Friday, November 28, 2014

In Memoriam: Claudio Abbado (1933 - 2014)

No. 175 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages can be found in our archives at https://archive.org/details/pcast175


pcast175- Playlist

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To conclude our November series of tribute-montages, we now turn to Claudio Abbado. In a way,  this is our second tribute to the Italian maestro, if you count our earlier post on  Verdi's Requiem Mass.

Claudio Abbado is born in Milan (1933) into a family of musicians: his father was a violinist, his mother is a pianist and his brother Marcello will later lead the same Milan Conservatory where his father taught and where Claudio studied piano, composition and conducting after WWII and until 1955.

After Milan, Claudio leaves for Vienna to further study piano (with Friedrich Gulda) and conducting (with Hans Swarowsky). During these studies, he will befriend fellow students Martha Argerich and Zubin Mehta. He will even sing in the Viennese Singverein where he will have a great vantage point to study the conducting of the likes of Hermann Scherchen, Josef Krips, Bruno Walter and Herbert von Karajan.

In 1958, Abbado enters the Koussevitzky competition at Tanglewood and will win First Prize (over his friend Mehta). He returns to Italy briefly and, in order to kick start a career, chooses to enter a second American conducting competition, the Mitropoulos in New-York, where he will not only win in 1963, but get the opportunity to apprentice under Leonard Bernstein at the New-York Philharmonic. He and Seiji Ozawa will have the opportunity to be featured in Bernstein’s Young Artists concerts, getting instant attention.

Abbado cements his reputation and wins appointments in Europe - La Scala, London Symphony Orchestra, Wiener Staatsoper and in 1988, he is named Karajan’s successor at the Berlin Philharmonic, embarking in a major overhaul of the orchestra’s membership and programming. His fresh, laid-back approach wins him favour with many around the orchestra, and after 15 years as its Music Director, he announces his plans to step down. At that time, however, Abbado is struck with stomach cancer 0 which he will battle until his death this year. Although he returns frequently to conduct in Berlin, he devotes his energies to the Lucerne Festival and founds the Mozart Orchestra in Bologna.

Abbado’s repertoire – and discography – is quite impressive and diverse. He is at ease in classical and modern music, in concert pieces and operas. Our modest sampling today shows him conducting Tchaikovsky early (with the New Philharmonia) and late (with the Chicago Symphony) in his career. Also from his early days, we feature his stellar collaboration with Martha Argerich in their “reference” performance of Prokofiev’s third piano concerto.

I think you will love this music too.

Friday, November 21, 2014

In Memoriam: Lorin Maazel (1930 - 2014)

No. 174 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages can be found in our archives at https://archive.org/details/pcast174


pcast174- Playlist

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The Friday Blog and Podcast returns for two more tribute-montages by artists we have lost earlier this year. In this case, our two montages (today and next Friday) look at two conductors.

In past posts, I have often discussed the generaton of conductirs born around 1915, names like Bernstein, Karajan, Giulini ans so many nore. These me, directly or indirectly, helped mould the generation of conductors born between 1930 and1940, such as Zubin Mehta, Seiji Ozawa and Daniel Barenboim. We should add to that list two recently decease conductors: Claudio Abbado and Lorin Maazel.


Without wanting to necessarily compare these two men, there are some interesting points to consider. Both have a Berlin connecton (Maazel led the Radio Symphony made famous by Ferenc Fricsay, Abbado succeedsà Karajan at the helm of the Philharmoniker) and both left us substantial dicsographies.

However, these are two very different men, who approached their crafts in very different ways. Maazel was the autocratic, exacting task master, and Abbado is more of a "regular guy", easy going and latin in his fervor for the music. In a sense, Abbado is Stokowski, Maazel is Toscanini.
Maazel was born to AMerican parents living abroad (Paris, actually), and starts off as a winderkind: violin lessons at fivem conducting lessosn (no less!) at seven, and as a pint-sized conductor, he's invited to lead the NBC Symphony (at Toscanini's invitation) at twelve.

But the life of a child musician isn't what Maazel has in mind - playing outdoors and doing what other kids his age do is more his speed, and so he "retires" at 15. A bookworm, Maazel chooses to read literature at the University of Pittsburgh and - to make some pocket money - he enlists in the string section of the Pittsburgh Symphony.

One has to think that this second kick at msic, and encounters with some of the great consuctors and artists making t through STeeltown, give Maazel the bug, and he chooses to study early music (as a Fulbright scholar) in Italy. He moves to Europe, and from there re-launches a career as conductor.

After moving around, guesting on some of Europe's great podiums, he will finally take on his own orchestras there and later in America. Of note, stints as director of the Berlin RSO  (1964–1975), l’Orchestre National de France (1977-1990), Cleveland (1977-1990) and New-York (2002-2009).

A conductor renowned for his great ear, he was a respected and sought conductor of the Romantic repertoire -  Mahler, Sibelius, Puccini or Richard Strauss, usually conducting without a score. The Vinna Phulharonic, which doesn't have a director per se, invited Maazel regularly, and he had the honour of conducting their New Year concerts 11 times between 1980 and 2005 (nine times with a violin in hand). 

