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Edward Elgar

Monday, April 24, 2017


Classical iconoclast

April 20

The Ghost of Sir Henry Wood? BBC Proms 2017

Classical iconoclast The 2017 BBC Proms Season, just announced, is a travesty, far adrift from the founding principles of the Proms, and indeed of the BBC itself.  Once the BBC stood for excellence, with its guiding principles to "educate, entertain and inform", the logic being that the public can tell good quality from bad, and value learning and self-development.  Now we have a Proms season whose priorities are not musical so much as an ad for a BBC that is itself dumbed down beyond recognition.  Will the ghost of Sir Henry Wood rise, like the Commendatore, to smite those who have despoiled his legacy?   The First Night is only 70 minutes or so, so it won't tax the attention span. True, Igor Levit will play Beethoven, and Edward Gardner will conduct John Adams Harmonium, a big, if limited, blast. so it won't be bad.  But once we could expect more. Daniel Barenboim brings the Staatskapelle Berlin to "launch this year’s cycle of Elgar symphonies". Direct quote from the BBC Proms website. What Elgar symphonic cycle? One on Saturday, the other on Sunday. The Third, realized by Anthony Payne, is probably too outré for the new Proms market.  It's been pushed to the doldrums of late August. Thankfully, Sakari Oramo conducts: he does it well.   What kind of audience is this year's Proms aimed at?  Read the summary here.  Sure, it's good to have pop, light music etc. but not at the expense of serious music. One of the basic principles of marketing is to believe in what you're trying to sell.  Raise the bar, aim for excellence, and grow the market .Pitch below the lowest possible denominator, and kill whatever audience you already have while lowering standards and decreasing expectations.  If the primary product is music, then sell music,. All the gimmicky sales patter in the world won't make up for non-product.  If people really believe  Scott Walker is a "Godlike genius", good for them, but don't downgrade Beethoven. Why sacrifice an existing market to try selling to another which might have completely different priorities?  Or perhaps that is the hidden agenda. The Far Right, the commercial sector, and vested interests have everything to gain from dumbing the BBC down. Sir Henry Wood believed that people were able, and willing to learn. Now, we live in an era where any kind of expertise is sneered at. Getting ahead means dismantling the edifices of advancement.  There's a whole lot more at stake than just the Proms and the BBC. Fortuntely, some of the principles of Proms planning remain, since they follow rules so simple anyone can master them.  Add a few big names - Haitink, Christie, Rattle, Salonen, Bychkov, Gardiner - and the punters will pay.  Bring in the BBC orchestras, most of which are good enough to do serious music and do it well enough without scaring the unwary.  Mark non-musical anniversaries like "Reformation Day" a term Martin Luther would have baulked at, then throw in music that has little to do with one of the revolutions in European history.  Hire famous foreign bands like the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam, whom everyone loves, and a few cheaper ones. Throw in a few blockbusters like Schoenberg  Gurrelieder.(Rattle 19/8) .and  Handel Israel in Egypt on 1/8 (William Christie and the Orchestra oif the Age of Enlightenment), Bring along an opera (usually Fidelio which needs little staging) and import a ready-made from Glyndebourne and bingo! The formula works, like a well-oiled machine, running with minimal human intervention. Thus, for those who actually like music  there are other good things to seek out. Hidden under the banner "Take a musical thrill-ride from the chaos of creation" on 19/7 is Pascal Dusapin's new Outscape. Look out too for Thomas Larcher's Nocturne-Insomia on 15/8  New British works - David Sawer's The Greatest Happiness Principle on 29/7, and Mark-Anthony Turnage Hibiki on 14/8. Excellent younger conductors like François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles (16/8), Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla (21/8),  and Jakub Hrůša (26/8 - good programme).  

Classical iconoclast

April 22

Formula saves the BBC Proms !

