Saturday, January 28, 2006

CONCERT REVIEW: A horn lover's paradise

By Janelle Gelfand
Cincinnati Enquirer, January 28, 2006

Composer Anton Bruckner is known for the heavenly length of his symphonies. On Friday, Bruckner's Symphony No. 5 performed by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra clocked in at 75 minutes, but under the baton of Paavo Järvi, it was 75 minutes of power, emotion and discovery.

Friday's concert was something of a horn lover's paradise, with Bruckner's glorious brass-filled buildups, and the Richard Strauss Horn Concerto No. 2, featuring German horn virtuoso Marie Luise Neunecker.

Bruckner was an Austrian organist whose religious fervor and organlike chorale themes permeate his nine symphonies.

His Symphony No. 5 has an unsettled, almost schizophrenic quality; it never completes one thought before moving on to the next. Massive brass outbursts interrupt lyrical themes; great swells in the strings suddenly drop to nothing.

Järvi's view had tension and momentum, yet he also brought out the Austrian color that so many interpreters miss. In the first movement, a moment of tremolo strings set against flute evoked the countryside as beautifully as the landler (folk dance) in the third movement.

The work opened with an extraordinary atmosphere in the strings, and exploded into a powerful brass chorale. There was a transparency of texture, in which details sprang out, and every note was meaningful.

Bruckner can be repetitious - but Järvi never let the momentum sag. Indeed, its sheer unpredictability of quirkiness and power was riveting. The scherzo movement had a kind of fierce power simmering beneath the surface that alternated with Mahler-like moments of sunny lightness.

The musicians gave it their all, the winds phrasing with wonderful color, the horns glowing and the string ensemble shining. Richard Jensen's timpani rolls brought each movement to a stirring climax. There were multiple peaks and valleys before the final ascent, with the full power of the orchestra in all its sonic glory.

Opening the evening, Neunecker, who has based her career in Europe, made her debut in Strauss' Horn Concerto No. 2 in E-flat Major.

Neunecker is a superb musician, whose tone glowed, and whose phrasing was peerless. She projected a beautiful line through Strauss' romantic themes.

The slow movement had a lovely autumnal quality, and the finale was rollicking. Järvi's orchestra was lush and full of character.

The concert repeats at 8 p.m. today in Music Hall. (513) 381-3300.

CONCERT REVIEW: Jarvi, CSO paint majestic Bruckner

By Mary Ellyn Hutton
Cincinnati Post, January 28, 2006

Serene, majestic, characterful. All would describe Anton Bruckner's Symphony No. 5 as performed by Paavo Jarvi and the Cincinnati Symphony Friday night at Music Hall.

Also revelatory, for Bruckner is an acquired taste for most listeners. His symphonies top out at at least an hour and are not calculated for short attention spans. "Absolute" music, i.e. without extra-musical references, they are scored for the usual complement of strings, winds and brasses, with little or no percussion.

None of this fazed the small but appreciative audience, which rose with shouts of "bravo" as the final full-bore chorale echoed through the hall.

It was a triumph for Jarvi, who showed great empathy for the work, and for the CSO, which turned his vision into a performance of the first magnitude. They played with clarity, precision and what is coming to be a Jarvi trademark, the ability to concentrate overwhelming power into the softest moments.

This was clear at the outset, in the soft descending pizzicato in basses and cellos and the gentle overlay of harmonies by the upper strings. There were many such moments throughout, because the work reaches its apex only in the finale.

Jarvi's shaping of the individual movements, from the smallest details great archways of sound, was thoughtful and compelling. There was a sense that this was a journey, and there would be a great reward at the end, but the stops along the way were always engrossing.

Perhaps most remarkable was the range of color he drew from the strings: warm, variegated and frankly Wagnerian at times, as in the opening movement where the flute repeats the pizzicato figures against the strings, and in the slow movement where the violins waxed ravishing on the first statement of the main theme.

Bruckner means brass, and the CSO brasses shone mightily - at the end of the slow movement where all the pieces finally come together, during raucous outbursts in the Scherzo and in the soaring final chorale, haloed at the start by an echo of strings..

Jarvi took pains to give the music an earthy quality when invited, as in the Scherzo, where he slowed the tempo to suggest a galumphing village dance. As for intellectual rigor, the complex counterpoint of the last movement got stellar treatment, reminding this listener that it was Mozart's birthday (he wrote a comparable movement to end his "Jupiter" symphony).

Guest artist in her CSO debut was French hornist Marie Luise Neunecker, who gave a warm, engaging performance of Richard Strauss' Horn Concerto No. 2 in E-flat Major. Composed when Strauss was 78, it shares some of the nostalgia of his "Four Last Songs" but also has an occasional impish quality reminiscent of his early tone poem "Till Eulespiegel."

Neunecker, a former orchestra principal, worked expertly with Jarvi and the CSO, and there was some lovely dialogue with the clarinet in the opening Allegro. Her expressive tone color ranged from big and burnished to soft and veiled, and she was as nimble as a deer on the run in the delightful hunting horn Rondo, where she was joined at the end by her CSO horn compatriots.

Repeat is 8 p.m. tonight at Music Hall.

Friday, January 27, 2006

No safety net for horn soloists

Mary Ellyn Hutton of the Cincinnati Post interviews Marie Luise Neunecker in this article published today:
The French horn has a fearsome reputation. One of the most difficult of all instruments, playing it has been described as driving at high speed down an oil-slicked road.

Playing the horn is so difficult, said legendary horn virtuoso Barry Tuckwell, that a player must approach every performance "as if your life depended on it."

So what is it about the horn? (Forget the "French" since it really isn't French, just as the English horn, a cousin of the oboe, isn't English.)

