La Scena Musicale

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Une Maison de la musique…magique !

Une Maison de la musique…magique !
Un nouveau départ et une activité-bénéfice de la Fondation Chapelle historique du Bon-Pasteur

Daniel Turp

Depuis sa création en 1988, la Chapelle historique du Bon-Pasteur est devenue un lieu culturel incontournable. Depuis plus de vingt ans, la Maison de la musique, comme elle est maintenant connue dans le milieu musical, a établi et maintenu des standards élevés sur lesquels repose sa réputation. Plusieurs facteurs, dont la gratuité des concerts et la qualité de sa direction artistique, ont permis la tenue à la chapelle d'événements qui, sans elle, ne se donneraient nulle part ailleurs et seraient inaccessibles à une grande partie du public. Appréciée et aimée par les musiciens, la Chapelle historique du Bon-Pasteur est l’un des bastions de l’accessibilité culturelle et l’une des rares portes d’entrée encore ouvertes à tous et à toutes.
Pour maintenir cette accessibilité et pour continuer d’offrir des activités musicales diversifiées, qu’il s’agisse de concerts, de la tenue de concours nationaux et internationaux, de conférences, de répétitions publiques, d’ateliers d'interprétation et de cours de maître, la Fondation de la Chapelle historique du Pasteur, qui s’est dotée d’un nouveau conseil d’administration, organise une première activité-bénéfice qui aura pour thème « Une maison de la musique… magique ! ». Cette activité mettra en présence le magicien réputé Luc Langevin et aura lieu dans l’enceinte de la Chapelle le mercredi 8 décembre 2010 à compter de 19 h 30. L’ensemble Morpheus, ensemble instrumental résident à la Chapelle, présentera la partie musicale de l’événement. Cette première activité de financement vise à doter la Chapelle de moyens pour développer la programmation d’une institution musicale dont le directeur artistique, M. Guy Soucie, a été désigné « directeur artistique de l’année » lors du Gala des prix Opus 2009.
Le coût du billet est de 150 $. L’achat d’un billet permettra d’assister au spectacle concert dont la durée prévue est d’une heure, de participer à un goûter et de recevoir un reçu d’impôt. Le nombre de sièges à la Chapelle étant limité à 150, il est suggéré de retenir votre place sans tarder et de le faire avant le 24 novembre. Pour vous inscrire et obtenir d’autres renseignements, prière de communiquer avec la Fondation par téléphone (514-872-5338) ou par courrier électronique  (

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Friday, 29 October 2010

Eschenbach Era Begins in Washington

Concert Hall, the Kennedy Center
Washington, D.C.
October 16, 2010
Mozart: Symphony No. 34 in C major K. 338Mahler: Symphony No. 5National Symphony Orchestra/Christoph Eschenbach

Who can explain the chemistry, or lack thereof, between a conductor and an orchestra? Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. At the moment, it is definitely working and working splendidly between
Christoph Eschenbach and the National Symphony
in Washington, D.C; over the past four weeks they have been making music together and nearly everyone you talk to agrees that this partnership is something special. I went to hear for myself and was duly impressed.
Houston, We’ve Got Lift-off!

I must admit to certain prejudices. I heard
Eschenbach often when he was music director in Houston during the 1990s. I was convinced then that he was one of the most interesting musicians of his generation. From there he went on to Philadelphia where he was unable to duplicate the success he had achieved in Houston. His leadership of the renowned Philadelphia Orchestra could not be faulted - several tours with the orchestra garnered sensational reviews! In the end, it was the combination of a chaotic management, a growing deficit, a disgruntled orchestra, and a hostile critic that conspired to make Eschenbach’s engagement in Philadelphia a brief one.

Washington is another story altogether! Here Eschenbach has been greeted with open arms and the signs at this point are all positive. There was a dazzling season-opening gala with
Renée Fleming and Lang Lang, then the Beethoven Ninth, the Bruckner Sixth and finally the Mahler Fifth. Eschenbach conducted them all from memory and thrilled both the orchestra members and the public – not to mention the critics.

For good measure, he threw in a Washington premiere:
Pintscher’s Hérodiade, a difficult but powerful piece that served notice to Washington that Eschenbach is not only a fine conductor of the great German classics but also a man of his time. He is deeply committed to contemporary music, and that includes music by American composers. He regularly conducts music by one of his mentors, Leonard Bernstein, and by Christopher Rouse and John Adams. He will conduct the NSO in new works by Lieberson, Read and Golijov later in the season.
Mozart ‘Back to the Future!’

The concert I heard on this occasion was to have been an all-Mahler programme with
Nathalie Stutzmann featured in the Kindertotenlieder. When Ms. Stutzmann cancelled because of scheduling conflicts, Eschenbach substituted Mozart’s Symphony No. 34.

