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Jordi Savall

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Norman Lebrecht - Slipped disc

August 7

Jordi Savall: We three risk-takers changed the sound of music

Norman Lebrecht - Slipped discFrom an interview with Jordi in Platea magazine: I was part of a group of artists who decided to take risks. And thanks to that, today, a variety of music has been recognized and has become part of the classical repertoire. This may have been possible because, at one point, someone like Leohardt decided he had to play with a harpsichord and not a piano; or someone like Harnoncourt who decided he would direct certain repertoire in a particular way. And I decided I would play the viola da gamba as I thought it should be played. I think I’ve been very consistent in my life and my way of making music. I started making music with Gustav Leonhardt when he created La Petite Bande, playing baroque repertoire with Anner Bylsma and Sigiswald Kuijken. I was in the creation of The English Concert, with Trevor Pinnock and Stephen Preston and I travelled every week from Basel to London to play with them. It was Nikolaus Harnoncourt who recommended me to substitute my teacher at the School Cantorum in Basel, in the subjects of chamber music and viola da gamba. It was a period in which each of us, in our own way, contributed to learn that music is not only important for what it means within the story but also has a value for what it can provide today.


July 28

Granada: La Capella Reial de Catalunya CD review – vibrant, poised singing

Hesperion XXI/Savall (Alia Vox)A classic Jordi Savall project with Iberian cultural history lesson and loads of misty reverb attached, in this album, the Catalan viol player/conductor takes on five grand centuries (the 11th to the 16th) of Muslim, Christian and Jewish musical heritage in the city of Granada. The music is glorious, regardless of how diligently you engage with the chunky liner notes: influences seep in from Byzantium and north Africa, Berbers, Sephardic Jews, Arab Andalusians, Catholics. There are border ballads telling of battles and poetic exiles and laments telling of religious persecution on various counts. Savall has gathered a band of crack musicians and singers from Syria, Morocco, Turkey, Greece and Israel and the performances are full of finesse and intensity. What stands out for me is the Mozarabic polyphony – vibrant, poised singing from La Capella Reial de Catalunya. Continue reading...

Tribuna musical

July 12

“Contemporary night”, a quartet of dissimilar ballets

In recent seasons the Colón Ballet offered varied Contemporary Trilogies, changing them each year. This time what we have is a quartet: two premières commissioned by the Colón to Argentine choreographers, and two famous works by established choreographers which hadn´t been seen at our great house. The results were uneven but sufficiently valid to justify the evening. And all four were very different from each other. The start wasn´t very enticing. "Amor, el miedo desaparecerá" ("Love, fear will disappear") is the work of Walter Cammertoni, who hails from Córdoba and has created "Consecuencias" for Maximiliano Guerra´s Ballet del Mercosur. Paradoxically what interested me was the music: Johann Sebastian Bach´s great Chaconne for solo violin (closing Partita Nº2) heard fragmentarily in its original form, in the cello adaptation by Robert Bockmühl, in the flashily Romantic Busoni piano transcription, and briefly at the end in Stokowski´s full orchestra version. But the dancing steps were morose and grey, too literally like the choreographer´s description: "a lost man, downtrodden and trampled, who also wounds and abandons". Although at the end there was an imaginative suggestion of raindrops in the stage design of Santiago Pérez, the cold impression was accentuated by Renata Schussheim´s costumes. Roberto Traferri´s lighting gave the requisite contrasts. Thirteen dancers from the Resident Ballet and five from the Art Institute did their best to give some life to a very static piece. Constanza Macras lives in Berlin since 1995; in 2003 she founded with dramaturgist Carmen Mehnert the company of dance theatre Constanza Macras/Dorky Park, combining dance, spoken text, video and live music, on such subjects as segregation or globalisation. She follows those guidelines in "Bosque de Espejos" ("Mirrors Wood"): in it reflexions on the human body by Michel Foucault are said by aged dancers; the music contrasts Lieder by Berg and Webern (admirably done by Carla Filipcic Holm and Fernando Pérez) with choral music by Purcell and Bach (a good chamber choir directed by Ulises Maino and accompanied by organist Ezequiel Fautario). Norma Molina and Ricardo Ale, veteran resident dancers, enact scenes from "Giselle" and "Romeo and Juliet" both dealing with death. Along with two younger soloists (Carla Vincelli and Alejandro Parente) an ample group of 21 dancers do complex psychological steps that seem to combine Merce Cunningham´s influence with classical ballet. Macras has brought along her production team: stage designs by Laura Gamberg, meaningful costumes by Allie Saunders and expert lighting by Sergio Pessanha. Macras is creative and audacious; even if one doesn´t always like the results, there´s a sensitive mind at work. Nacho Duato has had a distinguished career: after early experience in London, Brussels, New York, Stockholm and Holland with great choreographers, he was named in 1990 Artistic Director of the Compañía Nacional de Danza at Madrid and stayed there until 2007; during that period he came to Buenos Aires with his company twenty years ago, and presented at the Teatro San Martín among other things "Por vos muero" ("I die for you"), a beautiful Neoclassic ballet based on texts of Garcilaso de la Vega and with a fine selection of old Spanish music interpreted by Jordi Savall´s group. Guerra asked Duato´s permission to revive the ballet at the Colón, and Duato tells in the hand programme that he is very excited to present one of his works for the first time at the Colón; he even praises the rehearsals, so I suppose that Catharine Habasque and Kim McCarthy have been faithful to the original in this revival. Done with much style and precision by eleven dancers, with lovely music very adequate for dancing, fine stage design by Duato and costumes by Duato and Ismael Aznar (I liked the ones for women but found the bare-legged men contradictory with the refined ambience otherwise present), plus skillful lighting by Nicolás Fischtel, this was for me the best part of the evening. The voice of Miguel Bosé communicated the moving verses of De la Vega admirably. William Forsythe is considered in Europe an important choreographer; he was for twenty years at the head of the Frankfurt Ballet, and when it closed, he formed The Forsythe Company. Somehow his work was never seen at the Colón until now, when his most famous piece was premièred; it has a strange title, "In the middle, somewhat elevated", and it was commissioned by Nureyev for the Paris Opera in 1987. Frankly, I won´t mince words: I hated the music of his long-time collaborator Thom Willems, a continuous electronic clangor in strong but unvaried rhythm. Kathryn Bennetts was in charge of this revival; she says: "this work extends, prolongs and pushes classical technique...It is the most abstract and innovative choreography of its time". The girls dance in points but with expansive, athletic postures, and the men must certainly be in fine shape to cope with the material. Costumes and lighting are by the choreographer . Nine dancers impressed with their display of agility and coordination. Although the Colón Ballet is in dire need of institutional reform, it certainly has very capable artists. But due to the lack of competitions, right now there´s only one prima ballerina (no male counterpart), three official soloists (including Silvina Perillo, who danced her goodbye two years ago), and all the rest have no recognised rank, although as you read the names you find all those that dance main roles ... For Buenos Aires Herald

