2009 KW Repertoire Report- discussion and analysis

I wanted to attempt to have a look at my 2009 Repertoire Report and see if I could identify any interesting trends or quirks.

2009 was an anniversary year for several important composers, including Haydn, Handel, Purcell and Bloch. Haydn got the most attention from me this year- nine works in all, including 6 symphonies, both cello concertos (neither of which I played this time around) and the Sinfonia Concertante (listen to our performance here). That list includes two obvious hits- the Farewell (no. 45) and no. 104, his most played symphony, but also some wonderful rarities, particularly no. 60 (Il Distratto) and no. 72. Just getting to know those two works and the incredible mind behind them, with all its genius, humor and humanity, was a big highlight of the year. Even returning for the first time in many years to a well-known work like 45 was a revelation- it’s far from a gimmicky, jokey work, but a deeply thoughtful and wildly creative and exciting piece.

My blog post “Haydn- More Talented than Mozart,” gave some people the mistaken idea that I’m not a Mozart fan, when nothing could be further from the truth. 2099 was not a Mozart anniversary year, but he still got 10 works to Haydn’s 9. Perhaps the selection of Mozart works clarifies the point I was trying to make about the  nature of Mozart’s genius in that blog post. My point was that Mozart’s greatness is not in being some kind of divinely inspired, ultimately facile talent who never wrote a phrase that wasn’t fresh, perfect and unique- there is plenty of Mozart that is formulaic, predictable and not particularly inspired. However, as a poet of feeling, he is without equal- the profoundly tragic, anguished, even angry 40th Symphony and the Requiem, the enigmatic, autumnal and nostalgic 23rd Piano Concerto and the heart-rending Clarinet Quintet. These are the best of Mozart- whose true talent was not in the world of charm, refinement and elegance but in the deeper realms of true feeling and drama.

If Haydn got a pretty good anniversary treatment (happily, most of my Haydn performances were part of concerts celebrating his legacy), Handel and Purcell got ignored completely. Hopefully I can spend more time with them in years to come- I’ve come to admire Handel more and more over the years. Pity poor Ernest Bloch– the BBC didn’t even include him on their list of anniversary composers, and no British orchestra that I’m aware of took any notice of the 50th anniversary of his death (compare that to the robust celebrations of Vaughan Williams, who had the same anniversary last year). I would have loved to have done more of his music, and pitched several projects which didn’t come to fruition, but I at least got to do the 2nd Concerto Grosso, which is a stunning piece and almost completely unknown. He’s a great composer who deserves more recognition.

Other very well-represented composers were Beethoven (9 works including 5 symphonies) and Schumann (5 works, including 2 symphonies and the Overture, Scherzo and Finale). This spring, the Surrey Mozart Players will finish our Schumann project with the First Symphony and Manfred- we will have played all the symphonies, concerti and a good sampling of the overtures by the time we’re done. The experience has left me greedy for more time with Bobby S- I’m hard at work at setting up a recording project to do the symphonies, which I’m determined to do. Watch this space.

2009 was not a banner year for contemporary music- two fun new pieces (James Schlefer’s Shakuhachi Concerto and Philip Sawyers’ astounding 2nd Symphony), but I would have loved to have done more new music in a wider range of styles. The Contemporary Music Ensemble of Wales, with whom I’ve had the chance to do some more cutting edge stuff in recent years, took 2009 off, but we have big aspirations for 2010. Also, I’m hopeful that my work with Orchestra of the Swan will bring a lot of chances to do new work- it’s an important part of their mission. I already know that my first concert with them in May will feature a premiere.

However, it is not only living composers whose music needs advocacy, and I feel like I’ve done a pretty good job of getting some relative rarities out there. The Arnold Guitar Concerto is not something you hear every day, I’ve already mentioned some of the unusual Haydn works we did this year, and Schumann’s Bride of Messiana Overture is a true rarity (and a wonderful, bizarre piece). It’s pretty safe to say that in the case of any of those piece that they were as new to the members of our audience as a world premiere would have been. Ensemble Epomeo are working our way through a lot of music that was nearly lost to war and evil in Theresienstadt with music by Klein and Krasa, and I felt that balancing those works with the rarely heard Schnittke Trio and a Beethoven made for an interesting program. This year, we’re doing more Krasa, the Goldberg Variations, Gal and another Beethoven. I have a lot of sympathy for the frustration of all my composer friends who have to sometimes wait years for a chance to get an orchestral work played, but think of the frustration for Hans Gal and his family. Gal was one of the giants of the pre-war generation of German composers, a friend and colleague of both Richard Strauss and Berg, yet our recording of the Triptych, the Violin Concerto and Concertino with Northern Sinfonia in September (which should be out in April) was the first commercial recording of his orchestral music. The Violin Concerto was premiered in 1933 and not played again until 2004.

Part of what I get out of looking at these reports is a sense of my goals for years to come- what am I not doing enough of, what needs a rest? I’d certainly like to smash the 75 work barrier which I’ve been stuck at for 3 years now (give or take). This year would have been well over 90 except for some scheduling issues and the postponement of the Harlech Academy, which would have added the following pieces to this year’s list-

Arnold- The Inn of Sixth Happiness

Janacek- Taras Bulba
Mahler – Symphony No 5
Niccolai- Overture to the Merry Wives of Windsor
Prokofiev- Selections from Romeo and Juliet Suite No.  2
Rachmaninov – Isle of the Dead
Ravel – La valse
Shostakovich – Symphony No 6
Walton- Variations on a Theme of Paul Hindemith

Fortunately, we’ve just kept that rep list intact for the 2010 Academy. I knew I would want and need a break after my last OES concert, so I blocked off a few weeks in late October and early November- something I felt I needed after completing a large chapter in my professional life. What I couldn’t predict was the number of clashes I would end up having with the date of that October OES concert. That concert was originally scheduled for the 10th and moved to the 24th when our soloist had a conflict. Within hours of moving that concert, I started getting other offers for that date, none of them moveable. In the end, I missed out on enough work on that day to fill a normal year, or at least it seemed that way.

So- 90 + pieces in 2010? More contemporary music? I sure hope so. It’s not in the calendar this time, but I’m hoping that soon I can start to expect to get whole cycles of Beethoven, Brahms or Schumann done within a year. 2010 is an anniversary year for 2 of my favorite composers, Mahler and Schumann, and they’ll both get some proper celebrating. There will be performances, special blog projects and even my first Mahler recording (watch this space!).  I’m keen to do more of the major composers from the first half of the 20th C.- Bartok, Berg, Schoenberg, Stravinsky and Prokofiev among others. Fingers crossed.

But of course, sometimes it is not the things that you’ve spent years trying to engineer that end up being the highlight of your year. I’ve never been hostile to the music of Vaughan Williams, but I have heard many performances of the symphonies that left me skeptical. I certainly wasn’t agitating to do the 5th Symphony, but when Cheltenham asked me for it, I didn’t put up a huge fight. I’m glad I didn’t- it’s an astounding and very moving piece that has stuck with me ever since. Next time it will be me pushing the orchestra for a RVW symphony.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Spread the word. Share this post!

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

All material in these pages is protected by copyright.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *