Showing posts with label Witold Lutowslawski. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Witold Lutowslawski. Show all posts

Friday, February 01, 2013

Lutoslawski lives

The other night Krystian Zimerman lifted the score of Lutoslawski's Piano Concerto off the RFH Steinway and kissed it. But by then it was the London public that was really taking the piece to their hearts. It couldn't have had better advocates. Zimerman's playing offered all its characteristic meld of white-hot power and molten-gold touch - the sound for which this work was originally conceived - and Salonen, himself a composer, naturally sculpts a work's structure into clear lines, allowing it to stand out in vivid 3D.

The concerto, though, seems to operate in more than three dimensions. It's in four sections, played without a break and, throughout, Lutoslawski's control of timbre, his imagination for the most minute touches of colour - flecks between woodwind and percussion echoed high on the piano, or the terse, secretive, scurrying chaconne idea on the double basses that opens the last section - provides a unique "finish" on top of his strong architecture and the considerable flair he demands in the solo part.

Some of the magnificent piano writing resembles a giant fantasy on Scriabin or Liszt; at other times it puts one in mind of Bartok's 'Night Music', echoes of strange creatures from invisible corners. Above all, its vision has integrity, its form offers an entirely personal twist on the tradition and its voice - whooshing the concerto concept into the late 20th century, hands first - should assure it a place in the standard repertoire from now on. It's not easy listening - whoever said listening should be easy in any case? - but the better you know it, the better if gets.

As for Lutoslawski's comment that the piece is "very playable" because, as a pianist himself, he wrote it to be so...that might seem amusing to anyone peering over at the antheap of notes assigned to the soloist. But I'm reliably assured (by Zimerman) that the bits that sound difficult are not in fact the hardest to play. He is, incidentally, in marvellous form.(And no, he didn't bring his own piano this time - apparently this concerto, written to be played on a modern concert grand, doesn't need anything more.)

Where next for the contemporary piano concerto? Ligeti's is a favourite of mine - if I'd been a real pianist it would have been top of my liszt. What a pity it is that, as we hear on the grapevine, certain efforts to persuade him to write another, bigger one didn't come to fruition. James MacMillan's concerti and the two by Lowell Liebermann have both fared well, not least thanks to the ballet world - the Royal Ballet whiz-kid Liam Scarlett has now choreographed both of the latter's. But what the rapturous reception for the Lutoslawski seems to prove is that the form is far from exhausted, the notion of it anything but dead, and there's an excitement out there that's ready to celebrate exploration and adventure within a familiar genre.

The mixture of The Rest is Noise, The Minotaur, Lutoslawski's centenary and adventurous individuals advocating the new, strong and creative - notably Kasper Holten at Covent Garden - already seems to be transforming public appetite for recent music and fresh masterpieces to succeed it. I'm sure I wasn't the only one to experience an epiphany over Boulez at the Proms last summer, thanks to Barenboim. New and recent music needs great performances to win new and thriving audiences. On Wednesday night, Lutoslawski got one. Here's to many, many more.



Monday, January 28, 2013

Viva Lutoslawski


The Witold Lutoslawski centenary festival, Woven Words, is about to get underway, opening on Wednesday evening at the Royal Festival Hall and named after the composer's 1965 work Paroles tissees. A look at the Philharmonia's designated website reveals that it's a fabulous resource. Hooray for the Adam Mickiewicz Institute, which is pumping support into this essential celebration of one of the century's towering musical figures.

The site includes a series of films exploring Lutoslawski's turbulent life history, tracing World War II and the Stalinist years in Poland with archive footage, musical extracts and fascinating insights from Steven Stucky (the series advisor) and other leading academics, as well as conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen. And Mrs Spilman is interviewed, explaining that her husband Wladislaw (whose memoirs, The Pianist, I'm sure you know about) as head of music in Polish Radio, encouraged Lutoslawski to compose popular music under a pseudonym to keep body and soul together in the traumatised world of post-war and Stalinist era Warsaw.

The picture above, from the site's gallery, shows Lutoslawski (right) meeting his friend and fellow composer Andrzej Panufnik (whose centenary falls next year) in 1990 at the Warsaw Autumn Festival. During the Nazi occupation the two had worked together, playing piano duos in coffee houses in the Polish capital: normal musical life had been snuffed out and Chopin's music - as a symbol of Polish national pride - had been banned. (Music/politics/mix...). Essentially, the story of Lutoslawski is the story of Poland in the 20th century.

