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Myung-whun Chung

Wednesday, July 26, 2017


Royal Opera House

June 13

Verdi's Otello musical highlight: Desdemona’s Willow Song and Ave Maria

Royal Opera HouseMaria Agresta as Desdemona and Jonas Kaufmann as Otello in rehearsal for Otello, The Royal Opera © 2017 ROH. Photograph by Catherine Ashmore The Willow Song and Ave Maria are connected arias sung by Desdemona, the heroine of Verdi ’s 1887 opera Otello , based on Shakespeare ’s play Othello . They are her only solo numbers in the opera, and testify to her goodness and her continuing love for her husband Otello, despite his despicable treatment of her. Where does it take place in the opera? The Willow Song and Ave Maria take place at the start of the final act of Otello. Desdemona sings the Willow Song – which she learnt as a girl – as she prepares for bed, occasionally breaking off to issue instructions to her maid Emilia, or to meditate on her own sad circumstances. She is overcome with sudden fear, and bids Emilia an emotional farewell. After Emilia has left, Desdemona prays to the Virgin Mary, then falls asleep. She will later be woken by Otello who, maddened by jealousy, murders her. What do the lyrics mean? The Willow Song describes how a girl deserted by her lover sang so sweetly that the birds gathered to hear her, and wept so bitterly that the very stones were moved to pity. The song’s title comes from the refrain: ‘Il salce funebre sarà la mia ghirlanda’ (the funereal willow will be my garland). Desdemona breaks off from her song three times: to tell Emilia that Otello will soon arrive, to take off her ring, and, agitatedly, to ask if someone is knocking at the door. Her Ave Maria begins with the words of the traditional Catholic prayer , then evolves into a personal appeal to the Virgin Mary to protect and help all people: the powerful as well as the persecuted. What makes the music so memorable? The opening of Act IV powerfully evokes melancholy. The Willow Song is remarkable for its intimate mood: its lyrical, at times almost improvisatory, vocal line, and delicate orchestration, in which woodwind instruments are prominent. Verdi deftly illustrates images from the song’s text, including a busy string figuration to depict the swirling stream by which the girl weeps, and flute flurries for the birds that fly to her side. Desdemona’s two passionate outbursts at the end of the song hint at how stoically she has been controlling her grief. The ensuing Ave Maria movingly depicts how Desdemona finds consolation in prayer. Its shimmering orchestration, beautifully simple melody and ethereal coda – with Desdemona soaring to a pianissimo high note – poignantly portray innocence and trust in a beneficent higher power: a welcome contrast to the mood of bitterness and sorrow the cruel Iago has created by poisoning Otello’s mind against Desdemona. Otello’s other musical highlights The devil often gets the best tunes – so it’s no surprise that Iago has some terrific music, including the jocular Act I drinking song ‘Inaffia l’ugola!’ and the chillingly malevolent Act II ‘Credo’. Verdi movingly charts Otello’s mental disintegration, from the heroism of his Act I entry ‘Esultate!’ to the anguished, fragmentary music of his Act III solo ‘Dio! mi potevi scagliar’, and moves us to pity with his heartrending final soliloquy ‘Niun mi tema’. Memorable ensembles include Iago and Otello’s thrilling Act II duet ‘Sì, pel ciel’. And there is plenty of wonderful choral music, including the serene Act II chorus sung by Cypriots and their children in praise of Desdemona, and the mighty Act III concertato as the chorus and all the principal singers react to Otello’s public attack on his wife. Classic recordings Plácido Domingo , an iconic Otello, made several recordings of the opera, of which the 1978 version under James Levine also features the superb Iago of Sherrill Milnes and Renata Scotto ’s radiant Desdemona. Domingo’s 1994 recording , conducted by Myung-Whun Chung , includes Sergei Leiferkus as a deliciously sinister Iago and Cheryl Studer as an impassioned Desdemona. Other fine recordings include Georg Solti ’s from 1977 , with Margaret Price ’s vocal beauty and Carlo Cossutta ’s heroic stamina ideal for Desdemona and Otello; and the 1960 recording conducted by Italian maestro Tullio Serafin , with Jon Vickers a passionate Otello and the great Tito Gobbi a jocularly macabre Iago. Among the multiple filmed offerings are the Metropolitan Opera’s 1996 recording with Domingo, Renée Fleming and James Morris and The Royal Opera’s 1992 recording with Solti, Domingo, Kiri Te Kanawa and Leiferkus. Zeffirelli ’s dramatic film of the opera with Domingo is also well worth a watch – if you can cope with the absence of the Willow Song! Further listening Verdi’s other two Shakespeare operas are the next logical step: his Macbeth is full of theatrical intensity and energy, while his last opera Falstaff is one of the most hilarious and touching operatic comedies. Those who enjoy Verdi’s combination of quick-moving drama and wonderful melodies will find much to enjoy in his successor Puccini ’s operas – particularly La bohème , Tosca and Madama Butterfly . Otello’s dramatic intensity and beautiful orchestration also has much in common with Wagner ’s music dramas, such as Tristan und Isolde , Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg and Parsifal . And for Shakespeare fans there’s a variety of other Shakespearean operas to explore, including Britten ’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream , Reimann ’s Lear and Adès ’s The Tempest . Otello runs 21 June–15 July 2017. Tickets are still available. The production is generously supported by Rolex and is given with generous philanthropic support from Mrs Aline Foriel-Destezet, Mrs Susan A. Olde OBE, Alfiya and Timur Kuanyshev, Lord and Lady Laidlaw, Mr and Mrs Baha Bassatne, John G. Turner and Jerry G. Fischer, Ian and Helen Andrews, Mercedes T. Bass, Maggie Copus, Martin and Jane Houston, Mrs Trevor Swete, Beth Madison, John McGinn and Cary Davis, the Otello Production Syndicate, The American Friends of Covent Garden, The Royal Opera House Endowment Fund and an anonymous donor.

