level. As Barenboim says, we can’t describe music itself; we can only describe the effect that it has, and what I’d like to describe is the effect on us of Beethoven’s music’s inner processes and how they can well be said to mirror the processes of human thought, interaction and society.

So I’m going to talk us through the second movement of Beethoven Seven with a few images in mind suggested by a story that obviously has nothing to do with its creation - but that mirrors something about the way its extraordinary structure operates and the impression it makes on us. 

On 1 December 1955, an African-American woman named Rosa Parks was on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. The town buses practised racial segregation. The driver told Rosa Parks to give up her seat to a white passenger. Rosa Parks refused. This one simple gesture against an enormous human injustice snowballed and eventually led to her becoming an icon of resistance to racial segregation and an important symbol of the American civil rights movement. 

 It started as one person making one small gesture. But it sprang out of a situation of bleak injustice, and one basic, fundamental thought. A situation as bleak as Beethoven’s first chord and a thought about human rights – segregation is wrong - that is as primal as the rhythm Beethoven sets up for his main theme.


The very first chord progression when those low strings come in is tonic to dominant, dominant to tonic. It’s the most fundamental harmonic progression you can get. The theme is scarcely a melody – it is a motif, a rhythm, strong and memorable and simple, and it is fundamental to the whole movement. 

Next, Beethoven begins to bring in the other sections of the orchestra one by one: voice after voice takes up the motif. The voices that have already sung it move on to a counter-melody, a more elaborate thought that illuminates the basic thought by the way it sounds together with it. Others are taking notice, recognising, adding their voices, joining in. The idea is growing in sophistication.

The movement – a good word for it - continues to grow. The thoughts become more elaborate, further voices are drawn in from different parts of the orchestra, or different parts of society if you like, and the rhythm begins to move on too: to the basic pulse we now add a doubling of pace in the lower instruments and gradually the woodwind sidle in almost without us noticing. And, of course, a big crescendo, a great groundswell of support, is beginning.

Now triplets come into the accompaniment so you get a two against three rhythmic effect that sets up a sense of differing forces in friction against one another, adding even more to the tension. The woodwind and brass are making their presences felt, so the central motif assumes the character of a fanfare, and the drums come in as well, but not always at the obvious moments – this adds to the unsettling effect of this growth. It is unpredictable, you don’t know where it’s going to go. Yet still, the entire orchestra is united in proclaiming a fundamental truth and its consequences, with everyone pulling together, which is the only way people can rise up and effect a revolution...

Ah – what happened? The movement ran out of steam. A decrescendo and it’s come to a halt. What now? An idealist is needed, with a new sense of direction. A Martin Luther King, perhaps, with a dream of a better world, powered by the underlying motif that segregation is wrong. Beethoven’s motif, the essential idea, is very much present now as a pulse, a heartbeat, underneath the lyrical melody that now begins. Other voices echo the song of the clarinet – and all the time there’s that tension in the background of that three against two rhythm.

It should be as simple as a major scale down and up. But it isn’t. There’s an interruption, an obstacle, and now what happens? Back comes the melody that started as counterpoint to the first idea; now there’s a new counterpoint against this one, and faster still than triplets, as if to say it’s going to be more complicated than we thought. And the fundamental theme is almost buried in the form of quiet pizzicato under the complication of what it’s spawned, as the strings keep on discussing and bickering, as strings tend to, while the woodwind try to preserve a trajectory of eloquence.

Of course someone has to come along and explore the small print. The legalities, the intellectualisation of the nature of that injustice. In music, that means we have to have a fugue. New motifs and counterpoints and off-beat rhythms complicate matters considerably...as we know, the lawyers always win.

...Now the original idea returns in a strong statement, together with its ideal-world dream and an argument – a tug-of-war between major and minor – that presents a continuing struggle, a perpetuated situation with nobody ready to give in. "We can change this!" "No you can’t!" In human terms it’s at this point that sometimes people get shot for their ideas.

