Wednesday 22 January 2014

January 2014

Hello readers, I hope all is well. This is my update for January 2014. As I'm sure you are aware, The Passenger premiered in Houston, Texas on Saturday 18th January, and I eagerly await a plethora of reviews. Below is a selection of those already published:

David Clarke, Broadway World - link 'the only appropriate superlative to describe HGO's US premiere of The Passenger is brilliant'. 

Scott Cantrell - Dallas Morning News - link 'Sadly, the opera could use a lot of editing and tightening... three hours, with one intermission, seemed interminable'.

D.L. Groover - Houston Press - link 'Weinberg's forgotten opera is everything contemporary opera should be... a shattering experience'.

I shall update the above list, hoping to keep a balance between critical and praise-ridden reviews. 
If my predictions are correct, The Passenger will go down a storm with US audiences and critics, but only time will tell. Future US runs are planned for New York in July, and Chicago in 2015.

 Melody Moore and Michelle Breedt in 'The Passenger', Houston Grand Opera 2014.


I hope you'll find the youtube videos below interesting.

1. Linus Roth discusses his upcoming release, featuring the Britten and Weinberg violin concertos.

2. Gidon Kremer and Martha Argerich perform Weinberg Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 5, Op. 53 (live recording).


I'd like to plug an updated version of the University of Manchester's webpage about Weinberg research at the University (link). The page sums up the wider impact of Professor Fanning's research, and details several exciting projects for the future.


My own work is plodding along well, with another big panel meeting assessment for next week. I am submitting a literature review chapter for the meeting, in which I detail approaches to analysis that I wish to apply to Weinberg's quartets. I'll keep you posted with updates.

I also mentioned in December that I was lucky enough to be accepted to speak at the University of Leeds conference 'Music, Memory and Migration in the Post-Holocaust Jewish Experience', taking place July 2014. Please find the abstract for my paper below:

Commemorating the Past: Weinberg’s Experience as a Jewish Migrant in the USSR

Weinberg’s background is unique among Soviet composers; he fled eastwards from Poland in 1939 and was accepted into the USSR. He established a successful career for himself, working with the most prominent Jewish musicians of his day and praised as ‘the leading Soviet-Jewish composer’. Having narrowly escaped Nazi Germany, Weinberg fell victim to Stalinist antisemitism and was imprisoned for several months in 1953. Upon his release, he made it his life’s mission to commemorate those who had fallen victim to atrocities.
    Jewish themes in Weinberg’s music serve a dual purpose; to commemorate victims of the Holocaust, including his parents and sister, and to reassert his Jewish heritage, despite his displacement to a less-than hospitable climate. An internal struggle can be traced across his music, to reconcile between the need to celebrate his heritage as well as to celebrate the USSR as his ‘saviours’ from the Nazis. In this paper, I explore the experience of Jewish composers in the Soviet Union through Weinberg’s case study. I also outline Weinberg’s commemorative works including, most controversial of all, his opera The Passenger. The opera is provocative, not least because the on-stage action is set in Auschwitz itself. This provides fresh challenges for modern-day audiences and critics alike. The Passenger also calls into question the appropriateness of commemoration through depiction, alongside Weinberg’s struggle to represent his displacement through music.

 While it is certainly difficult to watch, the only appropriate superlative to describe HGO's US Premiere of THE PASSENGER is brilliant
While it is certainly difficult to watch, the only appropriate superlative to describe HGO's US Premiere of THE PASSENGER is brilliant.
While it is certainly difficult to watch, the only appropriate superlative to describe HGO's US Premiere of THE PASSENGER is brilliant
While it is certainly difficult to watch, the only appropriate superlative to describe HGO's US Premiere of THE PASSENGER is brilliant

Monday 13 January 2014

Review: Symphony No. 12, Golden Key, Suite No. 4 - Vladimir Lande and the St. Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra

The latest installment in Naxos' ongoing survey of Weinberg's symphonies: the verdict - great music with a good standard of performance (though not excellent). 

Every part of me wishes to praise this recording, if only for the music featured. Weinberg's 12th Symphony stands among his best, largely due to the heart-felt dedication following Shostakovich's death, and the Golden Key remains an entertaining ballet, demonstrating Weinberg at his most playful. 

