Classical Music Round-Up: January through March 2016

I’ve been on blogging hiatus for almost two months.  Here’s the low-down.

Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic. (photo via)

It was announced that Gianandrea Noseda will take over the helm of the National Symphony Orchestra next season, while Jaap van Zweden will join the New York Philharmonic at the podium.  Two more white men in charge of major American orchestras?  No big surprise there, but Marin Alsop might have something to say.  Meanwhile, in Britain, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla will be the City of Birmingham Symphony’s new leading lady, at only 29 years old.  *applause*  And another young conductor on the rise: 25-year-old Jordan de Souza will be heading up Komische Oper Berlin.

We lost some greats in recent months: business mogul turned self-taught conductor Gilbert Kaplan; pioneering composer Pierre Boulez; Pulitzer-winning composers Leslie Bassett and Steven Stucky; Dallas Symphony leader Louis Lane; conducting pedagogue Otto-Werner Mueller; and — just today — maestro Nikolas Harnoncourt.

Now some feel-good stories: a Berlin horn player reflects on collaborating with Simon Rattle before the conductor relocates to London; Tafelmusik’s rendition of Beethoven 9 left one Toronto critic with nothing to criticize; bassist Jane Little just became the longest-serving orchestral musician ever, after 71 years with the Atlanta Symphony; and Ennio Morricone just won his first Oscar after working on the scores for over 500 films.

Mahan Esfahani’s harpsichord recital was interrupted by Baroque-head “rioters,” while scholars have discovered that the taxi horns in Gershwin’s An American in Paris might be pitched in the wrong key, and the Yale School of Music launched its first ever MOOC on Coursera.

As 2016 got off to an alarming start (Donald Trump, anyone?), diverse voices shone — from a powerful performance in a Harlem crypt in solidarity with Black Lives Matter; to violinist Rosemary Johnson and the UK’s Paramusical Ensemble making music through disability; to Julia Wolfe’s big-deal commission — a piece about American women in the workforce — for the New York Philharmonic’s 2018-19 season; to composer Georg Friedrich Haas’ open sexuality.

In U.S. politics, WQXR explored classical music on the campaign trail, while Bernie is, apparently, a gifted maestro.  And in the classical crime beat, an opera singer’s “screams” alerted Amsterdam police, a former St. Paul cellist was caught in a massive drug bust, and a rare French horn stolen six years ago was reunited with its owner.

In Iran, the women of the Tehran Symphony face oppression.  In Germany, an emergency refugee camp is filled with the music of a children’s choir.

Gustavo Dudamel led the Youth Orchestra L.A. at Superbowl halftime.  Grammy-winning violist Kim Kashkashian shares the woes of her name.  The Telegraph had a really interesting conversation with Renée Fleming, Anne Midgette profiled musicians who take time off from performing, and drama continues to unfold in the Buffalo Philharmonic oboe section.

A new Mozart opera was discovered and performed, while for the rest of the opera world, it’s same-old, same-old.

And finally, to end this round-up with a smile: watch a Bach duet played by a 90-year-old husband and wife.

Suggested Listening: “Conclusion” from Tafelmusik Part III by G. P. Telemann

This week’s SUGGESTED LISTENING for the CLASSICAL MUSIC SKEPTIC: the Conclusion in B-flat from Production III of G. P. Telemann’s Tafelmusik, performed below by Musica Amphion (Netherlands).

About the Composer:

Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767) has one of the largest surviving portfolios of work of any composer in history.  He was a German Baroque composer, placing him in the same category as Händel and Bach, both of whom overshadow him today.  But back in the day, Telemann was the man.  He was a self-taught musician, having entered university to study law.  By the time he was in his early twenties, he had established himself as a skillful composer and instrumentalist.  He worked as head musician (Kapellmeister) at several noble courts and ultimately landed the position of Kantor for the city of Hamburg — basically, in charge of all the music performed in that city at church services, festivals, and even private parties.  Telemann was first choice to be Kantor of Leipzig, but he turned down the offer, using it as leverage to up his pay in Hamburg.  Leipzig was forced to hire an organist of mediocre acclaim named J. S. Bach instead.  Alas, it was for the best.

About the Piece:

Tafelmusik is German for “table music” — literally, music performed at the dinner table.  Today, our parties involve loud music and dancing and junk food; the Baroque era was no different.  At feasts and banquets, the host would hire a band of musicians to provide background music and entertainment.  The music needed to be lighthearted — no one wants sad music at a party — and it also needed to be simple enough so as not to distract from partygoers’ conversation.  Many composers took on the task of composing Tafelmusik, but Telemann’s collection is by far the most renowned.  Telemann used his Tafelmusik to show off all the different styles and instruments he was capable of composing for.  He wrote three parts (“productions”) each with six subsections; most of the subsections were further divided into three or four movements.  The recording above is the last section (“conclusion”) of the last production, short and sweet.  Listen to the thrumming bass line that builds in volume and intensity, and the oboes that play a sort of fanfare.  It’s exciting and fun, and you could totally get up and dance to it — PARTY LIKE IT’S 1733!

If you enjoyed Tafelmusik, you might also like…