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Freya Parr Free Download: Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence

'They emphasise the daring unconventionality of Tchaikovsky's writing, while managing to tame its quasi-orchestral dimensions by employing the widest possible dynamic range with a partiuclarly appealing velvety sound in the quietest passages'

This week's free download is the third movement, Allegro moderato, of Tchaikovsky's String Sextet in D minor 'Souvenir de Florence', performed by Quatuor Danel with violist Vladimír Bukač and cellist Petr Prause. It was recorded on CPO and was awarded four stars for both performance and recording in the December issue of BBC Music Magazine.

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Michael_Beek Who composed the music for His Dark Materials?

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The big Sunday night dramas just keep on coming and His Dark Materials is perhaps the BBC’s biggest yet. 

Based on Philip Pullman’s original trilogy of books (Northern Lights, The Golden Compass and The Amber Spyglass), the BBC has spared no expense in bringing the author’s incredible vision to the screen.

The first episode, which aired a couple of weeks ago, saw a mysterious man (Lord Asriel) wading through a flooded Oxford clutching a small baby. Swimming behind him was a snow leopard… 

This is no ordinary world, as all humans have an animal counterpart (or Daemon) bearing the human’s soul.

As the story progresses, we see the baby grown into a young girl (Lyra), who longs to be an explorer in the north like Asriel. 

Her wish comes true, though at a price, as she finds herself engulfed in a dangerous adventure that will unlock secrets about her very existence and the true nature of the world (worlds?) around her.

 

 

 

The expansive original music for the series has been composed by Lorne Balfe, a Grammy-winning, BAFTA and Emmy-nominated composer who cut his teeth working with Hans Zimmer in Los Angeles.

Born in Scotland, which he still calls home and where he set up his own state of the art music studio (in Inverness), Balfe won a scholarship to Edinburgh’s Fettes College aged just 15. He originally had aspirations to be a percussionist and then set his heart of becoming a film composer.

Chancing his arm, he wrote to the Media Ventures studio in LA (now known as Remote Control) and offered his services for free. He soon found himself knee-deep in Hollywood music-making and very quickly became Hans Zimmer’s assistant.

Learning his craft at the coalface with Zimmer and other composers based at the studio, Balfe contributed music and arrangements to some big movie titles, including The Dark Knight (for which he shared a Grammy).

2010 saw a big break, co-composing the score (with Zimmer) for the DreamWorks animated feature, Megamind.

 

 

From there he never looked back and has since written music for the likes of Home (2015), Terminator Genisys (2015), The Lego Batman Movie (2017) and Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018) for the big screen. 

On the small screen his tunes have graced the likes of ITV’s Marcella and Netflix’s smash-hit The Crown (co-composed with Rupert Gregson-Williams) and Genius

He has written for games, too, with his music appearing in big hitters like the Assassin’s Creed, Crysis and Call of Duty franchises.

He has been well prepared then for His Dark Materials, which finds him creating intriguing soundworlds for the multi-layered story unfolding before our eyes. 

Special synthetic effects merge with ethereal choir and large orchestral forces. The latter comes courtesy of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, which recorded the score at its base in Cardiff – incidentally, where much of the series was filmed.

 

 

 

His Dark Materials continues on BBC One on Sunday evenings at 20:00 (GMT) and on BBC iPlayer. A selection of Lorne Balfe’s music for the series is now available to stream and download.

 

 

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Music Freelance A guide to Wagner’s Siegfried

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Siegfried

Composed: 1856-71

Premiere: 16 August 1876, Bayreuth

Looked after since childhood by the dwarf Mime, Siegfried forges a new weapon from the shards of the sword of his father, Siegmund. After some intellectual high jinx between Mime and the Wanderer (Wotan), he is taken to slay the dragon Fafner and seize the hoard of gold that includes the Ring. Mime plans to poison Siegfried and grab the hoard himself, but when Siegfried finds out, he strikes him down. Siegfried in turn learns of Brünnhilde, whom he sets out to free from the flames

 

.

 

With the Ring’s last two operas we come, paradoxically, to the first librettos written, as Siegfried’s Death (1848) and Young Siegfried (1851). As the names suggest, they were originally simpler stories, centred on the life of the legendary Germanic hero, without the vast mythological and philosophical backdrop shaped in Die Walküre and Das Rhinegold.

