Henry Purcell

Five leading composers - George Benjamin, Elliott Carter, Oliver Knussen, Steve Martland, Colin Matthews - discuss the continuing influence of Henry Purcell in a feature for the Guardian UK.

Columnist Tom Service sets the stage:

England knew what it had lost when Henry Purcell died aged 36 years on 21 November 1695. His funeral at Westminster Abbey, where he worked for 16 years as organist, was on the grandest scale, a composer colleague described him as "the greatest genius we ever had", and a collection of his songs published shortly after his death was called "Orpheus Britannicus" - the British Orpheus.

In his vocal music, Purcell set the English language with a sensitivity no one had matched before or since (only Britten, who loved Purcell's music, has come close). In his instrumental music, Purcell gave the arcane form of the Fantasia its final flourish, but as a true modern, he was among the first to exploit the possibilities of orchestral colour. He mixed influences from ancient counterpoint to the latest French dances and Italian vocal acrobatics, and yet the result is always pure Purcell.

That's why he still inspires composers today, and why musicians from Elliott Carter to Colin Matthews have turned to his music as a creative catalyst: if you can fuse flawless technique with poetic expression like Purcell did, you're doing something right.

The full discussion appears at the publication's web site.



The Wire

Do you think it's the best show on television? If so, would that be the best show now, or ever?

These are the kinds of questions being asked about The Wire, a crime drama series set in Baltimore and directed by David Simon. The series concludes its final season this year. Viewers find a variety of pleasures in the show but all agree that its appeal demonstrates the wisdom of acquiring the best writers you can get. Reviewers compare the experience to reading a good novel, so far does the series overwhelm the normal expectations one has of its medium.

Here's a roundup of sites and essays that explore the impact of The Wire.

The Wire

Official site of the series.

Guardian UK

The Wire is unmissable television
John Wilde offers ten reasons why.

The Wire's verbal originality is its art
Jonathan Jones examines the way the show's language creates its world.

Is this the best TV series ever made?
Professional crime writers consider the show's appeal.

Is Battlestar Galactica better than The Wire?
Richard Vine looks at another show reaching its last season.

The Atlantic

The angriest man in television
How David Simon's frustration with The Baltimore Sun fuelled his creativity.


Why The Wire is the best show on television


TV Club: The Wire Final Season
2008.01.07 ongoing

The Telegraph (UK)

Why I'll miss The Wire
Shane Richmond explains why it's the best show on television.


BBC Two to show The Wire

The Nerve

Wire Fire: TV's bleakest drama is also its hottest
Sarah Hepola says the show is sexy.



The Dutchman, Still Flying High

Bernard Haitink celebrated his recent birthday with an enthusiastically received pair of concerts at the Barbican, conducting repertoire for which he has earned plaudits with the ensemble one still naturally associates with him. Geoffrey Norris has a review in the Telegraph (UK).

[Bruckner's] Ninth Symphony set the seal on this superb pair of concerts in which Bernard Haitink, who recently celebrated his 80th birthday, conducted the orchestra of which he was in charge for more than a quarter of a century until the late Eighties, the Royal Concertgebouw of Amsterdam.

The reading of the Ninth was vintage Haitink: spacious, visionary, powerfully executed and wholly enveloping. As always, his gestures of hands and eyes were economical, but the instrumental detail was proportioned with masterly perception, and the breadth of symphonic argument was compelling.

The scherzo's austere incisiveness was allayed by the airy lightness of the trio; the adagio, with darkness intensified by a quartet of Wagner tubas, embodied a fusion of solemnity, radiance, torment and resignation that could scarcely have made for a more affecting envoi to Bruckner's creative career.

Concert repertoire also included works by Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann and Debussy. Murray Perahia performed as a soloist.

Erica Jeal makes this observation in the Guardian UK:

If proof were needed that the greatest orchestras have an identity of their own beyond that of the individual players, this pair of concerts by the Concertgebouw supplied it. Most of the players on stage will not have been in the orchestra in 1988, when Bernard Haitink completed his 25-year stint at the orchestra's helm. Yet Haitink, 80 this month, has only to raise his baton to renew the connection.

Perhaps that is partly because the Concertgebouw's distinctive, plushly expansive sound has precision at its heart - and if there's a word that sums up Haitink's conducting, it's precise.

. . . .

The personnel may be different, but the Concertgebouw is still Haitink's orchestra.

The complete reviews may be read at the Telegraph and Guardian web sites.

More stories about Bernard Haitink, with links, will be found in these blog entries.


