We regret to inform you that due to health reasons, Maestro Zubin Mehta and pianist Khatia Buniatishvili have been forced to cancel their appearances with the IPO. Conductor Yoel Levi has kindly agreed to replace Maestro Mehta and young pianist Tom Borrow, a protégé of Murray Perahia, will play Ravel’s Concerto in G. major.
During his lifetime, Schubert was not considered an important symphonic composer. History has also been somewhat cruel to his symphonies, and except for the “Unfinished,” they were forgotten for a long time. His Symphony No. 3, for example, was only performed in a public concert for the first time 53 years after the composer’s death, and it made its way very slowly to the edge of the recorded repertoire. An ad in the Maariv newspaper from 1971 says, for example, that the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra chose to include the work in a youth concert(!). We assume that some of our longtime subscribers still remember this concert years later, or perhaps they remember the performance of this symphony with the English Chamber Orchestra, which was conducted in Caesarea in the same year by Daniel Barenboim.
The case of this symphony raises an interesting question: Is the fact that a composer like Schubert was an extraordinary genius in one genre (Art Song), a wonderful chamber-music composer, take away from the good—but not breakthrough—works he wrote in other genres? I think it would be right to put this symphony through a new audience “trial.” It’s worth mentioning that it was composed in 1815 (at about the same time that Beethoven wrote his Seventh Symphony), although it is written in a style that is more Mozartian than it is of Beethoven’s innovative symphonic approach. Still, one can easily discover in it the charming qualities of Schubertian melodies, his ability to develop themes within the symphonic structures, and his interesting decision to avoid the slow second movement. (Schubert began to write an “Adagio” movement but chose to omit it in favor of a sequence of flowing, joyful symphonic movements.)
Ravel composed his two Piano Concertos simultaneously: the G major Concerto was written in 1929-31 and the D major Concerto (for the left hand) in 1929-30. With the exception of the song cycle Don Quichotte à Dulcinée (1932), they are his last works, the final manifestation of one of the most ingenious and eclectic creators of twentieth-century music. The Piano Concertos are actually Ravel’s only abstract orchestral works; virtually all the rest of his orchestral music stems from the theatre or the dance, or is orchestrated from piano works.
Ravel dedicated the G major Concerto to the famous pianist Marguerite Long (1874-1966), whose interpretation of early twentieth-century French music had an authority that derived from her friendship with Fauré, Debussy and Ravel. The first performance, given by Mme. Long in January 1932 at the Salle Pleyel in Paris, with Ravel conducting the Lamoureux Orchestra, was an enormous success. Long and Ravel later recorded the piece.
French lightness and elegance, jazz elements and neo-classical style, engaging melodies and rhythmic verve are the salient features of this Concerto. The bold harmonic writing and the extraordinary and subtle orchestral timbre are the main ingredients that create its unique sonority. The two brilliant outer movements reveal the influence of Basque and Spanish music (Ravel was born in Ciboure, in the Basque region of Spain) as well as that of Gershwin, Stravinsky, Saint-Saëns and Satie, whereas the central slow movement evokes the spirit of Mozart and Fauré (with whom Ravel studied composition).
Some say the oldest thing is yesterday’s paper. But to discuss Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony, I would like to quote the legendary music critic Olya Zilberman, who wrote about the work on February 10, 1956 in the newspaper Al Hamishmar:
“The Austrian symphonic composer Bruckner (1824-1898), wrote his monumental Seventh Symphony in four movements from 1881 to 1883, when he was nearly 60 years old and living in the Catholic Monastery of St. Florian. The symphony is the first that gave Bruckner, an organ and composition teacher in the Viennese conservatory, his international acclaim. The conductor Franz Schalk once said of Bruckner: ‘Bruckner was a believer. He believed in God with sincerity and with the power of feeling…his beliefs came out with the full force of his orchestral sound and his organ playing, for which no one could remain indifferent or deaf, even in this world of ours…Today’s world which experiences all the modern human cruelty listens with naïveté to the religious feeling and honesty of this music…” At the University of Vienna,” continued Zilberman, “The musicology department taught that Schubert, Bruckner and Gustav Mahler belong to a single line of development in Austrian symphonic writing. Mahler continued his symphonies with the length and monumental writing of his mentor Bruckner, with folk sounds of the Austrian landlers and in his songs for voice and orchestra…for our audience, the music of Bruckner was a bit foreign and ‘heavy for digestion’…a bit.”
Olya Zilberman is gone. Paul Kletzki, who conducted the concert in 1956 has already passed away. Bruckner’s symphony has since made its way into the repertoire of the world’s top orchestras, including that of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.
