MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Playing Dangerously

I finally had my first live experience of Patricia Kopatchinskaja and Teodor Currentzis, who brought his Perm-based musicAeterna to Lucerne’s Easter Festival last night for the first of two programs: early Mozart and Beethoven Eroica.

It very well might have been a new music evening: that’s how unexpected and full of discoveries the performance was. Currentzis has become something of a cult figure, and it’s easy to see why. A friend compared him visually to Hoffmann’s Kapellmeister Johannes Kreisler, with his spindly legs and tall, lanky figure. I wish I could have seen the expressions he was flashing, mirrored, I suspect, by his restlessly gesturing hands.

Currentzis seems to decide on the spur of the moment to fixate on a particular player or section, and then to stare them down, whip them up to further excitement, coax out a sudden swell or tamp it down to near inaudibility. No one knows when or where he’ll pounce: it’s all part of the electricity.

Mozart’s G minor Symphony K. 183 was full of shocks and epiphanies: the sort of thing we tend to privilege to the really big works like Eroica, but which are strewn about far and wide, and so unrecognized in so many other sources. I especially welcomed how Currentzis balances his spontaneous, red-hot, in-the-moment aura with carefully thought-through decisions (the articulation of the second theme reprise-time around, when it emanates a menacing despair;  tempo differentiation of the Minuet and the Trio).

Patricia Kopatchinskaja is a revelation, nothing less. The playing in her bare feet, the poses she strikes, the comic interplay with Currentzis: the things people like to focus on are just a part of her entire, fascinatingly refreshing outlook, and it’s rooted in brilliant insights about the source of invention, say, in the Mozart D major Violin Concerto (K. 218) she played.

Actually, Kopatchinskaja didn’t just  show up and “play” it, fulfill her contract, job done. It was such an unusual ratio of performance energy and creative expenditure to the Concerto’s part on the program.

It felt like an epic, and the audience seemed to learn far more than it had bargained for about what makes a concerto work, about how a soloist can interact with an ensemble of independent-minded players. Mozart’s folk song ploy in the finale became the key to Kopatchinskaja’s improvisational approach overall — the cadenzas she contributed wouldn’t have been out of place in Ligeti — and a bridge to her encores of Bartók and Enescu.

In their period-instrument Eroica, musicAeterna’s dangerous playing kept me on the edge of my seat throughout. I’ve never experienced in live performances of Beethoven’s Third such a powerful presence from the timpanist.  The impact of the drums in the Funeral March was at devastating as in Mahler’s Sixth finale.

A couple of wind players almost lost the reins in the finale when one clarinetist got so worked up he knocked a stand over– at first it looked like there might be a domino effect, just before a big solo for the oboe (so much a protagonist in this symphony!). Aside from an emanation of angst-waves — like watching a tightrope walker regaining balance — the music pushed ahead, and was the more intense for it.

 

Filed under: Beethoven, Lucerne Festival, Mozart, review

Mozart’s Ambitious Declaration of Independence

In honor of Mozart’s birthday, here’s my essay on The Abduction from the Seraglio. His breakthrough opera hit after Mozart made the bold move to become a freelance artist in Vienna, it’s being presented (starting this weekend) by Los Angeles Opera in a lively production directed by James Robinson. From my program essay for LA Opera:

With The Abduction from the Seraglio, Mozart scored the biggest stage success he would enjoy during his lifetime. It premiered in Vienna on July 16, 1782, and, by the fourth performance—according to Mozart himself—the show was “creating such a sensation that they don’t want to see or hear anything else, and the theater is packed full each time.”

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Filed under: Los Angeles Opera, Mozart

Abducted by Mozart

Enjoying a fresh look at Die Entführung aus dem Serail as I research for an LA Opera essay. In January the company presents James Robinson’s staging of the Mozart Singspiel, which the director describes as “one of the most unabashedly romantic pieces that Mozart ever wrote” along with being “a wonderfully funny piece.”

From Mozart’s letters when he was working on Abduction in 1781, the year he broke with  his Salzburg boss and decided to settle in Vienna:

An opera is sure of success when the plot is well worked out, the words written solely for the music and not shoved in here and there to suit some miserable rhyme … The best thing of all is when a good composer, who understands the stage and is talented enough to make sound suggestions, meets an able poet, that true phoenix; in that case, no fears need be entertained as to the applause – even of the ignorant.

 

Filed under: Los Angeles Opera, Mozart

Pablo Rus Broseta’s Big Night with Seattle Symphony

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Last night’s concert with Pablo Rus Broseta and soloist Yo-Yo Ma was a delightful confirmation that experiencing an orchestra in live performance can provide a high like no other. It doesn’t need to be a Mahlerian epic or a program of revolutionary breakthroughs — those offer up unique experiences of their own — but it does require the unwavering commitment of the musicians.

This was a modest-sized Seattle Symphony, as some of the players are now on duty in the pit for Seattle Opera’s about-to-open production of Hansel and Gretel. And the program of Bartók, early Mozart, and Haydn offered a straightforward menu. But nothing sounded rote, and the evident pleasure taken by the musicians proved to be infectious for the sold-out hall.

Drawing the large crowd, of course, was Yo-Yo Ma’s presence on the evening’s second half, but SSO Associate Conductor Pablo Rus Broseta led achieved some captivating results of his own from the podium. In the rapid succession of Romanian Folk Dances, — featuring excellent clarinet and flute solos — he elicited a touch of melancholy to spice Bartók’s vivid rhythms.

