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Claude Debussy

Tuesday, January 24, 2017


Norman Lebrecht - Slipped disc

January 4

Vienna’s favourite maestro dies, aged 92

Norman Lebrecht - Slipped discWe regret to report the death of Georges Pretre, an elegant French conductor who was popular wherever he went – nowhere more so than Vienna, which adored him. He died this afternoon, at home in France. Raised in northern France, Georges was director of the Opéra-Comique in Paris from 1955 to 1959. He was a stalwart of Chicago’s Lyric Opera, 1959 to 1971, and was music director of the Paris Opéra for one season, 1970-71. He was principal conductor of the Wiener Symphoniker from 1986 to 1991. He was a regular at La Scala (see below). Mostly he freelanced around the world’s leading opera houses, giving fun and having it. He was the acme of French style in all that he did, with an infallible sense of rhythm. In terms of leaving a mark on music history, he gave the world premiere of Poulenc’s La Voix humaine. His farewell performance: From La Scala: Georges Pretre, one of the greatest conductors of our time, had a fifty-year relationship with La Scala. He made his debute in 1966 conducting a legendary production of Gounod’s Faust with Mirella Freni, Nicolai Gedda and Nicolai Ghiaurov, directed by Jean-Louis Barrault. Two years later he led Turandot directed by Margherita Wallmann, and, a few days later, Die Walküre with Régine Crespin and James King. In 1969, Roméo et Juliette by Berlioz with Liliana Cosi in the choreography of George Skibine, in 1970 Sanson et Dalila in Saint-Saëns with Shirley Verrett and Pier Miranda Ferraro in 1972 with Carmen Fiorenza Cossotto, in 1973 and 1977 Pelléas et Mélisande by Debussy directed by Gian Carlo Menotti in 1975 in Puccini’s La bohème, directed by Franco Zeffirelli with Luciano Pavarotti and Ileana Cotrubaş, in 1976 Massenet’s Werther with Alfredo Kraus and Elena Obraztsova, Madama Butterfly in 1978 and immediately after Manon Lescaut by Puccini with Sylvia Sass and Plácido Domingo in a direction of Piero Faggioni. In 1978 Ravel L’enfant et les sortileges and L’heure espagnole; back in 1981 for Cavalleria rusticana and Pagliacci, directed by Zeffirelli with Domingo and Obraztsova and in 1982 for Les Troyens by Berlioz in the direction of Luca Ronconi. The last operatic commitments of Prêtre at La Scala were Turandot directed by Keita Asari in 2001 and Pelleas et Melisande directed by Pierre Médecin, but he continued to give countless concerts with the orchestra. His last, triumphant concert took place on 22 February 2016. Georges Pretre was due to return to the podium for the Symphonic Season of the Teatro alla Scala on 13, 15 and 17 March 2017.

On An Overgrown Path

January 19

Audiences are not backward children

Among those who shared the post expressing Warren Cohen's frustration at myopic concert planning was violinist Johannes Pramsohler. His Facebook share elicited a comment from baritone Stéphane Degout who is seen above. Stéphane is a big hitter in the operatic world and his comment contains an important message for all those who capitulate to the tyranny of programme planners and marketing experts; so I have posted it below in translation*. As Virgil Thomson told us, never underestimate the public's intelligence, baby, and never overestimate its information. Forty minutes of Debussy's songs last year, forty minutes of Poulenc/Apollinaire plus a trio of contemporary works in the same programme this year. Programme planners sometimes tell me that my recitals are too rarified, too intellectual, and that no one will come. But the rooms are full and the audience loves it. The tastes of audiences are often misjudged: the public are not backward children who only like what they know, and who have no appetite for the new or willingness to adapt. Quite the contrary! I was often told my programmes “will not interest anyone” and was asked for programmes mixing opera arias and more popular pieces. But I always refused; because I believe one must first acknowledge the audience's intelligence instead of acceding to the wishes of a programme planner who has a narrow outlook and an inbuilt fear of risk.* Stéphane Degout's comment was in French; I take full responsibility for the loose translation. Photo is via IMG Artists. Any copyrighted material is included for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.






