Saturday, December 3, 2016
From its 2011 beginnings in London’s bustling concert scene, the classical music series ASPECT embraced presentations that integrate classical music programs in a specific cultural framework. With its syllabus of accompanying talks surrounding its traditional classical music programs, examining everything from composers’ lives and the historic relevance of their works, to connections between musical expression, art and poetry, the not-for-profit foundation became widely frequented, especially within London’s large community of actively engaged amateur musicians. ( Photo credit: Andy Filimon – Irina Knaster surrounded by collaborating artists ) A brainchild of Russian-American culture devotee and former pianist Irina Knaster, the series has now – parallel to Irina’s move to New York – found a new musical home at Columbia University’s Italian Academy. The series’ New York debut on October 5th featured a sold out one-off concert, exploring little known links between Mozart and Bach, whose works were performed by stellar artists. Violinist Dmitry Sitkovetsky, cellist Sergey Antonov, violist Dov Scheindlin and pianist extraordinaire Ignat Solzhenitsyn collaborated in various combinations with remarks interjected by Yale’s renowned professor, musicologist Paul Berry to the evening’s thematic: “Bach and Mozart, a lasting influence.” Clearly caught up in his calling, his elucidations might have fared better with a little less lecturing from the page, but his remarks were informative and thoughtful; if perhaps a little too academic for most of the audience members’ tastes. Any disappointment, though, was more than made up for by the stellar musicians who performed with great excellence and passion. Also delightful was the socially openhanded reception in the venue’s substantial foyer following the concert; many of the attending audience members knew some of the musicians, the organizers, or each other, and the crowd’s chemistry and enjoyment clearly evidenced the value of one of ASEPCT’s attractions: a cohesive, active community of musical people and fans of the artists. The attendance of Dmitry Sitkovetsky’s famed mother Bella Davidovich, renowned as one of Russia’s iconic pianists and teachers, was a special bonus, and it did not take long for her to become surrounded by a flock of former students and admirers. An important facet of the series’ inspiration though lies in its alliance with musicians who are not necessarily favored by mainstream audiences. Says Knaster: “Many of the greatest musicians are not interested in or just not invested enough to create a huge PR following around them, but they are the true ‘bread and butter’ musicians, dedicated to music for the sake of music. They devote every minute of their time and effort to their work, learning new repertoire, teaching and well, playing with musicians they enjoy working with already, not necessarily looking out for opportunities that will further their own careers. For me, those are the real kind of artists who deserve support and these are the kind of artists that should be featured in the series.” Knaster’s criterion for choosing performers for her series is neither following in-demand “young and sexy” performers, nor is she exclusively looking for artists who are hugely renowned. She says, “even though artists that have an interesting following are geared to bring along some attractive collaborations, every concert is different. Sometimes programming is conceived around a specific artist; sometimes artists bring a whole concept or a specific presentation along.” Thematic choices of the series have been open ended themes, like “Composers on Composers,” Musical Capitals,” “Great Muses,” or” Words on Music,” with performers touching on a specific angle. ( Photo credit: Andy Filimon, violinist Dmitry Sitkovetsky and Paul Berry) Sometimes it’s either the charismatic speaker who can have an enlightening impact, or the artist who connects particularly well with the audience. Thanks to the great support of the foundation’s sponsorship, Knaster has presented twenty-seven London concerts, pamphlets of each she collects in a big folder that she affectionately refers to as her ‘bible,’ flipping through the pages