Eschenbach is not particularly interested in the period instrument folks and the way they play Mozart. He has his own ideas and has been presenting them to wide acclaim both as pianist and conductor for more than half a century. His Mozart is robust, precise and deeply expressive, in the manner of
Bruno Walter and George Szell.

The second movement of this performance of Symphony No. 34 was particularly striking for the way in which Eschenbach subtly changed tempi toward the end of the work, thus adding refreshing variety to a somewhat repetitious movement. The finale went like the wind, with the strings displaying great virtuosity. In the perky figure for two oboes, Eschenbach gave the second phrase an unmarked accent which deftly brought out both the fun and the logic of the figure.

This was splendid Mozart and an amazing achievement, given such fine playing in what was likely very limited rehearsal time.
Mahler Fifth Ends on High Note

After intermission came the main business of the evening, and the piece which unquestionably took most of the rehearsal time:
Mahler’s Symphony No. 5.

The unaccompanied trumpet solo which begins the piece has been giving players nightmares from the day it was written. Steven Hendrickson was absolutely fearless and indeed heroic in his rendering of this great solo, and throughout the symphony played all his solos with remarkable authority.

From that auspicious beginning, Eschenbach built the first movement of the symphony as a funeral march of nobility and sadness, without giving short shrift to the wilder elements which were made to seem like dream-like visions of the same hero whose demise was being memorialized. These were ‘Berliozian’ dreams channeled and re-imagined by Mahler.

Whereas many conductors are so fascinated by the beauty of the beginning theme that they forget rhythm is essential to structure, Eschenbach kept the basic tempo moving forward.

His reading of the second movement was just as intense and deeply probing; for example, in the case of the long passage for the cello section with only soft accompaniment from the timpani, which was both consistently soft and expressive, just as
Mahler intended.

The third movement – also a scherzo – features a prominent solo horn part and the horn player is often seated in a position of prominence. Conductor
Simon Rattle even went to the extreme of putting the solo horn player right beside the podium, as if the movement were a horn concerto. It is not, however, and leaving the player in the horn section usually works well - as it did on this occasion. Terrific playing in this movement by principal horn Martin Hackleman, a former member of the Canadian Brass, and the Viennese waltz rhythms were executed by the orchestra with a fine sense of style.

There was more fine string playing in the
Adagietto . Again, Eschenbach succeeded in keeping the music moving without sacrificing tone or expression. The climax was played to perfection, with the first violins giving us a wonderful rush of tone on their high A, and basses ending the downward pattern with equally full tone on their low G resolving to F. There is a lot going on in these magnificent final bars and only the best conductors manage to sort it out as well as Eschenbach did. Incidentally, Mahler writes “attacca” at the end of this movement, meaning that the conductor should begin the next movement (Rondo) immediately. Several weeks ago in Montreal, Kent Nagano ignored this instruction. Eschenbach did not.

Eschenbach clearly regards the
Rondo-Finale of the Mahler Fifth as essentially joyful and positive, after the often dark and demonic elements of previous movements. That is true also of the finales of Mahler’s previous symphonies. His finales became more troubled in his later symphonies and even despondent in the case of the Ninth. The finale of the Fifth, however, is often playful and carefree and culminates in a glorious ‘Brucknerian’ climax. There is no ‘programme’ attached to the Fifth, but it is clear that the death and despair of the opening funeral march and the ensuing nightmares have been overcome by joy (life after death?) in the finale. Musically, Mahler ends the movement in a blaze of D major.
Seating the Sound of an Orchestra…

A few words are in order here about the seating of the National Symphony Orchestra. In the short time he has been in charge, Eschenbach has made a careful analysis of the acoustics in the Concert Hall of the Kennedy Center and decided that the musicians need to be seated differently. Most importantly, he has moved the double basses from the back rear of the orchestra to the extreme left (they have switched places with the timpani and percussion) and the brass from the extreme right to the middle center of the stage. I don’t have enough experience of this concert hall to be able to make an informed judgment about which seating is superior, but I can affirm that the NSO sounded very good indeed and that all instruments projected well and with appropriate timbres.
...and More

Further to the question of Eschenbach’s views on orchestral sound - in my pre-concert interview with him, he acknowledged a preference for German or
rotary valve trumpets in classical German repertoire. I found out later that the orchestra does own a set of these instruments and that the players have not often been asked to use them – a status quo that may well change in the Eschenbach era.
Eschenbach and Opera

Eschenbach is off to Paris next for a new production of Hindemith’s opera
Mathis der Maler starring Mathias Goerne. Washington welcomes him back late in January.

Paul E. Robinson is the author of Herbert von Karajan: the Maestro as Superstar, and Sir Georg Solti: His Life and Music. NEW for friends: The Art of the Conductor podcast, "Classical Airs."