Norman Lebrecht - Slipped disc

July 11

Chung plans a One Korea orchestra

The conductor Myung Whun Chung, re-engaged with his home country, is forming a One Korea orchestra in the hope that musicians from the North will be allowed to join. Seems unlikely in the short term, but he has concerts planned in Lotte Hall, Seoul, on 18 and 19 August.






Classical iconoclast

May 4

Edgard Varèse Total Immersion, Barbican

On Saturday at the Barbican London,  there'll be an Edgard Varèse Total Immersion : a major retrospective, augmented by a talk, a film and a reconstruction of Varèse’s Poéme électronique.  This is the third big festival featuring Varèse festival in recent years, following on from the excellent Total Immersion on Xenakis at the Barbican in 2008  (read more here) and the  Varèse 360˚ weekend, at the South Bank in 2010 (read more here), plus other performances of individual works over the years.  In his lifetime,  Varèse was a cult figure. Now he's practically mainstream.  The time has come, for the "First Wild Man of Music". The film will be The One All Alone, Frank Scheffer's documentary from 2009, including  interviews with Elliott Carter, Pierre Boulez, John Cage, Morton Feldman,  Riccardo Chailly and Prof Chou Wen-Chung who worked closely with the composer and produced performing versions of incomplete pieces.  The installation of  Poéme électronique.is important, too, because it makes concrete, or rather non-concrete Varèse's ideas on the confluence of all sensory experience.  Written for tape, it was a pioneering moment in the development of electronic music.  Through multiple images, aural, visual and atmospheric, Varèse hoped to create a universe spanning space and time. In 2008, the Barbican recreated Poéme électronique.as closely as possible to the original in 1954, at the Philips Pavilion in Holland, where the performance took place in a structure specially designed for the occasion by Xenakis,who was then best known as an architect.  Sound operating in many dimensions, structurally held together in myriad,intricate patterns.  Poéme électronique is unique, and an excellent key to understanding the music of Xenakis's and Boulez. Read more here about Xenaki's designs for realkising this piece.  The evening concert in the Barbican Hall, will be conducted by Sakari Oramo, with the BBC SO, the BBC Singers and Alison Bell.  Featured are the "big" works, Arcana, Nocturnal, Étude pour Espace, Déserts, Tuning up  and  Amériques.  The afternoon concert in Milton Court with the Guildhall New Music Ensemble features Un Grand Sommeil Noir, Offrandes, Hyperprism, Octandre , Intégrales , Ionisation, Density 21.5  and Dance for Burgess. Though Varèse is extremely influential, his output isn't huge, so the two concerts, cover nearly all he wrote, except alas, the amazing Equatorial.  The two benchmark recordings are the sets by Pierre Boulez and Riccardo Chailly, quite different yet both authoritative, though I keep returning bto Boulez who brings out the quirkiness in the music more.incisively.   Arcana is the biggest of Varèse's works, and relatively accessible.  It's scored for massive forces-   roughly 120 players altogether,  68 strings, 20 woodwinds, 20 brass and a phalanx of percussionists playing 40 different instruments from timpani to castanets.  Every performance is a feat of logistics, so it doesn't get done as often as it should be.  It's also extremely visual : watching is very much part of the experience.  It's not every day you see rows of trumpets and trombones, some muted, some not,playing together, or 8 horns raised heavenwards. Arcana is big, but its bigness springs from its musical function. Arcana proceeds like a gigantic beast, its component parts articulated to move in stately formation, groups of instruments impacting on each other in constantly varying combinations. I've never quite been sure what Varèse  meant by its title, but I've often imagined it as a mythical creature brought to life by arcane spells and incantations. Even more thrilling, Amériques, featuring klaxon and dramatic percussion effects - a collage of found sound and formal,  which represented a breakthrough in modern music.  Pretty shocking, considering it was first written between 1918 and 1921.  I don't know if Oramo and the BBCSO will be doing Déserts as a multi media event, though I hope so, since when I've experienced it before the link between visuals and sound can be very rewarding.  The afternoon concert isn't as high profile but the music is superb. I'm particularly fond of Ionization, Octandre, and Intégrales.  Varèse's works, which really benefits from being heard live as it's very visual..   The film will be Frank Scheffer's documentary from 2009, In a series of interviews with the likes of Elliott Carter, Pierre Boulez, John Cage, Morton Feldman, Prof Chou Wen-Chung and Ricardo Chailly and with archive footage, documentary maker Scheffer unveils the mystery behind the man he admires so much; an alchemist in sound.

Norman Lebrecht - Slipped disc

March 20

Did your kid or cousin get into the US National Youth Orchestra?

