Bob Dylan Wins Nobel Prize in Literature

Bob Dylan Nobel Prize
O'Neill. Faulkner. Hemingway. Dylan.

Ending years of what many felt was nothing more than wild speculation, the Swedish Academy awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature this morning to Bob Dylan for “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” Dylan is the first American to win the prize since Toni Morrison in 1993. More importantly - especially for music lovers - he is the first-ever musician to win the award, given annually in recognition of "the most outstanding work in an ideal direction."

When asked if Dylan truly deserved the award, the Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, Sara Danius, had this to say:

"Of course he deserves it! He is a great poet in the grand English poetic tradition. He's been at it for 54 years now, reinventing himself constantly...If you look back 2,500 years or so, you discover Homer and Sappho, who wrote poetic texts that were meant to be performed, often together with instruments. It is the same way with Bob Dylan. He can be read, and he should be read. The times are-a-changing, perhaps."

When asked if there were particular examples of Dylan's work which swayed the jury, Danius cited Blonde on Blonde (1966) as "an extraordinary example of his brilliant way of rhyming and putting together refrains, and his pictorial thinking." 

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Preview: New York Philharmonic Plays Kaija Saariaho at the Park Avenue Armory

CircleMap_900x400_1It's been four years since the New York Philharmonic appeared at the Park Avenue Armory, in a concert designed to take advantage of the unique acoustic properties of the Wade Thompson Drill Hall. The Phil returns to the Armory tomorrow and Friday with an all-Kaija Saariaho program led by the Phil's composer in residence - and Saariaho's longtime champion and fellow Finn - Esa-Pekka Salonen. Saariaho, who is embarking on a major season with the upcoming Met premiere of her 2000 opera L'Amour de Loin, will also make use of the cavernous Drill Hall in this performance. According to the Armory:

"The program features the New York premieres of Circle Map (2012), a new work for orchestra and electronics that builds out from six stanzas by the 13th-century Persian poet Rumi, and D’om le Vrai Sens (2010), written for and performed here while moving through the audience and orchestra by clarinetist Kari Krikku. The evening also includes the U.S. premiere of Lumière et Pesanteur (2009) as well as Lonh (1996), a work that combines medieval love poetry sung by rising soprano Jennifer Zetlan with an electronic score that manipulates sounds from nature to evoke a distant, luminous landscape.

Tickets and additional info available on the Armory website. (There is also a discussion with the composer and designers before Friday's performance.) Meet the Composer's excellent podcast on Saariaho can be heard below. 

Simon Rattle and the Philadelphia Orchestra at Carnegie Hall

If you were to guess which American orchestra is the only one Sir Simon Rattle - by wide acclaim the world's preeminent conductor - conducts with any regularity, you would be forgiven for not automatically thinking of Philadelphia. Barely a week after a brief but rancorous strike, and only five years removed from bankruptcy, The Philadelphia Orchestra hasn't exactly been a model of stability in recent years. But, for all of their financial turmoil, this ensemble has lost none of its musicianship.

"It's an orchestra that I have long loved," Rattle said recently to Carnegie Hall's Jeremy Geffen, "and we've had a very profound connection over the years since the first time I went to conduct them in Mahler's Ninth (in 1993). But, it's also one of the great orchestras of the world, and one of the most generous."

Rattle, who's in town to conduct six performances of Tristan und Isolde at the Met, appeared with the Philadelphia Orchestra last night at Carnegie Hall. The concert was part of Rattle's ongoing Perspectives series at Carnegie, during which he's had the opportunity to present music in various guises, including two performances next month with that other band he usually plays with. Given Simon's long relationship with both Mahler and Philadelphia, his choice of programming last night wasn't particularly surprising (if a bit overfamiliar): Mahler's 6th symphony.

This 80 minute symphony is full of drama and darkness, which Rattle drew out from the score even more than you might usually hear. In the first movement (Allegro energico), Simon placed the cowbells and tubular bells offstage, making them much more faint but also more haunting, like walking through an Alpine meadow at dawn (or, if you prefer, dusk).

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Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela Opens Carnegie Hall Season

IMG_5150When I first saw the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela at their Carnegie Hall debut nine years ago, there was a sense among those in attendance that we were at "a historic evening...witness to an orchestra of remarkable capabilities, with a conductor who is a force to be reckoned with." At the time, the SBSOV was perhaps the world's greatest youth orchestra, the byproduct of Venezuela's famed El Sistema music education program, which provides free instruments and instruction to children from all walks of life. 

A few things have changed in the past nine years. The SBSOV is now a full-time professional orchestra, with a recording contract and a touring schedule that brings them to all corners of the globe. Their music director, Gustavo Dudamel, regularly leads the world's greatest orchestras, most notably as music director of the L.A. Philharmonic. More darkly, a succession of corrupt regimes has given birth to a humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, in which the SBSOV - which receives much of its funding from the government - is seen by some as complicit

It was in this context that the SBSOV returned last week to open Carnegie Hall's 126th season with a gala concert on Thursday night that played to the orchestra's still-youthful exuberance. (They also performed on Friday and Saturday.) Dudamel, speaking from the stage to the black tie audience, expressed deep humility and gratitude for the invitation to perform on opening night, calling it "a historic moment for our system, for our country...a dream come true," while also offering a sense of the orchestra's ongoing mission. "Our life is music. In these turbulent times, we have music, art. We love music - that's it."

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