When Francesco Maria Colombo, once a classical music critic for Italy's leading daily paper, Corriere della Sera, committed himself full time to conducting -- after receiving the greenlight from his two very special teachers and mentors, Carlo Maria Giulini and Gian Carlo Menotti -- we gained a dashing new presence on podiums in Europe and the USA but we did lose an impressively insightful musicologist and critic.
Now thanks to a sweet initiative of Orchestra Verdi & Maestro Colombo, the NOVECENTO series, we have regained a little of what was lost with FMC's career change: earlier today in Milan's Auditorium, Colombo gave what can only be described as an open masterclass more than a lecture: the first of a series of one-hour talks from the podium about a certain work, followed by a performance of that work. Ten works in all: today was number 1, Debussy's La Mer.
Then, over the rest of the season, Colombo will analyze, then conduct, these works:
- Maurice Ravel - Ma Mère l'oye
- Darius Milhaud - Le boeuf sur le toit
- Igor Stravinskij - Pulcinella
- Bela Bartók - Music for strings, percussion, celesta
- George Gershwin Rhapsody In Blue
- Aaron Copland Appalachian Spring
- Benjamin Britten Les illuminations
- Luciano Berio Folksongs
- Olivier Messiaen Oiseaux exotiques
After a nice cappuccino in the downstairs cafe at Auditorium (picture above with live feed from the stage), it was time for our (cheap: 13 euros for the best seats in the house, less for students and over 60 year olds) 11AM class in Debussy's La Mer, a delicious show and tell about the composition of La Mer where Colombo from time to time led the orchestra in a few bars of this and that work (the Pastorale's second movement, the Tristan chord, the opening bars of L'apres midi d'un faune) to explain the musical roots and references of Debussy's ideas. How sweet to follow an analysis of Debussy's harmonic innovations by listening to the same few chords played again and again, as in rehearsal, with the conductor thinking aloud and sharing his play-by-play thoughts with the audience.
The screens of the Milanese hall (almost fully sold out) were used for a little, lovely presentation -- verses from Mallarmé's poetry, the paintings referenced by Debussy's work -- The Wave by Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai in a digression about Debussy's relationship with the trend of Japonisme, then Turner's stormy seas seen through Debussy's letters, Monet's Rouen paintings as the goto example of, in Colombo's words, "a thing that is not exactly there anymore, but is evoked by its reflection on a surface".
Our class went on for about 1 hr until finally Colombo led the kids of the excellent Orchestra Verdi -- who this morning looked even younger and played even better than usual -- into a scorching, multilayered performance of the work.
In the spirit of Colombo's mentor Carlo Maria Giulini, "De l'aube à midi sur la mer" was très lent and full of mystery,
"Jeux de vagues" - allegro with a fiery drive that reminded us of an old incandescent late-1940s recording conducted by Sergiu Celibidache, very different from his later glacially paced readings of this same work, a "jeux" very much in play, leading to the climax in
"Dialogue du vent et de la mer" that was again in the spirit of Giulini, sustained and multilayered, tonally rich and bathed in a melancholy winter light, literally animé et tumultueux, just like old Claude wanted.