Thursday, November 5, 2009

The RNO Performs in Krasnoyarsk

Here is my translation of the report in Russian language from the RNO web site, where the original text and a photo can be found:
By now it has become a tradition…the Russian National Orchestra has participated for the third time in the large-scale project—The Krasnoyarsk Fair of Book Culture—with the support of the Mikhail Prokhorov Foundation.

This year the RNO presented two brilliant young singers, emerging from a new generation who are in high demand, Vasily Ladyuk (baritone) and Anastasia Belukova (soprano).

On November 5th at the Krasnoyarsk State Theatre of Opera and Ballet Anastasia Belukova and Vasily Ladyuk, accompanied by an ensemble of Russian National Orchestra soloists and the Krasnoyarsk State Symphony Orchestra, presented a unique musical-dramatic composition in which famous texts by Beaumarchais and Pushkin and the genius music of Mozart comprised a clever synthesis of selected literary and musical fragments. The concert program called “Here’s Poison…” included arias from operas by W. A. Mozart “Marriage of Figaro” and G. Rossini’s “Barber of Seville”; and A. S. Pushkin’s “Mozart and Salieri” from the cycle “Small Tragedies.” Additional participants included Oleg Rybkin, executive producer of Krasnoyarsk’s Pushkin Drama Theatre, and conductor Mark Kadin.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The New Bassoon

Alexey Sizov, RNO principal bassoonist, proudly poses with the new bassoon, flanked by Angelika Lucchetta and her brother Ralf Reiter, proprietors of Wilhelm Heckel GmbH whose workshop in Wiesbaden, Germany hand-crafted the instrument to fit Alexey's hands. The portrait in the background is Wilhelm Heckel, 1856-1905, great-grandfather of Ralf and Angelika.

To learn more about the 160-year-old Heckel family enterprise, renowned for its fine woodwind instruments, click here for a link to the company web site.  To read more about bassoon basics, including an explanation of the German Heckel system, click here.

From Sharon Wing on the road with the RNO in Germany...

I met the RNO in Munich on October 27, where they began a week-long tour. The first concert was enthusiastically received--a program conducted by Maestro Pletnev featuring Glazunov's Prelude from Opus 79, Rachmaninoff's First Piano Concerto with soloist Jonathan Gilad and Shostakovich's Symphony No. 15.
After the concert I boarded the bus with all the musicians to return to the hotel. Applause broke out when our principal cellist Alexander Gotgelf approached. Sasha's colleagues were paying tribute to his talent and spirit, demonstrated during the concert. How wonderful it is to see that respect continues and even grows amongst musicians who have played together for almost twenty years!

Next morning Alexey Sizov and I set out quite early to drive from Munich to Wiesbaden. Our mission—to pick up the new bassoon—was still a matter of disbelief and mystery to Alexey. Could this really be happening? In recent months his bassoon had become unreliable and more than troublesome.  During a New York concert of the  RNO Wind Quintet the bottom part of the bassoon crashed to the floor.  In the middle of an orchestra concert the bassoon had fallen apart on several occasions. Still the stressful period of waiting while the Heckel company crafted his new instrument coincided with the global economic crisis. For Alexey it was not at all clear that the necessary funds would be found to pay for the new bassoon. In the end Maestro Pletnev and orchestra friends in many countries made the bassoon a top priority.

At Heckel GmbH in Wiesbaden, the new bassoon had also been a priority for many months. Alexey could not believe his eyes when Ralf Reiter presented the glossy, gleaming black bassoon. The instrument glowed. Alexey glowed, too, as he took it into his hands and began to play—at first simple scales and then excerpts from Tchaikovsky, testing the sound and getting acquainted with his new partner. Alexey needed a lot of time, and indeed he spent more than four hours with Ralf and Angelika, trying many different bocals to select just the right ones for what he called “the RNO sound."

I learned that the bocal is often the most important part of the bassoon. It is the curved metal tube that connects the bassoon’s double reed to the body of the instrument, determining its tone. It comes in many different lengths, depending on the desired tuning and playing characteristics.

Ralf Reiter was patient and helpful to us during this get acquainted and bocal-testing process. Then he packed the new bassoon into a custom-made case for the journey to Nurnberg where the RNO was scheduled to perform an evening concert. While I navigated the autobahn at top speed, Alexey examined each piece of the precious new bassoon.

