Showing posts with label Korngold 2007. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Korngold 2007. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

29 November: the anniversary...

In New York tomorrow, Thursday 29 November, cellist Sam Magill and his colleagues from the Met Orchestra will be playing Korngold at the Lincoln Center Library - the programme includes the Suite for piano left-hand and strings, and the Cello Concerto. The manuscript of the Suite lives in the NYPL as part of the Paul Wittgenstein Collection and the concert is part of the Treasures of the Music Division series.

In Vienna, also tomorrow, John Mauceri wields the baton over a film music anniversary gala at the Konzerthaus (link rather complicated and indirect). Hope they will wheel on a decent chocolate cake too.

And in London on Sunday week, 9 December, at the estimable London Chamber Music Society at the Conway Hall (of which more in the near future), the excellent Chamber Domaine plays the Piano Quintet. Sunday evening, 6.30pm (link superb, designed by Wonderful Webmaster himself).

Friday, November 23, 2007

Heliane: the reckoning

So here come the reviews. Most are fair, one [correction, two or three once you pass the nationals and hit the Spectator and Musicweb] is monstrously unfair. As always, it's the story that puts most of 'em off, though I reckon I've seen worse.

Meanwhile, if anyone is wondering who the 'eminent German musicologist' was whom I mention in my programme notes, it is Prof Dr Jens Malte Fischer, a professor at the University of Munich who has written extensively on Mahler and Wagner.

Will add the write-ups as they come in. For starters, here are:

Ed Seckerson in The Independent: " succumbs to indulgence over narrative cohesion, and it does so at the same pitch of hysteria for much of its protracted duration. Even so, it's hard to resist the noise that it makes."

Neil Fisher in The Times: "Eighty years on, not just a necessary premiere: at best, an intoxicating one."

Alexander Campbell in "Being greeted with an orchestral layout that includes a piano, organ, celesta and harmonium in addition to an array of percussion, one gets some idea as to the scale of the London Philharmonic’s undertaking to present the piece. No wonder stagings in opera-houses are extremely rare. The real stars of the evening were indeed the orchestral players under Principal Conductor Vladimir Jurowski."

And if you want a good laugh, Rupert Christiansen in The Daily Telegraph: "Ye Gods! In all the annals, can there be an opera containing more unmitigated codswallop than Erich Korngold's Das Wunder der Heliane?"

UPDATE: Tim Ashley in The Guardian.

UPDATE: Intermezzo (hiya, glad you didn't leave at the interval!)

ANOTHER UPDATE: Andrew Clark in the Financial Times.

Dear Rupert, I feel exactly that way towards Bruckner's symphonies, the whole lot of them. Bruckner was the biggest pompous, empty, pontificating, boring, overblown windbag who ever set note to paper - but just because I don't like it, that is not going to stop anybody playing the blasted stuff. After twenty-five years of 'giving him a chance' I just vote with my feet and refuse to go. And I won't go to Berg any more, either, because a few months ago I suffered an actual panic attack in the Three Pieces for orchestra - an aural torture that I suspect the prisoners of Guantanamo are spared.

Critics have always hated Korngold, so this guy is just one more poor lost soul who's not eating enough apricots. What the heck. Our reviews may no longer wrap chips, but they do end up being recycled into loo roll, which is where many of them really belong.

Here are some more backstage pics from the other night.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

A night to remember

It's Thanksgiving, and there are lots of thanks to give...

Well, they did it! Das Wunder der Heliane was a knockout. The score shone out in all its glory, the drama raised the roof, the orchestra and chorus were utterly stunning. The work, and the performance too, started on a high and only went upwards. The last act, with the gorgeous Zwischenspiel intermezzo to begin, the wild crowd scene, Heliane's procession with offstage bells, and the ensuing transformations and resurrections, was absolutely hair-raising.

