Joodse muziek

REDSTU MAMALOSHEN?

mamaloshen

If you are asked this question, people want to know if you speak Yiddish. Yiddish, the language of Eastern European and German Jews, was in danger of dying out, along with the ghettos and shtetls. Integration, assimilation, emigration and (in)tolerance ensured the building of a future without prejudice and without the burden of the past.

Did it work? Obviously not. The second, third and now fourth generations of Shoah survivors have also rediscovered Yiddish in their search for their roots. Mandy Patinkin was no exception.

Patinkin, one of the biggest Broadway stars of the moment, has not taken any chances. With the help and support of specialists, he learned the language and searched for the repertoire. What bothered him most was the question why American Jewish composers such as Hammerstein, Sondheim and Berlin did not compose Jewish music. His conclusion: the music was really Jewish, but the language was English. So the lyrics of the well-known songs were translated into Yiddish.

The result is worthwhile, even if it is a little awkward to hear ‘Ikh khulem fun a vaysn Nitl ‘ instead of ‘I’m dreaming of a white Christmas’. ‘Maria” from Bernstein’s ‘West Side Story‘ has been changed to ‘ Mayn Mirl’ and ‘Got bentsh Amerike’ means nothing but ‘God bless America’.

Naturally, Patinkin also sings the well-known and less well-known Yiddish songs and he does this in his own unique’Patinkin way’. His voice and style of singing are instantly recognisable. He turns every song into a complete show with laughter and tears and does not shy away from exaggeration (a Jewish characteristic par excellence).

In ‘Belz’, which is sung with a healthy dose of schmalz, and the beautiful ‘Song of the Titanic’, he is assisted by Judy Blazer, and in ‘Der Alter Tzigajner/White Christmas’ Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg takes care of the violin solo.


A little advance warning: anyone who thinks that klezmer music should be played on authentic instruments and Yiddish only sung by centenarians who spoke the language every day in a shtetl before the war, should stay away from this CD. For those who enjoy it: ‘hob fargenigen’ (have fun)

MAMALOSHEN
Mandy Patinkin
Nonesuch 7559-79459-2

Jascha Nemtsov and Jewish Music

Jascha Nemtsov - Pianist
Jascha Nemtsov © Susanne Krauss

It was Rimsky-Korsakoff who, in St. Petersburg at the beginning of the last century, encouraged his Jewish students to show more interest in their national culture.
His advice did not fall on deaf ears: they started collecting synagogal and folk music, which they soon incorporated into their own compositions. Thus was born the Society for Jewish Music, which was banned by Stalin in 1929.

Some of the composers were exiled to the camps, a few managed to emigrate, but all were forgotten. The renewed interest in their music is mainly due to the pianist Jascha Nemtsov, one of the greatest ambassadors of Jewish music.

Jewish

On the CD with the title Jewish Chamber Music we find works by composers who belonged to this Jewish School, supplemented by one of the best compositions by Ernest Bloch: the ‘Suite for Viola and Piano’ from 1919.

Not all compositions are on the same high level. A real highlight for me is Alexander Weprik’s ‘Totenlieder’, but the whole CD is worthwhile, not least because of the excellent performance. The viola player Tabea Zimmerman has a beautiful tone on her instrument: low, warm and melodious but it is clearly the pianist, Jascha Nemtsov, who is at the helm.

Alexander Weprik, Alexander Krejn, Michail Gnesin,  Grigorij Gamburg, Ernest Bloch
Jewish Chamber Music
Tabea Zimmermann (viola), Jascha Nemtsov (piano)
Hänssler CD93008

Jewish songs

Have you ever heard of Abraham Krejn, a klezmer musician, and his seven children? They were called the Jewish Bachs and that makes sense, even if the comparison sounds a bit strange to you. Especially since there is a good chance that you have never heard the name before. You are not alone there.

All seven Krejn children were musicians. Most famous were brothers Alexander and Grigori, both active members of the Society for Jewish Music.

The most original compositions on the CD Jewish Songs Without Words were written by Grigori Krejn. On the basis of synagogal songs, he created his own world, full of melancholic desires.

The ‘Three Hebrew songs without words’ by Grigori’s thirteen-year-old son Julian reveal not only a special talent, but also show influences of Berg and Debussy.

