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John Eliot Gardiner

Thursday, May 26, 2016


Royal Opera House

May 12

Watch: A whistle-stop journey through Liam Scarlett's one-act ballets

Royal Opera HouseLiam Scarlett in rehearsal for The Age of Anxiety ©ROH. Bill Cooper 2014. Frankenstein is Liam Scarlett ’s first full-length piece for The Royal Ballet on the Covent Garden main stage, but in recent years his one-act works have made him a familiar presence at the Royal Opera House – and indeed further afield. Here are a few highlights from his prolific career to date: Viscera Inspired by the raw energy of Lowell Liebermann ’s First Piano Concerto, Scarlett created Viscera for Miami City Ballet in 2012. It has since been performed by The Royal Ballet twice, in 2012 and 2015. ‘There’s no taking it easy in this ballet’, Scarlett says: the outer movements are a whirlwind of energy, and the searing pas de deux which comprises the central movement simmers with intensity. Sweet Violets Scarlett’s first narrative ballet, created for The Royal Ballet in 2012, explores the artist Walter Sickert’s sordid fascination with Jack the Ripper . Sweet Violets is a dark, brooding ballet incorporating John Macfarlane ’s atmospheric sets of murky London brothels and backstreets, and Rachmaninoff ’s haunting Trio élégiaque as its score. A Midsummer Night’s Dream Shakespeare’s plays have long provided brilliant fodder for choreographers, from Christopher Wheeldon ’s The Winter’s Tale to Frederick Ashton ’s The Dream – and Scarlett turned to the same play that had enchanted Ashton half a century earlier for his 2015 work for Royal New Zealand Ballet and Queensland Ballet . To Mendelssohn ’s famous music, Scarlett conjured a funny, touching ballet which, the New Zealand Herald wrote, ‘may well become a classic telling’. The Age of Anxiety W.H. Auden ’s poem The Age of Anxiety is set in New York in 1944, following four figures trying to make sense of the modern world. Leonard Bernstein ’s Second Symphony, also a response to Auden’s poem, is the score to which Scarlett sets this 2014 Royal Ballet commission. Inflected with jazz and a sombre, bittersweet edge, the music and dance combine with Auden’s poem to form a fascinating trio. No Man’s Land Like Sweet Violets, Scarlett’s 2014 creation for English National Ballet draws on early 20th century British history – but here we are drawn into the Britain of World War I, and the women left behind by the newly drafted soldiers. The ballet combines a re-creation of a munitions factory staffed by these women with the men’s fate in the trenches, as well as a series of emotional pas de deux of love and loss. Watch more films like these on the Royal Opera House YouTube channel: Frankenstein runs 4-27 May 2016. Tickets are still available . The ballet is a co-production with San Francisco Ballet and is generously supported by the Taylor Family Foundation, Sarah and Lloyd Dorfman, Simon and Virginia Robertson, Will and Beth Gardiner, Karl and Holly Peterson, The Shauna Gosling Trust, The Constance Travis Charitable Trust, The American Friends of Covent Garden, the Frankenstein Production Syndicate, Bently Foundation, The Hellman Family and E. L. Wiegand Foundation.

Royal Opera House

May 11

Frankenstein to be relayed live to BP Big Screens in the UK and cinemas around the world on 18 May 2016