A pair of youthful Mozart symphonies followed: K. 201 in A major and a true rarity, K. 196 in D major (both from the end of the composer’s teenage years, in the mid-1770s). Rus Broseta approached these scores as if Mozart had just turned them in to fulfill an SSO commission. And it was possible to hear evidence of the young conductor’s experience with new music in the mindful focus on texture and balance.

If the opening movement of the A major symphony could have benefited from more-incisive attacks, Rus Broseta showed his sensitivity to Mozart’s spellbinding way of phrasing melody as well as to his expert comic timing. In his hands the spirited finale of K. 201  was made to sound exhilaratingly fresh, almost proto-Beethovenian. The strings played with superb ensemble.

And then Yo-Yo Ma emerged onstage with his glistening cello to give his first Seattle performance (as far as I’m aware) since last year’s memorable accounts of three of Bach’s Cello Suites and other fare at the University of Washington.

Haydn’s long-hidden-away C major Cello Concerto dates from when Mozart was still a young child (though already embarking on his first tour of Europe). Ma’s performance was a study in how to make a phrase and its subsequent repetitions rivet the attention.

While it’s hard not to thrill at the cellist’s technical mastery of intonation, articulation, rapid-fire scales — you name it —  Ma’s musical imagination is what really calls the shots, making whatever he plays so compelling. The finale in particular, with its sudden shifts in mood, became downright suspenseful.  From the podium Rus Broseta’s confident partnership ensured a lucid orchestral balance.

Ma offered a pair of encores: an elastic Prelude from the G major Cello Suite and Mark O’Connor’s poignant Appalachia Waltz (both in response to vociferous requests shouted from the audience). But with every bow he made his admiration of the orchestra and conductor clear, insisting that they share in the acclaim.

–(c)2016 Thomas May. All rights reserved.

Filed under: Haydn, Mozart, review, Seattle Symphony

Kosky & Co. Recharge the Magic of Flute at LA Opera

MagicFlute-LA

Musical America has posted my review of the Barrie Kosky/Suzanne Andrade-directed Magic Flute (behind a paywall):

LOS ANGELES— Singspiel meets silent film in this genuinely innovative production of The Magic Flute directed by Barrie Kosky and Suzanne Andrade. Initially created in 2012 for the Komische Oper Berlin …

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Filed under: Los Angeles Opera, Mozart, review

Happy Birthday, Wolfgang!

Filed under: Mozart

Arresting Aristos Make for a Fine Figaro

Shenyang (Figaro) and Nuccia Focile (Susanna) (c) Jacob Lucas

Shenyang (Figaro) and Nuccia Focile (Susanna)
(c) Jacob Lucas

Aidan Lang, head of Seattle Opera, reveals his talents as a stage director in a fresh and engaging interpretation of Mozart’s comic masterpiece. 

The buzz around Seattle Opera’s new Figaro is that it offers audiences here their first chance to see company chief Aidan Lang in his guise as stage director. This production originated to much acclaim in 2010 at New Zealand Opera, which Lang helmed until 2013. The current season is his second since succeeding Speight Jenkins as general director at Seattle Opera.

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Filed under: Mozart, review, Seattle Opera

Mozart’s Serenata

Il re pastore is being featured at the Lucerne Easter Festival in 2016:

Filed under: Lucerne Festival, Mozart

In C and in Sync: Delights from Morlot, Melnikov and the Seattle Symphony

Alexander Melnikov; © Arts Management Group

Alexander Melnikov; © Arts Management Group

A new Bachtrack review:

One unfortunate trend in how concert music is often marketed these days showers disproportionate attention on a ‘star’ soloist, who basks in the limelight and the obligatory standing ovations, as though the orchestra were merely the house ‘backup band’ graciously permitted to share the stage.

What a delight this concert was, in contrast, when Alexander Melnikov joined with the Seattle Symphony under Ludovic Morlot’s baton to reaffirm the unadulteratedly collaborative experience of a concerto.

Rather than a parade of quirks justified as ‘virtuosity’ or a psychogram of a performer’s dominating personality, the 41-year-old Russian pianist provided a deeply satisfying, richly musical account of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto no. 1 in C major. And much of that satisfaction came from the sympathy Melnikov, Morlot and the SSO found in their partnership.

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Filed under: Beethoven, Ludovic Morlot, Mozart, pianists, review, Seattle Symphony, Stravinsky

Pacific MusicWorks Retunes The Magic Flute

Cyndia Sieden and Mary Feminear

Cyndia Sieden and Mary Feminear

My review of Pacifc MusicWorks’ Magic Flute production has now been posted on the Musical America site. (The complete review is behind MA’s paywall.) This was a delightfully fresh take on the Mozart classic, matching historically informed performance values with a provocatively revisionist staging (including a newly commissioned translation/adaptaton of Schikaneder’s libretto):

SEATTLE — A couple years after the conductor, lutenist, and recent Grammy laureate Stephen Stubbs resettled in his native Seattle in 2006 — following three decades based in Europe (mostly in Germany) — he established Pacific MusicWorks, a production company focused primarily on presenting Baroque opera and oratorio in innovative collaborations. PMW’s latest project, which closed on Sunday, offered a fresh perspective on The Magic Flute by combining period instruments with a provocatively anti-traditional staging directed by Dan Wallace Miller and a newly commissioned translation and adaptation of the libretto by the playwright Karen Hartman.

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Filed under: directors, early music, Mozart, opera, review, Stephen Stubbs

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