I've been so involved in this astonishing project that I don't feel I ought to write a review of it as such. Since there were around 50 press present, I'm sure there'll be plenty of write-ups. Still, by way of preparation for what may be said in the official crits: most of the singers were fabulous, but a couple weren't. Patricia Racette proved the Heliane of our dreams. Michael Hendrick as the Stranger and Andreas Schmidt as the Ruler didn't quite match up, though both improved notably in the third act (please do not trust any critic who doesn't discuss the last act - it was the best both in content and interpretation). To be fair, the role of The Stranger is a real killer and demands nothing less than a Kiepura...I can't help dreaming of Jonas Kaufmann. Willard White as the Porter sang exquisitely, ideally strong and sincere, and Robert Tear as the Blind Judge was the real tenor star of the night. Very fine performances too from Ursula Hesse von den Steinen and Andrew Kennedy (a pity he had only 2 lines to sing).

Some people had doubts about the positioning of the soloists - they were at the front of the choir section, behind and above the orchestra, with an acoustic screen behind them. I don't know where else they could have sat. The platform, which was already extended forward, was jam-packed. This opera was evidently designed for the Vienna Staatsoper and few other venues are the right size for it.

Thank you to everyone who came to my talk - there was a great turnout. It does feel weird to stand on the platform of the Royal Festival Hall, holding forth (thank almighty God I don't have to play the piano). Thanks to those of you who came to say hello afterwards, too - it's nice to know that you are real beyond cyberspace!

Thank you to Vladimir, Tim Walker, the South Bank Centre and every one of the performers for letting this evening take place. People flew thousands of miles to be there - and for all of us in the Korngold fan club, it was a night to remember and cherish forever.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

21 November 2007

No, your eyes are not deceiving you. Today, of all days, has been designated 'No Music Day'. A kind of protest about noise pollution. The poster above says only that it "exists for various reasons. You may have one," which isn't too helpful. As far as I can tell, nobody is taking a blind bit of notice, except for BBC Radio Scotland (and you know what I think of Scotland).

Fortunately no one has told Vladimir Jurowski, or the hundreds of Korngoldistas who have arrived from all corners of the globe for tonight's RFH performance, that today "conductors will not take the podium." Yes, he will. Or that "You will not take part in any sort of music making or listening whatsoever."

Who do these people think they are? The Taliban? Today, 21 November 2007, we are off to give the UK premiere of Das Wunder der Heliane. And it's Saint Cecilia's Day. So neurr. The performance starts at 7pm and I will talk for half an hour at 6pm. See you there.

(Anyone who feels so inclined can go to the National Gallery and hear a pianola of Dame Myra Hess instead (6pm). I've never bought into the player-piano brigade - I've yet to hear a machine play a piano and sound like a human being - but everyone needs to make up their own minds about this.)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Switch on In Tune now!

Patricia Racette (Heliane) and Michael Hendrick (The Stranger) are speaking on BBC Radio 3's In Tune about the opera in a few minutes' time.

While waiting, have a look at this article about Patricia.

Dress-ish rehearsal sounded a million dollars in the RFH. And yet more percussion arrived: this time two metal sheets suspended from stands, lurking backstage ready to make whatever noise they make when thumped. I have the impression that the Heliane instruments breed overnight while everyone's away.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into Henry Wood Hall... they rehearsed Act III of Heliane and brought in 7 extra sets of tubular bells of different sizes, plus a bell piano that sat next the harmonium. Oh, and the chorus, and Robert Tear and Willard White and Andrew Kennedy. Finally they ran the act straight through. We were hanging on for dear life up in the balcony (as safe a distance as possible from the offstage brass). It was completely electrifying.

Dazed members of the orchestra wandered out afterwards, some of the older players declaring it the hardest thing they've ever had to play in 40 years, some of the younger ones threatening to move 6000 miles away and have ten babies to escape such ordeals. The horns are happy. The strings are stressed. The chorus has been brought over from Germany and has to be bussed to and from accommodation in Croydon. Vladimir remains ice-cool, zen-focused and totally in control: he has learned every atom of this piece, backwards. He finished the afternoon by explaining calmly that it sounds ideal now, but when we reach the RFH and its acoustic tomorrow, it will sound and feel utterly different...

Official: Korngold is sexy!

Ed Seckerson reviews the Znaider/Jurowski violin concerto performance in today's Independent:

Melodically and harmonically it lays fair claim to being the most erotic music ever written. Nikolaj Znaider intensified that feeling through his refinement, his beautiful sound, his insinuating way with the work's abundance of blue notes. With chromaticism once again a dirty word, Jurowski and the LPO laid down the orchestral textures (shimmering with vibraphone) like black satin sheets of adultery.