Laura Morera as Elizabeth Lavenza and Federico Bonelli as Victor Frankenstein in Frankenstein. © ROH 2016. Photograph by Bill Cooper Choreographer Liam Scarlett ’s new Royal Ballet production of Frankenstein will be broadcast live on BP Big Screens across the UK and in cinemas worldwide on 18 May 2016 at 7.15pm BST. Royal Ballet Artist in Residence Liam Scarlett has created numerous works for the Company, but Frankenstein is his first full-length work for the Covent Garden main stage. In his interpretation of Mary Shelley ’s gothic novel , the choreographer focuses on the tender love story between Victor and his childhood sweetheart Elizabeth as well as the emotions of Frankenstein's Creature. Of the ballet Scarlett says, ‘I think when the curtain goes down you’re not going to know who to feel more sorry for’. Download the Frankenstein Digital Programme for free using the promo code FREEFRANK and enjoy a range of specially selected films, articles, pictures and features to bring you closer to the production. The relay will be presented by former Royal Ballet Principal Darcey Bussell and BBC broadcaster Ore Oduba . BP Big Screen audiences will see exclusive coverage from Trafalgar Square, presented by conductor and choral expert Dominic Peckham . Find your nearest free-to-attend BP Big Screen . The Story A story that needs minimal introduction, Frankenstein has fascinated the world ever since it was first published in 1818 and is one of the key texts of the Gothic genre. Mary Shelley's novel tells the story of Victor Frankenstein who succeeds in giving life to non-living matter. Horrified at what he has done, Victor abandons his Creation. Read about the true stories behind Frankenstein The Production Designer and artist John Macfarlane has set the novel back in the era of its publication and includes Gothic motifs such as a lavish manor house, a detailed re-creation of a 19th-century anatomy theatre and a magnificent display of electricity. The Music Frankenstein features an original score by Lowell Liebermann . Scarlett has used a number of the composer's works to score previous works, but this is the composer's first commissioned score for Scarlett. ‘I wanted something hauntingly beautiful’ says the choreographer, ‘and I think he really has done that.’ Read Lowell Liebermann's insights into the process of creating a ballet score The Cast Steven McRae as The Creature and Federico Bonelli as Victor Frankenstein in Frankenstein. ©ROH 2016. Photographed by Andrej Uspenski In the cinema/BP Big Screen relay, Federico Bonelli will dance the role of Victor Frankenstein with Laura Morera as his sweetheart, Elizabeth. The Creature will be danced by Steven McRae . Review and win Frankenstein opened on 4 May 2016. Read audience reactions to the opening night and add your own review . After the relay, we will publish a roundup of audience tweets, so share your thoughts with the hashtag #ROHfrankenstein. BP Big Screen audiences will also have the opportunity to win a selection of Royal Ballet and Royal Opera DVDs by sharing their summer selfies from venues around the UK. Tweet or Instagram your pictures with the hashtag for the chance to win. Frankenstein will be broadcast live to BP Big Screens in the UK and cinemas worldwide on 18 May 2016. Find your nearest BP Big Screen to watch for free or your nearest cinema and sign up to our mailing list . The production is a co-production with San Francisco Ballet and is generously supported by The Taylor Family Foundation, Sarah and Lloyd Dorfman, Simon and Virginia Robertson, Will and Beth Gardiner, Karl and Holly Peterson, The Shauna Gosling Trust, The Constance Travis Charitable Trust, The American Friends of Covent Garden, the Frankenstein Production Syndicate, Bently Foundation, The Hellman Family and E. L. Wiegand Foundation.




Classical iconoclast

May 10

Berlioz Roméo et Juliette - Boulez

Perceptions of  Hector Berlioz Roméo et Julette Op17 1839. have been shaped by performance practice filtered through recordings which is fair enough, since recordings reach more than live performasnces. Given Berlioz's fascination with Shakespeare and other things English, it's perhaps not so surprising either that English conductors dominate recordings.   Everyone's grown up with Colin Davis, for example. Over the years, though, my feelings about Berlioz have been developing on different lines, thanks, probably to getting immersed in John Eliot Gardiner,  Historically informed performance isn't about instruments so much as about understanding a composer on his own terms, and imagining whathe might have envisaged. In Berlioz's own time, he was very much avant garde.  His Grand Treatise on Orchestration (1843)  championed among other things the saxophone, invented only three years before and still very much experimental.  The picture above shows Berlioz conducting to the horror of his audience, the figures in the foreground supposedly include Franz Liszt .Recently a friend recommended listening to Pierre Boulez's Roméo et Juliette, with the Cleveland Symphony Orchestras, recorded live in 1970, though not issued until some years later.  How distinctive it sounds !  Boulez wasn't conducting a period orchestra but he seems to have understood why Berlioz used instruments like the ophicliede. They aren't timid ! Hence the fanfare in the introduction, the quirky trumpets and bassoons. the lushness of the harps  and above all the sassy punch of the strings, pulling everything pulling together with dramatic forward thrust.  We hear the wayward dance figures, and the sinister, almost demonic undercurrents. Roméo et Juliette is neither a stage play nor conventional opera but an innovation : music theatre for orchestra. Shakespeare carried no cultural baggage for continental European audiences in Berlioz's time, so the composer could do pretty much his own take on the story, using the Garrick version of the play brought to Paris in 1827 by Charles Kemble, which  Berlioz attended and where he became infatuated with Harriet Smithson.  The picture at left shows Smithson and Kemble in a production in the 1840's. In an age before close-ups and amplification, theatre practice would have to have been more exaggerated than we're used to now. Perhaps Berlioz, a theatre critic, intuited that good orchestral writing had the potential to express feelings in greater complexity than most actors at the time were capable of. The extremes in this music reflect stage practice, yet modified by the sophistication that orchestral subtlety can provide.  This is an intense performance, made all the more powerful because Boulez draws from the dramatic tension inherent in the music itself : a composer's insight into interpretation, that springs from within. Berlioz's Roméo et Juliette isn't about the lovers so much but about cross currents : feuding families, , crowds versus individuals, beauty versus violence and in the midst of all this, an element of supernatural magic that is more "Gothic" than Shakespeare.  Structurally it's tight, the Prince holding forth in the beginning and the brilliant Friar Laurence monologue at the end.  Montagues and Capiults rip each other apart,  but Friar Laurence's intelligence and humanity give Berlioz's Roméo et Juliette its power.