The pairing of Lande with the St. Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra gave us the excellent recordings of the Sixth and Nineteenth Symphonies, both from 2012. While featuring excellent music, this disc fails to demonstrate the same unity and energy to be heard in their previous two recordings. 

Weinberg's Twelfth Symphony, Op. 114, was written in 1976, dedicated to Shostakovich. It joins the ranks of a glut of works similarly dedicated following Shostakovich's death in 1975, including Tishchenko's Fifth Symphony and Schnittke's Prelude in Memoriam Shostakovich. Weinberg's Twelfth is somewhat unusual in its lack of direct quotation from Shostakovich's music - for instance, there is a large number of dedicated works built around the 'DSCH' motif. Weinberg's Twelfth avoids such direct reference, instead choosing to emulate him stylistically, simultaneously raising questions about where to go following the loss of such an inspirational figure. 

The work opens with a declamatory unison sequence across the orchestra, searching for a stable centre. Unfortunately, the strings seem to fall victim to the higher passages in the opening movement, resorting to a near-shrieking style that soon becomes uncomfortable. Tempos are taken at a relatively safe pace, compared to previous recordings (see recommended further listening, below). 

The release does come into its own following the opening, the more playful Allegretto second movement showcasing the vitality that this ensemble has injected into their previous recordings (perhaps a shame it couldn't have seeped its way into the first movement!). The string section reclaim their dignity in the Adagio third movement, where they take a tender focus, giving a heart-breaking softness. The finale stands out as an excellent movement, notable from its opening xylophone, linked attacca from the previous movement. With such a distinct motif, the music gathers pace, and Lande does full justice to this rousing finale. 

The pairing of the symphony with the Fourth Suite from Weinberg's ballet The Golden Key is an example of excellent programming - the contrast between the works is striking, allowing the St. Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra full reign to showcase their range, particularly effective in the dance-like, cheeky passages in the suite. Richard Whitehouse's liner notes provide excellent background information for both works. 

I strongly recommend this recording, partly for its ambition and its place within the Naxos symphony cycle, as well as its excellent interpretation of the Golden Key suite. For an authoritative recording of the Twelfth Symphony I would look elsewhere, however.

Links for further reading: Naxos website link 
And a podcast about the recording from Naxos: link

Recommended further listening
For an contrasting recording, I recommend Vladimir Fedoseyev with the USSR TV and Radio Symphony Orchestra in their release, originally available on vinyl, conveniently uploaded on youtube:

For my 'authoritative' recording, I direct the reader to the second volume of Olympia's 'Vainberg' series, featuring the Twelfth Symphony performed by the forces that premiered the work, recorded a month after the premiere. The dedication is made all the more emotional by the presence of Shostakovich's son Maxim conducting (recording quality is poor compared to the Lande version - but the conviction in performance more than makes up for this).

Also available to listen on youtube (in six parts): 

Of course, I also direct the reader to Lande's previous Weinberg recordings on the Naxos label - both of them excellent.

Friday 3 January 2014

RMA Research Students' Conference 2014

For anyone attending, I will be speaking at the RMA Research Students' Conference next week, held at the University of Birmingham. My paper is entitled 'The Influence of Anxiety', and I will be speaking at 14:45 on Wednesday 8th January in the 'Psychology of Music' session.

My paper is on the significance of Harold Bloom's book The Anxiety of Influence, and its applications in musicology, followed by wider thoughts on the aesthetics of influence in music (with a few references to my work on Weinberg). Please find my paper abstract below:

Daniel Elphick, The Influence of Anxiety
Harold Bloom’s theories of influence in poetry are well known and many scholars have sought to apply them to wider fields of art. His aggressive vision of artistic influence has new authors ‘appropriate’ their predecessors’ works leading to an Oedipal elimination of the father-figure of influence. Bloom’s theories have proved highly significant in musicology, but also problematic. This paper seeks to give a brief overview of Bloom’s writings and move to a review of Musicologists’ attempts to utilise his theories as set out in the book The Anxiety of Influence. It becomes apparent that these cannot be easily adapted to music since they perpetuate the contested concept of ‘originality as progress’. I seek to demonstrate this with short case studies of friendships between composers that cannot be easily moulded to fit alongside Bloom’s aggressive writings. With these, I suggest a new template of musical influence, utilising thoughts from T.S. Eliot, Benjamin Britten and several others authors simultaneously calling for a reassessment of this complex issue from the perspective of musicology.