Movers Makers Musicians Mingle Part Two


ItalyItaly Cremona Musica: Cremonafiere 30.9.2016 to 2.10.2016 Fiere di Cremona.  Part Two of a two-part report. (JB)

The OED’s definition of melting pot says a situation of constant change and uncertain outcome.  That fits Cremona Musica perfectly.  Where else do you run into a guitar rock star in one courtyard, a brass band in another or a solo cello in a third?  Or woodcutters in one pavilion and piano restorers in another.  All tastes are catered for.  You may think composers drinking with lumberjacks incongruous, but eavesdropping on their conversations, it’s not without charm. Talk of new music talent may activate the uncertain outcome  button in some listeners. Not so in the case of the Decca-Deutsche Grammophon Showcase in  Cremona.

In the case of Francesca Dego, solidity of tone and intonation is almost her defining quality (DGG recording of the Paganini Caprices.)  She is as far away from uncertain outcome as she could be. This may not sound particularly feminine, but it is musically attractive. Nor might you guess from the sound that it comes from a femme fatale with a beautiful bone structure and enchanting smile. My only criticism of the recording is the pity that there isn’t more of that smile in her playing. Francesca tells me she studied here in Cremona with Salvatore Accardo, who is, of course, a world leader in Paganini performance. Salvatore has certainly passed on his steely, no-nonsense technique, but not his (also) playful, sunny approach to some of the caprices. A touch of the seductress, so visible in Francesca, would have been added fun if it could have come through in her recording.

She is also greatly aided by playing on the Bower-Soames-Ricci Guarneri del Gesù (Cremona 1734) on loan from Florian Leonhard Fine Violins of London. (Ruggeri Ricci was the last private owner of this instrument.) The recording was made in August 2012 in the hermitage of Ronzano in Bologna. This venue has a little too much echo for my taste, though many will find that quality appropriate.  But among certain mystic locals, the hermitage is said to give out unexpected positive energy in undefined circumstances.  Maybe it was just working overtime during Francesca’s recording?

Francesca is joined by another glamorous Francesca – Leonardi, who is the pianist on their three DGG discs of the Beethoven sonatas. They gave me the second disc, recorded in June 2014 in Milan with Dego playing on a Francesco Ruggeri violin (Cremona 1697).  The Spring Sonata Op.24 in F, sounds more like winter.  It’s rather heavy and forced and often misses the grace of the piece.  The third movement (the scherzo) actually works, where their ponderous approach comes surprisingly across as part of the joke.  One of my favourites  ends this recital –the little G major, Op.30 No.3.  The two outer movements have a good deal of the charm of this miniature. But in the minuet Beethoven calls for moderato e grazioso.  Alas, neither is in the musical vocabulary of these two glamorous girls.

Decca have just released a new disc of the complete works for cello and piano of Rachmaninoff (2 ffs please Decca; this is a question of how you transliterate the Cyrillic alphabet, but Rachmaninoff’s later career was in America and he always insisted his name be written with two ffs.  A man has a right to tell you how to write his name!)  Unlike say, Schubert, Rachmaninoff’s musical inventiveness did not gain in clarity when he reduced the number of instruments in his works; on the contrary, the fewer the instruments, the greater the sense of aimlessness, and of getting bogged down in a fog; unfortunate traits which also appear in weaker moments of his big-scale works.  In the symphonic works and better piano concertos, the romanticism which is laid on by the shovel full, often ploughs its own path through the fog.

That damning summary of Rachmaninoff is entirely personal and audibly not shared by Silvia Chiesa (cello) and Maurizio Baglini (piano). Their enthusiasm for this music bursts out of the speakers with great aplomb.  More especially at the coda of the Sonata’s last movement. That is something which the composer added after the flop of the first performance: no one, he belatedly realized, wanted to leave the concert feeling they had been buried below ground. You would have to be Schubert to get away with that.