Simeon Bellinson, one of the most famous clarinettists of his time, also worked as a composer and arranger. For his Suite, he arranged original compositions by Grzegorz Fitelberg, Jacob Weinberg and Boris Levenson.

Almost all the compositions on this CD are world premieres. They are fascinating works, a reminiscence of a world that has been irrevocably lost.

The clarinettist Wolfgang Meyer is an excellent musician, but for me his tone could have been a bit warmer.
Jewish Songs Without Words is the fourth CD in a series that Jascha Nemtsov made for Hånssler and, as always, his performance is not only impeccable but also heart-warming.



Grigori Krejn, Julian Krejn, Israel Brandman, Simeon Bellinson
Jewish Songs Without Words
Wolfgang Meyer (clarinet), Jascha Nemtsov (piano)
Hänssler Classic CD 93.094

Tabea Zimmermann and Jascha Nemtsov in ‘Ornaments – 3 Songs without Words, op. 42 by Alexander Krein:

Chants Juifs, dertig jaar later


Toen deze cd op mijn ‘te doen’ stapel belandde, moest ik even mijn wenkbrauwen fronzen. Want: hè, hoezo nieuw? Deze cd heb ik al meer dan dertig jaar in mijn bezit? Toen het uitkwam was de opname echt iets uitzonderlijks, men werd er zich toen pas een beetje bewust van wat de fascisten en antisemieten hadden aangericht.

Dertig jaar oud dus. Maakt het uit? Ja en nee. Er zijn in die tijd meer opnamen uitgekomen met Joodse traditionele en liturgische muziek, maar de hernieuwde kennismaking met de celliste Sonia Wieder-Atherton en de pianiste Daria Hovora beviel mij zeer. Hun beider spel is emotioneel geladen, poëtisch en zeer aansprekend.

Aan de opname in 1989 is een bijzondere gebeurtenis voorafgegaan. De cineaste Chantal Akerman heeft een bijzonder document gefilmd, waar alle Joodse inwoners van Brooklyn aan mee mochten doen. Daar was de celliste ook bij betrokken en haar werd gevraagd om muziek bij de film te maken.

Aan het oorspronkelijke album zijn nu drie stukken van Ravel toegevoegd, in 2006 door het Sinfonia Varsovia olv János Fürst opgenomen en dat vind ik best jammer. De arrangementen van Maurice Delage doen afbreuk aan de poëtische en emotionele sfeer van de eerste 14 nummers. Het voelt alsof je na het nadromen wakker wordt geschud door keiharde heavy metal. Nou ja, niet echt want Delage stierf al in 1961, maar… moest het? Ook het geluid (of moet ik zeggen: de kleur?) van Athertons cello is veranderd, minder warm, afstandelijker.

De illustraties van Colette Brunschwig zijn zonder meer indrukwekkend maar ook angstaanjagend. Mijn advies: skip de laatste drie nummers en blijf dromen, daar zult u geen spijt van krijgen. Vandaar ook mijn hoge waardering.

CHANTS JUIFS
Sonia Wieder-Atherton (cello), Daria Hovora (piano)
Sinfonia Varsovia olv János Fürst
Alpha-Classics 666

Joodse psalmen zonder nesjomme

Lewansowski

Deze opname valt mij ontzettend tegen. Wat zonder meer ook aan mij kan liggen, want: ik heb mij er enorm op verheugd. Louis Lewandowski was een Duits-Joodse (of Joods-Duitse) componist die een belangrijke rol heeft gespeeld in het ‘moderniseren’ van synagogale gezangen. Om te beginnen heeft hij het orgel er bij geïntroduceerd, het instrument dat in de liberale diensten tegenwoordig volledig geaccepteerd is maar de orthodoxe leer wil er nog steeds niets van weten. Iets wat ik eigenlijk snap: ook ik heb er moeite mee. Althans in de sjoel.

Zijn tweede grote stap voorwaarts was het introduceren van een gemengd koor. Vergeet niet dat er vroeger (en bij de orthodoxen nog steeds) mannen en vrouwen werden gescheiden en een gemengd koor (voor de diehards nog steeds) absoluut niet geaccepteerd kon worden.