If you think the Violin Concerto is erotic, though, just wait till you hear the operas.

Friday, November 16, 2007

It all started with a piece of paper...

I'm just back from gatecrashing a Heliane rehearsal, reeling from the impact of the sheer quantity of sound and from the emotional shock of realising that it's all true. I never dared to hope I would hear this music live. But they are bloody well doing it, under the baton of my absolute hero Vladimir Jurowski - and it's going to be amazing.

There's a striking difference between reading about this work and hearing it on CD, compared to seeing it taking shape in the rehearsal hall. We know it has a huge orchestra. But there's barely room for everyone in the normally spacious Henry Wood Hall. Four keyboard instruments: piano, harmonium, organ and celesta. Two harps. Marimba, xylophone, tubular bells, drums-cymbals-triangle, tamtam. Sixteen first violins, I didn't count how many double basses, a whole extra brass section offstage in the balcony. Then, just when I thought I'd seen it all, in came a chap carrying a guitar. Then there are the singers. And the chorus wasn't even there today.

It all started with a piece of paper. Two and a half or three years ago, I realised this anniversary was looming and it was obvious that if someone didn't do something about it, nothing would happen. I put together my fantasy-football Korngold anniversary festival and took it to the head of classical music at the South Bank Centre, with the suggestion of three strands - concert music, cinema, opera - and the information that Das Wunder der Heliane was in need of a UK premiere. But I never imagined they'd actually do it.

It is a humungous undertaking. Just imagine the number of people involved... not just the 120-odd performers but their spouses soothing the fevered brows, their friends picking up the pieces, their neighbours hearing the practising; then the people who fix the dates, book the travel, shift the suitcases, coach the German, cook the dinners, hire the orchestra parts, rehair the bows, print the programmes, mend the computers, put up the microphones... This performance is going to touch literally thousands of lives in one way or another; every person's experience of it is going to be different. I could probably squeeze at least a trilogy of novels out of it. There's Korngold's granddaughter, welcomed everywhere with open arms, red carpets and chocolate; the singers, whether established stars or young supporting cast, getting to grips with new roles that will stretch them in new ways; old friends, new fans and the inevitable sceptics converging on London... And all because enough people have enough faith in this project to become cogs in the wheel that makes it happen. I sat in the balcony to listen (near the offstage brass) and could almost feel the ghost of Big Erich brushing by, having a good old chortle about it, and perhaps a little tear too.

Lots of coverage in the newspapers now, which is nice to see. You can read a piece in yesterday's Guardian by Andrew Huth and today's Telegraph by Ivan Hewett. Both pieces are well written but, be warned, phenomenally inaccurate. Here's my Composer of the Month piece from BBC Music Magazine which, I hope, gets the basic stuff right.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

...with lots of love from Fritz

"He makes it look so easy," grumbled the awe-struck fiddlers in the RFH artists' bar last night. And he did. There's no fuss about Nikolaj Znaider. Towering over the dusky Vladimir Jurowski, who is not short, he strode onto the platform and made the Korngold concerto look and sound...well, Znaider is one of only a handful of violinists who are, to put it bluntly, perfect. Not only is there never a note out of place, but while you listen you can't imagine the work sounding any other way: the logic, the phrasing, the tone are simply - perfection. In this category I'd include only Znaider, Kavakos, Tetzlaff and Repin.

...But what was that about tone? The Korngold Violin Concerto, as all of you assuredly know, opens with the soloist playing a wonderfully mellifluous and heart-twisting melody. My first thought, listening, was 'Wow, the acoustic really has improved in here'. Next thought: 'This bloke is fab.' And no.3: 'What is that thing he's playing anyway?' There was no undue effort about that playing; no forcing of sound, no histrionics, just complete focus and simplicity - hence he could 'make it look so easy'. That violin had to be something very, very special. From bottom G to the highest multiledgered stratospheres the tone soared, unencumbered, as powerful as a Steinway, honey-golden, Korngolden.

