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April - June
2015

Maurice Hasson bids an 80th Birthday Farewell

Maurice Hasson

The greatly distinguished French-Venezuelan violinist bids farewell to his adopted city of London and to his career as a leading virtuoso of the instrument at Wigmore Hall on April 17th. Aspects of the noted musician’s life and work are outlined by James Palmer.

Maurice Hasson was born in France in 1934. He started to study the violin at the age of 11. His musical gifts as a young violinist earned him a coveted place at the Conservatoire National de Paris. He graduated at the age of 15 with a First Prize for Violin, a Grand Prix for chamber music and the first Prix d’Honneur to be awarded for sixty years. He gave his first concert in public playing the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto with the Lamoureux Orchestra at the Salle Pleyel in Paris. He continued his studies on graduating from the Conservatoire with the great Henryk Szeryng, who had an important artistic influence on him.

In his mid-twenties he emigrated to Venezuela where he was engaged as violin professor by the Music School of the Universidad de los Andes in Mérida. This was, of course, long before the rise of El Sistema, yet there can be no doubt that the impact Hasson made in that country was considerable, for he remained based in Venezuela for no fewer than thirteen years, from 1960 to 1973.

In 1973 he launched his career in Europe by starting his concert tour giving a recital with Ernest Lush at the Wigmore Hall in London. In January 1978 he made his acclaimed United States debut with no less than the Cleveland Orchestra under Lorin Maazel playing Paganini’s First Concerto in D major, a performance that was greeted with considerable critical and popular acclaim.

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Sibelius as non-symphonist

Sibelius

Robert Matthew-Walker

Although Sibelius lived to the great age of 92, he composed music for less than forty years. For the final thirty years of his life he published no new music, although there are more than strong rumours to suggest that he did write an Eighth Symphony, which he destroyed around 1945 and which has never been seen or heard.

But during his active creative lifetime he wrote a great deal of music, reaching opus 117 in his own list of compositions. Many of these opus numbers account for more than one work, and there are many other pieces (mainly short occasional items) which did not have opus numbers allotted to them. Within this impressive body of music, Sibelius’s reputation has always rested upon the kernel of his output, the seven symphonies and the series of symphonic poems and tone poems which appeared concurrently with the symphonies.

Despite many efforts in recent years to explore Sibelius’s wider output, the vast majority of his work is largely unknown to the general public, and some of it remains unpublished, but this music, which lies outside the corpus of large-scale serious orchestral works, is often of a much lighter and more ephemeral nature.

Sibelius was a composer possessing of a far greater range of mood and characterisation than the fashionable view, which considers him to have been as a grim, Nordic figure of immense seriousness. Of course, his greatest music exhibits the high seriousness of purpose which has led to such a view, but, for a more complete picture, we ought not to lose sight of the fact that Sibelius was a practical composer who was perfectly happy to produce a large amount of which might be termed today as ‘easy-listening’ music.

 

 

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The Symphonies of David Matthews: An Overview

Richard Whitehouse

David Matthews

A time there was when the symphony was a ubiquitous feature of British musical life, with new examples appearing regularly on the programmes of orchestras throughout the UK, as well as at the larger music festivals (indeed, the ‘Cheltenham Symphony’ became almost a sub-category in itself). Over the past half-century, though, the genre has increasingly been absent from these sources - usurped by the rise of nominally abstract orchestral pieces with would-be-suggestive titles, or even ignored by schedulers keen to play their listening public with repetition of those standard classics as constitute a tacitly acknowledged ‘comfort zone’.

Periodically, however, the symphony in Britain has made a new bid for prominence – with several works emerging in relatively swift proximity. We shall soon have the world premieres of the respective Fourth and Fifth Symphonies by John Pickard and Matthew Taylor, two leading British composers of the middle generation, while this April sees the first performance of the Eighth Symphony by David Matthews – whose stature as a symphonist is shared by few of his contemporaries (not forgetting the late John McCabe), and whose approach to the genre as one in which tradition is a catalyst to its evolution typifies his creative thinking as a whole.

Matthews’ involvement with the symphony goes back to his teenage years; his first venture into composition being what he described as a ‘‘highly reckless attempt which incorporated everything I’d heard until the age of 16’’. Two more symphonies followed in the early and late 1960s, neither of them performed, and it was not until 1975 that Matthews completed what became his First Symphony. Even then the original title, Sinfonia, suggests a certain ambivalence. ‘‘I was initially uncertain whether the piece justified symphonic designation, but revised it extensively in 1978 and decided to give it the benefit of any remaining doubt’’.

Whereas that work, with its three-movements-in-one trajectory, suggests a discreet affinity in Manchester on 17th April.

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Svyatoslav Richter – emperor of the keyboard

Svyatoslav Richter

Gregor Tassie

A tribute to the great pianist, the centenary of whose birth falls this year. 

