Cinemúsica Villa-Lobos and Brazil – bringing art and music to prisons

Marcelo Bratke

Cinemúsica Villa-Lobos and Brazil

Brazilian pianist and conductor, Marcelo Bratke has performed at some of the world’s most renowned venues and music festivals, including Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall, New York’s Carnegie Hall, the Salzburg Festival, London’s Wigmore Hall and the Konzerthaus in Berlin.

However, Bratke’s interests go beyond just performing and he has increasingly become involved in how the arts can influence politics and help to change society. In 2007 he created the Camerata Orchestra which involves classical and young musicians from various shanty towns in Brazil, giving them the opportunity to develop their technical and artistic skills.

Bratke has also worked with various percussionists and Brazilian pop stars, marking a career that hasn’t always been constrained by classical tradition – a testament to his fascinating character.

Check out this video of Cinemúsica Villa-Lobos and Brazil – a film by Mariannita Luzzati and a concert by Marcelo Bratke; a project conceived to bring art and music to prisons throughout Brazil.

You can catch Marcelo Bratke live at Southbank Centre on 2 December.

Spira Mirabilis interviewed by players of National Youth Orchestra

Spira mirabilis is an extraordinary new project drawing together some of Europe’s finest young players. Mostly in their 20s, practising and performing without a conductor, these musicians break down the traditional barriers between performer and audience, using the concert experience as a way to engage listeners in the process of making music.

In the lead-up to Spira mirabilis’ concert at Queen Elizabeth Hall on Friday 5 November, Southbank Centre invited members of the National Youth Orchestra to interview some of Spira’s dynamic young players. Seventeen-year-olds Natasha Michael (a viola player from Chesham) and Ed Spencer (a horn player from Surrey) posed the following questions:

Natasha: Do you find it a more liberating experience working without a conductor?

Marco Toro, trumpet, Italy: I think that liberating is not the right adjective. Playing with a great conductor can also be a liberating experience. The main difference is that playing without a conductor makes the single
musicians more responsible and makes them participate in the musical growth of the piece we’re going to study.

Natasha: The view that involvement in classical music is uncool is very common amongst young people and many young people have a negative attitude to classical music. Why do you think this is? How do you think orchestras/musicians can combat this view?

Michal Duris, violin, Slovakia: Well, from my experience, young people don’t like or they can’t appreciate the beauty and deepness of classical music mainly because they don’t understand it. Each part in the history of classical music has its own language and expressions, and it is a language they don’t speak. It is a language where you need to make an effort to learn, to understand. Otherwise, the only thing you can understand and you expect from classical music is beauty. And that’s a big mistake… Classical music has much more to say to those who are ready to listen to it.

Actually, it is not really strange that not all young people like classical music. Concert programmes are mostly made up of compositions from composers who died 60 to 260 years ago. How can this be cool for a modern person?

Anyway, we think the old masters still have something to say to us. We musicians, especially at the beginning of the 21st century, have a huge responsibility for what we are proposing to our new, young public. Let’s make an example. Imagine an average Mongolian cook in France, who decides to open a Hungarian restaurant. Even though he has the best ingredients, he knows just a very little about Hungarian food and he can’t cook so well. He probably wouldn’t have any success if he didn’t have a nice interior or drinks for free. Here we have the problem of incompetence and quality, and that is also my answer on the second question. This is how it sometimes looks in the musical world also. We musicians don’t understand what are we playing and we propose it to the public, which doesn’t understand the language. What comes out is that we are just acting to each other! We are pretending to know what we are doing, and the public is pretending to understand what we, the musicians, are doing. So we are fifty-fifty, even. Everybody is fine. Because the music is so nice…

The problem is that nobody is sincere.

What we musicians can do is to do our job the best possible way – the way where we can have a clear conscience that we did everything to understand what we are doing. Then we can propose it to the people in the audience, whom we help understand what we understood. We should never ever sell half-products. We should never ever feel OK while performing just on 70 per cent of what we are able to. This could be a good beginning.

