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Herbert von Karajan

Monday, December 5, 2016


Norman Lebrecht - Slipped disc

November 17

Leipzig takes soloists clubbing

Norman Lebrecht - Slipped discA viola player in the Gewandhaus orchestra, Tahlia Petrossian, had the cool idea of picking up soloists after the concert and taking them down to the Moritzbastei Club next to the concert hall for a jam session. She calls it Klassik Underground. So far, Leif Ove Andsnes, Anne-Sophie Mutter and Kirill Gerstein have followed her down to the club. Joshua Bell is next. Sometimes, she posts the performances on social media. Her experiment has worked so well that the Gewandhaus are planning to make it official in the next few days, with funding provided by the Eliette and Herbert von Karajan Institute and Blüthner Pianos. You read it here first. Here’s one we made earlier.

On An Overgrown Path

December 2

What is the sound of one musician meditating?

That book is by the German Jesuit priest and Zen master Father Hugo Enomiya-Lassalle whose pupils included Herbert von Karajan. Discussions of Karajan invariably touch on his opportunistic membership of the Nazi party. Yet discussions of John Cage almost always touch on his involvement with Zen Buddhism without exploring the not inconsiderable connections between his Zen teacher D. T. Suzuki and Fascism. Three erudite articles by Brian Victoria are important sources: ~ D.T. Suzuki, Zen and the Nazis ~ The Formation and Principles of Count Dürckheim's Nazi Worldview and his interpretation of Japanese Spirit and Zen ~ A Zen Nazi in Wartime Japan: Count Dürckheim and his Sources—D.T. Suzuki, Yasutani Haku’un and Eugen Herrigel Of course the past is a foreign country. But that foreigness should not be selective. Also on Facebook and Twitter. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).




Tribuna musical

December 1

Mozarteum closes season with choral-symphonic Berlin artists

The Herald inaugurates today a new era of weekly Friday appearance and it will continue to cover the relevant news in classical music: opera, ballet and concerts. This first review concerns (paradoxically) the last concerts of the Mozarteum Argentino´s season. As it has done in some earlier years, it said goodbye with masterpieces of the choral-symphonic repertoire, in this case presented by two Berlin visitors: the Rundfunkchor (Radio Choir) and -curiously with an Italian appellation- the Orchestra L´Arte del Mondo. It is a pity that this review only covers the first of the two different programmes, but as will be apparent to readers, this is due to the clash of the second (Tuesday) concert with no less than the Bach great Mass at another venue. On Monday the Colón heard Brahms´ "A German Requiem" ; on Tuesday the "pièce de résistance" was Mozart´s Requiem, and as it lasts one hour, it was heard preceded by a Brahms motet, "Warum ist das Licht gegeben" ("Why is light given") and a curious a cappella arrangement of Mahler´s Adagietto from the Fifth Symphony. The Rundfunkchor was founded in 1925 and has had an important trajectory; its current Director (since last year) is Gijs Leenaars, born 1978 in Nijmegen, Holland, succeeding a famous choral specialist, Simon Halsey. L´Arte del Mondo is much younger; it was founded by Werner Ehrhardt in 2004. As they came in this tour, the choir lists 51 singers, among them the two soloists we heard, soprano Anne Bretschneider (a native Berliner) and baritone Artem Nesterenko (born 1989, Novosibirsk), whose surname is the same as that of a famous bass heard at the Colón in 1982. And the orchestra came with 53 players (among them Ehrhardt as violinist, he is generally conductor) plus two invited BA musicians (tuba, harp). Leenaars conducted. Brahms´ very particular Requiem lasts about seventy minutes and discards the habitual text used by Mozart or Verdi, for it uses versicles from the Old and the New Testaments in the Luther translation; "German" simply because Brahms uses that language. Brahms was incited by both Robert Schumann and his wife Clara Wieck to write a requiem, though they didn´t imagine it would be so original. Also, its progress wasn´t linear; e.g., the second of its seven parts was the reelaboration of a movement from a two-piano sonata that was never finished; other five parts were written later, and the work had a first première in three parts in Vienna (1867) and in six in Bremen (1868); later he added the lovely part with soprano, and it was only in 1869 that the whole score was heard at the Leipzig Gewandhaus. It was soon recognised as a masterpiece and both in length and quality his most valuable contribution to the choral-symphonic repertoire. In 1869 he was 35 and had already written such major works as the First Piano Concerto and the First Sextet. In modern times there has been a plethora of marvelous recordings (Karajan, Klemperer, Sinopoli, et al) and the work has been done quite often in our city; sample: between 1955 and 1968 the Asociación Wagneriana, then a basic institution, presented it three times with its own choir and orchestra. Since that already remote time, it has lost none of its attraction. This year it was offered in BA at the Auditorio de Belgrano (conductor Domínguez) and at La Plata´s Argentino (Vieu). It is a work that shows Brahms´ best qualities: sustained melodic inspiration, sensitivity to the meaning of the words (from the Psalms, epistles of Paul and Peter, Revelation, Isaiah, Matthew, St.James, Proverbs), total counterpoint mastery, an unerring sense of contrast. There´s not a banal or weak moment though it requires total concentration from artists and audience, for it is tryingly dense. The music goes from consoling and serene to stark and granitic, and requires very firm intonation both orchestral and choral. The version we heard was honorable and at times more than that, but it had flaws at various points. I found the choir more even in their performance than the orchestra, who had some maladjustments and doubtful attacks. The speeds were correct but at times the necessary tension wasn´t achieved. The solo singers were musical and pleasant, though the parts can be sung with more personality. And Leenaars, although well-schooled, isn´t yet commanding enough for such powerful music. For Buenos Aires Herald