On An Overgrown Path

June 25

We reap what we sow

'... the EU Commission has been dysfunctional throughout the process and unfit for purpose. What needs to be done to make these time-servers democratically accountable?' - Slipped Disc: 31/5/2016 'This EU press release has just landed. It’s an instant fudge that admits no error and patches over the recent chaos. An appalling piece of misgovernance from start to finish' - ibid: 1/6/2016Those are just two of the public attacks made by Norman Lebrecht on the EU during his coverage of the recent European Union Youth Orchestra funding crisis. It is bad enough that this is the same 'cultural commentator' who tweeted yesterday that "Turkey just voted for Christmas" and "All things considered, we're screwed". But what is worse is that none of classical music's great and good have the balls to disassociate themselves from Lebrecht's cynical opportunism. Readers will know that I am passionately pro-inclusivity, and it goes without saying I believe that the UK EU referendum arrived at the wrong decision. But we need to understand that the 'leave' vote was not just prompted by misguided views on immigration. It was also also an understandable but wrong-headed rejection of the cynical opportunism of our politicians and other opinion formers. Krishnamurti told us that leaders destroy followers and followers destroy leaders. Unless we stop behaving like sheep and following without question David Cameron, Jeremy Corbyn, Donald Trump, Hilary Clinton, Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, Norman Lebrecht and others, all things considered, we're screwed Much solace during difficult times has come from Alia Vox's reissue of Jordi Savall's interpretation of the Eroica Symphony. The performance by the early instrument Le Concert des Nations was captured during an all-night session in 1994, and in remastered SACD sound it blazes even more passionately than in the original release. It's current relevance is enhanced by Beethoven's redaction of its dedication to a contemporary leader. No review samples involved in this post. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

