July 2011

A London Summer with Huntley Dent

Elisabeth Leonskaja Plays Schubert at Wigmore Hall

Borscht and tears. It's always fascinating — and enigmatic — to hear what a pianist will do with Schubert. The scores have few markings to lead the interpretation, and Schubert's balancing act between simplicity and subsumed emotions is precarious. For a long time he wasn't given the benefit of the doubt when it came to the basic issue of whether he knew how to write for the instrument. His sonatas, early and late, are marked by repetitiveness, peculiar key changes and abrupt mood swings that can seem eccentric, unless you accept that a genius knows what he's doing even if we sometimes don't. Beethoven tests a pianist's moral character; Schubert tests a pianist's ability to solve riddles.
New York Arts in Australia

The Kaldor Family Collection at the Art Gallery of New South Wales

What does a landlocked museum do when thirty-five million dollars worth of contemporary art, much of it larger than a bread box, falls into its lap? Such was the happy conundrum of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, which has just unveiled the John Kaldor Family Collection to the public. If I call the Gallery’s architectural solution the institutional equivalent of refurbing the basement of a Boston three decker to house returning in-laws, then I mean that as high praise of the Gallery’s willingness to make the most of what they have. The AGNSW’s situation, surrounded by inviolable parkland and very much heritage listed, has required an economical use of space in its subsequent expansions, which trade big architectural gestures for a seamless flow between old and new. The Kaldor Collection is now housed in former storage space on the third basement level, now renovated by architect Andrew Andersons, designer of the Bicentennial wing in which it sits, to open up 3300 square meters of new gallery space, essentially an additional floor. Though the Kaldor Collection leaves the Gallery’s appearance unchanged, the sudden materialization of arguably the greatest collection of contemporary art in Australia will certainly change the institution for good.

Music

The Pollini Project: Chopin, Debussy, Boulez, Royal Festival Hall, June 28, 2011

This was originally intended to be the penultimate programme of Pollini's five-concert Project spanning the gamut of keyboard repertoire from Bach to Boulez (albeit with a large Classical Period-sized gap), but has been postponed for a couple of months due to illness. In my opinion this has made for a more fitting end to the series, not only following chronological order but also concluding by challenging the audience with something 'modern' rather than the obvious crowd-pleasing Chopin of what became the fourth Project concert. Appropriately, this concert in fact draws a connection, perhaps not immediately obvious, between the hugely different Chopin and Boulez.
A London Summer with Huntley Dent

Maurizio Pollini Plays Chopin, Debussy and Boulez

Lion in winter. Concert audiences now whoop and whistle for their artists, and I couldn't help but wonder how this affects Maurizio Pollini. At sixty-nine, he has been before the public for fifty years, ever since winning the Chopin International Competition in 1960 at the age of eighteen. His white hair is wispy on top (this is art, so let's call it an aureole). He still walks briskly to the piano and hits the first keys with unnerving alacrity. When Rosa Ponselle made her London debut, the veteran diva Nellie Melba gave her a friendly warning: nothing but nothing could induce British audiences to give a standing ovation. Dame Nellie was reportedly quite put out when her young American rival earned a standing ovation at Covent Garden every night. Pollini earns the same, even when he ends his program, as he did last night, with Boulez's fearsome Piano Sonata no. 2. One way to insure that posterity will consider you a fool is to mock modern music, but in the annals of unapproachable and uningratiating works, the Boulez sonata must attain a kind of summa.
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