2010 KW Repertoire Report- Discussion and Analysis

My 2010 Repertoire Report is now up– I recommend opening it in a separate tab or window while reading this post so you can follow along.

I made the decision in the first year to base the Repertoire Reports on the calendar year, rather than on the September to September cycle most music organizations plan according to because one gets a more representative and random sampling, as opposed to a simple look at a single season. On the other hand, things like composer anniversaries are judged by the calendar year, so we can quickly see which ones I did justice to and which I didn’t.

So, anniversaries first. The big anniversary for me last year was Haydn:

“Nine works in all: 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.”

Haydn did well in 2010, too. My only regret was breaking my rule and doing 2 Haydn symphonies first on the program (the 49th and 82nd). I’m now convinced that Haydn symphonies should always, always end any program they are on (although the Haydn #59 “Fire” Symphony and Mahler 4 a few years back worked well)

This year, the big anniversaries were Mahler and Schumann, and it is hard to imagine two composers closer to my heart. Mahler got four works, but those are all pretty big works- Symphonies 1 and 5, Das Lied von der Erde and Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen. Both vocal works were recorded, which was an exciting moment in my life. The massive Performer’s Perspective blog project, commissioned by the Mahler in Manchester festival feels like it ought to count too, even though it wasn’t a performing project. Compare the anniversary celebrations with 2009, when I conducted the 5th and the Ruckert Lieder, and I guess it looks like a pretty busy anniversary celebration.

And how did Bobby Schumann do? Six works in all, including the Manfred Overture, two symphonies (the 1st and 3rd) and all three of the major concertos (violin, cello and piano). As with Mahler, Bobby featured in a recording project- the 3rd Sym will be released in June. I’m particularly proud of doing all 3 concerti in one year, although the lowlight of my musical year was sitting through the worst performance of the Piano Concerto by a non-student/non-amateuer/famous pianist this fall. Compared to 5 works last year, however, I think the anniversary effect is smaller than the “Ken digs Schumann” effect.

No anniversary for LvB, but he’s still the king this year- 9 works, including 4 symphonies. Mozart had a quiet year, with only 4 works, and Tchaikovsky had a really quiet year with just the Violin Concerto. Most frustrating for me, though, is the lack of ANY Bruckner this year. What a tragedy! If 2011 is another Bruckner-free one, I will be fit to be tied.

Last year, I was asking if this year we might see 90+ works on the Repertoire Report, and to my surprise, we did. The current tally is 91 or 92 numbered 1-90 (for some completely inexplicable reason, we all momentarily forgot Hoddinott’s Investature Dances, which have since been added to the list), depending on whether I count one piece rehearsed in 2010 that is getting performed in 2011 (Mahler 6). I had hoped that I might do more contemporary music, and it seems like the OOTS affiliation and the trio are helping there: eight compared to two new works by living composers, but that’s still not enough for me. Joanna Lee’s “Chronicles of Archy” was “Premiere of the Fortnight” in Classical Music Magazine, and I  particularly enjoyed learning new chamber works by Martin Kutnowski and Kile Smith.

Ken backstage with Suzanne after she ROCKED the Mendelssohn D minor in Oct

What of the “off-the-beaten-path” works of the past. I’d been wanting to do the early Mendelssohn D minor Violin Concerto for many years- it was doubly exciting to perform it with Suzanne in October. It was great to do the Walton Hindemith Variations, even though I wish we’d had more time for them, and like wise, Janacek’s astounding Taras Bulba. My fine week in Harlech, where I did those two, mostly served to increase my sense of urgency to do all the rep there again as soon as possible with a lot more rehearsal time. Haydn 82 had been on my list for many years, but one never runs of out great Haydn works to learn.

After a couple of years with no Shostakovich symphonies, it was great to do the 6th and 7th this year for the first time. Both are astounding, through-provoking, moving and life-changing works of art. Hopefully the Shostakovich climate is improving after a few years of resistance following the big Shostakovich year in 2006. I’m doing the 9th later this month, and the 7th again in April.

Ensemble Epomeo had a busy year- we broke in a wonderful new violinist, Caroline Chin, and took on a whole bunch of new repertoire, including the trio version of the Goldberg Variations, which I had wanted to play for many years. We gave first US and Canadian performances of the Gal Serenade for Trio, and premiered our first commissioned work, by Kile Smith. We’ve got a stack of commissions for 2011, as well as a new pile of repertoire. We’re looking forward to learning Gal’s other string trio in the spring and recording both of them in the Fall.

So, will 2011 be my first 100 piece year? Is that a good thing if it happens? Will there be more new music? What will the balance of conducting to cello playing in all its guises (chamber music, concertos and recitals) look like?

I frankly have no idea!

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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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