Tuesday, January 24, 2017
Das Eröffnungskonzert der Elbphilharmonie, the opening concert of the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg. The building looms like a giant ship on a promontory on the harbour: a reminder of Hamburg's maritime and commercial heritage. The lower floors match surrounding buildings, while the upper floors and roof reflect the skie : an inspired concept in architectural terms. But what really makes the Elbphilharmonie interesting is that it's a game changer in many ways, with the potential to transform the whole way the European music business operates. "Freude" said the grandees making speeches, which is significant, for great art is inspired by joy, not small=minded negativity. The creative genius of Beethoven stood at the start and finish of this communal celebration, with the Overture to the Creatures of Prometheus op 43 and the sublime Symphony no 9. In Greek mythology, Prometheus stole fire from the gods to empower men, an act which symbolizes enlightenment. That's why the arts matter. They generate creativity and, with that, the enthusiasm that generates change in many things, including economic regeneration. This new hall is a landmark that could challenge the dominance of Berlin and Paris. Not for nothing, the concert honoured Johannes Brahms, Hamburg's native son, who lived in Vienna, but remained, at heart, solidly North German. In Britain, we've no way to compete, since British arts policy favours micro-endeavour. The fact is, excellence needs vision, and commitment. The long-term benefits to the nation are infinitely greater than can be measured in simple terms. The drive that went into making Hamburg the major port that it is, is the kind of drive we need in the arts. Thomas Hengelbrock and the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester chose a programme that demonstrated what the new building can do. The platform, larger than usual, nestles surrounded by different tiers of seating, rather like Berlin and Paris, so sound resonates more evenly than in conventional coffin-shaped halls. Bernd Alois Zimmermann's Photoptosis (1968) tested the acoustic to the limit. Scored for a very large orchestra, the piece can be very loud indeed, but here what struck me most was the richness of sound, not the volume. The big climaxes are carefully constructed, with myriad layers of detail, some so subtle they can get lost. Yet in this hall, even the most refined components can be heard and relished. Suddenly, the hall was plunged into darkness, small rows of lights shining from the dense gloom like stars. The plangent strains of a Praetorius motet rang out, as if being heard across the centuries. In a split second, the 16th and the 20th century connected. Also, from an eyrie above the platform, the orchestra's principal oboe played Pan, from Britten's Six Metamorphoses from Ovid op 49. Philippe Jaroussky sang Italian baroque airs, accompanied by harp, from a position above the stage, the clear, pure beauty of his voice carrying effortlessly round the large auditorium., In one of the interval clips, he's seen testing the acoustic by exploring with his voice as he walks around. Then, Messiaen and Wagner, sounding clear and crisp. What a joy it must be for an orchestra to play in these surroundings, especially as the off-stage facilities are luxe class compared to many less generous venues. The best orchestras will now want to visit Hamburg: this superb acoustic will lift the game for everyone. Read more HERE about the technical aspects that make the acoustics in the auditorium. For this grand opening gala, the whole Philharmonie building exterior became the backdrop for a spectacular light show. This, too, made a statement, since the light show would have been visible across the harbour. The Elbphilharmonie light show could become a feature of Hamburg's civic life, just like the way Hong Kong skyscrapers become a gigantic canvas for illuminations during the Christmas season (where the flat outside wall of the main local concert hall is the focus of a light show) The arts aren't just for toffs. Involving the wider community outside the concert hall is a form of outreach and education without distracting from the main business of music making. Indeed, excellence "is" education. It opens up ears and minds. This programme also featured Wolfgang Rihm, billed as"Germany's greatest living composer", though he couldn't attend so Hengelbrock raised a placard with Rihm's name on it , a nice humorous touch. Rihm, Zimmermann and Rolf Liebermann, together with Mendelssohn and Brahms, Wagner and Beethoven: another point being made, that audiences can cope with diversity without having to be coddled. There are other halls in the new Philharmonie, better suited to smaller ensembles and chamber music. There's another concert on Sunday which will also be broadcast. Click on photo at right to see the building in cross-section. Yet another reason why the Elbphilharmonie is a game changer : It represents a new way of bringing music to audiences. HD was a start, but stymied because it depended on cinema distributors who didn't make enough money to promote it. But modern technology means that audiences can listen any time they want online, wherever they may be. Investing in orchestra-led, or opera-house led streaming means that those who make music get the full benefits of marketing, and also have greater control over artistic content. Can record companies still control the market and create instant media darlings when there's good music around for those who care about quality as opposed to celebrity No more provincial boundaries. And so the concert ended with the Ode to Joy, Beethoven 9, Bryn Terfel, Pavol Breslik, Wiebke Lehmkuhl, Hanna-Elisabeth Müller, the NDR Choir and the Choir of Bayerischen Rundfunks. "Alle Menschen wurden Bruder"!" we've heard that thousands of times, but this time it felt fresh and real.