Maurizio Baglini has also made another excellent recording for Decca and written in the accompanying booklet, a thought-provoking note on Schumann’s first two piano sonatas and two short pieces, which are related to the sonatas, all of which makes up the recording. Baglini is the perfect guide both in his playing and his notes through the Schumann jungle. For jungle it is. Schumann is at his most successful when he is a miniaturist; think Carnaval, all the lieder without exception, the quintet with piano, the concertos for piano and for cello.  The last two may be bigger in scale, but they are not in conception. Baglini is convincing when he explains Schumann’s ambition to experiment with sonata form both structurally and pianistically. He delivers admirably on his explanations in his playing: Schumann’s struggle is audible; for the first time I’ve been able to empathize with the composer’s goals. Even where he doesn’t attain these goals, in the Baglini performance the struggle becomes the music. It is meaningful exactly for that reason.

Under the Baglini fingers we are guided through the (often turbulent) jungle, wherein he illuminates some rare orchids.  Listen carefully a second time and you will hear that they are the familiar Schumann chromatic harmonies. But here they are found in an unusual context. Maurizio Baglini never leaves his listeners in the swamp: he focuses on the next rare orchid. All very convincingly Schumannesque (and of the lesser known Schumann too). The Opus 7 Toccata that ends the recording is a perfect encore piece, an interweaving of brilliance and romanticism. You will immediately want to hear it again.

The Decca/DGG showcase had other artists it would have been a pleasure to catch up with, but time did not permit. They included Alexander Romanovsky (on whom I have reported often) and Anna Karavtchenko (see section 2 of part one of this report) and Enrico Dindo (cello) playing with Pietro De Maria (piano).

The most memorable live music of all was at the prize giving  of the Cremona Music Awards, which this year went to Bruno Monsaingeon and Shlomo Mintz. Maestro Monsaingeon waved his new viola in the air, just collected,  so the hall could see it, thanking Valerio Ferron, the young maker, who was present.

Antonio Piva, President of CremonaFiere presenting the 2016 prize to Bruno Monsaingeon.
Antonio Piva presenting the 2016 prize to Bruno Monsaingeon (c) Roberto Proseda

Schlomo Mintz played the allegro from the Bach Second Sonata on the Stradivari Vesuvius, which had been taken out of the Cremona Museum for the occasion. This performance on this instrument marked it as an historic occasion. It was also filmed by RAI and as part of the ceremony a RAI journalist asked the violinist two questions. One was how was it that all the world’s great violinists have been Jewish; the other was what was the relationship of the craft of violin making with the art of playing the instrument.

Schlomo Mina playing Bach Allegro from 2nd sonata.
Schlomo Mina playing Bach Allegro from 2nd Sonata (c) Roberto Proseda

With a scarcely concealed sigh, M.o Mintz turned these inane questions into two meaningful answers. He said, You have asked me that first question before. And I answer you now as I answered you then.  I could go on about genetics.  But I won’t. I don’t believe in this theory. If you look at the world today you will see that everything, including cultural matters is coming from China. But what do we in the West know of the very rich Chinese culture?  Pretty well nothing, is the truthful answer. But the Chinese do know Western culture. They are and always have been outward looking. That is why their culture will flourish and survive. Ours will be consigned to history unless we can learn from them. 

The second question is swifter to answer. The instrument maker and the performer share in common a total dedication of their lives to their arts and crafts (there isn’t much difference between the two).  Obviously the focus is different in the two cases.

Ideas that set the air alight at Cremona Music were almost electric, shared among the mixed gathering in corridors, bars, transfers and above all, where Italians most enjoy chattering, in eating-places. These last drew together like-minded souls and resulting passionate exchanges. Birds of a feather and all that.

Two round table discussion teams were arranged, both most ably chaired by pianist, Roberto Prosseda. The Italians are painfully good at waffle; they have a much better expression for it: aria fritta (fried air).  Roberto cut me short when I went off theme  in answering from the floor, a speaker’s point. Quite right he was too. Point taken.

