Bernard Haitink (1929-2021)

Bernard Haitink, longtime chief conductor of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam, has died at 92.

Haitink led the Amsterdam orchestra from 1963 until 1988, and thereafter was awarded a laureate post with the ensemble.

He also held artistic leadership posts with the London Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Staatskapelle Dresden, Britain’s Glyndebourne Festival and the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, in London. He also was a regular guest conductor of the Vienna Philharmonic and other major orchestras in Europe and the US.

He led his final concert two years ago with the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic, with which he had made his conducting debut in 1954. (A recording of that final performance, of Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony, has just been issued on the Challenge Classics label.)

Haitink was a prolific recording artist, especially celebrated for his recordings of the symphonies of Mahler, Bruckner, Beethoven and Shostakovich.

An obituary by The New York Times’ Vivien Schweitzer:

Chinese pianist-turned-TV personality arrested

Li Yundi, the Chinese pianist known to many Westerners as Yundi, has been arrested by Chinese authorities, charged with solicitation.

The 39-year-old pianist, winner of the 2000 Chopin Competition in Warsaw, more recently has become a fan favorite in China for his appearances on television variety galas and reality shows.

He may have been targeted as part of the campaign by the communist regime of Xi Jinping “to rein in China’s raucous celebrity culture, warning about the perils of celebrity worship and fan clubs,” The New York Times’ Javier C. Hernández reports. “The Chinese government often uses accusations of prostitution to intimidate political enemies, and it was unclear why Mr. Li had been singled out and what punishment he might face.”

Norman Lebrecht, on his Slipped Disc blog, reports that Li’s membership in the Chinese Musicians Association has been canceled for “extremely negative social impact,” and that the China Association of Performing Arts has called for a boycott of the pianist for his “indifference to law and a lack of moral self-discipline.”

“This is on the point of turning into a witch hunt,” Lebrecht writes:

Yundi Li is sacked by Chinese arts orgs

Edita Gruberova (1946-2021)

Edita Gruberova, the widely lauded Slovakian coloratura soprano who was a mainstay of the Vienna State Opera, the Salzburg Festival, New York’s Metropolitan Opera, La Scala in Milan, the Bavarian State Opera in Munich, and the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in London, and performed on a number of acclaimed recordings of opera and oratorio, has died at 74.

An obituary in Opera News:

http://www.operanews.com/Opera_News_Magazine/2021/10/News/Edita_Gruberova,_74,_Spectacularly_Accomplished_Coloratura_Who_Made_the_Vienna_State_Opera_Her_Artistic_Home,_has_Died.html

Another Finn to watch

Sixty years ago, Hungary produced a wildly disproportionate share of the world’s leading conductors: Georg Solti, George Szell, Eugene Ormandy, Antal Dorati, Fritz Reiner, Ferenc Fricsay.

Today, Finland has become a fertile seedbed of internationally prominent maestri: Esa-Pekka Salonen, Osmo Vänskä, Sakari Oramo, Jukka-Pekka Saraste, Klaus Mäkelä, Susanna Mälkki, Hannu Lintu, and now, Santtu-Matias Rouvali, the 35-year-old timpanist-turned-conductor beginning his tenure as chief conductor of Britain’s Philharmonia Orchestra.

Not your stereotypical European maestro, Imogen Tilden finds in an interview with Rouvali for The Guardian:

http://www.theguardian.com/music/2021/oct/19/philharmonia-principal-conductor-santtu-matias-rouvali-interview

Review: Chamber Music Society

Johnny Gandelsman & Njioma Grevious, violins
Jordan Bak, viola
James Wilson, cello
Mary Boodell, flute
Oct. 17, Trinity Lutheran Church

Antonín Dvořák’s advice to American composers – develop a distinctively native style by drawing from Black and American Indian songs and dances –was taken most faithfully and successfully by Black composers working in the first third of the 20th century, as a Chamber Music Society of Central Virginia ensemble demonstrated in a program featuring Dvořák’s “American” Quartet (in F major, Op. 96), written in 1893, and Florence Price’s Quartet No. 2 in A minor, published in 1935.

Many White American composers of the post-Dvořák generation followed a different course, as the ensemble demonstrated in Amy Beach’s Theme and Variations, Op. 80, for flute and string quartet, published in 1920.

Price and Beach both worked in compositional forms that would have been familiar to Dvořák and his Central European contemporaries, but only Price evoked American vernacular music, chiefly spirituals and the rhythmic creative movement of African origin known as juba dance or hambone. Beach, like most American musicians schooled in the 19th century, received a purely European-oriented education and reflected few if any identifiably American traits in her instrumental music.