Royal Opera House

April 26

Science experiments and personal tragedy: bringing Mary Shelley's Frankenstein to life

Detail from 'Frankenstein observing the first stirrings of his creature'. Engraving by W. Chevalier after Th. von Holst, 1831. The story of how Mary Shelley ’s Frankenstein came to be written is well known. It was 1816; Mary and her lover Percy Bysshe Shelley had followed Lord Byron to spend the summer months in Switzerland. During the long, often wet and stormy evenings, so the story goes, they recited poetry and read to each other spine-tingling tales. Eventually bored of the stories, Byron proposed that they should each write a supernatural story of their own. The Frankenstein idea came to Mary in a waking dream. She imagined a student, who had pursued forbidden science to discover the ‘cause of generation and life’, finally bestowing animation upon lifeless matter. Mary developed the idea, nurturing it over nine months, and finishing it in the spring of 1817. Frankenstein was published the following year. A preface to the first edition of the novel, purportedly by the author but actually penned by Percy, declared: ‘The event on which this fiction is founded, has been supposed by Dr Darwin… as not of impossible occurrence.’ Dr Darwin was Erasmus Darwin , Charles’s grandfather, and the ‘event’ was a series of strange experiments he described in 1802, in which he had apparently caused inanimate matter to move of its own accord. But did another nightmare inspire Frankenstein too? Early in 1815, Mary had given birth to her first child by Percy – a daughter – but the child was born prematurely and lived for only a few days. Mary was devastated. The feelings of helplessness in the 17-year-old mother haunted her dreams. She wrote in her diary: ‘Dreamt that my little baby came to life again; that it had only been cold, and that we rubbed it before the fire, and it lived. Awake and find no baby.’ Had discussion of Darwin’s experiments given her a glimmer of hope that science could one day discover how to reanimate a dead human? And what was the vital need, the vital spark that separated the animate from the dead? Mary was acutely aware of many of the cutting-edge scientific debates and discoveries of her time. The second half of the 18th century was alive with scientific debate and discovery. Notions of ‘vitalism ’ became newly controversial and, in the 1790s, respected scientists publicly challenged each other on the subject of the nature of life, of what lay at the heart of the vitality of all animals. But Mary may also have been exploring another principle of life that the pioneering male scientists of the age had overlooked. Her sensitivities to nuances of character and the valencies of human interaction brought to vivid life the real significance of the thrilling and terrifying knowledge she absorbed, and her novel became a profound reflection on the complexities of human nature. Reflecting, in part, her own world, her characters combine features of the real people she met, knew and loved. When Mary and Percy first eloped to Europe in 1814 they caused scandal at home and embarrassed her father, William Godwin . Financial and legal concerns brought them back to England but Godwin would have nothing to do with his daughter, ordering family and friends to shut her out of their lives. Such glimpses of Mary’s private anguish resonate powerfully in the exchanges between Victor and his creature in the novel: ‘Begone! I will not hear you’, Victor tells his creation. ‘There can be no community between you and me; we are enemies.’ Perhaps Mary’s imagination stitched together her nightmares of the dead being alive, her fears and responsibilities as a sister and as a mother, her needs and joys as a daughter, a friend and a lover, to create something deeply and humanly ambiguous; at once childlike and gigantic, fatally clumsy yet sensitive and erudite; monstrous and vulnerable at the same time. As her father had written in 1791, ‘The points in which human beings resemble are infinitely more considerable than those in which they differ.’ Frankenstein runs 4–27 May 2016. Tickets are still available. The production is a co-production with San Francisco Ballet and is generously supported by The Taylor Family Foundation, Sarah and Lloyd Dorfman, Simon and Virginia Robertson, Will and Beth Gardiner, Karl and Holly Peterson, The Shauna Gosling Trust, The Constance Travis Charitable Trust, The American Friends of Covent Garden, the Frankenstein Production Syndicate, Bently Foundation, The Hellman Family and E. L. Wiegand Foundation.



