Friday, July 1, 2016
Mussorgsky by Ilya Repin Commonwealth Lyric Theater ’s audacity in producing Boris Godunov by Mussorgsky is anything but Modest. Even in a staging that strives for no major opera house standards, the attempt of the large fearless group of dramatic and outgoing Russians and Ukrainians stands somehow akin to casting the Tsar Bell. The caliber and commitment of this group invariably opens to full-bore. The first two performances will inaugurate Opera Garden, the artistic director’s backyard at 381 Dudley Road in Newton. Even with piano accompaniment (Alexander Pokidchenko on Friday and Alexander Poliykov on Saturday) and some nontraditional elements, the Friday and Saturday shows will constitute fully staged/costumed realizations for the 200 in attendance. On May 24th and May 26th, the action moves indoors to the Newton City Hall Auditorium, as an orchestra of 29 under Adrian Bryttan joins the large cast. The Met on Tour brought Boris to the late, lamented Opera House on Huntington Ave. in 1940 (and as I recall, to the Wang Center in the 70s), Sarah Caldwell mounted it in 1965, and Teatro Lirico d’Europa offered a concert version in 2003. CLT’s other many well-received productions augur well for the sonic pleasures this Boris may afford. According to executive director Olga Lisovskaya, this operatic thriller looks deep into the tortured conscience of the Russian Tsar, Boris Godunov, who reigned from 1585 to 1605. The orchestration is rich, the passions are high. The 1872 revision by Mussorgsky, just a little over 2 hours long, is based on Rimsky-Korsakov’s orchestration. Compared to the original Mussorgsky version (regarding structure, harmonies and dramatic effect), Rimsky-Korsakov’s edits are in nearly every detail welcome and effective changes. In addition to tightening up many parts of the score, Rimsky-Korsakov cloaked all the music in a wonderful memorable orchestral colors. It is a tribute to the genius of Mussorgsky that the expressive beauties and dramatic power of Boris Godunov can emerge in CLT’s reduced dimensions. Stage Director, Alexander Prokhorov, chose to set the action in modern time, adding timeless elements to sets and costumes. Two of the performances will take place outdoors, with three different stages built in a garden. The two remaining performances will be with orchestra, led by conductor Adrian Bryttan. The production is part of the Newton Arts Festival. The fully staged/costumed production comprises an international array of soloists, and choruses. Mikail Urosov as Prince Shujsky rehearses with Commonwealth Lyric Theater presents Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov Friday, May 20, 2016 at 8PM at Opera Garden, 381 Dudley Rd., Newton Saturday May 21, 2016 at 8PM at Opera Garden, 381 Dudley Rd., Newton Tuesday, May 24, 2016 at 8PM at Newton City Hall, 1000 Commonwealth Ave. Thursday, May 26, at 8PM at Newton City Hall, 1000 Commonwealth Ave. The extensive cast is represented below: The post CLT Aims for Full-Bore Boris appeared first on The Boston Musical Intelligencer .
Royal Opera House, London Terfel makes the title role of Mussorgsky’s flawed masterpiece his own in a powerful new staging of the rarely seen original versionThe famous portrait of Mussorgsky by the Russian painter Ilya Repin, currently on show at the National Portrait Gallery, tells you all. Bloodshot eyes, matted hair and beard, skin puffy and sallow, eyes distant yet wild: within days, Mussorgsky (1839-81) would be dead of drink, aged 42. He received no proper training in composition. Nor did he ever earn his living from music. Born into Russian nobility, he went into the army then spent his increasingly dissolute life as a government clerk, suffering alcohol-induced epilepsy, bouts of madness and destitution. The rumour that his grave is now under a bus stop is hard to verify but completes the sad picture.Yet he had friends and admirers, most of them fellow composers. Many went to extreme lengths to support him. Rimsky-Korsakov – that great enabler and wizard of orchestration – and much later Shostakovich each had two attempts at making Mussorgsky’s only completed opera, Boris Godunov, “better”. He was working for the forestry department when he wrote this awkward, misshapen masterpiece based on Pushkin. It was rejected by St Petersburg’s Mariinsky theatre in part for its lack of a leading female role. The usual Boris we hear – to give a Snapchat version of the work’s protracted history – is the epic, expanded 1874 score. In a compelling new staging by Richard Jones, conducted by Antonio Pappano, the Royal Opera has dared – for the first time – to go back to the 1869 original, in all its rawness.Mussorgsky may have used rough tools when it came to orchestration, but he knew what he wanted from his voices Continue reading...