However, Maazel does have his critics - his exacting styule often criticized as favouring form over expression, and his autocratic ways alienating players (according to Dohnanyi who succeeded hin in Cleveland, musicians pointed out that Maazel often simply kept the beat rather than elicit phrasing).

The Maazel legacy is still quite impressive - Beethioven and Rachmaninov cycles (Cleveland and Berlin, respecrtively), the first complete recording of Porgy and Bess, and so many performances with so many orchestras, captured for us to enjoy.
Today, I chose Richard Strauss and George Gershwin (with the Cleveland Orchestra), the Dvořák, Eighth (with the Vienna Philharmonic) and Maazel accompanying Gidon Kremer on the violinist's debut recording for DGG.

I think you will live this music too.

Friday, November 14, 2014

This Day in Music History: 14 November 1940

No. 173 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages can be found in our archives at https://archive.org/details/pcast173


pcast173 Playlist

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Earlier this week, we paused to remember the many soldiers who lost their lives in armed conflict. As I tried to explain in my Tuesday post, we should not confuse “war” and “warfighters”. Yes, warfighters are in the business of war, but whether they are full-time members of the Armed Forces or part-time Reservists, these people are also pursuing a career, an honourable one at that, where their skills are not only used in armed conflict, but also in humanitarian pursuits. It is a selfless – and sometimes under-appreciated – job, where people are asked to put their lives on the line for others, and this is something that deserves our support and admiration.
As part of my everyday business, I have dealt with members of Armed Forces from all over the Western world, and I’m yet to meet a professional soldier (or aviator, or sailor) who “likes” war. War, if and when it happens, is their job, nothing more, nothing less.
The reason why I take time here to bring this up is, simply, because I don’t think that anybody – in or out of Uniform – is indifferent to the horrors of war. It is in that context that I present today’s work, and its “anti war” message. I am anti-war, but not anti-warfighter.

On the night of 14 November 1940, the city of Coventry was devastated by bombs dropped by the Luftwaffe. The Cathedral burned with the city, having been hit by several incendiary devices. The decision to rebuild the cathedral was taken the morning after its destruction; rebuilding would not be an act of defiance, but rather a sign of faith, trust and hope for the future of the world.
Her Majesty the Queen laid the foundation stone on 23 March 1956 and the new cathedral, designed by Basil Spence and built along side the ruins of the original millenium-old structure, was consecrated on 25 May 1962, in her presence. The reconsecration was an occasion for an arts festival, for which Michael Tippett wrote his opera King Priam and for which Benjamin Britten was commissioned to write a piece.

The Festival gave Britten a free hand in his choice of the genre of work, and he took the opportunity to fulfil a long-term general scheme to write a major choral work that had been at the back of his mind since the late 1940s. Of greater personal significance for Britten, however, was the platform the Coventry commission gave him to make a public statement about his strongly held pacifist beliefs. In War Requiem, Britten could speak out in opposition to war, violence and inhumanity. The resulting work was not meant to be a pro-British piece or a glorification of British soldiers, but a public statement of Britten's anti-war convictions. It was a denunciation of the wickedness of war, not of other men. The piece was also meant to be a warning to future generations of the senselessness of taking up arms against fellow men.
The fact that Britten wrote the piece for three specific soloists -- a German baritone (Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau), a Russian soprano (Galina Vishnevskaya), and a British tenor (Peter Pears) -- demonstrated that he had more than the losses of his own country in mind, and symbolized the importance of reconciliation. (Unfortunately Vishnevskaya was not available for the first performance, and had to be replaced by Heather Harper).
Britten dedicated the work to Roger Burney (Sub-Lieutenant, Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve), Piers Dunkerley (Captain, Royal Marines), David Gill (Ordinary Seaman, Royal Navy), and Michael Halliday (Lieutenant, Royal New Zealand Volunteer Reserve). Burney and Halliday, who died in the war, were friends of Peter Pears and Britten, respectively. Dunkerley, "one of Britten's closest friends, took part in the 1944 Normandy landings. Unlike the other dedicatees, he survived the war but committed suicide in June 1959, two months before his wedding.

For the text of the War Requiem, Britten interspersed the Latin Mass for the Dead with nine poems written by Wilfred Owen, a World War I footsoldier who was killed a week before the Armistice. Owen wrote of his poetry: "I am not concerned with Poetry. My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity. Yet these elegies are to this generation in no sense conciliatory. They may be to the next. All a poet can do today is warn. That is why the true Poets must be truthful."
Much of the impact of the anti-war message of War Requiem lay in Britten’s strategic placing of his Owen settings in relation to the Latin Mass, where the horrors of the poet’s experience in the trenches are used to undermine the ritual mourning of church and state.


