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Johann Sebastian Bach

Sunday, June 25, 2017


Norman Lebrecht - Slipped disc

June 9

To be on a boat with Americans…

Norman Lebrecht - Slipped discOur expatriate American diarist Anthea Kreston has been enjoying the perks of her musical job: I still have sea legs from my eight days on the River Countess, traveling the Venetian Lagoon and beyond. I was the Artist-In-Residence for the Performance Today tour, lead by the much beloved host, Fred Child. With a weekly audience of 1.4 million listeners, a daily 2-hour show featuring all live performances and interviews, PT is the most listened-to classical music program in North America (and probably the world). The trip to Italy was surprisingly cathartic. It has been over a year since I have been back to the States, and to be on a boat with Americans, with all of their quirkiness and openness, and ridiculous senses of humor, brought me back to an emotional place I hadn’t even realized I had left – a place of total acceptance, ability to be informal or informal, as the situation allowed, and to be myself entirely. I met nuclear physicists (there were three aboard), retired music teachers, couples on anniversary trips, presenters, doctors. I worked hard – the Four Seasons, an unaccompanied program designed around the idea of inspiration which I played at a villa on a hill built by Andrea Palladio (considered to be the most influential individual in the history of architecture), in the city of Vicenza. Thomas Jefferson loved his work, and the United States Capitol building is an example of a slightly modified version of Palladio’s style (named by the 111’th Congress of the United States of America as the “Father of American Architecture”). In all of the concerts, Fred and I worked together – although we didn’t know each other well, we have always had an ease, a comfort around each other. Fred would introduce the pieces, speak to the influence of Bach on Ysaye, Biber on Bach. For an encore, I had the audience sing the Lament Bass which forms the basis of Biber’s Passacaglia – possibly the first unaccompanied work written for the violin – he has 64 variations written above these 4, simple descending notes. The audience sang, I sped them up, added an off-beat snap, a “what you say!” from Fred, and played “Hit The Road, Jack”, which is also written above the same Lament Bass. There were several “Performance Chats” as well – lighter fare, with Fred interviewing me between Kreisler showpieces, Meditation from Thais, etc. I had asked Fred before the tour if I could turn the tables and interview him once. It took him several days to say yes – I had never interviewed anyone before, and he had not been interviewed. He finally said yes, but I could feel his hesitation as our Whatsapp Chanel filled with his suggestions of questions and topics. I said – “don’t worry – I’ve got this one!” I did research on Fred – even found the band he played with as a college student in Corvallis, Oregon (yes – the same small town where we moved from one year ago!) – I downloaded songs, transcribed and wrote out the words to a call-and-response song called “Oatmeal”, which we all performed together at the end of the evening. We had a great time – a balance between serious and silly – and we relaxed into an easy banter. I found out during that interview that we agree on where to get the best nachos in Corvallis, disagree about the best chocolate chip cookie, and also got a nice description of the most embarrassing pair of pants he had owned. Also – his surprising path towards radio – his successes and setbacks. It was so fun that Fred (I still can’t tell if he was kidding) asked if I would like to be a guest host of Performance Today. Hooray! Count me in! Trips to Bologna, Padua, Venice, Ravenna, and plans for future collaborations – by the end of the week I felt like we had all been at camp together – we were hugging and exchanging email addresses – several people offered to help nanny for us in exchange for a place to stay in Berlin, and my daily turns on the tour busses with the microphone laid bare my life to this wonderful group of classical-music fans. The final night, after our farewell concert, Fred, Jeff (a hilarious member of the staff) and I went to find the rest of the staff for an after-party. The directions, in typical Venetian style, went something like this: ok – walk towards St. Mark’s, take a left, you will see the boat repair place across the canal, go one or two bridges, cross over, you will see a wine bar, and start to look around for a small opening in the wall. Go down there, and it will open to a large grassy area – we will meet you there. So – Fred, Jeff and I headed out. We got lost, of course, but I spotted a little opening – about 5 feet high, and shoulder-width wide. I said – “should we try it?” – and we went in, stooped and single file. It went the length of an entire building before opening to a wild grassy area, unlit, with groups of people sitting in circles, rolling all manner of personal combustibles, a juggler (clearly a novice), a three piece band, and random stations with beer or fanciful mixed drinks. We all turned on our cell phone flashlights and made our way around – finding a home-made wooden stage, a circular wooden Stonehenge of some sort, complete with rugs and oversized pillows inside. Only Italian was heard, and low and behold – we found the rest of the staff off to the side! It was like Woodstock in there. Who knew something like this could exist in Venice? The craziest thing was – the next day, after everyone else left, I wandered back to that area – trying to find that wild courtyard again. I did find it – but a miniature iron door was blocking the entrance, locked, and boarded up with a crude piece of plywood. Cut at eye level was a teeny square – I looked through to only see darkness. As I sit, waiting for my flight today for the next quartet tour, I wonder if the whole trip was a dream.