reminiscing, and a little bit in awe. She has received some positive press, including an article in The Strad, which she feels impacts her audiences less than it does her artists. “It’s a lot of trial and error that makes the series grow, and apparently the more parts there are to an event, the more there is that can go wrong,” she says. It is a risk, however, that the petite yet vigorous young woman, who admits to being somewhat of a perfectionist, is willing to take. “When it all comes together, it’s exhilarating,” she explains, “one of my favorite ones was actually the last concert in London; it just worked perfectly.” She refers to a concert that centered on the love triangle of Shostakovich, Rostropovich and Britten, presented by BBC’s Lain Burnside, a concert she feels had exactly the right balance of instruction, music and personal input, and also benefitted from being presented in the amazing venue, she found after trying other locations for the series concerts: Notting Hill’s recently renovated 20th Century Theatre, which fit the ideal audience of 200 that Knaster had in mind. That last London evening was also enhanced by the presence of a former classmate of Rostropovich, equipped with old photos of him with Britten. “It was just special in every aspect, but projects are likely to take on a life of their own,” says Knaster. 20th Century Theatre, Notting Hill, London, England. Clearly the orchestration of every detail becomes much more important in an overall experience that focuses on music, but does not end there. “In the concert hall, people come to listen to the music, often holding their coat on their lap and then are getting up and leave without talking about their experience much, nor connecting with others. Here, you check your coat at the wardrobe, and you hopefully come away with an all-around meaningful encounter.” Bringing the audience and the artists together, it seems the reception does fulfill an important objective, perhaps by balancing the emotional impact of the music, perhaps by affirming that audience members have become individual members of this newly-created social environment, or perhaps just by allowing that audiences continue to nourish and nosh. While Knaster counts on the help of some of her former London collaborators, especially that of her former Art Professor, Patrick Bade, as well as longtime friend and BBC producer Misha Donat, getting started in New York brings a whole slew of new players onto her team. Knaster’s versatile experiences are certainly a plus in her new endeavor. In addition to her education as a pianist, Knaster absolved a master’s program in art history and studied law, working as a corporate lawyer for an American company in Russia for many years during Russia’s phase of opening to the Western World. For personal advice, she has turned to New York’s legendary Edna Landau, co-founder of IMG and former personal manager of piano prodigy Evgeny Kissin. Edna, whose experience and endless knowledge of everything musical in the city, currently disperses career advice to conservatory students and musical talent throughout the country and knows just about every musician. It looks like even if all the kinks haven’t been ironed out before Aspect’s next concert, it won’t take another twenty-seven concerts to land Knaster’s programing in the public eye as a local institution. New Yorkers may not be able to rely on a community of amateurs as huge and engaged as that which London has to offer, but the New York music scene is quick to pick up on refined programming and solid performers, and not one to dismiss socially accommodating presentations. With political worlds separating society increasingly, perhaps New York needs an active music community more than ever. ASPECT’s next concert, titled “Romantic Vienna,” will take place on January 26th and will present works by the Austrian capital’s musical pillars that frame either end of the Romantic Movement: Schubert and Brahms. It will feature Arnaud Sussmann, violin, Paul Neubauer, viola, Rafael Figueroa, cello and Vsevolod Dvorkin, piano, emceed with an illustrated talk by BBC broadcaster Stephen Johnson. You can read more about this event and about the ASPECT Foundation at www.aspectfoundation.net.
