Thursday 30 June 2011

Tchaikovsky Competition winners in full


1-Daniil Trifonov (Russia)
2-Yeol Eum Son (South Korea)
3-Seong Jin Cho (South Korea)
4-Alexander Romanovsky (Ukraine)
5-Alexei Chernov (Russia)


2-Sergey Dogadin (Russia) & Itmar Zorman (Israel)
3-Jehye Lee (South Korea)
4-Nigel Armstrong (USA)
5-Eric Silberger (USA)


1-Narek Hakhnazaryan (Armenia)
2-Edgar Moreau (France)
3-Ivan Karizna (Russia)
4-Norbert Anger (Germany)
5-Umberto Clerici (Italy)



1-Sun Young Seo (South Korea)
2-Elena Guseva (Russia)


1-Jong Min Park (South Korea)
2-Amartuvshin Enkhbat (Mongolia)

Tchaik Comp: Giving out the gongs

As if they'd not done enough already, the organisers of the 2011 Tchaikovsky Competition kindly delayed the awards ceremony until I'd got home and had my dinner.  The slightly shambolic bilingual ceremony began more than an hour late and the hall was never more than half full, but once under way, the judges rattled through the honours in a manner alien to the epic duration of the Academy Awards. 

There weren't, admittedly, as many awards on offer here, but even within the categories, there was some divergence in the format.  Representatives of the male and female vocal award judging panels went first (Renate Scotto suffering from being on first and clearly unsure of what she was supposed to be doing) and awarded (as far as I could tell) first and second prizes in the respective categories.  The instrumental prizes then built toward the piano award and in each case awarded prizes to all five finalists in each section.  That seemed a bit harsh on the last place people, with the fifth placed pianist looking monumentally unimpressed as he slunk off the stage.

A full list of the winners has yet to be uploaded to the Tchaikovsky Competition's website (the list will follow here once it appears), but in the violin category no first place was given and the second price was shared between Itamar Zorman (Isreal) and Sergey Dogadin (Russia), who struck me as the two  most interesting finalists.  I had assumed that Dogadin's relaxed demenour and outstanding technique would take the top prize, but it's good to see the panel recognising Zorman's individuality.

Finally, the competition organisers scored real points for attracting 1958 piano gold medallist Van Cliburn (pictured) back, clearly still held in great esteem and affection by the Russian audience.  In his deep Texan drawl, he reminded musicians of their responsibility to be soldiers for classical music.  Sad to say, but it does often feel like we need to fight for it.

Wednesday 29 June 2011

Tchaik Comp: Round three, day two

Imagine a world where we didn't have to sleep.  What would you do with the hours of 11pm-7am?  I'd probably end up playing too many computer games, though this week I'd certainly be watching as much of the Tchaikovsky Competition finals as possible.  Even with my self-imposed focus on the violin prize, there's not enough time in the day to see everything. 

The second night of the third round saw a pair of Tchaikovsky Concertos and a Prokofiev 1st, which was an interesting opportunity to compare at least two soloists in the same repertoire.  With time at a premium, I focused on the first movements, and found three quite different players gradually winning me over with their playing.  First up was American violinist Eric Silberger (pictured), giving a nervy but persuasive Tchaikovsky Concerto which settled down as it progressed.  I admired his engagement with the work's expressive core, but it was his misfortune to share an evening with Russian fiddler Sergey Dogadin, whose ease with the solo part's difficulties was exceptional and whose calm control and perfect technique reminded me of Julia Fischer.  Between them came another American, Nigel Armstrong, whose choice of concerto (Prokofiev's 1st) was wise and whose performance was hugely enjoyable.  You'd have to say, though, that on this evidence, Dogadin has the edge.

One issue of sound did concern me, however.  Listening remotely is always going to be a different experience to being in the hall, but I was very aware of the dry tone of both Silberger and Armstrong during the first half, which had been replaced by a warmer and more reverberant sound for Dogadin.  Had the technical people altered the mix for the second half, or was Dogadin simply standing in a better spot on the stage?  Whatever the answer, I was left wondering how different the perspective of the judges must be, sitting close to half way back in this large hall, and how close to acoustical reality our online vantage point really was.