I asked German hornist Marie Luise Neunecker, guest artist with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in Richard Strauss' Horn Concerto No. 2 at 8 p.m. tonight and Saturday at Music Hall. The concerts, to be led by music director Paavo Järvi, also include Bruckner's Symphony No. 5.

Neunecker's answer sounded a bit like Yoda teaching Luke Skywalker to use the light saber.

"To get the right note is not a matter of intellect," she said, from her home in Berlin. "You must feel the note. You must hear it in advance and trust your feelings, because if you put your lips in a tiny, little other tension or position, then already the next note is coming."

The "next note" is the next one in the overtone series.

Acoustically, a tone is a composite of other tones, which can be produced by the player in various ways. Horn players do this with their lips to alter the column of air that produces the sound.

Again, since other wind instruments do the same thing, what's so special about the horn?

Indeed, the horn is a bit odd. If unwound, it would be 12 feet long, from the funnel-shaped mouthpiece to the bell, which points backwards.

Horn players have to respond quickly, Neunecker said.

"You can't think in the moment you play. You just have to trust you are feeling what is right."

Neunecker, 50, who teaches at the Hanns Eisler Academy of Music in Berlin, began playing the horn "late," she said.

"My first instrument was the piano. In church we had a little wind ensemble, and I played the trumpet when I was 12 until 19. Then I started the horn. I liked its warm sonority. Four years later, I went in an orchestra" (at the Frankfurt Opera).

It was "fast," she said, "like destiny."

An orchestra musician for 10 years (1979-89), she was principal hornist of the Bamberg Symphony in Germany and the Radio Symphony Orchestra of Frankfurt.

During that time, she played solo "a lot" and also taught and played chamber music.

Motherhood forced her to cut back, she said (son Moritz and daughter Sophie are now 18 and 16).

"I liked very much playing orchestra, but it cost too much time. Teaching jobs in Germany are very highly paid - you are a state employee - and I thought to be secure, it's good (to be) teaching. You can better combine your duties as a mother."

The repertoire for horn, though smaller than instruments like the violin or piano, "is not so bad," she said. "We have four Mozart concertos, two Haydn concertos and two Richard Strauss. Also Hindemith, Gliere and the wonderful Britten Serenade." Gyorgy Ligeti wrote his 2001 "Hamburg" Concerto for her, which she premiered and recorded for Teldec.

Although this weekend is Neunecker's CSO debut, it is not her first time in the city. She was here earlier this month to rehearse with pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard (CSO guest Jan. 13 and 14). She and Aimard performed in New York's Alice Tully Hall Jan. 15 as part of a Ligeti mini-festival presented by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.

Visit Mary Ellyn Hutton's website Music in Cincinnati.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Does an orchestra play to the music or the style in which the conductor directs them?

An Anonymous listener posted this comment the other day on Janelle Gelfand's blog, regarding last weekend's Cincinnati Symphony concert. I think it's one which a lot of fans have wondered about.
At 1/24/2006 07:04:26 PM, Anonymous said...

I, too, very much enjoyed Saturday's concert, and the CSO's obvious enthusiasm prompts this question: does the CSO, or any symphony, play to the music or the style in which the conductor directs them?

I ask because in my 20+ years of attending CSO concerts, I don't think the orchestra has sounded any better -- or more engaged -- than it does under Jarvi's baton.

It's hard to describe the quality I hear. Perhaps fullness, Or intensity. Or maye it is roundness or completeness. Whatever the term, the CSO clearly takes it to the next level with Paavo in charge.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

CD REVIEW: Truls Mørk — Schumann/Bruch/Bloch

This is a newly found review by Jerry Dubins of Paavo's Grammy-nominated album with cellist Truls Mørk and the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France from Fanfare Magazine, originally published in its July/August 2005 issue.

SCHUMANN Cello Concerto in a. BRUCH Kol Nidrei . BLOCH Schelomo • Truls Mørk (vc); Paavo Järvi, cond; ORTF PO • VIRGIN 5 45664 (58:51)

Here are three classic masterpieces of the cello repertoire. None has been neglected, either in concert or on record, though the Schumann concerto, in particular, has been somewhat sidelined lately in favor of a spate of new recordings of the easier to love Dvořák concerto. As I listened to the achingly beautiful opening melody sung by the cello in Schumann’s valedictory song, I wondered why this was so. But then it came back to me. Schumann’s Cello Concerto exemplifies all that is best and worst in his works—a melodic and harmonic richness of radiant beauty hobbled by a weak and diffuse developmental instinct, wherein repetition too often substitutes for genuine working out of ideas. Given the raw material, he lacked the ability to shape and mold it into a coherent argument. Whether this was in any way related to the advancing state of his mental illness by the time he came to compose the Cello Concerto in 1850, I am not in a position to say. But I can say that the weakness that was always there is more pronounced in this very late work than it is elsewhere. As beautifully as it begins, it quickly becomes mired in its own lugubrious longueurs . Note writer Philippe Mougeot describes it as "a long elegiac monologue for cello," and refers later to its "meandering" character. None of this is to say that the piece is without its exquisite moments, the transition from the slow Langsam movement to the Sehr lebhaft finale being especially mysterious and magical, and finding a close parallel in the equally breathtaking transition to the last movement of his Fourth Symphony.

That said, a new recording of the piece was probably overdue, and this one with Norwegian cellist Truls Mørk is very welcome indeed. His phrasing of the opening melody alone is worth the price of the disc. Never have I heard it quite so beautifully teased and spun out, with subtle rubato and inflections of tone and dynamic shading that go right to the heart. Though there are not as many opportunities in the Schumann for pyrotechnics as there are in other cello concertos, Mørk neither downplays nor overplays the few moments (mostly in the last movement) of virtuoso display the score allows, demonstrating understanding and respect for the overall context of the work.