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Thursday, 28 October 2010

TSO: “Unexpected” Program Needed Gravy

By L.H. Tiffany Hsieh

Name recognition does help: I’ll be the first to admit I only went to Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s Oct. 27 
“Haydn & Bruckner” concert because of two names. No, not Haydn and Bruckner, but Thomas Dausgaard and Marc-Andre Hamelin.

First off, Dausgaard and Hamelin didn’t disappoint, but the program itself did: Haydn’s relatively unimportant D-major piano concerto and Bruckner’s slightly awkward Sixth Symphony, separated by what felt like an unusually short intermission.

Music director Peter Oundjian had the night off, leaving the podium to Dausgaard, the Danish conductor whose lanky and animated body language were comical to watch and were my source of stimulation for the night.

Oundjian left a note in the program: “We like to do the unexpected from time to time at the TSO.” By “unexpected” he meant having Hamelin, who is best known for his “incredible technique and expertise with big Romantic repertoire” (I’d add contemporary to that), play Haydn, who is not known for his piano concertos. Then we have Bruckner’s Sixth, which “stands out in his output as possibly the sunniest and brightest of the nine symphonies”. To top it off, the concert opened with Beethoven’s Egmont Overture, “one of his most popular works” but “a little unusual” for the composer.

Individually speaking, each of the three works may be a little off-the-wall in one way or another, but nevertheless worth hearing on concert stages and on recordings. They each received fine performances. One single “Bravo!” was shouted at the end of the Bruckner. A minority gave a standing ovation for Hamelin. A larger minority cheered for Dausgaard and the orchestra. The TSO was on its best behaviour. It was a good concert.

Collectively, albeit with good intention to achieve what I’m not exactly sure, the “unexpected” — dull — programming really squeezed out the last drop of live classical music enjoyment for me. For most people, making an effort to attend a concert after a long day’s work is much like going to a restaurant (or else you can simply put on a CD at home and order in). The combination of this program felt like a Rob Ford “stop the gravy train” meal, which I would have substituted for a tuna sandwich with instant noodles. Simply put, the program lacked a certain appeal and kick, and this showed partially in the number of empty seats in Roy Thomson Hall.
Hopefully the Oct. 28 performance was better attended, because it’s a shame to have two stunning A-list performers on stage doing all sorts of wonderful things — Hamelin’s Haydn was exquisite, poetic and technically flawless; Dausgaard, who conducted the Haydn without a baton, delivered a riveting, expressive and memorable Bruckner — and not have more people come out to hear them.

We all want to do the unexpected once in a while, but when it comes to programming, pass the gravy, please.

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Gidon Kremer: Standing Behind the Music

photo : Kasskara/ECM Records

by Lucie Renaud

With over a hundred recordings, thousands of concerts in halls all over the world, lauded appearances in festivals, collaborations with legendary artists such as Martha Argerich, Mischa Maisky, Yo-Yo Ma and Keith Jarrett and close ties to composers such as Philip Glass, Alfred Schnittke, Arvo Pärt, John Adams, Luigi Nono, Sofia Guibadulina, Valentin Silvestrov and Lera Auerback under his belt, Gidon Kremer’s career path is nothing short of astonishing. One could imagine that such a performer might be unapproachable, crisscrossing the globe, setting down his designer suitcases in the most luxurious of hotel suites, a man who has seen it all. It takes only two minutes into an interview with the violinist to see that, even at 63, he welcomes change in his artistic process. “I don’t have a recipe, but I always like to be surprised by others, to work with people and artists who have a vision,” he explains with rapid-fire delivery. “It is a great privilege to work with composers, to see how a piece that has never been heard before can come to life from the page.”  Free of pretences, no ready-made formula: he finds it imperative that music reach the soul and speak directly to the heart. He lists off the artists who have most inspired him in one breath: Maria Callas, Jacques Brel and Leonard Bernstein, all artists who, according to him, “live music, let themselves be consumed by it.”

» Music as a First Language
As the son of professional members of the Lithuanian National Radio Orchestra, his mother half German, his father a Baltic Jew, and the grandson of the violinist, music teacher and Swedish music historian, Karl Brückner, it did not take long for young Gidon to discover the violin.  “You will never amount to anything unless you first work tirelessly,” his father would say. And his mother would retort, “If you work tirelessly, you will have a better life,” he explains matter-of-factly in his autobiography Kindheitssplitter (Splinters of Childhood, not yet translated in English). “I don’t know either if I learned a lot from my grandfather.  However, I am certain that his curiosity about all things new or original and his profound conviction that one must first hear a sound ‘within oneself’ before playing it helped forge the person I am today.” The young Gidon showed early on an insatiable curiosity, and this despite the long hours of practice and the scrutiny of not one but three authority figures. He devoured books, mastered checkers, was happily swept away by movies and even created “clubs” with his friends so they could converse, inquire and progress.

