2008 KW Repertoire Report- Discussion

You can view the 2008 KW Repertoire report here, which lists every piece of music  I’ve performed in the 2008 calendar year.

I thought I would take advantage of the painstaking efforts of my research assistant, former Lehman Brothers Executive VP Flurp Van Doogle and make some comparisons between this year and 2007, as well as some general observations on trends on this year’s list.

It goes without saying that for many of you, this will be the most boring, naval gazing exercise you have ever encountered, but I hate to let Flurp’s efforts go un-used.

First off, by some crazed coincidence, both the 2007 and 2008 lists contain exactly 75 pieces. I’m actually sending Flurp off to peruse some websites in hopes of determining just how many pieces a really famous conductor typically conducts in a year. A quick survey of this lists, however, shows only 7 pieces in common for the two years, so that is 143 pieces over the last two seasons. Still, that’s not a lot of pieces compared to what a reasonably busy London free-lancer might play- probably less than half! Leonard Slatkin told me in 2001 that he’d done almost 200 pieces that year- I’d be curious to tally up from his website and see how many he’s doing this year.

In 2007, one of my primary areas of concern was the lack of chamber music- I wrote that “2007 had the least chamber music for me of any year in my life- that’s a terrible trend.” Happily, that trend has abruptly reversed itself, with some memorable performances of the Schnittke String Trio, Brahms Clarinet Trio, Janacek 2nd Quartet and the Schubert C Major Quintet counting as highlights of the year. That trend looks to continue next year- the group that performed the Schnittke has taken on a new life of its own as Ensemble Epomeo- we had such a blast working on the Schnittke we decided to call ourselves a real group. We’ve got mini-tours planned in the UK in March and May, a return to the Ischia Festival in May and a tour of the East Coast in early June.

I also wrote of 2007 that “Not surprisingly, Mahler and Beethoven seem to be the most featured. I was sad to see no orchestral music of Debussy, and fewer new pieces than in most years.” To my delight, I returned to Debussy, one of my loves, with the Nocturnes in September with KCYO, but Mahler, represented by four symphonies and Das Lied von der Erde in 2007 was completely absent (unless you count his arrangement of the Beethoven Serioso Quartet)  from my list in 2008. Happily, I’m doing the 5th Symphony twice in 2009. Also surprising and worrying is the fact that I performed no Shostakovich in 2007- he’s always been a mainstay and a passion of mine. Thank goodness I’m doing the 2nd Piano Concerto with Lancashire Chamber Orchestra in a few weeks for their 40th Anniversary concert, and the 6th Symphony, which is new for me, with the Harlech Orchestral Academy. Most excitingly, I’m doing the Shostakovich/Barshai Chamber Symphony op 83a with the SMP later this spring. Performing op 73 a Chamber Symphony was one of the high points of our collaborations over the last several years.

And, what about “fewer “new”pieces?” Well, 2008 was a rich year with 9 premieres of one type or another. There was Gordon Downie’s brand new and extremely challenging forms 7, hot off the presses, but then there was the UK premiere of the Gal Violin Concerto, written in 1932. Having the chance to bring a masterpiece like this to the country in which Gal lived the majority of his long life was something I will always remember, and I’m so excited I’m recording the piece later this year (more on that soon!). Philip Sawyers and Jennifer Higdon were, like Gordon, composers whose music I had admired for many years and who I got my first chance to perform this season.

Another composer who had long been on my list was Xenakis- 2008 seemed to be his year. Suddenly he was everywhere in the blogosphere, and it was about time. Hopefully, I can program more of his music soon, although I hope it is easier to read than the score of Akrata was- I was not impressed to have to blow up a rental score buy 200% just to have any chance of seeing the notes. Fortunately, it was worth the effort. Paul Mefano’s Interferences was also worth the effort- even though Paul himself started our conversation about it by saying it was “impossibly notated and 30 years ago it was impossible to perform.” I think I spent the most hours of study per minute of music ever in my life coming to terms with his flexible fields of time.