On An Overgrown Path

April 7

Dumbing up is the way to reach new audiences

Sitting with Jude Mansilla in the CanJam room at the 2015 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest he told me, "When I started the Head-Fi site I imagined it a 'gateway drug' to two-channel room-based audio." Judging by the attendance and activity in the CanJam area, headphones have become more than a gateway - for many young and old audiophiles they're a final destination. That is Steven Stone writing in the The Absolute Sound. For an audience ranging from young to old the immersive experience of headphone sound has become a destination, yet classical music remains fixated on a different destination - the 19th century convention of the proscenium arch soundstage. In an insightful essay in The New Enquiry Elizabeth Newton posed the question: "Audio fidelity is more a matter of subjective emotion than empiricism. But what are we trying to be true to?" Her question generated considerable discussion on the audiophile website AudioStream, with one protagonist opining that "My idea of hi-fi is to make the possibility of losing oneself in the music happen as often as I choose...". The experience of losing oneself in a performance and thereby being transported to a higher level of consciousness is the raison d'être of art music. Claudio Monteverdi declared that 'The end of all music is to affect the soul', and in the classical field it has been the power of the performance that traditionally has provided the immersive experience. But new technologies now provides a different but equally transcendental immersion through headphones and ear buds (head-fi), and surround sound. The classical industry is, however, unwilling to acknowledge this fundamental change in listening habits, and despite an obsession with reaching new audiences has been puzzlingly reluctant to experiment with the non-notated discretionary variables of spatial location, acoustic and absolute loudness. Digital technologies have become the de facto standard for classical music distribution, yet the potential offered by the same technologies to immerse listeners both in the concert hall and through recordings is resolutely ignored. Instead band-aids such as applause between movements and disco lighting are touted as the snake oil that will rejuvenate classical music. There is a dangerous dogma abroad; namely that using new technology to overthrow anachronistic performance conventions is a form of dumbing down. However there are exceptions, and one notable exception is the Spanish independent label Neu Records. In their artistic manifesto Neu Records makes a very persuasive case for dumbing up contemporary music by exploiting new technologies: 21st century composers are in a unique situation, with an inexhaustible range of technical resources, highly refined musical languages, the aesthetic perspective gained from the cutting edge of the twentieth century, and technological developments that multiply exponentially the ways listeners can access music... Written music, except for certain kinds of religious music, has always been composed to be played on a stage in front of the audience. Since the first multi-channel recordings were made, almost all producers and sound engineers have been faithful to this “frontal” approach to music, using surround channels only for picking up the room’s reverberation. However, listening to a surround recording is not like attending a concert; instead, it means placing yourself at the centre of the sound experience, while contemporary music does not need to comply with the spatial concepts of the classical concert. Playback equipment is a tool permitting the creation and reproduction of acoustic spaces, and allows us, in cooperation with composers, to design tridimensional sound spaces.Neu Records are pursuing their belief that contemporary music does not need to comply with the spatial concepts of the classical concert, and among their work in progress is a Morton Feldman series with sound described as "almost spaceless" - the header photo shows the 360° microphone array used in their sessions. Past posts On An Overgrown Path have featured Neu Records' surround recording of Ramon Humet's music made with the London Sinfonietta and discussed the philosophy behind the immersive sound, while another post highlighted their first release of the music of the Catalan composer Bernat Vivancos (b. 1973). Now comes the premiere recording of Bernat Vivancos' Requiem made with the Latvian Radio Choir conducted by Sigvards Kļava. Although Vivancos trained at the celebrated Escolania de Montserrat which is one of the oldest choral schools in the world, his Requiem does not adhere to the liturgy of the Catholic Mass. Instead, to quote the composer: "The idea is that this prayer should be new, without linking it to any previously established canon. It is intended to be a luminous meditation on transcendence, in which a selection of open, plural texts and reflections responds to a non-confessional vision of the end of human existence". Accordingly the sources for the syncretic text include Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Denis Diderot, Pope Francis, Kahil Gibran, the New Testament, and Bahá'u'lláh, founder of the Bahai faith. This contemporary Requiem is truly immersive, and purchasers of the double CD have access to Surround 5.1 and HD FLAC Stereo mixes. But spiritual immersion is achieved without resorting to gimmickry; scored for voices, solo cello and cello quartet, percussion and accordion, this is timeless music that transcends fashionable idioms - sample it here. With this recording Bernat Vivancos and Neu Records show how contemporary music can leverage digital technologies to reach a new audience without compromising artistic integrity, and it is appropriate that the final part of the Requiem quotes Monteverdi's Lasciatemi morire, because this is indeed music to affect the soul. The music's worth can be judged from the provenance of the sleeve notes. Neu Records is an independent label based in Barcelona and has no apparent connection with Jordi Savall's Alia Vox label other than a shared Catalan identity. However the sleeve essay is contributed by Jordi Savall, and his concluding words are eloquent testimony to the power of dumbing up: Fortunately, thanks to the complex, historical process of discoveries and creation, of recovery and, finally, also, of recognition of the atemporal value of every work of art, we see that, today, a better knowledge of our thousand-year- old musical heritage can act as an element of inspiration and revitalisation in the creative practice of contemporary music; new composers of our own day are being widely incorporated into this veritable, new musical Renaissance that we are experiencing in the twenty-first century. The innovative richness of the works by Bernat Vivancos are, I believe, the clearest and most striking proof of the vitality of this new musical Renaissance. His extraordinary talent and his profound spirituality are placed at the service of a process that is the invention of a new language which, in spite of its complexity and modernity, is capable of transmitting to us pure beauty and emotion. Perhaps this is the great mystery of creativity in any true work of art, in one capable of achieving a perfect balance between technique and emotion, between beauty and spirituality, creating a web of new sounds which, becoming our own, will never cease to move us Bernat Vivancos' Requiem was supplied as a requested review sample. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Jordi Savall

Jordi Savall (1941) is a Spanish Catalan viol player, conductor and composer. He has been one of the major figures in the field of early music since the 1970s, largely responsible for bringing the viol back to life on the stage. His characteristic repertory ranges from Medieval to Renaissance and Baroque music, though he has occasionally ventured into the classical or even the romantic period.

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