Archive for classical

Search terms for 7 days ending 2011-07-18

Posted in Blog Stats, Culture, Food, Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 18, 2011 by Robin Gosnall

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BBC Proms 2011: Highlights

Posted in BBC Radio 3, Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 27, 2011 by Robin Gosnall

Pianist Lang Lang, described by BBC Proms director Roger Wright as “arguably the best known classical artist in the world”, will become the first artist ever to perform at both the Proms in the Park and the Royal Albert Hall on the same night.

Classical music meets comedy at the Proms for the first time. Tim Minchin, the Australian performer, presents an evening of music and laughs with Sue Perkins, cabaret duo Kit and The Widow, pianist Danny Driver, soprano Susan Bullock and the BBC Concert Orchestra.

Ivan Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra will take requests from the crowd in a highly unusual late night Prom. The audience will choose from a list of up to 300 pieces, none of which the orchestra has rehearsed.

The Spaghetti Western Orchestra will use rubber gloves and coat hangers to perform extracts from Sergio Leone film soundtracks. Roger Wright, controller of BBC Radio 3 and the director of the Proms, called them “five cracking musicians”.

Havergal Brian’s vast Gothic Symphony which has been rarely performed since it was composed in the 1920s will be played on 17 July when the 1,000 musicians required – including two orchestras and 10 choirs – are marshalled. Wright said: “Once we have fitted in the performers there will be hardly any room for the audience.”

Rossini’s William Tell is another work hardly ever performed. The opera lasts nearly five hours. Audiences will have a rare chance to hear this gripping story of Swiss nationalism conducted by the Royal Opera House music director, Antonio Pappano.

I can’t go on …

Let’s all listen to Schoenberg …

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 18, 2011 by Robin Gosnall

I enjoy a lot of Schoenberg’s music, in the broadest sense of “enjoy”. It’s not really music to relax or wind down to, it can be so intensely personal and subjective, especially the works of the free atonal period, exhibiting a plethora of intense emotions which tend towards the dark side. I don’t expect any more than a minority of classical music listeners will ever want to listen to it on a regular basis, but I think it is unique and meaningful music (if very much a product of a particular time and place) and does have an importance for that reason.

Certainly all art is very much a product of its time and place – the question is whether it still has anything to say to people here and now? That sort of sensibility that comes through in Schoenberg – rootlessness, alienation, inhabiting a certain precipice within “high culture” and the social world it inhabits, etc., certainly speaks to me, but I don’t find it wholly surprising if many others don’t find it relevant to them.

Schoenberg’s life beyond the concert-hall – his listing by the Third Reich as “degenerate”, his escape to the United States, his life as an émigré, his teaching there, his prominent position as a Jewish refugee – brought his name to a greater prominence than many of his contemporaries. His name became a byword for a kind of purposed complexity and intellectual rigour in music … to a wider public who’d never heard a note of it, but had heard of Arnold Schoenberg.

And they fervently believed that this Schoenberg man represented the very summation of everything they wouldn’t like in music, and should be avoided like the plague.


Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 21, 2011 by Robin Gosnall

Think of the Askenazys, Mravinskys, Petrenkos, Kondrashins, Luganskys, Gergievs of this world.

Do you think they find a hidden voice in Russian classical music that no other musician can hear?

Many experts would dismiss any suggestion that nationality has any relevance whatever when it comes to performing music but then you think of all those Russian musicians and orchestras and you have to think again. There is no question in my view that the Russians seem to have a direct line to the composer’s soul (especially apparent in Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich) that no other nationality seems to possess.

At the same time, I also wonder if the St Petersburg band and other Russian outfits get fed up with playing their compatriots’ music when on tour. Wouldn’t they like to let rip with a little Mahler, or Strauss, or Elgar, occasionally?

If you talk to Russian musicians there is a real sense of respect when they tell you that “I studied with X who was the favourite student of Oistrakh” and this kind of thing. One often gets the impression of how seriously they regarded the handing down of the flame in terms of teaching – obviously with a strong emphasis on Russian music – and this did impart a tradition in performing their native composers.

Alhough in earlier times, the results of this lineage could be surprising. From the early professionalisation of music-making with the founding of the St Petersburg Conservatory in 1862, and that in Moscow three years later, Russian instrumental pedagogy was for several decades heavily staffed by foreigners (especially in St Petersburg, somewhat less so in Moscow). One of these was the Jewish-Hungarian, Leopold Auer, himself a student of Joseph Joachim. Now Auer, whilst heavily influenced by Joachim’s teaching, modified the so-called “Joachim grip”, with the arm very close to the body, somewhat locked in (which was taught quite extensively in the Berlin Musikhochschule, which Joachim founded). Both Auer and Joachim inveighed vociferously against the use of continuous vibrato. Yet three of Auer’s most important students – Mischa Elman, Efram Zimbalist and Jascha Heifetz – played a very significant role in establishing this practice towards its becoming the norm in the 1920s and 1930s. Within two generations of teachers we have gone from Joachim to Heifetz – a pretty major transformation in my opinion. Auer has been characterised as the most important teacher of the violin in Russia prior to the Soviet era (I know more about Russian pedagogy between 1862 and 1917 than afterwards, but certainly various people have suggested there was a very significant shift after the later date with the new types of politicisation of musical life), yet his own style of playing and teaching seems very far from those that developed at a later date.

