Archive | December, 2014


Memories of great musicians who died in 2014

Posted on 31 December 2014 by admin

Claudio Abbado, conductor (1933-2014)

One of the giants of the 20th century classical music scene, Abbado directed the world’s greatest orchestras and the finest opera companies. He was also dedicated to encouraging young musicians, and founded the European Union Youth Orchestra and the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester. In August 2013, he was appointed Senator for life by Italy’s President.

Magda Olivero, soprano (1910-2014)

The Italian opera star died in September at the age of 104 after suffering a stroke. Olivero enjoyed a long and varied international opera career, singing around the world including at the Met in New York. She took to the opera stage for the last time when she was 71, but kept performing well into her 90s. The last known footage of her performing shows her singing at the age of 99.

Lorin Maazel, conductor (1930-2014)

Regarded as a consummate professional, Maazel died on 13 July, aged 84. A child prodigy, he made his podium debut at the age of eight and shortly afterwards toured America, conducting major orchestras. Throughout the 1980s, he produced many acclaimed recordings. In 2002, he became music director of the New York Philharmonic, and the Munich Philharmonic from 2011.

Licia Albanese, soprano (1909-2014)

Another singer who lived into her second century was this Italian-born American soprano. A leading performer at the Met from 1940 to 1966, she was noted especially for her portrayals of Puccini and Verdi heroines. She also made many recordings and chaired her own foundation dedicated to assisting young artists and singers.

Christopher Hogwood, conductor and harpsichordist (1941-2014)

A great music scholar, Hogwood co-founded the Early Music Consort in 1967, followed by the Academy of Ancient Music in 1973, revolutionising the performance of Baroque and early Classical music with period instruments. He was appointed a CBE in 1989.

Carlo Bergonzi, tenor (1924-2014)

One of the foremost Verdi tenors of his generation, Bergonzi died on 25 July at the age of 90. He was best known for the roles of Manrico in Verdi’s ‘Il Trovatore’, Cavaradossi in Puccini’s ‘Tosca’, and Canio in Leoncavallo’s ‘Pagliacci’. His lyrical voice was supported by legendary breath control – but his acting left a lot to be desired. In 1976, he made a recording of every major Verdi aria.

John Shirley-Quirk, bass-baritone (1931-2014)

A leading member of the English Opera Group from 1964–76, Shirley-Quirk gave premieres of operatic and vocal works by Britten, recording these and other works under the composer’s direction. He is pictured here, left, in 1973, in Britten’s ‘Death in Venice’ with Peter Pears. Shirley-Quirk also sang and recorded a wide range of works by other composers, including Handel and Tchaikovsky.

Ivey Dickson, pianist and National Youth Orchestra chief (1919-2014)

Dickson peaked as a concert pianist before the Second World War before going on to be a highly effective director of the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain. She travelled round the country to audition each of the annual 800 applicants and brought their repertoire into the 20th century with works such as the symphonies of Shostakovich, and the likes of Pierre Boulez conducting. Some NYO players reportedly found her terrifying.

George Christie, Glyndebourne supremo (1934-2014)

Christie was a visionary leader and a great champion of the arts in Britian. The son of the founders of Glyndebourne, Christie became chairman at the age of 23 and stayed in the position for more than 40 years, after hugely raising the profile of the opera house and its annual festival. He was the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2013 International Opera Awards.

Paco de Lucia, flamenco guitarist (1947-2014)

Paco de Lucia helped legitimize flamenco among the establishment in Spain, and was one of the first flamenco guitarists to have successfully crossed over into other genres of music including classical and jazz. In 1978, he recorded an album of Manuel de Falla compositions with his brothers. His influence on flamenco has been compared to Segovia’s on classical guitar.

Alexander Ivashkin, cellist (1948-2014)

In 1978, Ivashkin founded a new chamber orchestra, the Bolshoi Soloists. He also created the ADAM International Cello Competition and Festival and was artistic director of annual festivals in London. Numerous works were written especially for Ivashkin by such composers as John Cage, Penderecki and Arvo Pärt. He recorded the complete cello music of Rachmaninov, Prokofiev and Shostakovich.

Vivienne Price, founder of the National Children’s Orchestra (1931-2014)

The National Children’s Orchestra counts Daniel Harding and Nicola Benedetti among its alumni. Price set it up in 1978 and its first concert in Easbourne was a sell-out. She conducted the orchestra herself in its early years, conveying her extraordinary passion for music to the young players.

Rafael Fruhbeck De Burgos, conductor (1933-2014)

The Spanish conductor was leader of his local orchestra by the age of 14. He went on to be principal conductor of the Bilbao Symphony Orchestra and the Spanish National Orchestra before conducting internationally, from the Deutsche Oper Berlin to the Montreal Symphony and Philadelphia Orchestra. He was known as well for his recordings of the complete works of Manuel de Falla.

Peter Sculthorpe, composer (1929-2014)

Much of Sculthorpe’s very approachable music emerged from his interest in bringing together aspects of his native Australian music with that of the West. His orchestral and chamber works evoked the sounds and feeling of the bush and outback, saying that he wanted his music to make people feel better and happier for having listened to it.

Julius Rudel, conductor (1921-2014)

The Vienna-born, Grammy award-winning opera specialist emigrated to the USA aged 17 and joined the New York City Opera after completing his studies. He stayed 35 years with the company, bringing it international acclaim with his innovative programming, including casting an unknown 25-year old Placido Domingo in his first major role.