Major traffic jams in Frankfurt and an accident as we entered Bavaria meant we did not get to Nurnberg in time for the RNO concert. However, we arrived in time to introduce the new black beauty to RNO musicians backstage.

Alexey carefully and lovingly carried the new bassoon on the flight to Grenoble, France. Then on to Rouen and Paris, where the sound was said to be oo-la-la.   And thus was launched a bassoon's new career with the Russian National Orchestra.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Maxim Rubtsov US Concert Tour Achievements

Five Concerts, Five Master Classes, Two Dance Workshops, Performances with Piano, Organ, Dancers, Children, a Bumblebee and a Squirrel.  1245 miles on the road, many friends and fans, one parking ticket.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Dance Workshop and Discussion at Center for the Arts CUNY-Staten Island

Photo by Sullah Bien-Aime
On the Staten Island Ferry Maxim entertains Lady Liberty

Photo by Sulaah Bien-Aime
Sitting on the stage after their performance at CUNY-Staten Island Maxim and Germaul explain how they met in Russia at a dance workshop. Germaul says of his Russian friend, Maxim has a visual idea as well as a musical idea when he performs. You see this in his body language. He has what only a few artists have—natural movement, the desire to collaborate, and the ability to perform in two genres—music and dance—at the same time.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Travel to New York City...

...and the suitcase known as Yellow Submarine is not big enough.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Celebrity Series Features Maxim Rubtsov, Flute, and Pamela Penick, Piano, with University of Alabama Dance Students

"I was completely mesmerized by Maxim's playing. So much so, that I moved to the third row to capture the full extent of his coloristic and artistic magic."  Dr. John Ratledge, Professor of Music

Monday, October 5, 2009

University of Alabama Residency, Crimson Tide Meets Golden Flute

Photo by Sarah M. Barry
9am Choreography Workshop with Professor Sarah Barry's students.  She emphasizes the qualities of live music that inspire movement and express emotion--rhythm, phrasing, dynamics.  She asks a question of her dance students that Maxim often asks of flute students, "What idea will you give the audience?"

12 o'clock David Duff of Alabama Public Radio interviews Maxim on air. 
Maxim:  "It's GREAT to be in Ah-lah-bah-mah!"

Photo by Pamela Gordon
1pm rehearsal with accompanist Pamela Penick. 
Maxim, "We are a TEAM."

2pm to 4pm
Flute Studio of Professor Diane Boyd Schultz poses with Maxim Rubtsov following his master class.  Maxim tells the students, "You need a good sound and mastery of all skills, but performance is 90% attitude, feeling, passion."

Photo by Sarah M. Barry
6pm to 8pm Rehearsal with dancers Sharra Coley and Laramie Tyson in Yun's Etude for Flute
Choreographer Rita Snyder, "Maxim has an excellent natural sense of what to do with dancers."

Photo by Sarah M. Barry
Maxim with Bryant Henderson in Debussy's Syrinx.

Photo by Sarah M. Barry
Did you do all that in one day?!
Maxim:  "Plus I ate Dreamland BBQ and went out to a piano bar."

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago Flute-Organ Prelude at Two Morning Services

Organist John Sherer and Maxim performed Four Psalms by American composer Moonyeen Albrecht in the magnificent acoustical space of Chicago's Fourth Pres Church at Michigan Avenue and Chestnut Street. 

About Maxim and Moonie, John said, "Four Psalms is a delightful piece that conveys the meaning of each psalm in a poignant manner.  Max has a tremendous talent and gives his all to the music, which is very inspiring.  He brings out the best of the music.  He shapes each note and each phrase with great artistry.  Many people in the congregation commented on how much they enjoyed hearing him."

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Maxim's Day Off--Well, Almost...

The Family Band
Maxim, Anna and Matthew
How to Count Three Beats per Bar

Friday, October 2, 2009

FAQ Maxim Rubtsov

Photo:  Tema Bryansk

Why do you take a wide stance when playing the flute?

Maxim:  For better breathing and balance.  During a long performance your body, chest and throat must be open.  You become like a breathing machine.  For me this is a natural way to stand.

Why don't you stand in the well of the piano, as most soloists do?

Maxim:  This has to do with sound and what I hear.  When I stand by the piano strings, especially if the lid is open, I hear too much of the piano sound and not enough of my flute sound.  Also when I turn toward my accompanist, my flute sound goes to the back of the stage.  If I stand on the other side, my sound goes out to the audience.  I can hear my sound and the piano better--and get a better balance.  Then I feel more as if I am playing as an ensemble with the pianist, not as a soloist.  We have a closer connection, and actually on most pianos the music stand has a reflective surface and the accompanist can see me, as if in a mirror.