Our weekly bulletin from Anthea Kreston of the award-winning Artemis Quartet: We have had a week of illness – first me, then our first violinist was ordered to stay in bed for the week) and now our violist (standing next to me, waiting for security at the airport). Most immediate family members are down as well. A week of cancelled rehearsals buttress the Echo Awards (European Grammys) and performances. A member falls into a desperate, heavy sleep during intermission of our concert, to be gently shaken awake for the second half of the program. The last to fall (or not to fall) is our cellist, who has surrounded himself with ginger tea. In the thick of all this – a behind-the-scene look at the glamorous and magical Echo Awards – from my first red carpet walk to rubbing elbows with classical music’s elite. Pre-show, abundant emails and detail-checking set my expectations high – this was going to be a spectacle – visually, musically, and star-studded. Because of security, we were asked to arrive first one hour, then an hour and a half early, with official identification. A car was sent to my apartment 2 hours before we were to be seated, and my sister, visiting from Berkeley, accompanied me as my plus-one. She came prepared – floor-length black gown with jewelled turquoise straps crisscrossing the just-appropriately low back of the dress. I wore my latest dress – a purple straight lined floor-length dress, covered in teeny glittering beads, and a diamond cut-out in the back. As we giggled in the back of the car, wondering out loud if we were going to have an “entrance” from the car, we rounded the corner to see a magnificently lit Konzerthaus at the Gendarmenmarkt. As we approached the drop-off, we quickly realized that a push of reporters was indeed filming and taking pictures as people were helped from the car. We removed our coats – my sister held mine as I exited the car, doing my best to mimic those countless videos we have all seen of the glamorous limo exits. Red carpet spanned the Lincoln-memorial-sized stairs, and snaked its way through the press photo-tent, television interview area, and along throngs (can this even be possible) of die-hard classical music fans, waiting to glimpse their favorite classical music star. As we exited security, we were ushered aside by our ever-fabulous Publicist, Maren Borchers of “For Artists”. In a straight black woolen coat, cut at an angle, a purple feathered boa, and an ear piece connected to on-and back-stage, she orchestrated her artists, first sending one and then another ahead to the carpet. She sometimes repeated a snippet here or there “lost wardrobe, trouble with moving camera above stage, drink areas ready to go…..”. As all four Artemis arrived, their plus-ones gathered as well, and were ushered around to a side carpet, to reconvene with us later. First we strolled to the photo area, where a blizzard of flashes came from the wall of photographers – first one, then the other grabbed our attention, calling for us to look their way next. Then, to the corner where the TV reporter asked specific questions as to our award and repertoire represented on the CD. It is at this point that I must say that this award belongs not even a hair to me – this was an award for a glorious cd of Brahms released by the Artemis. It belongs to Vineta, Gregor, Friedemann and Eckart. Nonetheless, they included me in these festivities, toasting to the next Echo – for the four of us. As we entered the already-packed building, in which the rectangular hall is surrounded by wide, marble hallways, we were greeted by musicians, managers, record companies, and a seemingly endless line of crisply-dressed wait-staff, holding everything from molecular-gastronomy smoking test-tubes filled with neon-green delicious substances to traditional hearty German food, albeit in amuse-bouche form. Also making the rounds was an updated form of the cigarette girl – with the same tray and neck-ribbon, but in her tray, a dizzying array of top-tier chocolates. Oh my. I took three. As quartet fanned out, each person looking for any number of people with whom Quartet has had business, is in negotiation for business, or wishes to begin a new venture, I again saw these people in their finest – able to talk with anyone on any subject – charming, succinct, creative. I met our manager, the inimitable Sonia Simmenauer, our photo-makeup artist, a reporter in the midst of writing a large article about the quartet. We were ushered into the hall – a large rectangle with velvet chairs, and a full two balconies. I felt like I was in one of those period books – looking around at those in the boxes, trying to recognize the stars. The ceiling was covered in many large, matching chandeliers, camera people roamed the aisles, and a large camera on a pulley spanned the entire hall. We were seated close to the front, where winners were placed to facilitate easy access to the stage. The moderator, Thomas Gottschalk, (their version of Letterman) was charming and witty as he lead us through the basics – allowing us three different dynamics of clapping, and even singling out specific audience members with a funny comment here or there. The next three hours were filled with dazzling performances (unfortunately Jonas Kaufmann – be still my fluttering heart – was unable to sing due to recent health issues – but he spoke and I got to see his dimple from a distance of inches!), from vocal to instrumental to orchestral. I had never heard Philippe Jaroussky before, and I was floored by his rendition of Handel. After his performance, my sister and I turned to each other and said “what the **** was that” – we were without words. Guest speakers from Cold Play’s Chris Martin to author Donna Leon rounded out the show. As we were called to the stage, each of us immediately assuming a larger-than-life persona, I was again struck by the strength of this group. Through thick and thin, they rise and meet the day with hand outstretched, ready to tackle any problem and grateful for the support given them. My sister and I returned home, heads to pillows around 2 am. The after party, with its amazing array of foods and drinks, was like being in a Top Chef episode. A full 11 hour extravaganza – and I couldn’t for the life of me get a wink of sleep.
