PIANIST MARC-ANDRÉ HAMELIN IN CONVERSATION WITH GEOFFREY NEWMAN

14/01/2019

THE GREAT CANADIAN ARTISTS: AN INTERVIEW WITH MARC-ANDRÉ HAMELIN

Marc-André Hamelin © Sim Cannety-Clarke

Pianist Marc-André Hamelin has emerged as one of the marvels of the twenty-first century. Few living pianists can match his transparency of articulation, rhythmic and tonal control and cunning virtuoso strength, and these characteristics are resoundingly illustrated in his recordings and concert performances of a vast range of nineteenth- and twentieth-century repertoire. His early – and indeed enduring – contribution lay in bringing technically-challenging works of lesser known and often forgotten composers to public attention, placing them on the world stage in the best light for others to absorb and study. In recent years, he has applied his interpretative and technical acumen to more mainstream literature with great success. Read more

Ik zeg: NU: I say now, now … an interview with Richard Causton

11/01/2019

Richard Causton

Richard Causton

What do you understand by the word ‘history’? This simple question, but one which will inevitably prompt multifarious and complex responses, was the origin of the title of Richard Causton’s new orchestral work, Ik zeg: NU (which translates from Dutch as ‘I say: NOW’), which was commissioned by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and will be premiered by the orchestra and their chief conductor Sakari Oramo at the Barbican Hall later this month.

When Richard’s relative, 98-year-old Sal van Son, posed the question to his 10-year-old great-nephew, the latter’s response, “I say now now, and a moment later it is already history”, inspired the title of van Son’s book which recounts over four hundred years of his family’s history, including his own experiences during the Second World War when he went into hiding in a rural farm house in Holland to evade the Nazis’ persecution of the Jews.

The child’s response was, as so often the child’s view of the world is, simultaneously simple and sophisticated, encapsulating a seemingly irreconcilable paradox with clarity and directness. Richard explains to me that this notion of how we experience time past and present seemed to him to be comparable to the way we experience music – which exists only in time, as it is performed, lingering as only an aural ghost – and to our experience of life itself, as we look back to past times, people and places which are irrecoverable but sustained by recollection and remembrance. And, it is this concept which Ik zeg: NU seeks to embody.

I ask the composer how he has sought to musically ‘represent’ our experience of time in Ik zeg: NU, and he explains that the work has no ‘narrative’, nor is the listener taken on a ‘journey’; rather, the composition is static and juxtaposes and superimposes two contrasting types of music. There is “slow music” which changes almost imperceptibly, forcing the listener to engage intently with its scarcely discernible progress, and “incredibly fast music which is whimsical and quite light”. Richard describes the latter as a “menagerie” and invites me to imagine the sounds that one might hear as one passes a busy, noisy child’s playground: numerous and diverse overlapping shouts, songs and snatches which one can’t quite grasp, and which exist only in the moment, evading memory. The slow music persists as the fast music interrupts and overwhelms, only for the latter to dissolve revealing the ongoing presence of the former. And, so, the listener’s ear is pulled back and forth between the background and the foreground, confronted with the elusiveness of the present.

The ‘strata’ are distinguished instrumentally, too. Richard clarifies that, unusually, each instrument has only one role. The fast music, which is entirely comprised of root position major triads, is performed by various trio groups – piccolo, clarinet, oboe; trios of solo first and second violins; piano and harps – with the remaining instruments presenting the inexorable background. The latter is often dominated by clanging microtonal bells. Richard has redesigned the instrument that he first deployed in another work which deliberated on time – The Persistence of Memory, which drew its title from Salvador Dali’s painting of melting clocks, and which was premiered by Oliver Knussen and the London Sinfonietta at the Southbank Centre in 1995 – incorporating bells at different pitches so as to facilitate new harmonic possibilities. The bells are very resonant and, in contrast to the fast music which feels “weightless”, as the slow music unfolds there is a “tremendous sense of gravity”. Patterns are interrupted and disrupted, and the interference creates a sense of dislocation. I wonder about the associations that we inevitably make with the tolling reverberation of bells and though I hesitate to use the word ‘spiritual’, Richard concurs that such associations are deep-rooted and unavoidable.

Which brings me back to Sal van Son’s book: Richard has explained that his work has no ‘narrative’, but I wonder if there are any episodes in the historical account which made a particular impact on him and which he has responded to in Ik zeg: NU? The composer describes van Son’s account of hiding in a hayloft as the Nazis banged on a thin partition wall, behind which he was hiding, as being “chilling to read”: “It’s impossible to imagine such experiences; or, in my opinion, to deal with them in music”, he observes. But, Ik zeg: NU is a homage to van Son, whose brother was killed in a concentration camp: an acknowledgement of his survival to such an incredible age, and a celebration of his irrepressible youthfulness of spirit. The work is also dedicated to the composer’s four-year-old son. Richard explains that van Son still enjoys travelling and meeting people, and he suggests that is some ways the nonagenarian seems to embody the fusion of past and present, age and youth, that Ik zeg: NU seeks to explore through music.