After completing his studies at the Riga School of Music, he was chosen to join the legendary class of David Oïstrakh at the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory. Regional competitions piled up, but true recognition was yet to come. In 1965, he finally got his hands on the famous trophy he so coveted. “It took me a while to understand that in art, there can be no ‘victory,’ there can be no Olympic games with someone coming in first.” Next up were international competitions. In 1967, he won third prize at the Queen Elizabeth Music Competition in Belgium, and two years later, first prize at the Paganini Competition in Genoa. In 1970, his victory at the Tchaikovsky Competition confirmed his talent. “The violin was my guide and my torment. With it I learned over time to transform my loneliness, my dreams, my pain and my sense of humour into music. With my violin, I was searching for my key, my voice, my music.”

Almost compulsively, he devoured the great works of literature, fervently frequented theatres and studied Stanislavski. He kept writing, especially in his journal. “It is only through working that you can feel that you are in a visionary state of being. Life, for me, is in what you feel,” he writes on July 9, 1963. A few months later, barely an hour before going on stage for the second tour of the Republic Competition, he quickly jotted down: “I must, 1) think of Borisova [a theatre actress under whose spell he had fallen]; 2) bring joy to people; 3) convey the beauty of the piece; 4) think of what the composer wanted to express; 5) play for myself.  In short—forget all of this and think of the music!”  This passion for words continues to live in him and besides the autobiography of his early years he has published three works that reflect his artistic philosophy.

» Musician Without Borders
The musical fire that consumes Gidon Kremer wishes above all to be shared. “Being a violinist can be a little boring—especially for me,” he confided to a journalist some thirty years ago. In 1981, he founded Lockenhaus, an intimate chamber music festival that exists to this day. When he was 50, he decided to give himself a unique birthday present: gather up young musicians from the three Baltic states (Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia) for a summer, allow them to work with composers from the region and play with them. “I could never have imagined that Kremerata Baltica would become what it is today. When I met these young people and saw their intensity and their joy, I understood that from the very first summer, this was not something I could abandon. Today, after 14 years, they are a part of my family. Of course, over the years, a musician or two has been tempted to leave the ensemble, but in fact we have very little turnover. The majority are loyal members and I would say that the newcomers are even more so, because they are still bright-eyed, which allows the spirit of Kremerata Baltica to live on.” The 27-musician orchestra gives around fifty concerts per year, spread over five or six tours (including one of the Baltic states), records with glorious regularity (their last album, De profundis, came out in September) and it has been rewarded for its excellence on many occasions—in 2002, for example, After Mozart earned a Grammy and Germany’s ECHO prize. Wishing above all to prevent the “orchestritis” that too often affects professional musicians, Kremer prioritizes flexibility, a spirit of openness and a certain taste for risk. “I think that beyond the intimacy of the sound playing without a conductor helps us communicate with each other when we play a particularly complex piece, for example, Shostakovich’s Fourteenth Symphony.”

Refusing to maintain the status quo, he does not see himself as getting any older unless he stops a few seconds to contemplate his grey hair in the mirror. Really, he is still the same 17-year-old who noted, “My goal: bring, through music, more joy to people […]. For the moment, art is the only thing that can bring us joy, self-knowledge and energy.” The future of classical music does not particularly worry him.  “I think that real music will survive, but, of course, there are many threats. In a sense, the commercialization of music cheapens its value, and people are often distracted by mediocre interpretations, by imitations, blinded by glitz and glamour. Sometimes, a star’s name overshadows the music that they perform. Our obligation is to the composer, to the music, not to get more credit than the true creators, but, as you know all too well, sales are based essentially on quantity, on the number of discs leaving the shelves. It’s a problem that Kremerata Baltica is trying to combat by remaining honest as much in our interpretations as in our choice of repertoire.”

He hopes to convince other musicians to follow suit, to resist the temptation of the easy route and the crossover trend. “I don’t think that music should be confined to a ghetto of connoisseurs, but I think that we have to fight to defend the interests of music, to not let commercial priorities tell us what sells.”  But isn’t it a bit paradoxical to want simultaneously to reach out to the public by making recordings and remain a purist? “My priorities have never been oriented towards sales numbers or chart positions because, to paraphrase a familiar song, I’m not a material boy.  I have the freedom to be able to make my own choices and I trust my own taste and beliefs. When I produce an album, I always put the emphasis on the music and not on the titles or the way the album will be presented.” The recording is the true work of art, and the booklet, cover and music must together form a whole: “The big labels are too worried about their sales numbers and, therefore, some of their covers, it’s sad to say, look a lot like pornography. I try to stay true to the values I grew up with. If someone understands this, great.  If someone thinks it’s all too old-fashioned, too bad for him, but not for me.”