The first round table was on Music and Finance. A big and complex subject. Italy scores well on state subsidy, though not so well as France, Austria, Germany and Spain, either through the state or through municipal or regional moneys. However, it lags behind all those countries in private sponsorship. But there are changes and hopeful gestures there too. Not least the five hundred million euros sponsorship that Santa Cecilia has received for its last two seasons from Nicolo and Paolo Bulgari (the jewelers).  Nicolo has long been an enthusiast of classical music, and also of jazz. (I was surprised to find myself enjoying a concert of trad jazz at an evening party at his country house on Easter Saturday last. I’d never previously been enthused.) Together with La Scala, Santa Cecilia is also the most privileged and expensive customer of the state’s subsidy because of their having been chosen to represent Italy abroad.

Coming down from the stratosphere to ground level, the gifted pianist, Maurizio Baglini, (see above) had an interesting tale to tell of his experience as Artistic Director of the Amiata Piano Festival (www.amiatapianofestival) which presents twenty-four concerts between June and December, most of them involving piano. Mount Amiata, near Grosetto, has some of the least known, most spectacular countryside in Tuscany and is home to some of the country’s most prestigious wines. The Bertorelli Foundation (part of the winegrowers business) sponsors totally the concerts and has constructed a handsome concert hall of three hundred seats (perfect for chamber music). RAI radio 3 broadcast most of the concerts. Like Glyndebourne in England, this hall is always full. (Glyndebourne too works only on private sponsorship.) And the audience? Obviously there are the winegrowers, their families and guests.  And increasingly the rest of Tuscany have found out about this jewel too. And it’s beginning to be known abroad. The Bertorellis like to share the magic of their countryside. All concerts start at 7pm. Wine tasting at the interval. (Note please: I’m not being paid by the Bertorelli Foundation to write this.)

The people of the Veneto (the area round Venice) are as proud, hardworking and independent as the people of Tuscany. And this too is Maurizio Baglini’s stomping ground, where he works as artistic consultant to Teatro Comunale G. Verdi of Pordenone. Moreover, the area is the world’s biggest producer of prosecco, (the wine drunk more than any other in the UK). The Venetians  and the Tuscans still have the mindset of a nation state, much like the Scots and the Welsh in the UK. (Theresa May, you might try to understand this, and its implications before your next move.) It’s no coincidence that Maurizio Baglini is Tuscan himself, from Pisa.

Many of the small towns of the Veneto have their own nineteenth century, miniature opera houses. Pordenone seems to have missed out on this, but not to be outdone, in the nineteen nineties, they converted a disused cinema into a theatre with three halls; the biggest of nine-hundred seats and orchestra pit can play opera and ballet and the other two (145 and 90 capacity) are fine for small scale presentations. The Pordenone theatre is also a satellite of the Teatro G Verdi of Trieste (one of the country’s fourteen major opera houses). That is the only practical way for the theatre to stage opera: direct import of the whole shoot from Trieste. But the mayor of Pordenone wants to give his town its own individual, distinctive voice in music programming.  So what does this proud Venetian do in tight economic circumstances?  He calls in a proud, knowledgeable Tuscan to fix the programing within these parameters. Enter Maestro Baglini. He has called the Mahler Youth Orchestra and the European Union Youth Orchestra (both founded by Claudio Abbado) as well as the ever greater Orchestra Giovanile Italiano and a host of outstanding talent beginning their careers. These enterprises are not expensive and have a freshness to their playing which ensures full houses. The Venetian/Tuscan sure sense of value for money is paying dividends. Baglini couldn’t say this. But I may and I am saying it.

