Eric Ericson, vermaard Zweeds koordirigent, overleden op 94-jarige leeftijd

Op zaterdag 16 februari 2013 overleed op 94-jarige leeftijd een van de beroemdste koordirigenten van de afgelopen decennia, meest vermaard om zijn dirigentschap van het Zweeds Radiokoor in de periode 1951-1981. In de clip hieronder is hij, op gevorderde leeftijd, prachtig op dreef met The Real Group, een ander Zweeds topkoor uit Stockholm. Gezongen worden En vänlig grönskas rika dräkt en Och Jungfrun hon går i dansen. Beide opnamen zijn ook te vinden op het Real Group album Stämning uit 2003.

RIP Eric Ericson (1918-2013)


De jonge pianist Evgeny Bozhanov: bijzondere interpretaties, grote muzikale persoonlijkheid

De jonge Bulgaarse pianist Evgeni Bozhanov (geb. 1984) speelt prachtig. Velen, waaronder ikzelf, leerden hem kennen dankzij z’n wondermooie spel tijdens prestigieuze pianoconcoursen. In 2010 toonde hij z’n topkwaliteiten met het behalen van de tweede prijs op de Koningin Elisabeth Wedstrijd en op het Chopin Concours in Warschau werd hij zeer verdienstelijk vierde. Z’n interpretaties zijn heel bijzonder en tonen z’n grote muzikale persoonlijkheid.

Evgeny Bozhanov speelt Sonetto del Petrarca van Franz Liszt


Pakhawaj playing at its best by the young and brilliant Mahima Upadhyay

What an amazing young talent, evry detail soo beautifully articulated. Listening to the rich sound of this rhythm queen is truly a listener’s delight. I think the Gundecha Brothers, on front row in the audience, will agree with me.


My Top 10 of World Music releases 2012

01. Shankar Tucker – The Shrutibox (Vol.2)
02. Wu Man and Master Musicians from the Silk Route – Borderlands, Music of Central Asia, Vol. 10
03. Ebo Taylor – Appia Kwa Bridge
04. Debashish Bhattacharya – Madeira
05. Alex Wilson – Salsa Veritas
06. Kala Ramnath – Aavartan
07. Blue Flamingo – A Search for CMS
08. Estrella Morente – Autorretrato
09. Saskia Rao de Haas – The Indian Cello
10. The Touré-Raichel Collective – The Tel Aviv Session

I also published this list at Concertzender’s weblog, where you can find 2012 world music top 10 lists by other afficionados.
What were your highlights among new releases in 2012? Let me know, I’d love to hear about it!


Valentina Lisitsa release Rachmaninoff 2nd Piano Concerto on October 22nd, 2012

It took a while, but it looks like Valentina Lisitsa’s long awaited release of her Rachmaninoff Project is on its way now. In 2009-2010 she recorded the four piano concerti and the Paganini Variations with the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Michael Francis. I reported extensively on this fabulous undertaking on my website and on YouTube. On Amazon, Valentina’s recording of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No.2 is now announced – right here – for release on October 22nd.

And how about the release of the other recordings? On October 10th, Valentina herself stated on her Facebook wall that after the MP3-release of Piano Concerto No.2 on October 22nd, the release of the other recordings (also as MP3) will follow later on this year. She added that around February-March 2013, the complete set will be released on CD.

I was present at the recording sessions in London’s Abbey Road Studios and it was a unique and unforgettable musical experience. Yes, such was the power of Valentina’s performing!

Rachmaninoff Project, December 2009, Valentina and me in the Abbey Road Studios

For those interested in how the ‘Rachy project’ came about, I’d like to refer to my documentary on YouTube, embedded here below.


Wonderful concept for an enhanced experience of raga music: The Silence Concert

To help people experience the power of Indian classical music, married and musical couple cellist Saskia Rao de Haas and sitarist Shubhendra Rao started the Silence Concert movement, to experience music in its purest form: surrounded by silence. An intriguing, fascinating concept.

Saskia and Shubhendra explained their initiative in The Hindu of 19 September 2012 and here’s what they have to say about it on the Silence Concert Facebook-page they created:

“What is a Silence Concert?
For the sensitive listener, there can be a big difference in attending a concert and experiencing music. The effect that music can have on our lives, especially Indian music, is often lost by the social conventions that prevail at concerts: applause, talking before and after the concert, ceremonies, all of which take the attention away from the music itself. To help people experience the magical power of Indian music in a concert setting, Pt Shubhendra Rao and Saskia Rao initiated the Silence Concerts movement. In a Silence Concert the only sound that reverberates is music. There are no introductions, ceremonies, gimmicks, talks, speeches or applause. The setting is serene, beautiful and set up to experience beauty within through the pure experience of music. Through controlling external influences that can distract listener and performer the experience of pure music is enhanced.
Entering the auditorium for a Silence concert, the audience and artists leave behind their worries and daily masks, because they do not have to respond in word or gesture to the outside world. They can be gently led through a sublime journey within. What follows is that their experience turns within. The artist can share his music without playing to the gallery and the effect lingers after the concert, not interrupted by applause.
Abhinavagupta (approx. 950-1020 AD), the Indian philosopher, said that the ‘perfect audience is a spotless mirror of the performer’. Audience and performer become one in a Silence concert. The social context is taken out and the audience is left with a truly introspective experience, as is the performer.”
(Saskia Rao de Haas and Shubhendra Rao)

