Interview: Alfred Brendel (2002)

[A poet of the keyboard. By Timothy Mangan, The Orange County Register, March 31, 2002.]

Perhaps the most surprising thing about Alfred Brendel when you reach him on the phone is that the man, in person or at least in voice, is so jovial.

Little about his public image would lead you to believe this. Not the way he hunkers down over a piano, or the way he acknowledges applause, as if in slight distaste.

Not the way he will glare at a misbehaving audience member (he’s been known to stop playing to do so).

Not the thick, horned-rimmed glasses and mad scientist hair, or the quizzical, sometimes pained expressions he wears in photos.

Not the crisply magisterial essays he writes for publications such as The New York Review of Books and collects in books such as “Musical Thoughts and Afterthoughts,” and “Music Sounded Out.”

And definitely not his musical interpretations themselves, which seem to dispense with all extraneous nonsense (such as rubato) in their search for the true heart of a work.

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Sousa for two violins

Bruce Dukov, concertmaster of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, plays his own arrangement for two violins (a la Wieniawski) of Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever.”

Summertime is Sousatime

Sousa in Atlantic City, 1927. Library of Congress

For Summertime Patriotism, Nothing Beats Sousa. Voice of OC, July 4, 2019.

Review: Salonen, LA Phil, Respighi

The Mature Salonen Takes on Standard Rep, to ‘Spectacular’ End.

By TIMOTHY MANGAN, Musical America, April 30, 2019.

For the fourth program out of five that he’ll conduct during his three-week residency with the Los Angeles Philharmonic this season, Esa-Pekka Salonen, now conductor laureate, chose a program that seemed aimed to please. Not that it lacked sophistication, but it turned out that all of the pieces on offer, save the contemporary one (and in the end that proved good company too), fell comfortably into the category of orchestral showpiece, something that Salonen didn’t do much of when he was music director here. The concert’s finale, Respighi’s Pines of Rome, would have raised the eyebrows of a young Salonen, simply because he never would have conducted it. Too vulgar.

But the Finnish conductor/composer, once a firebrand of the avant-garde, mellowed considerably over the years; we all watched him do it. Saturday’s performance was a matter of hearing how Pines fared under his baton, but in hindsight there coul be little surprise. It was, in a word, spectacular.

The first movement, “The Pines of the Villa Borghese,” a depiction of children at their games, was played at quite a clip, but without losing that rollicking lilt so necessary to its charm. The dazzle of the orchestration congealed into a buzz of electricity. Salonen and the orchestra luxuriated in the next two movements, “The Pines Near a Catacomb” and “The Pines of the Janiculum,” basking in the sumptuous warmth of the scoring, but never losing the arc, both blooming wonderfully.

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Review: Esa-Pekka Salonen, LA Phil, ‘The Rite of Spring’

Party Time: Salonen, LA Phil, and Stravinsky’s Rite.

By TIMOTHY MANGAN, Musical America, April 17, 2019

Los Angeles audiences know what to expect when they show up to hear Esa-Pekka Salonen conduct The Rite of Spring with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. They expect a wild good time, an orchestral spectacle, a whomping cataclysm of sound. Salonen takes Stravinsky’s masterpiece as seriously as anyone, discovers more in its teeming textures and rhythms than you can imagine, but he never forgets that the piece is the work of a composer in his 20s feeling his oats and showing off. In Salonen and the LA Phil’s hands, The Rite of Spring is a party piece.

Disney Concert Hall was packed for it Saturday night (April 13), as Salonen returned to begin a three-week residency here. He’s starting it with a not so mini festival called “Salonen’s Stravinsky.” Each of the three programs (each performed twice) has a subtitle. One is subtitled “Faith” (and features sacred works, mostly late) and another “Myths” (a diptych of Orpheus and Persephone). Saturday’s opening program was dubbed “Rituals” and included early and late works, capped by The Rite of Spring.

Stravinsky lived in Los Angeles, some ten miles distance from downtown, longer than in any other place in his life, including his native Russia. He created many of his great works here, including those of his Indian summer, when he embraced serialism in his own inimitable way. Did Los Angeles directly influence his music? Schoenberg lived here concurrently, and then, as now, the city was a thriving center for new music. You’d have to conclude yes.

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Review: Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla conducts the LA Phil in Debussy, Tchaikovsky, Chin

Mirga Returns to LA for the Worst of Times, the Best of Times

By TIMOTHY MANGAN, Musical America, April 8, 2019

The Los Angeles Philharmonic program, Saturday night (April 6) in Disney Concert Hall, perhaps by chance, featured a trio of women, including a female soloist, a female conductor and a female composer of the world premiere. In a season, the orchestra’s centennial, chocked full of weekly surprises and innovations, few seemed to notice the newsworthiness of the triumvirate.

On the podium, returning to the space of some of her first triumphs, was Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, the young Lithuanian music director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and former assistant conductor here. Unbeknownst no doubt to many in the large crowd was that they probably wouldn’t be seeing her again anytime soon. Gražinytė-Tyla, a new mother, recently announced she has cancelled all guest conducting engagements for the next two years in order to better care for her child.

It was the best of times, it the worst of times, only in reverse order. The worst came first. A performance this bad of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto has to be intentional, not inadvertent. But it was impossible to tell exactly what the intentions were of Moldovan violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja, whether she actually liked the old warhorse or was sending it up.

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Appearing in print

(Gimme Some of That) Ol’ Atonal Music

Stay for the banjo solo.

Los Angeles Times review: LA Opera’s ‘La Traviata’

Act II, Scene 2 of LA Opera’s production of Verdi’s ‘La Traviata’

Review: L.A. Opera brings back its ’20s take on ‘Traviata,’ and the singing shimmers. Los Angeles Times, June 3, 2019.

photo: Craig T. Mathew

Trumpeters break record in John Williams fanfare (from 2016)

By Timothy Mangan, The Orange County Register, June 1, 2016.

GARDEN GROVE If you were anywhere near Chapman Avenue and Harbor Boulevard a little before 7 p.m. on Tuesday, and maybe even if you weren’t, you probably heard it.

A battalion of trumpet players had gathered behind the Hyatt Regency Orange County in an attempt to break the record for number of trumpeters playing a fanfare. When none other than Doc Sev erinsen gave the downbeat, the results weren’t subtle.

The event was the opening salvo of the International Trumpet Guild’s 41st annual conference, being held at the hotel through Saturday. Trumpeter Richard Birkemeier, chairman of the artist committee, is the man behind the record effort, and when he sent word out that Severinsen, the longtime bandleader on “The Tonight Show,” was going to conduct, musicians arrived in droves.

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