Zijn composities zijn niet echt hemelbestormend, dat hoeft ook niet, ze waren niet bedoeld om in concertzalen uitgevoerd te worden. Maar zo saai zoals het hier klinkt hoeft het ook niet. Niet dat het koor vals is, integendeel! Ook de solisten zijn prima; maar wat er echt aan ontbreekt is de nesjomme (de ziel). Bovendien worden de psalmen in het Duits gezongen, iets wat mij echt tegenstaat. Net als het orgel, trouwens. Maar, zoals ik het al zei,  dat kan ook aan mij liggen.




LOUIS LEWANDOWSKI
Eighteen Liturgical Psalms
Rózsa Kiss (sopraan), Lúcia Megyesi Schwartz (mezzo),
Viola Thurnay (alt), Gábor Pivarcsi (tenor), Szabolcs Hámori (bas), Márton Levente Horváth (orgel),
Hongaars Radiokoor o.l.v. Andor Izsák
DG 00289 483 7724

The Song of Terezin & Requiem Ebraico

waxman zeissl

In the nineties of the last century the (once very renowned) classical music label Decca started an unsurpassed series ‘Entartete Musik’. Under the supervision of producer Michael Haas, works were recorded by composers who were persecuted by the Nazis, many of whom were murdered in concentration camps and then ignored and even forgotten for decades.

The series didn’t last long. Sales figures were disappointing, Haas was fired, and most of those CDs are now out of print.

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Franz Waxman

Every true fan of film classics knows the music of Franz Waxman. His compositions for Rebecca, Sunset Boulevard and A Place in the Sun, among others, have earned him numerous Oscar nominations and twice he was actually awarded the statuette.

waxman zeisl humoresque

For Humoresque by Jean Negulesco, starring Joan Crawford and John Garfield, he composed an outright hit: ‘Carmen Fantasie’ (played in the film by Isaac Stern), a virtuoso piece for violin and orchestra that is ubiquitous in concert halls and on recordings.

However, few people know that he has also composed ‘serious’ music. It is simply ignored.

waxman zeisl zeisl

Eric Zeisl

Zeisl’s name is almost completely forgotten nowadays. Harmonia Mundi once recorded some of his chamber music works, but these recordings too have since disappeared from the catalogue. Both composers were contemporaries with a similar fate, who ended up in Hollywood on the run from the Nazis. If their respective fates are similar, their music in no way is.

The song cycle Das Lied von Terezín consists of eight poems, written by Czech children between the ages of 12 and 16 during their stay in the Theresienstadt concentration camp.

Deeply affected by the fate of these children, Waxman composed a very moving piece of music in 1965 that, in terms of its power of expression, can be compared to Schoenberg’s A Survivor from Warsaw. The majority is written in the twelve-tone technique, but there is also a clear influence of Zemlinsky (‘Der Garten’) and in ‘Dachbodenkoncert in einer alten Schule’ a motive from Beethoven’s Mondscheinsonate is quoted. The whole is performed very movingly by the two choirs and the mezzo-soprano Della Jones.

Eric Zeisl’s Requiem Ebraico is based on Psalm 92 and is dedicated to the composer’s father and ‘all the victims of the Jewish tragedy in Europe’. Zeisl’s music is very melodic and strongly influenced by Jewish and Hebrew themes. It is unbelievable that it is not performed more frequently!


Franz Waxman: The Song of Terezín
Eric Zeisl: Requiem Ebraico
Deborah Riedel, Della Jones, Michael Kraus
Rundfunk-kinderchor Berlin, Rundfunkchor Berlin, Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin conducted by Lawrence Foster (Decca 4602112)

“Ich möcht so gern nach Haus!”: Anne Sofie von Otter sings songs by ‘Theresienstadt composers.’

Entartete Musik, Teresienstadt and Channel Classics

Translated with http://www.Deep

Channa Malkin and Izhar Elias in ‘Songs of Love and Exile, a Sephardic Journey’

Channa.jpg

Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (Florence, 3 April 1895 – Beverly Hills, 16 March 1968) was born into a Jewish family of Sephardic origin (Jews who were expelled from Spain in 1492). He was extraordinarily creative, and has numerous compositions to his name: piano works, concerts, opera’s…. His compositions were played by the greatest: Gieseking, Piatigorski, Heifetz, Casella. Nowadays we mainly know him from his guitar works, almost a hundred in total, mostly written for Andres Segovia.

In the early 1930s, the composer began to discover his ‘Jewish roots’, something that was reinforced by the rise of fascism and racial laws. His music was no longer performed. With the help of Arturo Toscanini, Castelnuovo-Tedesco and his family managed to leave Italy just before the outbreak of the Second World War.

