Showing posts with label Lucerne Festival. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Lucerne Festival. Show all posts

Monday, December 08, 2014

Green light for Lucerne opera house

One of the stranger ongoing legal cases of the music world was resolved last Thursday - and seems set to clear the way for a new opera house in the bijou Swiss town of Lucerne, the site of one of Europe's finest concert halls and a renowned festival.

A flexible-space opera house was planned for the city years ago - an idea spearheaded by Pierre Boulez, no less - and one of the festival's major donors, Christof Engelhorn, pledged more than $100m to back its creation, but died before the donation could be made from his family's trust in Bermuda (the fortune was made in the pharmaceutical industry). The festival sued for the money, in Bermuda - and now it has won. Here's a little more background on the case. There's a long way to go still, of course, and the Salle Modulable's next hurdle will be a feasibility study. But it's a valuable green light and the space will be watched with interest.

Not that one needs an excuse to visit Lucerne, of course (pictured); ever since 1938, when the festival launched as an antidote to the hideous developments in Nazi-era Bayreuth and Salzburg, it has been a flourishing hub of first-class musical activity. The first concerts were held on the lawn outside Tribschen, the former home of Richard Wagner.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Victory looms for nascent Lucerne opera house

If you're in the know about the Lucerne Festival, you may have heard that its director Michael Haefliger's plans to build a new opera house, the Salle Modulable, for the Swiss lakeside town looked set to turn into fairy dust upon the withdrawal of necessary funds. This has been challenged in court and the opera house has won. We hope that in due course opera amid the mountains will become as vital a highlight of the European musical calendar as Lucerne's existing festivals are today.


Salle Modulable Foundation wins its case: withdrawal of funds was unlawful

Lucerne/Hamilton, 21 February 2014 The judge of the competent court in Bermuda has ruled that the withdrawal of funding for the Salle Modulable in Lucerne took place unlawfully and that Butterfield Trust (Bermuda) Limited must fulfil its obligations.

The Salle Modulable Foundation has won its case before the Supreme Court of Bermuda: the withdrawal of funding for the Salle Modulable by Butterfield Trust (Bermuda) Ltd. (Butterfield) in October 2010 has been ruled unlawful. The presiding judge has found that a contract of donation governed by Swiss law was entered into in the summer of 2007 and that Butterfield must meet its obligations arising from it. If the Salle Modulable Foundation submits a feasibility study, adapted to the new circumstances, for a venue with flexible arrangements for experimental music theatre in the City of Lucerne, Butterfield is bound to honour the promise of finance it originally made in the amount of up to CHF 120 million. The feasibility study will be updated and adapted as part of the New Theatre Infrastructure Lucerne (NTI) Project.
Butterfield’s counter-claim was rejected in its entirety. The judge has not yet made any final pronouncement on other questions. This will entail a further hearing. The judgment may yet be referred to the Bermuda Appeal Court.

Hubert Achermann, Chairman of the Salle Modulable Foundation, says: “Naturally we are very pleased with the outcome and believe that justice has been done. Our expense and effort have paid off, and I thank everyone who has supported us in these lengthy proceedings. Still, we remain far from our objective. First, we expect the opposing party to accept this judgment and desist from further time-consuming and costly legal proceedings. Then we have to produce an updated and authoritative feasibility study, in co-operation with the Canton and City. For this purpose, we can build on the work done so far. We have a fine opportunity to create something unique for Lucerne, as the City of Culture and Festivals, and for its institutions, not least in memory of the great patron, Christof Engelhorn.“ 

Monday, September 02, 2013

Nice work

Been here, reviewing.


As locations for music festivals go, it really ain't bad. This is Lake Lucerne, snapped from the shore at the bottom of Wagner's lawn at Tribschen. I spent a happy afternoon there, working on the revision of my new play Sins of the Fathers, which is set...um, at Tribschen. Pure coincidence, but nice. (The premiere, 24 November, is selling fast...)

I was really there to attend two concerts in the Lucerne Festival, one conducted by Sir Simon Rattle, the other by Jonathan Nott. Somewhat amused to see the heading "Viva la revolucion!" on the programmes. In Spanish. One concert was of Viennese and Russian music, the other was Wagner's Das Rheingold (part of Lucerne's first-ever Ring cycle). Few festivals have a less revolutionary atmosphere - the glorious lakeside and the wonderful acoustic of the KKL are populated by the sleek and meek of the moneyed festival circuit - but nevertheless, the programming is absolutely sterling and below the gleaming surface the waters are deep and fertile, especially where the Festival Academy is concerned. My review is out now in the Independent, here: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/classical/reviews/classical-review-british-conductors-bring-the-sounds-of-revolution-to-the-lucerne-festival-8794619.html

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Win a weekend at the Lucerne Festival!