Formula saves the BBC Proms 2017!  This may be the beginning of the end for Sir Henry Wood's dreams of the Proms as serious music. Fortunately The Formula, perfected by much-maligned Roger Wright, is strong enough to withstand the anti-music agendas of the suits and robots who now run the Proms.  Shame on those who rely on formula instead of talent, but in dire straits, autopilot can save things from falling apart.  So, sift through the detritus of gimmick and gameshow to find things worth saving   (Read here what I wrote about The Formula)   Danierl Barenboim is a Proms perennial, for good reason, so we can rely on his two Elgar Proms (16 and 17 July) especially the Sunday one which features a new work by Sir Harrison Birtwistle, Deep Time, which at 25 minutes should be substantial  Pascal Dusapin's Outscape on 19/7, 28 minutes, also substantial Anotherr "regular" Proms opera, Fidelio on 21/7, with a superlative cast headed by Stuart Skelton and Ricarda Merbeth, tho' Juanjo Mena conducts  Ilan Volkov conducts Julian Anderson's new Piano Concerto on 26/7 , tho's the rest of the programme, though good isn't neccesarily Volkov's forte  On 29/7 Mark Wigglesworth conducts David Sawer's The Greatest Happiness Principle  On 31/7, Monteverdi Vespers with French baroque specialists Pygmalion   On 1/8, William Christie conducts the OAE in Handel Israel in Egypt and on 2/8, John Eliot Gardiner, the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists do Bach and my beloved Heinrich Schütz.  On 8/8 Gardiner returns with Berlioz The Damnation of Faust, with Michael Spyres. First of this year's four Mahlers is Mahler's Tenth (Cooke) with  Thomas Dausgaard and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra  Robin Ticciati, back with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra on 15/8 with an interesting pairing, Thomas Larcher Nocturne-Insomnia with Schumann Symphony no 2.   Throughout this season, there are odd mismatches between repertoire and performers, good conductors doing routine material, less good conductors doing safe and indestructable. Fortunately, baroque and specialist  music seem immune.  See above ! and also the Prom featuring Lalo, Délibes and Saint-Saëns with François Xavier-Roth and Les Siècles on 16/8   Perhaps these Proms attract  audiences who care what they're listening to  Schoenberg's Gurrelieder on 19/8 with Simon Rattle, whose recording many years back remains a classic but may not be known to whoever described the piece in the programme "Gurrelieder is Schoenberg’s Tristan and Isolde, an opulent, late-Romantic giant."  Possibly the same folk who dreamed up the tag "Reformation Day" like Nigel Faarage's "Independence Day" Nothing in life is that simplistic  The music's OK, but notn the marketing. Sakari Oramo conducts the BBC SO in Elgar Symphony no 3 (Anthony Payne) on 22/8   Potentially this will be even bigger than the Barenboim Elgar symphonies, since Oramo is particularly good with this symphony, which may not be as high profile but is certainly highly regarded by those who love Elgar   On 26/8, Jakub Hrůša conducts the BBC SO in an extremely well chosen programme of Suk, Smetana, Martinů, Janáček and Dvorák   More BBCSO on 31/8 when Semyon Bychkov conducts a Russian programme  Marketing guff seems to make a big deal of national stereotypes, which is short sighted  These programmes cohere musically, but that's perhaps too much to expect from the new Proms mindset On 1/9,  Daniele Gatti conducts the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Bruckner and Wolfgang Rihm  An odd pairing but one which will come off well since these musicians know what they're doing They are back again on 2/9 with  Haydn "The Bear" and Mahler Fourth  which isn't "sunny" or "song-filled".  It's Mahler,  not a musical.  Gergiev brings the Mariinsky on 3/9 with Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich Symphony no 5.  Another huge highlight on 7/9 : The Wiener Philharmoniker, with Daniel Harding in Mahler Symphony no 6 - so powerful that nothing else needs to be added to sugar the pill   For me, and for many others, that will be the real :Last Night of the Proms   Party time the next day, with Nina Stemme as star guest     