Like most of the Jewish composers who fled Europe, Castelnuovo-Tedesco ended up in Hollywood. Thanks to Jascha Heifetz he was hired by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer as a composer of film music. At that time he also composed new opera’s and vocal works inspired by American poetry, Jewish liturgy and the Bible.

Castelnuovo-Tedesco: “In my life I have written many melodies for the voice and published 150 of them (many remained in my drawer) on texts in all the languages I know: Italian, French, English, German, Spanish and Latin. My ambition and indeed, my deep motivation has always been to unite my music with poetic texts that stimulated my interest and feelings, to express their lyricism”.

In 1966 he composed The Divan of Moses Ibn Ezra. It is a setting of nineteen poems by, Rabbi Moses ben Jacob ibn Ezra also known as Ha-Sallaḥ (‘writer of penitential prayers’). Ibn Ezra was born in Granada around 1055 – 1060, and died after 1138 and is considered one of the greatest poets in Spain. He also had an enormous influence on Arabic literature. Castelnuovo-Tedesco composed the ‘divan’ (poems) on the modern English translation.

I very much regret that the duo Channa Malkin (soprano) and Izhar Elias only recorded six songs of the cycle. Not only because they have almost no competition (I only know two complete recordings of the songs myself), but also because their performance is really beautiful. Malkin’s lyrical soprano: girlish yet very focused fits the songs like a glove. She was born in Amsterdam, but her Jewish roots lie in Moldova, Russia and the Ukraine.

The guitarist Izhar Elias was also born in the Netherlands, but his roots lie in Iraq and India. And in Israel. What they have in common is the restlessness and the strong urge to do something with their own past. And you can hear that. You can hear that in the thirteen Sephardic folk songs that are presented here in arrangements by Joaquin Rodrigo and Daniel Akiva, among others.

What makes the CD stand out is the really excellent booklet with lots of information and all the lyrics.

Songs of Love & Exile – A Sephardic Journey
Channa Malkin (soprano), Izhar Elias (guitar)
Brilliant Classics 95652

https://www.channamalkin.com

In Dutch: Songs of Love & Exile – A Sephardic Journey

Translated with http://www.DeepL.com/Translator

Songs of Love & Exile – A Sephardic Journey

Channa.jpgMario Castelnuovo–Tedesco (Florence, 3 april 1895 – Beverly Hills, 16 maart 1968) werd geboren in de Joodse familie van Sefardische afkomst (Joden die in 1492 werden verdreven uit Spanje). Hij was buitengewoon creatief, op zijn naam staat van alles: pianowerken, concerten, opera’s…. Zijn composities werden gespeeld door de grootsten: Gieseking, Piatigorski, Heifetz, Casella. Tegenwoordig kennen we hem voornamelijk van zijn gitaarwerken, bijna honderd in totaal, veelal geschreven voor Andres Segovia.

Begin jaren dertig is de componist zijn ‘Joodse roots’ gaan ontdekken, iets wat versterkt werd door het opkomend fascisme en de rassenwetten. Zijn muziek werd niet meer uitgevoerd. Geholpen door Arturo Toscanini heeft Castelnuovo-Tedesco, samen met zijn gezin vlak voor het uitbreken van de tweede wereldoorlog Italië weten te verlaten

Zoals de meeste Joodse componisten die Europa ontvluchtten belandde ook Castelnuovo-Tedesco in Hollywood. Waar hij dankzij Jascha Heifetz door Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer werd aangesteld als componist van filmmuziek. In die tijd componeerde hij ook nieuwe opera’s en vocale werken geïnspireerd door Amerikaanse poëzie, Joodse liturgie en de Bijbel.

Castelnuovo-Tedesco: “Ik heb in mijn leven veel melodieën voor zangstem geschreven en er 150 van uitgegeven (in mijn la bleef veel liggen) op teksten in alle talen die ik ken: Italiaans, Frans, Engels, Duits, Spaans en Latijn. Mijn ambitie en sterker nog, mijn diepe drijfveer is altijd geweest om mijn muziek te verenigen met poëtische teksten die mijn belangstelling en gevoel prikkelden, om de lyriek ervan tot uitdrukking te brengen”.