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Gramophone’s Top 10 violin concertos

Posted on 30 December 2014 by admin

As the violin is the instrument best served with concertos, here’s a violin concerto Top 10 that embraces all the great works at the centre of every violinist’s repertoire ranging from Mozart via Romantic works like the Tchaikovsky to the modern works of the Prokofiev and Bartók…


No 1

Mozart Violin Concerto No 3

The English Concert / Andrew Manze (vn)

‘Andrew Manze’s vivid notes stress the 19-year-old composer’s…’



No 2

Beethoven Violin Concerto

Isabelle Faust (vn) Orchestra Mozart / Claudio Abbado

‘The Beethoven and Berg violin concertos aren’t commonly paired on…’



No 3

Mendelssohn Violin Concerto

Daniel Hope (vn) Chamber Orchestra of Europe / Thomas Hengelbrock

‘Daniel Hope has a chameleon-like ability to…’



No 4

Brahms Violin Concerto

Julia Fischer (vn) Netherlands PO / Yakov Kreizberg

‘Now well in her stride as a recording artist, German violinist Julia…’



No 5

Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto

James Ehnes (vn) Sydney SO / Vladimir Ashkenazy

‘James Ehnes’s programme, complementing the Concerto with the rest of…’



No 6

Bruch Violin Concerto No 1

Julia Fischer (vn) Tonhalle Orchestra / David Zinman

‘Her bright, attenuated sound, vibrantly expressive but never overbearing…’



No 7

Berg Violin Concerto

Isabelle Faust (vn) Orchestra Mozart / Claudio Abbado

‘The Beethoven and Berg violin concertos aren’t commonly paired on…’



No 8

Bartók Violin Concerto No 2

Patricia Kopatchinskaja (vn) Frankfurt RSO / Peter Eötvös

‘Bartók’s Second Violin Concerto has long since…’



No 9

Prokofiev Violin Concerto No 2

Patricia Kopatchinskaja (vn) LPO / Vladimir Jurowski

‘In the last movement of Prokofiev’s…’



No 10

Shostakovich Violin Concerto No 1

Lisa Batiashvili (vn) Bavarian RSO / Esa-Pekka Salonen

‘The new-found popularity of Shostakovich’s greatest concerto has…’

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Amazon best sellers No.1, The Christmas Attic CD

Posted on 29 December 2014 by admin

Christmas Attic, The

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It’s a great Christmas story !

Playing to the common themes of the season through a tale about a little angel sent to Earth to leave behind a gift, O’Neill creates a big-sounding production heavy on lead guitars and orchestral filigree. There are pieces of familiar Christmas carols and hymns and a handful of unembellished acoustic numbers to offset the brighter parts of the musical melodrama. While his singers and players are all professional sounding, O’Neill often mistakes sentiment as a grand gesture when it needs to be something less ambitious or noticeable. Nonetheless, there’s a TV special or Broadway show wrapped up in this attic and it won’t go away until it gets done…

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Martin Cullingford tells how importance of Christmas music

Posted on 28 December 2014 by admin

Christmas music, usually in the form of carols (or what we generally refer to as carols), is perhaps the classical music most heard, by the most people. (By ‘Christmas music’ I’m willfully ignoring the infuriatingly ubiquitous pop songs of the genre, which are currently serenading shoppers throughout the land). The reasons are many, and foremost among them is that the music is often wonderful.

Many carols are of course from the 19th century, even if the tunes are older, and evoke for us the kind of Christmas which owes far more to Dickens than a Middle-Eastern nativity. But even if they do, what of it? Our great churches mostly draw on classical antiquity or Gothic architecture for inspiration, rather than the biblical Holy Land, and are no less inspiring for it. If holly, ivy, candles and choruses best communicate the Christmas message of peace, love and hope, then so be it. Another reason is that, more than any other time, Christmas causes us to reflect on these things collectively, and there are precious few shared, collective experiences in society today. And entwined with all that, like tinsel around a tree, is nostalgia, for childhood, for family and friends present and past. All this somehow places us in touching distance of something we may not fully understand, but know to be good. And few things get us there so well as the likes of Once in Royal echoing in a chapel otherwise holding its breath, or In the Bleak Midwinter, leading us from the foul winds outside towards a moving meditation on the humility of love.

I’ve digressed slightly, but only to ponder the popularity of Christmas music, for it serves another important role, too, for those of us who love classical music, specifically here choral music. It finds an audience far beyond the stalls or pews of those who normally hear it. There are few occasions when classical music is afforded the attention of wider society: the BBC Proms is one, and I might suggest our annual Gramophone Awards does its bit too. But nothing rivals Christmas in this regard: the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s, Cambridge, most of all perhaps, when measured in sheer numbers of listeners. But even more important than this are those who might find themselves actually at a service, joining in carols, but between that, hearing a choir singing something complex and beautiful, perhaps for the first time. Or marvelling at an invigorating organ voluntary shaking the stone work, while the congregation becomes slowly aware of the smell of mince pies and mulled wine awaiting at the back.

Music needs to take all opportunities to reach out, and we all have a role to play. So turn on the radio when Nine Lessons and Carols is broadcast for your Christmas visitors less acquainted with choral music to hear. Buy them one of our recommended Christmas recordings as a gift. Invite a friend along to a carol service – and who knows where it will lead? At the very least, you can enjoy sharing stories of the year past over the mince pies and mulled wine, and that’s part of the spirit of the season too. A very happy Christmas to you all.

By Martin Cullingford

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