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Edward Elgar

Saturday, December 10, 2016


My Classical Notes

November 22

Elgar, Britten, and Vaughan Williams

My Classical NotesOn this recording we get to enjoy the following: Vaughan Williams: Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis Britten: Variations on a theme of Frank Bridge, Op. 10 Elgar: Introduction & Allegro for strings, Op. 47 All performed by the LSO String Ensemble, Roman Simovic conducting. The LSO Has some excellent orchestral players among its members, and many of its principals are renowned soloists in their own right. They have developed new ensembles within the Orchestra to exhibit their incredible musicianship in different ways: from recent recordings of Reich by the LSO Percussion Ensemble to unique chamber performances of Stravinsky’s ‘The Soldier’s Tale’ and Mozart’s ‘Gran Partita’. The LSO String Ensemble, directed by Orchestra Leader Roman Simovic, are a key example of this practice, showcasing the wealth of talent that the London Symphony Orchestra has to offer. The LSO String Ensemble continues on LSO Live with three English masterpieces: Vaughan Williams’ ‘Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis’, a visionary fusion of folksong and sacred music; Britten’s ‘Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge’, a challenging landmark of 20th-century string writing, here in a virtuosic performance; and Elgar’s ‘Introduction and Allegro’, a work beloved of the LSO, having been composed for and premiered by the Orchestra. Here is the Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis:

On An Overgrown Path

December 3

A composer and his guru

This post leads down a path with the kind of salacious side turnings usually found on more click bait oriented music blogs. But there is a serious purpose to retelling the story of Olivier Greif, whose tragically short career and truncated talent have many disquieting parallels with another underrated composer of the late 20th century, Claude Vivier. Olivier Greif was born in Paris in 1950, his father was a Polish Jew who survived Auschwitz. Greif's musical talent was identified when he was three and he entered the Paris Conservatoire aged ten to study piano and composition. He went on to study composition with Luciano Berio in New York where he moved in the same circles as Salvador Dali, Mick Jagger, Andy Warhol and Leonard Bernstein. All the accompanying photos, with the exception of my header montage, come via the Olivier Greif website and include images of Greif with Dali - whose lost opera prompted another path - and Bernstein; see photos below. In 1970 Olivier Greif was appointed Luciano Berio’s assistant at the Santa Fe Opera and started exploring the music of West Coast composers including Terry Riley and La Monte Young. Despite his eclectic musical tastes Greif rejected serialism and electronics and instead developed a unique style influenced by Britten and Shostakovich, and as a pianist made a now deleted commercial recording of Britten's piano music. Greif's compositions can be divided into two periods. 1961 to 1981 was the period when he developed his own voice as a composer. Then came a ten year creative hiatus which ended in 1991 with a series of darker and more intense pieces by the experiences of his father and other members of his family in the death camps. In later years his music became more experimental and in 1981 his chamber opera Nô was premiered in the Centre Pompidou in Paris, a performance given in collaboration with IRCAM and Olivier Messiaen, who mentored Greif, with Pierre Boulez in the audience. After two serious illnesses Olivier Greif was found dead seated at his piano in his apartment in Paris on Friday, May 13, 2000. The autopsy could not identify the cause of death but established that he had been dead for several days when found. He is buried in the Montparnasse Cemetery. Today Olivier Greif is a forgotten figure, although, fortunately, he remains represented in the CD catalogue. At which point the reader can be forgiven for expecting a plea for Greif's music to be more widely programmed or a heads up for a new recording of his music or a book, coupled with a plug for an upcoming concert. But conventional narratives do not interest me, so instead we turn to the little known story of the composer's ten year creative hiatus. In 1976 Olivier Greif begins a spiritual quest with his guru Sri Chinmoy who is seen in the photo above; two years later Greif took the new first name Haridas, which means “God’s servant”. Sri Chinmoy was an Indian spiritual teacher, poet, artist and athlete who moved to the U.S. in 1964. He was the founder of the Sri Chinmoy Centre organisation. a composer of sacred music, mainly songs in Bengali and English, and a prolific writer on music. Sri Chimnoy advocated "self-transcendence" by expanding one's consciousness to conquer the mind's perceived limitations. Among his followers were Mikhail Gorbachev, Roberta Flack, Olympic gold-medalist Carl Lewis, John McLaughlin and Carlos Santana. McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra takes its name from the spiritual moniker given to him by Sri Chinmoy. In the photo below a picture of Chinmoy can be seen on Greif's piano. In April 1970, Sri Chinmoy was invited by UN Secretary-General U Thant to give twice-weekly meditations at the United Nations and in 1994 he received, jointly with Martin Luther King’s wife Coretta Scott King, the ‘Mahatma Gandhi Universal Harmony Award’ from the American based Indian cultural institute. But inevitably Sri Chinmoy's activities generated controversy. In a Rolling Stone interview Carlos Santana said his guru was "vindictive" when they split, and elsewhere there are allegations of homophobia. In 2009 Jayanti Tamm published her best selling book of life as a Chinmoy disciple Cartwheels in a Sari: A Memoir of Growing Up Cult in which she documents his "masterful tactics of manipulation", and there have also been allegations of sexual misconduct. Sri Chinmoy died in 2007, the Independent's obituary described him as "spiritual leader and peace activist" and Philip Glass and Ravi Shankar were among those who paid tribute to him. During the 1980s Olivier Greif, or rather Haridas Greif, became the face of Sri Shinmoy in France. He curated conferences on meditation and opened a book store on the Boulevard Saint-Germain devoted to his guru. In 1979 he premiered his settings of Three poems of Sri Chinmoy for voice and piano and he also appeared on an LP of Chinmoy's music with the New Light Ensemble. The photo above shows Olivier Greif with Sri Chinmoy circa 1995, but during the final years of his life Greif moved away from his spiritual master and reverted to his given first name. Probably his best known work, his Sonate de Requiem (1979-1983) dates from the years of his involvement with Sri Chinmoy. In his own note Greif describes the single movement work as a dedication on death seen from three viewpoints: death as a departure, death as a journey away from the earthly regions through successive planes of consciousness, and death as contemplation as the soul meets with the Source. Just as empathy with Cardinal Newman is not required to appreciate Elgar's Dream of Gerontius, so empathy with Sri Chinmoy is not required to appreciate Olivier Greif's Sonate de Requiem. The composer's dalliance with celebrities and an Indian mystic is just a fascinating sideshow to the main event - his music. There is a catalogue of Greif's three hundred and thirty one compositions online. They include an incomplete Symphony No. 1 for solo voice, male chorus and orchestra 'Hiroshima' dating from 1994 which which sets testimonies of survivors of Hiroshima in English and the Bhagavad Gita in Sanskrit, and a Little Black Mass (1980) which combines the sacred liturgy with popular American songs. For those interested in further exploration the Olivier Greif website has a discography. A number of the listed releases are now deleted, but recommended are the Sonate de Requiem and Trio on Harmonia Mundi and the Battle of Agincourt for two cellos coupled with his Second String Quartet, which sets Shakespeare sonnets for baritone, on Zig Zag Territoires. Revised version of post originally published in March 2012. No review samples involved in this post. Image credits official Olivier Greif website except header montage. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk Also on Facebook and Twitter.