In 1966 componeerde hij The Divan of Moses Ibn Ezra. Het is een setting van negentien gedichten van Rabbi Moses ben Jacob Jacob ibn Ezra, ook bekend als Ha-Sallaḥ (‘schrijver van boetvaardige gebeden’). Ibn Ezra werd geboren in Granada rond 1055 – 1060, en overleed na 1138 en hij wordt beschouwd als één van de grootste dichters van Spanje. Die ook nog eens een enorme invloed op de Arabische literatuur heeft gehad. Castelnuovo-Tedesco componeerde de ‘divans’ (gedichten) op de moderne Engelse vertaling.

Ik betreur het zeer dat het duo Channa Malkin (sopraan) en Izhar Elias maar zes liederen van de cyclus hebben opgenomen. Want niet alleen dat ze bijna geen concurrentie hebben (zelf ken ik maar twee complete opnamen van de liederen), maar ook omdat hun uitvoering werkelijk prachtig is. Malkins lyrische sopraan: meisjesachtig maar toch zeer kernachtig past de liederen als een handschoen. Zij is in Amsterdam geboren maar haar Joodse roots liggen in Moldavië, Rusland en Oekraïne.

Ook de gitarist Izhar Elias is in Nederland geboren maar zijn roots liggen in Irak en in India. En in Israël. Wat ze gemeen hebben is de rusteloosheid en de sterke drang om iets met hun eigen verleden te doen. En dat hoor je. Dat hoor je ook in de dertien Sefardische volksliedjes die hier gepresenteerd worden in bewerkingen van o.a. Joaquin Rodrigo en Daniel Akiva.

Wat de cd dat ene extra geeft is de werkelijk voortreffelijke booklet met veel informatie en alle liedteksten


https://www.channamalkin.com

Songs of Love & Exile – A Sephardic Journey
Channa Malkin (sopraan), Izhar Elias (gitaar)
Brilliant Classics 95652

The Yiddish Cabaret: Jerusalem Quartet’s tribute to their grandparents

Jiddish CabaretThe Jerusalem String Quartet never disappoints. Never. Whatever they play. It’s not just about perfection, but also, or perhaps mainly, about their attention to the story behind the notes. For their involvement in the pieces they play. And their search for the truth that may not even exist. But with this album they have gone far above themselves and their own standards. Something that might have to do with the fact that they were allowed to choose the works themselves, none of which are commonplace?

With their choice they have also made a statement. Something we all know but still don’t want to admit out loud because we feel uncomfortable about it? About the influence of Jews and their contribution to our Western culture?

These days, Schulhoff and certainly Korngold are no longer curiosities, although of the latter mostly his operas are performed these days. Yet his chamber music compositions are not to be sneezed at. Listen his second string quartet, for example! At the first notes you get the nostalgic feeling of an unattainable lover and an intense desire. Beautiful and painful at the same time. Not only are the notes divinely beautiful, it is also the performance. Yearning and full of desire.

The five pieces for Erwin Schulhoff’s string quartet are a  link to the title of the album: the Jewish Cabaret. Leonid Desyatnikov composed his ‘Yiddish’ in 2018. These five songs are based on the Yiddish songs from the Polish interbellum, the period between the two world wars, which were sung in the cabarets in Warsaw and Lódz. The soprano Hila Baggio manages to strike the right tone in the songs. Light-footed. Think of the very young Lotte Lenya.

The album is dedicated to the grandparents of the members of the quartet. I allow myself to include my own grandparents that I have never known.


The Yiddish Cabaret
Erich Wolfgang Korngold: String quartet no. 2 on. 26
Erwin Schulhoff: 5 Pieces for string quartet
Leonid Desyatnikov: Yiddish – 5 Lieder for Stem and Stem Quarter (2018)
Hila Baggio (soprano), Jerusalem Quartet
Harmonia Mundi HMM 902631

Translated with http://www.DeepL.com/Translator

The Yiddish Cabaret: Jerusalem Quartet’s hommage aan hun grootouders

Jiddish Cabaret

Het Jerusalem Strijkkwartet stelt nooit teleur. Nooit. Wat ze ook spelen. Het gaat niet alleen om de perfectie maar ook, of misschien voornamelijk om hun aandacht voor het verhaal achter de noten. Voor hun betrokkenheid bij de stukken die ze spelen. En hun zoektocht naar de waarheid die wellicht niet eens bestaat. Maar met deze album zijn ze ver boven zichzelf en hun eigen norm gestegen. Wat wellicht te maken kan hebben dat ze de stukken zelf mochten kiezen, stukken die geen van allen alledaags zijn?