 

 

Siegfried has been called the scherzo of the Ring cycle, because of the burgeoning youth that pervades the score. Act I is dominated by the exciting rhythms of hammer, bellows and blazing forge, as Siegfried reforges his father’s sword. The great forest of Act II mingles the haunted gloom of Weber’s Freischütz with the sunlight and bird calls of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, and in Act III Siegfried makes an epic passage through storm and fire on the mountainside to Brünnhilde’s idyllic pastures.

 

 

The scoring flows with such energy and complexity it’s surprising to find it wasn’t composed in one go. Wagner reached a creative crisis at the end of Act II, and, as he said, ‘left Siegfried sitting under a lime tree’ from August 1857… until March 1869, during which time he composed Tristan and Die Meistersinger and went from penniless refugee to acknowledged master. He had also become not only a widower, Minna having died in 1866 (Wagner didn’t attend the funeral), but also a father of two children with the still-married Cosima van Bülow, an affair that scandalised Munich society.

 

 

In Siegfried, the son of Siegmund and Sieglinde, Wagner created a much misunderstood hero; some producers even make him a Hitler Youth-style bullyboy. They haven’t read the libretto closely enough. Raised as a mere weapon by the dwarf Mime, Siegfried becomes a loveless, bitterly lonely and frustrated young man, sharp-tongued and impatient, but far less violent than he threatens to be. When mortally provoked, by Mime and the Dragon, Siegfried strikes back only when he must, and takes no great delight in killing, becoming gravely reflective. By himself, we see Siegfried as good-humoured, nature-loving and 
not unthoughtful.

 

 

When it comes to Mime, meanwhile, some claim that Wagner intended some element of Jewish caricature here, but there’s no explicit evidence, and Mime stands as a character without it. He’s a master craftsman, but also a megalomaniac, as bad as Alberich but smaller-minded, a paranoid writhing with plots and hatreds, a pathological liar and conscienceless poisoner. Only really bad producers 
make him cute…

 

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Music Freelance The life of composer George Benjamin

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1960 

Born in London, Benjamin goes to Westminster School. 

1976
Benjamin goes to study in Paris with Olivier Messiaen and Yvonne Loriod, before returning to study at King’s College, Cambridge with Alexander Goehr. 

 

 

1980 
His orchestral piece Ringed by the Flat Horizon, written for the Cambridge University Musical Society, is performed at the BBC Proms, conducted by Mark Elder.

 

 

1987
After working with Pierre Boulez at IRCAM in Paris, Benjamin writes Antara for chamber orchestra and electronics, but composes little else until 1992. His conducting career begins to blossom. 

 

 

2001
He becomes professor of composition at King’s College, University of London, taking over from Harrison Birtwistle.

 

 

2006
His chamber opera Into the Little Hill, with a libretto by Martin Crimp, is premiered in Paris. At the UK premiere three years later, a power cut in the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Studio leads to the piece being staged in the theatre bar.

 

 

2012
Written on Skin, his second large-scale opera, is staged in Aix-en-Provence. It has since been given nearly 100 performances.

 

 

2017
Awarded a CBE in 2010, seven years later George Benjamin is given a knighthood.

 

 

2018
Lessons in Love and Violence premieres at Covent Garden, with a cast including singers Barbara Hannigan and Stéphan Degout.

 

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Music Freelance An introduction to Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 15

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Symphony No. 15 Op. 141 (1971)

Premiered: Moscow 1972

Shostakovich wrote his final symphony while planning an opera on Chekhov’s ‘The Black Monk’, which concerns a man who surrenders to delusions of grandeur. Was this a memorial to the hubristic delusions of the Soviet Empire? Though it evokes a childhood world, it’s a nursery twitching with sinister puppets.

VASILY PETRENKO: ‘The final symphony is so fascinating, so controversial. I’ve known musicologists who were close to him in his last years, and say he was actually very optimistic. He’d gone through a great fear of death and come out the other side. Most of the symphony was dreamed up in hospital, and written down at home. It’s a little like Prokofiev’s Seventh Symphony, about childhood; he said it was a “toy shop”, but what a macabre one!

We hear hospital equipment, electric shock treatment, vulgarity and satire; he brings in serialism, a vast array of quotations – everything from Rossini’s William Tell to Mahler’s Fourth Symphony – which come across like the crazy voices in your head when you are delirious.

And then comes the music from Götterdammerung: in Russian the title is translated as “Death of the Gods”, not “Twilight of the Gods”, and it could also be translated as “Condemnation of the Gods”. What did he mean? He left us no clues, but wrote to his friend Isaak Glikman: “I don’t myself quite know why the quotations are there, but I could not, could not, not include them.”

