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Royal Philharmonic Society Music Awards 2012

Posted in BBC Radio 3, Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 18, 2012 by Robin Gosnall

Presented in association with BBC Radio 3, this year’s RPS Music Awards shortlists, for outstanding achievement in 2011, are drawn from across the UK and feature several major international names.

John Gilhooly, Chairman of the Royal Philharmonic Society, commented:

“The RPS Music Awards allow the classical music world to tell everyone about what we do best. And there is much to celebrate, both in terms of talent and innovation from UK based organisations and artists, and from the international stars who continue to enrich our cultural life so greatly. In the current climate, when the role of culture is being questioned in the face of very real practical considerations, it’s all the more important that we don’t take our rich musical life for granted, but shout loudly about our achievements in the concert hall, and as you will see from these shortlists, well beyond.”

Winners will be announced at the RPS Music Awards ceremony at the Dorchester Hotel on Tuesday 8 May. A special dedicated RPS Music Awards programme will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on Sunday 13 May, 2 pm.

Who’s on the shortlist?

Claudio Abbado is nominated for the RPS Music Award for Conductor for his revelatory performances of Bruckner with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra, alongside two conductors who have made significant contributions to two BBC orchestras: Gianandrea Noseda for his final season as Chief Conductor of the BBC Philharmonic and Donald Runnicles, for far reaching, adventurous programmes as Chief Conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and at the BBC Proms and the Aldeburgh Festival.

Two pianists contend for the prestigious RPS Music Award for Instrumentalist: Late-night Liszt at the BBC Proms with Canadian pianist Marc-André Hamelin and Maurizio Pollini’s five-concert Royal Festival Hall piano recital series encompassing Bach, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Debussy, Boulez, Schumann, Liszt and Stockhausen. German violinist Christian Tetzlaff completes the instrumentalist shortlist, for outstanding 2011 performances with the CBSO, London Philharmonic and Philharmonia Orchestras.

There’s a distinguished list of contenders for the award for Large-Scale Composition, with Harrison Birtwistle, Graham Fitkin, Jonathan Harvey and previous RPS chamber-scale composition award winner Rebecca Saunders in contention for the prestigious award. The stylistically varied Chamber-Scale Composition award shortlist features Thomas Adès, Sally Beamish, Martin Butler and Gary Carpenter.

Scordatura: Idle Thoughts

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 6, 2011 by Robin Gosnall

Scordatura (simply retuning of the strings from their conventional pitches) is not a technique exclusive to modern music; it dates back to the 16th century, when it was employed by French lutenists, then taken up for the violin by many composers, most notable of whom was Biber. After falling out of fashion in the 18th century (though employed for the viola part in Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante K. 364 for violin and viola), many 19th century violin treatises mention it (including that of Baillot from 1834), and it was a speciality of Paganini, and after him de Bériot, Vieuxtemps, and others. Also employed in Saint-Saens’ Danse Macabre, Mahler’s Fourth Symphony and Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben.

The technique is also common in much non-classical music, especially amongst folk fiddlers in various places. It’s questionable how meaningful the term is when alternative tunings can themselves become standard (as apparently an a-e-a-e tuning is in parts of Scotland and North America).

It is also impossible to play Nick Drake’s songs on the guitar because nobody knows how he tuned the instrument for different songs.

The Biber Rosary Sonatas are surely the classic examples where each sonata is tuned differently. On the only occasion when I heard them performed live the violinist (Elizabeth Wallfisch) had three different violins, each of which was immediately tuned for its own next sonata once it had been played, laid down, and then retuned again when its turn came round. It’s actually a bit of a palaver which detracts a bit from the whole performance because so much time is spent tuning the instruments.

Some Italian words that used to begin “dis” now begin with just “s”. So scordatura probably used to be discordatura.

J.S. Bach: Chaconne from Partita No. 2

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

Johannes Brahms, in a letter to Clara Schumann, said about the Chaconne:

On one stave, for a small instrument, the man writes a whole world of the deepest thoughts and most powerful feelings. If I imagined that I could have created, even conceived the piece, I am quite certain that the excess of excitement and earth-shattering experience would have driven me out of my mind.


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.

Should a gentleman offer a Tiparillo to a violinist?

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

After a tough evening with the Beethoven crowd, she loves to relax and listen to her folk-rock records. Preferably, on your stereo. She’s open-minded. So maybe tonight you offer her a Tiparillo. She might like it – the slim cigar with the white tip. Elegant. And, you dog, you’ve got both kinds on hand. Tiparillo Regular and new Tiparillo M with menthol – her choice of mild smoke or cold smoke. Well? Should you offer? After all, if she likes the offer, she might start to play. No strings attached.

It was George Orwell, my favourite writer, who once described advertising as the rattling of a stick inside a swill bucket.

Gidon Kremer

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , on March 1, 2010 by Robin Gosnall

Herbert Von Karajan is quoted as saying that Gidon Kremer was, for him, the greatest violinist he ever worked with. (Well, until Anne-Sophie Mutter arrived on the scene.)

I haven’t heard him a great deal but, although he can undoubtedly play with phenomenal skill, I’ve been dissatisfied with several of his performances.

There are many living violinists I’d rather hear, e.g. Hilary Hahn, Jennifer Frautschi, Rolf Schulte, Frank Peter Zimmerman, Giuliano Carmignola, Nicola Benedetti.

Kremer’s tone is too “wiry” for me, though I know he’s a fine musician.

On which note, Renée Fleming has just been touted – though probably not by her own publicity machine – as “voice of the century”, and we’re barely ten years into it!

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