Natasha: Do you think classical music has become too formal (eg. sitting in silence in performances; players don’t look as if they are enjoying the music; only appreciating the music at the end of a piece rather reservedly)?

Giacomo Tesini, violin, Italy: The matter is perhaps a bit misunderstood. If going to a concert with strange clothes that you would never wear and sitting in the audience that poses in a too formal and mannered way makes you feel uncomfortable, you are certainly right. People sometimes go to concerts to see other people and be seen rather than to listen to the pieces, and this certainly has nothing to do with music. But we can maybe say something different about the clothes of the musicians. Did you never go to listen to an orchestra rehearsal, where the musicians dress normally with many different colors? It happened recently that I heard a general rehearsal of a big famous orchestra, and they were of course dressed with normal clothes. Well, I don’t know if it happened for that reason but I somehow couldn’t concentrate on the music; those different colours diverted my attention. I think that it is important that the musicians on stage wear more or less the same clothes… perhaps it even helps the music. At the time of Haydn and Mozart, not all the music written by composers was listened to sitting in silence. Often the audience was speaking, eating and drinking during the performances of serenades, divertimenti, symphonies and operas. Often the audience laughed loudly listening to the music – sometimes because the composers used to write real musical jokes (like a sudden and strong beat in the middle of a very soft piece or some spots played by a funny instrument) but more often because they were very involved in the adventures of the characters of an opera (the count who betrays the countess and is discovered, the clever barber who solves all the complex situations). We have today lost most of this.

It would nowadays be unthinkable to make noise during performances in a concert hall or in a theatre – times changed and now this music is mainly made to be listened to, and we need silence to listen. Some musicians are also annoyed by the applause between movements. Well, if musicians play in a really convinced way, the audience will hardly applaud after a slow and breathtaking movement. On the other hand I find very unnatural and artificial not to applaud, for example, after Tchaikovsky’s overwhelming and passionate Pathétique symphony’s third movement. It is of course just matter of feeling and getting what the real meaning of the composition is, of being transported by the sentiments the composer had in his mind.

Ed: I see that you have performed many of Beethoven’s symphonies in the past. Do you think that Eroica is his most pivotal symphony?

Michele Fattori, bassoon, Italy: The Eroica symphony is for sure one of the most important works of Beethoven and of the history of music. If you compare it with his previous symphonies and with works of the other classical composers, you can easily find the differences. There’s no slow introduction; there are no longer the two themes of contrasting character in the first movement, but something like seven themes. Also, the way he uses the rhythm is something very unusual: the big concentration of accents all around the symphony gives to it a very definite identity, which makes this work incredibly strong.

Together with his Ninth Symphony, I think Eroica was Beethoven’s symphony which most inspired other composers and strongly influenced the development of the musical language.

Matthew Herbert and London Sinfonietta: Podcast

In preparation for One Day, the London Sinfonietta have recorded a podcast with experimental maverik Matthew Herbert as part of our collaboration for 20 November at Southbank Centre. One Day is your chance to experience a different perspective on recent news and Matthew Herbert has created a new concert experience inspired by, and using, a copy of the Guardian newspaper from Saturday 25 September. In this interview Matthew talks Sara Mohr-Pietsh through the background to his Manifesto, his recent remix of Mahler 10 and the background to One Day and his ideas for the project.

Listen to the podcast

Read Matthew Herbert’s interview in The Guardian

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Pierre-Laurent Aimard plays Ravel

Pierre-Laurent Aimard

Pierre-Laurent Aimard is a pianist who refuses to be pigeon-holed. He can be playing Beethoven one night and a world premiere the next and yet he brings the same clarity of vision to both performances.

