Tag Archive: Esa-Pekka Salonen

A Season of Baroque Instrumental Music in New York—Mostly Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach

Words like “Lively,” “energetic,” and “idiosyncratic” are understatements when it comes to the fiery interpretations of Baroque ensemble music—above all Vivaldi’s—Fabio Biondi has achieved with his virtuoso string orchestra, Europa Galante. In this capacity he comfortably alternates, in true Baroque fashion, between his role as leader and, when called for, as soloist. Last February 20, he appeared as a soloist with Kenneth Weiss, great New York-based harpsichordist, for a program consisting mostly of Bach, with one work by an Italian native, the Bergamasque Pietro Antonio Locatelli. Once one heard a movement or two of Bach’s Violin Sonata in G Major, it became clear that the program was founded on an argument—that Bach’s Violin Sonatas, which he wrote around 1725-6 at Cöthen, are essentially Italianate in character—no surprise, in fact. Mr. Biondi’s brilliance and warm Sicilian temperament blazed out in every bar, with strongly inflected phrases and dramatic pauses between them. Not everyone appreciates Biondi’s intense musicianship. For my part, I admire it and very much enjoy his performances of Vivaldi and other Italians. In this concert, however, I found his playing mannered and distracting. Of course we all know that Bach looked to Italian models in his instrumental music, above all Vivaldi, of whom Förkel said that his music “taught him to think musically.”



Shostakovich’s Rediscovered Opera ‘Orango’ and the Fourth Symphony in London

By the skin of his teeth. As a bizarre offshoot of the workers’ paradise, Soviet ideology boasted of creating a New Man, with possible help from the apes — before DNA was discovered, crackpot experiments that involved interbreeding humans with lower primates were conceived. The only success was fictitious, a creature named Orango who began life as a French journalist before being injected with chimpanzee serum. He is the sullen, furry anti-hero of a satirical opera begun by Shostakovich in 1932, and although the weirdness of the libretto may have been a stumbling block, another was probably political: Orango spoofed the decadent West (the creature uses his intelligence to become a stock market manipulator but retains a King Kong-like appetite for blondes). Did Orango’s brutish manners shave a bit too close to Stalin? Or did he dangerously mock the promise of a New Man?



Esa-Pekka Salonen and Leila Josefowicz in Salonen’s Violin Concerto, with Ravel’s Tombeau de Couperin and Stravinsky’s Complete Firebird

Leila Josefowicz

This concert was without a doubt one of the great events of the season, whether in Boston or New York, and certainly a high point in the BSO’s unexpectedly patchy year, at least as far as guest conductors were concerned, which seemed almost miraculous on paper, given the short notice allowed by James Levine’s final health setback, but in practice greatly curtailed by the cancellation of some the most distinguished conductors. Riccardo Chailly’s coronary ailment forced him to cancel his two concerts and effectively put him out of the running for the empty music directorship. Andris Nelsons rather strangely decided to go on paternal leave barely more than a month before his scheduled concert. Ill-health made it necessary for Kurt Masur, one of the great interpreters of the Missa Solemnis, to back out of his engagement while already in rehearsal. It was, to say the least, reassuring to find Esa-Pekka Salonen appearing  as scheduled with violinist Leila Josefowicz in an advanced stage of expectancy, much to the delight of her many fans in the audience.



Vasily Petrenko and Joshua Bell in a Russo-English Program with the SF Symphony: Shostakovich, Tchaikovsky, Glazunov, and Elgar

Vasily Petrenko. Photo Mark McNulty.

Hats off, ladies and Gentlemen! A conductor! And a great symphony!

Vasily Petrenko’s recent electrifying week with the San Francisco Symphony reminds the listener that Gustavo Dudamel is not the sole “conducting animal” to be found on the musical circuit these days. Esa-Pekka Salonen coined the term a while back, with the impassioned Venezuelan in mind. And indeed, Dudamel is the sort of refreshing performer who has the winds jumping to their feet like jazz musicians and bass players twirling their instruments. He is all about emotion as vitality. But physically, apart from the energy with which he beats time, his manner is unremarkable.

The fascination of Petrenko, by contrast, is his ability to reflect every quivering moment of the music somewhere on his face or body, as though he were a disembodied hologram. We joke about people who are “double-jointed.” But Vasily Petrenko might as well be quadruple-sprung and then some…this is a man who’d have no trouble tapping three heads, rubbing five tummies and signalling with numerous eyebrows at the same time!



Esa-Pekka Salonen and Christian Tetzlaff in Bartók with the Philharmonia at the Royal Festival Hall

The saint of Bleaker Street. Morose, manic, and methodical. They all alliterate with Magyar, the Hungarian spirit that ran through Bartók, and each term applies to his music. But the saddest match would be martyr. In God’s calculus of gifts, to those who suffer most, the most is given. Bartók’s soul must have believed in that formula. Like the other two titans of modernism, Schoenberg and Stravinsky, he was triply alienated, being a genius, an expatriate, and a logician of the abstruse. All three composers were forced to deal with their complex fates, yet Bartók made of his a via dolorosa.



The One and Only Igor: Gergiev conducts Les Noces and Oedipus Rex

In a recent interview the conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, remarked that Igor Stravinsky pulled off the greatest camouflage in the history of music. He was referring to the composer’s lifelong stand that music expresses no emotions, indeed, expresses nothing except sound. Behind this mask, Salonen said, lies a man of deep feeling whose music is often as moving as any ever written. I began to think about Stravinsky and his camouflage, which has always baffled me. How could such glittering creations, each commanding your attention, whether as a shout across the primordial steppes or a murmur like the tick-tock of a mantel clock in the Princesse de Polignac’s salon, be about nothing?





Janáček’s From the House of the Dead, after Dostoevsky, Patrice Chéreau, director, at the Metropolitan Opera

Jon Morris, Erwin E.A. Thomas (with eagle), Peter Straka as The Tall Prisoner, and Vladimir Chmelo as The Short Prisoner. Photo Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

Metropolitan Opera House November 24, 2009 From the House of the Dead Janáček-Janáček/Dostoevsky Filka Morozov/Kuzmich – Stefan Margita Skuratov – Kurt Streit Shapkin – Peter Hoare Shishkov – Peter Mattei Gorianchikov – Willard White Alyeya – Eric Stoklossa Tall Prisoner…
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