There's no point giving a lousy fiddler a multi-million-dollar Italian job to perform on because it won't improve him. The violin does not make the violinist; quite the opposite. Christian Tetzlaff, for instance, has a modern instrument that we hear costs only a modest five-figure sum, but in his hands it sounds like Stradivari's masterpiece [note - it is a very fine violin, it's just not an expensive Italian antique. It is by Peter Greiner and was made just a few years ago.].

Nevertheless, give a violinist like Znaider an instrument like the one he played yesterday - and time freezes while the music comes out. Yes, this instrument is special. It's [drumroll] Fritz Kreisler's Guarneri del Gesu, made in 1741 - the violin on which he gave the world premiere of Elgar's Concerto. And from it there seemed to stream all the wisdom and wonder of two and a half centuries, all the secrets of the instrument's creators, the performers who cherished it and the music it inspired... Goose-bumps? You should have been there. (but hey - you can be, thanks to the radio and the Internet.)

While we were being dazzled by Nikolaj and his magic violin, there was equal bedazzlement from the orchestra with Jurowski. He brought out the intricacies and subtleties of the textures, the flashes of glitter in the velvet, the imagination that's not only lavish and rich but studded with gem-like, fantastical detail. The tempi were spot-on - quick enough to fly, but airy enough to enjoy the luxury. Even the 'Korngolistas' were bowled over; we all felt we'd heard things in the concerto we'd never noticed before.

The rest of the concert involved Zemlinsky's Sinfonietta - in which one could tell how far his star pupil, young Herr EWK, had surpassed him - indeed, the aging Zemlinsky quotes from Korngold's Sinfonietta, written twenty years earlier. And to finish, a stunner of a Shostakovich Sixth.

Now please excuse me while I go and iron my party dress...

NB - You can hear the concert on BBC Radio 3 on Friday evening.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Onwards! Korngold returns!

Thought it was all over? Ah no, it's just beginning. The Korngold festivities over here will be getting underway once more tomorrow, when Nikolaj Znaider (left) (isn't he lovely?) will be the soloist in the Violin Concerto, with the LPO conducted by Vladimir Jurowski. The programme also includes the Sinfonietta by Korngold's teacher, Zemlinsky, and Shostakovich's Symphony No.6 - an interesting choice, since Shostakovich wrote music for many more films than Korngold did and the final movement feels a tad redolent of the madcap silent movies of the era (even if it's not a direct borrowing). Details and tickets here.

Now it's full steam ahead. Korngold's granddaughter is flying in from the States, there'll be parties and celebrations, music and films, hugs and tears and cheers, female fans will be swooning at the feet of Nikolaj and Vladimir (joint first place in the musical-woman's-eye-candy contest), Heliane rehearsals begin on Friday, and I have got to get my voice back in time for my talk, preferably a lot sooner. Also I'm facing a new dilemma: what do you cook for a Korngold?

Meanwhile, huge thanks to everyone who joined the Foulds discussions.

Friday, November 02, 2007

The Constant Nymph

(Not my nickname, though should be at the moment! :-) ) No, The Constant Nymph is one of the rarest among Korngold's movies. How extracts found their way onto Youtube is a source of some wonder, as I'm told only one print exists, on 16mm film. When I last looked, there were 3 clips. All of a sudden, a whole lot more have appeared!

The film is based on the book and play by Margaret Kennedy. The novel is, as far as I can tell, virtually forgotten, but was a huge favourite of mine when I was about 12, when my mother - who adored it and Joan Fontaine and must surely have seen the film - bought me a copy that she stumbled across in a second-hand bookshop.