Max Bruch (1838–1920) is, in my opinion, one of the most underestimated of all the post-Brahms, late-Romantic German composers. Beyond his G-Minor Violin Concerto, Scottish Fantasy, and the Kol Nidrei heard on this disc, his output of symphonic, orchestral, chamber, and choral works is barely known. And what wonderful works they are. Bruch was not Jewish, though his Kol Nidrei for cello and orchestra has become one of the most famous and beloved of "Jewish" pieces. Kol Nidrei is the prayer that ushers in Yom Kippur , the holy Day of Atonement; and the falling melody with which it begins symbolizes, musically, the falling of the supplicant to his knees. The melody itself is not of Bruch’s invention. It is not even known for certain who wrote it or when, though most likely it had its origin in the 17th- or 18th-century European cantorial tradition. It is, however, a melody that lends itself well to improvisatory treatment. The idea for an elegiac rhapsody for cello based on this melody apparently came to Bruch through his acquaintanceship with the Lichtenstein family, a Jewish family living in Berlin. The work was dedicated in 1880 to the Jewish Society in Liverpool, where Bruch was conductor of the Liverpool Philharmonic from 1880 to 1883. An observation of my own that I’ve not seen mentioned elsewhere is that Bruch’s Kol Nidrei, given its date of composition, was a brave and risky political statement. It was a time when anti-Semitic polemics were being circulated, and many important figures in the German musical establishment were railing against the corrupting Jewish influence on the purity of German music. That a German Protestant composer (Bruch) should have associated himself with Jews and their corrupting influence might easily have blackballed him in his native German musical circles.

Bloch’s Schelomo, like the Schumann concerto, has also been a bit neglected of late, but likely for different reasons. I suspect it’s because cellists have felt somewhat embarrassed at the prospect of programming a piece that elitists tend to view as Cecil B. DeMille, Ben-Hur, Hollywood kitsch. Admittedly, the work was a product of Bloch’s youthful exuberance, but it enjoyed enormous popularity for many years. If one can peel back the layers of retroactively accreted celluloid images to get to the core of Schelomo, it can be appreciated for the fine piece of handiwork it is. To a certain extent, Schelomo became Zara Nelsova’s signature piece, and her recordings of it with Ernest Ansermet and with Abravanel are still electrifying. But Truls Mørk need not take a back seat or make any apologies for his slightly lower voltage approach. If Nelsova emphasizes the ancient Israeli king Schelomo (Solomon) as the young dynamo who, all in a day’s work, built the Temple in Jerusalem, ordered a baby cut in half, and, we are told, had a dalliance with the Queen of Sheba, Mørk portrays an older and wiser Solomon, the sage who authored many of the Psalms and, it is thought by some, the Book of Ecclesiastes : “to everything there is a season . . . a time to be born, and a time to die . . . there is nothing new under the sun . . . all is vanity.”

This is a gorgeous recording for which well-deserved credit goes not just to Mørk, but to Paavo Järvi, the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, and to Virgin Classics. Very strongly recommended.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Happy Birthday, Wolfie

Come celebrate the 250th anniversary of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's birth by attending a concert at Music Hall with Paavo and his Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra this Friday, January 27, at 8 pm. While there's no Mozart on this week's program, there is an exceptional guest soloist, Marie Luise Neunecker, hot off a highly reviewed visit to Lincoln Center two weeks ago, here playing French horn on Strauss's Horn Concerto No. 2 in E-flat Major, followed by
Bruckner's Symphony No. 5 in B-flat Major (1878).

Read the Program Notes before you go and help cut down on the dreaded paper rustling during the quiet bits! Listen to Paavo's Notes about this program here.

This program repeats on Saturday, January 28, at 8 pm. A recording of this concert will air via streaming audio on Classical WGUC-FM, 90.9, on Sunday, March 5, at 7:30 pm ET.

And remember -- this is your last opportunity to hear PJ conduct the CSO until March!

Monday, January 23, 2006

FLASHBACK: NPR's Performance Today Interview with PJ

I love the web. While searching for Paavo audio files, I came across this new-to-me interview with a then 30 year old Paavo, just beginning his conducting career, by former Performance Today host Martin Goldsmith, on National Public Radio's website. (Ironically, it did not actually air until September 16, 2001.) To my eternal consternation, I have not been able to listen to it myself yet because neither Real Player nor I-Tunes will cooperate and open the file! I can't link directly to the audio file for you, but if you visit this page you will easily find it.

P.S. Let me know if there's anything I should know, will you, pretty please? :-(

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Embracing new technologies

I often like to read reviews and articles about the music world by critics in other cities. While doing so today, I came across yet another piece about how symphony orchestras are trying to exploit new technologies as part of their quest to widen their audiences. Here are some excerpts from it by the Chicago Tribune's classical music critic John von Rhein (read the entire article here):
The digital revolution is forcing my techno-challenged generation of classical music lovers to keep up with the latest developments. That's a challenge for those of us who barely know how to operate our CD and DVD players, let alone download MP3 files, burn discs and fiddle with pocket-size portable digital players.

...frankly, the industry doesn't much care, given the fact that classical downloads account for only about 6 percent of the total of all music pulled off the Internet....

Be that as it may, a growing number of classical music purveyors are looking to the new digital technology for solutions to some of their most vexing problems.

Just as it makes sense for recording companies with declining CD sales to jump aboard the download bandwagon, so too does it make sense for classical groups seeking new audiences to break ground in cyberspace....

According to a report out of London, BBC Radio 3 last summer invited listeners to visit the station online and download, for free, all nine Beethoven symphonies. Within days, the station received a boggling 1.37 million download requests. An equivalent commercial CD would take upwards of five years to reach sales figures like that, record company executives said.

On this side of the pond, various classical organizations are looking to the iPod generation to help fill their empty seats.