The Lucerne Festival may have started life on what used to be Wagner's lawn, but it hasn't let the grass grow under its feet... Read my guide to this idyllic summer escape and enter the competition to win a dream weekend, over at Sinfinimusic.com:
http://sinfinimusic.com/uk/features/2013/06/lucerne-festival-guide/

Monday, September 03, 2012

JD meets... PIERRE BOULEZ

My interview with the man many consider today's greatest living composer was out in The Independent on Saturday. Read it here: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/classical/features/pierre-boulez-a-very-modern-maestro-8095947.html

I found the Maestro on excellent form, despite the eye operation. He may be 87, but the fire of his spirit burns as strong as ever. And I'm not sure I have ever met anyone else who is so searingly intelligent, creative and wise, all at the same time. I'll be doing a longer feature in a few months' time, for International Piano Magazine, which will also involve Pierre-Laurent Aimard, but for now, I'm putting below the "director's cut" of the Indy piece, which includes a few choice out-takes: the bit about Waiting for Godot might intrigue, and, of course, I love Boulez's attitude that you can't just see something is wrong and do nothing about it.

You can see the New York Philharmonic concert in the Armory on Medici TV until 2 October, here. (Remember, JDCMB readers get discounts on Medici subscription.)


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If Pierre Boulez is this energetic aged 87, imagine him at 30. Arriving at the Lucerne Festival, the composer, maestro and man of musical action is recovering from an eye operation; it obliged him to cancel his visit to the Proms, where the conductor Daniel Barenboim juxtaposed his works with the complete Beethoven symphonies. But he will not be kept back. “It forces me to stay quiet for an hour to let the eye rest,” he remarks. “But it is very difficult to stay quiet.”



Boulez remains the heart, spine and soul of musical modernism. Many consider him today’s greatest living composer. His music is demanding listening, but once you open your ears to it, it can reveal entire vistas of sonic imagination and spectral beauty. And he affirms that he would like listeners to find it beautiful. “Sometimes it’s difficult to go to this kind of beauty, which is different from other beauties,” he says, “but I want the music to bring you into a sphere where you don’t go generally.”

He is a figure wreathed in myth. Some suggest he is a “musical Stalinist” (a term used by the composer Pierre Schaeffer); others, notably his performers, praise him as the nicest person they know. 

What’s certain is that he challenges everything, in music and in life, analysing issues with visionary exactitude. Besides, he is not a talker, but a do-er. “We don’t come to the world just to look at it and accept it,” he declares. In the 1950s he became notorious for the ferocity with which he called for the past to be swept away, seeking a blank slate for musical language to break with the preceding disasters of history. 

“The ‘tabula rasa’ was something of my generation,” Boulez says. “Works like Stockhausen’s could not exist in the years 1933-45: this part of musical life was banned completely in Germany. It was the same in the USSR under Stalin. Therefore I could not adopt the Communist point of view, because we have seen that already and we know what it produces. 

“It was not tabula rasa for pleasure. It was necessity, because this generation had, for us, failed to find something important. We did not want to prolong this kind of failure. We were radical in the sense that we at least tried to establish a new way of thinking. We did not succeed all the time, either – but it was important for us to begin from scratch.”

He was, moreover, a very angry young man kicking against the ultra-conservative musical establishment in his native France, where the music that galvanised him – Berg, Schoenberg, Bartók – remained unknown. Proving the point, it was down to Boulez himself to conduct the French stage premiere of Berg’s operatic masterpiece, Wozzeck, as late as 1963. He rejected France entirely until the prime minister Georges Pompidou used the promise of state funding for a new research institute for electronic music, IRCAM, to tempt him back from Germany, where a new internationalism in music was flourishing at Darmstadt. 

Boulez’s early pronouncements – burn down opera houses, kill the Mona Lisa, and so on – have clung to his image, perhaps excessively. Not that he has truly mellowed. “I was not more radical than I am now,” he says, “but I was, I suppose, more frank. Now I see that sometimes you have to be less direct – and more effective. But when things are wrong, insufficient, or not exactly the way it should be, then you have to tell it. I did tell it, sometimes with paradox or provocation. I did not stay at this point, but people think generally of me as a man of 1950, not of today – and I have to accept that.” His attitude is much as ever: “Something unpleasant exists: simply that. And you cannot just stay in front of it without doing anything.”

Among Boulez’s more prophetic demands was an upheaval in traditional concert environments and formats. Four or five decades ago, the world was not ready to listen. Today, though, the increasing popularity of ‘classical club nights’ – spearheaded by, for example, Gabriel Prokofiev (grandson of Sergei) in London, Le Poisson Rouge in New York, and a series at the Lucerne Festival – echoes Boulez’s call for informal, communicative atmospheres between audience and performers. Still, he smiles when I mention a recent performance of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring in a south London car park. 