Fortunato Ortombina, Artistic Director of the historic La Fenice in Venice, was also on the panel. He seems to have the quiet assurance born of experience to sustain the tumultuous theatre through its storms. The theatre we all loved was destroyed by fire in 1996 and because of various bureaucratic and political shenanigans, not opened again until 2004.  But it was not rebuilt as the theatre we knew, but as the original Fenice of 1792.  Most experts approve greatly of the restored theatre. (I have yet to visit it myself.) But M.o Ortombina has been in the saddle as Artistic Director since the 2004 reopening. Quite an accomplishment in itself. He didn’t make any groundbreaking announcements or claims, but rather repeated the familiar information about the strictly traditional requirements of the theatre’s season ticket holders and the struggle to proceed with what he saw as educating the public toward something they might not have experienced.  This theatre is one of the fourteen ente liriche which the Italian state partly funds. And so does the city of Venice and the Regione Veneto, for which the regione expects touring from the chorus and orchestra within its boundaries. He appeared to be following a philosophy of aim not too high in order to arrive higher than you can dare expect  (my summary this last).

The two women on the panel were the quietest voices –both in decibels and length of contribution.  Florence Alibert is Director of palazzetto Bru Zane, in Venice, a private enterprise which has a rich research archive relating to French music and dance and is in receipt of some help from the Venice municipality as well as occasional private sponsorship for specific events. Lidia Carrion, instead, is Director General of Swiss Luxury Culture Magazine and is happy to have been a flagship leader toward sponsorship of a number of Swiss music enterprises. She had some interesting comments to make on the different requirements of different audiences. Imagine! In my ignorance, I had thought that all Swiss audiences were probably all the same.

A more entertaining contribution came from the Swiss French, Pierre Perrenoud who brought a rather witty and very French slide show, emphasizing the importance of music education. The show begins with a key question which no one else had asked: can music and money live together? Everyone will have their own answer to this. And that was surely Perrenoud’s intent. But the slideshow proceeds by stealth, rather than direct answer.

It gently points out that there can be no music without a solid, supported system of music education and training of performers and composers. All this relies on the dedication and skills of the teachers as well as the backers for the training. Evidence is shown of all this happening in Switzerland and Northern Italy. An obvious truth, you may think. But money and music seem to be happy partners, at least here.

It was interesting to hear from Robert Kamyk at the Music and Television round table of his rich schedules as Head of Music at TVP Kultura Chanel, Warsaw. The Chopin and Wieniawski Competitions are fully covered of course in every detail (interviews and comparisons with one year’s competition and the rest). He told the meeting he was happily surprised by the increased time which he has been able to claim for music as well as a growing audiences in Poland for so-called classical music on television. The programmer has to create the demand, of course, by the quality of he presents. He has also successfully launched a Young Musician of the Year series. The only somewhat disquieting feeling I was left with here was all these programmes are constructed round competitions. Wouldn’t it be a good idea if Polish television could think outside the competition box?

The Italian state television, RAI, had only tales of woe to report and was represented by the RAI board member, Rita Borioni, and a RAI journalist, Barbara Carfagna. I really don’t want to sound like W.S. Gilbert, but the two ladies, apart from their lament of funding unavailable for classical music, had nothing in particular to say, and said it very well.

Angelo Bozzolini, independent documentary filmmaker based on Rome, and author of the prize-winning film on the real nature of the Santa Cecilia Orchestra, also lamented the lack of funding for music on television and the lack of screening time available for it. The two problems are interrelated: each has to solve the other. (I reviewed this film on this website.) He has just finished a film on La Scala. But this was commissioned by Sky TV.

The star of this round table was undoubtedly Rob Overman, Artistic Director of Stingray, Europe, responsible also for Dutch television’s music, and with a head office in Montreal. He answered an essential and ostensibly tricky question: what can television do for music that no other media can do? He suggested that most of our treasured musical experiences were of live music performances.

These remain with us.
In memory.
They may be revisited.
But only in memory.
And what if we cannot recall the experience?
Either partially?  Or wholly?
Fortunately television music can be our memory.
It can reproduce, not so much our musical experience,
But the material which caused our experience.
And now this starts to get interesting:
It is, in fact, someone else’s musical experience
Based on original shared material.
And because of sound and visual progressive advances,
Might this reproduction not sometimes be
In one or sometimes more senses
Sometimes superior to our own original
Treasured memories?

Dr Overman was roundly applauded for his analysis.

Jack Buckley

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