They’ve announced the 2017 intake. There are 116 musicians aged 16-19, from 33 U.S. states, including 28 returnees from last year. Marin Alsop will conduct. Warner owner Len Blavatnik is the major sponsor. Violin Fiyi Adebekun, Lansdale, PA Jonathan Altman, Modesto, CA Kelsea Kyu-Ri Au, Henderson, NV Kevin Bai, Plano, TX Anna Black, Eagle, ID * Simon Luke Brown, Davis, OK Maya Bulos, Lafayette, CA Claire Cai, Mount Sinai, NY Daniel Choo, Knoxville, TN Jonathan Chu, San Francisco, CA * Chelsea Cline, Honolulu, HI Allyson Cohen, Narberth, PA Hannah Duncan, Belle Plaine, IA Isabella Egawa, Bala Cynwyd, PA Daniel Guevara, Hialeah, FL Chloe Harvel, Nashville, TN * Kingston Ho, New Providence, NJ + David Horak, Norwich, VT * Erica Yeawon Hwang, San Diego, CA Evan Johanson, Seattle, WA * Ellie Kanayama, Albany, CA Haeun Kim, Birmingham, AL Andrew Y. Kim, New York, NY Alyssa Kim, River Edge, NJ Andrew Lee, Los Altos Hills, CA * Johnny May, Penn Valley, PA Serena Shapard, Cleveland Heights, OH Emilia Sharpe, Winston Salem, NC * Natasha von Bartheld, Reno, NV Jason Wang, Keller, TX * Annalisa Welinder, Port Jefferson, NY William Yao, Barrington, RI * Viola Steven Baloue, Chicago, IL + Kayla Cabrera, Crete, IL * Sophie Choate, Provo, UT Emma DeJarnette, Snellville, GA * Juliette Duguid, Westfield, NJ + Matthew Garcia, Harlingen, TX + Andrew Hughes, Old Tappan, NJ * Tyler Jacoby, Flower Mound, TX Sean Juhl, New York, NY * Alex Koller, Orlando, FL Conor McAvinue, Wilmington, DE Peter Morin, Deerfield, IL Tabby Rhee, Brookfield, WI Karlie Roberts, Eugene, OR Cello Joshua Chiang, San Jose, CA Ryan Chung, Manhasset, NY * Drew Dansby, Charlotte, NC Simon Housner, Cherry Hill, NJ * Dylan Howard, Oxford, MS Annie SeEun Hyung, Irvine, CA David S. Kim, East Brunswick, NJ * Sang-O Park, Haverford, PA Isabel Won, Belle Mead, NJ Alexander Wu, Penn Valley, PA Esther Yu, Rye, NY Joy Zhao, Chalfont, PA * Bass Diego Garza-Romero, Edinburg, TX + Redd Coltrane Ingram, New Albany, OH + Pablo Kennedy, Austin, TX Rachel Martin, Pittsburgh, PA Dimitrios Mattas, Fruit Heights, UT Ella Sharpe, Winston Salem, NC * Willie Swett, New York, NY * Sarah Wager, Rochester, NY Ryan Wahidi, Creve Coeur, MO * Woodwinds Flute Sophia Jean, Lakeland, FL + Danielle Kim, Aldie, VA Jarrett May, Keller, TX Arin Sarkissian, La Crescenta, CA Jessica Shand, Colorado Springs, CO * Oboe Peter Davies, Dallas, TX Mekhi Gladden, Atlanta, GA Elias Medina-Brewster, Miami, FL * T. Colton Potter, Orlando, FL Kate Wegener, Easton, CT Clarinet Amer Hasan, Tinley Park, IL Daniel Kim, Skillman, NJ * Jonathan López, El Paso, TX + Anders Peterson, Northfield, MN Katia Waxman, Chicago, IL Bassoon Christopher Chung, Johns Creek, GA Allen Jiang, Chicago, IL Connor Reilly, Palmyra, VA Samuel Rhoton, Salem, OR Tatia Slouka, Littleton, CO Brass Horn Jennifer Bywaters, London, ON Nathan Cloeter, Lake Jackson, TX + August Haller, Brooklyn, NY Elisabeth Pesavento, Interlochen, MI * Scott Sanders, Mansfield, TX Emma Shaw, Tampa, FL * Michael Stevens, East Islip, NY * Shawn Zheng, Murfreesboro, TN Trumpet Aaron DuBois, Baldwinsville, NY EJ Miranda, Rancho Cucamonga, CA Shane O’Brien, Benicia, CA James Vaughen, Champaign, IL * Trombone Christopher Houlihan, Chevy Chase, MD Hanae Yoshida, Irvine, CA Bass Trombone David Schonberger, El Paso, TX + Tuba Joshua Lewis, Chesapeake Beach, MD Percussion, Harp, and Keyboard Timpani and Percussion Alvin Chung, Potomac, MD Jeremy Davis, Diamond Bar, CA Omar El-Abidin, Wall, NJ * Simon Herron, Hanover, NH Braden Vaughn, Ellicott City, MD Harp Juanito Riveros, Rowlett, TX Clara Warford, Nashville, TN Apprentices Orchestra Library Apprentice Kathryn Knox, Unionville, CT Orchestra Management Apprentice Nicholas Mateo Hernandez, Bakersfield, CA Conducting Apprentices Maya Miro Johnson, Salt Lake City, UT Euan Shields, San Francisco, CA Composing Apprentices Camilo Gonzalez-Sol, Takoma Park, MD J.P. Redmond, Yonkers, NY

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