Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Password is...Passion!

From the online journal of Albert Imperto (photo on the left), writer for the Gramophone web site, posted 3/15/09:

After a pizza (with eggplant and extra sauce – yum!) and half a bottle of wine (Castle Rock Pinot Noir, double-yum!) on Saturday night, I listened to a string of recordings. Gramophone’s April issue has a “Collection” survey of Tchaikovsky’s “Little Russian” (Symphony No 2), and since they put Pletnev’s recording with the Russian National Orchestra at the top of several good choices I gave it a spin (the cycle had been a disappointment to me when I marketed it back in my DG days, but I think Pletnev’s Second is the strongest in the set). A few discs later, fully under the influence of the wine (but far from inebriated), I listened to a Virgin Classics recording of Brahms’s Piano Trios (Virgin Classics is a client). I had heard it a few times before while I was working, but this time, with no distractions, I was utterly gripped by the performances and found myself firing up the computer to jot down some notes. Those follow unedited here…
Brahms Piano Trios played with real convictionGenteel performances are the bane of classical music. Hearing Renaud and Gautier Capuçon and Nicholas Angelich play Brahms’s Piano Trio No 2 in C major, Op 87 makes me realise how wrong it would be to put this music into some cozy “chamber music” salon. Their performances are dangerous and alive, wrenching and expressive. The forlorn atmosphere that begins the second movement is reminiscent of Schubert; the fierce, almost macabre dance in the central section has a real diabolical swagger; throughout Renaud’s fiddle and then Gautier’s cello are supremely eloquent and full of ardour. The third movement Scherzo – once again reminiscent of Schubert – starts out with eerie graveyard dance that nonetheless melts into rhapsodic expression. Angelich’s rippling pianism is a marvel throughout the movement. The finale has the swagger of a Golden Age Hollywood film, reaching symphonic heights of exuberance. The performances burn with conviction. Musicians are responsible for tapping into the reverie through which music elevates the soul; but also, the audience must create the environment that enables artists to bring all of their gifts to bear. Caution is what is most dangerous to classical music’s prospects of reaching future audiences. Okay, my prose goes a bit purple (perhaps wine-colored would be a better adjective?), but Brian was listening too (from upstairs, above the living room) and I heard him yell out “Wow!” several times. In any case, the line that strikes me most from what I wrote is, “The performances burn with conviction.” Which made me think, how many performances of “burning conviction” have I heard lately in concert or on recording? Truth is, I feel pretty lucky lately and can list at least a handful of performances that have left a powerful mark on me. Back in late February, for example, my client Leif Ove Andsnes did a duo recital with violinist Christian Tetzlaff at Carnegie Hall that was superbly thrilling from the first note of the Janacek Sonata for violin and piano to the last encore. On record in just the past few days I’ve heard Mutter playing a new Gubaidulina violin concerto written for her (DG), David Fray (Virgin Classics) and Hélène Grimaud (DG) playing Bach keyboard works, Boulez doing Bartók concertos with various soloists (DG) and, just today, a Beethoven Seventh Symphony as exciting as any I’ve ever heard – and by an orchestra (Anima Eterna) and conductor (Jos van Immerseel) I didn’t know on a label I’ve never heard of (Zig Zag Territories, no less). And during the re-opening festivities for Alice Tully Hall I heard an explosive, no-holds-barred live Beethoven Seventh, along with the composer’s First Symphony, that I’ll never forget. The artists were Paavo Järvi and the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen, who are recording a Beethoven symphonies cycle for RCA Red Seal. By chance I had the opportunity to have a phone conversation with Paavo earlier this week. He’ll be conducting the Curtis Symphony in April at Carnegie Hall, and since the Curtis Institute of Music is one of our clients, I had arranged to chat with him to get some quotes for a press release. The timing was perfect because I began our conversation by telling him how much I loved the two Beethoven Symphonies I had just heard him do at the “new” Alice Tully Hall. That began a rather animated conversation with the two of us naming our favourite symphonies (Shostakovich 10 being one of the greats of the 20th century that both of us put near the top of the list; I found out we also share an inordinate love of Ravel’s Mother Goose). When I asked him what was the most important thing that he had learned at Curtis, he said it was that achieving the very best quality of performance was non-negotiable, that there’s no excuse for giving anything less than your best – and even then, that might not be enough to do the music justice. When I asked him what was most different about conducting a student orchestra versus a professional orchestra I clearly touched a nerve. “Conducting a student orchestra is often a BETTER experience. For far too many musicians, being professional can mean getting stuck in unnecessary traditions and regulations and caring more about rights than responsibilities. In the best situations the professional orchestras are great, but for many organizations it can be a breeding ground for mediocrity.” I whooped up a couple of cheers after hearing this and thanked him for his fiery responses. “I can’t do stock answers!,” he said with a laugh. Then he continued, “Music is a hobby for me, not a profession. It’s the same for my Dad [conductor Neeme Järvi] and he’s 72 now! Music is a gift from God – there’s so much about its impact on us that we still don’t understand. I have such an insatiable need to hear more and more music and to learn more and more repertoire. Next season in Cincinnati, for example [Järvi is music director of the Cincinnati Symphony), 90% of the works I’ll be doing are works that I’ve never done before. I just can’t get enough.” I thought that was a pretty cool statistic to say the least. Paavo’s enthusiasm really lit me up and our half hour conversation quickly became twice that before I let him go. But I think he had said in words what that Brahms Trio recording suggested to me last night: passionate artists and passionate music-making will be what ultimately keep the classical music scene alive and healthy – if not growing – in the future.

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