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Oct - Dec
2016

Joseph Horovitz At 90

Paul Conway

Joseph Horovitz copyright Chris Christodoulou

‘I am such a hybrid that a lot of people don’t know where to put me. I’m not a person who specialises; I must operate on two fronts’.

The musical personality of the distinguished composer, conductor, teacher and pianist Joseph Horovitz has a natural tendency towards eclecticism and this is reflected in his multifarious output which ranges from a popular children’s cantata and an instantly recognisable TV theme to operas, ballets, choral works, concertos and string quartets.

Horovitz was born in Vienna on 26 May 1926. As a child he was a gifted pianist and also showed promise as a painter. After early studies in Vienna, he was forced to flee Nazi-occupied Austria and arrived in England as an eleven-year-old ‘enemy alien’ with his father on 1 May 1938. Half a century later he admitted that memories of those painful events still haunt him: ‘It’s indelible. You cannot have the experience of being ejected from the place you thought was your home without remaining intensely uneasy’.

He continued his education at the City of Oxford High School and read music and modern languages at New College, Oxford. Among his teachers at Oxford were R. O. Morris, Percy Scholes, Bernard Rose and the eminent Viennese composer and scholar Egon Wellesz. While still an undergraduate during the war, he joined the Army Education Corps and became a lecturer in music appreciation to the forces, combining this with piano recitals at army camps. His major English musical influences at the time were Peter Warlock, E. J. Moeran, Frederick Delius and Bernard van Dieren.

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Mili Alekseyevich Balakirev (1837-1910)

Nicholas Walker

Mili Alekseyevich Balakirev

The distinguished pianist traces the background to the music of this too-little appreciated Russian composer, who had such a great influence on his more famous contemporaries. The author’s recital at St John’s, Smith Square, on October 6th, will include a number of works by Balakirev, including completions by Nicholas Walker of two pieces left unfinished at the composer’s death.

Most music lovers would recognise the name Balakirev, but how many of them have heard any of his work apart from the famous Islamey? Few have heard any of his other piano works – with the exception perhaps of his transcription of Glinka’s song, The Lark. Virtually unknown are the 40-plus songs, the two wonderful symphonies and other fine works for orchestra, in particular Russia and Tamara. To add insult to injury, Balakirev’s actions and achievements are frequently misrepresented. How might this state of affairs have arisen?

Balakirev was born in 1837 in Nizhni-Novgorod, an important provincial centre some two hundred and fifty miles east of Moscow. His musical leanings were cultivated by his mother who gave him his early piano lessons. One summer holiday she took him to Moscow for a course of ten lessons with Alexander Dubuque, a pupil of John Field (1782-1837). Later Balakirev would say that the only really beneficial lessons he had had were those received from Dubuque, who made him learn Hummel's A minor piano concerto with John Field's fingering: “If I have any technical ability at all, I am indebted for this to A.I. Dubuque, who taught me the principles of correct technique and fingering on the pianoforte.” In every other respect, Balakirev was, like many original artists, self-taught, though he would accept the advice of Glinka, whom he held in the highest esteem.

 

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Billy Budd – a 21st century perspective

Mansell Stimpson

Britten

From the vantage point of 2016, the author looks at the creation of ‘Billy Budd’ both as a novella and opera. Britten’s ‘Billy Budd’ is to receive a new production by Opera North, details of which are given at the end of this article.

‘What a madness it is that an author can never – under no conceivable circumstances – be at all frank with his readers.’ The author who wrote that in a letter to his editor was Herman Melville. Since much of his work drew on his own experiences at sea where language knew no bowdlerisation, his comment could relate to that. But, if he necessarily censored the words he reproduced, he was no less careful to avoid anything too direct concerning sodomy. Nevertheless, his writing hints again and again at the sensuality of a world in which a good-looking sailor was unlikely to be eyed with indifference.

Yet being oblique about homosexuality was not necessarily a drawback for, as Harold Beaver has remarked, in Melville’s work every revelation conceals yet further revelations. If realism was betrayed through the rooting out of coarse language, the fact is that naturalism was only one of a myriad of levels to be found in his many-layered texts. Something of this is even to be found in two books which he specifically wrote in quest of popular success: Redburn (1849), dealing with a youth’s first voyage from New York to Liverpool and back, and White-Jacket (1850), set on a man-of-war. Nor is the indirect homosexual observation avoided in these works. The hero of Redburn makes a friend of Harry Bolton, an Englishman described as a ‘girlish youth’ whose appearance is decidedly effeminate. Harry is let down by Redburn and, since his sexuality is ignored, by his creator too, thereby proving indeed that Melville could not be frank with his readers.