It was a year of pairs- 2 back-to-back Beethoven 5’s and 2 back-to-back Mozart Sinfonia Concertantes. The Beethoven fared well in that setting, but the Mozart simply made obvious the difference between working with two complete artists and two youngsters who are slightly winging it. Twice this year I paired Sibelius and Wagner- the 2nd Symphony with Rienzi and the 5th with Tristan. The latter combination worked better, but in my defense, the Rienzi was a replacement for Pines of Rome, which we had to cancel for lack of brass. It was also great to do a pair of Bloch works for cello and orchestra- my old favourite, Schelomo, and the might Suite for Cello and Orchestra- which may have been the first performance of that version of the piece originally called Suite for Viola and Piano. In February, we paired The Firebird and the Elgar Violin Concerto- two works written within 6 weeks of each other that seem to exist in separate universes. I bet they’ve never appeared on the same program before, but I thought it was a fun match.

In 2008, I performed about 38 pieces which were new to me. It’s a little imprecise counting, because some pieces I had done bits of before, or had done them in semi-performance settings. Frankly, I could have easily have done 200 pieces this year if that list had included all the standard rep works I feel at home in while adding maybe another small handful of new works, but probably 50 new works in a year would be my max right now, whether they were part of a list of 75 or 175.

The year began with Kodaly’s Summer Music and ended with Rachmaninoff’s Symphony no. 1- they’d make a great program if paired with a suitable concerto, don’t you think? How about the Bartok 1st Piano Concerto? Any takers?

The 2007 list contains the skeletons of two rather ambitious cello recital programs. No recitals in 2008, and I suppose the Brahms Double in November 08 about balances the Elgar from Feb 07. Sadly, all my favorite pianists are far away and/or very busy, which makes organizing a satisfying recital tough going, and at this age, I’m not too excited about doing a recital with a pianist I’m not comfortable with.

2008 was a banner year for musical anniversaries, but I missed a few of them- I managed some Vaughan Williams (Lark Ascending) for the 50th of his passing (and am looking forward to the 5th Symphony with the Cheltenham Symphony in May- my first complete RVW symphony). Messiaen got only the briefest tribute- the” Louange” from the Quartet from the End of Time. I tried like  crazy to get a performance of Turangalila organized, but to no avail. No Elliot Carter, either- I almost did the Cello Sonata on my masters recital many years ago, but there are few pianists out there who are able and willing to take it on.

I hope that 2009 offers the chance to tick a few more boxes of composers’ music that I’ve always wanted to perform and never had the chance- Daron Hagen is high on that list, Christopher Rouse and James MacMillan as well. We’ll see what opportunities arise. In addition to getting Shostakovich and Mahler back on the menu, I’m aching to do more Bruckner next year- the 5th, 7th, 8th and 9th are all learned and waiting for the right orchestra. Hopefully I will be brave enough to do a couple of recital programs this year- I’d like to repeat my Prokofiev/Shostakovich/Rachmaninov sonata program under better circumstances soon, but it’s been a long time since I’ve played a Beethoven sonata. Why not do all of them? My colleague in Delaware, Larry Stomberg, who hosted my masterclass there, was doing a great Hungarian-ish program the week after I left. For years, I’ve wanted to do the Kodaly and Dohnanyi sonatas on a program with the Bartok First Rhapsody and the Janacek Pohadka, which is almost the program Larry did….

Anyway, with the rep report now out of the way, I may try to organize a few podcasts of 2008 hightlights- little moments here and there over the year that I’ve particularly enjoyed….

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About the author

American conductor, composer and cellist Kenneth Woods is Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest and cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo. He records for the Avie, Somm, Nimbus, Signum, MSR and Toccata labels.

Learn about Kenneth at www.kennethwoods.net

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4 comments on “2008 KW Repertoire Report- Discussion”

  1. Erik K

    Great list…I’m supremely envious on all counts…I’m craving some chamber music about now.

  2. Zoltan

    I’ve looked up your writing on Rachmaninoff a few weeks ago (from back 2006 when you wrote about the Rach2) and had a blast reading about it. I read from you about Shosty, Sibelius, Mahler through the years and I think it would be great to hear your thoughts about Bruckner too!

  3. Daron Hagen

    Great to read that you are thinking of programming one of my pieces this year! Best of luck weathering the financial storm.

    Cheers, Daron

  4. Kenneth Woods

    Hi Daron!

    I’m workin’ hard on it…. let’s keep fingers crossed. I really want to bring Brow to the UK, but that’s a tall order…..


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