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Analysis, Criticism & Commentary: August 2008 Archives

The Tabloid Loves Opera

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Opera – the Sun loves it

Hats off to the tabloid – their spread on opera is virtuoso stuff

Guardian

Today's the day for Sun readers – and first-time, sheepish Sun readers who normally read the Guardian – to apply for cheap tickets to the first night of the Royal Opera House's new season on September 8, which I wrote about last week. And I have to say, hats off to the Sun – what a fabulous job they have done. On the front page the headlines read: "Amy was 'spiked with e'"; "Honeymoon Groom Ben Brain Dead"... and "A night at the Opera from £7.50... OPERA WE LOVE IIIIIIT!"

Inside comes the headline: "Sex, death, booze, bribery, revenge, ghosts... who said opera is boring?" The story explains that "The truth is, most operas are dirtier than Amy Winehouse's beehive, riper than a full-on effing rant by Gordon Ramsay and more violent than a Tarantino bloodfest."

This is virtuoso stuff. What's brilliant – and important and true -about the Sun's take on opera is that they see no reason to pretend that it's a polite, elegant, decorative artform – they are determined to communicate that it is dirty, dangerous, sexy and nasty. Which in my view, is spot on. Good for them. I even forgive them their rather hilarious attack on "elitist broadsheet the Guardian ... blow them. They can have a night in with thier mung bean sandwiches and discuss existentialist feminism. We'll be down at the opera having a knees-up".

Read more about this at the Guardian website:

   http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/art/2008/07/opera_the_sun_loves_it.html

Would You Like A Little Wobble With That?

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Roger Norrington

Vibrato wars whip up a musical storm over last night of the Proms

Voices are raised in anger after a famous conductor decides to give a controversial performance of Elgar's classic crowd-pleaser

By Amelia Hill & David Smith
The Observer

When this year's BBC Proms climax with the traditional chorus of Elgar's 'Land of Hope and Glory', prommers expecting the traditional rousing sing-along could feel distinctly disappointed. For the first time in the Proms' 113-year history, the march – also known as Pomp and Circumstance March No.1 – is likely to be played without vibrato, an obscure and extreme performance style that lends an icy tone to music and divides classical music fans into opposing camps.

Vibrato, a musical effect produced by a regular pulsating change of pitch, is used to add expression and vocal-like qualities to instrumental music. On string instruments, the effect is created by the controlled vibration of the finger holding down the string.

'If the orchestra agree, as I hope and think they will, to my suggestion that we play one of Britain's most patriotic pieces as its composer intended, then the last night of the Proms will sound strikingly different to ever before,' said Sir Roger Norrington, one of Europe's leading conductors and founder of the London Classical Players.

Read more about this at the The Observer website:

   http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2008/aug/03/proms.classicalmusicandopera1

Entering a New Phase

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Paul Lansky

A Computer-Music Man Unplugs

By Daniel J. Wakin
New York Times

After 35 years immersed in the world of computer music, the composer Paul Lansky talks with wonder about the enormous capacities of primitive objects carved from trees or stamped from metal sheets: violins, cellos, trumpets, pianos.

"To create the sound of a violin – wow!" he said in a recent interview. "I can't do that on a computer."

Mr. Lansky has written a new chapter, or at least a fat footnote, in the annals of artistic reinvention. A professor at Princeton, he was a pioneering figure in the computer music field and wrote one of its important programs, Cmix. (He also earned a place of honor with Radiohead fans when the band used an excerpt from an early piece.) But Mr. Lansky has abandoned the art form that made his name and has turned to more traditional composition.

"I hate to say this, but I think I'm done," Mr. Lansky said. "Basically I've said what I've had to say. Here I am, 64, and I find myself at what feels like the beginning of a career. I'm interested in writing for real people at this point."