Saskia and Shubhendra end with a quote of Sufi Inayat Khan (1882-1927):
“While tuning the tanpura, the artist tunes his own soul. Not only has he tuned the instrument, but he has felt the need of every soul in the audience and the demands of their souls, what they want at that time. He becomes an instrument of the whole cosmic system, open to all inspiration at one with the audience, in tune with the tanpura and it is not only music, but spiritual phenomena that he gives to the people…‘ The object of Indian music is the training of the mind and the soul, for music is the best way of concentration. If one only knows how to appreciate it and give one’s mind to it, keeping all other things away, one naturally develops the power of concentration. Besides the beauty of music, there is the tenderness, which brings life [and gratitude] to the heart. For the person of fine feelings life in this world is very trying. It is jarring and it sometimes has a freezing effect. It makes the heart, so to speak, frozen. If one can focus one’s heart on music, it is just like warming up something that was frozen. The joy of life depends upon the perfect tuning of mind and body.”


Von Trier’s ‘Melancholia’: deeply romantic and full of longing… with the help of Wagner

In my experience they are few, films that get deep into your system and always stay with you, but I think I just watched another one over the weekend: ‘Melancholia’ by Lars von Trier.*

Trailer of Melancholia

From start to finish I immensely enjoyed this deeply romantic film. A film all about longing. I couldn’t think of a better choice than Wagner’s (Tristan Vorspiel) music for this film.

Prologue, the opening minutes of Melancholia

I think it’s quite obvious to label this film as ‘deeply romantic’ and about ‘longing’, but to my surprise the vast majority of web-reviews and web-articles on the film fail to mention these two all-pervading elements and instead merely stress the course of main character Justine’s depression, which is indeed a predominant element that moves forward the film’s story. However, there can be no doubt about Von Trier’s deliberate choice for Wagner’s music throughout Melancholia to evoke a constant sense of longing.
The film focuses in particular on how two sisters, Justine and Claire, experience the oncoming and eventually unavoidable destroyal of humankind, caused by a collision of the planet Melancholia with Mother Earth. Thanks to a fascinating story, Wagner’s overpowering music, an excellent cast, a wonderful cinematography and last but not least many memorable scenes of great beauty – in which Von Trier has interwoven allusions as well as direct references to great works of art – , Melancholia satisfies on all levels.

Bruegel’s Hunters in the snow, appearing twice in Melancholia

The film carries elements of philosophy and psychology and its value and strength – as I see it – lies neither in credibility nor coherence of its story, but in how a chain of human experiences comes across, giving us a meaningful peek into the human psyche under stressful circumstances. Under those conditions it’s no surprise that in several scenes the film also refers to altered states of consciousness and to the visionary.

Philosopher Slavoj Zizek’s ethical verdict on Melancholia: awareness of our finality should offer us optimism instead of pessimism

Von Trier’s Melancholia ponders mankind’s finality and its place, value and purpose, both on earth and in the universe. This can be experienced in particular during meditative segments where dialogue is absent and the imagery and Wagner’s music take over to put us in an unmistakable mood of – to put it in Wagner’s own words about his Tristan und Isolde – “an endless yearning, longing, the bliss and wretchedness of love; world, power, fame, honor, chivalry, loyalty and friendship all blown away like an insubstantial dream,” for which there is “one sole redemption – death, finality, a sleep without awakening.”

* For an interesting interview about Melancholia with director Lars von Trier (but not before you’ve seen the film), check this link.


Listening to ‘Pelléas’ to commemorate Debussy’s 150th birthday (2012/08/22)

“Je suis un homme comme les autres” (Golaud)

Claude Debussy

22 August 2012 marks the 150th birthday of composer Claude Debussy (1862-1918) and on this day I’m going to listen – as I did so many times in my distant past – from start to finish to his opera Pelléas et Mélisande. Among the many great works of the french composer, Pelléas et Mélisande ranks as his greatest achievement. Whereas for many classical music lovers the summit of western classical music is represented by either Bach’s Matthew Passion or Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, for me (and for many others) it’s Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande. Debussy started working on Pelléas et Melisande, his only completed opera, in September 1893 and almost ten years later, on 30 April 1902, this milestone in the history of western classical music premiered at the Opéra Comique in Paris.