Conductor's Notebook

Don Freund in Taiwan

American composer Don Freund visits Taiwan this week. Dr Freund, a professor of composition at the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University, is the winner of numerous composition awards. A graduate of the Eastman School of Music, Dr Freund has served as composer-in-residence at the Australian National Academy of Music and lectured at Royal Conservatories in Brussels and the Hague, the Royal Academy of Music in London, the Prague Conservatory and the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna.

I first met Dr Freund at the University of Memphis, when he served as chairman of the composition department, conductor of the university symphony, and director of the university's international New Music Festival.

Here are some of the events where Dr Freund will be performing and discussing music during his visit. His tour culminates in a concert in Pingtung on March 26 Friday 19:30.

3.18 Wednesday 16:00 - Taipei
National Taiwan Normal University
Lecture recital: Music of J S Bach

3.19 Thursday 19:30 - Taipei
Soochow University Recital Hall
Lecture recital: Music of J S Bach

3.20 Friday 19:30 - Taipei
Soochow University Recital Hall
Lecture recital: Music of Don Freund

3.24 Tuesday 08:00 - Kaohsiung
National Kaohsiung Normal University
08:10 Lecture recital: Music of J S Bach
10:10 Composition Master Class

3.26-27 Thursday and Friday - Pingtung
National Pingtung University of Education
International Composition Conference
Don Freund, clinician



Welcome Speech by University President

Lecture Recital 1: Music of J S Bach


10:50-11:10 Tea Break

Piano Master Class and Coaching

陳教授藝苑 翻譯:簡郁珊

Lunch Break

Lecture Recital 2: Music of J S Bach


Tea Break

Piano Master Class / Chamber Coaching

Concert: Music of Don Freund and J S Bach
演出人:Don Freund 本系師生



Lecture: From Idea to Audience

10:50-11:10 Tea Break

Composition Master Class with NPUE Students

12:00-13:30 Lunch Break

Lecture Recital 3: Music of J S Bach

15:20-15:40 Tea Break

Composition/Piano Master Class

Discussion / Q&A

Audio files of Dr Freund's music can be heard at the Indiana University music site.


Conductor's Notebook


Vampire Slaying

Archaeologists have uncovered evidence of a vampire slaying performed in Venice during a sixteenth-century plague epidemic. A brick inserted in the jaws of a corpse was thought to prevent a supposed vampire from spreading disease by means of a spell through its open mouth.

Ariel David (AP) reports:

The well-preserved skeleton was found in 2006 on the Lazzaretto Nuovo island, north of the lagoon city, amid other corpses buried in a mass grave during an epidemic of plague that hit Venice in 1576.

'Vampires don’t exist, but studies show people at the time believed they did,' said Matteo Borrini, a forensic archaeologist and anthropologist at Florence University who studied the case over the last two years. 'For the first time we have found evidence of an exorcism against a vampire.'

Much of the widespread belief in vampires in medieval Europe was fuelled by misunderstanding of port-mortem phenomena. Articles at Discovery (AP) and National Geographic provide the (morbid) details.



Farewell to Gershwin's First Bess

Anne Wiggins Brown, creator of the role of Bess in Gershwin's groundbreaking 1935 opera, died Friday in Norway. She was 96.

A native of Baltimore and a graduate of Juilliard, she landed the Porgy and Bess role while still taking classes at the conservatory. She went on to have a long and successful career. In 1998 she participated in Gershwin Centennial festivities at the Library of Congress and was awarded the George Peabody Medal for Outstanding Contributions to Music in America by the Peabody Institute.

Music writer Tim Smith (USA) provides details at Clef Notes. Playbill offers a detailed account of her life and career. Additional features appear in the International Herald Tribune (EU), the Associated Press (USA), National Public Radio (USA) and the CBC.


Conductor's Notebook


A Classic Constellation

2009 brings us an exciting array of anniversaries in the world of European art music. Feargus OSullivan examines the situation in The National (UAE):

For classical music, years like 2009 come almost as rarely as Halley’s Comet. In a flurry of activity unseen since the bicentenary of Mozart’s death, a remarkable constellation of composer anniversaries are packed into the next 12 months. The great Austrian Haydn died 200 years ago, the same year in which that most popular composer of the Victorians, Mendelssohn, was born. It is also the 250th anniversary of the Baroque master Handel’s death, while Britain’s exquisite opera pioneer Henry Purcell was born 350 years ago this September.


The unusually prominent line-up of musical stars this year... means that the 50th anniversary of the fine Czech composer Bohuslav Martinu’s death has been overshadowed by classical and baroque splendour.

