Classical Feed


8482382664_20a88e4311_oA couple of days late on this, but just learned that Latvian conductor Mariss Jansons died Sunday at his home in St. Petersburg, after many years of on-and-off health issues. He was 76. Famed for his passionate, intense interpretations of the music of Brahms, Strauss, Mahler and more, Jansons was one of the most revered conductors in the world, regularly leading the Vienna and Berlin Philharmonics, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (of which he was music director from 2004-15) and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, which he led from 2003 until his death. Indeed, just last month, Jansons heroically led the BRSO in a program of Strauss and Brahms at Carnegie Hall, in what turned out to be his final concert. (He canceled a scheduled second concert the following night due to his illness.) Thanks to WQXR, you can hear the full concert below.

I was fortunate to catch Jansons' magic early on, while he was music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra from 1997-2004. In Pittsburgh, he was simply known as "Mariss", with the same rock star status normally reserved for its championship football and hockey players. If not quite as old school as Georg Solti or George Szell, Jansons had exacting standards, and was as demanding on his players as he was on himself.

“Nothing was ever good enough,” Pittsburgh Symphony senior vice president of artistic planning Robert Moir told the Washington Post in 2013. “It was a constant quest for that impossible, elusive perfection. No matter how blazingly outstanding the performance was — and they all were; I don’t remember a bad concert in the time he was here — I don’t remember him being satisfied.”

Jansons brought energy and deep humanity to the music of Tchiakovsky, Shostakovich - and, above all, Beethoven. I'll never forget his final concert at Heinz Hall, where he conducted a towering Beethoven 9th and was showered with rose petals as he exited stage left for the last time. Fortunately, I had several more opportunities to hear him in New York, as Carnegie's Clive Gillinson made sure he appeared here every season with one of the above mentioned orchestras. A difficult, deeply felt loss.

Times obit here. A tribute from Clive Gillinson here. More from his 2013 concert with the Royal Concertgebouw at Carnegie here

"The Love Suicides at Sonezaki" at the White Light Festival

by Steven Pisano

Sonezaki_Shinju-hatsu_toku042.final_copyright Hiroshi Sugimoto-Courtesy of Odawara Art Foundation(© Hiroshi Sugimoto/Courtesy of Odawara Art Foundation)

2019 marks the 10th anniversary season of Lincoln Center's White Light Festival, offering works from around the world in music, theater, and dance that explore art’s power to "reveal the many dimensions of our interior lives." The festival opened this past weekend and continues through November 24.

The initial presentation, The Love Suicides at Sonezaki, is a Bunraku play written by the esteemed Japanese dramatist Chikamatsu Monzaemon (1653-1725). A soy sauce company sales clerk named Tokubei and a prostitute named Ohatsu are in love, but many forces conspire to keep them apart. So, they decide that if they cannot be together in this world, they will commit suicide and be together in the next life. The show was such a big hit when it was first presented in 1703, that numerous young couples were known to commit suicide in the nearby forest, which caused the Tokugawa shogunate 20 years later to prohibit any further performances--a ban that lasted until 1955 (232 years later!).

This U.S. premiere was created by artistic director Hiroshi Sugimoto, one of the world's most celebrated photographers and architects, as well as a theater producer. The music was written by Seiji Tsurusawa, who is known as a Living National Treasure.

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"The Love for Three Oranges" at Opera Philadelphia

by Steven Pisano

20190918-DSC03872(All photos by Steven Pisano.)

Opera Philadelphia's recent production of Sergei Prokofiev's "The Love for Three Oranges" was a frothy, fun concoction, less an opera than a zany musical comedy. Its source story had its origins in the commedia dell'arte, which Prokofiev, writing in the early 1920s, spiced up with a fair dose of absurdist surrealism.

In a nutshell, there is a handsome young Prince who mopes around in bed, his malaise brought on by reading too much serious poetry. The doctors in the court of the King of Clubs, the Prince's father, prescribe that he can only be cured by laughter. But though many in the kingdom try, none can make this sourpuss chuckle, until one day the witch Fata Morgana, who is involved sideways in a plot to kill the Prince, is knocked over and shows her underwear, which of course makes the Prince break out into an uproarious peal of laughter which finally breaks his grumpy mood. Pissed off at being laughed at, though, Fata Morgana curses the Prince to fall in love with three oranges.

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New York Philharmonic Plays ‘Close Encounters & Psycho’

by Nick Stubblefield

Close encounters jpeg

The New York Philharmonic delighted enthusiastic crowds at Lincoln Center’s David Geffen Hall two weeks ago with the return of its popular “Art of the Score” series, in which classic films are presented with live orchestral accompaniment. This year's "Art of the Score" featured John Williams’ music for Stephen Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Bernard Herrmann’s score for Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. The scores are starkly different — Close Encounters is grandiose, Psycho intimate and cerebral - but each has firmly cemented its place in American popular culture.  

Close Encounters calls for a large orchestra, including a massive battery of percussion that includes tuned metal, tam-tam, anvil, and tuned logs. It also features choral music (performed here by Musica Sacra), which heightened the film’s drama by juxtaposing tone clusters and heavy vibrato with calm and airy long tones. Musica Sacra's dynamic performance underlined the human qualities that have made this film resonate with audiences for decades. 

The Philharmonic’s percussionists injected the performance with adrenaline. Sections of murmuring, dissonant strings were punctured by thunderous percussion hits and slams. Among all of the rich and layered performances, principal tubist Alan Baer may have had the greatest weight on his shoulders: namely, the famous five-note "doorbell" motif that the alien spaceships emit as communication. Fortunately, Baer rose to the occasion with sparkling tone and joyful exuberance. Each note rung out through the hall, showcasing the surprisingly decent acoustics of Geffen Hall.

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