‘I feel he is recording a half-conscious state. The web of quotes from his own pieces is complex; they are reversed and converted, and he keeps coming back to his Symphony No. 4. Near the end we sense the world rippling and dissolving – there’s an understanding that it’s time to go. In the twitching ending are we hearing the death of all illusions?’

 

 

Vasily Petrenko is, like Shostakovich, a son of Leningrad/St Petersburg, and grew up singing the composer’s songs in its Capella Boys Music School.

In 1997 he won first prize in the Shostakovich Choral Conducting Competition and was made chief conductor of the St Petersburg State Academic Symphony Orchestra, during which time he took on the principal conductorship of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic.

On his arrival in the city in 2006, at just 30, he launched a project with Naxos to record all Shostakovich’s 15 symphonies. The series has drawn international acclaim and, as the final instalment is released, he looks back on his nine-year journey.

‘To work with an orchestra on one composer for so many years has meant we could build a style, an approach to his language,’ he says. ‘At first, it felt like an exhilarating challenge: there are huge demands. Now, we are of one mind.’ 

 

 

Petrenko, born a year after the composer’s death, grew up in the Soviet Union. A beneficiary of its uniquely rigorous teaching system, he witnessed its dissolution when he was 15, the re-writing of history books, and even the emergence of a nostalgia for that dark era. He’s in touch with those who remember Shostakovich, and the times through which he lived, but has experienced the Western view of this controversial figure.

‘When I conduct these symphonies in Russia, there’s still an unspoken understanding of the songs, the messages. We talk more about the composer’s personal life. When I conduct in the West, it’s important to give the historical context. There’s still so much we don’t know; the family destroyed many letters when Shostakovich died. The State would probably have requisitioned them anyway.’ 

 

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Music Freelance An introduction to Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 15

Rating: 
0

Symphony No. 15 Op. 141 (1971)

Premiered: Moscow 1972

Shostakovich wrote his final symphony while planning an opera on Chekhov’s ‘The Black Monk’, which concerns a man who surrenders to delusions of grandeur. Was this a memorial to the hubristic delusions of the Soviet Empire? Though it evokes a childhood world, it’s a nursery twitching with sinister puppets.

VASILY PETRENKO: ‘The final symphony is so fascinating, so controversial. I’ve known musicologists who were close to him in his last years, and say he was actually very optimistic. He’d gone through a great fear of death and come out the other side. Most of the symphony was dreamed up in hospital, and written down at home. It’s a little like Prokofiev’s Seventh Symphony, about childhood; he said it was a “toy shop”, but what a macabre one!

We hear hospital equipment, electric shock treatment, vulgarity and satire; he brings in serialism, a vast array of quotations – everything from Rossini’s William Tell to Mahler’s Fourth Symphony – which come across like the crazy voices in your head when you are delirious.

And then comes the music from Götterdammerung: in Russian the title is translated as “Death of the Gods”, not “Twilight of the Gods”, and it could also be translated as “Condemnation of the Gods”. What did he mean? He left us no clues, but wrote to his friend Isaak Glikman: “I don’t myself quite know why the quotations are there, but I could not, could not, not include them.”

‘I feel he is recording a half-conscious state. The web of quotes from his own pieces is complex; they are reversed and converted, and he keeps coming back to his Symphony No. 4. Near the end we sense the world rippling and dissolving – there’s an understanding that it’s time to go. In the twitching ending are we hearing the death of all illusions?’

 

 

Vasily Petrenko is, like Shostakovich, a son of Leningrad/St Petersburg, and grew up singing the composer’s songs in its Capella Boys Music School.

In 1997 he won first prize in the Shostakovich Choral Conducting Competition and was made chief conductor of the St Petersburg State Academic Symphony Orchestra, during which time he took on the principal conductorship of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic.

On his arrival in the city in 2006, at just 30, he launched a project with Naxos to record all Shostakovich’s 15 symphonies. The series has drawn international acclaim and, as the final instalment is released, he looks back on his nine-year journey.

‘To work with an orchestra on one composer for so many years has meant we could build a style, an approach to his language,’ he says. ‘At first, it felt like an exhilarating challenge: there are huge demands. Now, we are of one mind.’ 

