Alex Ross Wins Belmont Prize Amid a Munich Evening of Americana

28/01/2012

Ives, Copland, Carter, Haydn: Martin Fröst (clarinet), Douglas Boyd (conductor), Munich Chamber Orchestra (MKO), Prinzregententheater, Munich, 26.1.2012 (JFL)

Charles Ives: Symphony No.3
Aaron Copland: Clarinet Concerto
Elliot Carter: Sound Fields
Joseph Haydn: Symphony No.83 “La Poule”

Alex Ross – Picture © David Michalek

When Douglas Boyd spoke passionately—in his beautiful melodic Scottish—about Charles Ives as one of the most enigmatic 20th century composer to the audience of the Munich Chamber Orchestra’s audience, the introductory excerpts of the hymn tunes took on a slight melancholic Scottish twang. His preparatory remarks fell on fertile ground, as a good part of the audience had already been readied to appreciate an evening exploring a century of American (East-Coast) music by the preceding prize ceremony where Alex Ross received the Forberg-Schneider Foundation’s Belmont Prize and chatted with the MKO artistic director Alexander Liebreich about music in general and “The Rest is Noise” in particular: A charming, if none-too profound conversation, spiced-up and in turn defused by Liebreich’s narcissism and Ross’ near-diffident modesty.

Programming American music (with the possible exception of Carter who appeals to European modernist-seeking audiences) is usually a recipe for empty halls. It speaks to the intelligent programming and meticulous audience-building of the MKO that the beautiful Prinzregententheater was full. And once audiences turn out to hear it, whether prepared to accept the music or not, they do embrace American classics.

available at Amazon
C.Ives, Symphonies 2 & 3,
A.Litton / Dallas SO
Hyperion

available at Amazon
E.Carter, Sound Fields etc.,
O.Knussen / BBC SO
Bridge

available at Amazon
A.Copland, Clarinet Concerto et al.,
S.Drucker / L.Bernstein / NYPhil
DG

They certainly appreciated Aaron Copland’s snappy Clarinet Concerto and particularly the snake-charming contortions of Martin Fröst. The Swedish instrumentalist appreciates the physicality of playing the clarinet to the point of distraction, but never at the expense of unrivaled gorgeous playing. The bold white borders of his black suit (with equal hints of Wild West, Pan Am 70s revival, and Barnum & Bailey’s) picked up the Americana-theme of the evening. It also enhanced how Fröst associates every phrase with a motion or position. That, in turn, suited the stereotype that Copland created; a kind of resounding Americanism that never was, but that hit—literally—a chord with its audiences. It reminds me of P.G. Wodehouse’s characters that created a world of their own; real shadows of an invented reality. Until the cadenza finally penetrates this soppy world of would-be concord, it is a simple, calm beauty that pervades the Copland concerto. Especially compared to Ives’ Third Symphony which preceded it.

Charles Ives begins his Symphony with deceptively harmonious pleasantries that glide upward with the grace of imaginary young ladies on their way from Sunday school to the debutant ball. The honest, sturdy chorales and hymns seem innocent on their arrival in the brass. But Ives gently breaks each tune’s spine and bends them into a new construction of his own—a fluid musical cubism that reminds superficially of Mahler-episodes, except without the vulgarity. Humorous sometimes, sometimes clamorous, but the original grace—morphed manifold—remains the red thread that leads through it. When chords of Ives’ don’t go into the conventional direction they don’t melt subversively or rebelliously as they are prone to do in, say, Schnittke. Instead they strike as a wholly novel, brilliant solution to a new kind of beautiful. A marvelous composition that rewards keen ears on every new listening.

Listening to Elliot Carter, two things usually come to mind: “Boulez, but with a smile” and “Haydn”. Not that Carter and Haydn have any cursory commonalities, but the geniality of Carter, his humor (not in the ‘comic’ sense, but the mood and its underlying wit) seems to rhyme with Haydn. It is as if Carter was so secure in his pared-down, formally sound sophistication that he doesn’t also need to be unnecessarily serious about it. In that spirit, I found that the ears seemed to nod as they listened to his 2007 “Sound Fields”, as though the offering were optional, not didactic. The underlying pulse is undeniable—all the way to its stolen last sentence in B-flat-major.

Fitting, that the finale was a Haydn Symphony: The peckish Symphony N0.83 (‘La Poule’), which got a terrific performance that underlined the violent surprised and boldness throughout and kept the Minuet from becoming sonic duty with a jazzy bend. Avant-guard from 1785.

Jens F. Laurson

 

Comments

Comments are closed.

Recent Reviews

Season Previews

__________________________________
  • NEW! The Leeds Lieder Concert Series 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! The 18th Oxford Lieder Festival from 11 to 26 October 2019 __________________________________
  • NEW! Anjali Dance Company Genius UK Tour 2019 __________________________________
  • NEW! Edinburgh Usher Hall 2019-2020 Orchestral Season __________________________________
  • NEW! Lyric Opera of Chicago’s 2020 Ring Cycles __________________________________
  • NEW! Ex Cathedra’s 50th Anniversary Season in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Geneva Grand Théâtre in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • UPDATED! 2019-20 at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden __________________________________
  • NEW! City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Zurich Opera House in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • UPDATED! English National Opera in 2019-2020 and New Artistic Director __________________________________
  • NEW! ENB in 2019-2020 and Opening of their New London City Island Home __________________________________
  • NEW! Classical Music and Other Events at the Southbank Centre in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • UPDATED! Cleveland Orchestra in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Classical Music at the Barbican in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! The Met: Live in HD in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Free Review Summary Newsletter

    Reviews by Reviewer

    News and Featured Articles

    __________________________________
  • NEW! HarrisonParrott celebrates 50 years at the Royal Festival Hall __________________________________
  • NEW! Highgate International Chamber Music Festival’s Beethoven 249 in November __________________________________
  • NEW! PIANIST JAMES LISNEY IN CONVERSATION WITH ROBERT BEATTIE __________________________________
  • NEW! SOPRANO ANGELA GHEORGHIU IN CONVERSATION WITH MICHAEL COOKSON __________________________________
  • NEW! The Joys of the Marlboro Music Festival: Chamber Music’s Best-Kept Secret __________________________________
  • NOW REVIEWED! MATTHEW BOURNE’S ROMEO AND JULIET IN CINEMAS FROM 22 OCTOBER __________________________________
  • NEW! CELLIST JOHANNES MOSER IN CONVERSATION WITH GEOFFREY NEWMAN __________________________________
  • CHORUS MASTER STEPHEN DOUGHTY IN CONVERSATION WITH ROBERT BEATTIE __________________________________
  • REVIEWED! Ron Howard’s Pavarotti in Cinemas 13 July (Preview) and Nationwide (15 July) __________________________________
  • MULTI-FACETED MUSICIAN JOY LISNEY IN CONVERSATION WITH ROBERT BEATTIE __________________________________
  • ‘MUSICAL MAGIC’: AN INTERVIEW WITH VIOLINIST HENNING KRAGGERUD __________________________________
  • CONDUCTOR THOMAS SANDERLING IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • A Q&A WITH GERMAN SOPRANO PETRA LANG __________________________________
  • HOW TO CONTACT SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL __________________________________
  • Search S&H

    Archives by Week

    Archives by Month