The CD of the Month for December, 2016 is actually not only music by Schubert, but also the quartet ‘Voces Intimae’ by Jean Sibelius. Schubert: String Quartet No. 14 in D minor, D810 ‘Death and the Maiden’ Sibelius: String Quartet in D minor, Op. 56 ‘Voces Intimae’ Performed by the Ehnes Quartet Death was heavily on the minds of both Schubert and Sibelius when they were composing the two string quartets on this new CD from the Ehnes Quartet. Sibelius had undergone several operations to remove a tumour in his throat. The bleak and highly personal 4th Symphony is the masterwork from this period, but the string quartet ‘Intimate Voices’ of 1908 should not be underestimated. This work has an almost Haydnesque construction, and the quartet’s first movement’s sheer perfection of form approaches that of the 3rd Symphony’s opening movement. Franz Schubert wrote to a friend in 1824: “I am the most unhappy and wretched creature in the world…whose health will never be right again”. With his emotions veering from happy memories of earlier years to shuddering terror at the prospect of death, he composed two string quartets and the Octet over a two- month period. The Schubert D minor quartet makes ingenious use of his earlier song ‘Death and the Maiden’ from 1817 in the slow movement’s variations. ‘Give me your hand, you fair and gentle creature; I am a friend and do not come to punish’ sings Death soothingly. The music captures Schubert’s fearful state of mind in a remarkable piece of music that has been a favorite for so many years. Here is the sad slow movement from Schubert’s quartet:
This album is a great introduction to the deeply amazing world of Schubert’s songs. It features a very personal collection of Schubert songs chosen by Christian Gerhaher, who has performed these songs for many years and has a profound connection to them. The album includes a detailed booklet text with a separate paragraph detailing each song. The title of the album is “Nachtviolen” The Lieder titles are as follows: Schubert: An den Mond in einer Herbstnacht, D614 (Schreiber) Hoffnung, D295 Im Janner 1817 (Tiefes Leid) D876 Abschied D475 (Mayrhofer) Herbst, D945 Über Wildemann D884 (Ernst Schulze) Der Wanderer, D649 (Friedrich von Schlegel) Der Wanderer an den Mond D870 (Seidl) Der Zwerg, D771 (Collin) Abendstern, D806 Im Walde D834 Nach einem Gewitter D561 (Mayrhofer) Der Schiffer D694 (F von Schlegel) An die Nachtigall, D196 (Holty) Totengräberweise D869 (Schlechta) Frühlingsglaube, D686 Nachtviolen D752 (Mayrhofer) Abendlied fur die Entfernte, D856 (Schlegel) Wehmut, D772 (Collin) Der Strom, D565 (poet unknown) Der Hirt D490 (Mayrhofer) Lied eines Schiffers an die Dioskuren D360 (Mayrhofer) Nachtgesang D314 (Kosegarten) Der Sänger am Felsen, D482 All performed by Christian Gerhaher (baritone) and Gerold Huber (piano) Schubert set the verse of over 100 poets to music, composing approximately 650 songs. He selected biblical texts and poetry from classical Greece, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment and the early Romantic era, the poets including Goethe, Schiller, Shakespeare, Petrarca and Heine as well as his Austrian contemporaries and friends. About Christian Gerhaher Christian Gerhaher’s Lied interpretations with Gerold Huber set standards – their recordings have repeatedly been highly acclaimed. The lied duo appears on the stages of major international recital venues, for instance at the Wigmore Hall in London, in the Carnegie Hall in New York, the Concertgebouw Amsterdam, the Cologne and Berlin Philharmonie, the Konzerthaus and the Musikverein in Vienna. Christian Gerhaher is a regular guest at the Schwetzingen Festival, the Rheingau Music Festival, the London Proms, the Edinburgh and Lucerne Festivals, the Salzburg Festival, as well as the Aspen and Tanglewood Festivals in the USA. The Sunday Times wrote: “Gerhaher brings his special qualities, the most beautiful lyric baritone voice of any lieder specialist I know, entirely natural and immaculate German diction, and musical and expressive insights that mark him out as one of the greatest lieder singers of any age…the entire programme is vintage Schubert and vintage Gerhaher.” Here is Mr. Gerhaher, singing “Fischerweise” by Franz Schubert:
On this CD the Heath Quartet brings us a contrasting program of Tchaikovsky’s String Quartets: his Quartet No. 1 (well-known for its “Andante cantabile”) and the amazing Quartet No. 3. Tchaikovsky: String Quartet No. 1 in D major, Op. 11 String Quartet No. 3 in E flat minor, Op. 30 As performed by the Heath Quartet. Since winning 1st Prize at the Tromp Competition, the Heath Quartet has earned a strong international presence. In 2011 they were awarded a Borletti-Buitoni Special Ensemble Scholarship and undertook complete Beethoven cycles at the Facyl Festival in Salamanca and in Edinburgh. Highlights over the last year have included recitals at Wigmore Hall in London. Future engagements include complete Tippett and Bartók cycles, and a recital with the soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci at Wigmore Hall, debut recitals at the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay in Paris, return visits to the Concertgebouw. The Sunday Times wrote earlier this month that: “Russian interpreters have tended to dominate this repertoire in the catalogue, so it’s good to hear these outstanding young British musicians in still relatively neglected works…the Heath players pour out Tchaikovsky’s grief for his friend with a depth of tone and virtuosity – in the allegros – that matches the finest Russians on disc. A notable debut”. Here is the Heath Quartet playing Schubert:
Macabre and moonstruck, Schubert as Goth, with Stuart Jackson, Marcus Farnsworth and James Baillieu at the Wigmore Hall. An exceptionally well-planned programme devised with erudition and wit, executed to equally high standards. This recital will be one Lieder aficionados will remember for years. For 19th century Romantics, death was a source of endless fascination, much in the way that sex dominated the 20th century. Many songs in this programme are early works, some written when Schubert was as young as 14, and give an insight into his youthful psyche. Like most teenagers, before and since, he was intrigued by "the dark side". In a strict Catholic society, the Gothic Imagination gave a kind of legitimacy to dangerous, subversive emotions. The whole Romantic sensibility was a kind of Oedipal reaction against the paternalism of neo-Classical values. In these songs, we can hear young Schubert rebelling against his father, connecting to what we'd now call the subconscious. In Ein Leichenfantasie D7 (1811) to a poem by Friedrich Schiller, a man is burying his son in a crypt. But why is the burial taking place in the dead of night. The son has a "Feuerwunde" penetrating his very soul with "Höllenschmerz". This death was not from natural causes. Suicide was a mortal sin. Schiller's meditation on the reversal of the natural order is sophisticated, the transits in the poem rather more elegant than Schubert's setting. In 1811, he was but still a child, so his transits between ideas are less elegant than Schiller's, but the ideas are original, if not completely coherent. Still, the song is an audacious tour de force lasting nearly 20 minutes, an undertaking that calls for finesse in performance. Eine Leichenfantasie exists in both baritone and tenor versions, though the former is better known, but it would have been asking too much of most audiences to hear both versions together in succession. There were other sets of songs like Das war ich D174 a and b but the Kosegarten pairs, An Rosa I D315 (1815) and An Rosa II D 316 and the two Abends unter der Linde D235 and D237 (1816) benefited from the greater variety in the settings. The first Abends unter der Linde, for example, is more lyrical, the second more haunted, with its reference to the names of the poet's deceased children. Hence the value of a tenor/baritone recital highlighting contrasts in related pieces. There's clearly a good dynamic between Jackson and Farnsworth, which made the alternations flow together well. Their joint Lied (Ins stille Land) D403 (1816) was extremely impressive, the alternating voices capturing the lively flow of the music in typically Schubertian style, reaching "the land of rest" by vigorous images of movement, vividly depicted by Baillieu's expressive playing. Even with two very different songs, Lob des Tokayers D248 (1815)(Gabriele von Naumberg) and Punschlied 'Im Norden zu singen' D253 (1815) (Schiller) the flow between voices was enhanced by a very genuine sense of conviviality between Jackson and Farnsworth. Sincerity does matter in a genre like Lieder, which is so intense and so personal. Sincerity matters, too, in strophic ballads like Der Vatermörder D10 (1811) to a poem by Gottlieb Conrad Pfeffel, in which a son kills his father. "Kein Wolf, kein Tiger, nein, Der Mensch allein, der Tiere Fürst, erfand den Vatermord allein", which makes an emotional point, though it's not borne out in nature. The text is maudlin. Having killed his father, the son wipes out a brood of fledgings whom he thinks were mocking him. Such melodrama might call for overblown declamation. Instead, Jackson sang sensitively: we must not laugh. The piano part thunders obsessively, suddenly slowing into watchful near silence, suggesting that the killer is insane, or at least as feral as the beasts of the woods. Like Eine Leuchenfantasie, Der Vatermörder is a teenage piece without much finesse, but