Soprano Mary Garden, who sang in 1902 the first Mélisande at the world premiere in Paris

Pelléas et Mélisande is commonly regarded as the work that marks the onset of twentieth century modern music. The opera is based on a play by famous Belgian symbolist writer Maurice Maeterlinck (1862-1949). Maeterlinck turned out to be the ideal librettist for the opera Debussy had in mind to write. When once asked (before he started working on ‘Pelléas’) what poet would suit his needs, Debussy replied: “One who only hints at what is to be said. That ideal would be two associated dreams. No place, nor time. No big scene. (..) No discussion or arguments between the characters whom I see at the mercy of life or destiny.” *

Some of my stuff

The symbolist and dreamy character of Maeterlinck’s ‘Pelléas et Mélisande’ also proved to be the ideal vehicle for Debussy to juxtapose with the ideals of naturalism, for which he felt little sympathy. Debussy: “The drama of Pelléas – which, despite its atmosphere of dreams, contains much more humanity than so-called real-life documents – seemed to suit my intention admirably. It has an evocative language whose sensitivity could find its extension in music and in orchestral setting.” *

I borrow from Wikipedia to share in a nutshell a few other important notions about Debussy’s operatic masterpiece:
“Pelléas reveals Debussy’s deeply ambivalent attitude to the works of the German composer Richard Wagner” and according to musicologist Donald Grout “it is customary, and in the main correct, to regard Pelléas et Mélisande as a monument to French operatic reaction to Wagner.”

My piano score of the opera

Wikipedia continues: “Debussy strove to avoid excessive Wagnerian influence on Pelléas from the start, nevertheless he took several features from Wagner, including the use of leitmotifs and the continuous use of the orchestra. But Debussy’s musical writing is completely different from Wagner. In Grout’s words, “In most places the music is no more than an iridescent veil covering the text.”

One of my favourite recordings: Ansermet-L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande-Spoorenberg-London-Mau­rane

“The emphasis is on quietness, subtlety and allowing the words of the libretto to be heard; there are only four fortissimos in the entire score. Debussy’s use of declamation is un-Wagnerian as he felt Wagnerian melody was unsuited to the French language. Instead, he stays close to the rhythms of natural speech. Like Tristan the subject of Pelléas is a love triangle set in a vaguely Medieval world. Unlike the protagonists of Tristan, the characters rarely seem to understand or be able to articulate their own feelings. The deliberate vagueness of the story is paralleled by the elusiveness of Debussy’s music.” So far Wikipedia.

Pelléas et Mélisande is Debussy’s unparalleled masterpiece and it’s really a great joy for me to listen on the composer’s special anniversary to my most favourite ‘Pelléas’-recording, from which I embedded a segment right above here and of which I share here right below a picture. My way of celebrating the 150th birthday of the french master couldn’t be more rewarding! 🙂

The recording that’s most dear to me… a stunning achievement

* Source:
Nichols, Roger & Richard Langham Smith (1989) Claude Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Perhaps new opportunities for raga playing… pianists?

For those who (keep trying to) play ragas on a piano – but do they play ragas? I don’t think so – perhaps for them this ‘fluid’ piano opens up new opportunities in regard to the use of different tunings, but also in regard to pitch shifting or bending the notes during playing. 🙂


Watch my spectacular edit now in 1 go: perfect fit of Murnau’s ‘domestic’ Faust & Brock’s ‘export version’-score

My experiment concerned with adjusting the ‘domestic version’ of F.W. Murnau’s cinematic masterpiece Faust to Timothy Brock’s Faust-score – composed for the ‘export version – has reached its completion. The result of my effort can now be watched in one go on my YouTubechannel or here embedded below. Watch the spectacular result of an incredible amount of editing from my part and see how I’ve found a way to combine the ‘domestic cut’ of Murnau’s Faust with Timothy Brock’s brilliant score for another cut of Murnau’s Faust, the so-called ‘export version’, which is almost 10 MINUTES LONGER(!) than the original domestic cut. Do you recognise the challenge here? I succeeded in fitting Brock’s 115min export version score to the 106min domestic cut, by endlessly manipulating the duration of sequences in the domestic cut to get it sync with Brock’s score. As a consequence the adapted domestic cut became of course also 115 minutes! Imagine the job I had to do here, I had to edit in such a manner that the film should keep its natural pace and feel, while all the time I had to manipulate its speed. Sometimes sound and image were half a minute out of sync! Also, beyond the manipulation of speed/duration of sequences, the film is presented entirely in its original order. If one keeps that in mind I think the result of my effort is quite spectacular.

An adjusted domestic Faust with Timothy Brock’s score, my edit.

The Faust-cut for which Timothy Brock wrote his score, the ‘export version’.