So what’s happened to our basic idea? It seems to be pushed out into a corner – on upper woodwind, surreptitious, then passed down, whispered along from section to section, suppressed, through the lower woodwind until it reaches pizzicato. It’s going underground. The theme seems to have lost the battle. But that doesn’t change the truth of it. And in the last bars a resurgence is promised and left hanging in mid air: it will return. The human condition is the same, injustice remains injustice, and likewise, the final chord is the same as the one at the start.
 
This is the most extraordinary structure. Beethoven builds up a great climax near the beginning, then deconstructs it, suppresses it, yet proves that those ideas must ferment and rise again. 

You can take this idea or leave it - I offer it to you as one possible way of looking at the matter, and just one of many different ways. But to me, it seems to work. 

And this, I believe, is how Beethoven helps us all to change the world.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Inside Barenboim's West-Eastern Divan Orchestra



In just three and a half minutes, this inspiring video proves to us that the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra is more than just an orchestra, that Daniel Barenboim is more than just a conductor and that music really can build deep bridges when given the chance. Here, some of the musicians tell us their own story.

The film was made for the Wall Street Journal by Clemency Burton-Hill, who has also written an article on the new Barenboim-Said Academy that's about be founded in Berlin:
A new project that unites conductor Daniel Barenboim, architect Frank Gehry and Brown University will test whether music really is the universal language—by bringing together students from the Middle East in an ambitious curriculum.
The Barenboim-Said Academy, to be based in Berlin beginning in 2015, won't only offer a standard two-year music diploma. It will also be a "world awareness" academy: Up to 100 music students, aged 17 to 20 and hailing from Israel and its neighbors, will study world affairs, politics and the humanities, as well as Arabic and Hebrew. The German government has pledged almost $27 million over the next four years for the project.
"Music is often taught as if it exists in an ivory tower" and is seen as a distraction, a beautiful place to hide, Mr. Barenboim said. He added, "I want to fight that." ...
Read the whole thing in the WSJ here.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Is Daniel Barenboim the only person who can fix things?

It wouldn't surprise me.

While the killing continues in the Middle East, he's founding a college in Berlin based on the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra's principles. A new college in a former Berlin Staatskapelle warehouse. Around 80 Israeli and Arab youngsters will - we hope - mix here to study music, with a spot of social sciences and international politics on the side. A new concert hall, apparently, to be named after Pierre Boulez and to be designed by Frank Gehry and Yasuhisa Toyota. A new idea that talking to one another might actually help. Projected opening date: 2015. Barenboim may be the only person who can make this happen. More from Brian Wise at WQXR, here.

And meanwhile the killing goes on. And so artists speak out. And when they do there is always someone - usually with an agenda - who'll say "shut up and play the piano". (The other day a piece in the Guardian used a protest movement as a way of, er, slamming a protest movement; it said that the director of an Israeli dance company actually agreed with the protestors outside the theatre and that this somehow meant the protestors were stupid. Oddly, the article now seems to have vanished.)

But if artists don't speak out, nobody will. Artists - performing, creative, literary, musical, balletic - seem to be the last bastion of humanity that possesses a moral compass. With corruption rife and politicians toothless, artists are the only ones left. And there's one thing better than speaking out: doing something positive. Is Barenboim the only one in the world who both will and can? Atta-Danny.




Thursday, August 16, 2012

"Heifetz Face"

Yesterday I mentioned the syndrome of "Heifetz Face" - the directing of energy into the music rather than into emoting or histrionics. It doesn't mean the performer demonstrates nothing at all of his/her ongoing musical response, just that he/she keeps it to a minimum and the music speaks for itself - often rather well. Here are a few examples of it.

Heifetz himself, of course:



Daniel Barenboim:



Yuja Wang:



And here is the opposite.



Lots of different ways of doing things, of course. It's all part of life's rich tapestry.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Barenboim - from podium to stadium

Here's my review for The Independent of the last night of Barenboim & the WEDO's Beethoven cycle, head to head with the Olympic opening ceremony. And eagle-eyed viewers still awake at about 12.45am may have noticed the maestro carrying the Olympic flag into the stadium in a posse of eight great humanitarian figures.  http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/classical/reviews/prom-18-barenboimwesteastern-divan-orchestra-royal-albert-hall-7984509.html

It was a difficult night to award a star rating - but eventually I felt that the sense of occasion and the power of the music-making deserved this 5-er. It was only a couple of the solo singers who didn't, and that may not be their fault: one was a late replacement and, besides, they may all have been fazed by their placement alongside the choir, having to sing clean across the orchestra.