Last month, the Milwaukee Symphony struck an important blow for getting orchestra-owned recordings on the Web. The orchestra launched its own e-label, MSO Classics, which will draw upon the more than 300 live recordings made for its national radio broadcasts over the last 35 years.

The MSO began by uploading 14 of its own live recordings onto iTunes through an independent Web distributor; those recordings range from Brahms symphonies recorded digitally several years ago, to the world premiere of Roberto Sierra's Third Symphony, recorded in September. They will be available at the iTunes Music Store for three months, after which you can buy them at Yahoo! Music, Napster and other Web outlets.

The point, say the creators of MSO Classics, is not making money but finding new ways to reach audiences.

Now that Milwaukee has created a model for the online purchase of live orchestral recordings directly from the source, one hopes other orchestras that are sitting on vast troves of broadcast tapes, such as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, get hip to the times.

The CSO, after all, has been without a radio outlet and a regular recording contract since 2001. Efforts to reach a broadcast agreement since then have failed. Agreeing to license its classical "product" for Web distribution would be an important step out of the wilderness for the orchestra, and I urge the CSO to take it. Even Lyric Opera, itself an orphan of the airwaves, has begun podcasting selected preview lectures....

As with any new concept, downloading classical music off the Web will require some time and a lot of refining before it settles in. I have had both good and frustrating experiences when I've tried it in recent days....

Downloading was agonizingly slow: The 24-minute opening movement of the Brahms Violin Concerto, from the complete recording on EMI with Itzhak Perlman, Carlo Maria Giulini and the Chicago Symphony, took just under an hour to download with a broadband modem.

Which leads me to offer a final reproach to online classical music providers.

If downloads are the future of classical, as industry optimists are hoping, then it behooves Web music outlets such as Apple and Napster to improve the sound quality of online music. That means increasing the resolution and compressing the files of extended works such as symphonies and operas so that they may be downloaded faster and sound on par with what your home stereo system delivers.

Until such improvements occur, I suspect most hard-core classical music lovers will be content watching the digital revolution from the sidelines. And if all that Bach and Beethoven floating around cyberspace isn't presented in a more meaningful way to newbies either, it's likely to turn off more of them than it converts.

Just for fun: The Flying Inkpot

I must say, I have such a wonderful time coming across unexpected websites while trolling around the web doing research on this or that. Today's little gem is something called The Flying Inkpot, which chronicles classical music performances in Singapore.

What I find absolutely irresistible about this site is its irreverant addition of a NOISE RATING INDEX for the concerts reviewed. According to its definition:
The Noise Rating Index is a partially-objective measurement of pager and handphone blasts, 9pm and 10pm watch beeps, coughing-during-the-pianissimo-bits, intra-audience conversation and other mind-bogglingly inept noises emitted in the concert hall during actual performance of music. It is measured on a scale of 0 to 5, in increasing annoyance.

In a 2002 review of the NHK Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Charles Dutoit, for example, The Noise Index Rating registered a whopping 5 out of 5 due to the following audience transgressions:
Desecration of the House

The Inkpot usually gives a Noise Index Rating™ for concerts - our irreverent method of social commentary about bad local concert-going habits. But this evening was beyond numerical description. Just about anything that could happen did:

* Photographer taking multiple exposure shots
* An ongoing plague of coughing and sniffling
* Dropped programme books and personal miscellany
* Watch alarms going off on the hour
* People talking during the slow bits
* Handphone that went off in the cor anglais solo at the end of Meadows

The only thing which did not occur (not where we were located) was a crying infant, although we did come pretty close - babes-in-arms were spotted in the hall.

The fact is, we normally do not see half as much of these shenanigans going on at regular concerts at Victoria Concert Hall, which also has half the seating capacity. Our concern is with the pending opening of the 1,600-seat Esplanade Concert Hall, with its Russell Johnson™ acoustics, and the numbers of people flocking to "be there".

Far be it for us to be moral arbitrators about concertgoering habits (OK, alright, so we already are) - but if this is what the Esplanade experience is going to be, well, like Geena Davis says in The Fly, "Be afraid. Be very afraid."

Saturday, January 21, 2006

CONCERT REVIEW: CSO and Järvi have merged a perfect match

Web problems delayed this wonderful review by the Cincinnati Post's Mary Ellyn Hutton (1/20/06):
Mid-course correction?

No way. In the arithmetic center of his contract in Cincinnati (through 2008-09), Paavo Järvi and the Cincinnati Symphony are without doubt one of the finest musical partnerships to be found anywhere today.

This was made abundantly - almost alarmingly - clear Thursday night at Music Hall (alarming because the CSO needs to optimize its performance space, i.e. re-configure 3,516-seat Music Hall or move elsewhere).

It was a program well calculated to show off a symphony orchestra, with Britten's Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra and Elgar's Enigma Variations.

Add pianist Garrick Ohlsson in Schumann's Piano Concerto in A Minor and it easily qualified as one of the not-to-miss concerts of the season.

Järvi got right to his task in the opening bars of the Britten, an instrumental "treatise" that, happily, stands alone (it was performed without a narrator). The theme, by Henry Purcell, rose up like a phalanx, made the rounds of each family of instruments, then split off into 13 kaleidoscopic variations, whose transparent, ever-changing colors Järvi summoned and defined brilliantly.

You could perceive every hue: side drum and double bass in the bassoon variation, woodwinds coaxing the double basses, the tuba counterbalancing the trombones. Järvi turned the percussion variation into a great big waltz, while the concluding fugue served as the boisterous backdrop for theme's triumphant return.

Elgar's Enigma - to be recorded by Telarc with The Young Person's Guide and Britten's Four Sea Interludes from "Peter Grimes" - was equally rewarding. Conductor and player sensitivities were closely entwined here, from the hushed, silken exposition of the "enigma" theme to the distinctive features of the variations (musical "portraits" of Elgar's wife and friends).

