Home
|
Current Issue
|
Diary
|
Subscribe
|
Book Orders
Berliner Philharmoniker
|
Selected Reviews
|
Stop Press
|
Contact & Advertising
|
Links

April - June
2014

Sir Andrzej Panufnik - a life dogged by politics

Camilla Panufnik

Sir Andrzej Panufnik

On the occasion of the centenary of the greatly-distinguished Polish-born composer and conductor’s birth, his daughter, now a widely-admired composer in her own right, describes her father’s ultimate triumph against the forces of political and artistic oppression.

This year marks the centenary of Andrzej Panufnik, Polish refugee from communism, British knight, whose lifespan, from 1914 to 1991, ran closely in parallel to every major upheaval of 20th-century Europe, often with devastating results for his musical achievements. Born in Warsaw right at the beginning of World War One, he experienced first-hand Nazi then Soviet domination of his country. As Poland’s leading composer in the post-war years he was bullied and manipulated by the Stalinists until he could no longer compose. He escaped eventually to Britain, after which his music was banned in Poland for almost quarter of a century and he officially “ceased to exist”. He lived just long enough to see his beloved country rediscovering freedom and democracy, and to be welcomed back with a triumphant return, just a year before his death.

Panufnik’s politically induced problems started at birth, in 1914, when his father, a violin maker by desire but a water engineer by profession, was forcibly drafted into the Russian Army and disappeared for more than five years, leaving his mother, Matylda, and their two sons without knowledge of his whereabouts and with pathetically little income. Andrzej’s physically delicate mother, a brilliant violinist who was not allowed to perform in public as it was not comme-il-faut for married ladies, comforted herself by playing all and every day the solo parts of most of the classical concertos. Andrzej, even as a newborn, was involuntarily immersed in the sound of superb violin playing, which in the long run perhaps was more useful to him than sufficient food or motherly affection.

To see the whole article subscribe to Musical Opinion.

Return to top of page


Panufnik: Impulse and Design

David Wordsworth

Sir Andrzej Panufnik

The author, a student of Sir Andrzej Panufnik, offers a centenary tribute to the Polish-born master.

Even compared to the sometimes hectic and unpredictable life of many creative artists, Andrzej Panufnik’s journey to both artistic and personal fulfilment is a remarkable one.

The first forty years of his life saw many rejections, disappointments and tragedies, the rise of the Nazis, the horror of the Warsaw ghetto and the Stalinist purges. For this to transform into a blissfully happy family life in a quiet, rambling house by the river in Twickenham seems the sort of story that might be more the subject a not terribly believable novel, rather than the life of a major composer.

Andrzej Panufnik was born in Warsaw on September 24th 1914. His father was a respected violin maker (his instruments admired and used by Hubermann, Neveu and Oistrakh amongst others) and his mother a talented violinist who studied with Carl Flesch. Despite the view of his father that music was ‘not a profession for a gentleman’, a young professor from the Warsaw Conservatoire was hired and the young Panufnik made enough progress to composer a Piano Sonatina at the age of 9. Later he was admitted to the Conservatoire Junior Department but this was no guarantee of admission to the main institution as Panufnik later found out, a failed audition bringing forth the suggestion that the should ‘Shut the piano for ever!’ as he had not talent!

To see the whole article subscribe to Musical Opinion

Return to top of page


A Historic Reissue – Panufnik conducts his Ninth Symphony and Bassoon Concerto

Tony Barlow and Robert Thompson

Sir Andrzej Panufnik

The authors trace the background to the reissue this quarter of legendary recordings of two of Panufnik’s major works, conducted by the composer, in honour of the centenary of his birth.

This year will mark the centenary of the great Polish composer Sir Andrzej Panufnik and there will be many celebrations worldwide, but especially perhaps in the UK where he worked and made his home and where his widow, Lady Camilla, still lives.

To mark this event, Heritage Records will be issuing an historic CD (HTGCD 263) of the premiere of his masterpiece, the Bassoon concerto, which was commissioned by Robert Thompson, who performed the concerto with the BBC Symphony Orchestra in a live broadcast on Radio 3 in 1987, with the composer conducting, which gives it a special authenticity. The concert also included the composer’s Ninth Symphony - Sinfonia di Speranza - commissioned by The Royal Philharmonic Society and Robert Thompson and Andrzej Panufnik.

