Concerts Celebrate Isang Yun, a Musical Bridge Between Asia and Europe

(New York Times) — Today’s classical music world is not foreign to composers who fuse their Asian roots with Western avant-garde techniques, from Toshio Hosokawa to Unsuk Chin. But in 1966, when the Korean composer Isang Yun made his international breakthrough with the orchestral work “Réak,” at Germany’s Donaueschingen Festival, harmonies imitating an East Asian mouth organ were radical.

Born in what is now South Korea, Mr. Yun was an activist for the reunification of the North and South after the division of his home country in 1945. He moved to West Berlin in 1957 to study at the Hochschule für Musik. A decade later, he was abducted and held as an enemy of the state by the South Korean military regime of Park Chung-hee until protests from the West German Foreign Ministry and leading musical figures, including the composer Igor Stravinsky and the conductor Herbert von Karajan, led to his release. Mr. Yun became a West German citizen after returning to West Berlin in 1969.

If both North and South Korea claim him as a national composer, it was the North that offered him a platform during his lifetime — by 1990, the capital, Pyongyang, had established a festival, institute and ensemble in Mr. Yun’s name. He tried to move back to South Korea on the occasion of a festival in his honor in 1994, but the trip fell through because of complications with the authorities. […]

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Building the Future

(Symphony Magazine) — From Lucerne to Los Angeles to Shanghai, the 21st century has seen a boom in new concert hall architecture. This season alone in Germany brought the opening of the €789 million Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg, the Boulez Hall at the Barenboim-Said Academy in Berlin, and the Musikforum Ruhr in Bochum. In Paris, La Seine Musicale—a €170 building designed by Shigeru Ban in the suburbs of western Paris—opens its doors on April 22, just two years after the opening of the Philharmonie de Paris and three years after the inauguration of the Grand Auditorium at Maison de la Radio France.

… As the architecture historian Victoria Newhouse concludes in her 2012 book Site and Sound, “costly, high-profile” classical music venues “are replacing museums as linchpins of urban expansion and tools of global politics and cultural economics” in the twenty-first century.  But Newhouse also notes a “puzzling paradox”: the trend occurs “at a time of what appears to be declining attendance and aging audiences, together with the preference of many young people for less formal environments.” But is it a paradox? Halls from the New World Center in Miami to La Seine Musicale in Paris are intentionally deploying their new facilities to introduce innovative programming and attract new audiences. […]

Visual Magic Hits, Misses in Ravel-Stravinsky Bill

(Classical Voice North America) — A talking tea-pot, a wounded tree, dancing math equations–there is hardly a stage work that would lend itself better to animated film than Ravel’s L’Enfant et les sortilèges. Enter the British company 1927 (animator Paul Barritt, writer Suzanne Andrade, and performer Esme Appleton), which specializes in juxtaposing sets of tailor-made cartoons with live action. In its first foray into opera with Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte at the Komische Oper Berlin in 2012, the wilder effects included Pamina’s ascent in butterfly wings after her suicide attempt and flying pink elephants that led Papageno to Papagena. The production was a blockbuster at home and later traveled as far as London and Los Angeles.

As seen on Jan. 28 at the Komische Oper in a double bill with Stravinsky’s ballet Petrushka, 1927’s palette of imagery is even better suited to Ravel’s fantasy world in which the damaged objects of a boy’s bedroom come to life and haunt him until he understands the meaning of virtue.  The Boy (Nadja Mchantaf) first appears in pure animation until he is punished by his mother and enters the world of spirits. Perched on a platform in front of the projection, he appears to soar through the cosmos. Nevertheless, 1927’s imagination did not reach its full potential until subsequent tableaux.  […]

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Verdi’s Requiem, Philharmonie, Berlin – ‘Serenity and Commotion’

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(Financial Times) — Marek Janowski had big shoes to fill when he stepped up to the podium of the Philharmonie. This Verdi Requiem, which brought together the Berlin Philharmonic and Rundfunkchor Berlin with top soloists from Italy, was originally planned as a guest appearance for Riccardo Chailly, but the conductor cancelled for health reasons. And so Janowski, best known in Berlin for his recently concluded tenure with the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester, returned to the Philharmonic for the first time since 1994.

The Requiem thrives on a combination of operatic intensity and spiritual introspection. Verdi’s instrumentation was never more economic: The music plunges into the circles of hell and rises back above the clouds within a few pages, never providing easy answers about life or death. While the evening vacillated between the serenity and commotion that are the score’s extremes, Janowski did not galvanize the performance into a convincing dramatic whole. […]

Recognition for a Composer Who Captured a Century’s Horrors

(New York Times) — If the music of Dmitri Shostakovich chronicles political repression in Stalinist Russia, that of Mieczyslaw Weinberg, his contemporary and close friend, is a testimony to the horror that swept through Europe in the 20th century. Since the first full staging of his opera “The Passenger” at the Bregenz Festival in Austria six years ago, the composer has begun to overcome his reputation as a second-rate Shostakovich. But Weinberg’s first stage work, which he never lived to see performed, is only one of many compositions that deserve to be posthumously enshrined in the 20th-century canon. Now, the International Mieczyslaw Weinberg Society, founded by the conductor Thomas Sanderling and the violinist Linus Roth in the summer of 2015, hopes to create a place for the composer in the standard repertoire. In addition to gathering musicians and scholars under the aegis of the honorary president, Irina Shostakovich (widow of the composer Dmitri Shostakovich), their activities include premiere performances and recordings. […]