There were passion and tenderness in "C.A.E" (C. Alice Elgar), cockeyed fun in "H.D.S.-P." (a musician friend) and much rushing about in "W.M.B. (man in a hurry). Violist Marna Street and cellist Eric Kim shone in "Ysobel" and "B.G.N.," the latter extra-poignant. It was the "Nimrod" variation, however, a tightrope walk of pacing, that took one's breath away. In many years of hearing this work, I have never heard it shaped so perfectly. Järvi took it from the faintest whisper to its fortissimo climax in one long, unbroken line, then took a long pause at the end to let the effect sink in.

Ohlsson's Schumann had everything, romantic flair in the opening Allegro, light-footedness in the Intermezzo, majesty in the finale. His big tone and sheer facility on the keyboard kept one involved throughout, despite the work's over-familiarity. He traced its drama with great presence and skill and it was easy to find oneself hanging on every note.

The crowd, which included quite a few young people (including a delegation of music students from Berea College in central Kentucky), demanded an encore and he obliged with one of his specialties, Chopin.

The Waltz in E-flat Major, Op, 18, was a treat - rollicking, suave and masterful.

Repeats are 8 p.m. tonight and Saturday at Music Hall.

Friday, January 20, 2006

CONCERT REVIEW: Familiar sounds, uncommon offering

The Cincinnati Enquirer's Janelle Gelfand was there last night and offers this review (1/20/05):
The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra's program Thursday night may have been familiar to many concertgoers in Music Hall. But there was nothing ordinary about this performance led by Paavo Järvi with guest pianist Garrick Ohlsson.

Britten's Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra and Elgar's Enigma Variations were given performances that elevated them from the mundane to the magical. And in Ohlsson's hands, the Schumann Piano Concerto in A Minor was simply stunning for its warmth and spontaneity.

Ohlsson's career was launched 36 years ago when he won the Chopin International Piano Competition. A big man, he towers over the keyboard. Yet his touch is elegant, whether finding weight and depth in each chord or flying through pianistic figures with gossamer lightness.

The pianist communicated a sense of joy of discovery in each note of the Schumann Concerto. The first movement evolved almost like chamber music, with wonderful give-and-take between piano and winds. A dream-like episode between piano, clarinet (Jonathan Gunn) and cellos was enchanting; Ohlsson lingered on it longer than usual, for a moment of immense beauty.

His first movement cadenza matched bravura with poetry, but this concerto is not about flash. Ohlsson played the slow movement with great affection, which made the cello theme more glowing and nostalgic when it arrived. The finale was exuberant, light and quick, and Järvi and the orchestra made ideal partners.

The pianist brought down the house with his encore, Chopin's Grand Valse Brilliante, Op. 18 - a piece every piano student plays, but never like this.

The source of the theme for Elgar's Enigma Variations is an enigma. But each of the 14 variations is a caricature of a person Elgar knew.

Järvi captured the disparate personalities while making it a cohesive, unified piece that evolved in one arc. He led vividly, whether drawing out the theme in a broad legato sweep or shaping a quirky, staccato passage in the winds.

The musicians gave a truly inspired performance. The seventh variation, for timpani and brass, unfolded in a spectacular display of adrenalin. The Nimrod Variation was veiled in extraordinary color and brought to a moving summation.

The program opened with Britten's Young Person's Guide, a showpiece for all the instruments of the orchestra. Järvi brought out the work's quirkiness, and the musicians played it with flair. Both will be recorded for Telarc.

The concert repeats at 8 p.m. today and Saturday. (513) 381-3300.

Janine Jansen with Cleveland Orchestra

Perhaps you were at Music Hall to hear the young Dutch violinist Janine Jansen make her American orchestral debut here in November, with the Cincinnati Symphony and Paavo, playing the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. If so, just listen to the raves she's getting for her most recent Ohio performances--in Cleveland, with Vladimir Ashkenazy guest conducting:
Believe the hype about Janine Jansen; Amazing violinist gives virtuoso performance in wonderful concert with Cleveland Orchestra
By Elaine Guregian
Akron Beacon-Journal, January 20, 2006

The buzz about Janine Jansen is right. In fact, after hearing this virtuoso on Thursday night, I'd say she deserves even more talk than she's getting.

The young Dutch violinist has the whole package: beautiful tone, perfect intonation, seamless technique and great instincts for phrasing -- well, not just for phrasing.

What was most wonderful about this performance of Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto with the Cleveland Orchestra at Severance Hall was Jansen's naturalness. At the work's triumphant end, Jansen broke into a big, delighted grin, as if she had just figured out how to ride a bike.

Guest conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy has spent so much time in Cleveland that he has a deep rapport with the group. It was Ashkenazy who conducted Jansen's London debut with the Philharmonic Orchestra in November 2002, and the two of them connected easily at Severance.

Together with the orchestra, they evoked the sizzle of the Tchaikovsky with a single-minded purpose. There was more than virtuosity here, though. Jansen's playing of the theme in the slow movement made it sound poignantly like an ancient Russian song.

American listeners are just getting to know Jansen. She made her American orchestral debut only in November, with the Cincinnati Symphony and Paavo Jarvi.

She's joining Ashkenazy and the Cleveland Orchestra for an upcoming five-concert tour of Florida and Georgia. The timing is perfect.

Thursday's Severance Hall audience went crazy for Jansen, giving her a well-deserved standing ovation. In fact, something happened that I don't think I've ever seen before: a handful of people not only applauded but also stood up after the first movement of the Tchaikovsky.

Talk about capturing the crowd...

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Five reasons to go to the symphony this weekend

Janelle Gelfand's right on the case for this week's concerts in this entry from her blog!
1. Paavo's in town. You know his concert is going to be electric. And, he's recording this program for posterity on Telarc.