How does dance training affect your music?

Maxim:  Well, I guess I feel the music with my whole body and I'm not afraid to move.  Mainly, I just understand how much dancers want to perform on stage with live music, and I like to be there with them--dancing a little bit with my flute and my feet.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Northwestern University, Road Signs, Weather Signs and Eyebrows

Some days ago a road sign offered the option:  West to Chicago or East to Cleveland.  "Hard choice," said Maxim at the wheel of the little red car, "both good orchestras." After bowing in the direction of the great Cleveland Orchestra, we headed for Chicago with the anticipation of meeting CSO's legendary flutist and principal piccolo Walfrid Kujala.

Professor Kujala and his experienced Northwestern administrative team had prepared all details of our visit.  Time Out Chicago posted the concert on its web site, and the Chicago Tribune announced, "Maxim Rubtsov Flute Recital and Master Class."  Posters on campus highlighted the Thursday concert of "Maxim Rubtsov, Flute, with Yoko Yamada-Selvaggio, Piano." 

Maxim took the stage on a dark and stormy night that seemed to foreshadow trouble.  It came in the form of a sticky key on the piano, B above middle C--a note you can hardly avoid in the repertoire of a recital and master class.  With Yoko struggling to deal with the troublesome piano, Maxim added to the challenge.  He stepped forward at mid-point in his recital and announced, "Thank you for coming out tonight!  I decided to add one more beautiful Russian song to the program.  After Red Sarafan I will play The Nightingale by Alexander Aliab'ev.  They managed to finish with a near record-breaking one-minute Flight of the Bumblebee.  Before the students played, Wally Kujala offered a modest assessment.  “Most of you are too young to realize this," said Professor Kujala, "but I can observe that Maxim has the stage presence of Jean-Pierre Rampal from his eyebrows to his feet.”

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Chicago, "The Whole Percussion Section of an Orchestra" GRRT FUN

We enter Illinois on the Indiana Skyway.  It is windy, of course, and we lean out to see the Chicago skyline as it comes into focus.  [Our photos of Chicago were mistakenly deleted from the camera, and not even the best professional shots can match our memory of what we saw.  You can find endless views of this photogenic and welcoming city by Googling Chicago Photos.]  It is the day before the International Olympic Committee decides which city will be the site of the 2016 Summer Games.  Chicago is aglow in orange-colored flags and boosterism.  Why orange, we wonder?

Maxim calls Lake Shore Drive during rush hour "the whole percussion section of an orchestra"--waves crash on one side, Buckingham Fountain erupts on the other side, eight lanes of snaking traffic, a four-masted sailing ship plies Lake Michigan in the distance and beyond a freighter heads east.  The air is bright with sound, and we are happy to be here.  It's GRRT FUN!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

University of Michigan Concert Supported by a Grant from the Brannen-Cooper Fund

Maxim Rubtsov, Flute, with Zhihua Tang, Piano, playing Yuri Dolzhikov's Romance (Nostalgia)

Maxim Rubtsov plays a golden Brannen-Cooper Flute with silver keys,  made by Brannen Brothers Flutemakers, Inc. in Woburn, Massachusetts.  Maxim's devotion to his handmade American flute extends to the entire flute section of the Russian National Orchestra.  As principal flute and leader of his section, Maxim feels Brannen-Cooper instruments give the best, uniform quality of sound.

Maxim's University of Michigan residency and recital are supported by a grant from the Brannen-Cooper Fund and the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance. A number of friends of the Russian National Orchestra made special donations to enable Maxim to travel to Michigan and perform concerts two cities.   Maxim wishes to thank the Brannen-Cooper Fund, Professor Amy Porter and all donors who made the his Michigan concerts possible!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Ann Arbor, Michigan, "This is a Mahler Day."

Maxim declares it a Mahler day:  rain, clouds, a sense of gloom enshroud the parking lot where we struggle to figure out the machine that is meant to make paid parking swift and easy. A line of people with umbrellas forms behind us. We search our pockets for the right combination of coins.  Our shoes are wet.