Jaroussky/Freiburger Barockorchester (Erato)This is the first all-German disc from the countertenor Philippe Jaroussky, and about time too: two of JS Bach’s most glorious cantatas find him at his vibrant best. The five movements of Bach’s Vernügte Ruh trace a compelling journey from contentment through agitation to resolution, all the while showcasing Jaroussky’s bright, fluid tone; the few notes where the music dips lower than his comfort zone are all on words for which a rasp of aggression is entirely apt. In the title aria of Ich habe genug he is matched nuance for nuance by Ann-Kathrin Brüggemann’s mellow oboe d’amore, and there follows a performance of Schlummert ein that rivals that of David Daniels for gorgeousness. He’s equally persuasive in two cantatas by Telemann. Though less consistently compelling musically than the Bach, these are still rewarding, and they come alive in the Freiburg Barockorchester’s dramatically aware playing. Continue reading...
The complete awards, presented last night: Female singer of the year: Anna Netrebko Male singer of the year: Philippe Jaroussky Instrumentalist (clarinet): Martin Fröst Instrumentalist (cello): Sol Gabetta Instrumentalist (piano): Grigory Sokolov Instrumentalist (flute): Stefan Temmingh Instrumentalist (violin): Pinchas Zukerman Conductor of the Year: Antonio Pappano Ensemble: Berliner Philharmoniker Bestseller of the Year: Jonas Kaufmann
Muziektheater, Amsterdam Despite excellent performances from the leads Philippe Jaroussky and Davone Tines, Peter Sellars’ staging of Kaija Saariaho’s opera is inert and undramaticThe Dutch National Opera has marked its 50th anniversary with a new annual festival. As the name indicates, Opera Forward is very much concerned with the future; it features up-and-coming performers, directors and designers, and there are new operas too. Michel van der Aa’s Blank Out, reviewed yesterday, was one of two works premiered this year, while the other was the latest stage work from Kaija Saariaho, Only the Sound Remains.Requiring two solo singers, a dancer and a digitally enhanced ensemble of seven instrumentalists and four further singers, it is an adaptation of two Noh plays. Always Strong and Feather Mantle, as they become in the English versions by Ezra Pound that Saariaho uses, share the theme of disappearance. In the first, a priest’s prayers summon the ghost of a fallen warrior, only for the latter to reveal that he is still haunted by memories of the battle in which he died, and he asks to be allowed to vanish into the shadows again. In Feather Mantle a fisherman finds a feather robe that belongs to an angel; he only agrees to return it to her when she performs a celestial dance for him. Continue reading...
Philippe Jaroussky (13 February 1978) is a French sopranist countertenor. He began his musical career with the violin, winning an award at the Versailles conservatory and then took up the piano before turning to singing. He is noted for a virtuosic coloratura technique and for compelling and enlivened interpretations of baroque cantatas and operas. Jaroussky was inspired to sing by the Martinique-born countertenor Fabrice di Falco. He received his diploma from the Early Music Faculty of the Conservatoire de Paris. Since 1996, he has studied singing with Nicole Fallien. He has formed his own ensemble called Artaserse, and also often performs with the Ensemble Matheus under Jean-Christophe Spinosi and with L'Arpeggiata under Christina Pluhar.
Great opera singers