Earlier this week, artists Herbie Hancock, Lang², and John Axelrod (and the enthusiastic kids of Accademia Teatro Alla Scala) rawked La Scala's Caraceni black silk socks in a reprisal of the 2009 world tour of dueling pianos, butt-shaking works, and a chemistry between three artists that spans across generations and cultures.
There are lots of traditional things that La Scala just gets right, especially when tapping into their lush Italian roots with the darkest Verdi and the lightest bel canto masterpieces. But when La Scala hosts cool programming, it's like inviting Charles Bukowski to your Ivy League school to teach a creative writing course. It's nothing short of awesome.
Scala set the stage with a full-on orchestra, cheered by a packed house of a young, diverse audience who knew, like us, that when La Scala rawks out, it can't be missed. A set list of accessible works, all the ensemble pieces were orchestrated for four hands on the piano and orchestra for more dazzle of ebony/ivory smasher Lang² and American jazzmatazz Herbie Hancock.
(Photo: Brescia e Amisano - Teatro alla Scala)
First up was George Gershwin's Cuban Overture, and no one in the house was immune to the bright, butt-shaking rumba beats, not even conductor John Axelrod who swayed to the lush and sizzling rhythms evocative of Havana. During adagio downtime, Axelrod found swords of color from the eager kids of Accademia.
Legendary American pianist and composer Herbie Hancock came out in a 1940s inspired purple suit and a contrasting red dress shirt, looking like he stepped right out of Michael Jackson's Smooth Criminal. Lang² went for a classic look in a slick, black suit and white dress shirt.
The second and third pieces were for Lang² and Herbie Hancock -- Maurice Ravel's Ma mère l’oye gave way to Franz Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody, neither technically perfect or clean, but both spirited and bright.
After the intermission, the orchestra came back for Johannes Brahms Hungarian Dance punctuated by stunning brass in thrilling paces, the orchestra responsive to Axelrod’s touch.
Lang² and Herbie Hancock improvisations followed, both artists creating intimate interludes. Lang² mastered Liszt's Consolation #3 and one by Schumann with a deep introspection and sensitivity that is evocative of his evolution, hours of lessons from mentors (notably Barenboim) are paying-off, and the Chinese pianist is heading into greater territory. His Schumann soared with less affectation and lighter touches than we've heard in the past.
Herbie's improvisations were truly improvisational, saying that his game plan was to "play in the moment". Hancock's moment was an organic stream of consciousness found in rolling cadenze. He topped it off with an inspired epilogue that resonated with Joplin and Satie (and later, during the bis, treated us to his original composition, the very famous and often-sampled Cantaloupe Island).
The jam session was followed-up by the orchestra for George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. To be honest, the laVerdi kids won this one hands down under the direction of Francesco Maria Colombo, which we saw eons ago at Auditorium di Milano. But what Accademia lacked in finess was made up with a snappy, brassy, and crispness under Axelrod's direction (marked with endearing Lennyisms). Three final bis moved the crowed into classical riot territory.
In a speech given by Herbie Hancock that prefaced his improvisations, he addressed the audience (in English) with his hand over his heart and said: "Finally." -- marked by a pregnant pause -- "It's my first time at La Scala," and an emotional burst of claps and cheers.
And in the moment of silence that followed -- as everyone strained to hear more from the humble genius -- a young, male American voice yelled from the audience in English to Hancock, "Come back anytime". Quite simply, we couldn’t have said it better.
OC checked out Milan's I Pomeriggi Musicali over the weekend for their last concert of the 66th season (they'll be back in late October) at our city's antique gem, Teatro dal Verme, and wrote about it for her latest piece for Grazia.it -- you can read about it here.
As part of their “La musica è giovane” series, the concert was programmed to bridge the young, international talents of the classical music world and brought together Thai conductor, Trisdee na Patalung, and sibling string soloists Mari and Håkon Samuelsen (photo above) in a refined program of Edward Elgar, Johannes Brahms and Joseph Haydn.
Below, the concert was also featured in Corriere della Sera's ViviMilano.