ljova_photo_Pemi_Paull Soulful violist and composer/arranger Lev ‘Ljova’ Zhurbin was featured in Ljova and the Kontraband’s Sunday afternoon concert at Brooklyn’s new home for the all-inclusive new music scene, National Sawdust. Going by ‘Ljova,’ the kindred version of his traditional Russian-Hebrew name, Lev, the artist and his Kontraband filled the room, which had been arranged cabaret-style, with tuneful energy. Folksy tango tunes with virtuosic viola passages next to Yiddish folk songs performed with great gusto by Ljova’s wife, singer Inna Barmash, pulled young and old alike into ethnic rhythmic soundscapes. Says Barmash: “If you’ve been here in Brooklyn long enough, you have certainly heard Yiddish spoken by many of its Jewish, Eastern European inhabitants.” But while songs were sung in Yiddish, and some of the tango arrangements, especially those for accordion (virtuosic accordionist Julian Labro was sitting in for the band’s member Patrick Farrell), were reminiscent of Piazzolla, there was also something very different present in the compositions, giving the music a unique artistic characteristic of its own. As the program promised: “You will think you have heard it, but didn’t…at least not quite like this. Quite far removed from the repertoire of his traditional classical music training, Ljova’s music stays alive through its own magic, fostered by intense rhythms of klezmer, tango, jazz, gypsy music and soaring melodic structures, many of which seem to originate in the eastern shtetl, rather than in Schubert. The son of Russian Jewish émigrés famed Moscow composer Alexander Zhurbin, most renowned for his 1975 rock opera “Orpheus and Eurydice,” and poet Irena Ginzburg, Ljova always managed to stay closely connected to the nurturing roots of his heritage without being stuck in the generational gap. Born into a Russian musician’s home, violin lessons with the renowned Galina Turchaninova, teacher to talents like Maxim Vengerov and Vadim Repin, were part of Ljova’s Moscow routine from age four on. He left this part of his life behind when he immigrated in 1990 at age 11 to New York, along with his parents. It may have been the influence of his uncle, Yuri Gandelsman, former principal violist of the Moscow Virtuosi and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra that caused Ljova to choose to enroll at Juilliard, where he became a student of the eminent Samuel Rhodes, violist of the Juilliard String Quartet. Ljova might have continued to follow this road if it had not been for his curiosity and willingness to try on other musical hats. Making music within “the other” non-classical world of music, whether at jazz gigs at nightclubs, weddings, or folk festivals, taught Ljova to improvise and compose, and opened a different worldview for him to absorb, first reluctantly, then eagerly, eventually making it his own. photo_Ilona_Oltuski_GetClassical Kontraband_photo_Ilona_Oltuski_GetClassical Ljova’s first solo recording, World on Four Strings, released in 2006 on his own Kapustnik label, features the viola dominantly, yet with atmospheric multi-tracked recorded viola parts, gracefully departs from the classical genre. An array of musical arrangements for artists like Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble, Brooklyn Rider, The Knights, the Kronos Quartet and artists as diverse as rapper Jay-Z and Alondra de la Parra, among others, added greatly to Ljova’s exposure and experience. Composing for his beloved viola or his Kontraband or an entire Orchestra, Ljova has developed a varied and consistently unique voice of deeply felt, personal perception of musical delight. He came to realize that there are only two kinds of music, good – and bad. Ljova’s musical ideas are flowing from a space within his very “normal life.” His persona does not present extravagancy, or any romantic ideal of an artist that seeks the stardom of a celebrated idol; his Viola strapped on his back, Ljova travels mostly by bike from his Upper West Side neighborhood. On occasion, he will leave himself a message on his cell phone with a reminder of a new musical idea that just came to him in that moment. His warm, unpretentious personality comes across as genuine to a fault: whether on stage or a broadcasted talk show, of which he has done several, or as a family man, a good neighbor and friend, he manages to stay relevant, doing