On An Overgrown Path

November 18

People come to the concert hall looking for answers

A useful Guardian article highlights the boom in new age music. Whales and waterfalls may not be everyone's cup of tea; however it is easy but wrong to dismiss the new age revival as having no relevance to Western classical music. Back in 2011 On An Overgrown Path highlighted the $11 billion opportunity offered by the mind, body and spirit market. Another more recent post proposed that classical music should be answering a cry for help, a proposal that has been given painful relevance by recent political developments on both sides of the Atlantic. The current reluctance to leverage classical music's therapeutic qualities is puzzling as in the past there have been some spectacularly successful fusions examples of music and mindfulness. Geeta Dayal's Guardian article focuses on the American market for Eastern-oriented new age music, but there is an even longer and more Occidental history on the other side of the Atlantic. In Victorian times it was fashionable for intellectuals to dabble in mysticism and as described in 'Elgar and the occult', the composer wrote incidental music for the Starlight Express*, a play replete with sub-texts drawn from the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. This qabalistic order dabbled in astrology, tarot divination, geomancy, magic, and astral travel. The Starlight Express only ran for one month in London, but another proto-new age music production had a far more spectacular success. Glastonbury can lay claim to being the birthplace of the global new age, and Rutland Boughton's The Immortal Hour** was given its premiere in a piano reduction at the very first Glastonbury festival in 1914. The opera (or 'choral-drama'), which is a masterly conflation of mysticism and magic, was staged at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre in 1921 and moved from there to the Regent Theatre in London's West End. Today, when the classical music industry is obsessed with audience size, it should be noted that The Immortal Hour ran for 216 consecutive performances starting in October 1922. It then ran for another 160 consecutive performances starting in 1923, with further major revivals in 1926 and 1932. The Immortal Hour is an example of crazy wisdom confounding conventional wisdom. Today conventional wisdom is the dogma of classical music - speaking of Birmingham could not Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla have found something more crazy and less over-exposed than Mahler's First Symphony to conclude her debut concert as the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra's music director? Yes, I know that Mahler fills the hall. But so did public guillotining at the time of the French Revolution. And I also appreciate that in our cash-strapped age there are massive logistical problems in reviving the Starlight Express and The Immortal Hour; although someone should consider extracting a concert suite from the latter. But there is an overabundance of underexposed music with new age nuances. Why not give a Bax symphony an outing instead of yet another Mahler One? Again classical music can learn from the past. Arnold Bax's music has received 114 Proms performances, compared with 270 for Gustav Mahler's. So if we take the Proms as a fallible but useful measure of popularity, Bax is almost half as popular as Mahler. But fashion and the music thought police mean that Bax is now a stranger in the concert hall. Every day the news is doom and gloom as we move further into Kali Yuga. So it is worth reflecting on this observation from the contemporary Latvian composer Peteris Vasks: ...people go to the concert hall because they are looking for answers. Above all for a way out of their difficult, unhappy lives. In the concert hall, then, it is not our job to show how the world is, how much aggressiveness, how much brutality there is. People experience those in their everyday lives... We have gigantic technological developments, but the souls of people are neglected. I always ask myself how I can compose so as to bring more light into this world. That is the purpose of music.* EMI recorded the complete incidental music for The Starlight Express in 1974/5. The recording was to have been conducted by Sir Adrian Boult; but he had to withdraw from the sessions and Tod Handley, who assisted Sir Adrian in his later years, conducted instead. The production was by the EMI dream team of Christopher Bishop and Christopher Parker in Abbey Road Studio One. Both performance and sound are exemplary, but sadly the CD transfer is now deleted. ** Hyperion's essential 1983 recording of The Immortal Hour with Alan G. Melville conducting the Englsish Chamber Orchestra is, thankfully, still in the catalogue. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

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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