Montreal Programme
Kremerata Baltica´s Montreal programme will include three works: a string orchestra arrangement of Beethoven’s Quartet en do dièse mineur, Russian composer Lera ­Auerbach’s Sogno di Stabat Mater, for violin, viola, vibraphone and strings, and Giya Kancheli’s Silent Prayer, an interrupted ­meditation for violin, cello, vibraphone, bass guitar, chamber orchestra and tape. Says Gidon Kremer: “It’s Kagel who talked about composers who compose for other composers. This program has nothing to do with this statement. The composers we play all have something to say, are ­profoundly anchored in tradition, but possess their own individual voices. It is ­difficult to compare anything to Beethoven, especially his Quartet opus 131, ‘his Tenth ­Symphony,’ according to Bernstein, but ­composers are alive, ­vigorous and very ­sensitive. I am convinced that Beethoven was a man of his time, not indifferent to what was going on around him. It is critical not only to offer a breath of fresh air to the ­musicians of the orchestra, but also to allow the public to be surprised. That’s why I ­always try to build programmes that contain a certain bit of novelty. I’m not trying to be snobby by choosing these pieces; I don’t try to be excessively ­intellectual. I simply try to keep the music alive as much as possible. I hope that the ­Montreal audience will enjoy our ­performance.”

Kremerata Baltica, November 4th.

[Translation: Lindsay Gallimore]

Read the French text of this article here

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Gidon Kremer : S’effacer derrière la musique

photo : Kasskara/ECM Records

par Lucie Renaud

Plus d’une centaine d’enregistrements, des milliers de concerts dans les salles du monde entier, apparitions saluées dans les festivals, collaborations avec des artistes mythiques dont Martha Argerich, Mischa Maisky, Yo-Yo Ma et Keith Jarrett, liens rapprochés avec des compositeurs tels Philip Glass, ­Alfred Schnittke, Arvo Pärt, John Adams, Luigi Nono, Sofia Guibadulina, Valentin Silvestrov et Lera Auerbach : la feuille de route de Gidon Kremer en jette plein la vue. On pourrait imaginer un ­personnage inaccessible, qui sillonne les couloirs aériens de la planète, ­déposant des valises griffées dans les suites les plus luxueuses, revenu de tout. Moins de deux minutes d’entretien avec le violoniste suffisent pour saisir que, même à 63 ans, l’immobilisme est proscrit de sa démarche artistique. « Je n’ai pas de recette, mais j’aime toujours être ­surpris par les autres, suivre les gens et les artistes qui ont une vision, ­explique-t-il d’un débit rapide, presque fébrile.  C’est un grand ­privilège que de travailler avec des compositeurs, de comprendre ­comment une musique jamais entendue auparavant peut prendre vie à ­partir d’un manuscrit. » Aucun faux semblant, aucune formule ­convenue : pour lui, la musique doit impérativement atteindre l’âme et parler directement au cœur. Les artistes qui l’inspirent le plus – il n’hésite pas à évoquer dans un même souffle Maria Callas, Jacques Brel et Leonard Bernstein – « vivent la musique, se laissent brûler par elle ».

» La musique comme langue maternelle
Fils de musiciens professionnels membres de l’Orchestre de la radio nationale de Lettonie, l’une à demi allemande, l’autre juif balte, petit-fils du violoniste, professeur et historien de la musique suédois Karl Brückner, le jeune Gidon découvre très tôt le violon. « “Tu n’arriveras à quelque chose que si ­préalablement tu travailles assidûment”, disait mon père. Ma mère par contre disait : “Si tu travailles assidûment, tu auras une vie meilleure” », explique-t-il simplement dans son ­autobiographie Une enfance balte. « Je ne sais pas non plus si j’ai beaucoup ­appris de mon grand-père. Par contre, il est ­certain que sa ­curiosité envers tout ce qui était inédit et son ­intime ­conviction que l’on devait tout d’abord “écouter en soi” le son avant de le jouer ont contribué à forger le Gidon ­d’aujourd’hui. » Malgré les heures assidues de travail et le triple regard qui le scrute, le jeune garçon démontre déjà une curiosité insatiable. Il dévore les livres, maîtrise les échecs, aime être ­emporté par les films et crée même des « clubs » avec ses copains, histoire d’échanger, de s’interroger, d’avancer.

