Showing posts with label conductors. Show all posts
Showing posts with label conductors. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Vladi scoops the RPS!

Our own utterly glorious Vladimir Jurowski, principal conductor designate of the LPO and music director at Glyndebourne, has been named the Royal Philharmonic Society's Conductor of the Year! (Just in time to do Korngold's Das Wunder der Heliane in November :-))). He's opening the Glyndebourne season with MacVerdi's Macbeth next week. Vazhazdarovye, Vlad!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Salonen to cross the Pond

So Esa-Pekka Salonen is to be the Philharmonia Orchestra's new principal conductor and 'artistic advisor'! The Guardian broke this story the other day, but it seems that the secret had been so well-kept that a rumour began to go round that it was a hoax. A press release from the orchestra plopped into my in-box yesterday, though, so it's official and presumably true.

The appointment starts with the 08-09 season. It's good to see that London's orchestras are finding top-notch principal conductors with youth, health, high energy and big ideas on their side. The LPO has the stunning thirty-something Vladi Jurowski in place to take over next year from Kurt Masur who, though still occasionally capable of inspirational status, has been growing increasingly, well, elderly; it was time for the Philharmonia to bring in new blood too. Salonen, fresh from Los Angeles, is a fabulous catch for them and I doubt they could have done better.

Is it time to introduce a retirement age for conductors? Not that it can be easy for a distinguished maestro to watch a man half his age take over his job. Christoph von Dohnanyi, the Philharmonia's outgoing conductor, has been gracious enough to accept a title of 'honorary conductor for life' and made some kind remarks about Salonen. Good for him.

MEANWHILE - something completely different. The Guardian ran this piece on celebrity autobiographies yesterday. Guess what? My first novel has already sold more copies than Ashley Cole and David Blunkett's tomes put together. Not that that's such a lot, but nobody gave me 250,000 pounds for it.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Why Gergiev is OK

Sitting in a quiet study in our leafy London suburb, it's too easy to forget that people read this in New York and sometimes write in to a forum on the New York Times! (Why don't our newspaper websites have forums? Why are we so slow on the uptake on this side of the pond?)

Anyway, the latest is that someone wrote in and said 'there goes Jessica's credibility' because I'd suggested that Gergiev is 'head and shoulders above' etc etc. Someone else wanted to know whether they meant 'Jessica Simpson'. (I have no idea who Jessica Simpson is. Must have missed her somewhere between Homer, Marge & Bart. My favourite character is Lisa.)

OK. Just because I said VG is all that, it doesn't mean I like everything he does. I have a recording of him doing The Nutcracker which upsets me - it steamrolls through most of the best bits. But the concerts I have heard him do have been more thrilling than any other concert experiences I've had, at least for a conductor 'of his generation'. NB, Gergiev is in his early 50s. Most of the newsworthy conductors are either the eminences grises - Haitink & co - or the youngsters like Jurowski and one or two others. Of the middle ground, age-wise - well, Mariss Jansons is a bit older, Saraste and Belohlavek have their moments and are very reliable and although Rattle has some seriously wonderful moments and others that are less so, I've only experienced him lighting a collective fire once. Gergiev takes no prisoners. He has phenomenal energy, phenomenal charisma and an absolute belief in whatever his mission of the moment may be and orchestras give their all for him. And I seem to remember that it was listening to him conduct The Rite of Spring that sparked off my novel.

So no, I don't like everything he does. But where's his contemporary competition?

Monday, May 23, 2005

World domination at the Barbican?

Big news from the LSO: they have signed Valery Gergiev to be their new principal conductor to succeed Sir Colin Davis. Press conference today with both maestri present, during which Sir Colin declared that he's very happy to be 'kicked upstairs' to become president of the orchestra instead (and Clive Gillinson added that he is absolutely not retiring). Gergiev, who is a Very Busy Person Indeed, did admit, when questioned, that he would eventually be scaling down some of his other activities to make room for his commitment to the LSO. Among his regular outlets are the Maryinsky in St Petersburg, the Met in New York, a "special relationship" with the Vienna Philharmonic, the Rotterdam Philharmonic, the World Orchestra for Peace and no doubt a few more too. Are we talking world domination here?

Then again, there could be worse options for world domination. Given that Gergiev is simply head and shoulders above most other conductors of his generation (even if he does take his tempi a bit fast sometimes) it will be fantastic for both the LSO and London to have him permanently on board.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Beethoven blues

Thanks to everyone who replied to the composition/groves of academe post! It's always nice to know that one is not alone in these kinds of experiences - what's more worrying is to realise just how widespread they really are!

