Posted by Daniel Emmerson »
There couldn’t be a more appropriate time for American pianist Jonathan Biss to bring the “deeply personal and achingly vulnerable” works of Robert Schumann to the forefront of public discussion. Biss and the Elias String Quartet presented Under The Influence, a program combining works of Schumann, Purcell, and Timothy Andres on May 14, 2013 at Wigmore Hall in London, on the eve of the American Psychiatric Association’s release of their latest Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). DSM is an essential tool that sets about categorizing and documenting diagnosis in psychiatry, with the longview of providing better treatment for patients so that their lives are consequently more comfortable. Where this becomes problematic, is in the DSM being perceived as an attempt to conform mental illness to checklist status. Diagnosing something like schizophrenia is extraordinarily complex. There exists a danger of treating each person with certain symptoms as a “case,” i.e referring to a handbook as opposed to analyzing traumas caused purely as a consequence of an individual’s interaction with the physical world.
Pianist Jonathan Biss (photo credit: Koerner Hall)
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Posted by Xenia Pestova »
The works of Canadian composer Chris Paul Harman have been performed by ensembles and orchestras including the Asko Ensemble, the CBC Radio Orchestra, the Esprit Orchestra, the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, the New Music Concerts Ensemble, the Noordhollands Philharmonisch, the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra, the Tokyo Symphony, and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Harman’s many awards include the Grand Prize of the CBC Radio National Competition for Young Composers. Harman holds a PhD from the University of Birmingham in the UK and teaches Composition at the Schulich School of Music of McGill University in Montreal.
Many of your compositions are inspired by or are even in a sense “re-orchestrations” of the music of others, often reworked beyond recognition. You even refer to transcription as “the first step towards composing” in a video interview for SMCQ from 2006. In particular, I am thinking of the Bach chorale in Der Tag mit seinem Licht, Schumann’s Kinderszenen in your two sets of solo piano pieces, and Burt Bacharach’s Close to You in the orchestral work Coyote Soul. How do you go about deconstructing and/or reconstructing this material?
I work primarily with melodic material, extracting a lengthy pitch series, which may in turn be thought of as a cantus firmus in my own work. Within this series, I arbitrarily create partitions, which may or may not correspond to the music’s original phrase structure, allowing me to re-contextualize the original pitch material and to redefine its function. Further operations may be applied to modify the pitch content within partitions; interpolations or extrapolations of secondary pitch materials are also possible. In all instances, working in this way affords me the opportunity to engage with different types of music that may have personal significance or significance to a given project’s concept, while reinterpreting it using the vocabulary and syntactical framework of my own musical world.
Chris Paul Harman
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Posted by Thomas Deneuville »
What happens when a brilliant Lied performer is accompanied by a foremost composer? Well, something unique. Last Monday, Ian Bostridge and Thomas Adès were giving a joint recital at Carnegie that felt like a 21st century Schubertiade.
The first half spanned over four centuries and was entirely performed attacca, placing the Dichterliebe (the pièce de résistance of the evening) in an aesthetic and emotional pan-European continuum. The evening started with In darkness let me dwell, an English song by John Downland. Although usually accompanied by a lute, this lament kept its sense of intimacy and introspection intact thanks to Adès’s sensible piano accompaniment. Bostridge’s clear and velvety timbre fits this repertoire (often performed by countertenors) perfectly with more colors than the usual straight tone.
Ian Bostridge – Photo by Simon Fowler
The piece was immediately followed by Darkness Visible, Adès’s personal take on Dowland’s song. Written for solo piano, Darknesse Visible is a both a precise exploration of the melodic and harmonic DNA of the song, and a complete implosion. Shimmering inner voices are surrounded by bell-like sonorities on both extremes of the piano range. The exciting idea behind Darknesse Visible is that, according to the composer, “no notes have been added”, although some have been removed…
Bostridge came back to the front of the stage to perform Hörderlin: Ann… a song by Gÿorgy Kurtág on poetry by Johann Friedrich Holderlin (a contemporary of Heine)—an angular link in the chain that tied all the pieces of the first half. The piece bended even further the notion of time in this kaleidoscopic first half by using Romantic poetry set to sprechstimme.
Finally, the bitter sweet arpeggios of Im wunderschönen Monat Mai from Schumann’s Dichterliebe were heard and Bostridge proved, once again, that he is one of the best Lied performers on the international stage. The program notes for the evening reminded the audience that, for Schumann, the pianist was almost acting as a catalyst for the singer’s emotions. In Adès’s case, though, one could almost wonder if the situation was not out of balance. Indeed, on many songs, tempi were surprisingly slow like in this dragging Ich grolle nicht or incredibly fast (Die Rose, die Lilie). Adès’s take on dynamics was also very personal, and the piano was generally very quiet, even on the massive Im Rhein.
Thomas Adès – Photo by Maurice Foxall
The second half, although more traditional and deeply rooted in Romanticism, featured some gems. Adès opened with a brilliant interpretation of Petrarch Sonnet No. 123, from Liszt’s Années de pèlerinage, a perfect introduction to three rarely (Schade!) performed Liszt songs: Es muss ein Wunderbares sein, Im Rhein, in schönen Strome and Ihr Glocken von Marling. The fact that one of the songs was set on the same Heine text that Schumann used in his Dichterliebe provided an interesting perspective on the two composers’s interpretations of the poetry. Indeed, Liszt’s Im Rhein… focused more on the liquid element and less on the majesty of the Rhine. The program was closed by a selection of six songs from Schubert’s Schwanengesang.
Beyond the first-class musicianship of both Bostridge and Adès, the clever and organic inclusion of pieces from different eras (in the first half only) was really one of the strongest points of this program and one could wish that more classical concerts were curated this way.
Thomas Deneuville, the founder and editor of I care if you listen, is a French-born composer living in NY. Find him on Twitter: @tonalfreak