Ann Arbor with its Big Blue buses appears to be entirely occupied by the University of Michigan.  One fine thing about the University is its music school.  Maxim has learned Hail! to the Victors Valiant from a U-Mich alum, who advises that this is an essential key to acceptance as a foreign musician in the land of football.  Despite knowing the fight song, it is tricky to find an appropriate moment to play it, given the schedule of our activities at U-Mich.  Piano accompanist Angela Wu wears red tennis shoes and looks fashionable for our first rehearsal, but maybe not in step with the Big Blue theme.

The afternoon master class with Professor Amy Porter's flute studio presses against our time for lunch, and we forget to feed the parking meter.  Our punishment is a $10 parking ticket that causes Maxim distress.  Arriving late for the class, we meet Amy and she offers Maxim a banana, the backstage comfort food and energy-jump for musicians whose performance demands are a lot like long-distance runners. 

Maxim does not unpack his flute for the class, choosing to coach the students with words, stories and grandiose gestures, as he usually prefers.  On this day Prokofiev's "big whore" makes an unexpected appearance on the linguistic stage, or so it seems to those of us who understand both Russian and English.  Maxim neglected to translate the Russian word for choir, which sounds phonetically like the English word whore.  With arms open wide he demonstrates the size of Prokofiev's masterpiece for orchestra and choir.  For me the historical point of the story was momentarily lost, but hopefully the students connected with Maxim's explanation of Russian history, Stalin's censureship of Prokofiev, and most important Prokofiev's genius as a composer who meant to convey his life's experiences in music. 

To conclude the master class a flute quartet comprised of Katherine Standefer, Anne Dearth, Kelly Zimba and Erin O’Shea present a crisp rendition of Andrey Rubtsov’s Flowers of the Sun. This is the first time we have heard the composition played as it was written--and we like it!  It reminds us that the sun does shine and flowers bloom on other days in Ann Arbor.  At Central Michigan University they experimented with Flowers played by a flute choir, and that too was a unique sound.  Learn more about Andrey Rubtsov-- oboist, composer and conductor--here at his web site.

The 2009 University of Michigan Flute Studio
Maxim's words to every flutist, “The flute is the voice of our soul, our language which describes our life.”

For more about flute studies at U-Mich, visit Amy Porter's web site.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Flight of the Bumblebee

On a beautiful Indian Summer day, Maxim decided to practice in the open air on the bank of the Grand River in Lansing, Michigan.  At a scenic spot overlooking Grand River Park and the Michigan Princess riverboat, he played various exercises and fragments of songs from his tour repertoire.  In his master classes and press interviews during the tour Maxim explained that he began studying flute at the age of seven and spent many happy hours in the forests and along the riverbanks in Bryansk, a city in Russia near the border with Ukraine where he spent his childhood.

"As a small child I took my flute into the forest and played for the berries and the mushrooms," explained Maxim.  "I went with my teacher or my parents and we listened to forest acoustics, to the sounds of birds and salamanders. I noticed the distinctive smells of the forest.  My teacher’s goal was to help me discover a serious attachment to my instrument, not to destroy my desire to play the flute, even to instill a deep love of flute playing.  What I learned is that in nature there is a reaction to flute sounds.  Birds sing, fish jump, creatures that make no sound respond by moving.  And, yes, bumblebees seem to be more active when they hear a flute." 

Whilst Maxim was practicing on the riverbank in Michigan, I began to notice this phenomenon.  Birds sang, a fish jumped, small insects seemed more active and indeed several bumblebees approached nearby flowers.  We tried to make a Flight of the Bumblebee video on this beautiful day, and being amateurs we had no luck.  However, all the rehearsal time spent playing Bumblebee meant gave Maxim the idea that in every subsequent concert performance he would play faster.  After hearing the recording made during his Central Michigan University concert, a one-minute Bumblebee which you can listen to below, he set himself a challenge.  Could he do it even faster?

Maxim Rubtsov, Flute, and Zhihua Tang, Piano, playing Flight of the Bumblebee
by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov from the opera The Tale of Tsar Saltan

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Oberlin Conservatory, Professor Michel Debost and Lessons Learned

Oberlin Conservatory of Music, established in 1865 is the oldest conservatory in continuous operation in the United States. For more than 100 years it has had a close association with the Cleveland Orchestra, as well as the Steinway Company—the conservatory was their original customer and now has more than 200 Steinway pianos. It could be said to be a liberal place in terms of ideas and music. The Conservatory is located in what appears to my eyes to be a Soviet-style building, designed in the 1960s by Japanese architect Minoru Yamasaki.