Après des études à l’École de musique de Riga, il est choisi pour intégrer la classe du légendaire David Oïstrakh au Conservatoire Tchaïkovski de Moscou. Les concours régionaux s’enchaînent, mais la consécration se laisse attendre. En 1965, il finit par tenir entre ses mains le fameux vase d’honneur tant convoité : « Je comprendrai plus tard qu’en art, il ne peut y avoir de“ victoire”, il ne peut y avoir d’Olympiades, avec un premier. » Prochaine étape : les concours internationaux. En 1967, il remporte le troisième prix au Concours Reine Élisabeth de ­Belgique et deux ans plus tard, le premier prix au Concours Paganini à Gênes. En 1970, sa victoire au Concours Tchaïkovski confirme son talent. « Le violon était mon guide et ma souffrance; avec lui, j'appris au fil du temps à transformer en musique ma ­solitude, mes rêves, mes blessures et mon humour. En lui, je cherchais ma tonalité, ma voix, ma musique. »

De façon presque boulimique, il s’approprie les grandes ­œuvres littéraires, fréquente les théâtres avec ferveur, étudie Stanislavski. Il continue d’écrire, notamment dans son journal. « On ne peut atteindre que par le travail cet état dans lequel on ressent les grandes visions. Pour moi, la vie est dans ce que l’on ressent », lui confie-t-il le 9 juillet 1963. Quelques mois plus tard, une heure à peine avant de monter sur scène pour le deuxième tour du Concours de la République, il note en vitesse : « Je dois 1) penser à Borisova [actrice de théâtre qui l’avait envouté]; 2) procurer de la joie aux gens; 3) montrer la beauté de l’œuvre; 4) penser à ce que le compositeur a voulu exprimer; 5) jouer pour moi. Bref – crache sur tout cela et pense à la musique ! » Cette passion des mots continue de l’habiter et, outre ce rappel de ses ­premières années (seul titre disponible pour l’instant en français), il a signé trois ouvrages qui reflètent sa philosophie artistique.

» Musicien sans frontières
Le feu qui dévore Gidon Kremer ne demande qu’à être partagé. « Être un violoniste peut être un peu ennuyeux – surtout pour moi », confiait-il à un journaliste il y a une trentaine d’années déjà. En 1981, il fonde Lockenhaus, un ­festival intime de musique de chambre (qui dure toujours). Pour ses 50 ans, il décide de s’offrir un présent unique : rassembler de jeunes musiciens des trois États baltes (Lettonie, ­Lituanie et Estonie) pour un été, leur permettre de travailler avec des compositeurs de la région et jouer avec eux. « Je ­n’aurais jamais pu rêver que Kremerata Baltica deviendrait ce qu’il est aujourd’hui. Quand j’ai rencontré ces jeunes gens, ai connu leur intensité, leur joie, j’ai compris dès le premier été que ce n’était pas quelque chose que je pourrais laisser tomber. Aujourd’hui, après 14 ans, ils font partie de ma famille. Bien sûr, au fil des ans, l’un ou l’autre des musiciens a pu être tenté de quitter l’ensemble mais, en fait, nous avons très peu de roulement. La majorité est fidèle et je dirais que les nouveaux venus le sont encore plus, car ils ont encore les yeux remplis de fraîcheur, ce qui permet à l’esprit de Kremerata Baltica de continuer à vivre. » L’orchestre de 27 musiciens donne une cinquantaine de concerts par année répartis en cinq ou six tournées (dont une des États baltes), enregistre avec une belle régularité (son dernier album, De profundis, a été lancé en septembre) et son excellence a été primée à de nombreuses reprises. En 2002, par exemple, After Mozart a remporté un Grammy et le prix ECHO. Souhaitant plus que tout repousser l’« orchestrite » qui afflige trop souvent les musiciens professionnels, Kremer mise avant tout sur la flexibilité, l’ouverture d’esprit et un ­certain goût du risque : « Je pense que, au-delà de l’intimité du son, jouer sans chef nous aide à communiquer entre nous lors de l’interprétation de partitions complexes, par exemple la Quatorzième Symphonie de Chostakovitch. »

Refusant le statu quo, il ne se voit vieillir que lorsqu’il s’arrête quelques secondes pour contempler ses cheveux gris dans le miroir. Au fond, il reste le jeune homme de 17 ans qui notait : « Mon but : procurer, à travers la musique, plus de joie aux gens […] L’art est pour l’instant le seul capable de nous procurer de la joie, une connaissance de nous-mêmes et de l’énergie. » Le futur de la musique classique ne l’inquiète pas outre mesure. « Je pense que la vraie musique survivra mais, bien sûr, les dangers sont multiples. D’une certaine manière, la commercialisation de la musique la dévalorise et les gens sont souvent distraits par des interprétations médiocres, des imitations, par le scintillement du vedettariat. À l’occasion, le nom des vedettes est plus ­important que la musique qu’ils représentent. Notre obligation est de servir le compositeur, de servir la musique, de ne pas tenter d’obtenir plus de crédit que les vrais créateurs mais, comme vous le savez très bien, les ventes misent toujours essentiellement sur la ­quantité, sur le nombre de disques écoulés. C’est une maladie que Kremerata Baltica essaie de combattre en restant honnête, tant au niveau de l’interprétation que du répertoire. »