OSullivan examines other pros and cons of anniversary commemorations and proclaims Joseph Haydn as this year's big winner. The man who has long been 'arguably the world's least known great composer' is finally getting his due.

We are, after all, talking about the man who effectively created the classical symphony, producing music that is almost invariably fresh and delightful – and somehow especially sympathetic and warm towards its listeners. With major retrospectives of his work worldwide and even a 50 CD box set of his collected works, enthusiasm for this important figure appears to be returning... Having a whole year in which to focus on the man has also helped provide a frame for his mind-bogglingly large oeuvre: Britain’s BBC Radio Three is currently rattling through his 104 symphonies by broadcasting two a week.
The full article details both world and UAE events and may be viewed at The National web site.


Conductor's Notebook


Joyeux anniversaire, Juliette!

Congratulations to actress Juliette Binoche, born on this date in Paris in 1964.

The moment finds Binoche exploring new creative directions as a dancer and painter. She is presently in the Asia-Pacific region where she is appearing as a dancer in the stage work In-I with British choregrapher Akram Khan. She recently appeared in Sydney to launch her new book, Juliette Binoche, Portraits In-Eyes. The large-format volume features portraits she has painted of directors she has worked with and characters she has played.

In 2007 she appeared in Le Voyage du ballon rouge, a film by Taiwanese director Hsiao-hsien Hou. Here is an outline look at her roles from that moment to the present (source: Internet Move Database).


Temps de venir, Les (in progress) .... Adrienne
... aka Times to Come (International: English title)

Une autre forme de silence (in progress) .... Anna
... aka Another Kind of Silence (International: English title)


Copie conforme (in progress)
... aka Certified Copy (USA: literal English title)
... aka Copie conforme (France)
... aka The Certified Copy (International: English title)



Heure d'été, L' .... Adrienne
... aka Summer Hours (International: English title) (USA: festival title)

Paris .... Élise


Dan in Real Life.... Marie

Disengagement .... Ana
... aka Désengagement (France)
... aka Disimpegno (Italy)
... aka Trennung (Germany)

Voyage du ballon rouge, Le .... Suzanne
... aka Flight of the Red Balloon (International: English title)

Recent press reports:

SBS Broadcast: 'Binoche in Sydney', 2009.03.04

Japan Times: In-I on Tour, 2009.03.06

Guardian UK Film Blog: The Binoche Portraits, 2009.03.04

MSNBC: 'Juliette Binoche launches Portraits In-Eyes'

Readers looking for Binoche films on DVD will find my Amazon list a good place to start. Clearly we can look forward to more creative surprises and artistic joys from Frances national treasure.


Conductor's Notebook


Haitink at 80

Today the Dutch conductor Bernard Haitink celebratescan it be?his 80th birthday.

Decca/Philips is observing the milestone with The Art of Bernard Haitink, a special release of seven disks. The collection offers recorded performances that span the conductors career. Included is the first recording Haitink ever made, a 1959 performance of Dvořáks Seventh for Philips.

The full track list released by Decca:

CD 1 [74:20]

Antonín Dvořák: Symphony 7 in D minor, opus 70
[1] I Allegro maestoso 10:37
[2] II Poco adagio 9:21
[3] III Scherzo: vivace 6:46
[4] IV Finale: Allegro 8:52

[5] Bedrich Smetana: Má Vlast: Die Moldau 13:00

Franz Schubert: Symphony 8 in B minor 'Unfinished'

[6] I Allegro moderato 14:22
[7] II Andante con moto 11:22

CD 2

Ludwig van Beethoven : Symphony 7 in A, opus 92
[1] I Poco sostenuto — Vivace 14:22
[2] II Allegretto 9:05
[3] III Presto — assai meno presto 9:25
[4] IV Allegro con brio 7:05

Johannes Brahms: Symphony 3 in F, opus 90

[5] I Allegro con brio 14:27
[6] II Andante 8:31
[7] III Poco allegretto 6:37
[8] IV Allegro 8:50

CD 3 [71:18]

[1] Franz Liszt: Festklänge 19:35

Gustav Mahler: Symphony 1 in D

[2] I Langsam. Schlappend 13:23
[3] II Kräftig bewegt 7:45
[4] III Feierlich und gemessen, ohne zu schleppen 10:31
[5] IV Stürmisch bewegt 20:04

CD 4
Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde — Prelude and Liebestod
[1] 16:39

Anton Bruckner: Symphony 3 in D minor (1877 version)