Classical iconoclast

January 8

Barbican Spring programme picks

At last, green shoots of Spring emerging from the gloom. The Barbican Spring schedule offers plenty if hope First off from 13-15 January, Simon Rattle conducts György Ligeti Le Grand Macabre, with the LSO and a strong cast that headed by Peter Hoare as Piet the Pot. I love Ligeti's quirky music and enjoyed then ENO production by Alex Ollé and Las furas del Baus back in 2009  Read more here   That was the one with the giant woman whose body "was" the stage.  Le Grand Macabre is as frustrating as it is inventive,  so staging it takes some doing  But I'm not sure what Peter Sellars will do to it  No doubt it attracts the mega trendy crowd as it's selling fast though very expensive.  On 19/1, however, and just as high profile, Rattle is conducting  Mahler Symphony no 6 together with the world premiere of Mark-Anthony Turnage's Remembering 'in memoriam Evan Scofield.  This is a keynote concert, which will also be streamed on the LSO website, a wonderful development, since it brings the orchestra to the world Another Britisn music world premiere the next day, 201, Philip Cashian's The Book of Ingenious Devices, conducted by Oliver Knussen, together with Strauss Macbeth and Elgar Falstaff  An intriguing programme in true Ollie style - will Cashian's piece have Shakespearean connections ?  Huw Watkins is the soloist so presumably it's a piano concerto of some sort   A big threme this season is "Russian Revolutionaries",  so plenty of Shostakovich, but more unusually, Galina Ustvolskaya's Symphony no 2 with the Melos Ensemble at LSO St Luke's on Jan 21st  That weekend, a Philip Glass Total Immersion with better choices than some recent Total Immersions. All ears and eyes alert for Jonas Kaufmann's four day residency at the Barbican at the beginning of February That's been sold out for months, so hopefully, he'll be well enough   Wagner, Strauss (Vier letzte Lieder, nach !)  he's also doing an "in conversation"  Sakari Oramo with the BBCSO and Antonio Pappano with the LSO, both interesting non standard programmes, and Daniel Harding weithn the LSO on 15/1 with Rachmaninov Symphony no 2 and another Mark-Anthony Turnage premiere,  Håkan with dedicatee Håkan Hrdenberger as soloist. Yet another British composer premiere, Nicola LeFanu's The Crimson Bird for soprano (Rachel Nicholls) and the LSO, conducted by Ilan Volkov on 17/2 and  a Detlev Glanert premiere on 3/3 with Oramo and the BBC SO.  An extended Nash Ensemble residency at LSO St Lukes (lots of RVW chamber music)  and and Andreas Scholl on 14/3  Then two concerts with Fabio Luisi on 16th and 19th March I'm opting for the second, with Brahms German Requiem François-Xavier Roth starts another After Romanticism series on 30/3 with the LSO - Debussy Jeux, Bartok Piano Concerto no 3 and Mahler Symphony no 1. Then a 3 concert series with the New York Philharmonic and Alan Gilbert - John Adams, Mahler, and the European premiere of Esa-Pekka Salonen's Cello Concerto.  Janine Jansen, Murray Perahia and Mariss Jansens with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and a keynote Dvořák Requiem on 13/4 with Jiří Bělohlávek, the BBC SO, the BBC Symphony Chorus, Brindley Sherratt, Ricahrd Samek, Jennifer Johnston and Katerina Kněžíková   Then Easter is upon us ! 