Tuesday 28 June 2011

Tchaik Comp - Round three, day one

Thanks to some troublesome time zones, the first half of the Tchaikovsky competition’s third round violin finals (with two more third round concerts to follow today and tomorrow) fell across the journey home from work, and internet gremlins made the second half an intermittent affair.  What I did see was a great credit to the competition organisers, who have succeeded in making this an accessible and exciting event for those of us not lucky enough to be in the competition halls:  picture and sound are very good for a free-to-view service.

I only caught the second half of South Korean violinist Jehye Lee’s Tchaikovsky concerto and my impression was of a player with a strong technique and presence who could have done with a bit more flair in the dancing finale.  Still, I very much look forward to her performance of Bartok’s second concerto, which may well suit her better.  The final performance of the evening came from Israeli violinist Itamar Zorman, whose choice of the Berg concerto was admirably brave.  He often placed grit and expression above beauty of sound, which was refreshing, though I wonder if I was alone in finding his pained facial expressions distracting.  His Tchaikovsky follows Lee’s Bartok on Wednesday evening.  Follow this link for the complete final round schedule in the violin and cello categories.    

Sunday 26 June 2011

Tchaikovsky Comp final rounds

After two weeks of competition, we have the final week's schedule confirmed.  The last three days of the violin compeition will look like this (note: times given are for St. Petersburg):


June 27

7:00 p.m. - Nigel Armstrong (USA)
TCHAIKOVSKY   Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D major
7:40 p.m. - Sergey Dogadin (Russia)
SHOSTAKOVICH   Concerto for Violin and Orchestra No. 1 in A minor

20-minute intermission

8:40 p.m. - Jehye Lee (South Korea)
TCHAIKOVSKY   Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D major
9:20 p.m. - Itamar Zorman (Israel)
BERG Concerto for violin and orchestra (To the Memory of Angel)

June 28

7:00 p.m. - Eric Silberger (USA)
TCHAIKOVSKY   Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D major
7:40 p.m. - Nigel Armstrong (USA)
PROKOFIEV   Concerto for Violin and Orchestra No. 1 in D major

20-minute intermission

8:40 p.m. - Sergey Dogadin (Russia)
TCHAIKOVSKY   Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D major

June 29

7:00 p.m. - Jehye Lee (South Korea)
BARTOK   Concerto for Violin and Orchestra No. 2
7:50 p.m. - Itamar Zorman (Israel)
TCHAIKOVSKY   Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D major

20-minute intermission

8:40 p.m. - Eric Silberger (USA)
BRAHMS   Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D major

And in the cello contest:


June 27
7:00 p.m. - Norbert Anger (Germany)
TCHAIKOVSKY   Rococo Variations for Cello and Orchestra in A major
7:30 p.m. - Narek Hakhnazaryan (Armenia)
DVORAK   Concerto for Cello and Orchestra in B minor

20-minute intermission

8:50 p.m. - Ivan Karizna (Belarus)
TCHAIKOVSKY   Rococo Variations for Cello and Orchestra in A major
9:30 p.m. - Edgar Moreau (France)
SCHUMANN   Concerto for Cello and Orchestra in A minor

June 28
7:00 p.m. - Umberto Clerici (Italy)
TCHAIKOVSKY   Rococo Variations for Cello and Orchestra in A major
7:30 p.m. - Norbert Anger (Germany)
SHOSTAKOVICH   Concerto for Cello and Orchestra in A minor

20-minute intermission

8:50 p.m. - Narek Hakhnazaryan (Armenia)
TCHAIKOVSKY   Rococo Variations for Cello and Orchestra in A major

June 29
7:00 p.m. - Ivan Karizna (Belarus)
ELGAR   Concerto for Cello and Orchestra in E minor
8:00 p.m. - Edgar Moreau (France)
TCHAIKOVSKY   Rococo Variations for Cello and Orchestra in A major

20-minute intermission

8:50 p.m. - Umberto Clerici (Italy)
SCHUMANN   Concerto for Cello and Orchestra in A minor

I for one can't help feeling three days of Tchaikovsky Violin Concertos would be much preferable to three days of Rococo Variations...