[2] I Gemäßigt, mehr bewegt, misterioso 21:21
[3] II Andante. Bewegt, feierlich, quasi Adagio 16:58
[4] III Scherzo. Ziemlich schnell 7:30
[5] IV Finale: allegro 15:40

CD 5 [78:14]

[1] Richard Strauss: Tod und Verklärung, opus 24 26:57

Claude Debussy: La Mer
[2] I De l’aube à midi sur la mer 8:48
[3] II Jeux de vagues 6:31
[4[ III Dialogue du vent et de la mer 7:55

Maurice Ravel: Ma mere l’oye

[5] Prélude 3:18
[6] Danse du rouet et scène — Interlude 3:38
[7] Pavane de la Belle au bois dormant 2:26
[8] Entretiens de la Belle et de la Bête 5:02
[9] Petit Poucet 4:54
[10] Laideronnette, impératrice des pagodes 4:59
[11] Apothéose: le jardin féerique 3:46 [28:03]

CD 6

[1] Igor Stravinsky: Scherzo à la russe 3:38

Le Sacre du printemps
1ère partie – L’Adoration de la terre
[2] Introduction 3:35
[3] Les augures printaniers – Danses des adolescents 3:11
[4] Jeu du rapt 1:18
[5] Rondes printanières 3:28
[6] Jeux des cites rivales 1:49
[7] Cortège du sage 0:42
[8] Danse de la terre 1:30
2e partie – Le Sacrifice
[9] Introduction 4:26
[10] Cercles mystérieux des adolescentes 3:09
[11] Glorification de lélue 1:36
[12] Évocation des ancêtres 0:53
[13] Action rituelle des ancêtres 3:36
[14] Danse sacrale: l’élue 4:53

Béla Bartók: Concerto for Orchestra

[15] I Introduzione: Andante non troppo — Allegro vivace 9:20
[16] II Giuocco delle coppie: Allegretto scherzando 6:36
[17] III Elegia: Andante non troppo 6:48
[18] IV Intermezzo interotto: Allegretto 4:12
[19] V Finale: Pesante — Presto 9:26

CD 7

[1] Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Francesca da Rimini, opus 32 24:36

Dmitri Shostakovich: Symphony No.10 in E minor, opus 93
[2] I Moderato 24:16
[3] II Allegro 4:03
[4] III Allegretto 12:23
[5] IV Andante — Allegro13:57

The box set is already available at Amazon (which offers audio samples) and other outlets.

Nick Breckenfield of the Classical Source (UK) recently offered this report on the conductors currect activities:

Bernard Haitink... doesn’t seem to be cutting down his schedule. He’s just been on a Far East tour with the Chicago Symphony, of which he is currently Principal Conductor. He’s in Amsterdam with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra for the birthday itself, then coming to London with the Dutch band for two concerts at the Barbican Hall the following week (14 & 15 March). He’ll be back in London in June, for a French programme with the London Symphony Orchestra and two performances of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony at the Royal College of Music Orchestra. Then – touring again with the Chicago Symphony – giving his first concerts in the refurbished Royal Festival Hall in late September as part of the Shell Classic International series. In January 2010 he’ll be back with the LSO for Schubert and Mahler programmes, which he then takes to New York for the orchestra’s annual residency.

He offers this reflection on Haitinks characteristic podium manner:

He’s not an egotistical director; instead, every gesture is devoted to clarifying for the players the composer’s meaning behind the notes. Haitink’s not interested in appearing flashy for the sake of the audience – he stands on the podium simply at the service of the composer, and he expects the musicians to be just as devoted.

Perhaps the Dutch and British are similar in that respect: regarding with suspicion the “flash Harrys” of the conducting world. Certainly my concert-going life in Britain has been much enhanced by Haitink’s scrupulous and peerless performances.

Recent feature stories on the conductor include these:

Haitink in Europe

The Independent, UK: 'Haitink among the worlds greatest performers'

The Independent, UK: 'Haitink Farewell Concert at the Royal Opera House'

Gramophone, UK: 'Haitink at 80' 2009.03.04

Gramophone, UK: 'Aimez-vous, Brahms?' 2005.03

Gramophone, UK: 'Haitink celebrates his sixty-fifth birthday' 1994.04.04

Haitink in America

Telegraph, UK: 'I love power without responsibility'

Boosey News: 'Haitink premieres Turnage Chicago Remains'

Heres wishing Mr Haitink a happy birthday and a prosperous voyage through all the projects ahead.


Haitink page @ Decca

Haitink page @ Chicago Symphony

Haitink @ LSO Live (new Beethoven symphonies cycle)

Bio @ BernardHaitink.com (fan site)


Conductor's Notebook