The concert was introduced by Sir Andrzej talking about his inspiration for each piece, which adds to the historical interest of this CD. The issue of this CD has been enormously facilitated by Roger Wright, who was then the Producer on the concert and to whom thanks are due.

To see the whole article subscribe to Musical Opinion

Return to top of page


Richard Strauss at 150

William Featherby QC and Matthew Boyden

Richard Strauss

William Featherby is a lifelong opera-goer, and devotee of Richard Strauss. His day job is as a practising Queen’s Counsel.  He is married and lives in London.

Matthew Boyden is a barrister and part-time music critic. He is the author of seven books on music, including biographies of Richard Strauss and Arnold Schoenberg.

In the fifty-five years since the death of Richard Strauss on 8 September 1949, his work has never left the repertoire. Whether as a late romantic or as an early modernist (and that argument rages still), Strauss remains the most enduringly popular composer of the late nineteenth century. Apart from Puccini, he is almost certainly the most performed composer of the twentieth century, and he remains one of only two composers to have colonised both the concert hall and the operatic stage. The other was Mozart, Strauss’s musical ideal and his artistic conscience.

These broad assertions amplify the pre-eminence of a composer whose music remains loved (an emotion that cannot be applied so readily to the work of many of his contemporaries) while the man himself survives as one of the most unusual paradoxes in music history: a proudly bourgeois, middle-class, family-man whose life and personality stand in almost diametric opposition to the character of his music. It may fairly be said that, as the last of the romantics, Richard Strauss was the least romantic of them all. That passive, utilitarian quality may well explain why Strauss has been the subject of so many biographies.

To see the whole article subscribe to Musical Opinion

Return to top of page


Thoughts from the ivory tower

Jonathan Del Mar

Beethoven

The distinguished musicologist muses over some of the problems in attempting to produce an authoritative edition of Beethoven’s music.

You know, it's a funny thing, doing new editions of Beethoven which are by definition an anachronism. You see, here I am, making new scores of the piano concertos for Bärenreiter. But the very starting-point for the way Beethoven wrote his piano concertos was the assumption that there was no score! All the Beethoven piano concertos were first published only in separate parts. The first three were published in full score between 1833 and 1835, some years after Beethoven's death, then the Emperor Concerto as late as 1857, then finally the Fourth only in 1861.

You might think, what difference does it make, whether a score existed then, or not? You just take each of the parts now, and make them up into a score. And yes, as far as the orchestral parts go, that's fine. But the piano part of a Beethoven concerto, as he wrote it, does not look like anything you have ever seen - even in the purest urtext score there is. For a start, the solo part does not begin, as we see every day in the concert halls of the world (and in every modern published score), with about 100 bars rest - that's the first three concertos, of course! - in which the soloist looks alternately beatific, profound, nervous, rather superfluous, and vacuous. The solo part in every concerto starts from bar 1 - from the very first note that the orchestra plays.

To see the whole article, please subscribe to Musical Opinion.

Return to top of page


A Giant of London’s Musical Fringe: Leslie Head (1922-2013)

Leslie Head

Lewis Foreman remembers working with a great pioneer on the London musical scene.

In retrospect the London musical scene in the 1960s and 1970s seems peopled by a number of ‘fringe’ companies presenting many fascinating musical discoveries. Chief among these was the conductor Leslie Head, championing repertoire which we never seem to hear now.

For nearly thirty years Leslie Head was a significant name with the Kensington Symphony Orchestra, Opera Viva and Pro Opera; notable for the number of concerts and operas (staged and concert performances) that he brought forward each year; for his remarkable range in his chosen revivals, and for the quality of his singers who included, among others, soon to be famous artists of the stature of Sarah Walker, John Tomlinson, Della Jones and Elizabeth Connell.

Of course there were occasions that teetered on disaster, such as in January 1959 when he directed a ‘fringe’ production of Meyerbeer’s opera Le Prophète. Leslie explored then unknown repertoire and from the late 1960s I was drawn into his circle as he increasingly frequently asked me to research British music revivals for his programmes: it was a wonderful learning curve for both of us. Altogether I was responsible, over many years, for sourcing over 300 works for the Kensington Symphony Orchestra, including writing innumerable sets of orchestral parts, as well as helping from time to time with his many operatic performances.

To see the whole article, please subscribe to Musical Opinion.