Svyatoslav Richter is commonly regarded as one of the greatest musicians of the last century. His playing suggested an artist who after years of careful thought has polished each and every note he played. Whether in baroque or modern music, Richter persuaded listeners that he was the composer at the keyboard.

There can be few readers of this journal who do not have at least one recording by Richter in their collection. I never saw him in concert although several of my friends knew Richter intimately. Away from the concert platform, he was a down to earth man, capable of great kindness and humility. He had no craving for wealth and scorned the celebrity cult, and at receptions in his honour would appear nervous and distant, much preferring to read a favourite book or take a stroll through the night city. In common with Liszt he played in small halls where eminent musicians never appeared; his mission was to bring music to new audiences far from the concert circuit.

The lonely profession of a touring artist was difficult to sustain without causing depression and melancholy, yet for months at a time he would travel across the length and breadth of different lands performing up to seventy different programmes. He loved to go on extensive walking tours of the countries he visited and beforehand he would memorise street names so as not to get lost. His custom of speaking was commonplace, hiding his colossal intellect, and he loved to dress in exotic costumes at parties in Moscow; these would be filmed on an 8mm camera and he would show these home movies to friends.

Svyatoslav Richter (his name means sacred glory) was born in the Ukrainian town of Zhitomir the son of a German pianist and Russian noblewoman on March 20, 1915. His father Teofil studied at the Vienna Conservatoire and knew Brahms, Grieg and Mahler, and among his colleagues was the composer Franz Schreker. The young Svyatoslav fell in love with the forests and country side near his hometown, imbibing a long-lasting love for nature. During the Civil war the family moved to Odessa where his father taught at the Conservatoire and played the organ in the Lutheran church.

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Alexander Scriabin (1871-1915)

Alexander Scriabin

John South Shedlock

To mark the centenary of the death of the great Russian composer, we reprint two tributes to him, originally published in The Monthly Musical Record in June 1915, illustrating the reaction his sudden death caused in the British musical establishment. John South Shedlock (1843-1919) was a noted music critic and editor of that journal for many years.

Alexander Scriabin was born on Christmas Day, 1871, and, like César Cui, prepared for a military career; but music so attracted him that he became a student at the Moscow Conservatoire, and later on professor of piano at that institution.

He appeared for a time as a pianist, and from what we heard last year when he gave some recitals in London displayed gifts of no mean order in that capacity. Those recitals were devoted to his pianoforte compositions. It was easy to note that he had been influenced in the early pieces by Chopin, but in spirit rather than in letter. His admiration for that composer was great. Gradually, however, his individuality made itself felt. But it was in orchestral music that he opened up new paths.

His first and second symphonies did not attract particular attention, but the headings of the three movements of the third, namely ‘Strife’, ‘Sensuous Joys’ and ‘Divine Activity’ indicated the pictured in his mind to which he was composing. His next work also had a title, ‘The Poem of Ecstasy’. The last, ‘Prometheus’, produced at Moscow in 1911, was given under the direction of Sir Henry J. Wood, at Queen’s Hall, in 1913, and in the following year, and in the same hall, under that of the composer himself. In 1913 Sir Henry, feeling that for various reasons it was music exceptionally difficult to follow, gave two performances on the same afternoon.

 

 

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Garsington Opera - Present and Future

Garsington Opera’s Artistic Director, Douglas Boyd, in conversation with Brian Hick

Douglas Boyd: photo  copyright Jean Baptiste Millot

Garsington Opera has come a very long way in a little over twenty-five years, and the move to the Getty Estate at Wormsley in 2012 was more than justified by the continuing challenge and quality of productions following the death of its founder Leonard Ingrams.

What had started with a single production of Le nozze di Figaro in 1989 on the terrace of the Ingrams house in Garsington soon became a summer season of international quality, with productions linked to opera houses across the world.

‘Following Leonard Ingrams death, Anthony Whitworth-Jones took over continuing with very much the same management structure. However there was a feeling that this could be improved for the good of the company and as a consequence, when Anthony left, I was appointed as Artistic Director.

'At Garsington, unlike many larger companies, directors and conductors work closely together from the start. There is no sense of the conductor flying in at the last minute to take over in the pit having had little or no impact on the production as a whole. This puts music at the heart of the creation, rather than divorcing what is seen on stage from what is happening in the pit. While this is an evolving process we are all convinced that it is the right way to go and are using it as the basis for our work as it expands. This does not mean for a moment that our production style is conservative because the singers and orchestra are given a higher sense of priority from the start. Last summer’sThe Cunning Little Vixen was edgy and psychologically challenging for many, but it also allowed us to promote many young singers with whom we are working in the large number of small parts. That way we get the best of both worlds.

'The team here is small; we all have to work incredibly hard and to rely heavily on the expertise of each other. It is a cliché to speak of these structures as a family but it is the best metaphor for the way in which we work.’

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