whatever it takes to live a life that includes music on a daily basis. Ljova is in high demand as a film composer. Some of his recent credits include scores to “Finding Babel”, a documentary about the Russian-Ukrainian-Jewish writer Isaak Babel and “Datuna: Portrait of America”, about the Georgian artist David Datuna, which just won a prize at Raindance Film Festival. Ljova has also composed music for documentaries produced by the BBC, and contributed music to documentaries by NHK and HBO. He has also scored nearly three dozen short-subject films. Ljova also collaborates extensively with choreographers, including two ballets with Aszure Barton & Artists, as well as commissions from Parsons Dance, Ballet Hispanico, New Dialect and others. The connections that Ljova makes with people are lasting and meaningful; his relationship with Brooklyn Rider goes back to 2008, when he shared the bill with the group at Joe’s Pub. It was the highly successful string quartet’s first year in existence, with violinist Johnny Gandelsman, violist Nicholas Cords and the two Jacobsen brothers, Eric on cello and Colin on violin. It was Ljova’s second year performing with the Kontraband. The lines between Ljova’s collaboration and friendship with the Brooklyn-based quartet, inspired by the “Blue Rider,” were blurred from the beginning. At their first performance, Brooklyn Rider performed several of Ljova’s pieces, including “Plume,” “Crosstown” and “Budget Bulgar.” The quartet also went with Ljova’s arrangement for Silk Road Ensemble, “Brîu,” a tune form the repertoire of Taraf de Haïdouks, originally composed for the project. “Plume” and “Crosstown” also appeared on the group’s debut recording Passport. Eric Jacobsen says: “I can’t help but be inspired by Ljova. His imagination is fascinating and endless. He is one of those people, that when I see an opportunity for collaboration, I immediately think of him. He is true to his nature and creative spirit, however incredibly able to adapt to all situations and relationships.” One of Ljova’s new works in the making is a commission by Eric Jacobsen, who is currently starting to serve as conductor for the Orlando Philharmonic and the Bridgeport Symphony. It is unsurprising that the afternoon at Sawdust had the intimacy of a family affair. Ljova aims for personal connection, as he laments: “Everyone has moved on into different neighborhoods. Even when planning concerts, it has become difficult to find an era that works for everyone…” it was therefore an important gesture that children were admitted to Sunday’s concert for free. Ljova’s cousin, Johnny Gandelsman – violinist of Brooklyn Rider, which had just performed at Sawdust the previous week, was in attendance with his animated kids. photo_Ilona_Oltuski_GetClassical But beyond the literal family connections – Ljova is of course married to his “Kontraband”‘s vocalist – the familiarity with which the performers demonstrated their instruments, percussionist Mathias Kűnzli most intricately, or talked about their music, held an informal objective, whcih created an intimate, family-friendly milieu. The artists, belonging to a generation of New York musicians who are grown up with families of their own, look to swap the musician’s ideal of the hip nightlife performance venue into one that allows their friends and fans to bring their kids. “So many performances I give cannot be frequented by many of my colleagues and friends, since they don’t have babysitting available,” he says. The practical answer for Ljova is to perform in spaces conducive to bringing people together, uniting young and old and making the community grow a little closer together. Remarkably, this is exactly what his performance proved to represent. If smaller performance venues typically fill with the artists’ following to begin with, why not make it possible to include all of them? This is a valid question to which Ljova answers with low-key performances with communal character. Already, Ljova’s shtick has gained traction with new audiences, and major concert venues like Lincoln Center seem to be following suit. While composer and Artistic Director of Sawdust, Paola Prestini, has, in her own words, aimed to create a forward-thinking laboratory to explore unknown artistic territory, she has in the process established a communal hub that satisfies a popular demand and community need.