 

 

Petrenko, born a year after the composer’s death, grew up in the Soviet Union. A beneficiary of its uniquely rigorous teaching system, he witnessed its dissolution when he was 15, the re-writing of history books, and even the emergence of a nostalgia for that dark era. He’s in touch with those who remember Shostakovich, and the times through which he lived, but has experienced the Western view of this controversial figure.

‘When I conduct these symphonies in Russia, there’s still an unspoken understanding of the songs, the messages. We talk more about the composer’s personal life. When I conduct in the West, it’s important to give the historical context. There’s still so much we don’t know; the family destroyed many letters when Shostakovich died. The State would probably have requisitioned them anyway.’ 

 

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Nine unexpected uses of Tchaikovsky’s ‘The Nutcracker’

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Fantasia (1940)

As well as mop-wielding Mickey Mouse, Disney’s feature-length cartoon has a gorgeously animated section devoted to The Nutcracker, including music from the Sugar-Plum Fairy, the Arabian Dance, the Russian Trepak and the Waltz of the Flowers. 

 

 

Barbie in the Nutcracker (2001)

Further cinematic Nutcracker delights, as a computer-animated Barbie embarks on a ballet adventure. It is, needless to say, all very pink, though our heroine does dance a neat little Sugar-Plum Fairy routine.

 

 

The Simpsons Christmas Stories (2005)

‘I hope I never hear that God-awful Nutcracker music again,’ complains a typically grumpy Homer Simpson. And guess what comes next? Yup, the Simpsons cast sings a Christmas medley to the tune of the Act I March.

 

 

Duke Ellington’s The Nutcracker Suite (1960)

Few musicians have fused the worlds of classical and jazz as sublimely as The Duke, whose 1960 take on Tchaikovsky comes complete with natty titles such as ‘Sugar Rum Cherry’ and ‘Toot Toot Tootie Toot’.

 

 

Nut Rocker (1962)

Two years after Duke Ellington, American rockers B. Bumble & the Stingers were inspired to create their own high-octane arrangement of The Nutcracker’s March, a version that’s been covered by Emerson, Lake and Palmer, among others.  

 

 

Nutcracker (1982)

Joan Collins is in quintessentially sassy form in this splendidly awful British film about a Russian ballerina defecting to the west. Finola Hughes is the dancer in question.

 

 

Cadbury's Fruit & Nut Advert (1976 etc)

From Frank Muir pootling around in a punt in 1976 to a 1980s office worker being serenaded by a singing chocolate bar and her hunky-chunky almonds, Cadbury’s brilliant ad campaign had us all singing ‘Everyone’s a Fruit and Nut case’ to the Dance of the Reed Pipes.

 

Tetris (1989)

Block-dropping fun galore, as the Nintendo Gameboy version of this ultra-popular game was accompanied by The Nutcracker’s 'Trepak'.

 

 

Hospital For Overacting (1970)

Here’s one for sharp-eyed Nutcracker spotters, courtesy of Monty Python’s 1970 sketch. As Graham Chapman enters the Richard III Ward at the Royal Hospital for Overacting, a group of King Mice pass in the other direction.

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Music Freelance A guide to Ives’s Symphony No. 2

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American composer Charles Ives began work on his Second Symphony in 1897, shortly after graduating from Yale University. Ives later referred to it as one of his ‘soft’ pieces, as it lacks some of the dissonances that appear in his later works.

Within it, he alludes to American tunes such as ‘Camptown Races’, a feature of much of his compositional output. The piece also references western classical music, including Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 and a motif from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde.

 

 

 

The Second Symphony was well received by audiences at its belated 1951 Carnegie Hall premiere, despite being allegedly met with ambivalence by Ives himself, who failed to attend the concert and instead listened back to a recording of the performance on the radio.

Bernstein, who conducted the New York Philharmonic in the piece’s premiere, made significant changes including a substantial cut to the finale, adjustments to the instrumentation, harmonic resolution and tempo indications. 

 

 

 

The symphony’s first studio recording was made two years later by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, under the baton of Frederick Charles Adler. Bernstein returned to Ives’s Second Symphony in a recording in 1958.

 

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Freya Parr Hildegard von Bingen • Opera Age Ratings • Gabriela Montero Piano Concerto

In our December 2019 podcast, we pay tribute to the late soprano Jessye Norman and listen to one of her best recordings. We also discuss the new 'Music for Trees' app created by the Royal Parks in conjunction with the Royal Academy of Music. The app follows the roaming user as they walk around Regent's Park, playing corresponding compositions by RAM students. Plus, we take a look at this year's shortlist for the RPS Awards.

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