Thursday 23 June 2011

All the Tchaikovsky Competition you could want

Nobody likes competitions, right?  Loads of people playing the same pieces for hours and hours...  Well we certainly like them when they’re streamed FREE over the internet!  We’ll have anything if it’s free.  The International Tchaikovsky Competition organisers certainly think so, as they’ve opted to broadcast the whole thing online for our delectation.  Aren’t they nice?
The competition is in full swing now with the first rounds already out of the way, and there have been a few tricky moments in the early stages.  In the piano competition, star judge Nelson Freire has already pulled out, finding the contest too exhausting.  And former runner up Peter Donohoe apparently found choosing the second round shortlist a little too emotional, saying they are almost all wonderful’.
The four categories (violin, cello, piano, voice) head for their final rounds next week, followed by a pair of winners concerts in St Petersburg and Moscow.  And all this is free and live to watch at the Tchaikovsky Competition’s website.  You might need to download a player when prompted, but as far as I can tell the organisers are as good as their word, offering good quality sound and vision.  The only downside to the whole thing is that each discipline takes place at the same time, meaning you’ll have to choose which to watch.  I’m going to be dipping in this week and concentrating on the final week’s violin contest, bringing you some thoughts on the competitors.

Monday 20 June 2011

Lady Blunt sells for £8.75 million

Stradivari's 1721 Ludy Blunt violin has sold for a whopping £8.75 million, after an intense 2 hours of bidding which saw almost £3 million slapped on the starting price of £6 million.  Tarisio's auction bidding history shows that two bidders escalted the price between 6.36pm and 8.03pm this evening, with the eventual winning bid being made by 080193XX, an particularly anonymous moniker that gives no clues as to where this increadible instrument will reside.

UPDATE:  The final price of the violin has been revealed as £9.808 million, presumably including auction fees.  Tarisio's press release calls the instrument 'without doubt the best preserved Stradivarius to come on the market in 40 years', and is by some distance a world record for a violin sold at auction.

Lady in waiting

Time's almost up in the auction of the year.  Bidding for the Lady Blunt Stradivari violin of 1721 ends at 7.30pm today (BST), though as of 1pm today, the action has yet to begin.  It's hoped that it will raise more than $10 million for the Japanese earthquake relief effort, though its sale has hardly come at the most boyant of economic moments.

Tarisio, the auction house, is taking bids on a range of instruments from potential buyers all over the world, but the lots were today assembled in London and Devil's Trill paid them a visit.  The viewing took place in the rather plush setting of a central London hotel, with Tarisio operating from a second floor room overlooking Conduit Street.  The Lady Blunt was immediately obvious on leaving the lift, protected in a glass case at the centre of the room with light streaming in the large windows behind.  I was a little surprised that the other instruments, with values ranging from £1000 to £120,000) were simply displayed on open tables (don't worry, Devil's Trill didn't touch).  The Lady Blunt herself was every bit as unspoiled as Tarisio's extensive photographs suggested, and perhaps a little more so than the Royal Academy of Music's Viotti Strad of 1709, which is also reputed to be one of the best preserved.  The varnish of the Lady Blunt looked, if anything, a little redder than the Viotti's, though the difference in presentation (the LB in full sunlight, the Viotti in the RAM's light-controlled museum) made it difficult to be sure.

Friday 17 June 2011

When Ben met Slava

An excellent article by John Bridcut in today's Guardian recalls the close relationship between Mstislav Rostropovich and Benjamin Britten.  Britten wrote a number of pieces for Rostropovich, including the Cello Symphony of 1963, and a chance discovery of film from the work's first performance leads Bridcut into a description of the bond between the two men.  Most excitingly of all, Bridcut mentions his new film on the cellist, entitled Rostropovich: Genius of the Cello, due to be screened at the Aldeburgh Festival on June 21st.  The film will be broadcast on BBC4 as part of a special cello evening, though information conflicts as to when:  The Guardian says this Autumn; Bridcut's website states July.  Either way, I can't wait.