Schubert treats it seriously, and so should we. This same emotional truth illuminated another pairing Der Einseidelei I and II, D393(1816) and D563 (1817) respectively. Both are settings of poems by Johann Gaudenz, Freiherr von Salis-Seewis, about hermits who live alone in nature: simple sentiments but not at all simplistic. Jackson's phrasing was sensual yet pure, suggesting that the hermit's choice was riches indeed. In Des Fräuleins Liebeslauchen D698 (1820) (Schlechta), a lovesick knight throws flowers to his ladylove. Jackson's naturalness of expression made us respect the knight, though his love might be in vain. Jackson and Farnsworth are among the most promising English singers of their generation. I first heard Jackson sing a few songs in a private recital when he was only 22. Yet his voice is so distinctive that I immediately recognized it some years later when he sang at the Wigmore Hall/Kohn Foundation International Song Competition in 2011. Since then, he's developed extremely well, with a blossoming career in opera. Having worked in Stuttgart, his German is also more idiomatic than most English singers. Marcus Farnsworth won the Wigmore Hall/Kohn Foundation Song Competition in 2009 and appears in recital and on the BBC. James Baillieu is a well-known song accompanist and chamber player, who presented an 11-concert series at the Wigmore Hall last year. This splendid programme, and performance, concluded with Schubert's Fischerweise D881 (1826) (Franz Xaver Freiherr von Schlechta) , a familiar favourite but rarely, if ever, heard with tenor and baritone sharing the honours. An inspired idea! The song moves briskly, with the piano playing jaunty rhythms "gleich den Wellen, und frei sein wie die Flut", which repeat in not quite matching pairs. With two singers, you can also hear how this duality is also embedded in the vocal line.The voices interact, like oars, pulling together. In the final strophe,words like "Die Hirtin" and "schlauer Wicht" are separated more clearly than is often the case, but this further emphasizes the choppy "waves" in the piano part and the concept of the sea as a metaphor for life. Meanwhile, on a bridge, a shepherdess coyly pretends to fish. The fisherman isn't fooled. "Den Fisch betrügst du nicht!" This review also appears in Opera Today
A thanksgiving meditation from our weekly diarist Anthea Kreston, violinist of the Artemis Quartet. In these times of political division, I often think of my grandmother-in-law, Madeline Duckles, who passed three years ago at the age of 97. I first met Madeline Duckles in 2000 in LaJolla, California, after an Amelia Piano Trio concert for “rising stars”. We had recently spent six weeks in the glory of that Southern California town, perched above the ocean on cliffs, housed in a magnificent home of a patron of LaJolla Summerfest. The Amelia Piano Trio was less than a year old, but had a quick entrance into the chamber music scene, partially because Jason and I were also members of the Avalon String Quartet. The supercouple of David Finckel and Wu Han had taken the reigns of LaJolla the year before, and they proposed to us that not only the Quartet, but also the Trio would come be the young artists in residence at LaJolla Summerfest. We jumped at the chance, although this meant that I would be rehearsing four hours per day on viola, and four on violin, as well as having daily public master classes and many performances. In addition, Quartet was heavily preparing for the rigors of the ARD competition. But, how could we not do it? It was a pleasure to be invited back to perform on their winter series. I had heard much about Madeline Duckles – she was a force to be reckoned with. The Matriarch of a Berkeley, California musical dynasty – her husband was the foremost musical bibliographer of his generation Vincent Duckles (at the time, the UCBerkeley library was named the Duckles Library), she was the mother of five strapping musical boys, and later fostered a young girl from Vietnam. Vin was an avid collector of rare manuscripts, and built the UCBerkeley Library into one of the greatest musical libraries of the world. To quote the UCBerkeley website, “Duckles built an atmosphere of friendship in the library that was entirely characteristic of the man himself. Those who worked there (as scholars, students, and staff) all experienced his concern for people as well as books, his patience and sheer good will. Affection is indeed a word that comes to mind when we think of Vin Duckles. He simply radiated goodness. No one can remember him ever uttering a sharp word. He and his wife Madeline were constantly involved in liberal and humanitarian causes; their circle of friends among librarians, book people, and musicologists on two continents was