Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Schubert: Symphony No.9 / Sawallisch - Wiener Philharmoniker

Toru Takemitsu: Requiem

On March 17, 2011, after Music Director Alan Gilbert and guest conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen addressed the audience, the New York Philharmonic performed Toru Takemitsu's Requiem for String Orchestra, in sympathy and admiration for the Japanese people who had recently suffered great loss and damage by the earthquake and tsunami.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

A. Piazzolla 'Oblivion' - Arabella Steinbacher

Astor Piazzolla: 'Oblivion'

Wurttembergisches Kammerorchester Heilbronn
Conductor: Ruben Gazarian
Viola: Arabella Steinbacher

Weilburger Schlosskonzerte 2007
Live recording, 14 July 2007

Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto - Arabella Steinbacher

P. I. Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto in D major, op.35

Arabella Steinbacher - Violin
Vladimir Fedoseyev - Conductor
Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra (Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra)

25/9/2011, Musikverein Saal, Vienna, Austria.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Elgar: Enigma Variations - Bernstein

Edward Elgar composed his Variations on an Original Theme for Orchestra ("Enigma"), Op. 36, commonly referred to as the Enigma Variations, in 1898–99. It is a set of fourteen variations on a hidden "theme" that is, in Elgar's words, "not played". It is Elgar's best-known large-scale composition, for both the music itself and the enigma behind it.

Elgar dedicated the piece to "my friends pictured within", each variation being an affectionate portrayal of one of his circle of close acquaintances. The people portrayed in the variations include Elgar's wife Alice, Augustus J. Jaeger and Elgar himself. The enigma is the hidden theme, which has been the subject of much speculation. Various musicians have proposed theories for what melody it could be, although Elgar did not say that that his "theme" was a melody. The enigma could be something else, such as a symbol or a literary theme. Elgar accepted none of the solutions proposed in his lifetime, and took the secret with him to the grave.

After its 1899 London premiere, the piece achieved popularity and was performed internationally. It has been recorded over 60 times.

Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934)
Enigma Variations, Op. 36
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Leonard Bernstein

Sunday, May 18, 2014

“City Lives”: Fascinating Music Theater by Alexandros Mouzas

By Thanassis Vavlidas

9/5/2014, “City Lives”: Fascinating Music Theater by Alexandros Mouzas (Athens Concert Hall known as Megaron Moussikis of Athens)

Music Theater is one of the newest operatic forms, which flourished during the second half of the twentieth century and still gives birth to remarkable compositions. Kurt Weil and Bertold Brecht could be considered as the European forerunners of this form. Maurizio Kagel, Peter Maxwell Davies and Yannis Christou are held in great esteem for having presented the first and most successful pieces of this form. Quite recently we attended the performance of “Miss Donnithorne’s Maggot” and “Vesalii Icones” by P. M. Davies at Megaron Moussikis of Athens. The composer Alexandros Mouzas was responsible for the artistic supervision of this production. It cannot be considered as a coincidence that three months later, Mouzas presented a fine example of this form entitled “City Lives”. Apparently, he must have been working on this composition for a long time. It consists of eight parts, each of which presents an aspect of city life in relation to important factors affecting it:

1. Introduction
2. Street Life
3. Social Life
4. Money Life
5. Media Life
6. Early Life
7. Inner Life
8. After Life

The composer himself wrote a functional and rather philosophical libretto based on the ideas of modern intellectuals such as Castells, Simmel, McLuhan and Auge (Introduction), which is epitomized by the phrase: “Foreigners in the global village”. Extracts from Hugo, Baudelaire, Barthelemy, Mead, Bakhtin, Gergen, Giddens, Sennet, Bauman, Old Testament, Apocalypse, Koran, Tibetan Bible of the Dead, Kybalion, Ars Moriendi, Financial newspapers and Fairy tales can be traced among the phrases of the libretto. The performance was supported by rather overloaded theatrical scenery, as well as by images (video art, animation, digital painting and sketches) created by Viki Betsou and Alexia Othonaiou. The images sometimes tended to exclusively attract our attention but they functioned quite well with music, especially in the Introduction and in the four last parts.

The musical part took advantage of several styles such as jazz, minimalism, theatrical songs, lyrical parts and religious music, all filtered through the personal style of the composer who managed to create the universe of city life without missing his main point. The singers Myrsini Margariti, Artemis Bogri (sopranos), Maria Vlachopoulou (mezzo soprano) and Tassos Apostolou (bass) were quite expressive and accurate, although they had to overcome frequent changes of scenes and costumes. However, the intensity of music did not always give space for their voices, especially at Street Life and Money Life. The conductor Andreas Tselikas seemed to follow closely the instructions of the composer. He successfully coordinated the singers with “Ergon Ensemble”, a group of musicians specializing in modern music and Music Theater (“Ergon Ensemble” had also taken part in the performance of P. M. Davies’ compositions three months earlier). The composer himself participated in the group by creating special sound effects through the computer.