Classical iconoclast

December 28

Feral Varèse Arcana Andris Nelsons Berlioz Debussy

Edgard Varèse Arcana with Andris Nelsons and the Berliner Philharmoniker, from the Musikfest Berlin, available til 31/12 in the Digital Concert Hall.  Grab the chance !  Arcana (1925-7)is scored for massive forces-   roughly 120 players altogether,  68 strings, 20 woodwinds, 20 brass and a phalanx of percussionists playing 40 different instruments from timpani to castanets.  Every performance is a feat of logistics, so it doesn't get done as often as it should be.  It's also extremely visual : watching is very much part of the experience.  It's not every day you see rows of trumpets and trombones, some muted, some not,playing together, or 8 horns raised heavenwards. Arcana is big, but its bigness springs from its musical function. Arcana proceeds like a gigantic beast, its component parts articulated to move in stately formation, groups of instruments impacting on each other in constantly varying combinations. I've never quite been sure what Varèse  meant by its title, but I've often imagined it as a mythical creature brought to life by arcane spells and incantations.  Compared to Varèse's more esoteric innovations,   most for smaller ensembles,  Arcana is relatively easy to follow since it's constructed like a series of variations with interlocking inner cells and permutations thereof.  Although it isn't by any means electronic, it functions like a machine, where different sections operate in parallel and together towards a common purpose.  Very much the Zeitgeist of the 1920's of Futurism and things to come.  Andris Nelson's approach is deliberately unhurried, allowing the monster to waken and walk at its own pace without being pushed. I get a kick from speedier tempi but Nelsons reveals the textures and colours.  Watch him neat the inaudible passages bar by bar showing how silence is part of the structure.  Instinctively, Nelsons half-crouched, like a feral animal, listening to the world around him before making a move. This was intuitive and almost certainly unconscious,  but definitely in tune with the spirit of Arcana and also with the Debussy Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune which preceded it. Consider the connections between the two pieces, and their elusive physicality.  Someone could do Arcana as ballet, though they'd ne3ed a big budget.  It would certainly lend itself to visual patterns and recurring images. Nelsons' Berlioz Symphonie fantastique op 14, was thus coloured by being heard in conjunction with Varèse and Debussy. Symphonie fantastique is so dramatic and that lesser conductors cheat by playing up the dramatic kitsch.  We've all heard this piece so often that it's easy to coast along.  Not Nelsons. ho instead  emphasizes the intelligence in the orchestration.  Berlioz's genius lay in the way he could use instruments to create myriad textures and colours. He studied instruments for their own sake, and was open to new, innovative sounds like that of the saxophone.  Not really all that far from Varèse and his experiments with klaxons and ondes martenot.  Yet again, Nelsons emphasized the underlying musical logic and the finesse with which Berlioz built up his palette.  The Berliner Philharmoniker are so good that they can do refinement with natural, unforced élan.  Like a composer using the tools available to him, Nelsons knows this orchestra well enough to inspire them so they play as if the work were fresh and vivid. Listen out specially for the quiet passages, like in the third movement, where the shepherd  listens to the gentle rustling of leaves and contemplates a moment of solitude. Gradually more complex feelings rush in, but to understand, we must listen attentively, picking up every nuance.  Shepherds, like animals in nature, listening acutely to the sounds around them : the faun again, the "creature" in Arcana  ?  Noisiness dulls the senses.  The Dream of the Night of the Sabbath was vivid because our minds had been cleared of detritus.  Listen to those crazed winds ! Some audiences think music exists to serve the listener, and like conductors who deliver in that way. True artists, though, are more likely to think that they (and their audiences) exist to serve the music. Nelsons and the Berliner Philharmoniker belong in the latter category, most definitely. 

Claude Debussy
(1862 – 1918)

Claude Debussy (August 22, 1862 - March 25, 1918) was a French composer. Along with Maurice Ravel, he was one of the most prominent figures working within the field of impressionist music, though he himself intensely disliked the term when applied to his compositions. Debussy is among the most important of all French composers, and a central figure in European music of the turn of the 20th century. He was made Chevalier of the Legion of Honour in 1903. His music is noted for its sensory component and for not often forming around one key or pitch. Often Debussy's work reflected the activities or turbulence in his own life. His music virtually defines the transition from late-Romantic music to 20th century modernist music. In French literary circles, the style of this period was known as symbolism, a movement that directly inspired Debussy both as a composer and as an active cultural participant.



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