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In Hamburg, a New Musical Landmark for a City With Plans

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(New York Times) — After a delay of six years and about a tenfold increase in costs, a new classical music performance space here is preparing to open its doors. The Elbphilharmonie, a glass-paneled building mounted atop a former warehouse, includes not just two concert halls but a four-star hotel, a restaurant and residential apartments. On Nov. 4, a foyer carved out between the old and new buildings — called the Plaza — will open to the public, offering views from 121 feet above the Norderelbe River. The Elbphilharmonie, by the Swiss architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron, rises 360 feet above the city like waves of quicksilver and overtakes the Radisson Blu Hotel as its tallest building. The musical program begins on Jan. 11, when the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra (recently renamed to reflect its new residence) and the international soloist Jonas Kaufmann inaugurate the main hall with a world premiere by the German composer Wolfgang Rihm. The Elbphilharmonie is “a light tower for this city-in-progress,” Jacques Herzog, one of the architects, said in a phone interview from Basel, Switzerland. The hall is part of HafenCity, a development project that is increasing the size of the city center by 40 percent. Mr. Herzog said that along with a revitalized music scene, he hoped the Plaza would create “a new meeting place for everyone in the city.” […]

John Adams on how to conduct yourself

(Financial Times) — Bounding onstage at the Philharmonie in Berlin last weekend, the American composer and conductor John Adams cut a youthful, wiry figure. The Berlin Philharmonic’s thumping brass and timpani opened the way into his Harmonielehre, in which relentlessly pulsing textures meet with monu­mental harmonies evoking Wagner or Sibelius. Three decades after shocking the minimalist establishment with his allusions to European Romanticism, and on the cusp of his 70th birthday, Adams has never been more relevant on both sides of the Atlantic. This season, he becomes the first composer-in-residence with the Berlin Philharmonic since 1998, following the likes of Alfred Schnittke, Hans Werner Henze and Wolfgang Rihm.  […]

Musikfest Berlin 2016: Berliner Philharmoniker - John Adams - Leila Josefowicz

Olga Neuwirth Maintains Eclectic Path in Her Music 

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(New York Times)  —  In “Trurliade-Zone Zero,” a new percussion concerto by Olga Neuwirth, the orchestra represents an irrational machine bent on the destruction of its creator. Confronted with D.J.-turntables, a megaphone and clicking metal frogs — not to mention three percussion stations — the soloist resorts to hitting a metal barrel with a giant hammer. If the sound palette seems surreal, it is no surprise coming from Ms. Neuwirth, a 48-year-old Austrian composer known for labyrinthine narratives exploring seemingly disparate influences. At last summer’s Salzburg Festival, her “Eleanor Suite” juxtaposed a blues singer and drum kit player with a contemporary classical ensemble to illustrate the social oppression of female African-American jazz musicians. “Le Encantadas o le avventure del mare delle meraviglie,” an homage to the Italian composer Luigi Nono and the writings of Herman Melville first heard last fall at the Donaueschingen Festival, where Ms. Neuwirth was the sole female composer on the roster, surrounded the audience with six interlocking ensembles while electronic samples emitted everything from lapping water to churchbells.  […]

Die Liebe der Danae, Grosses Festspielhaus, Salzburg: ‘Sumptuous’ 

(Financial Times)  — If any stage could prove Die Liebe der Danae to be more than a work that is by turns ravishing, by turns logistically unwieldy, it ought to be the Salzburg Festival: Richard Strauss’ penultimate opera premiered here in 1952. The Latvian director and set designer Alvis Hermanis, a regular fixture at the summer festival since his formidable production of Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s Die Soldaten four years ago, now takes up the challenge. The “cheerful mythology” drafted by Hugo von Hofmannsthal and completed by Joseph Gregor tells of the rivalry between Jupiter and the donkey-driver-turned-golden-touched-Midas for the hand of princess Danae. Hermanis transports the action to a middle eastern fantasyland where oversized turbans, billowing clothing and gilded harem dancers create caricature-like tableaux. Yet with the exception of opulent costumes by Juozas Statkevičius, the production’s aesthetic could be more imaginative. […]

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Oper auf allen Kanälen

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(Berliner Morgenpost) — Live im Kino, unterwegs auf dem Laptop oder bequem vor dem Smart-TV: Der Opernbetrieb sucht nach neuen Kanälen. Die digitalen Möglichkeiten stellen nicht nur Fragen an Zuschauer und Künstler, sondern auch an die Veranstalter. HD-Übertragung oder ­Stream? Schnelle Schnitte oder Standbild? Mit oder ohne Zahlungspflicht? Ob man sich für die eine oder andere Option entscheidet, digitale Vertriebsformen sind mittlerweile Pflicht für ein großes Opernhaus, das sich auf dem internationalen Markt positionieren will. Aber das Geschäftsmodell ist immer noch in der Entwicklung. Mit der “Live in HD”-Serie bahnte Peter Gelb, Generaldirektor der Metropolitan Opera in New York, im Jahr 2006 den Weg. Die Übertragungen sollten nicht nur als Werbetool dienen, sondern auch als eine neue Art, das Publikum zu gewinnen. Inzwischen können Zuschauer in 70 Ländern Stars wie Anna Netrebko und Jonas Kaufmann mit Popcorn in der Hand erleben. Deutschland und Österreich bilden den größten Markt nach den Vereinigten Staaten. […]