Anyway, onwards and upwards. What think you of present-day Beethoven interpretation? I've been attending some of my hubby's orchestra's latest Beethoven series under Kurt Masur. Tom has thoroughly enjoyed the concerts and the audiences have been going bananas even if critics have been slightly grudging. The last is tonight and it's completely sold out.

I am not trying to be disloyal to my orchestra-in-law, but actually the concerts I've heard have left me a little cold. There were beautiful moments: bits of the Pastoral, a lovely light touch in No.1 and so on. But No.7, which is my favourite, felt relentless and the finale of the Pastoral, which has to be one of the most wonderful moments in musical history, didn't expand and sing and give thanks the way I long for it to.

On the other hand, I'm reluctant to put all of this down to Masur alone. I think it's a global trend. I certainly wouldn't trust any of the period bands with this repertoire (the clunky drums alone would put me right off, never mind the squeaky violins), but it seems to me that too many modern conductors just don't give the music room to breathe. Where are the Klemperers, the Furtwanglers, the musicians who don't need to sound as if they have to catch a train, who can bring to life the full measure and depth and breadth of the music? And I don't mean they have to sound like Karajan.

It's possible to give something breadth and depth without it being 'boring' or 'old fashioned'. You can still articulate the slurs and staccatos and shape the phrases without losing the big picture, if you try. You can capture the sense of worship, the transcendence, without fear of association with some bygone political aberration whose practitioners unfortunately liked this kind of thing. And yet I can't remember the last time I was able to listen to a Beethoven symphony and have the really good, exhilarating wallow that I want to have. I'd rather listen to a recording of Barenboim or Schnabel or Kovacevich playing the piano sonatas because they do achieve this atmosphere. Am I being obtuse? Am I missing something marvellous somewhere? Is my taste hopelessly outdated? I just don't know. But one way or another, I didn't feel inspired to go to No.9 tonight.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

The trouble with Dmitry

....I'm being forced to rethink my fairly grim dislike of Shostakovich symphonies in the light of a stunning performance of the 'Leningrad' last night by the WDR Orchestra from Cologne, conducted by Semyon Bychkov. I still think the slow movement goes on too long, but I was on the edge of my seat for much of the rest. Bychkov brought out many aspects of the music that were conspicuous by their absence last time I heard it. It had heart. It had soul. It had some of that sardonic humour that I find the most appealing quality in Shostakovich.

So I guess my trouble with Dmitry is not the composer's fault after all. It is actually Kurt Masur's. I never sit through one of these mammoth symphonies unless I absolutely have to - and when I do have to, it tends to be because Masur is conducting Tom & co! To our own dear maestro, it is all desperately serious and gloomy and scarey. Bychkov showed that within the gloom, there can still be fun.

Impressed too with the WDR Orchestra, which is extremely consistent: every section is as good as every other, without any weak links; the ensemble in the strings is fantastic; and they all gave the piece everything they've got. They sound - intriguingly - like an orchestra that is decently paid, well fed and rested and thoroughly rehearsed; and that played all the better for it. Some mystique in the UK says that you can't pay musicians a good living wage, let them get enough food and sleep or enable them to rehearse any symphony for more than three sessions, because somehow the end result won't be exciting enough if they don't live on a personal knife edge. What utter BOL****S. Thanks to WDR for proving otherwise.

And they were providing sausages backstage for the players. Seriously.

Monday, November 08, 2004

In today's Independent... my latest article, about the pressures facing todays' bevy of young conductors. This was great fun to write, though what appears in the paper is the tip of a major interviewing iceberg - I had wonderful long talks with Ilan Volkov, Semyon Bychkov, Christophe Mangou, Hugh MacDonald and Patrick Harrild but could only use a few choice bits from each.

If I had to pick a favourite from these interviews, it would be Bychkov. He's in his 50s and was able to cast perspective in a way that the twenty-somethings generally can't. He said that one professor in the Leningrad Conservatory told the class that they shouldn't touch Mozart's Symphony No.40 until they were 50. Bychkov put up his hand and said, 'What if I don't live to be 50?'

He also has a WONDERFUL Russian accent.

He will be performing with the WDR Symphony Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall on 1 December and as I can't resist Russian accents, I think I shall be there.