Semyon Bychkov

Music

A New York Orchestral Retrospective, mostly Autumn 2018

Not so long ago I read a note by a European string player who was a young student in the 1890s. He observed that gut strings were universal before the First World War. When they began to appear in the first decade of the twentieth century, they were considered functional but inferior, and mainly used by students. Wartime shortages then made them a regrettable necessity for working professionals and orchestras. I haven't had a chance to investigate this properly, but the source is unquestionable. Wind instruments constantly evolved and were "improved" over the course of the nineteenth century, with its genius for mechanical inventions. This gives us an idea of when and how this crucial divide separated modern musicians and audiences from the techniques and sounds of earlier composers—meaning Mahler, not Mozart. There is still some general idea in the mind of the public that historical instruments and performance practices concern primarily music of the Baroque and Classical periods, but musicians have been applying the fruits of performance history to Romantic music for over twenty years—with gratifying results.
Music

A Handful of Last Season’s Orchestral Concerts in New York—All Worth Remembering

Even the most independent of us can't hear everything one might like to. In New York, choices must be made, usually based on what one thinks is most important, and often enough what is important has nothing to do with music. Family obligations kept me away from Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic, although he was in his prime repertory for his final US appearances with the orchestra, and sheer surfeit diluted my enthusiasm for Gergiev. He is not the only friend of Vladimir Putin's to be accused of spending too much time on the golf course, and it shows in his wayward performances. What I did manage to hear brought discovery in conductors of exceptional ability I hadn't heard before and some new music, as well as measures of excitement, admiration, and boredom.
Music

The San Francisco Symphony Opens its New Season with Semyon Bychkov

There is always something a little peculiar about opening week at the San Francisco Symphony. Audiences have been away for the summer and are distractible. The orchestra may sound a bit less used to itself than usual. Sunlight in the lobby is still too bright for anyone to settle down. And programming commonly amounts either to a Gala smorgasbord or a visit to Denny's, but seldom manages subtlety for musical gourmets. No different this year, but with a few wacky touches from the peanut gallery — about which more in a moment.
A London Summer with Huntley Dent

Prom 13: Verdi’s Requiem

Temporary immortality. The Verdi Requiem is an event, a masterpiece, an emotional catharsis, but also an old shoe. Well worn by dozens of recordings since two great ones, by Toscanini and De Sabata, started the grooves turning, it hasn't been saved from familiarity by being magnificent, any more than the Grand Canyon has. What do you do to breathe life back into music that has been worn down by so many feet? (I apologize to readers who feel that I'm asking the equivalent of "Caviar again? Didn't we have that yesterday?")
Music

Semyon Bychkov and Kirill Gerstein with the SF Symphony in Ravel, Rachmaninoff, and Walton

This week's concerts at Davies Hall marked a welcome return to the podium of Semyon Bychkov, who has become a favorite with San Francisco audiences in recent seasons. Mr. Bychkov has entered the admirable ranks of unattached guest conductors who travel the world conducting only the music they love, and the happy results are palpable. This year, his passion is the Walton First Symphony, and our audience is all the richer for what his advocacy has found in the music.

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