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April 2013

Dresden Staastkapelle Perform Bruckner 8 at Carnegie Hall

Dresdesn Staatskapelle, Carnegie Hall

"I can’t imagine any list of the world’s great orchestras without the Dresden Staatskapelle at or near the top." — Nikolai Zander

It goes without saying that Germany has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to world-class orchestras. Beyond what is arguably the world's greatest orchestra, the Berlin Philharmonic, there is the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, the Bavarian Radio Orchestra, the Staatskapelle Berlin—all regularly ranked among the greatest orchestras in the world.

And then there is the Dresden Staatskapelle, founded in 1548 as the court orchestra for the Elector of Saxony. Beyond its distinctive, dark-wooden sound, the Staatskapelle is famous for its association with composers such as Richard Wagner and Richard Strauss, both of whom led the orchestra and premiered many of their operas with them. (Wagner used to refer to the Staatskapelle as his "golden harp.") The orchestra is also famous for being a favorite of conductors such as Wilhelm Furtwangler, Sir Colin Davis, and Herbert von Karajan, all of whom who helped maintain and shape the orchestra's brilliant sound.

Last summer, the Dresden baton was passed to Christian Thielemann: a Berlin native who, despite being rarely seen on these shores, has long been the poster boy for Teutonic music. In addition to heavy speculation that he'll succeed Simon Rattle in Berlin when he retires in 2018, Thielemann, 53, has been the musical advisor to the Bayreuth Festival since 2010, where he'll lead a special concert on the 200th anniversary of Wagner's birth next month. (I'll be there.)

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Christian Thielemann Leads Staatskapelle Dresden in All-Brahms Program

by Michael Cirigliano II

Staatskapelle Dresden, Carnegie Hall, Feast of Music, Batiashvili

Photo credit: Matthias Creutziger

After a rash of heavy, Mahlerian programming from many of the touring orchestras passing through Carnegie Hall this winter, it was incredibly inviting to see conductor Christian Thielemann bring the Staatskapelle Dresden to the American stage for an intimate evening of Brahms. Although the program’s three works only span seven years during the composer’s late period, the tone of each work showcased the rich diversity of Brahms’ character, encompassing the drunken revelry of the Academic Festival Overture, the never-ending lyrical flow of the Violin Concerto, and the staunch formalism of the Fourth Symphony.

After winning over the Mostly Mozart Festival audience last summer with a pristine performance of Beethoven’s seminal Violin Concerto, Lisa Batiashvili returned to New York with a completely different temperament in hand for the Brahms. Although there were a number of similarly elegant moments across the two works for the soloist to display a delicate and mature sense of phrasing and color variation, there was a heightened sense of drama and aggression delivered in the Brahms, from double-stopped minor-key marches to the finale’s fiery gypsy dance and bold choice of the timpani-heavy Ferruccio Busoni cadenza.

Even from the violin’s first entrance after the orchestral exposition, Batiashvili was ready to take charge, and the initial phrase’s wide-ranging melodic span and impeccable intonation stopped the orchestra in its tracks. Communicating closely with Thielemann throughout the work, Batiashvili exhibited a great amount of freedom within her lines—creating many improvisatory gestures that never veered outside of the orchestra’s solid metric framework. Every contour was organically phrased, especially in the central Adagio, where the soloist and oboist Céline Moinet traded captivating performances of the tender and iconic principal melody.

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Caroline Shaw Wins Pulitzer Prize for Music

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Aaron Copland. Samuel Barber. John Adams. And now, Caroline Shaw. Shaw, 30, today joined the elite fraternity of American composers to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music for her Partita for 8 Voices, which she wrote for vocal group Roomful of Teeth, of which she's a member. In doing so, she became only the fifth woman and the youngest-ever recipient of the award since its debut in 1943. It's also, happily, the first-ever Pulitzer for New Amsterdam Records, which put out the album the day before Sandy wreaked havoc on its Red Hook studio. 

For those with short memories, the Pulitzer Prize—long considered this country's most prestigious composition prize —was hijacked for decades by a cabal of white men, all from the school of difficult music better appreciated than heard. Things had gotten so bad that by the time Adams won the award in 2003 for On the Transmigration of Souls, he expressed "ambivalence bordering on contempt," because "most of the country's greatest musical minds" have been ignored in favor of academic music.

Much like when Bang on a Can's David Lang won his Pulitzer in 2008 for the little match girl passion, or Steve Reich the following year for Double Sextet, Caroline's prize signals that its a new day for American music. I mean, this is a composition that was premiered not in a concert hall, but at a contemporary-art museum. And, it's damned tasty, too.

Congrats, Caroline. Hope you're able to squeeze in a little celebration after your ACME rehearsal tonight. 


The Flatlanders Bring Grassroots to Zankel Hall

by David Artavia

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West Texas was alive and well Saturday night at Carnegie Hall, with The Flatlanders performing as part of WFUV’s Live at Zankel concert series. Before the show even started, the energy was palpable with excitement, as the trio imported loyal fans unlike I’ve ever seen lately at a concert. With decades of experience in the industry between them, the group welcomed the Carnegie audience like first timers—grateful and enthusiastic.

Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Butch Hancock, and Joe Ely walked out on stage to roaring applause, and just by listening to the tone of their voices, you knew that The Flatlanders had experienced life and all its virtues. One might not think that this grassroots acoustic band would be able to make the prestigious Zankel Hall into something country, but they absolutely did. And, although each member has achieved success in their own right as pioneers in country music, the night was an homage to growing up in Texas together as childhood friends—a great reminder of how the genre was born.

The audience knew every word that they sang, and it wasn't long before Zankel became a county fair, full of “yeehaws” and screaming requests. During their first set they sang audience favorites like "Julia," "Not That Much Has Changed," and "Hopes Up High" with tremendous response. Afterwards, they came downstage and sat on bar stools—each with their guitars, of course. One by one, they told stories of the old days and played a number of their newly recorded songs.

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