Modest Musorgsky, painted only a few days before his death by Ilya Repin, 1881. Courtesy Wikimedia/Google Cultural Institute Musorgsky is one of opera’s greatest composers – and yet he finished only one opera in his short life. In fact, he finished it twice: his masterpiece Boris Godunov exists in two complete and quite different versions. But alongside Boris there were eight operatic projects Musorgsky began, none of which he completed – whether because his ideas changed, or because the project fell through, or because his chronic alcoholism got in the way. The music he wrote for six of those projects offer tantalizing glimpses of the Musorgsky masterpieces that could have been – and, though unfinished, are wonderful works in their own right. Musorgsky first considered writing an opera aged 17, as a student at Cadet School with no compositional training whatsoever. Nothing ever came of his plan to adapt Victor Hugo ’s novel Han d’Islande ‘because nothing ever could’, he later wrote. He tried his hand again seven years later, this time adapting Flaubert ’s lavish historical fantasy Salammbô . After three years he had produced around 90 minutes of music – almost entirely big choral numbers, with barely anything for the central drama – before giving up on the project, perhaps craving something more Russian in tone. He certainly achieved this in The Marriage, a verbatim setting of a Gogol comedy about an indecisive groom. In it Musorgsky experimented with his theories on the relationships between text and music. But at a private performance of the first act the consensus was that Musorgsky had taken the experiment too far: the music of The Marriage was felt to be so dependent on Gogol’s words that it had little intrinsic value of its own. The Marriage was abandoned as Musorgsky started work on Boris. Musorgsky completed Boris Godunov in just over a year. While he was waiting for a verdict from the censors he dabbled with Bobïl’ (The Landless Peasant), adapted from a setting of the Hansel and Gretel tale. He wrote just one scene before returning to Boris, which had been rejected by the censors. While that work was underway, Musorgsky was invited to contribute along with four other composers to an immense opera-ballet, Mlada. The project was abandoned as soon as it became obvious how ruinously expensive it would be. The sell-out premiere of the second version of Boris Godunov in 1874 was the height of Musorgsky’s career. It launched him onto two very different projects – Khovanshchina , begun 1872, and The Fair at Sorochintsï , begun 1874 – which Musorgsky worked on concurrently over the last years of his life, switching between the two as he encountered hurdles with each. There’s enough to suggest these both could have been major works, a fact recognized by his contemporaries: two separate groups of well-wishers each attempted to bribe him into finishing them. The historical drama Khovanshchina was the natural follow-on to Boris, and was conceived the year of Peter the Great ’s bicentenary. Musorgsky compiled the sprawling libretto over nearly a decade, examining in turn the three main opponents to the young Peter’s accession to the throne, and how they were vanquished on Peter’s path to greatness. Later completions emphasize the triumph of Peter’s victory, but Musorgsky’s letters suggest he had in mind something more ambiguous – reflecting the great losses, both of life and in Russian culture, that were part of Peter’s sweeping reforms. Musorgsky’s wish to create a role for his friend, the Ukrainian-born bass Osip Petrov , drew him towards Gogol’s lighthearted, Ukrainian-set short story The Fair at Sorochintsï. Musorgsky’s anxieties about his ability to set Ukrainian speech patterns, and then Petrov’s death in 1878, were just two setbacks among many that delayed Musorgsky’s work. Nevertheless, the music that made it to the page gives a lively sense of the opera’s imaginative use of Ukrainian folksong, and Musorgsky’s great gift for characterization through music. Fortunately for audiences, Musorgsky’s unfinished operas have long attracted his fellow composers to propose their own completions and orchestrations. It is thanks to these re-evaluations that we have the opportunity to hear these incomplete works, and dream for ourselves what might have been. Boris Godunov runs 14 March–5 April 2016. Tickets are still available. The production is a co-production with Deutsche Oper Berlin and is given with generous philanthropic support from Mrs Aline Foriel-Destezet, The Tsukanov Family Foundation, Simon and Virginia Robertson, The Mikheev Charitable Trust, the Boris Godunov Production Syndicate and an anonymous donor.