unusually wide and warm.” As a young mother, Madeline traveled extensively throughout Europe, her five boys in tow, as Vincent combed through church basements and libraries for musical manuscripts. His tome “Musical Reference and Research Materials” was published – the first periodical to organize international writings on music. He was colleagues with other ground-breaking musicologist of the time, for example Otto Eric Deutsch (cataloguer of Schubert scores) and the inventor of RILM (International Repertoire of Musical Literature) – think of them as the “Indiana Jones” of classical music – investigating, traipsing around the globe, digging for information and bringing the findings back to the hallowed halls of their respective Universities for publication. The organization of the classical music world. Madeline, a supportive wife who was famous for her large parties and always open door, was hardly a woman under the wings of her husband. She was raised on a ranch in the outback of California – in the times of horses and the Wild West – when girls had a tough life ahead of them and Native American presence was evident. She attended UCBerkeley (where she met Vincent) and began to see the world from the outside, as a person increasingly involved in human rights, peace, and the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. As she traveled throughout Europe, her involvement increased – an outspoken advocate for women’s rights, and political freedom. Her home in Berkeley had a revolving door of guests from the reaches of the world – in town for conferences, or work with the Friends Service Committee or the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. Madeline herself was on the front lines of protests – speaking, writing, meeting with people for negotiations. Her work with in the 60’s lead to the first Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaties, and she was the recipient many accolades. During the Vietnam War, her involvement took a deeply personal bend, as she applied for and was accepted to foster a young girl who had been severely wounded in Vietnam. And so, the family of seven became a family of eight, during which time their new addition had medical attention and a series of operations. Madeline became a widow in her 70’s, and her house continued to overflow with visitors of every stripe and nationality – some staying for one night, some for years. The doors were alway open (literally) and she held court in her redwood home perched on the Berkeley Hills – 51 steps down from the road on a slender, steep path. When I met Madeline, after our concert in LaJolla, she apologized for arriving late – we had originally planned to grab a bite together before the show. She explained that, on the drive down from San Francisco, there was a demonstration at a nuclear site that she needed to go to. She ended up being arrested, and handcuffed standing up for four hours to a hurricane fence, all the while her nose was running and she was not allowed to have her cane (she was 84 at the time). Par for the course for Madeline, whose arrest record (both before and after I met her) had prompted her own file at the FBI (she was later to discover that even her friend’s dog, “Blackie” had a file – they thought it was a code name – telephone transcripts of “Blackie 10 AM veterinary visit, Blackie lost his ball, etc”.) After this meeting, Madeline and Jason and I spent many glorious times together – in France, Italy, Washington D.C., California. She was a woman of dignity and grace – she never wore “slacks” and always made time for a 5:00 cocktail. She lived alone in her Berkeley home until just months before her passing, at the age of 97. Our oldest daughter played “Old Macdonald had a Farm” for her memorial service, and carries her name. Her nobility, strength of character, ability to influence the world for better – she continues to be an inspiration to us all.
Franz Schubert (January 31, 1797 November 19, 1828) was an Austrian composer. Although he died at an early age, Schubert was tremendously prolific. He wrote some 600 Lieder, nine symphonies (including the famous "Unfinished Symphony"), liturgical music, operas, some incidental music, and a large body of chamber and solo piano music. Appreciation of his music during his lifetime was limited, but interest in Schubert's work increased dramatically in the decades following his death at the age of 31. Franz Liszt, Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms and Felix Mendelssohn, among others, discovered and championed his works in the 19th Century. Today, Schubert is admired as one of the leading exponents of the early Romantic era in music and he remains one of the most frequently performed composers.
Great composers of classical music