Tag Archive: Debussy

A Weekend with Pierre Boulez…and Debussy, Duckworth, Beethoven, and Paavali Jumppanen, Pianist

Pierre Boulez in 1980. Photo Don Hunstein/Columbia Records.

When I approach a review, I usually try to objectify it in some way, especially if it’s about familiar music, not only in recognition of the the fact that I’m writing for a public readership, but also in recognition of the discrete nature of a work of art as an entity created by an individual working under a specific set of historical circumstances, even if it dates from two months ago. Boulez’s Répons is very much rooted in such a situation in 1981, with its connection to the history of electronic music—then still fairly young—and the foundation of IRCAM, an event which gave electronic music formal institutional support in Europe. However, my personal response to hearing it at the Park Avenue Armory was especially strong, and in this review I will stay with that.

Verlaine and Ten Composers: Exquisite Poetry, Exquisite Singing, Exquisite Playing

Paul Verlaine (1844-1896). Album / Oronoz.

Back in the LP days, if a singer wanted to show some sophistication, s/he sometimes put out an album of songs by famous composers set to the poems of one poet: for example, Phyllis Curtin’s much-admired 1964 disc of Debussy and Fauré songs to poems by Verlaine, with pianist Ryan Edwards (available now as a CD from VAI).

Charles Dutoit conducts the San Francisco Symphony with Emanuel Ax, piano, in Sibelius, Mozart, de Falla, and Debussy

Gustave Courbet, The_Wave, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Scotland

If you ever wonder how Sibelius’ music seems to come in two styles, one bardic, noble, warmly patriotic and slightly thumpy; the other austere, cerebral, craggy and interplanetary, think Karelia. This is the eastern portion of Finland near the White Sea, where ancient forms of native song and poetry still obtained at the turn of the last century. As Vaughan Williams scoured England for folksong and Bartók transcribed them in Hungary, a similar romantic enthusiasm for Finnish roots swept young Finns of the day. Karelianism, it was called, and Sibelius’ suite derives from the music he wrote for the Karelia Pageant of 1893, which represented something of a culmination of the movement. The opening “Intermezzo”, otherwise a contradiction in terms, was in fact used to separate two tableaux within the festivities.

Ian Hobson, piano: Preludes – Etudes – Variations at Merkin Concert Hall, February 22, 2016: Chopin, Debussy, Rachmaninoff

Pianist Ian Hobson

Mr. Hobson’s program, consisting of a very early work by Chopin, which he wrote as a conservatory student at age 17 and performed soon after his graduation two years later, the fifty-year-old Debussy’s peak as a writer for the piano, and Rachmaninoff’s final work written in Russia: in 1917, when he was forty-four, and his world was crumbling around him, as the Revolution continued its course and he realized that he would have to leave his native country, where he had friends, money, and property, and face an uncertain future as an exile, most likely supporting his family with concert tours in the United States, which he hated. All these works have their harmonic, coloristic, and emotional extremities, at points going as far as to reflect the Paganinian tradition of the demented, or diabolical virtuoso. Hobson responded to this with full sympathy in all, as well as prodigious energy.

Stephen Porter plays Debussy’s Preludes, Books I and II at SubCulture, New York

Stephen Porter playing Debussy at SubCulture, New York

One can’t say that performances of both books of Debussy’s Preludes are absolutely unheard of, but they are sufficiently uncommon for Stephen Porter to deserve our admiration for his courage and enlightenment in offering them in the form he did. Not only did he perform both books in their entirety from memory, he prefaced each with a piece from Debussy’s earlier Images, in order to prepare the audience, and included engaging discussions of the composer and the works, not only providing us with background, but preparing us to listen, to enter Debussy’s particular world of sounds.

Scriabin lives again at Carnegie Hall! With Mendelssohn, Debussy, Brahms, and Schumann. Riccardo Muti conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, with Yefim Bronfman

Alexander Scriabin, Tatiana Schloezer and Leonid Sabaneev on the banks of the Oka

One can’t help feeling mildly shocked when one realizes that the Chicago Symphony is now alone among the great American orchestras in employing one of the great senior conductors as Music Director. Michael Tilson Thomas in San Francisco is close to him in age, but nowhere near him in authority. Franz Welser-Möst has something like authority, but not the age, and one might say that his conviction in following his own lights has not quite developed into the kind of authority conductors like Muti and Chailly command.

Stephen Porter played late works by Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin and Debussy at the House of the Redeemer in Manhattan, Thursday May 1, at 7.30 pm—a presentation of New York Arts

Stephen Porter, pianist

We were extremely proud to present, as our single concert of this season, a piano recital by Stephen Porter, a musician of supreme intelligence, sensitivity, and learning. His pianism is equally developed on the fortepiano as on the modern fortepiano, and we are fortunate that his curious ear for historical instruments has drawn him to the unique qualities of the House of the Redeemer’s Grotrian-Steinweg grand in the intimate acoustics of its Library.

Pianissimo: Memorable keyboard art by Russell Sherman and Marc-André Hamelin and chamber music by the Takács and Borromeo String Quartets trigger some personal reminiscences

Lloyd Schwartz, 1988, by Robert Giard

This season marked the 75th Anniversary of the Celebrity Series of Boston, founded by Aaron Richmond, whose widow, Nancy Richmond Winsten, sponsors the piano events and is still a familiar attendee. I have a deep sense of nostalgia about the Celebrity Series. The very first concert I ever attended in Boston was with the Budapest String Quartet (my favorite quartet) in 1962. It was my first year of graduate school (I was a very young grad student) and I was living on a $1500 a year scholarship. I had neither time nor money for anything as frivolous as a chamber music concert. But I had to go. The Jordan Hall box office told me the performance was sold out… unless I was willing to take a cheap stage seat. So there I was, sitting a few feet away from the Budapest Quartet playing Haydn, Mozart, and Schubert. It remains one of the greatest concerts I ever heard in my life.

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