Johannes Brahms was just 19 years old in 1852 when he wrote his first two piano sonatas that he felt were worthy of publication. In these extended 4-movement compositions he built on the heritage of Beethoven, as was the case with his later symphonies. These compositions are quite serious, and may require more than one hearing to be fully appreciated. Still they are important because Brahms was very critical of his own works and destroyed a lot of his own compositions with which he was dissatisfied. We hear the following on this CD: Brahms: Piano Sonata No. 1 in C major, Op. 1 Piano Sonata No. 2 in F sharp minor, Op. 2 Scherzo in E flat minor, Op. 4 Performed by Alexander Melnikov Alexander Melnikov was born in Moscow in 1973 and began his music studies at the age of six, at Moscow’s Central Music School, then continued at the city’s Tchaikovsky Conservatory from which he graduated in 1997. Alexander Melnikov appears regularly in recital at the world’s leading concert halls with major orchestras. Besides his well-established duo with violinist Isabelle Faust, his other partners include Vadim Repin, Yuri Bashmet, and many others. And… here’s a video of Melnikov playing the music of Shostakovich:
Glazunov by Repin The Portland Chamber Music Festival, held each August, has a lifespan shorter than that of a housefly, but crams much enlightening and delightful music making into its fortnightly existence. This year’s outing began on August 13th, and we caught the Saturday night concert at its usual venue, in Hannaford Hall within the Abromson Center at the Portland campus of the University of Southern Maine (sorry for that mouthful). Artistic Director Jennifer Elowitch concocted, for this evening, a fine mix of Russian, American and French music for trio, quartet, and quintet, with one semi-premiere between two stalwart 19th-century works. For its very substantial opener, a quintet comprising Kristin Lee and Elowitch, violins, David Panner, viola, and Claire Bryant and Brant Taylor, cellos, brought impeccable technique and expressive force to Alexander Glazunov’s relatively seldom-heard String Quintet in A Major, Op. 39. Glazunov (1865-1936, thus a contemporary of Nielsen, Sibelius and Strauss) is known today for a handful of compositions (the ballet Raymonda, the violin concerto, and the delightful late saxophone concerto) but mostly as his country’s most prominent pedagogue of the era, counting Prokofiev and Shostakovich among his students, while he himself was trained as a teenage prodigy by Rimsky-Korsakov. His conservative, Western-leaning style, with its technical prowess inherited from Tchaikovsky, would have placed him alongside Medtner and Rubinstein, were his aesthetic not tinged with, though never overwhelmed by, the nationalistic fervor of the Mighty Handful. His aversion to modernism caused him to fall out of favor even before his death (which occurred some seven years after he unofficially emigrated from the Soviet Union), but it helped him keep hold of his position at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, where after the Russian Revolution he was able to run interference on behalf of his students; Shostakovich indeed credited Glazunov with keeping him from starvation. The Quintet, dating from the palmier days of 1891-2, came at the end of a compositional crisis, a couple of years where, after his brilliant, start, Glazunov produced little. The first three movements are sturdy and well-constructed in a thoroughgoing Western style (the scherzo is a brilliant stroke, with its principal section dominated by pizzicato in the upper strings, which the cellos pick up and convert to an accompaniment figure for the trio). Only in the finale is there an overtly Russian sound, with a foursquare galumphing main tune and a secondary lyrical one in which Glazunov channels Borodin. The performance by this ensemble was of the highest order. It began with Panner’s luscious, liquid sound, picked up by Bryant in a similarly emotive, lyrical vein, and then reinforced by Lee’s somewhat thinner timbre. The movement is strongly linear and melodic (indeed, there are some interesting chord changes, but only at the end), and the players demonstrated an utter mastery of the conversational style of chamber music. The scherzo, as noted, is a delightful exercise in texture, though Elowitch produced a plummy lyrical line in a solo transitioning from the trio back to the principal section. The slow movement gave Taylor his chance to shine, which he did with a fine plaintive rendering, with many musical sighs, of the principal theme. The finale was another fine exhibition of the full ensemble’s interaction, culminating in a galloping race to the end. These interactions and perfectly