2. You'll hear some of the best examples of British music in the orchestral repertory.

3. Britten's Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra is not just for children anymore. It's an interesting set of variations on a theme by Purcell (another Englishman) that features various instruments of the orchestra. It's only been performed one other time by the Cincinnati Symphony.

4. Elgar's Enigma Variations is one of the most beautiful works Elgar ever wrote (and almost as familiar as his Pomp and Circumstance -- graduation -- march).

5. Garrick Ohlsson is one of my favorite pianists and he's playing Schumann's Piano Concerto, a great piece.

P.S. Tonight there's free food.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Garrick Ohlsson Plays Schumann

How many times do you have three opportunities to hear Cincinnati favorite, pianist Garrick Ohlsson play with Paavo and the CSO? If you're looking for an early evening out, why not make tracks for the 7:30 pm Thursday, January 19, concert. Arrive around 6:15 and ticketholders are also invited to partake of a complimentary dinner buffet in the beautiful Music Hall Ballroom. Other performances will take place on Friday, January 20, and Saturday, January 21, at 8 pm.

This week's program features Benjamin Britten's The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra; Schumann's Piano Concerto in A Minor; and Elgar's Enigma Variations. Read the Program Notes before you go. And listen to Paavo's Notes about this program in MP3 or Real Player format. This program will air via streaming audio on classical WGUC, 90.9 FM, on Sunday, February 26, at 7:30 pm.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Bits and Pieces

Some little bits of this and that following the CSO's Saturday night concert: Listeners were treated to an encore of a Debussy Etude by Pierre-Laurent Aimard following his dazzling performance of Ravel (sans sheet music!). And it turns out that the reason he did not make an after-concert appearance in the Green Room was because he had a flight to catch for New York where he played a concert at Lincoln Center Sunday afternoon. A concert... A Ligeti concert. Let's allow the New York Times to elaborate on that in this piece called Subtle Revenge on Stalin and Other Facets of Ligeti's Art by Anthony Tommasini (January 17, 2006):
"...On Sunday afternoon, for the second concert in the series, the formidable pianist and Ligeti champion Pierre-Laurent Aimard offered scintillating accounts of four of Mr. Ligeti's visionary piano études. He was then joined by the violinist Mark Steinberg and the horn player Marie Luise Neunecker for a commanding performance of the 1982 Horn Trio...."

And, hey! Guess what? Next week's guest with the Cincinnati Symphony is...Marie Luise Neunecker playing Strauss’s Second Horn Concerto!

Saturday, January 14, 2006

CONCERT REVIEW: Pianist performs one-handed feat

By Janelle Gelfand
Cincinnati Enquirer, January 14, 2006

Tackling it with two hands would be difficult enough. But pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard made an impressive Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra debut Friday morning using just one hand, in Ravel's Concerto in D for the Left Hand.

The Left-Hand Concerto was part of a 20th-century program that opened the symphony season's second half in Music Hall. In a thoughtful juxtaposition, Paavo Järvi framed the concerto with suites extracted from operas: Britten's Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes and Hindemith's Mathis der Maler. Both were exceptional ways to showcase the orchestra.

Maurice Ravel wrote his Concerto in D for Paul Wittgenstein, an Austrian pianist who lost his right arm in World War I. (How inspiring it must have been to see him perform it in Cincinnati in 1934.) Full of pitfalls, the piece has keyboard-spanning arpeggios and intricate passagework that must be performed while bringing out the melody - all with one hand.

Aimard, an extraordinary pianist who was born in Lyon, France, and is known as a champion of new music, was clearly up to the task. The singing tone he projected in the lyrical passages was lovely and his scherzo passages were light and playful. He dashed off technical feats with an easy grace, and his final cadenza rippled with breathtaking color.

Perhaps because the pianist used the score, he struggled a few times through Ravel's fiendish leaps and I wished for more sparkle. But what a tour de force, nonetheless. Järvi was a sensitive partner and brought out the jazz overtones of the piece wonderfully.

The program opened with Britten's Four Sea Interludes. The tragic opera takes place in a town by the sea, and the interludes evoke a chilling, desolate quality. Järvi's view was intense, with an ominous undercurrent always evident, even in the bright "Sunday Morning" interlude. The musicians turned in a vivid, precise performance that was gripping for its haunting quality.

Clarity, drama and urgency were also hallmarks of Mathis der Maler which concluded. Taken from Hindemith's opera about the German artist Mathias Grunewald, each movement depicts one of Grunewald's paintings.

Järvi's view was sharply etched, and he illuminated the strings' counterpoint against the powerful chords in the trombones. The strings shone in this symphony, playing with precision and rich color. Flutist Randolph Bowman and oboist Lon Bussell made beautifully phrased contributions to the "Entombment" interlude.

The spacious brass chorale that concluded was stunningly performed and made a monumental summation to the piece.

The concert repeats at 8 p.m. today in Music Hall. Tickets: (513) 381-3300.

CONCERT REVIEW: CSO, pianist present colorful opener for New Year

[yawn] I really should be painting my fingernails in some shocking hue at this late hour, in preparation for attending Saturday evening's concert (surely this can be claimed as an aerobic activity, non? raise those arms up!), but, instead, here I am, impatiently mousing around with Google News, trolling for the reviews of Friday morning's concert! And what to my wandering eyes should appear--but this review by my peep, Mary Ellyn Hutton, in today's edition of the Cincinnati Post! Check it out:
Fittingly enough, music director Paavo Järvi and the Cincinnati Symphony started the New Year with Dawn Friday morning at Music Hall.

And not just any dawn, but Benjamin Britten's superbly evocative Dawn, first of the Four Sea-Interludes from his opera "Peter Grimes."