Return to top of page


London International Players

London International Players

Regular readers may recall our highly enthusiastic review of the programme given by the London International Players which launched the lunch-time series of concerts under the auspices of Lisa Peacock Peacock Concert Management on September 19th last, which included music by Mozart, Mahler, Bax and Mendelssohn, soon to be followed by an equally outstanding event at London’s Cadogan Hall in November.

The musicians of the London International Players comprise soloists and chamber musicians of individual distinction from many corners of the world; it is an ensemble born largely of the Menuhin School and of the International Musicians Seminar of Prussia Cove, who have come together through a mutual love of chamber music and common musical ideals.

As with many chamber music ensembles, the London International Players has a flexible and changeable formation, permitting individual members to maintain their growing and demanding careers, which in turn adds to the richness and variety of their experience on returning to the ensemble and allows a wide flexibility in musical programming and exploration. Although, of course, the flexibility of their forthcoming engagements means a varied musical line-up, the core members of the Players are Daniel Röhn, violin; Ruth Gibson, viola; Ashok Klouda, violoncello; Irina Botan, piano; Eleanor Turner, harp and Ana de la Vega, flute & Artistic Director. Tatiana Berman, violin, is an Honorary Member.

To see the whole article, please subscribe to Musical Opinion.

Return to top of page


A New Shostakovich Ballet

Timothy Henty

Snow White ballet

The noted young British conductor outlines the selection of the music for a new ballet, ‘Snow White’, drawn from the music of Dmitri Shostakovich, which had its recent premiere, followed by a highly successful run, in Basel, and which included the European premiere of Shostakovich’s music for his ballet suite: Das Mädchen und der Rowdy (The Lady and the Hooligan).

Whilst the creation of a new ballet is a spectacular process in all parts of the theatre, for me, unsurprisingly, the development of a new score is one of the most satisfying elements within that process. Whether it is a completely new commission, or a reimagining of existing material such as we had in Richard Wherlock’s Snow White, my eyes light up at the prospect of being involved with something new.

Although Shostakovich was no stranger to ballet (his scores for The Bolt and The Golden Age being successful examples of his work in the field) some might not naturally associate him with the dance world at first glance. Not only is his extensive symphonic repertoire seen as his primary achievement by most people; dark imagery and a sense of the difficult times in which he lived create a striking musical impression in the concert hall. Yet on closer inspection, Shostakovich becomes the ideal composer for narrative dance. Whether through invention or political pressure, his music underwent several significant stylistic shifts that created a rich and varied sound world. His wit and often dry sense of humour is apparent in many of his works, and his skill as an orchestrator is always evident. In the Shostakovich canon, we hear music that is as romantically lush as Tchaikovsky, as elegantly witty and charming as Delibes, as percussively strident as Stravinsky and as humorously chaotic as a Gershwin film score. His output is a perfectly complemented chocolate box of music, which makes him the ideal ‘composer’ for Snow White, where we have heroic and comedic characters within a family story, and an underlying darkness to acknowledge that is evident here and in so many of the Brothers Grimm tales.

To see the whole article, please subscribe to Musical Opinion.

Return to top of page


Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music – the 30th Anniversary

Lindsay Kemp

Vivaldi

The Festival’s distinguished Artistic Director looks back over 30 years of London’s premier early music festival as it celebrates ‘The Year 1714’.

When I was asked to take over as Artistic Director of the Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music in 2007, I knew I was a lucky man. For over 20 years, I had been a regular attender at this vibrant Festival, which had been at the forefront of early music performance and every year brought internationally-renowned and emerging artists to the heart of London. Blowing away the cobwebs from established masterpieces and forgotten miniatures of the 17th and 18th centuries, it had brought rare repertoire to the fore and been a vital force in a movement that had transformed performance practice and the sound-world of early music.

Yet the Festival that is now synonymous with St John’s Smith Square (a building which celebrates its 300th anniversary this year – more on that later!) began in Piccadilly. In 1984, the elegant Wren church of St James’s, Piccadilly, hosted the Piccadilly Festival, a wide-ranging arts event which included a series of Baroque music concerts featuring the newly-formed St. James’s Baroque Players under their conductor Ivor Bolton. These concerts were underwritten by one of the church’s prominent neighbours from just across the street, the London office of Lufthansa German Airlines. When the Festival decided that its future lay in concentrating on Baroque music, they also realised that it needed serious financial support. Overtures were made via the airline’s PR department, whose Head of Public Relations at the time – Rita Zampese – quickly saw the benefits of an association with a promising new festival, and the Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music was born.