Thursday 16 June 2011

Review: Ehnes's Mendelssohn

Violin Concerto in E minor

James Ehnes (violin)
Philharmonia Orchestra/Vladimir Ashkenazy
Musicians of the Seattle Chamber Music Society

ONYX 4060

We are very lucky that Canadian violinist James Ehnes is so frequent a visitor to this country; certainly, this recording of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, recorded live in Warwick with the Philharmonia Orchestra, is testament to the great work that he continues to do with British groups.  Ehnes’s view of the Mendelssohn concert is fiery and impassioned, while being admirably tender at turns.  He is imploring and swift in the opening melody, but the first movement’s second theme is fragile and intentionally hesitant.  Throughout the Andante, Ehnes holds the long melody with a beautiful legato, and his finale sparkles:  a wonderful little shift in the left hand into the finale’s lyrical countermelody [2:29] is evidence of the ease with which he is able to shape the music.  He does occasionally push a little too hard such as at 4:31, where his power produces one of the very few moments of intonational uncertainty.  But his sound on the whole is wonderfully warm, which is matched throughout by the Philharmonia.  A very quiet audience and a good reverberant acoustic round off this very attractive performance.     

Ehnes pairs one of Mendelssohn’s final masterpieces with his very earliest, the miraculously precocious Octet of 1825.  No matter how often one hears the piece, it remains difficult to believe that it is the work of a sixteen year old composer.  Too advanced to be considered juvenilia, the Octet nevertheless exudes the passions of youth, something which mature musicians can fail to grasp.  Ehnes and his colleagues from the Seattle Chamber Music Society certainly present an immaculate account of the Octet, but I’m not sure they capture the music’s exuberance. 

It begins very promisingly, with Ehnes and co setting an ideal tempo for the opening Allegro moderato.  This is a lean and subtly shaped performance, the virtues of which suit the first movement very well.  But I have doubts about this ensemble’s conception of the remaining three movements; that youthful fervour is largely absent from the Andante and the Scherzo lacks a vital degree of sparkle.  That’s not to say that there aren’t many fine moments; Ehnes, for example, dispatches the fiendishly difficult trilling passage at the centre of the Scherzo with nonchalant ease, but he generally fails to lead the ensemble into the dynamic extremes specifically requested by Mendelssohn in the score.  This is a good performance of the Octet, but not a great one; my own preference is for Hausmusik London’s performance on Virgin Veritas (5618092), though some will dislike the period instruments and lowered pitch.

Wednesday 15 June 2011

Small scale Górecki

"If ever there was a one-hit wonder, surely Henryk Górecki was it. Even when he died, in 2010 at the age of 76, his career was summed by a work rendered inexplicably famous during the 1990s which had itself languished in relative obscurity for a decade and a half. His Symphony No.3, known as Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, defied predictions that the wider public was not interested in contemporary classical music when David Zinman and Dawn Upshaw's Nonesuch recording climbed the charts; yet even when its composer died most people would have been hard-pressed to name another of his works."

Read my review of Górecki's String Quartets as played by the Royal String Quartet over at Classicalsource.

Sunday 12 June 2011

Five years without Ligeti

Hard to believe, but it's five years since Gyorgy Ligeti died.  Ligeti hit the big time when his music was used in the film 2001:  A Space Odyssey - there's a story, which I would love to believe, that he didn't know about the pivotal use of his music in the seminal film until he went to see it at the cinema.

Ligeti's string music includes two string quartets, concertos for violin and cello and sonatas for the same instruments that come from each end of his career.  He has the distinction of being one of the few hardcore avant garde composers that most people will happily sit through, and I've always thought this is because his music has an immediate and visceral thrill which transcends whatever intellectual techniques have been used to put it together.  Below is a fun video with a colourful graphic score created for his electronic piece Artikulation.

Thursday 9 June 2011

Top Rite at RFH

No violin concertos, I know, but a brilliant Rite of Spring to report on.  Dutoit and the RPO produced a Rite to rival Jurowski's 2008 LPO performance in the same hall, but this was totally different.  Proof, if proof be need be, that there's no one way of playing a masterpiece.

You can read my full review at Classicalsource, but here’s an extract:

“It was to have been Martha Argerich in Schumann’s Piano Concerto; another cancellation and a change of work ensured some of the shine faded on this Royal Philharmonic Orchestra concert before it had even started. Argerich’s replacement, Nikolai Lugansky, was immaculate but dull in Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto; but delight lay elsewhere, in a stunning performance of The Rite of Spring that grew inexorably in power as it progressed.”

The concert was broadcast live and can be heard (in the UK and before next Tuesday) here.

Wednesday 8 June 2011

Will somebody turn the music down?