Classical iconoclast

April 12

Three Choirs Festival, Worcester 2017

Members booking has now started for the Three Choirs Festival, this year inn Worcester, in the heart of "Elgar Country". The first Cathedral concert on Saturday 22nd July will begin with Elgar (Great is the Lord),  and there will be, as always, the Dream of Gerontius (Roderick Williams) but its highlight, conducted by Peter Nardone, should be Michael Tippett's A Child of Our Time, written in wartime, confronting  violence, in the belief that good can vanquish evil.  Benjamin Britten will be on the programme too (Four Sea Interludes) : not a composer normally connected with the Three Choirs, but included because the Festival reaches out to all.  Fundamentally, the Three Choirs Festival is Christian Communion, though you certainly don't have to be Christian to be welcome,  and this year's themes deal with issues of faith and hope in troubled times. Thus Mendelssohn St Paul on the evening of Sunday 23rd July, where the forces of the magnificent Three Choirs Festival Chorus will be heard in full, magnificent glory, with the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Geraint Bowen.  In the days of the early Church, the faithful were oppressed. But Paul switched from persecutor to convert, remaining firm in his mission, even unto martyrdom.  Bach's influence runs powerfully through this oratorio. There are wonderful chorales, ideally suited to the Chorus, and strong, dramatic parts for the soloists, all built on an austere bedrock that connects to the concept of a radical new faith whose adherents were prepared to die for what they believed in.  Even more rough-hewn and almost savage, Janáček's Glagolitic Mass on Wednesday 26th July. In early Czech tradition, thousands of worshippers would gather together to sing in communal affirmation. Janáček, an atheist,  who played organ in churches, aimed for something quite unorthodox. Thus his use of an old Slavonic dialect, rather than Latin.  His passion for the outdoors inspires the piece. "My cathedral ", he said, was “the enormous grandeur of mountains beyond which stretched the open sky…...the scent of moist forests my incense”. I've written extensively about the Glagolitic Mass and its composer, please see HERE and HERE.    This evening's concert will also feature Torsten Rasch A Welsh Night and Richard Strauss Metamorphosen.  "An English Farewell" for the final night of the season on 29th July, a superb programme with Gerald Finzi's Die Natalis with Ed Lyon, whom I should really like to hear in this piece as  he's very impressive.  Dies Natalis is transcendental, mystical and ecstatic by turns : utterly unique, and one of the quirkiest masterpieces in English music. Again, it's a piece I've written a lot about over the last 20 years. Please see HERE and HERE for example.  Lots more on Finzi on this site, too.  Dies Natalis addresses the miracle of birth, but Herbert Howells' Hymnus Paradisi addresses the horror that is death, particularly the death of a child.  Heard together, Dies Natalis and Hymnus Paradisi should be quite an experience.  One a star  turn for a soloist, the other a star  turn for choirs.  Please read HERE what I've written about Hymnus Paradisi in the past.  Also on the programme, Raloh Vaughan Williams's Serenande to Music, which will give sixteen singers a chance to shine.  The Philharmionia will be conducted by Peter Nardone. But the Three Choirs festival is much more than  big Cathedral concerts.  Part of its appeal lies in the friendly, community atmosphere, where people come together for smaller-scale concerts, talks, events, excursions and meals. Literally, breaking bread and sharing in the spirit.   Choral Evensong every evening,  organ recitals (including Saint-Saëns Symphony no 3), early and Tudor music, premieres of new work, Shakespeare plays, a visit from the Choir of King's College Cambridge, and this year an unusual afternoon of Tudor Symphonies (with Andrew Carwood and the Cardinall's Musick).  .Visit the Three Choirs Festival website for more. 



Edward Elgar
(1857 – 1934)

Sir Edward William Elgar (2 June 1857 – 23 February 1934) was an English composer, many of whose works have entered the British and international classical concert repertoire. Among his best-known compositions are orchestral works including the Enigma Variations, the Pomp and Circumstance Marches, concertos for violin and cello, and two symphonies. He also composed choral works, including The Dream of Gerontius, chamber music and songs. Although Elgar is often regarded as a typically English composer, most of his musical influences were not from England but from continental Europe. He felt himself to be an outsider, not only musically, but socially. In musical circles dominated by academics, he was a self-taught composer; in Protestant Britain, his Roman Catholicism was regarded with suspicion in some quarters; and in the class-conscious society of Victorian and Edwardian Britain, he was acutely sensitive about his humble origins even after he achieved recognition. After a series of moderately successful works his Enigma Variations (1899) became immediately popular in Britain and overseas. His later full-length religious choral works were well received but have not entered the regular repertory. The first of his Pomp and Circumstance Marches (1901) is well-known in the UK and in the US. Elgar has been described as the first composer to take the gramophone seriously. Between 1914 and 1925, he conducted a series of recordings of his works. The introduction of the microphone in 1925 made far more accurate sound reproduction possible, and Elgar made new recordings of most of his major orchestral.



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