To see the whole article, please subscribe to Musical Opinion.

Return to top of page


Disorientation at the Warsaw Opera: Transcryptum by Wojtek Blecharz

Cindy Bylander

Transcryptum

An engaging, yet provocative event took place in Warsaw in May 2013. As the initial productions in the Grand Theatre/National Opera’s Projekt P (Project P) series, designed to present innovative new operas by young Polish composers, Jagoda Szmytka's Dla glosów i rak (For Voices and Hands) and Wojtek Blecharz's Transcryptum attracted a great deal of interest and an intense demand for tickets.

Blecharz's contribution, in particular, was highly unusual for its rejection of nearly everything that is typically expected of an opera, even those that have emerged in the 21st century. His reinterpretation of the essential components of the genre—libretto, staging, drama, music—bore homage to its recent predecessors yet challenged the very definition of such works. His attempt to reinvigorate the genre by changing the relationship between audience and participant engaged all involved in unexpected ways. For example, what Blecharz calls the libretto existed only in printed form and consisted of snippets of text to be read by audience members at an appointed time during the production (Ex. 1). Instead of a dramatic narrative, fragmentary recollections of a horrific event were introduced, their meanings obscured by the transient nature of each segment. All participants wore drab gray or black clothing rather than distinctive costumes reflective of each character’s role. Written for seven instrumentalists, vocalist, dancer, and actor, the score contains few notated pitches. Sung texts, which Blecharz has lamented as the most artificial part of opera, are largely avoided, as are conventional means of instrumental performance. Traditional acting is also absent, although theatrical gestures are indicated at times in the instrumental parts. Video and sound projections either accompanied the live music or formed standalone offerings. The sole trained singer, mezzosoprano Anna Radziejewska, did not have a central role, even though Blecharz wrote the piece with her in mind. In another twist, Blecharz filled the roles of both composer and director, collaborating with experts in lighting, video and set design.

To see the whole article, please subscribe to Musical Opinion.

Return to top of page


Rehabilitating Salieri: Antonio Salieri Les Danaïdes, l’Opéra Royal, Versailles

Antonio Salieri

Antonio Salieri, like Meyerbeer and some other composers, has had a once-bright reputation besmirched. Wagner did it to Meyerbeer, ungrateful to the man who helped his launch in Paris, in a poisonous pamphlet. Peter Shaffer did it to Salieri in his play and film Amadeus, reviving the old legend that the dying Salieri, riddled with remorse, cried out that he had poisoned his great rival Mozart with arsenic, envious of his genius to the grave.

Salieri is shown in the film as an unreliable narrator, but he is not nearly as unreliable as Shaffer himself, whose slander of Salieri continues to blight the composer’s reputation. It was not Shaffer who originated the story, which had been turned into an opera by Rimsky-Korsakov, Mozart and Salieri. Up until the 1984 film’s success and the questions it posed, Salieri’s work had been less and less frequently performed since the early 1800s. Ironically, in the thirty years since the film came out, Salieri’s works have been performed and recorded more times than in the previous century and a half.

In November, Les Talens Lyriques and Les Chantres du Centre de musique baroque de Versailles, under Christophe Rousset, harpsichordist and conductor, once more placed themselves in our debt by reviving an opera which had been performed in Paris and Versailles up to the French Revolution. Rousset and his performers found themselves thoroughly at home in the Baroque splendours of l'Opéra Royal de Versailles. I arrived at the palace in early evening darkness, stumbled over the vast cobbled approach and eventually found my way to the theatre, which lies at the northern end of the Aile des Nobles. Guided into the auditorium, I was able to listen to the last few minutes of the afternoon’s rehearsal of Salieri’s Les Danaïdes. I was impressed by the superb acoustics of the all-wooden theatre, which has had some technical improvements made to it, especially during the recent restoration of 2007-2009, but remains overall little changed since it was built in 1770.

To see the whole article, please subscribe to Musical Opinion.

Return to top of page


Home
|
Current Issue
|
Diary
|
Subscribe
|
Book Orders
Rising Stars
|
Selected Reviews
|
Stop Press
|
Contact & Advertising
|
Links