As the festival's slogan reminds us, "Music begins where words end." I've often started lectures, essays, commentary et al with that phrase and I knew I'd borrowed it from someone... How pleasing to discover that that someone was Lutoslawski. [UPDATE: oops - apparently Debussy got there first.] If you missed it the other day, here is my one and only interview with Lutoslawski, from a meeting in 1992, now available to read for the first time in all those years, courtesy of Sinfini.

There's a complete list of concerts in the Woven Words festival here.
And a set of essays and programme notes that should keep us all busy, learning and fascinated here.
Please click through and do some exploring.

Then please also explore the wonderful new Andrzej Panufnik website and start thinking about next year.

To kick us off, listen to the Lutoslawski Variations on a Theme of Paganini for two pianos, which he and Panufnik used to play together in those cafes. Tragically, most of their other manuscripts from the war years went up in flames. Here the performers are Martha Argerich and Gabriela Montero.






Friday, January 25, 2013

JD meets LUTOSLAWSKI

Today is Witold Lutoslawski's centenary. Back in 1992 I met him for the first, and sadly only, time - and talked to him about his Piano Concerto and working with Krystian Zimerman. This interview was never published, though, and I'm lucky that the cassette tape just about survived the intervening 20 years. I played it through my old Walkman; it emerged a bit slow and a bit low, but with words entirely clear. I've now made an article out of it for Sinfini.

I can't help finding the great composer's comment about this concerto being "playable" slightly amusing - to me it looks 500% impossible.

As Krystian is playing it on Wednesday with the Philharmonia and Esa-Pekka Salonen at the RFH, the interview is out just in time. Read it here:
http://sinfinimusic.com/uk/features/2013/01/lutoslawski-anniversary/

And book for the concert here: http://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/find/music/classical/tickets/philharmonia-orchestra-63639?dt=2013-01-30

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

New Year Fireworks!


HAPPY NEW YEAR!

As a disembodied voice said over the firework display by the Thames, "London 2012: we did it right". Wonder if we can keep that up in 2013? 

Here are a few handy points for starting the year with best foot forward.

1. Feel free to enjoy the New Year's Day Concert from Vienna. Whatever those self-righteous moaners say about the Vienna Philharmonic, I love it and New Year's Day would feel all wrong without it...
UPDATE, 11.55am: woops. This year's, conducted by Franz Welser-Most, really is "frankly worse than most" and I have SWITCHED IT OFF for the first time in living memory. There's no point grumbling about the number of women in the orchestra if there is an elephant on the podium.

Solution? Make Your Own New Year's Day Concert. Here's Willi Boskowsky, leading a Csardas with violin, smile and real pizzazz in 1967. This, dear friends, is more like it...



2. Make some fun resolutions. Yesterday the Royal Opera House asked us on Twitter for our best operatic ones. Mine include recognising that gold rings are overrated, especially when sourced in the Rhine - stick to platinum in future. And do not write unsolicited love-letters to handsome visitors, even if they can sing in Russian.

3. Then there are non-operatic resolutions, such as practising the piano, going back to ballet class, finishing the new novel, and other things that are probably doomed if you have to make a resolution about doing them.

4. Invest in some good carpet shampoo. Handy for cleaning up others' mess. (I think Solti must have overindulged at the cat party last night.)

5. Ring out the old, ring in the new. What's past is past.

6. Speaking of the Ring, this year there will be so much Verdi, Wagner and Britten around that it's tempting to board up the windows and say GONE SOMEWHERE SUNNY, SEE YOU IN 2014. Which of the three birthday boys will you still want to hear in 366 days' time?

7. While V, W and B are carpet-bombing us (or should that be BWV? is it all a plot by Bach?), please don't forget Lutoslawski. Luckily the Philharmonia is celebrating his centenary. Krystian Zimerman is performing the Piano Concerto that Lutoslawski wrote for him - RFH, 30 January.

8. I have a new concert-of-the-novel in the works, this time based on Alicia's Gift, with the lovely pianist Viv McLean. The story of a child prodigy trying to grow up, it includes piano music by Chopin, Ravel, Granados and others. I read, Viv plays and we'll launch it in the autumn. Ideal as a coffee-concert with a difference. Book us!

9. The Hungarian Dances concert and A Walk through the End of Time are expecting more airings - watch this space. I'm also looking forward to some seriously exciting interviews and various things that are currently queuing up in the ether, waiting to be written and performed.

10. It's tough out there. We'll all have to be positive and ingenious to navigate through '13. But if we have music, love and laughter in our hearts, we can do that. We need to invent, communicate, inspire and do good things. And you know something? We intend to. Please join us.