Norman Lebrecht - Slipped disc

June 21

Death of a leading harpsichordist

The German-based Capella Trinitatis has posted a notice of the death today of their harpsichordist and conductor, Ludger Rémy. He was 68. A student of Kenneth Gilbert, Rémy has been professor of early music at the Hochschule für Musik Carl Maria von Weber in Dresden since 1998. He recorded several concertos by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach.




On An Overgrown Path

June 8

Thoughts for election day

When you call yourself an Indian or a Muslim or a Christian or a European, or anything else, you are being violent. Do you see why it is violent? Because you are separating yourself from the rest of mankind. When you separate yourself by belief, by nationality, by tradition, it breeds violence. So a man who is seeking to understand violence does not belong to any country, to any religion, to any political party or partial system; he is concerned with the total understanding of mankind... Authority of any kind, especially in the field of thought and understanding, is the most destructive, evil thing. Leaders destroy the following and followers destroy the leaders. You have to be your own teacher and your own disciple. You have to question everything that man has accepted as valuable, as necessary. Those quotes are by Jiddu Krishnamurti who is seen above. Below is a video of the pianist Maria João Pires talking about Krishnamurti before a 2016 Cadogan Hall concert celebrating the 30th anniversary of the death of the great thinker and teacher. Linked by the theme Silence, Music and the Arts the concert featured Aditi Mangaldas leading Indian classical dance, Nigel North playing Bach’s Suite BWV 995 for lute, and Maria João Pires playing Beethoven’s Op. 111 Sonata. The complete concert can be viewed via this link Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.



My Classical Notes

June 5

Angela Hewitt Plays Chopin

I have for you today a new recording of music by Chopin, as performed by pianist Angela Hewitt: Chopin: Piano Sonata No. 2 and other works Chopin: Piano Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor, Op. 35 ‘Marche funèbre’ Mazurkas (3), Op. 50 Fantasia in F minor, Op. 49 Nocturne No. 5 in F sharp major, Op. 15 No. 2 Étude Op. 10 No. 5 in G flat major ‘Black Key’ Prelude Op. 28 No. 9 in E major Prelude Op. 28 No. 10 in C sharp minor Prelude Op. 28 No. 11 in B major Prelude Op. 28 No. 12 in G sharp minor Polonaise No. 5 in F sharp minor, Op. 44 Étude Op. 25 No. 4 in A minor Étude Op. 10 No. 7 in C major Performed by Angela Hewitt (piano) Angela Hewitt is one of the most distinguished pianists of our time. She specializes in the music of J. S. Bach, but few remember that already in 1980 at the Chopin Competition, she revealed her uncommon abilities and, though she did not win a prize, she certainly did figure among the most interesting artistic personalities. Her competition recordings are being brought back by The Fryderyk Chopin Institute, which reminds listeners of the most interesting performances of the Fryderyk Chopin International Piano Competition. Gramophone Magazine wrote the following: “Many qualities of the mature pianist are readily recognisable in the 22-year-old contestant, among them careful attention to Chopin’s polyphony, with often surprising though natural voice-leading; a deftly calibrated sound palette; and a strong point of view in virtually every work. Hewitt devotees will find this release irresistible…and, no doubt, all lovers of Chopin will find interesting, even provocative.” Here is Ms Hewitt, playing the Chopin Nocturne Op. 15 number 2:

Johann Sebastian Bach
(1685 – 1750)

Johann Sebastian Bach (21 March 1685, - 28 July 1750) was a German composer, organist, harpsichordist, violist, and violinist whose sacred and secular works for choir, orchestra, and solo instruments drew together the strands of the Baroque period and brought it to its ultimate maturity. Although J.S. Bach did not introduce new forms, he enriched the prevailing German style with a robust contrapuntal technique, an unrivalled control of harmonic and motivic organisation, and the adaptation of rhythms, forms and textures from abroad, particularly from Italy and France. Bach's abilities as an organist were highly respected throughout Europe during his lifetime, although he was not widely recognised as a great composer until a revival of interest and performances of his music in the first half of the 19th century. He is now generally regarded as one of the main composers of the Baroque style, and as one of the greatest composers of all time. Revered for their intellectual depth, technical command and artistic beauty, Bach's works include the Brandenburg Concertos, the Goldberg Variations, the Partitas, The Well-Tempered Clavier, the Mass in B minor, the St Matthew Passion, the St John Passion, the Magnificat, A Musical Offering, The Art of Fugue, the English and French Suites, the Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin, the Cello Suites, more than 200 surviving cantatas, and a similar number of organ works, including the famous Toccata and Fugue in D minor and Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, as well as the Great Eighteen Chorale Preludes and Organ Mass.



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