Il espère convaincre les autres musiciens de ne pas céder aux sirènes de la facilité et de la tendance crossover. « Je ne pense pas que la musique doive être confinée à un ghetto de connaisseurs, mais je crois que nous devons nous battre pour défendre ses intérêts, ne pas laisser les impératifs commerciaux nous convaincre de ce qui se vend. » Mais n’est-il pas paradoxal d’à la fois souhaiter rejoindre le public grâce à des enregistrements et rester un puriste ? « Mes priorités n’ont jamais été orientées par les chiffres de ventes ou les ­positions au palmarès parce que, pour ­paraphraser une chanson connue, je ne suis pas un garçon matériel. J’ai la liberté de pouvoir faire mes propres choix et je me fie à mon goût et ma conviction. Quand je produis un album, je mets toujours l’accent sur la musique et non sur les titres ou la façon dont il sera présenté. » Pour lui, l’enregistrement se veut objet d’art et livret, couverture et musique doivent former un tout. « Les grandes étiquettes sont trop ­préoccupées par leurs chiffres de vente et, par conséquent, certaines de leurs couvertures, cela m’attriste de le dire, ressemblent à de la pornographie. ­J’essaie de rester fidèle aux valeurs avec lesquelles j’ai grandi. Si quelqu’un le comprend, merveilleux. Si quelqu’un considère le tout dépassé, tant pis pour lui, et non pour moi. »


Programme montréalais
Le programme montréalais de Kremerata Baltica comprend trois œuvres : un arrangement pour orchestre à cordes du Quatuor en do dièse mineur de Beethoven, Sogno di Stabat Mater, pour violon, alto, vibraphone et cordes de la ­compositrice russe Lera Auerbach et Silent Prayer, méditation interrompue pour violon, violoncelle, vibraphone, guitare basse, cordes et bande sonore de Giya Kancheli. Gidon Kremer dit : « C’est Kagel qui parlait des compositeurs qui composent pour d’autres compositeurs. Ce programme n’a rien à voir avec cette ­affirmation. Les compositeurs joués ont tous quelque chose à nous dire, sont profondément ancrés dans une tradition, mais possèdent des voix individuelles. Il est difficile de comparer quoi que ce soit à Beethoven, surtout le Quatuor opus 131, “sa Dixième Symphonie” selon Bernstein, mais les compositeurs sont des êtres vivants, vigoureux, pleins de sensibilité. Je suis persuadé que Beethoven était un homme de son temps, non indifférent à ce qui se passait autour de lui. C’est essentiel non seulement d’offrir une bouffée d’air frais aux musiciens de l’orchestre, mais de permettre au public d’être surpris. C’est pourquoi j’essaie toujours de construire des programmes ­comportant une certaine part de nouveauté. Je n’essaie pas de me montrer snob en programmant ces pièces, d’être ­excessivement intellectuel. Je tente simplement de garder la musique vivante autant que possible. J’espère que le public montréalais saura l’apprécier. »

Kremerata Baltica, 4 novembre.

Voir ici la version anglaise du texte

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Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Sararste Returns to Toronto Symphony with Stunning Shostakovich

By Paul E. Robinson

Classical Travels
Roy Thomson Hall, Toronto
October, 2010

Stravinsky: Fireworks
Sibelius: Violin Concerto
Shostakovich: Symphony No. 4
Henning Kraggerud, violin
Toronto Symphony Orchestra/Jukka-Pekka Saraste

The Toronto Symphony (TSO) has the good fortune to enjoy good relations with several of its former music directors. While current music director Peter Oundjian is now well-established, conductor laureate Andrew Davis is a frequent and welcome guest conductor, and less often, maestro Jukka-Pekka Saraste. Saraste, who was music director of the TSO from 1994 to 2001, recently succeeded Semyon Bychkov as conductor of the WDR Radio Orchestra in Cologne.