In his International Piano Series recital tonight he will be demonstrating this remarkable versatility in a programme including music by Beethoven, Chopin, Ravel and George Benjamin. Aimard and Benjamin have been friends for many years, since the time of Benjamin’s studies with Messiaen and later with Boulez’s Ensemble InterContemporain.  Tonight’s performance of Benjamin’s Fantasy on Iambic Rhythm comes by way of a 50th birthday tribute to the composer.

Aimard reunites with Boulez once again in his latest disc for Deutsche Grammophon. Alongside the Ravel piano concertos the recording includes Ravel’s Miroirs which he will play in his recital and which has just been given a four star review by Audiophile magazine. 

If you enjoy the performance then you will be able to buy the CD after the recital and get it signed by the artist!

Tracy Lees

The Tetzlaff Quartet: the power of friendship



Tetzlaff Quartet

Tetzlaff Quartet

For many international artists, playing chamber music is associated with the holidays. With the hectic city-hopping season left behind, the summer is a time to settle down for a week or two in a beautiful location – Aspen, Verbier, Tanglewood – and perform in temporary ensembles.

The members of the Tetzlaff Quartet also enjoy busy careers of course, but their dedication to chamber music, and indeed to each other, means making time within the season itself. ‘Every year we do one or two tours,’ says Christian Tetzlaff as he explains that, while the quartet only meet rarely, they continue to grow together as an ensemble.

The group has been doing this for 16 years, but it is not a set-up without challenges. Rehearsal periods are hard to organise, for example, and as second violinist Elisabeth Kufferath says, ‘We all live in different cities, so there are logistical issues’. But for Tetzlaff, there are distinct advantages to coming together only sporadically. ‘We have been playing together for a long time now but we are still eager for those few weeks together,’ he says. ‘I am not saying that full-time quartets lose that eagerness, but we feel that we gain a sense of spontaneity and a good feeling on stage, precisely because we have so few opportunities to do it.’

Inevitably, the quartet’s repertoire is selective. Choosing works to perform from such a large catalogue is, Tetzlaff says, ‘done on instinct’. It is interesting to note that many of the composers to whom the quartet often return are less regularly performed by other string quartets. This trend began on day one. ‘We first met at a festival in Austria and played just one piece there together, the Schoenberg D minor quartet,’ he says. ‘We worked on it for a whole week.’

The ensemble’s most recent recording pairs the Schoenberg quartet with another D minor (and rarely heard) work, and the final piece performed in the quartet’s concert at Queen Elizabeth Hall on Thursday 21 October, Voces intimae by Sibelius. It is not a particular surprise to find Tetzlaff championing Sibelius’ music; he has recorded the composer’s complete works for violin on the Virgin Classics label. ‘For us it is one of the great quartets,’ says Tetzlaff of Voces intimae, ‘but it has been completely and utterly neglected for the past 100 years. For many famous string quartets, Sibelius was a persona non grata.’ Elisabeth Kufferath agrees. ‘It is a piece that is not played very much, and even among our musician friends, there is a feeling that the Sibelius is a strange piece. For us, it is strange in such a deep, wonderful and emotional way.’

Tetzlaff is similarly passionate about Dvořák. ‘The chamber music works of Dvořák mean a lot to me,’ he says. ‘I have performed vast amounts of his music at the Heimbach Festival. Dvořák’s late works especially are some of the best chamber music we have.’

It is not just the personal choice of repertoire that makes Tetzlaff Quartet tours so eagerly anticipated by the players, but also friendship. ‘We enjoy playing together and inspiring each other but, more than anything, we’re great friends’ says Elisabeth Kufferath. She is certainly inspired by Tetzlaff, whom she describes as ‘a wonderful musician, the best you could fathom and more.’ For Tetzlaff, chamber music itself is a ‘medium for friends to speak to each other of intimate things’. Such camaraderie, musical and personal, will certainly sustain the quartet as they perform the seven European concerts that precede their appearance at Southbank Centre on 21 October, the final of the tour.

