Saturday, May 24, 2008

TLS May 2008

from Andrew Porter's review of Harrison Birtwistle's "The Minotaur" at the Covent Garden:

The Minotaur, offspring of Pasiphae's surrender to penetration by a bull that may have been Poseidon himself--Euripides' "mingled form where two strange shapes combined, and different natures, man and bull, were joined"--is the protagonist of Birtwistle's new opera for Covent Garden.

Over a decade ago, Friedrich Durrenmatt's widow gave him an unrealized ballet scenario by her husband: the Minotaur, brooding in a labyrinth of mirrors, finally runs to embrace, but is killed by, a mirror-image of himself who proves to be Theseus in minotaur-disguise. (Half-brothers they were, if Poseidon indeed sired both; Ariadne and the Minoatur are half-sister-and-brother.) Murders and monsters have been recureent in Birtwistle's work; so have ritual repetitions; and so have labyrinths: intricate, extended sound structures, such as the Exody composed for the Chicago Symphony (1998), threaded, the composer tells us, by a musical line. Durrenmatt's scenario was but a starting point. Three scenes of the new opera are set in a Carmen-evoking bullring at the heart of the labyrinth, wherein an excited chorus . . . watch the Minotaur goring an Athenian maiden, then the other Athenian victimes, and then being slaughtered by Theseus. Harpy goddesses of doom and death swoop down from above, screaming, to pluck out and devour the victims' hearts.


from Paul Griffiths' review of Hugh Wood's Staking Out the Territory, and of Edward Venn's The Music of Hugh Wood:

For Wood, and for Venn, thematic development and cross-reference guarantee the terms of a moral contract between composer and listener. "The listener's conscious experience of the form structure", Wood affirms, "remains the first requirement of abstract instrumental music (correction: all music)."


. . . he writes of his fondness for the paintings of William Scott . . . "As I look at these rough, magic not-quite circles, I long to bring just that quality somehow to my own work: to use a thicker brush, to make a bolder gesture, to play off rough against smooth, to leave rough edges and drips of paint".


from Ian Bostridge's review of Alex Ross's The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the twentieth century:

Thirty-eight years after Strauss's American apotheosis (and some years after his shameful but complex accommodation with the Nazi regime in Germany, masterfully unpicked by Ross), in the midst of the Great Patriotic War, the score of Dmitri Shostakovich's Seventh Symphony, the "Leningrad", was flown into that besieged city by Soviet military aircraft. Musicians were recalled from more straightforwardly martial duties on the front line to perform it. German commanders planning to disrupt the performance found themselves pre-empted by "Operation squall", a Soviet diversionary manoeuvre. The symphony was relayed over loudspeakers' into no man's land. As Ross puts in, "never in history had a musical composition entered the thick of battle in quite this way: the symphony became a tactical strike against German morale".

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