Royal Opera House

April 14

Ballet Essentials: Frankenstein

An enduring tale Written during a famous sojourn by Lake Geneva in the company of Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley , Frankenstein has fascinated people ever since it was first published in 1818. The student Victor Frankenstein discovers the secret to creating life – but he is unable to face up to his own abominable creation. His fiancée Elizabeth, his friends and his family are all caught up in the tragedy that unfolds as Victor battles with his Creature and his conscience. A new take on an old story Royal Ballet Artist in Residence Liam Scarlett has created numerous works for the Company, from abstract pieces such as Asphodel Meadows to the narrative Sweet Violets and Hansel and Gretel . But his adaptation of Frankenstein is his first full-length work for the main stage. Mary Shelley ’s classic Gothic novel forms the basis of a three-act ballet for the full Company that will interpret this famous story afresh. Love and responsibility Frankenstein has been adapted countless times, and the Creature has become a familiar presence in horror movies. But for Scarlett, Frankenstein is about more than this stock character. There is a tender love story at the story’s heart featuring Victor and Elizabeth, and the Creature is no straightforward villain but rather someone deprived of a family who is never taught how to behave. Can we feel sympathy for a monster? ‘I think when the curtain goes down you’re not going to know who to feel more sorry for’, say Scarlett. Period settings Designer and artist John Macfarlane has collaborated with Scarlett many times before, and his other designs at the Royal Opera House include Giselle for The Royal Ballet and Die Zauberflöte and Gianni Schicchi for The Royal Opera. With lighting designer David Finn and projection designer Finn Ross , Macfarlane’s designs create a period setting for Frankenstein, complete with a lavish manor for the Frankenstein family and a detailed re-creation of a 19th-century anatomy theatre. A close choreographic collaboration Scarlett has choreographed a number of works by American composer Lowell Liebermann , including his abstract ballet Viscera . Frankenstein is Liebermann’s first commissioned score for Scarlett. There has been a close collaboration between composer and choreographer, with especially beautiful music reserved for the Creature. ‘I described to him that I wanted something hauntingly beautiful’, Scarlett said, ‘and I think he really has done that.’ Frankenstein runs 4–27 May 2016. Tickets are still available. The production will be broadcast live to cinemas around the world on 18 May 2016. Find your nearest cinema. Frankenstein is a co-production with San Francisco Ballet and is given with generous support from The Monument Trust, Sarah and Lloyd Dorfman, Simon and Virginia Robertson, Will and Beth Gardiner, Karl and Holly Peterson, The Shauna Gosling Trust and the Frankenstein Production Syndicate , with further support via the San Francisco Ballet from Bently Foundation, The Hellman Family and E. L. Wiegand Foundation.

Classical iconoclast

April 13

Not pizzazz but pizza : BBC Proms 2016

Generated by machine ? The BBC Proms 2016 season just announced might well have been designed by algorithm. Once,the proms meant pizzazz. Now we get pizza, and not good pizza but frozen, soggy machine product. It's way too early to blame the new Proms Director David Pickard, who's only been in the job a short time. The malaise has been setting for some years : Roger Wright was right to get the h out. The Culture White Paper is symptomatic of the demented mindlessness that passes for arts policy.  Report after report, written in the same comatose Watch with Mother style. Someone should draw a flow chart and identify the suits behind the system. They might all be the same !  No, the arts aren't a substitute for an education system, nor a means of social engineering. in this Brave New World, we have soma, not sustenance. On the First Night of the Proms, predictably, with the BBC SO, Sakari Oramo, Elgar Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev. Nothing wrong with that, but we can get that fare anytime, anywhere, even on Classic FM.  All the right boxes have been ticked. Nice things there and popular performers, Dare we say it, but maybe the BBC has turned its back on its founding principles. Even the highlights, like the ROH Mussorgsky Boris Gudonov and Berlioz Romeo et Juliette (John Eliot Gardiner) are things serious listeners will have heard elsewhere. But maybe the BBC and the Proms have given up on serious music. Instead, we have the stranglehold of Ten Pieces, that mornic list of approved works drawn up as if by Stalinist diktat.  It was good enough for a luagh for about ten seconds, but it's counter productive. Read my piece on Ten Pieces Motherhood and Poisoned Apple Pie.   Although there are nice tidbits along the way, serious listeners might need to wait til  Prom 45 on August 19th for  Janáček The Makropulous Case when Jiří Bělohlávek brings his singers from Prague. His concerts with the BBC SO were milestones, bringing Czech repertoire into the mainstream. At Promm 68 on 4th September, Rossini Semiramide with Operas Rara, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment should be good. The Staatskapelle Berlin and the Dresden Staatskapelle (Barenboim and Thielemann)  raise the game immensely. despite some nice things, this is a Proms season that's afraid of its own shadow. The season seems to have been designed for the Last Night of the Proms market - not the loyalists having fun, but for the millions who tune in but don't otherwise worry too much about listening.  Guess us dinosaurs who actually like music don't belong anymore.    

John Eliot Gardiner

Sir John Eliot Gardiner (20 April 1943) is an English conductor. He founded the Monteverdi Choir (1966), the English Baroque Soloists (1978) and the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique (1990). Gardiner has recorded over 250 albums with these and other musical ensembles, most of which have been published by Deutsche Grammophon and Philips Classics. Gardiner is most famous for his interpretations of Baroque music on period instruments with the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists, but his repertoire and discography are not limited to early music. Gardiner has served as chief conductor of the North German Radio Symphony Orchestra and has appeared as guest conductor with such major orchestras as the Berlin Philharmonic, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Cleveland Orchestra, Philharmonia, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, and Vienna Philharmonic.



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