© Tim Woodall, 2010

Click here to book tickets for 21 October

James MacMillan’s new oboe concerto: a personal view from Nicholas Daniel

Nicholas Daniel

Nicholas Daniel

On Monday 18 October oboist Nicholas Daniel will give the London premiere of  James MacMillan’s new oboe concerto at Queen Elizabeth Hall. Here Nicholas Daniel gives a personal view of the piece and how it was developed.

‘Sometimes important new pieces emerge after a long ‘courtship’ with a composer, sometimes they come out of the blue. With the James MacMillan Oboe Concerto it has been born out of a long, happy and fruitful working relationship and friendship, between James and myself and between James and the Britten Sinfonia. It is quite clear from his writing that in this time he has come to understand my playing profoundly both as conductor and composer, and, very importantly for the new piece, he understands the important relationship between me and my colleagues in the Britten Sinfonia. This, after all, is the orchestra I am a founder member of, who I adore more than any other, and keep a watchful eye on at all times, and for whom, uniquely, my wind ensemble, Haffner Winds, is the wind section.

Luckily for us the Concerto has come at a time when he seems to have found terrific ease and confidence, and even fun, in his music. One instruction in the music is ‘laughing’, for instance, over a cascade of trilled notes!

I was lucky enough to perform The World’s Ransoming, part of his massive and impressive Easter work Triune, for Cor Anglais and large orchestra, with Jimmy in my favourite Polish city, Wroclaw, 2 years ago. It was in one of the astounding churches on an island in the city centre – a very special calm and serenity descends on one there. At one moment in the piece the Cor Anglais enters on a high D# adorned with what sounds like a glitter of starlight in the percussion and I just remember looking up at Jimmy at that point and being so inspired to see the music so visible in his face that the high D# just floated out exactly as I wanted it to. Its a great gift he has to make it so easy to understand his music just by his manner and physical expression, as well as by what he says.

On that visit to Poland we discussed some general points about the Concerto, and I believe I may have made the slight mistake of asking him not to limit in any way what he wanted to write! I say mistake but I don’t mean it, of course, but the piece is really quite hard! Its arguably the most technical concerto in an oboistic sense that has been written since Elliot Carter’s. In fact I have found it harder to learn than the Carter.

When I got the music a short while ago it looked to me rather like Nielsen’s Clarinet Concerto in terms of the oboe writing, by which I mean flowingly virtuosic and needing an effortlessness to the technique. It also has a very exciting soloistic and supportive role for the wind, brass and timps inside the orchestra. There is no operatic aspect of this in terms of peripatitetic requirements, but the calling across the orchestra of various groups of instruments will be a stand out feature of the work, as is palindromic writing. The slow movement is a total re-write of a solo oboe piece Jimmy wrote after the 9/11 atrocity in America, In Angustiis ii. The original piece is desolate, lost, post-nuclear, horrifying, but the concerto to me seems to have more companionship in it and more hope, and maybe more beauty.

In a way it’s hard to write about it because I haven’t heard it all yet and haven’t put it with the audience, and that changes everything. I’m finishing this little insight for you on the train on the way to the first rehearsal, and I am so excited and nervous, and honoured to have such a fine, confident piece written for me.’

To book tickets for Monday’s performance, which also features Beethoven’s Symphony No.2 and Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony, click here.

James MacMillan’s Oboe Concerto is co-commissioned by Britten Sinfonia and Birmingham Town Hall, and is also being performed in Brimingham, Cambridge and Norwich.

Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, The Night Shift: Podcast

Ahead of the OAE’s Night Shift event on 20 October at the Queen Elizabeth Hall listen to the podcast featuring Orchestra leader Kati Debretzeni who disccuses the music featured. Plus – your views on the last event back in August, an interview with Kenelm Robert from Southbank Centre looking back at the history of the venue, and lastly we talk to the Silvermoths who are supporting the Orchestra on the 20th.

Listen to the podcast

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