Everything is illuminated at Customs House -- here, the image of Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge as part of the "Electric Canvas" theme during the Sydney Vivid Light festival -- the festival of light, music and ideas that's rocking our favorite Australian city right now.
Click below to check out a big, clickable image of the entire façade.
OC remembers only a few months ago being under the gorgeous, late winter light of Rome and the creamy Bernini sculptures of Piazza Navona, the pragmatic and ancient Pantheon, the lovably-crusty Jewish Ghetto, and all of Rome's lovers out for a stroll around the Spanish Steps on Valentine's Day when she took in the excellently-robust Orchestra dell'Accademia di Santa Cecilia in the Eternal City. Luccan Maestro (and MD of the San Francisco Opera) Nicola Luisotti was in town to conduct Santa Cecilia in a program bearing witness to Nino Rota's rich legacy. After Beethoven's Fourth, Rota's Piano Concerto in C and Il Gattopardo Suite took the spotlight with Italian piano soloist Giuseppe Albanese cooly banging it all out on the Steinway.
The story goes that New York City Ballet co-founder George Balanchine, while walking down NYC's Fifth Avenue in the 1960s, was so dazzled by a creation from Parisian husband & wife Van Cleef & Arpels' sparkling window display that it inspired him to create his 1967 triptych ballet, Jewels.
Showing Balachine some reciprocal love, on the 40th anniversary of Jewels, Van Cleef & Arpels launched a collection of 80 pieces called Ballet Précieux to honor the Russian choreographer's ballet.
Balanchine's Jewels has been shining at Teatro alla Scala this month with guest artists Leonid Sarafanov, Alina Somova, Polina Semionova, Guillaume Côté dancing the three scenes of Emeralds, Rubies and Diamonds to the music of Fauré, Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky (thanks to the story from the May 12 issue of Corriere della Sera's Sette for reminding us).
If you're in NYC, the Cooper Hewitt is currently showing 250 pieces from the vaults and archives of Parisian jewelers Van Cleef & Arpels in an exhibition called "Set in Style", which closes on July 4, and includes some of the pieces from Ballet Précieux.
(Emeralds! Garritano and Sutera. Credit Brescia-Amisano Teatro alla Scala)
Above, Van Cleef & Arpels pin.
(Rubies! Marta Romagna. Credit Brescia-Amisano Teatro alla Scala)
(Diamonds! Somova and Coté. Credit Brescia-Amisano Teatro alla Scala)
With a setlist of two, less-known works from former mentor and friend, Gian Carlo Menotti, and three works by Gioachino Rossini (that we have on disc from another of FMC's former friends and mentors, the late Italian conductor Carlo Maria Giulini), the Milanese Maestro knocked it out of the park:
"Colombo's orchestration was also outstanding, harmonically very controlled but also capable of opening up moments of warmth and color, as soon as the score allowed it".
Click below if you want to see a pretty adorable shot of Ryan Gosling nose-kissing his "Drive" director Nicolas Winding Refn who won Best Director and in his acceptance speech called Gosling "my favorite alter ego".
Hearing Gubaidulina's first violin concerto, "Offertorium" (1980), written for Kremer, so impressed Mutter that she almost immediately sought her own commission. "She's such an inventive and pure composer," Mutter said by phone from Munich last week. "Everything is perfect in its proportion, and in the philosophy behind it. There is a balance between high and low frequencies, and between darkness and light. She wrestles on several different levels with her musical conflicts."
New York City Opera plans to vacate its longtime home at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in anticipation of a limited fall season as it attempts to strengthen its financial footing with a "significantly smaller" budget, company officials said Friday.
The 68-year-old opera-for-the-people institution has kept audiences hooked into the contemporary opera scene as the cooler, younger antidote to The Metropolitan Opera's traditional, slickly-packaged productions.
Everybody loves the Met -- and as worried as we all are for James Levine's health, its musical future is safe in the hands of Fabio Luisi -- New York needs also a different, smaller, more open and cooler institution.