Solid Sibelius Follows Less than Stellar Stravinsky
On this occasion, Saraste's partnership with the TSO got off to a shaky start with a messy performance of the early Fireworks by Igor Stravinsky, but soon righted itself with a solid performance of the Sibelius Violin Concerto, with Norwegian violinist Henning Kraggerud as soloist. Saraste has often demonstrated his affinity with the music of his compatriot Sibelius and he did so again on this occasion.
Kraggerud played the concerto with impeccable intonation and beauty of tone, and I was reminded again how much Roy Thomson is improved from its original acoustical incarnation. Kraggerud’s violin projected with ease into the hall as compared with Anne-Sophie Mutter’s struggle to be heard last week in a concert I attended at Montreal’s lamentable Place des Arts. Although Kraggerud’s return visit to Toronto was impressive – he made his first appearance in 2007 - his playing did not convey much individuality.
I must confess, however, that what drew me to Roy Thomson Hall was not the opportunity to hear yet another performance of the Sibelius Violin Concerto, but the much rarer opportunity to hear Shostakovich’s remarkable Fourth Symphony.
Shostakovich Work Officially Condemned
During the 1920s and early 30s, Soviet artists were encouraged to experiment and produced work of startling originality. Then the roof fell in. The Soviet leadership became paranoid about losing power and feared any kind of individual freedom.
Dmitri Shostakovich was a fast-rising young composer during this period, but suddenly his brand of personal expression was out of favour. His opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk was officially condemned in 1936, and the Fourth Symphony had to be withdrawn before its premiere, amidst fears that its “formalism” would offend the authorities.
Shostakovich sought to make amends by quickly producing his Fifth Symphony the following year. While the Fifth remains the composer’s most popular work, the Fourth Symphony is a far more challenging and original piece.
During his TSO regime, Saraste, with his tousled hair and scruffy beard, had the look of a Bohemian. Today he has a decidedly aristocratic appearance, a new look of maturity and elegance. Appearances aside, he remains a serious and dedicated musician.
Unsettling, Exhausting, Exhilharating!
The Shostakovich Fourth is not only problematic in its origins but in its difficulty too. It makes extreme demands on the orchestra and on listeners. The TSO had obviously been very well prepared by Saraste and gave him maximum effort – with the exception of some disinterested back desk violinists – from start to finish. The solos for English horn, piccolo and trombone were all excellent.
The Shostakovich Symphony No. 4 starts with music that is far from being either fresh or original; workmanlike would be a more apt description. But just when one is about to give up on the piece – it is relentlessly noisy too - a wild fugue begins in the strings. Shostakovich suddenly vaults us from the mundane and artificial to the real and frightening. From there on the symphony constantly surprises us with its musical and expressive shifts, right through to the magical and ambiguous ending – strings holding a soft C major chord against the celesta playing a tune in C minor - which foreshadows the end of the slow movement of the Fifth Symphony.
The Fourth Symphony is a magnificent, seminal work in Shostakovich’s development and Saraste was totally inside it. No wonder the TSO musicians applauded him enthusiastically at the end. The audience too seemed to realize that they had heard something wonderful, even though it took some effort to stay with the composer’s long and unsettling journey.

Paul E. Robinson is the author of Herbert von Karajan: the Maestro as Superstar, and Sir Georg Solti: His Life and Music, both available at NEW for friends! The Art of the Conductor podcast.

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Sunday, 24 October 2010

Amici and Friends- Gravity and Grace

By L.H. Tiffany Hsieh

In more ways than one, no other small chamber ensemble is doing more than Toronto’s Amici to promote Canadian music and musicians.

Tishis was evident, once again, in the trio’s season-opening concert at Glenn Gould Studio Oct. 17.

Titled Gravity & Grace, the program began with core members Joaquin Valdepeñas (clarinet), David Hetherington (cello) and Serouj Kradjian (piano) in Canadian composer Allan Gordon Bell’s Trails of Gravity & Grace, a piece the composer wrote for the Amici combo in 2002.

Valdepeñas, Hetherington and Kradjian gave the meticulously structured five-movement piece — AscentCascadeVirgaEphemera and Flight — a sophisticated reading. They brought out each spine-chilling nuance and every tonal imagination opportunity given to them in the score, all the while demonstrating the natural beauty of the trio setting that isn’t heard nearly enough in concert halls.

As Amici tradition would have it, the next piece on the program saw a friend in Valdepeñas’ seat. Kradjian informed the audience that while Liszt isn’t usually associated with chamber music, the group wanted to celebrate his upcoming 200thbirthday in 2011. So they dug up a manuscript discovered 15 years ago and performed Liszt’s arrangement of his own Hungarian Rhapsody No. 9 for piano, violin and cello.

Violinist Benjamin Bowman, associate concertmaster with the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra and the newly appointed concertmaster with the National Ballet Orchestra, is a proven chameleon when it comes to switching hats on stage. The chemistry between him, Hetherington and Kradjian was unforced here; their bursting mix of sound á la Liszt was balanced and splendid even though the mediocre arrangement lacks the crispness, elegance and caprice of the original piano version.

The concert concluded with Schubert’s Tolstoy-long Octet in F major, D. 803 for winds and strings. The six-movement work featured Valdepeñas, Hetherington, Bowman, violinist Steven Sitarski, violist Teng Li, bassist Jeffrey Beecher, horn player Neil Deland and bassoonist Michael Sweeney.

Unlike Bell’s five-movement work earlier that is relatively short and sweet, Schubert’s octet is famous for its hour-long length, which sometimes, when the music wanders aimlessly, makes even the most loyal Schubert lovers sink a bit in their seats. But thanks to Amici and their friends, many of whom play together at the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, this octet performance came across solid and had some of the most beautiful and creamiest sounds of the entire concert.

Personally, I would have been satisfied if the concert ended with the third movementallegro vivace, an absolute climax of the concert that had both gravity and grace.

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