The first ray of "light," emanating from flutes and violins perched high above the staff, augured well for 2006, as did the program in general, a colorful one featuring the CSO debut of French pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard in Ravel's Concerto for the Left Hand and the symphony Mathis der Mahler ("Matthias the Painter") by Paul Hindemith.

Britten's Interludes - to be recorded by Järvi and the CSO as part of an all-British album for Telarc - comprise tone and mood-painting of the highest order. Järvi extracted every rainbow tinge and every hint of meaning from the score.

Aimard, a brilliant artist whose career has been closely intertwined with contemporary music, displayed stunning virtuosity in the Ravel, an ingenious, single-movement work written for Austrian pianist Paul Wittgenstein, who lost his right arm in World War I. You had to see Aimard to believe only one hand was playing, the illusion Ravel sought to create, largely by use of the piano's sustaining pedal.

Contra-bassoonist Jennifer Monroe had a rare moment to shine in the opening bars, which rumbled up from ponderous depths to Aimard's stately fortissimo entrance and bravura cadenza. His touch in slower, more lyrical moments was refined and exacting.

The scherzo portion (Allegro) was bright, taut and bluesy. Järvi let the CSO wax full and rowdy here, with occasional smears in the brass and a perky tune by the E-flat clarinet (Jonathan Gunn). Aimard capped the work with a lengthy cadenza, where he wreathed his own melody in a halo of cascading figures. Järvi brought the Concerto to a big, bumptious end, adding the exclamation point to a riveting performance.

Hindemith's triptych symphony based on his opera about Matthias Grunewald, painter of the famed Isenheim altarpiece, suffered somewhat by contrast. Though well played, it lacked the last measure of energy and commitment needed to equal the excitement of the first half. There were many fine moments: the dynamic shading of "The Entombment," the creepy, crawly sounds of "The Temptation of St. Anthony," with its menacing introduction - jaws snapping, cymbal hissing - its high, spine-tingling trills and slow, anguished interlude for strings. Still, the buildup to the final brass chorale seemed to flicker rather than burn, and the chorale itself, while full and dignified, seemed a bit staid.

Repeat is 8 tonight at Music Hall.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Settling into his fifth season

Globetrotting symphony conductor Paavo Järvi at home in Cincinnati
By Janelle Gelfand, Cincinnati Enquirer, January 12, 2006

Paavo Järvi landed long enough between concerts at Music Hall for a casual chat in his backstage office shortly before the holidays. Now up for his second Grammy Award - he won last year for his gorgeous "Sibelius Cantatas" with the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra - the 43-year-old music director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra spends a lot of time on planes between Cincinnati and Europe.

Lately, Germany has become a regular stop for the Estonian-born American, who now leads two orchestras there (the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen and the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra).

But he's made Cincinnati his home base. In the fall, Järvi moved into a new condo in East Walnut Hills with his partner, Tania Berman, and their daughter, Lea, almost 2. Now opening the second half of his fifth season, he talked about getting to know the city and the music he has coming up with the Cincinnati Symphony.

On being recognized around town: People are so friendly. The nicest story was when I just came back from Germany with my slightly suspect American passport, which is issued in Sweden and renewed in England and has about 25 pages of extensions for extra stamps. I was mentally preparing myself to being interrogated, and the guy looked at me and said, "Oh, I know you! May I just congratulate you for the fine work you're doing here." I thought, that's so nice! Finally no strip search!

Getting to know Cincinnati: I've seen almost everything at the Playhouse in the Park. Love, Janis was great. With Tania, I often participate in Final Fridays, and we bought some art from local artists. Just to see literally hundreds of people walking through galleries - you don't think that this kind of thing is possible here.

On missing Estonian food: The food in Germany is a lot like Estonian - sort of basic meat and potatoes type of food. I'd rather keep it to a minimum (laughs). There are certain things that you miss, of course, like a real black bread.

Furnishing the condo: A lot of it comes from the Internet.

Foodies: Sometimes after a week of work, the biggest excursion outside my house is to go to Kroger. Tania now has completely converted to organic foods, so I think she'll start owning stock in Wild Oats. Even our cat eats organic food, which I think is ridiculous.

Most inspiring music coming up: Bruckner's Symphony No. 5 is enormous and fantastic and a very unusual Bruckner symphony (Jan. 27-28). Elgar's Enigma Variations is very popular (Jan. 19-21).

We have an interesting concert on March 3-4, where Christian and Tanja Tetzlaff, a brother and sister, are playing Brahms' Double Concerto. They are exceptional artists, and it is an incredible piece of music. And Mahler's Second Symphony - this is one of the pieces that one shouldn't miss (March 10-11).

Most fun to conduct: The jazz concert with Kurt Weill, Bernstein and Gershwin (April 21-23). That's very cool.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Ravel poses big challenge: left hand only

The Cincinnati Post's Mary Ellyn Hutton interviews French pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard in this article, published today:
Pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard has no idea how many works he has premiered.

An exponent of new music since his student days at the Paris Conservatory, he was selected by contemporary master Gyorgy Ligeti to record his complete works for piano and is the dedicatee of several of his Etudes. For 18 years, he was the solo pianist of Pierre Boulez' cutting edge Ensemble InterContemporain in Paris, and he continues to proselytize for the music of our time (his CD of Charles Ives won a Grammy in 2005).

For his debut with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, however, Aimard, 58, will not perform Elliott Carter or Ligeti or Boulez. He will bow in with Maurice Ravel's 1930 Concerto for the Left Hand.

The concerts, to be led by CSO music director Paavo Järvi, are 11 a.m. Friday and 8 p.m. Saturday at Music Hall.

"I've lived with new pieces for decades," said Aimard, by phone from Paris where he was cooking dinner for his children, ages 11 and 18.