In preparing his U. S. tour itinerary, Maxim told me he had a deep desire to connect with Oberlin’s revered flute professor Michel Debost, who had known Maxim’s flute professor Yuri Dolzhikov. During the 1970s Dolzhikov had the unique distinction of being the only Russian flutist to be allowed to study at the Paris Conservatoire with Jean-Pierre Rampal. Dolzhikov therefore became an important link between Russian students and the great French masters of the flute and the extensive French flute repertoire. Following his recital and master class, Maxim got a quick master class in what Debost called the "simplicity" of French flute music. Debost said, “Americans especially think French flute music is complicated.” First Maxim played the opening phrase of Debussy's Afternoon of the Faun. Then Debost played illustrate his point about utter simplicity.  Max wished I had taken a video to capture this lesson for all time. 

The atmosphere of the recital and master class was highly professional, and especially satisfying due to the superb accompaniment of pianist Alicja Basinska of the Cleveland Institute of Music.  Afterward informality set in with a group of students posing for a photo in the student lounge.  At Debost's invitation we all went round the corner (he rode his bicycle) to a campus spot for a beer and burger.  We ended the night much later, playing music, dancing and talking with students in the gazebo at the center of campus.

The next morning as we departed we returned to leave a coin at the gazebo.  It is a gesture many Russians believe will bring good luck and the chance to return one day to the same spot.  Along with the lesson from Professor Debost, Oberlin is forever emblazoned in memory.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

"Russian Flutist to Perform at CMU Tonight"

The headline in The Morning Sun of Mt. Pleasant, Michigan tells the who/what/when of Maxim’s concert at Central Michigan University. Read the full story here.  But you had to be there to catch the why and how of the concert. Maxim Rubtsov and pianist Zhihua Tang lit a fire on the stage of CMU’s Staples Hall that might burn forever in the hearts of flute fans. The audience cheered, swooned and demanded more.  John Jacobson, Director of Music Events said, "The students were blown away."  Flute Professor Joanna Cowan White said it was because of Maxim’s “flawless technique.”  Professor Emerita Moonyeen Albrecht said, “The audience let out a collective sigh each time Maxim sustained a final note—seemingly without effort—letting it fade to the softest whisper.”  Was it this? Or was it the good luck of a new tuxedo, doubly strengthened by those magic suspenders?

Moonie and Maxim and the Magical Suspenders

Monday, September 21, 2009

"A Team of Special Musical Gods," Flute Master Class at Central Michigan University

Professor Joanna Cowan White's CMU flute studio.
A team of special musical gods.

Maxim asks students what seems to be a philosophical, even existential question, "What do you imagine when you play this music?"

For Maxim it is a fundamental question each musician should be able to answer.  It is the basis for musicianship.  He says, "Musicians don't just play notes.  We speak with our instruments, like a team of special musical gods.  We have to find something interesting to say, to show our personality in music, to tell the story and show the character of the composition.  Each composer had an idea.  We have to find this idea and express it in our own words.  What we give to our audience is what we understand about the music and what we actually see in the music.  This understanding comes from deep inside our souls, and my understanding is different from your understanding."

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A Chance Meeting on the Volga River Leads to Central Michigan University Concert

On radio station WCMU-FM composer Moonyeen Albrecht and Maxim tell the story of their  2008 meeting in Russia.  After teaching music theory and composition at Centra Michigan University for 37 years, Professor Albrecht retired and pursued her dream of traveling to Russia and learning the language.  On a Volga Riverboat tour with the Russian National Orchestra, she exchanged some words in Russian with principal flute Maxim Rubtsov and gave him a CD of her compositions for flute and organ.  Intrigued and delighted by the music, Maxim agreed to add her compositions to his United States tour repertoire and to visit her home in central Michigan.

Two flutists--each playing a Brannen-Cooper flute--consult with composer Moonyeen Albrecht during rehearsal at Central Michigan University. In addition to Albrecht’s composition for organ and two flutes, the concert program included her Four Psalms for Flute and Organ. CMU professors Joanna Cowan White (flute) and Steven Egler (organ) join Maxim Rubtsov on stage at Staples Hall.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Gas and go...First Stop Pittsburgh on a "Chamber Music Day"

Maxim is rather serious about ironing his shirts...

                                          cleaning the windshield...

                                                                       filling up with gas...

and getting on the road!