He's so influential in the modern cult of conductors that he defies the space-time continuum! Argentinian/Israeli conductor Daniel Barenboim and the Israeli/Arab kids of his 12-year-old West-Eastern Divan Orchestra will make their Italian television premieres on Saturday night (8:30pm) on Rai3's "Che tempo che fa", where they'll perform Beethoven's Eroica and Tchaikovsky's Pathétique -- pre-taped, of course, since they'll be IRL on Saturday night at Paris' Salle Pleyel going through the paces of Mahler’s Tenth (Adagio) and Beethoven’s Eroica in a live concert (you can watch it here). We always ride shotgun in Barenboim's DeLorean.
Hélène Grimaud's laid-back, no-nonsense chic is perfect for weekends at her home in Weggis, Switzerland, a small town near Lucerne that's surrounded by the mountains.
The French pianist shares her ideal weekend, spent with her photographer partner, Mat Hennek, and her German shepard, Chico, in the May 7th issue of the FT's lux guide, How To Spend It. An ideal weekend is utopian for Grimaud's busy schedule, and she rarely spends more than two nights a month at home while knocking out about 90 concerts a year.
In the photo, she's posing on the jetty of the 5-star Park Hotel Weggis' restaurant, The Grape, where she goes when she wants to avoid cooking (which is often).
She finds simple pleasures in tasks like doing the laundry, which becomes symbolic, since she basically lives in hotels.
Grimaud on laundry's simple pleasures: "defined, satisfying tasks where you can see the beginning and the end, and measure the result -- something that is almost impossible with music. And living in hotels, privileged as it is, is an abdication from all responsibility. this keeps things in perspective."
In Opera Chic's latest piece for Grazia.it, she quizzed gourmand conductor, John Axelrod, on his favorite Milan eateries. Since his recent appointment as Principal Conductor of Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano “G.Verdi” for three years starting 2011/12 -- where he'll preside from Auditorium di Milano in the city's bohemian Navigli district -- he'll need to keep his Rollodex of Milan's most delicious restaurants handy.
Alma Mahler, remembering the night of May 18, 1911:
Mahler lay with dazed eyes; one finger was conducting on the quilt. There was a smile on his lips and twicehe said “Mozart!” His eyes were very big.
The death agony began. I was sent into the next room. The death rattle lasted several hours. The ghastly sound ceased suddenly at midnight of the 18th of May during a tremendous thunderstorm. With that last, last breath his beloved and beautiful soul had fled, and the silence was more deathly than all else. As long as he breathed he was there still. But now all was over.
Gustav Mahler, Symphony No. 9, Mov IV, Lucerne Festival Orchestra conducted by Claudio Abbado
This past weekend, Muti partied like it was 1999 in anticipation of his Saturday night, season-concluding concert with the CSO, dusting-off his first successful year as music director of the orchestra. Affable as ever, Muti addressed his audience with lively jabs and his warm Neapolitan humor.
The evening prior, he was at Redmoon Theater, getting down with one of the CSO's young composer in residence, Mason Bates, who was DJ'ing to his penned "The B-Sides", a tribute to club music for MusicNOW's "Mercury Soul" event:
Muti surprised everyone by wandering in unannounced in the middle of Bates’ Friday night club event at , later also joined by Yo-Yo Ma. “Forgive me for being overdressed,” whispered Muti, “but I had a dinner with the donors tonight. My children would not believe where I am and what I am doing!” Muti stayed a couple of hours and took in the proceedings quite intently. Although he did not gyrate to the electronica beats, he was fascinated that everyone was moving “up and down in a single motion.” At one point, Muti asked if I thought “anything would come of this.” I responded with an assessment of other such crossover events and what effect that they have had from my experience on audiences from all sides. “No, no,” said Muti, clearly with something else on his mind. “I meant will any romance come from all of this moving up and down?”
We love that America, via Chicago, helped Muti get his groove back.
Where have you been, Renée? As sunny as Cézanne's oranges, the soprano steps from that shady-looking Frenchman's canvas into a conference room at Warsaw's Teatr Wielki Opera Narodowa for a press conference to announce her concert tomorrow nigh at the Poland-land venue. Kristjan Järvi will be conducting Renée and the Orkiestra Opery Narodowej in a Strauss-heavy program with some Italian, French, Austrian, and Czech arias thrown in. We love her singing and all, but we want a look into her jewelry box. Renée's always iced out.