Even as we all struggle to break free of seemingly unshakeable holiday lethargy, the blogosphere is coming back to life. In fact, some bloggers have been inspiringly busy over the holidays.
One blogger who has been particularly productive over the break has been the indefatigable dynamo, Norman Lebrecht. His blog, Slipped Disc, has continued to break big news stories like the sad demise of Dilettante Music, while embarking on a special holiday music giveaway. There are 14 free tracks from a wide range of artists and labels now available, offering some invaluable exposure for some fantastically interesting repertoire on some very innovative labels. Norman took a fair bit of stick for proclaiming the death of the classical recording industry many years back- it’s great that he’s making his popular blog part of the solution. You’ll find some great Schumann- one of the under-known violin sonatas, and music for saxophone by Tomasi, a composer completely new to me. Shai Wosner’s coupling of Schoenberg and Brahms made for a nice re-contextualizing of two masterpieces. There’s lots more- 14 downloads so far.
Of course, my two favorite downloads are fairly predictable- Mahler is represented with a download of the Erwin Stein orchestration of the 4th Symphony in a sparking recording on Somm Records by my friends at Orchestra of the Swan, conducted by my colleague David Curtis. To quote from Mr Lebrecht’s blog “Mahler as you’ve never heard him before…. It has been recorded before, but not very convincingly. This performance, by members of the Orchestra of the Swan, gives a much clearer picture of the essence that Stein (with Schoenberg’s blessing) was trying to extract from the hectic first movement.” The disc is being released by Somm in February, to be followed by my recording of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde and Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen in April.
And I can’t help but delight in the fact that the finale of the Hans Gal “Triptych for Orchestra” from my recording with Northern Sinfonia on Avie also made the cut. Lebrecht writes: “Gal an Austrian composer, born 1890, who fled the Hitler annexation and settled in Edinburgh, where he was at the hub of musical life until his death in 1987. Never a modernist, Gal held Brahms as his role model and wrote in a tonal manner, with a contemporary, sometimes comedic twist.” Lebrecht’s choice of words is particularly apt- Gal called this sparking tour de force “Comedy” but in between the outbursts of high spirited fun, Gal manages to surprise us with some episodes of heart-melting lyricism. If this taster inspires you to hear the whole disc, which included this Violin Concerto and Concertino for Violin and Strings performed by violinist Annette-Barbara Vogel as well as the rest of Triptych you can buy it here from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk, MDT or ArchivMusik. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for the release of Gal’s 3rd Symphony with me and Orchestra of the Swan (coupled with Schumann’s 3rd)- the release date has been set as June 6, 2011.
Elsewhere in the blogosphere, anchor of the Madison music scene Jacob Stockinger made my reminiscences of my performance of the Elgar Cello Concerto with my cello teacher, Parry Karp, his special Christmas blog feature. You can read that here. Jake’s intro is probably more poignant than my share of the piece:
Today is Christmas Day.
Although this posting refers to an event that is now a month old, I have held it until today because I thought it was a wonderful and inspirational Christmas essay in how gifts are not always what we find under the tree or in the stocking or mailbox.
In this case, classical music is the gift, and the teaching and learning involved in it – which is to say friendship – are gifts as well.
So I hope you will enjoy this posting like one of those fascinating Letters from Paris in The New Yorker.
It is about a teacher and his student who are now old friends and performing partners.
It is about the University of Wisc0nsin-Madison School of Music.
And it is about, of course, classical music.
Specifically, it about the UW alumnus, cellist and conductor Kenneth Woods (below), who is based in Cardiff, Wales, and who has gone on to an international career, and about UW faculty member and Pro Arte Quartet cellist Parry Karp who was his teacher and now collaborator. (You can research both men with this blog’s search engine.)
I hope you enjoy Woods’ letter or essay:
Although my Twitterati and FB friends already know about it, Vftp readers may not have been aware of the nice review of that concert with the Abergavenny Symphony, which also included Dvorak’s 7th Symphony and the Prelude to Die Meistersinger by Wagner.
One thing that I particularly like about Jake’s blog is his balance between offering a forum for discussion, criticism and celebration of the vibrant Madison scene with bringing news of the wider classical music world to Madison audiences. With the local papers offering almost no space for cultural discussion, communities everywhere need professional music writers like Jake to keep the discussion alive. This year, he’s added a “Musician of the Year” award, which most deservingly goes to James Smith, conductor of the UW-Madison School of Music. Jim has been the beloved conductor of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony since my last year in high school- I am proud to have been his first principal cellist. One of the best musicians I ever met, he set a standard as a conductor that few people I’ve ever worked with or played under have equalled. Since taking over the UW orchestra program a few years ago, he has transformed the Symphony and Chamber orchestras into two of the finest student ensembles in the country. When I conducted the Symphony Orchestra last season in a challenging program of Wagner, Mahler and Elgar I was deeply impressed by the commitment and preparation of the students. You can hear Jim’s performance of Mahler 6 with the UW Symphony on the School of Music website here. There’s something comforting about the knowledge that even with all the world’s economic and political woes, at any given time, there’s bound to be orchestras like the UW ones that, thanks to the leadership of people like Jim, that are playing better than ever.