Showing posts with label Mitsuko Uchida. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mitsuko Uchida. Show all posts

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

How to be yourself in music

The other day a fascinating CD landed on my desk. It's music by a composer who is also a well-known conductor - indeed, he'd probably say, most modestly, that he's a conductor who composes on the side. He's the splendid Iván Fischer, a maestro whose work I've known and loved for years, and whom I've interviewed a few times, but whose original music I knew not at all. I'm reviewing the disc for BBC Music Magazine, so the detail must wait for that; but how intriguing it was to find I was listening to that same voice I knew from his performances and interviews, translated into new-created music.

Fischer. Photo: Marco Borggreve
Whether it's a touching solo song in Yiddish (amazingly sung by Fischer's daughter, the contemporary-specialist soprano Nora Fischer), a short Sextet for strings and tabla subtitled 'Wanderlust', the anguished German-Yiddish Cantata or the short opera Tsuchigumo, a completely off-the-wall creation in six languages and plenty of pastiche, based on a 15th-century Noh play - that voice is Essence of Fischer. It's spare, direct, condensed. It's funny, agonising, personal, satirical, sometimes switching between these in a flash, sometimes all at one go. It's malleable, adaptable, insightful. A spot of Italian baroque style and language rubs shoulders with circus-like effects full of Hungarian black humour. And the opening fanfare is all fun - catchy and melodic and showy. Behind such chameleon-like eclecticism, though, lies a consistent personality: that voice, at one with the performer and the man.

I've noticed this occasionally with performers, too. I remember coming home from interviewing Mitsuko Uchida once and switching on the radio to hear her playing a Mozart piano concerto. There, bowling out of the airwaves, was the same voice that had just been talking to me - except now on the piano. The means of expression - the breathing, the phrasing, the dynamics, the eloquence - was just the same. When everything connects to the innermost self, when, if you like, the channels are open and there's a faultless technique without psychological blocks to hold it up, a musician can perform as the person she or he is, a composer writes the music that expresses the essence of his or her soul, and the more intelligent, enquiring and insightful the person, the more there will be to communicate.

Perhaps this is what lies behind that personal sound that all string players seek - in reality, it's probably there already and it's up to them to develop and refine it; and likewise, the distinctive sound of every great pianist (people who don't play the piano sometimes think this is impossible, but it isn't). You can even find it in an orchestra, when it's really at one with the music and the conductor; recently, at the Bavarian State Opera's Meistersinger, conducted by Kirill Petrenko, it seemed that unified, vivid personality with passion, meaning and a heap of attitude shone through every note of the overture

So what's it down to? Technique? Without the finest technique to put it across, that essence-of-personality won't come through; the technique is the means to the end. But there's no point having the technique if there is no personality behind it, nothing to say about the music, nothing to communicate. As Martha Argerich once said, the sound must be in your head before you can create it: it begins with the imagination.

You can hear Fischer conduct the Budapest Festival Orchestra at the Proms on 26 August - they are doing the Mozart Requiem, with the Collegium Vocale Gent.

Meanwhile, here are a couple of examples to illustrate these pieces of quasi-profundity for a Tuesday morning.

Ivá Fischer's Eine Deutsch-Yiddische Kantate

Mitsuko plays Bach

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Mitsuko and Mozart's dad

In today's Independent Mitsuko Uchida talks to me about the plight of prodigies who are pushed too far, too fast. She has some interesting words about her own experiences as a youngster, and it's clear that she possesses a remarkable facility for self-criticism, plus ferociously high standards that exceed those of most... The chocolate, incidentally, really was amazing.

Please note that she is actually doing a whole weekend of concerts with the Borletti-Buitoni Trust from 17-19 May at the South Bank, not just 18th.

Hope you've had a good bank holiday weekend, dear readers. I spent Saturday night at one of the best opera performances I've ever been to, and I go to quite a lot. More of that soon. For the moment - if you can beg/borrow/filch/pay through the nose for/get a return for/ Don Carlo at the ROH while Anja Harteros is still in it, then do.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

International Women's Day - a little listening

As you know, it's International Women's Day - a concept I'm not all that mad about, since it implies that the men get the other 364, and this time 365 because it's a leap year.

Nevertheless, it's a great opportunity to note that great musicianship transcends all those issues. There's a major and ongoing problem with the bimbo-isation, if you'll pardon the term, of young musicians in particular: nobody has any illusions any more that young women have to be selected by agents, record companies and so on for their musicianship above their looks. The standout ones, however, can still win through. Here are an initial selection of just ten of my favourite musicians at the top today: solo instrumentalists at different stages of life whose artistry is exceptional. Please note that no particular order of ranking is implied in this selection - and I could easily have added another ten at the very least. Tomorrow: composers!

Meanwhile, at the Southbank Centre, the festival Women of the World is underway - more details here.

Now, prepare to be wowed...




The Sibelius Violin Concerto. Embedding has been disabled - please click through for this amazing 1981 performance.








