American baritone Thomas Hampson quickly became one of the most important artists in the field of music. He has performed with the IPO quite a few times, and as he testified in an interview a few years back, “With the Philharmonic, it feels in the family.” Vasily Petrenko, whose previous appearances in Israel have garnered enthusiastic reviews, conducts this series of concerts.
On Vasily Petrenko’s official website, it states he is a fan of the Liverpool football team. This fact in itself perhaps testifies to the change that the “maestro” profession is undergoing these days. Did anyone know about Toscanini’s soccer preferences? Or Otto Klemperer’s taste in sports? And maybe it’s a good thing. Petrenko was born in 1976 and studied with Mariss Jansons, Yuri Temrikanov, and Esa-Pekka Salonen. He is Music Director of the Royal Orchestra of Liverpool and the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra. He has recorded for all the major record labels, and his repertoire ranges from the best of the classical canon to modern works by composers such as Michael Torke and Jennifer Higdon. He is married to the conductor Evgenia Chernysheva-Petrenko.
Lyric baritone Thomas Hampson gained world renown not only for his vast achievements ranging from Rossini’s operas to music by Britten (whose “War Requiem” he is singing right now in Vienna) and Henze, and not only because he has appeared in every major opera house, under the baton of every significant conductor, but also because of his persistent exploration of American music. This exploration spans concert music, arrangements of folk songs, and light music written for the American stage. The Guardian wrote: “His ability and desire to engage in so many types of music is a sign of the position taken by a mature, curious, and capable artist.” Hugo Wolf and Cole Porter are a rare combination that Hampson (born in 1955, for those interested) brings to this series.
Hampson has long been performing music by Hugo Wolf. Over the years he has often been asked about his love for this composer’s music, and from his words a fascinating picture emerges. “Wolf ,“ says Hampson in an interview from 2003 around the centenary of Wolf’s death, “was never a truly happy man, nor did he belong to a regular circle of colleagues or like-minded associates. When he worked, whether as a writer or as a composer, he plunged into an obsessive, self-contained world that he occupied all alone. “ The unique result of this personality structure and manner of conduct was that Wolf “spared himself” the stylistic dilemmas of other composers who were writing towards the end of the Romantic period. He was, wholeheartedly and faithfully, one of the last Romanticists. Over the past few years, Wolf has acquired many fans among young performers and audiences. His compositions of the poems of Goethe, Mörike, and Eichendorff are full of beauty and drama, and it seems that he succeeded in only a few brief moments (many of these poems are very short) to create a world full of colors, emotion and drama.
Charles Ives (born in Danbury, Connecticut in 1874, died in New York in May 1954) is considered the most important American composer of the 20th century in the field of classical music.
Ives was an extraordinary person and composer; but despite his importance as a composer, he made his living as a successful insurance agent. He was familiar with American folk music and the music of the Protestant Church (his works contain quotes of melodies and folk songs), but he wrote music that was largely sophisticated, experimental, and bold. He admired the songwriter Stephen Foster, but became a leading figure and source of inspiration for American avant-garde composers. He was the youngest organist to receive a position in the United States, but was also an outstanding athlete and captain of football and baseball teams. He gained tremendous fame in his late years, though there was little interest in his works during the time he was writing. He was a prolific composer, but he often returned to his youthful works, writing new versions for them. He was a shrewd businessman who in some years sold more insurance policies than any other insurance agency in the United States, but he was also a generous philanthropist who set up a resort for low-income families and adopted a sick baby as his daughter. He was a romantic man who believed that musical inspiration could and should express moments of pure happiness, but in his works one can also hear echoes of gloom and sadness. He created his own musical language, and was ready at any time to break the accepted rules, even those he had created himself, to serve the truth in the most correct manner. Some say that such a mix could only have been created in America in the early twentieth century. Ives’ music combines the traditions of American folk music with aesthetics and compositional techniques derived from European music. With his unique style, which presents multi-genre musical elements next to one another, Ives managed to describe and reflect in many of his works landscapes of sound and the American temperament. He managed to combine, sometimes in the same movement or in the same musical section, musical materials that are entirely different in character. And he did it in a way that was unique to him. Works such as “Central Park in the Dark,” “Putnam’s Camp,” “Fourth of July,” or “Washington’s Birthday” used familiar American music to give the sense of time and place that are described in the music.