"But not only that, because I've always done old and new music at the same time. It was always completely necessary to me. I started with the other Ravel Concerto, the G Major, when I was 15, and I've played it so often."

Ravel's jazzy Left Hand Concerto is the gem of a genre created for pianists with disabilities. It was commissioned, along with works from several other prominent composers, by Austrian pianist Paul Wittgenstein, who lost his right arm in World War I.

"It's very challenging because it should sound like a concerto for two hands. The challenge is to play it with the left hand only," Aimard said.

Ravel achieves his goal in very "sophisticated ways," he said. "He creates beautiful acoustic illusions (utilizing the pedal) to have the instrument sound very large, though it is played with only one hand."

Sometimes performers fudge and use their right hand also (including Ravel himself on one occasion). Aimard cited one instance in which he finds it justifiable.

"The first cadence has very large chords and it's not nice to have them broken, so some of us play one of the notes in one of these chords with the help of the other hand. I think it is not a bad thing, because it avoids the chords to be broken."

The Left Hand Concerto should be, and normally is, played as written, he said. "First of all, it's a challenge, and second, it sounds differently to make the fingering with one hand."

Does being right-handed or a southpaw make a difference in playing the piano in general?

"A big difference," said Aimard. "You think often that being right-handed allows you to play the melodies better (the melody line is usually written for the right hand). I'm convinced that it would be better to be maybe left-handed for a pianist, because you have better basses. You construct everything on your basses. Having worked hard on the Left Hand Concerto by Ravel allows me to play the piano better."

Aimard is a committed teacher in addition to maintaining a busy concert and recording career. He is on the faculty of the Paris Conservatory as well as the Hochschule fur Musik in Cologne, Germany.

"I think it is important not to be only on stage. First of all, it is not good psychologically to be too much isolated on stage. I think it is healthy to go back to a more normal life, to have contact with new generations and to express the things that you do on stage another way.

"Second, I think that all the prestige that is surrounding the function of being a soloist is not always very healthy. Teaching is one of the activities that can keep you a good balance, not to becoming too arrogant and too neurotic."

Besides that, being around young people is an education itself, he said. "You receive new questions every day. It's marvelous way to make progress, not just like a pianist, but like a human being."

Aimard loves to present lecture recitals and he has made a series of films for French television focusing on great composers of the 20th century. His new recording of music by Elliott Carter and Ravel includes an extra CD with an introduction to the music and music examples.

"I'm convinced that if people have some curiosity, if you help them with a couple of keys to hearing the music, then there would be less borders (obstacles) than they expect."

Aimard accepts that he has been tagged as a new music specialist but he says it has been "exaggerated."

"People thought probably that I wasn't able to play Beethoven and Mozart. Well, it seems they have changed their minds now."

Aimard's recording of the complete Beethoven piano concertos with Nikolaus Harnoncourt and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe received rave reviews, and he has just completed a CD of Mozart piano concertos for the 2006 Mozart celebration (the 250th anniversary of his birth) where he conducts the COE from the keyboard.

"For the next one, I will focus with romantic repertory, with Schumann," he said.

Aimard likens it to "being a walker, making a promenade in the history of music. The holes in the museum where we can make our promenade are a lot. They are very large and it's a pity to have a restricted area with too conventional repertory."

Aimard wants to challenge audiences, he said.

"I will not always make life easy for them. I don't want to invite them to lazy, easy moments. I want to lead a strong event. There are also light moments, I hope, but I think that pleasure is not only for the emotions but also for the intellect."

Still, Aimard respects their tastes. "If I play for a more traditional audience, I have to take care. I want to communicate. All audiences are different, so I pay attention to the mix of the program."

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Paavo's Back in Town!

French pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard

Yes, he is and ready to conduct the Cincinnati Symphony in two performances this week in beautiful Music Hall. The first is a lucky Friday the 13th morning concert at 11 am; the second takes place Saturday night, January 14, at 8 pm.

This week's program: Britten's Four Sea Interludes from the opera Peter Grimes; Ravel's Piano Concerto for Left Hand in D Major with guest artist Pierre-Laurent Aimard, piano; and Hindemith's Mathis der Maler.

Read the Program Notes before you go and you'll have more time to stargaze! This program will air via streaming audio on classical WGUC, 90.9 FM, on Sunday, February 19, at 7:30 pm.

Saturday night is also College Nite this week with jazz by the John Zappa Quartet (Yes. You heard me right. I said "Zappa"). Students can always get $10 tickets to CSO concerts, but on College Nites $10 buys the concert AND a party after the concert, where students enjoy free appetizers, cash bar, music by a live local band, great prizes, mingling with CSO musicians, meeting Music Director Paavo Järvi and meeting other college students. Call (513)744-3590 to get on the College Nite e-mail list or to order advance tickets.

Monday, January 09, 2006

New addition to sidebar

Perhaps you've noticed a new addition to the sidebar. Yes, it's finally here: a blogroll, somewhat fancily labelled Le Rouleau des Blagues (stolen, I must admit from our fellow blogger, the witty and wise vilaine fille). The blogs listed here are only tangentially related to Paavo in that they are mainly about classical music and, I must admit, during lean times reporting Paavo-related activities, I get bored and blog around a lot! These links are entertaining, educational and fun ways to spend some otherwise idle time online. I hope you enjoy visiting them as much as I do.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Paavo's New Year's Resolutions

Janelle Gelfand of the Cincinnati Enquirer reports Paavo's New Year's Resolutions in today's paper:
Paavo Järvi, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra music director and a big fan of the Blue Wisp, says, "My schedule is typically very full with the CSO and I try to enjoy other music performances in town. Cincinnati has so many great arts and performances to enjoy. In 2006, I really hope to go to the Playhouse and to see the Cincinnati Ballet perform. I would also like to make more time in my schedule to visit the local museums."