The musical forces are divided into three groups that alternate and interact with each other throughout the piece, finally fully combining at the end of the last movement. The soprano soloist and choir are accompanied by the full orchestra, the baritone and tenor soloists are accompanied by the chamber orchestra, and the boys' choir is accompanied by a small positive organ (this last group ideally being situated at some distance from the full orchestra). This group produces a very strange, distant sound. The soprano and choir and the boys' choir sing the traditional Latin Requiem text, while the tenor and baritone sing poems by Wilfred Owen, interspersed throughout.
Against the background of contemporary anxieties about the Berlin Wall, the Cuban missile crisis, the expansion of hostilities in the Vietnam War, and the fiftieth anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War in 1964, Britten’s lament for the dead of two world wars and the consequences of war could not have been more timely, and the socio-political climate of the early 1960s undoubtedly made its own contribution to War Requiem’s international success.

I think you will love this music too.

Friday, November 7, 2014

In Memoriam: Carlo Bergonzi (1924 - 2014)

No. 172 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages can be found in our archives at https://archive.org/details/pcast172


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With the exception of next week’s podcast of Brittten’s War Requiem, all of our montages this month pay tribute to artists we have lost over the last calendar year. To begin, we take a few moments to remember the great Italian operatic tenor Carlo Bergonzi who died on 25 July 2014, aged 90. The below highlights are stolen from his obituary.
There was no finer interpreter of Donizetti's, Verdi's and Puccini's tenor roles throughout his long career than Carlo Bergonzi. His singing of all three composers' music evinced an innate sense of how to mould an immaculate line projected on a long breath, an exemplary clarity of diction, and an authoritative use of the particular style called for in interpreting a role. Over and over again, you could hear, and can still hear on his many recordings, how to shape a phrase and to do so with a voice of intrinsic beauty, flawlessly produced, so no effort seemed involved. Far from being a macho tenor, he was the aristocrat of the breed and as such universally admired, even if he did not evoke the visceral excitement of his near-contemporaries, Franco Corelli and Luciano Pavarotti.

He was born in Vidalenzo, northern Italy, and looked likely to become a cheesemaker like his father until his voice was discovered. After service in the Italian army during WWII, and a period as a prisoner of Germany, he trained as a baritone and began his professional life in that mode, making his debut as Rossini's Figaro in 1948. By 1950 he concluded that he might really be a tenor and retrained, making his first appearance in his new range in Giordano's Andrea Chénier in 1951, the year he was also engaged to sing a tenor part in I Due Foscari for Italian radio celebrations of the 50th anniversary of Verdi's death. The voice still sounds there a shade tentative, but by 1953, when Bergonzi made his debut at La Scala and appeared, as Don Alvaro, in La Forza del Destino at the old Stoll theatre, London, the transformation was complete. He was acclaimed as a new tenor of real worth.
In 1956 he made his debut, as Radames in Aida, at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, and continued to sing there for more than 30 years, evidence of the security of his technique and the fact that he was careful not to force his voice out of its natural range and strength. One of his last roles, in 1988, was Rodolfo in Luisa Miller, suitably enough as his account of the famous tenor aria in that opera was always a model of Verdian style.

Bergonzi was just as affecting in a lighter vein. His Nemorino (L'Elisir d'Amore), caught late in his career, at the Royal Opera House, in 1981, was endearing. His performances, in recital, of Italian song were enchanting in their intimacy and delicacy of manner. Pieces such as Mascagni's Serenata or Tosti's L'Alba Separa Dalle Luce L'Ombra were the pure essence of Bergonzi, and he delighted in conveying his joy in singing them to his audiences.
Bergonzi recorded extensively. His lasting memorial will surely be his performance for Philips of all the tenor arias in Verdi's operas. His sovereign Alvaro is preserved on an EMI set of La Forza del Destino, his Radames on Herbert von Karajan's Decca set of Aida, his classic Rodolfo on a Decca Bohème, and his Cavaradossi on Callas's second set of Tosca, for EMI. These, plus a legendary recital dating from 1958 for Decca, provide the essence of his great art.

Today’s montage really has three distinct parts. The first few selections are of Neapolitan songs, a fine display indeed of Bergonzi’s ability to project and use his voice to convey the bittersweet feelings often carried by those ballads. Listen closely to how the voice trembles at the climax of Cardillo’s ode to the ungrateful heart. What a voice!
An extended portion of the montage is dedicated to an entire recital of Bergonzi singing music from the Italian baroque, and baroquie opera. Again, these are conveyed with such conviction, elevating these songs to the level of the late romantic composers that will follow them.

Of course, a tribute to Bergonzi would be incomplete without sampling him in Verdi arias. Nobody – I mean nobody – sings Verdi with such verve and passion, none before, and none since.

I think you will love this music too.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Programming - November 2014

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Monthly Theme

This month, per our yearly tradition on ITYWLTMT, we pause to pay tribute to those we have lost. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War, the 75th anniversary of the beginning of the Second World War and – especially following the recent tragic events in Ottawa – we have some planned posts around Remembrance.
Pierre’s Tuesday Blog

Once or Twice a Fortnight
Expect a tandem post of the War Requiem podcast and Verdi’s Ernani, featuring the voice of the great Carlo Bergonzi (subject of an earlier tribute this month).




NOTE: Since OTF posts do not get published on set dates, make sure to visit OperaLively regularly or …
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