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There can be few more evocative words in music than passion

munkacsy_golgotaAs well as its familiar English definition, in a musical context it also suggests the commemoration of that most emotive Christian story, the journey of Jesus to the cross. The passions of John and Matthew were the first to gain a place in the liturgical canon: Pope Leo the Great established that they should be presented during Holy Week as early as the 5th century AD. Performances of the passions from this time onwards appear to have developed in much the same way as religious music generally: initially the texts would have been recited or chanted by a single priest, and by the 12th century there is evidence of musical notation being used to determine pitches. Also apparent in the early sources are indications of a sense of drama: many distinguish clearly between passages relating to the Evangelist/narrator, Christ, and the crowd.

The scandal of Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring

stravinsky3During a late spring night of 1913, the audience that was crammed in the newly opened Théâtre des Champs-Élysées would listen to what would later be called the most relevant composition of the twentieth century: the Rite of Spring. Hired by Diaghilev from the Ballets Russes for their 1913 season, composer Igor Stravinsky had come up with what he summarized as “Pictures of Pagan Russia in Two Parts”, featuring primitive rituals celebrating spring and ending with a sacrificial dance, where a young maiden dances herself to death. The famous opening melody consists of a Lithuanian folk song played at the top of the bassoon’s register, which makes it sound like a completely different instrument. Instead of graceful sequences, Nijinsky had made his dancers perform a sequence of stomping steps. The audience’s discontent kept growing from “derisive laughter to what Stravinsky described it as a “terrific uproar”, and two factions of the audience first attacked each other, then they directed their barbs to the orchestra.

The art of the prelude – Frederic Chopin

Frederic Chopin was born in Poland, west of Warsaw, on either February 22nd or March 1st 1810. Chopin was composing and writing poetry at six, and gave his first public concerto performance at the age of eight. He became a leading advocate of ‘absolute music’, producing some of the earliest Romantic pieces and arguably the finest body of solo music for the piano. In 1836 Chopin met the novelist George Sand (alias Aurore Dudevant), and so began one of the most famous love affairs in the history of music. By 1841, both sets of Chopin’s Etudes had been published. They went on to become indispensable tomes for piano students everywhere.

Orchestras and conductors: versatility is the watchword

The top slot in the list of busiest orchestras goes for the first time to the United Kingdom’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. We asked RPO Managing Director James Williams to what he attributed this:

“We focus on inclusive and versatile programming in the seven Principal Residencies we serve around the UK. We are delighted to be recognised as one of the busiest orchestras in the world. Some 305,000 people experienced the RPO live during its 2017/18 season, performing 143 concerts in the UK in addition to 35 concerts abroad.”


The rising popularity of women conductors

Of the concert conductors, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla got into the top 50 conductors despite taking four months off for maternity leave. Goodness knows how many performances she will be able to clock up in 2019! A newcomer to the conductor list is Karina Canellakis, an American of Greek and Russian origin. She takes up the baton at the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic in September and as winner of the Critics’ Circle Emerging Talent award is definitely one to watch.

Bernstein’s blockbusting birthday

Leonard_Bernstein_NYWTS_19552018 was Leonard Bernstein’s centenary, celebrated across the globe with such enthusiasm that Lenny became the third most performed composer (after the regular holders of the nos, 1 and 2 slots, Beethoven and Mozart). We asked Paul Epstein, Senior Vice President at the Bernstein Foundation, what he had to say about this extraordinary achievement:

“Our goal was to take Leonard Bernstein’s music to the next generation … and for more young people to know about him. We also hoped that Lenny’s music would be looked at altogether, to make a new assessment of what his music was worth, what it was about, and we believed that that would all work to Lenny’s credit – and in fact it did. We feel we did right by Lenny.”

Hector Berlioz was a controversial French composer

Berlioz_Petit_BNF_GallicaBerlioz (1803-69) started his carrier as a medical student, he swapped disciplines mid-course and started his formal music studies at the Paris Conservatoire. An extraordinary pupil, over the next six years he produced a series of increasingly original and inventive works that climaxed in the Symphonie Fantastique. In 1832 Berlioz began a 30-year spell as music critic, but had a love-hate relationship with his work, even though he was one of few composers whose prose was as accomplished as his music. When his requiem, Grande Messe des Morts, was first performed in 1837, its unprecedented scale – temporal, emotional and instrumental – left onlookers gasping in its wake, while Roméo et Juliette (1839) accomplished much the same reaction in the symphonic sphere. His greatest masterpiece, the epic five-hour opera Les Troyens, defied all attempts to get a complete production staged in his lifetime, and although his last great work, the light-hearted opera Béatrice et Bénédict, was well received, it was a case of too little too late for Berlioz.

(Magyar) Boros Misi otthonosan érzi magát Vácott

Sorry, this entry is only available in Hungarian.

How to make classical music concerts more attractive?

200330172-002The audience should feel free to applaud between movements: Gustav Mahler introduced the habit of sitting silently until the end of a piece and I think after some 100 years, it’s time to change that.

Programs should be less predictable: there must be an element of unpredictability a little item of chamber music or anything else, something unexpected.

The artists should engage with the audience: to introduce a piece, greet the audience or to sign a program. Everybody should be able to talk to the musicians and share their thoughts and opinions, if it’s backstage or in the bar.

Orchestras shouldn’t play in tail suits

Concerts should be more family friendly: people with small kids want to go to concerts too, but they have to be able to leave the hall quickly and silently when the little ones get bored, and should offer priority seats near the exits. Playing areas, interactive content, even child-minding facilities – concert halls need to think about families.

We should move the concert experience into the 21st century, like why do concert halls not use screens to show details of a performance to people who can’t see it from the back? Or offering more contents to download before and during a performance?

Every program should contain a contemporary piece

Les Illuminations

brittensum_2451119bBenjamin Britten (1913-76) was an English composer, conductor, and pianist; and one of the central figures of twentieth century music. The Illuminations, op. 18, is a song cycle by Benjamin Britten, first performed in 1940. It is composed for soprano or tenor soloist and string orchestra, and sets verse and prose poems written in 1872–73 by Arthur Rimbaud, part of his collection Les Illuminations. Britten began writing the cycle in Suffolk in March 1939 and completed it a few months later in the United States. It was the first of his song cycles to gain widespread popularity. The cycle was originally written for a soprano; Britten’s biographer David Matthews comments that the work is “so much more sensuous when sung by the soprano voice for which the songs were conceived.” Nevertheless the work can be, and more often is, sung by a tenor: Britten conducted the piece with Peter Pears as soloist within two years of the premiere. The first performance of the cycle was given on 30 January 1940 at the Aeolian Hall, London, by Sophie Wyss, to whom the cycle is dedicated. In the present performance of this rearly played piece the soprano voice of Sophie Klußmann was accompanied by the Budapest Festival Orchestra.

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