In its first movement and finale, Price’s quartet hinges on a reverie-like theme recalling one of the more mournful spirituals (e.g., “Go Down, Moses”), with a brief juba dance as its contrasting central movement. Beach, by contrast, works off a dreamy, rather somber theme resembling one of the nostalgic tunes in Richard Strauss’ “Der Rosenkavalier,” with variations that contrast Viennese and French-impressionist accents.

This performance of the Dvořák was marked by a first violin part, played by Johnny Gandelsman, that echoed the old romantic expressive technique of portamento – slides from one note to the next – and by rustic (or “folksy”) voicings of the prominent viola part, played by Jordan Bak. Also notable was a highly transparent texture in which no string player sounded recessed or covered, even at the unusually speedy tempo adopted in the finale.

Moody atmospherics and rich instrumental blends prevailed in both the Price and Beach works, no mean feat in the latter, as flutist Mary Boodell kept her instrument, which can easily stand out from strings, securely within the ensemble’s tonescape and texture thanks to subtle phrasing and dynamic control. All five musicians brought out a wealth of tone color in Beach’s more impressionistic variations.

The string players, with Njioma Grevious as first violin, ably clarified the sometimes dense voicings and formal complexities of the first movement of the Price quartet, without straying too far from its spiritual theme, and gave the juba dance and finale a nice balance of rhythmic animation and tunefulness.

The Chamber Music Society of Central Virginia presents violinist Johnny Gandelsman in the premiere of Angélica Negrón’s “A través del manto luminoso” and solo-violin pieces by Rhiannon Giddens, Tyshawn Sorey, Conrad Tao and Christina Courtin at 7 p.m. Oct. 18 at Historic Mankin Mansion, 4200 Oakleys Lane in Highland Springs. Tickets: $30. Details: (804) 304-6312; http://cmscva.org

Atlanta Symphony taps Nathalie Stutzmann

Nathalie Stutzmann, the French contralto who took up conducting in 2009, has been named the new music director of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.

When she succeeds Robert Spano next season, Stutzmann will be the first woman to lead the Atlanta Symphony and the first female music director appointed by a first-tier US orchestra since Marin Alsop, who led the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra from 2007 until the end of last season.

The 56-year-old Stutzmann, currently chief conductor of the Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra in Norway and principal guest conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra, said she hopes that her Atlanta appointment will signal that women will “one day not be considered as a minority, but as musicians, conductors and maestros,” The New York Times’ Javier C. Hernández reports:

Paddy Maloney (1938-2021) & Robin Morton (1940-2021)

Two leading figures in the renaissance of Celtic folk music – Paddy Maloney, 83-year-old leader of the Irish band The Chieftains, and Robin Morton, 81, a founder of Scotland’s Boys of the Lough – have died.

An obituary of Maloney, by Ben Beaumont-Thomas for The Guardian:

http://www.theguardian.com/music/2021/oct/12/paddy-moloney-leader-of-irish-band-the-chieftains-dies-aged-83

An obituary of Morton by Derek Schofield, also for The Guardian:

http://www.theguardian.com/music/2021/oct/12/robin-morton-obituary

Artificially intelligent, but not Beethoven

Van Magazine persuades a reluctant Jan Swafford, the veteran music critic and author of a celebrated Beethoven biography, to assess “Beethoven X: The AI Project,” a Beethoven Tenth Symphony developed through computer-programmed artificial intelligence from sketches left by the composer.

“Artificial intelligence can mimic art, but it can’t be expressive at it because, other than the definition of the word, it doesn’t know what expressive is,” Swafford writes. “It also doesn’t know what excitement is, because there’s a reason people call excitement ‘pulse-pounding,’ and computers don’t have pulses.”

His conclusion: “Often in the sketches you see how [Beethoven] refines and transforms ordinary ideas into something fresh and remarkable, and always apropos in the context of the whole work. . . . In the AI Tenth, the Beethoven ideas sit there uncooked, naked in their simplicity . . .

“After an impressive feat of programming by its human proprietors, AI produced something that sounds unquestionably like a piece of music, only a gangly and forgettable one.”

The Intelligence of Bodies

(via http://www.artsjournal.com)

Rediscovering Louise Farrenc

The rediscovery of music by women and composers of color continues with David Allen’s survey in The New York Times of the life and works of the 19th-century French composer Louise Farrenc:

As is so often the case in these rediscoveries, the composers’ music doesn’t necessarily reflect their ethnic backgrounds or presumed gender characteristics.

Farrenc (1804-75) began her composing career writing piano showpieces and miniatures, which would have been thought appropriate for a woman of her era. In time, she turned to larger-scaled, more complex and turbulent pieces – three symphonies, two concert overtures, a widely praised Nonet and other chamber works – that even blinkered critics of the time recognized as comparable in quality and character to the music of male contemporaries such as Mendelssohn and Schumann.