On An Overgrown Path

November 15

Zen and the art of classical music maintenance

In the 17th century a movement developed in Japan to make esoteric wisdom available to a wider constituency. This movement was rooted in the Buddhist belief that the mission in life of an enlightened being is to bring enlightenment to as many other sentient beings as possible without - to use a 21st century expression - dumbing down the essence of the wisdom. The main drivers in the movement were Basho the haiku poet, the Zen teachers Bankei and Hakuin, and the Zen painter Sengai. Such was the success of the movement that the esoteric discipline of Zen - the art of nothingness - has become in the 21st century a mass market commodity. Just one example of that mass market reach is provided by Robert Pirsig's book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. This has sold more than 5 million copies worldwide; an audience that beleaguered classical music would die for. What is surprising is that the question is not 'what can classical music learn from Zen?', but rather 'what did classical music learn from Zen and subsequently forget?' John Cage's involvement with Zen is widely celebrated, and Kay Larson's book Where the Heart Beats: John Cage, Zen Buddhism and the Inner Life of Artists is highly recommended. But other influential musicians exploited the Zen credo of less is more in ingenuously nuanced ways. That image showing Leopold Stokowski conducting is a still from the hugely influential Disney movie Fantasia. Stokowski, who was a member of the esoteric Theosophy movement, used Zen-like techniques in the concert hall and on film to focus the audience's attention purely on the music. This controversial but powerful technique of focussing on the conductor as a channel for the music was taken to its apogee by Herbert von Karajan. Given the endless focus on Karajan's private life it is surprising that his study of the works of the German Jesuit priest and Zen master Father Hugo Enomiya-Lassalle, who in turn was a pupil of the Zen Rinzai priest Harada Rōshi, is overlooked. Karajan's self-directed films of the Beethoven symphonies exude a Zen-like intensity, and at a Karajan concert subliminal forces directed the audience's attention to the the music to the exclusion of everything else. In an age where only three things matter, audience numbers, audience numbers, and audience numbers, it is worth remembering that global sales of Karajan's albums have topped the 200 million mark. And it is also worth remembering that the great majority of those sales were achieved before the advent of Twitter, Facebook and Norman Lebrecht. Of course classical music cannot wind the clock back to the era of Stokowski and Karajan. But classical music can learn from the past, and it can learn from the Zen principle of less is more. The new gurus are right when they say classical music has too many silly conventions. But they are totally wrong when they advocate replacing those silly conventions with yet more silly conventions transplanted from rock music. What classical music needs is not more and different conventions. It needs less conventions and a more single-minded focus on the music; because the truth is nothing more than the music. And as Robert Pirsig tells us in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: "It is a puzzling thing. The truth knocks on the door and you say, 'Go away, I'm looking for the truth,' and so it goes away. Puzzling." With acknowledgement to Zen and the Beat Way by Alan Watts and Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.



Herbert von Karajan
(1908 – 1989)

Herbert von Karajan (5 April 1908 - 16 July 1989) was an Austrian orchestra and opera conductor. To the wider world he was perhaps most famously associated with the Berlin Philharmonic of which he was principal conductor for 35 years. Although he was not without criticism, he is generally considered to have been one of the greatest conductors of all time, and he was a dominant figure in European classical music from the 1960s until his death. Part of the reason for this was the large number of recordings he made and their prominence during his lifetime. By one estimate he was the top-selling classical music recording artist of all time, having sold an estimated 200 million records.



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