It is an open and well-known secret that musicians and composers have long had a great interest in the art of jazz. On May 21, 1893, an article by Antonín Dvořák appeared in the New York Herald, in which he wrote “I am now satisfied that the future of music in this country [America] must be founded upon what are called the negro melodies. This must be the real foundation of any serious and original school of composition to be developed in the United States…” (This and the following quotations come from Alex Ross’s book “The Rest Is Noise.”) In 1916, the Swiss conductor Ernest Ansermet wrote enthusiastically to his friend Igor Stravinsky about the “unheard-of music” he encountered during his visit to America. It was not enough for him to simply describe what he heard; he brought his friend recordings and sheet music of Jelly Roll Morton, which Stravinsky later said influenced the writing of his L’Histoire du soldat (The Soldier’s Tale). In early 1923, the French Jewish composer Darius Milhaud came to the Capitol Palace in Harlem and wrote with amazement: “Against the beat of the drums the melodic lines crisscrossed in a breathless pattern of broken and twisted rhythms.” In 1926, the American critic Carl Van Vechten wrote that black artists were in possession of “a primitive birthright…that all civilized races were struggling to get back to—this fact explained the art of a Picasso or a Stravinsky.”
The perspective of jazz musicians regarding the infiltration of jazz into classical music was more hesitant. Duke Ellington rejected that a white man could be the composer of a “negro opera,” referring to Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. Duke Ellington wrote in the early 1930s: “to attempt to elevate the status of the jazz musician by forcing the level of his best work into comparisons with classical music is to deny him his rightful share of originality.” But when Columbia Records invited Duke Ellington in 1960 to create a record with no stylistic constraints, Ellington responded to his friend Billy Strayhorn’s proposal to write his own version of Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker.” The result was a melting pot of musical styles, music that met Tchaikovsky’s themes and melodies with jazz rhythms, orchestration that featured brass instruments, complex harmonies, and the evocation of a dance hall in a large American city. It is not clear whether the Ellingtonian wink included a hidden satire of the original work, but Ellington turned the Sugar Plum Fairy from the Russian ballet into an alcoholic cherry. The Waltz of the Flowers became sensual and biting, and the American jazz spirit rests on the melodies that Tchaikovsky wrote for the choreographer Marius Petipa in St. Petersburg.
The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra plays Tchaikovsky’s work alongside and Ellington and Strayhorn’s Suite. And as it performs the 1960 jazz version with the original Russian work from 1892 for the Israeli audience, Walt Disney Studios prepares for the upcoming distribution of the 2018 version of the Nutcracker and the Four Realms. Coming soon to a cinema near you.
Ellington interacted with Tchaikovsky, and Ferruccio Busoni talks to Mozart. In its original version, the overture to the opera “Don Giovanni” flows directly into the beginning of the first act. Mozart, who had a developed commercial sense, also wrote thirteen final bars for the overture so that it could be performed as an independent work. In 1909, the composer and pianist Ferruccio Busoni composed his own ending to the overture. This is, in fact, one of a long series of “interpretations” that Busoni composed of works written before his time. Who was Ferruccio Busoni and what was his contribution to the history of music?
He was born in April 1866 in Empoli, Italy, and died in Berlin in 1924. He was one of the greatest virtuoso pianists of his time and worked in Austria and Germany. He was an interesting composer, a teacher, an aesthetic philosopher, and a subversive musical theorist. During his life and following his death, Busoni was best known as a pianist with astounding abilities and an important interpreter of Bach, Mozart, and Liszt. He was a staunch opponent of atonal innovation and the denial of the musical traditions by Schoenberg and his followers. He proposed a different aesthetic approach, revolutionary in its simplicity, and called it “Young Classicism.”
He developed a special way of using the pedals of the piano, which enabled him to produce a type of legato that had not heard before and which became one of the hallmarks of his playing. He was one of the first virtuosos in the twentieth century to deeply study Mozart’s piano concertos, and in general, his repertoire as a performer and arranger was unusual for his time. Like many virtuoso performers, Busoni also worked in composition, but unlike other composers, he saw himself as capable and even necessary to influence his surroundings and perhaps human culture in general as a thinker and intellectual. His motto “The music was born free and to win freedom is its destiny,” together with his multilayered perception, enabled him to become well integrated into his various musical activities. “The absolute modern doesn’t exist, only that which has arisen earlier or later, blooming longer or wilting more quickly.” Busoni, a man of the present who “updates” Bach, interprets Liszt, writes “anti-histories” of Mozart’s concertos, tackles the myth of Dr. Faustus, and references extinct folk tunes and Gregorian music in his works. Busoni tried in his work to bridge time periods and musical styles, and in doing so, he reveals to his audience of listeners, readers, and students a full aesthetic and musical approach that is at once timeless, encompassing, and accessible to all.