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Once more unto the Boulez, dear friends...

Here's my review for The Independent of last night's Prom: Barenboim & the WEDO again, and they're just getting better and better. As is the Boulez. http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/classical/reviews/prom-13-daniel-barenboimmichael-barenboimwesteastern-divan-orchestra-royal-albert-hall-7976111.html

And a little more of my interview with the violinist Michael Barenboim is up now at Sinifini Music. He must have nerves of steel to hold that stage alone - it was quite a tour de force.

This Prom is being televised on Friday at 7.30pm on BBC4 - at which point Barenboim & co will probably still be in full swing with the Ninth inside the hall, a short concert with an early start so that we can all get home to watch the Olympic opening ceremony. Some of us might find the WEDO a bit more interesting than 70 sheep in a stadium, but... hey ho.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Guess who I fell in love with yesterday?


Yes, it's Pierre Boulez. Hearing his Derive 2 at the Barenboim/WEDO Prom somehow resembled discovering a new deep-sea creature that cast radical new light on all our assumptions of what marine life really is. I was riveted from start to finish. Its weaving of countless ideas, its progression of entirely aural and nonspecific narrative, its amazing colours (what a collection of instruments!), all conspire to challenge one's ideas of what music is, what it means and how we listen to it.

I'm holding the fort, more or less, with the Indy's classical reviews this week - Michael and Ed are both on their travels. Here's my write-up of last night.

Obviously not everyone is going to agree about the Boulez, which is as long as, or longer than, a big romantic symphony and requires a heap of concentration. So, for a way in, try reading Tom Service's brilliant introduction to the man and his music; and then catch the concert on the BBC iPlayer (UK only) here.

[photo by Clive Barda]

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

An interview with Barenboim & Son

I've been talking to Daniel Barenboim and his violinist son, Michael, about their burgeoning dynasty. They're respectively conductor and concertmaster of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, which will be all but taking over the Proms from this Friday to next.

Read it all in today's Independent, here.

Here they are in the Schubert 'Trout' Quintet first movement, with an ensemble from the WED - Daniel Barenboim (piano), Michael Barenboim (violin), Orhan Celebi (viola), Kyril Zlotnikov (cello), Nabil Shehata (double bass). Enjoy.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Stop press: Barenboim at SOAS - live webcast NOW

Daniel Barenboim is at SOAS right now, to be interviewed by Jon Snow of Channel 4 News. The event is being live-streamed and you can access it here: http://www.soas.ac.uk/lmei/barenboim-snow/

They have started with a screening of a film about Barenboim and the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. When the interview gets underway, we can expect a focus on the state of music and politics in the Middle East. It's on until 12.30pm today.

Meanwhile, more about the inconvenient indivisibility of politics from goings-on that some people would prefer to dissociate from it via Robert Fisk in The Independent - this time, car racing in Bahrain... http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/fisk/robert-fisk-this-is-politics-not-sport-if-drivers-cant-see-that-they-are-the-pits-7665994.html

Friday, January 27, 2012

Friday Historical for Mozart's Birthday, plus some news

First of all, I'm delighted to announce that I have "a new gig", contributing to The Spectator Arts Blog. My first piece is out today and it's a look at six of the best young opera singers I've come across in the last year or so. First up is Sophie Bevan, who will be singing her namesake in Der Rosenkavalier for ENO from Saturday. And five more budding superstars... Read it here.

And it's Mozart's birthday, and it's Friday, so here is some Friday Historical Mozart: the first movement of the Concerto for Three Pianos, with Sir Georg Solti (conducting and playing), Daniel Barenboim and Andras Schiff, and the English Chamber Orchestra. Happy 256th birthday to our darling Wolferl!