“It has a double meaning,” he suggests. “It can be important, or it can be just a fashion moment. But I prefer a ‘fashion moment’ to doing nothing. Recently the New York Philharmonic has done, with concerts in the Armory, what I tried to do as its music director in the Seventies. I was not successful because the time was not right.” 

In June the orchestra gave a performance in this unconventional venue on Park Avenue, including music by Boulez himself. It sold out and is streamed on the Internet until 2 October. He keeps dreaming: “Today people like to change the relationship between the sound and themselves. You could bring in improvised elements involving people’s reactions to the sound, like a fountain of music: sometimes good, sometimes not, but always with the freedom of creating.”

He is still composing, too. Currently he is trying to finish his Notations – 12 pieces for piano, some dating back to 1945, which he has been reworking for orchestra. Rumour has it that he would like to write an opera. It’s true, he says, but his plans were always beset by bad luck: intended collaborations with Jean Genet and Heiner Müller were each cut short by the author’s death. He would love to adapt Beckett’s Waiting for Godot: “The great novelty of Wagner,” says Boulez, “is that of creating a myth – the myth of Wotan, the myth of Siegmund – and finally the story becomes less important than the myth itself.” Wotan in The Ring is very real in dramatic terms, but in the Beckett, the myth is Godot, who never appears: “You find yourself questioning the myth, but you cannot discuss its qualities because there is nothing there! Therefore I was interested.” 

Can we keep hoping he will tackle it – or would we be Waiting for Boulez? “If you can give me an elixir of long life,” Boulez twinkles. Still, I wouldn’t put it past him. This is a man who changed the world. Given a chance, he will not stop now. 

Pierre Boulez gives a week of masterclasses at the Lucerne Festival from 1 September and conducts the Academy Orchestra on 7 September. www.lucernefestival.ch


 

Monday, March 26, 2012

How to conduct Boulez



Happy 87th Birthday, Pierre Boulez! Above, at the Lucerne Festival, the great composer-conductor helps budding maestros get to grips with his Eclat.

Unfortunately Boulez has had to withdraw from his planned appearances in London on 29 April and 8 May with the LSO - apparently he has an eye condition. Peter Eötvös will step into the breach. We wish Monsieur Boulez the speediest possible recovery.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Double Brahmsfest: Haitink and Abbado go head to head

Another Friday, another Brahms Piano Concerto No.1 given at a great music festival by legendary performers. Honest to goodness, it's quite something to hear it in Lucerne with Abbado at the helm one week and at the Proms under Haitink just seven days later. Last night's Prom was a Brahmsfest par excellence - and the first of two, since tonight the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Bernard Haitink and Emanuel Ax follow it up with the Piano Concerto No.2 and the Symphony No.4.

Yesterday opened with the Third Symphony (which steamed into first place as my favourite of the four while I was on tour with the LPO and Vladimir last December) - the most intimate of them, it's the one you can turn, while listening, into the middle-period piano sonata Brahms never wrote, or the finest of his chamber works. In Haitink's hands the solid centre radiated the orchestration's golden glow; the playing was faultless, the tempi spot-on-delicious, the beauty and reflectiveness balanced out with certain touch and vast affection. Brahms 3 doesn't get much better than that. It was so good that there's almost nothing to say.

As for the concerto, Manny Ax was everything that last week Radu Lupu unfortunately didn't manage to be. I don't know what happened to Lupu in Lucerne, but he wasn't on form - technically the concerto was all over the shop, and there were some alarming moments where he and the orchestra seemed to be on different planets - the passage in the final movement just before the fugue, where the piano duets with a French horn off the beat, was a case in point (one pitied the poor horn player). What remained was Lupu's characteristic sound, a palette like an Odilon Redon pastel, dusky, velvety and radiant all at once. Ax, by contrast, was rock solid, dynamic, shining, thoughtful, humane.

And Haitink v Abbado? Telling, dear friends. Very telling. Haitink is a conductor whose work I've revered for donkey's years. There's something pure about his approach, free of egomania and point-proving, setting out simply to convey the truth of the music as he feels it and thinks it through. In the past his Ring Cycle was what turned me on to Wagner, his Ravel Daphnis left me exhilarated and his Mahler Nine sent me home speechless. And this Brahms 3 was, as I said, pretty much perfect.

But last week Abbado and the Lucerne Festival Orchestra arrived riding a different variety of phoenix. Things went wrong - plenty wrong - if this was only Lupu's doing, I just couldn't say. Yet that opening orchestral exposition wasn't only strong, but revelatory. Abbado's detailed emphases lit the opening motif like a shaft of sidelight in a Caravaggio; the phrasing of the second theme's descending scale linked it at once in the mind to the melody of the slow movement. Risks were taken, all of them in the service of dear old Johannes, and when they paid off they did so spectacularly. Haitink and Ax took few risks: what resulted was the solidity of the ideal just about realised. Yet despite all its problems, it's the Abbado-Lupu performance that I suspect I'll still remember in 20 years' time, assuming my brain is still in reasonable working order by then.