The story concerns an eccentric musical family, the Sangers; the 14-year-old daughter, Tessa, falls desperately in love with a gifted, unworldy young composer called Lewis who is in his twenties (he looks older in the film). But Tessa, though experiencing a woman's emotions, is still a little girl. Her heart condition includes not only intense passions but a physical weakness as well. Lewis doesn't take her affection seriously; he decides to marry her cousin, Florence, a sophisticated, rather too down-to-earth woman his own age. Disaster befalls the Sanger family and the all-but-uneducated Tessa is dispatched to boarding school. Eventually, if I remember correctly, she runs away; and ultimately Lewis realises his mistake, leaves his wife and elopes with Tessa; but it's too late. In the book, she attempts to open a very stiff window and the effort affects her heart. She collapses and dies in her beloved's arms. In the film, however, Lewis composes a cantata entitled 'Tomorrow', which goes through various permutations during the course of the action, its growth mirroring the progress of the composer's heart: first a piano trio, then a modernistic flood that Tessa loathes ("Banketybanketybang!") and ultimately the full-blooded Korngold work for mezzo-soprano and chorus that will have its FIRST EVER UK PERFORMANCE TONIGHT at the Festival Hall. And Tessa, listening on the radio, expires to its strains.

Excuse me while I go and find the Kleenex.
[snuffle. howl. sob. go back to the beginning of the book and read it all over again...]

...Here is Tessa, saying (among other things) 'Banketybanketybang!' The pianist on the soundtrack is Korngold himself. The musical attitudes espoused in the dialogue are likewise Korngold's - he had quite a hand in shaping the scripts and action of certain of his movies, was present at story conferences and made many suggestions. Especially here.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Going all Austro-Hungarian

Brendan Carroll gave a fascinating evening at the Austrian Cultural Forum last night devoted to Korngold's film music. With meaty extracts from Max Reinhardt's A Midsummer Night's Dream (1934) as well as Captain Blood, The Sea Hawk et al, and some rare interview recordings from those who were there at the time, the packed audience was transported to another world. Here's one of the stories:

Max Steiner, composer of King Kong and Gone with the Wind, among others, was a friend of Korngold's in Hollywood. One day he remarked to Korngold, "You know, Erich, since you've been in Hollywood, your music has got worse and my music has got better. Why do you suppose that is?" Without missing a beat, Korngold replied: "That's easy, Max, it's because you've been stealing from me and I've been stealing from you!"

I reckon it's time for a palette-cleanser before the LPO Korngold events kick in with tomorrow's film music bonanza at the RFH. I'm currently proof-reading novel number next, Hungarian Dances. So here, with an appropriately Danubian breath of fresh air, is Andras Schiff (evidently filmed some years ago and relayed somewhere interesting in the Far East) playing Schubert's Hungarian Melody. Just listen to that tone...

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Reviews coming in...

It's a mixed bag for Saturday, with most reviewers and bloggers (Intermezzo and Mostly Opera) focusing on the facts that a) there weren't enough programmes, and b) Pekka Kuusisto's clothing was somewhat unconventional. It was, of course - red & black trainers plus a shirt with sparkly sleeves - though not half as unconventional as his playing, the peculiarities of which went largely uncommented-upon, except for Robert Matthew Walker's entertaining write-up at Classical Source. Meanwhile the Daily Telegraph felt there was too much Korngold in the Korngold day, quite apart from reviewing the 'Nach Ensemble', and the Times thinks EWK should have copied Zemlinsky more (if the reviewer had come to our film and talk, he might have understood why Korngold didn't, 'nuff said). They can't agree on Anne Sofie's singing/sense of involvement, to which I can only add that she sang beautifully except for a couple of top notes, that as a very tall, blonde Swede she often comes across as aloof even if she doesn't mean to, and if you were disappointed at not seeing her shoes, assume that she was probably not in high heels.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Glaub, es gibt ein auferstehen

I'm happy to report that Erich Wolfgang Korngold is well and truly resurrected. Heliane herself, whose trial is to raise her beloved from the dead, would have been proud yesterday.

Korngold Focus Day was an even bigger success than I'd hoped. Attendance was excellent, a forest of hands went up to ask questions at the round-table talk, the Nash Ensemble played the socks off the Piano Quintet, Pekka Kuusisto and Bengt Forsberg made the Violin Sonata shine out as one of EWK's most extraordinary and original works, and after Anne Sofie von Otter sang the Lute Song, there wasn't a dry eye in the hall.

Presenting the discussion was extremely enjoyable. Huge thanks to everyone for their marvellous, insightful contributions.