Our city life has been enriched with new sounds!

Thanassis Vavlidas
Member of the “Union of drama and music Greek critics”

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Mendelssohn: Double Piano Concerto in A-Flat Major

Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)
Concerto for Two Pianos in A-Flat Major

Pianos: Love Derwinger & Roland Pöntinen.
The Nieuw Sinfonietta Amsterdam, cond. Lev Markiz.

An early masterpiece by Mendelssohn and -unjustly- a relatively unknown work!

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Elgar - Symphony No. 1 (Proms 2012)

Edward Elgar - Symphony No. 1 in A flat major

Miah Persson soprano
Andrew Kennedy tenor
BBC Symphony Chorus
London Philharmonic Choir
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Martyn Brabbins conductor

Royal Albert Hall, 29 August 2012

Friday, February 28, 2014

Tosca, Act II (Callas - Gobbi)

Maria Callas - best Tosca ever - and Tito Gobbi - best Scarpia ever - in a superb 1964 production of Giacomo Puccini's "Tosca" at Covent Garden. Here is Act II of the opera. What an acting by Callas and Gobbi!

Tosca: Maria Callas
Cavaradossi: Renato Cioni
Scarpia: Tito Gobbi

The orchestra and chorus of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
Dir. Carlo Felice Cillario

Stage Director: Franco Zeffirelli

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

French avant-garde at the beginning of two centuries

By Thanassis Vavlidas

17/2/2014, Athens State Orchestra in connection with Paris (“Onassis Cultural Center” known as “Stegi Grammaton ke Technon”)

The musical avant–garde in France and, in particular, Paris at the beginning of both the 20th and the 21st century was the underlying subject of the compositions performed by the Athens State Orchestra on 17th of February. This concert inaugurated the collaboration of the Orchestra with the “Onassis Cultural Center”. At the beginning of the program, the pianist Titos Gouvelis vividly presented a brief analysis of the compositions.

The first composition, “Incompatible(s) IX for large orchestra” (dedicated to Nikos Mamangakis) was commissioned by the Orchestra and was performed for the first time worldwide. The Greek composer Nikolas Tzortzis (1978- ) studied music in France and currently lives there. The influence of Peter Eotvos’s example is obvious – the piece is also dedicated to him and to Konrad Stahl, who gave the composer the opportunity to stay at Edenkoben and write this piece. Original sound effects derive from the different position of some instruments like the clarinets in the orchestra, or from instruments consistently playing high notes. The third part, which comprehensively represents the composer’s ideas, is the most interesting one.

The second composition performed was the “Piano Concerto for the left hand” by Maurice Ravel (1875 – 1937). The work was commissioned by the Austrian pianist Paul Wittgenstein (1887 – 1961) who was wounded during World War I and lost his right arm. Ravel was inspired by the technical challenges of the project. As the distinguished French composer stated, “In a work of this kind it is essential to give the impression of a texture no thinner than that of a part written for both hands”. Wittgenstein himself stated, “Only much later, after I’d studied the concerto for months, did I become fascinated by it and realized what a great work it was”. In 1933, Wittgenstein played the work in concert for the first time. Stefanos Thomopoulos, the concerto’s pianist at this present performance, who has also worked in France for many years, succeeded in transmitting to the audience the stylistic mixture of jazz influences and dramatic elements with excessive clarity well supported by the orchestra.

The third composition was a pleasant surprise: “Rage in the heaven city” by Raphael Cendo (1975 - ). The composer, who studied music in Paris and followed a class of computerized music at IRCAM, has developed his own theory about music: “The phenomenon of satiation in the acoustic field is an excess of material, of energy, of movements, of timbre.” The piece is written for big symphonic orchestra and is dedicated to Fausto Romitelli, an Italian composer who died prematurely. It is mainly a piece of phasmatic music where the sounds remind us of the voices coming from whales, seagulls and wild birds, much like the “Cantus arcticus” by Einojuhani Rautavaara. The conductor Vassilis Christopoulos managed to bring on the surface the virtues of the piece and tame the sounds of wind instruments, which have a significant role in the piece.

Last but not least was the composition of Igor Stravinsky, “The Firebird Suite” (1919 version). Stravinsky (1882 – 1971) wrote this piece between 1909 and 1910 for the famous Sergei Diaghilev’s “Ballets Russes Company” for its 1910 Paris season performances. The ballet is based on Russian folk tales of the magical glowing bird that can be both a blessing and a curse for its owner. Based on the Russian tradition and adopting the style of Rimsky–Korsakoff’s orchestration, Stravinsky managed to present a new orchestral sound with new harmonies and complicated rhythms. Athens State Orchestra’s conductor did his best to conceal some difficulties that arose during the performance. Nevertheless, we certainly felt the pleasant odor of the piece.

Thanassis Vavlidas
Member of the “Union of drama and music Greek critics”