Read more about this at the New York Time website:

   http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/03/arts/music/03waki.html

Bayreuth on Your Desktop

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Manfred Honeck at the Verbier Festival

Taking a Dip in The Online Stream

Classical Music Makes A Play for Web Crowd

By Anne Midgette
Washington Post

Of all European summer music festivals, the Bayreuth Festival may be the hardest ticket. Devoted to the operas of Richard Wagner, presented in the theater that he built, it receives so many requests for its two-month season that people wait for years to get in. Last Sunday saw the first performance this year of "Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg" as produced by Katharina Wagner, the composer's great-granddaughter.

Last year, it was the talk of the season among those who had managed to see it. This year, it could be experienced live on your home computer.

For if you don't travel to Europe's festivals this summer, some of them will come to you. If the 49 euros (almost $80) that Bayreuth charged to log on to its first-ever live video transmission was too steep, you could go to the Web site Medici.tv, which this summer has featured live broadcasts from three festivals: Aix-en-Provence, Aspen and Verbier. That same afternoon, free of charge, it was offering a live webcast from Verbier of a chamber concert with violinist Julian Rachlin, cellist Mischa Maïsky and pianists Piotr Anderszewski and Nikolai Lugansky, among others.

Does anybody actually want to watch classical concerts on their computer screens? Evidently, yes. Last year, Medici.tv reached 150,000 unique viewers with its broadcasts from Verbier, according to Medici.tv's founder and director, Hervé Boissière. This year, he says, the numbers are even better. (Check the Medici.tv website for information on web cast availability.)

Read more about this at the Washington Post website:

   http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/07/31/AR2008073101848.html

Evening Talks with Martha Argerich

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Martha Argerich: Evening Talks

Once-Shy Pianist Tells, Um, Not Quite All

By Vivien Schweitzer
New York Times

When the reclusive Argentine pianist Martha Argerich performs, her long, thick hair cascades over her shoulders, often entirely obscuring her face from the audience and affording a glimmer of privacy even onstage.

Ms. Argerich, who for almost two decades gave very few solo recitals, has always felt uneasy in the spotlight offstage as well. "I just saw a program called 'Big Brother,' " she says at the beginning of "Martha Argerich: Evening Talks," a 2002 film by Georges Gachot newly released on DVD by the Medici Arts label. "All those exhibitionists who like their private lives filmed. Not me."

But Ms. Argerich, a brilliant musician whose playing combines prodigious technique with uncanny musicality, overcame her shyness and granted Mr. Gachot a three-hour interview. It was shot one evening in 2001 between a rehearsal and a performance of Schumann's Piano Concerto with the Württemberg Chamber Orchestra in Heilbronn, Germany.

Read more about this at the New York Times website:

   http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/03/arts/television/03schw.html

End of an Epic Biography

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Mahler triumphant

A great composer nears the end of a great biographical voyage

By Hugh Wood
Times Online

The long voyage is nearly over, and the great ship is at last approaching land. But we are not quite yet in harbour; for Henry-Louis de La Grange's revision of Gustav Mahler: Volume One still awaits translation into English. Then the labours of a dedicated lifetime may be at an end. Meanwhile, we have here, at over 1,750 pages, the longest of the four volumes, and in every way the climactic one. So much in it is new, or newly re-explored, or freshly and radically re-interpreted. The portrait that emerges is surprising because it is so straightforward: that of a great conductor at the height of his powers and a great composer striking out boldly into new territory. What has previously been obscured and diminished by mythmaking, melodrama and malice is now at last given its full stature. That this new depiction is the underlying intention of the author is made quite clear from the first page: to realize how well he has succeeded, it is necessary to read the whole book. But this is not just a biography: it is more of a Mahler-Lexicon, almost a history of the age. De La Grange has found himself irresistibly drawn down every avenue that offers itself, and his interests are wide. By the time one has read through all thirty-three of the Appendices, and has discovered in the last one the recipe for Mahler's favourite dessert (Marillonknödel – and it sounds delicious), one feels not only triumphant but replete.

Read more about this at the Times Online website:

   http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/the_tls/article4429303.ece

Trumpet