Similarly the Polish Theodor Leschetizky, a student of Czerny and a teacher at St Petersburg from the very opening of the Conservatory (then later in Vienna), could teach Ossip Gabrilowitsch, Mark Hambourg, Ignacy Paderewski and Artur Schnabel – all extremely different players.

Now I do believe one can talk of schools of playing, especially centered around particular teaching institutions (certain ways of playing have been predominantly taught in London, Paris, Vienna, St Petersburg, Moscow, New York, etc.) and also the aesthetic norms and demands of various localised musical scenes (certain types of player or styles of playing tend to be favoured depending upon who is awarding prizes, running concert series, radio stations, etc.). And the same for composition. But I’m not so convinced about how much the lineage counts with the best players, many of whom often move in a quite different direction to their teachers.

Classical Music: Who Cares?

Posted in Food, Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 23, 2010 by Robin Gosnall

A survey reveals that Britons are clueless about classical music. A third of participants have never listened to the genre and 4% wrongly identified a type of Italian cheese ball as a composer.

One in three people (33%) have never listened to classical music and 4% of those surveyed wrongly identified Bocconcini – small Italian cheese balls – as a composer. The Reader’s Digest survey of 1,516 people also found that most were unable to link composers to their masterpieces. Three out of four (75%) did not know that Elgar wrote Pomp and Circumstance, and 27% did not even know he was a composer. Sixty-eight percent did not know Tchaikovsky wrote the 1812 Overture.

The Welsh were more likely to own some Vivaldi or Wagner, with 72% possessing at least one classical CD compared with the British average of 59%.

Most participants (61%) said they liked classical music, with the older generation much keener than the younger generation.

Gill Hudson, editor-in-chief of Reader’s Digest, said:

As our survey shows, there’s clearly an appetite for classical music. I suspect that a combination of uninspired teaching and the elitism that surrounds much of the genre has alienated many people, hence the lack of knowledge of some of the greatest classical music and composers of all time. Classical music at its best can be moving, life-enhancing and uplifting. It should be accessible to all.

(Press Association)

Handel & Hendrix

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 17, 2010 by Robin Gosnall

The curators and administrators of the Handel House Museum in Mayfair, London, are now preparing to pack up their files, dismantle their desks and open up the rooms where Hendrix lived to visitors to mark the 40th anniversary of his death.

Twin blue plaques on the outside wall pay tribute to the extraordinary flatmates, separated by two centuries, who lived in 23 and 25 Brook Street, once separate buildings but long since interconnected.

Independent Record Store Day

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 16, 2010 by Robin Gosnall

Independent Record Store Day celebrates these fast-disappearing bastions of alternative culture. Click the link and read leading musicians on what their favourite record shops mean to them.

I have fond memories of Vincent’s, a record shop specialising in classical music, hidden away up Needless Alley in Birmingham city centre.

Why are there no shops like this nowadays?

Back when the classical album was an important sub-set of music buying, the listener was prepared to invest in their recordings. This was in the tacit understanding that paying a premium meant getting a better quality product, and paying those who made that product a living wage.

Then everyone got greedy. Performers began to act like celebrities and demand celebrity salaries. At the same time, buyers started bargain hunting and the whole shooting match began to collapse in upon itself.

The problem going forward is one of educating the next generation. Good, independent record shops (like Vincent’s) had a knowledgeable staff who could make customers progress from genre to genre and deepen the listener’s interest and understanding of the music. I have the guy from a little specialist shop called Musgrave’s Records to thank for taking my teenage interest in Emerson Lake & Palmer into an interest in Aaron Copland and from there pointing me towards Samuel Barber, Albinoni and then onward. Were I simply buying off iTunes or Amazon, my teenage interest in ELP would have gone no further than the limits of prog rock.

His shop closed long ago, because people kept asking for premium products at discount prices.

This is the key problem. Classical music does not sell in the sort of numbers to make price discounting economically viable for most labels. This means the output and scope of a label is either reduced to pop classics (that sell comparatively well), forced to sell back catalogue and not much else or follow the Naxos model of recording the Smolensk Symphony Orchestra or the Latvian Dinner Ladies String Quartet because they are cheap.

The majority of classical recordings currently released sell less than 10,000 at the moment. With those numbers, the costs involved in making a classical recording are difficult to recoup at premium price, but you want to pay as little as possible for these recordings. How do you expect this to last?

Is it any wonder classical labels and classical stores are closing?


Rare Rolling Stones track released for Record Store Day

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