 Maxim calls it a "Chamber Music Day!"

The trusted GPS guide--Maxim calls her Lena--gets us to Pittsburgh in four hours.

There we receive warm hospitality from our friends Jonathan and Jane Harris.

Maxim plays Debussy's Syrinx and tells the story of Pan and the first flute to Alexandra and John Mason Price.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Flute Treasures at the Library of Congress

The U. S. Library of Congress has many treasures. The beauty of the building's interiors inspire reverence for books.  Yet the Library's diverse collections contain much more than books.   Under the dome of the Main Reading Room conveyor belts silently deliver requested books to readers at well-lit tables.  In the Library's Performing Arts Reading Room, Maxim finds flute and wind quintet scores, and he reviews rare volumes from the Library's Russian Imperial Collection, including the songbooks of Nicholas and Alexandra.

By special appointment with the curator of the Dayton C. Miller Flute Collection, Maxim enters a basement vault where he examines some of the Library's 1700 rare and historically important flutes.   On public view is an exquisite exhibit about The Ballets Russes, including a inscribed photo of Francis Poulenc, whose Sonata for Flute is one of Maxim’s favorites.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Maxim Sees Washington

From the beginning, a flute the National Gallery of Art, a celebration of Judith Leyster's 400th birthday features a poster image of her Young Flute Player (1635).  Inside the museum a transverse flute, such as the one in the painting, and other historical instruments are on display next to Dutch Baroque masterpieces.  Maxim wants you to notice that we are on day two of a 26-day itinerary.

Standing in the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue with the U. S. Capitol in the background, the traffic is rather calm at midday.  Sometimes one encounters skateboarders in the center lane, headed for the Capitol at top speed--until the Hill an effortless, freeform journey. 

The Inspirational Peach

A peach and two tomatoes that need ripening are the focus of Maxim's practice.  Since it is his theory that a  musician's energy goes somewhere, not just into space, Max entertains the fruits for several hours with a practice routine that includes fragments of his concert program, Pink Panther and Mozart.  He does not sit, but paces the room like a lion.  Instead of an audience that might feel better following a concert, a peach and two tomatoes will taste better.  We'll test this hypothesis at dinner.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Maxim Rubtsov Begins US Concert Tour, Arrives in Washington, DC under a "Brahms Sky"

I first met Maxim in 2001 during an RNO tour in California. At Villa Montalvo there was a day-long chamber music presentation in which Max performed Debussy’s Syrinx and a Jolivet trio for flute, harp and bassoon with his orchestra colleagues.  Maxim's personality shines in his music.  It is warm and communicative.  He wants you to love him, and you will.  Visit the RNO web site for details of Maxim's concert tour.

Blood on the ground...troubleshooting begins with Band-aids, but thankfully no visit to the hospital emergency room.  Moments after his arrival at Dulles Airport, Maxim cut his finger on a luggage cart.  He felt that by annointing American soil with his blood, he would have successful, even heroic performances.  I reminded him that a flutist needs 10 good fingers and before heroism comes practice.

At the Washington Monument, Maxim jumps out of the car and asks a tourist to take this photo.  It is a beautiful day.  Maxim calls it a Brahms sky--high and clear with deep, endless blue.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

RNO Grand Festival Gala Finale

For concert excerpts go to and search on RNOtv.  Because the recorded segments are full length, they are too long for blog posts.

On YouTube, thanks to Gennady Krutikov and RNOtv, you will find yourself transported to the Bolshoi stage with Mikhail Pletnev conducting the Russian National Orchestra and soloists Michael Collins, clarinet, and Sergey Krylov, violin. 

Enjoy the concert!  And next year join us in Moscow in September!

Dvorak, Slavonic Dances, 9:49

Arnold, Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra No. 2 with Michael Collins, 10:36

Tchaikovsky, Coronation March, 5:20

Saint Saens, Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso for Violin and Orchestra in A minor with Sergey Krylov, 8:47

Tchaikovsky, Slavonic March, 9:06

Friday, September 11, 2009

"Renee and the Russians to be in the spotlight at 2010 Boca festival"

Renee Fleming         Photo by Niels Busch

The Russian National Orchestra will be featured in four concerts during the 2010 Festival of the Arts BOCA, from March 5-13.  The opening concert with Renee Fleming is on Saturday, March 6, 2010.