One other little grumble involves the RAH acoustics. For me, Ax's performance fell foul of The Echo. Apparently this phenomenon is well known at the Proms. It's not something I normally encounter in the usual press seats around door H, but this time we were by door J, further round the circle, and each piano note seemed to sound twice in rapid succession. Others have tweeted that they too experienced this, one from the centre of the arena, another from the other side of the stalls, so it's clearly not specific to seat 52 in row 7. Some say it does not detract from their enjoyment of the music, but I found it immensely bothersome, especially in the fast passages where at times it felt like seeing double. Please could someone investigate whether anything can be done about it?

Meanwhile, read more about my trip to Lucerne in yesterday's Independent, here.

And here is a taster of the performance last night from BBC TV - accessible only to UK readers, I'm afraid (that's not my doing, folks).

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Wagner was here...


I've just been to paradise, aka Lucerne. This Swiss lakeside city has got to be one of the most beautiful spots in Europe (and its KKL concert hall matches that point for point).

Wagner must have thought so too, because he lived here, at Tribschen (above) - a beautiful, good but gentle walk along the lakeside from the hall, the house is in a location second to no other. And it was here, on the stairs, that he assembled an ensemble of musicians to play the Siegfried Idyll to Cosima - who was upstairs in bed - on her Christmas Eve birthday. The view from the house is really not bad.




The only thing in Lucerne to convince you that you're still in the real world is...cost. With the Swiss franc among the world's strongest currencies at present, and the dear old pound plummeting, you pay, for example, more than six quid for a frappuccino and about seven for a reasonably decent sandwich. When I have written my 25th bestseller and all the other 24 have been filmed starring Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz, I shall consider moving there. More about the concert I attended soon, but for now, suffice it to say that it was the Lucerne Festival Orchestra with Abbado...

Meanwhile, I wrote a piece about the agony and ecstasy of film music, for The Independent - it came out on Friday in time for the film music Prom and pays special attention to that desperately underrated centenary boy of 2011, Bernard Herrmann. Couldn't post earlier as was on the move, but here it is.

Yes, Korngold is in it too, but he would be - and I'm also delighted to say that next year I'll be doing a Radio 3 Building A Library broadcast to choose the finest available CD of the Violin Concerto, which is good news because it's a sure indication that now there are plenty available.





Thursday, August 04, 2011

Don't make such a cadenza of it....

Those were the words my dad used to trot out when I had a piano or violin exam and I got nervous. It seemed kind of unfair. You're shipped in to strut your scales in front of a glum stranger on a chilly day with no warm-up, to say nothing of the sight-reading, which was always an odd and unmusical piece written specifically to catch you out... Ugh. It was all right for Dad. He didn't have to play. "Don't make such a cadenza of it," he'd say. Or alternatively, "Don't make such a matzo-pudding..." I can't explain the matzo-pudding, having never eaten one, but the cadenza implication is clear: it's the musical equivalent of throwing one huge wobbly.

I couldn't help a nostalgic smile when it turned out that some high-profile appearances by Claudio Abbado and Helene Grimaud are now not going to happen because, allegedly, they have had a fallout over a cadenza. One of the happier side-effects is that in the opening concerts of the Lucerne Festival next week, Grimaud is being replaced by RADU LUPU, who is not the kind of guy you expect to catch as stand-in, but rather someone whose appearances you make damn sure you book for a year in advance. And I'm going to be there. I'm fond of Helene, but if I could choose any living pianist to hear play Brahms 1 in concert, it really would be Lupu.

The cadenza in question, though, is not for Brahms, but for a Mozart concerto. Apparently the pair had "artistic differences". Now, we've been trying to work out how a conductor and soloist could manage to fall out over a cadenza. Isn't this the moment at which the conductor stands back and lets the soloist do her own thing, whatever it may be? And given the scale of the concerts she's now missing - huge dates with ticket prices to match, and, one imagines, contractual obligations and appropriate fees - it must be a pretty awkward spat. Someone suggested to my colleague at the Indy that the pair "needed a break from each other".

Or...are they just making too much of a cadenza?

Still, if anyone's going to make a matzo-pudding about artistic differences, it would probably have to be in Mozart. Let's have a look at their different approaches.

Here's Grimaud playing some Mozart at Suntory Hall, Tokyo.



And now here is Maestro Abbado - who, if you remember, JDCMB readers voted "Greatest Living Conductor" in a poll a few years back - with the Berlin Phil in the Overture to Le nozze di Figaro.



Any thoughts?