 

 

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Robert Thompson – 80th Birthday Tributes

Robert Thompson with Sir Andrzej Panufnik
Robert Thompson with Sir Andrzej Panufnik

ROBERT THOMPSON has enjoyed a career unique among bassoon players since his highly praised recital debut in Carnegie Hall. A graduate of Yale School of Music and Julliard, his extraordinary musicianship was apparent from the start and composers from the American John Downey to the Polish Sir Andrzej Panufnik have trusted him with their works.

The wide range of his artistry is apparent in the CD Box set released for his 80th birthday on Heritage encompassing the classics such as Vivaldi and Mozart but also lesser known works by Franz Danzi, Gordon Jacob and Arnold Bax. This new release for Heritage (HTGCD 402), displays not only the diversity of repertoire available to the solo bassoon, but also the distinctive tones and virtuosity of one of today’s great performers.

Having been Principal Bassoon of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra for some time, he has an innate understanding of the dynamics of being a soloist and has appeared and recorded with many of the leading world orchestras including the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the English Chamber Orchestra, the London Symphony Orchestra, the London Mozart Players, the Manchester Camerata, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, the Milwaukee Chamber Orchestra, and the London Musici. His distinctive playing was recently praised by Andrew McGregor on BBC Radio 3: ‘There is something compelling about Robert Thompson’s tone and musicianship that makes his performances unforgettable’ and other critics have been equally fulsome with The Guardian describing him “as a wonderfully powerful and eloquent player” and The Independent describing him “as a player of plangent expressiveness.”

Also

Lady Camilla Panufnik

Writer, critic and musicologist Bernard Jacobson

American Conductor, David Amos

American Conductor, Stephen Colburn

Geoffrey Simon, conductor

Roger Coull, Violin with the Coull String Quartet

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Music Matters

Mark Doran

Music Matters


Photo: Chris Lee

It was literally eight years ago; but I remember it as if it were yesterday. There I was in London's Barbican Hall, absorbed in a screening of Eisenstein's 1938 film classic Alexander Nevsky – with Prokofiev's music being performed 'live' by the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus.

What made it such a special occasion wasn't simply that my ticket was a surprise gift from a new girlfriend, but also that it was the first time I had ever been able to hear the film's terrific score in a form that didn't make me want to tear off my own ears: as cinema buffs will be well aware, catastrophic distortion and frequency loss meant that what ended up dubbed onto the original movie is probably the worst-recorded soundtrack in film history. Obviously, the LSO's real-time 'grafting' operation encountered occasional snags: there were places where a necessary 'fading up' of dialogue or other sounds brought some of the old music track with it, resulting in a momentary collision between two sonic worlds; but in the circumstances this was an insignificant price to pay. All in all, I found it a wonderful experience – as did Anna (and we're still friends, by the way).

Well, time passed; and, in a slow trickle, reports began to reach me which suggested that developments in the world of 'live film accompaniment' had taken a bizarre turn. Various string orchestras, it appeared, were performing Bernard Herrmann's score for Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) along with film screenings – creating live replacements for a recorded soundtrack that has literally nothing wrong with it. In fact, one of the things that's right with it is something that can hardly be approached in 'normal' live performance, since the slashing sff downbows of the suddenly unmuted instruments in 'The Murder' were subjected to extreme close-miking in the studio, de-musicalising them as well as creating a sense of unhinged intensity. Indeed, not only would 'live' strings need to be miked and amplified to duplicate the timbres of that scene, but the existence of so many additional sounds in the original mix means that, for the juncture to retain its complex sound-design, a print needs to be produced from which the original music track is absent. In other words, in just a few years we have seen the live orchestral accompaniment of sound film regress markedly – from something that offers a powerful means of solving a long-standing problem, to something that constitutes a necessarily inadequate solution to a problem that did not actually exist. This, then, is where we find ourselves today – and if there should be any closer artistic equivalent to a situation in which someone digs a hole and then fills it in again, then I hope you won't tell me what it is.

 

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