A strange tale from Music Vs Drama (via Jessica Duchen) of outrage at the concert hall:   During a performance of an apparently loudly amplified viola piece, a member of the audience begins to boo and heckle, leading to the abandonment of the performance and the damaging of the viola.  Violent outrage at new music seems like a madness of a time long passed to us (more 1911 than 2011), but this story gets stranger as it goes on.  The story, originally reported by Music Vs Drama, prompted comments from the violist in question, audience members, and the ultimately the chief heckler, who turned out to be none other than Bernard Zaslav of the pioneering Fine Arts Quartet, no strangers to contemporary music themselves.  Zaslav reveals that his protracted protest was due to the pain inflicted by the amplified nature of the work, which he says was unbearable.  It does beg the question, though, that if the music was so loud, how did anyone hear him over it?  And I love that in his response to the article and defence of his actions, he manages to include a full plug for his upcoming autobiography. Read more here.

Monday 6 June 2011

Radio review - Rare Bowen and Wigmore celebrations

When planning what to do with this blog, it struck me that a vast amount of classical music broadcast on radio and, occasionally, TV, goes uncommented on and that, perhaps most importantly, lots of it is free.  Why not comment on stuff on the radio?  What’s more, much of it is available to listen to (in the UK) for up to a week after broadcast, so, unlike an unbroadcast concert, you could follow the links and listen for yourselves.  

And so, here is the first of what should be a weekly series of radio reviews.  Looking through the schedules, it became apparent to me that I might need to clone myself to cover everything interesting that BBC Radio 3 play in a week, so this will unfortunately have to be a roundup of select highlights.  And if I’ve missed something great, or even not string related, why not mention it in the comments?

On to some broadcasts that caught my eye.  The final concert of the 2011 English Music Festival in Oxfordshire (Monday, 30th May – Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/David Hill) featured a couple of rarities, including the first ever performance of an early cantata by Vaughan Williams called The Garden of Proserpine (read more about the concert at Classicalsource).  The string music interest came in the form York Bowen’s Rhapsody for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 74, performed by that champion of the unusual, Rafael Wallfisch.  It wasn’t a first performance, but it must have been the first of modern times, having only recently been published and its appearance rides a recent wave of interest in Bowen’s music that has seen his discography swell.  I’ve not been that taken with Bowen’s music in the past, but this was more memorable; certainly patchy, but with an unexpected attack at the outset that reminded me most of Hitchcockian scores by Bernard Herrmann (I was initially dismayed that the usually excellent radio host Catherine Bott compared the sound of what was to come to that of film music – how often anything tonal and mid-century is likened to a movie score – but in this instance she was right) and it was most successful in the quiet mysterioso moments when Bowen resisted heaping too many elements on top of each other.  

Two starry concerts broadcast live from London’s Wigmore Hall marked the 110th anniversary of the hall’s opening.  As the effusive tribute doc informed us, the hall was originally called the Bechstein Hall and its list of past performers reads as a roll call of the great musicians of the last century.  These two events lured some of today’s top players, the first of which featured the Takács Quartet and pianist Stephen Hough in music by Haydn, Beethoven and Dvorak (Tuesday, 31st May).  The Takács are feted as the greatest quartet of our time and, surprisingly, I had only ever heard them before on disc.  The same concentration I have heard them bring to the Beethoven in their famous Decca cycle was present in Beethoven’s Op.135 and its wonderful slow movement was flowing and silken, but I was surprised by some of the more conspicuous rough edges from the violins.

Little Leila plays Vieuxtemps

Belgian violinist and composer Henri Vieuxtemps died 130 years ago today.  Here’s 12 year old Leila Josefowicz wowing the Hollywood Bowl with his Fifth violin concerto.

Friday 3 June 2011

Strad for sale for Japan

Need a Strad in your life?  Got $$$ to spare?  Tarisio, the online instrument auction house, is offering one of the best preserved of Antoini Stradiviari's violins for sale in June.  The Nippon Music Foundation has offered up the Lady Blunt Stradivari of 1721, from their collection, in response to the Japanese earthquake and tsunami disaster.  All the money raised will go to the disaster relief effort, an extraordinarily generous gesture given that the violin is expected to sell for several million pounds.  Tarisio has a great deal of information about the instrument, including photos, at their website.  Public viewings will take place in London in late June - Devil's Trill plans to be there to take a look at this fabulous instrument.