tossed threads of musical discourse demonstrate how exhilarating chamber music is when done right. The first half closed with a new work, the premiere of the piano trio version (the original, from 2011, was for flute, cello and piano) of Mood Sequences by David Crumb, which was the winner of this year’s PCMF composition contest. Crumb, 52, teaches at the University of Oregon, and gave a brief talk before the performance. He is not at all diffident about mentioning that he is the son of the well-known George Crumb, but he has staked out very independent musical territory in his work, eschewing his father’s mystical and recondite avant-gardism for a style, sometimes tonal and sometimes not, that is more deliberately intelligible (he uses the term “comprehensible” but we won’t put such a fine point on it). In five short movements (“Soulful,” “Manic,” “Meditative,” “Ecstatic” and “Reprise”), Mood Sequences delivers exactly what it says on the package. It begins with a faintly heard theme in the violin (Lee), oscillating on a minor third above and below its starting point, and exfoliating into a modal/pentatonic melody that informs all the movements. The violin in this movement has only the lightest of single-line accompaniment in the piano (Max Levinson), and no cello. The delicacy is shattered in the next movement, opening powerfully and maintaining a strong rhythmic force throughout, while the piano part features clusters recalling Ives (the program note, presumably by the composer, speaks about stylistic cues from Bartók, but we found little of him here). The cello (Bryant) parallels the gruff demeanor of the violin. The third movement begins with a long sustained note in the cello, with either no or very narrow vibrato, and promotes an air of icy stasis, with delicate piano figurations. The “Ecstatic” fourth movement is bright and crystalline, with strings often in parallel accompanied by blocky chords in the piano that also, with their pentatonic underpinnings, invoke the Ives of the Concord Sonata before ending with the cello sustain that opened the third movement. The finale is a literal repeat of the first, with the cello taking the melody. While the piece didn’t bowl us over as a masterpiece, it is worth repeat hearings to suss out the many details lurking within. The performances were fully communicative and had the air of assurance; we hope the composer was pleased with the outcome. The concluding item of the evening was the Piano Quartet No. 1 in C Minor by Gabriel Fauré. Written mostly from 1876-79, with the finale revised in 1883, it was only Fauré’s second work of chamber music, after his first violin sonata. More conventional harmonically and structurally than his mid-career second quartet (and owing a debt to Schumann, “with French characteristics”), this one nevertheless is a significant work that displays some nice touches of modality, remote modulations and decorative chord changes, and conveys powerful emotion powerfully controlled. The last point is significant in regard to the turmoil in Fauré’s life at the time this work was written—engagement gone sour, love life in tatters, that sort of thing. The ensemble assembled for this performance consisted of Levinson; Frank Huang, concertmaster-elect of the New York Philharmonic, violin; Christine Grossman, viola, and Taylor. They opened forcefully, and reveled in every little modal nuance (Huang’s face lit up every time). The playing throughout was emotionally forthcoming, without overt shows of virtuosity, and displayed great refinement and elegance, which is not the same thing as playing softly. The brief scherzo, which like the Glazunov, but not to the same degree, featured pizzicato, was a charmer: Levinson kept the line bright and flowing, while the trio was smooth as glass. The slow movement, the most emotionally fraught of the four, revealed beautifully calculated phrasing and empathetic ensemble unity. Huang brought out every throttled sob and Levinson ranged dreamily over the Schumannesque piano part. The finale, over which the composer labored mightily, is in truth something of a letdown. It is musically less striking than the other movements, and it opens a mite weakly—this is Fauré’s miscalculation, not the players’, though they could have been tauter in its execution to compensate. These minor concerns, however, did not dull the overall effect of the performance, which was sure-footed and communicative. Vance R. Koven studied music at Queens College and New England Conservatory, and law at Harvard. A composer and practicing attorney, he was for many years the chairman of Dinosaur Annex Music Ensemble. The post Chamber Music for a Fortnight appeared first on The Boston Musical Intelligencer .