Here you can read Lawrence Budmen's September 11, 2009 article in the South Florida Classical Review

See the entire Festival schedule and purchase tickets at the Festival of the Arts BOCA web site.

Edvard Grieg, His Music Influenced Tchaikovsky and others…

                                                        Photo:  Wikipedia

In the Hall of the Mountain King
Edvard Grieg died in 1907.  He is entombed in a mountain crypt (seen above) near his home in Troldhaugen, Norway.

In my memory of remarkable musical events in Russia, a stand-out is the 1999 concert of the Russian National Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra at the Kremlin Palace. The performance featured the Peer Gynt Suite, written by Duke Ellington's premier arranger Billy Strayhorn.

That concert was far from Mikhail Pletnev’s 2009 festival goal—to represent with authenticity the text and language of Henrik Ibsen's Peer Gynt and to perform the incidental music Edvard Grieg composed for an 1874 staged version of the Norwegian verse drama.  In addition to authentic storytelling and beautiful singing, Maestro Pletnev wanted to highlight the historical fact that Grieg and Tchaikovsky became acquainted in the late 1880s.  They admired each other’s music, and Tchaikovsky fell under the influence of the beauty, originality and warmth of Grieg's compositions.  Or was it the other way around?

A different dynamic was in play in the era of Edward "Duke" Ellington, whose big band performed a humorous, saucy interpretation of Grieg’s Peer Gynt--one so scandalous that it threatened U.S.-Norway relations. While Ellington had a deep respect for Grieg and other classical music composers, his Peer Gynt Suite became a rollicking transformation of the familiar motifs into jazz rhythms.  It was not exactly a "jazzing up" of the classical composition, as much as it was a re-visioning of the original.  What Ellington and Strayhorn did with Peer Gynt, they also did with Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker.  They created a new interpretation that thrills some listeners and irritates others.

In the 1999 concert, the two orchestras—the Russian classical one and the American jazz one—appeared together on the vast Kremlin Hall stage at the end of a worldwide concert tour honoring the 100th anniversary of Duke Ellington’s birth. Each orchestra was relatively young, having been conceived in the early 1990s by two musical geniuses--Mikhail Pletnev and Wynton Marsalis--each with a clear vision of the musical culture of their native land. The combined orchestras with mezzo-soprano Maria Maskhuliya were directed by Guest Conductor Dmitri Liss, whom The Moscow Times called “a rising star.” In its July 9 concert review, entitled "Marsalis, RNO Triumph in Combination," Times music critic Rebecca Reich wrote:
Movement by movement, Ellington’s arrangement broke down the all-too-familiar strains of Peer Gynt, rebuilding them into an infinitely more entertaining spectacle that made the original look tired and stiff. When the tremulous, somber aria sung with the RNO by mezzo soprano Maria Maskhuliya was musically mocked by the warbling trombone of the LCJO’s Wycliffe Gordon, the imitation was so exact and so irreverent that the audience burst into spontaneous cheers.

At the end of Mikhail Pletnev’s 2009 version of Peer Gynt there were also cheers of ecstasy, and I am certain there was approval deep inside the Hall of the Mountain King in Troldhaugen, Norway. But in the memory of the 3000 fans who filled the hall of the Kremlin Palace, cheers and applause are still ringing a decade after hearing the jazz-and-classics version of Peer Gynt popularized by Duke Ellington.

Below find my translation of Culture Television Channel’s September 12 broadcast, "The full version of Peer Gynt is performed by the Russian National Orchestra."  Find the Russian language text of this article here.

Peer Gynt was presented today at the RNO Grand Festival in the full version of Grieg’s music for the drama by Ibsen. And despite the announced theme of the festival—this follower of Tchaikovsky, composing music for a Norwegian literary classic, seemed a not entirely spontaneous choice—it was the considered and sustained decision of Mikhail Pletnev, since Grieg was a contemporary and friend of Tchaikovsky. According to Culture News.

For the concert version of Peer Gynt, Concertmaster Alexey Bruni made a literary edition, adapted for one narrator. This role fulfilled by Vassiliy Lanovoy.

“The narrator must be able to combine about ten different types of personalities or identities,” explained the Honored Artist of the USSR.
To perform the literary-musical composition Peer Gynt the Russian National Orchestra required extra strength. On the stage of the Bolshoi Theater, in addition to Mikhail Pletnev’s orchestra, were soloists from Russia and Latvia and the Moscow State Academic Chamber Choir under the direction of Vladimir Minin.