Thursday, February 16, 2012

Jonas Kaufmann, wrapped in Viennese gold

If you were wondering where I'd got to... Been here, hearing this. Above: Jonas Kaufmann and Helmut Deutsch take a curtain call in the Vienna Musikverein after what I think was the third of five encores.

Song recitals in the golden hall are not plentiful - mostly they are given in the smaller Brahmsaal - and this was Kaufmann's first "Liederabend" therein, following a highly successful run as Faust at the Staatsoper. It was a programme of Liszt, Mahler, Duparc and Strauss, which he and Deutsch introduced in Munich last summer (schedule here - Berlin tomorrow, Paris on Monday; London Wigmore Hall not until June, though). And if you think Vienna is not a place that can go nuts, think again. By the time the encores had rounded off with Strauss's 'Zueignung' and a rendering of 'Dein ist mein ganzes Herz' that could have turned even Tauber green with envy, your blogger and her companion were sobbing for joy along with the rest of the city.

Here is the full programme. And here is a video on Kaufmann's website introducing it

I won't keep you sitting here reading this blogpost all day, but a few highlights follow. First of all, Deutsch needs a credit all his own: the glowing, streamlined sounds that emerged from that piano would have wrapped Kaufmann's voice in pure gold even if the hall had not already done so. Deutsch has been Kaufmann's mentor in many ways and their partnership remains exceptional: they shine not merely as singer and accompanist individually, but as a duo even greater than the already phenomenal sum of their parts.

The Liszt's high spots included hushed raptness in 'Glocken von Marling', an engagingly narrative 'Drei Zigeuner' and an emotional roller-coaster of 'Freudvoll und Leidvoll'. Kaufmann's dark-hued tone is ideally suited to the Mahler Rückertlieder, and his ability to capture haunted, mystical atmospheres drew 'Am Mitternacht' towards undreamed-of inward realms. 

If any moment of the recital was any less convincing, it was the Duparc: a French group, even such a heady and sensual one, seemed to sit comparatively oddly against the rest of the programme, something brought into focus when Kaufmann launched into his home heartland with the Strauss Lieder immediately afterwards. Duparc is more Wagnerian than Faure or Debussy, yet it could be that these exceptional, kaleidoscopic songs, which feel like musical incarnations of Odilon Redon's late pastels, still need to settle to reach the same level of assumption that Kaufmann has achieved in Strauss. It was the Strauss that stayed with us: laughter for 'Schlechtes Wetter' (it was snowy, well below freezing and very windy out, and we'd have liked to sample whatever cake Kaufmann and Deutsch decided to bake); tears for a 'Befreit' almost too pain-filled to listen to (many pairs of spectacles were removed around us in the hall). 

Dein war unser ganzes Herz.. It's not the first time I've felt that Kaufmann is an artist who thrives on encores. This was when he seemed to relax the most and, frankly, let rip. Like most excellent artists, he seems fed by the audience's energy, which is as it should be. There's something about the creation of atmosphere in a performance that has less to do with the individual technical details than with the relationship between the performers, the degree they can communicate their mastery and passion for music to the audience, and much to do with... well, if anyone could articulate exactly what that "X factor" is, we wouldn't need daft TV programmes named after it.

It's when artists start to fly and take us up to 33,000 feet with them. It's when you can't believe the beauty in your own ears, and you can't hold onto it, either, but you're trying to in any case, and you know you are hearing something you'll never forget for the rest of your life. And you know it when you hear it, and you don't hear it very often. Perhaps 19th century commentators could have recognised its necessity by their very nature and expressed it in terms of touching something divine, which is what "high art" aspired to do. Such terminology is somewhat frowned on today. In a world that's terrified of "elitism", anything that sounds too good will be bashed. But when you get down to it, that is what's happening and that is what great artistry is all about, and that is what all the other very good but less "great" artists wish to do, and that is why we become musicians, because music can do this and that's why it exists. And when it reaches that rare level, you feel lucky to be alive to hear it. It's real. It's true. So just get over it, accept it and open your ears. 

And as if this wasn't enough...the day after, we attended Mitsuko Uchida playing the last three Schubert sonatas - Schubert in Vienna in the snow, with the B flat Sonata a crowning, aching, lonely wonder. Add to this a visual feast at the recently renovated Albertina gallery - two floors of an Impressionist exhibition (yes, with plenty of Redon pastels), one floor of the permanent collection and a top floor of a huge, jaw-dropping and revelatory exploration of Magritte. To say nothing of lunch at the Cafe Central, a romanesque-arched temple to kaffee und kuche once frequented by Trotsky, Freud and many, many more. We had their berry strudel, packed with kilos of purple fruit, and their trademark cake: chocolate, orange and marzipan with the lightest texture and finest flavours...

...look, as the Beatles would say, it's been a long, cold, lonely winter, so please forgive a few of the superlatives above. Right now, I think we deserved to enjoy them a little. All together now: "Wien, Wien, ach, du allein..."