Ik zeg: NU will be performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sakari Oramo at the Barbican Hall on 23rd January.

Claire Seymour

CONDUCTOR ÁDÁM FISCHER IN CONVERSATION WITH MICHAEL COOKSON

21/12/2018

Michael Cookson interviews Ádám Fischer

Ádám Fischer conducting the Düsseldorfer Symphoniker © Susanne Diesner

Sitting in the conductor room at the famous Semperoper, Dresden last May I interviewed conductor Ádám Fischer. In an hour’s time he would be conducting a compelling performance of Beethoven’s Fidelio directed Keith Warner (click here). I couldn’t help but contemplate on the many famous conductors who had been in the room over the years since the Semperoper’s reconstruction in 1985. Read more

BARITONE SIMON MECHLIŃSKI IN CONVERSATION WITH ROBERT BEATTIE

05/12/2018

Robert Beattie interviews Simon Mechliński

Simon Mechliński (c) Zbychu Nowak

The Wexford Opera Festival is famous for introducing rare, neglected and new works to the public. It also provides a forum for young performers to make their mark on the world. One such performer at this year’s Festival was 25-year-old Polish baritone, Simon Mechliński, who performed in Mercandante’s Il bravo (click here) and Donizetti’s Don Pasquale (click here). Read more

CONDUCTOR ELIM CHAN IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE

28/11/2018

Gregor Tassie Interviews Elim Chan

Elim Chan (c) Willeke Machiels

The young Chinese conductor Elim Chan has enjoyed a highly successful career since she won her breakthrough competition at the Donatella Flick Conducting Competition roughly four years ago and which immediately gave her the opportunity of working as an assistant conductor at the London Symphony Orchestra. In London she had the opportunity of being mentored by Valery Gergiev (who invited her to conduct the Mariinsky Orchestra in St Petersburg), Michael Tilson-Thomas and Sir Antonio Pappano. In 2017 she was appointed chief conductor at Norrlandsoperan in Umea, Sweden, and principal guest conductor at the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, and at the beginning of 2018, she was appointed chief conductor of the Antwerp Symphony Orchestra from the 2019-2020 season. In a short period, Chan has worked with some of the best orchestras worldwide, including the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, and the Philharmonia Orchestra. Read more

SOPRANO ELENA MOȘUC IN CONVERSATION WITH CASEY CREEL

30/10/2018

‘Verdi wants more blood in the singing’: Elena Moșuc on embracing new drama in her repertoire​​

Elena Moșuc

The lyric coloratura soprano Elena Moșuc has a decent claim to being one of the hardest working people in show business, ever sizing up new repertoire and planning new recordings at this advanced stage of her career. After a highly successful recital in this spring in Zurich (reviewed here), I submitted Ms Moșuc  to an extensive list of questions about a wide range of topics: her early days, her future plans, the current state of her voice, and all sorts of hypothetical questions. Her answers do not disappoint; she used them as an opportunity to reflect at length on questions of artistry and career. I found Moșuc to be sincere and introspective, with less than the normal dosage of boilerplate self-promotion inherent to these sorts of press events. The interview has been edited for clarity. Read more

THE PIANIST ANGELA HEWITT IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE

25/10/2018

Angela Hewitt talks with Gregor Tassie

Angela Hewitt © Keith Saunders

The Canadian/British pianist has been a major figure on the international concert circuit since her victory in 1985 at the International Bach Piano Competition in Toronto, one of the awards of which was a debut recording with Deutsche Grammophon of Bach. Her recording in many ways opened up her career to new audiences and she has since established herself as a formidable interpreter of Baroque music along with the Impressionist French school of Fauré, Debussy and Ravel. Read more

MAESTRO RICCARDO FRIZZA IN CONVERSATION WITH MARGARIDA MOTA-BULL

19/09/2018

‘Music is an Exchange of Effort and Energy’

Riccardo Frizza © Joan Tomás)

Riccardo Frizza grew up in Brescia, a town in Northern Lombardy, close to the city of Milan. He got interested in music when he was only five years old and began playing a little keyboard at home. Although neither one of his parents was a musician, they soon recognised the talent of the young Riccardo and sent him for piano lessons. He later continued his studies at the Milan Conservatoire. During that period he greatly admired Leonard Bernstein and later was influenced and looked up to such luminaries as Claudio Abbado and Riccardo Muti. Frizza also studied with composer Elisabetta Brusa and conductor Gilberto Serembe who both contributed to his artistry and to whom he feels indebted. Read more

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