Israel Putnam was a general who fought valiantly and successfully in the American War of Independence (1775-1783). The memorial site erected in his honor in 1887 is the theme of Ives’ work “Putnam’s Camp.”
Ives himself wrote a kind of “storyline” for this movement, but it is certainly possible to enjoy it as non-programmatic music. It is interesting to note the combination of popular and semi-folk tunes in the work, the dialogue created between almost a tonal chromaticity and rhythmic simplicity and the complex atmosphere of a kind of dream (a completely secular one) that characterizes many of Ives’ orchestral works.
In 1944 Russia was up to its neck in World War II battles. In a retreat for artists, about 70 kilometers north of Moscow, Sergei Prokofiev wrote his Fifth Symphony, in which he expressed the power and freedom of the human spirit. This is an interesting example of the muses “singing” while the cannons are firing. In what way did the war affect the musical works written at this time? Can one see “nationalistic” similarities between Prokofiev’s music and works written by Shostakovich during and after the war? Was it these circumstances that caused the composer to return to the symphony form after 16 years? Maybe it was national pride or the “spirit of the moment” that led, for instance, the conductor Serge Koussevitzky to write, upon the American premiere of the work (nine months after its world premiere in Moscow), “This is the most important musical event in a long time, perhaps the most important since Brahms or Tchaikovsky. This is the creation of the present and perhaps of the future.” The ongoing success of the Fifth Symphony, the many recordings that have been made, and its growing popularity with orchestral conductors and audiences, show that Prokofiev’s vision and Koussevitzky’s enthusiasm are as relevant as ever today.
Strangely enough, Robert Schumann was an exemplary father. He was caring in a time when fatherhood was not a particularly important male role within the family. He played creative games with his seven children, traveled with them on trips, and kept a special diary, recording the common discoveries of the family. Something in the primacy of contact with nature, in un-stressful joy of life, found its way not only into Schumann’s works for children, but also into the First Symphony, which he composed in 1841. The symphony was apparently conceived in four days (January 23-26), and he says that it describes the longing for spring and the joy it brings to the composer. In one of the versions Schumann included occasional titles: “Spring Awakening,” “Evening,” “Happy Games,” “Spring Break.”
It seems that the opening of “Rosamunde” can be attributed (at least programmatically) to the “Mediterranean trend”…the work is part of a group of pieces performed during the play “Rosamunde the Cypriot Princess” (yes, indeed), written by Helmina von Chézy (who also wrote the text to Schubert’s famous work “The Shepherd on the Rock”)…a play that disappeared from the world stage as quickly as it appeared.
But the story of Schubert and Rosamunde is more complicated. Because of time constraints (composers and deadlines could themselves be the subject of an opera) Schubert did not write a special opening to the show. In fact, on the eve of the premiere, another overture by Schubert was played—Alfonso und Estrella—which had never been performed. Years after Schubert’s death, when the time came to publish the music for Rosamunda (in 1891), Schubert’s earlier play, “The Golden Harp” from 1820, was attached to the music of Rosamunda, and was forgotten even faster than “Rosamunde from Cyprus.” So today we actually hear the opening of the play “The Golden Harp” (1820), which was associated in 1891 with the printed edition of Op. 26 “Music for the play Rosamunda” which was created in 1823. Who said that the history of Western music is boring and linear?
The collection of Old American Songs adapted by Aaron Copland could have easily been written by Benjamin Britten, it seems. Not surprisingly, the first book of poems was commissioned in 1950 by Britten and performed by Peter Pears with Britten at the piano at the Aldeburgh Festival that year. Copland continued to work on the songs included in the second volume in 1952 and orchestrated both books in 1954 and 1957, respectively. Copland chose songs that, even if they were not folk songs in the conventional sense of the word, were rooted as community songs and became identified with musical traditions such as that of the Shakers sect, which “gave” to the cycle the familiar song “Simple Gifts.” Copland’s adaptations and orchestrations do not go far beyond the original spirit of the songs, and unlike the daring harmonies of Ives and Bartok, Copland provides his performers and listeners with a harmonic and orchestral connection that supports the familiar melodies.
These song cycles have gained popularity in voice and piano recitals around the world, performed and recorded by Marilyn Horne, Bryn Terfel, and Samuel Ramey.