Next Friday, 2 November, the LPO gives a Royal Festival Hall concert of film music conducted by John Wilson, including the UK premieres of 'Tomorrow' from The Constant Nymph and a suite from Escape Me Never as well as perennial favourites The Sea Hawk and The Adventures of Robin Hood, plus works by Korngold's Hollywood contemporaries and successors.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Queen Elizabeth Hall TODAY

Please come and celebrate Korngold at the Queen Elizabeth Hall today!

1.30pm - Barrie Gavin's documentary Adventures of a Wunderkind (free admission)

3.30pm - Round-table discussion with Brendan Carroll, Erik Levi and Ben Wallfisch. Yrs truly asks the questions. (Free admission)

6pm - The Nash Ensemble plays chamber music featuring Zemlinsky, Brahms and Korngold's Piano Quintet

7.45pm - Anne Sofie von Otter sings, Pekka Kuusisto plays the violin, Bengt Forsberg plays the piano. Programme includes Four Shakespeare Songs, the Violin Sonata, the Much Ado About Nothing suite and extracts from Die tote Stadt.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Korngold features today on Music Matters, BBC Radio 3

Presenter Tom Service features Korngold in BBC Radio 3's flagship magazine programme today at 12.15. Includes interviews with biographer and apostle Brendan Carroll, Academic Erik Levi (who is joining Brendan, me and Ben Wallfisch for the South Bank round-table discussion next Saturday), Andre Previn, Korngold's daughter-in-law Helen and archive material from the composer's sons Ernst and George. You can hear it online for 7 days after the broadcast. More info here.

UPDATE, 12.55pm: It was a great feature - with one bad mistake. The date given at the end for the UK premiere of Das Wunder der Heliane is wrong. Tom says '14 November' and it is actually 21 November. But if you turn up on 14th, you can hear Nikolaj Znaider play the Violin Concerto.

Also, I'm not sure that they made it clear that Korngold's sons George and Ernst are not actually alive - their interview extracts were from archive material which I believe was provided by Brendan. AND nobody mentioned the kick-off events in the QEH Korngoldfest on 27 October: 1.30pm, Barrie Gavin's documentary; 3.30pm, the discussion. Nash Ensemble is after that.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

A Korngold rarity - countdown # 2

I found this on Youtube and could hardly believe my eyes/ears. This is from Korngold's mid-1930s Hollywood musical Give Us This Night starring Gladys Swarthout and Jan Kiepura, the great Polish tenor for whom Korngold created the role of The Stranger in Das Wunder der Heliane. Kiepura plays an Italian fisherman who is 'discovered' and transformed into an opera star, singing Romeo to Swarthout's Juliet. Here is the love duet that closes the opera-within-a-film and the film itself. And if you think this is OTT, just wait until you hear Heliane.

I have only ever seen this film once before, on a tiny reel-to-reel machine in the basement of UCLA in 1993. Some of the melodies are so delicious that if Pavarotti had got hold of them they'd have been world famous 20 years ago.


Friday, October 12, 2007

Korngold countdown begins

The amount of excitement surrounding the forthcoming Korngold celebration at the Southbank is absolutely fantastic. Latest news is that BBC Radio 3 is to feature Korngold in 'Music Matters' on 20 October and will be talking to people who were close to the composer in person; and on 26 October 'In Tune' will be interviewing musicians involved in Korngold Day on 27th, including Anne Sofie von Otter and Bengt Forsberg.

Here's a link to the details of 27th. (Not sure how/why he has been transformed into 'Eric' on this page, since his name is, was and always will be Erich Wolfgang...)

And here are links to the LPO's Korngold Focus concerts:

2 November: Film music, alongside works by Waxman, Newman, Rozsa, Williams etc. Includes the UK premiere of Korngold's 'Tomorrow' from The Constant Nymph. John Wilson conducts.

14 November: Orchestral programme conducted by Vladimir Jurowski, with Nikolai Znaider as soloist in the Violin Concerto. Programme also includes Zemlinsky's Sinfonietta and Shostakovich's Symphony no.6.

21 November: UK premiere of Das Wunder der Heliane, concert performance conducted by Vladimir Jurowski.

And finally, here is Renee Fleming singing 'Ich ging zu ihm' from the Prom on 6 August, on Youtube. Listen, watch and marvel. Heliane lives! (The embedding function is not available for this video.)