Met hun keuze hebben ze ook een statement gemaakt. Iets wat we eigenlijk allemaal weten maar nog steeds niet hardop willen toegeven want daar voelen we ons ongemakkelijk over? Over de invloed van Joden en hun aandeel in onze Westerse cultuur?

Nu zijn Schulhoff en zeker Korngold niet zo’n rariteit meer, al worden van de laatste tegenwoordig voornamelijk zijn opera’s uitgevoerd. En dat, terwijl zijn kamermuziekcomposities echt niet te versmaden zijn. Neem alleen zijn tweede strijkkwartet! Bij de eerste noten al krijg je het nostalgische gevoel van een onbereikbare geliefde en een intens verlangen. Mooi en pijnlijk tegelijk. Het zijn niet alleen de goddelijk mooie noten, het is ook de uitvoering. Smachtend en vol verlangen.

De vijf stukken voor het strijkkwartet van Erwin Schulhoff zijn een soort brug richting de titel van het album: het Joodse Cabaret. Leonid Desyatnikov componeerde zijn ‘Jiddisch’ in 2018. Die vijf liederen zijn gebaseerd op de Jiddische liedjes uit het Poolse interbellum, de periode tussen de twee wereldoorlogen, die gezongen werden in de cabarets in Warschau en Lódz. De sopraan Hila Baggio weet in de liedjes de juiste toon te treffen. Lichtvoetig. Denk aan de zeer jonge Lotte Lenya.

Het album is opgedragen aan de grootouders van de leden van het kwartet. Ik permiteer mij om ook mijn eigen grootouders die ik nooit heb gekend erbij te betrekken.


The Yiddish Cabaret
Erich Wolfgang Korngold: Strijkkwartet nr. 2 op. 26
Erwin Schulhoff: 5 Stukken voor strijkkwartet
Leonid Desyatnikov: Jiddisch – 5 Lieder für Stimme und Streichquartett (2018)
Hila Baggio (sopraan), Jerusalem Quartet
Harmonia Mundi HMM 902631

Michael Tilson Thomas: in interpretation there is no absolute truth

MTT_bykristenloken-1903-660

Michael Tilson Thomas © Kristen Loke

The Amstel Hotel is totally unsuitable for a good conversation, especially with a musician. The ‘Muzak’ in the background is annoyingly present and the search for a decent space takes up a lot of time. Michael Tilson Thomas – tall, slim, dressed in black jeans and a checkered jacket – doesn’t seem to be bothered by it.

Two days earlier he conducted an extremely exciting concert in the Amsterdam Concertgebouw with music by Berg, Mahler and Brahms. Looking back at the concert I ask him if he did not feel the Brahms started a little too fast?
“Well, no.”

And was the order of the composers: Berg, Mahler, Brahms not a bit strange?
“Sometimes I do it the other way around”

https://basiaconfuoco.files.wordpress.com/2019/07/mtt-nbessie.jpg

Bessie Thomashefsky

So there I am! Fortunately, Tilson Thomas is able to laugh at my stupid questions and I decide to start with his ‘roots.’

Boris Thomashefsky, Michael’s grandfather was THE man behind the Jewish theatre. He wrote the lyrics, composed the music and performed it together with his wife Bessie, one of the greatest tragediennes of her time: she was the first Salome in America, in Yiddish!

Boris Tomashevsky & Yiddish Theatre – BBC Broadway Musicals: A Jewish Legacy (2013):

Der Yeshiva Bokher Kadisch ( Boris Thomashevsky – Louis Friedsell ):

Michael Tilson Thomas was born in Hollywood where his father found work in the film industry. Father Ted Thomashefsky worked a lot with Orson Welles and with Marc Blitzstein, Michael’s cousin. In order to avoid going through life as the ‘son of’ he changed his name to Thomas.

His theatrical background would have meant a certain predisposition for music theatre, but with the exception of a few concert performances he has not (yet) conducted an opera. And all this while he considers Puccini to be one of the greatest composers. Why?

Tilson Thomas explains this by the insufficient preparation time at most opera companies. To the six weeks of rehearsals in Amsterdam I mention, he has a rebuttal: they are rehearsals for the director who works with the ‘actors’, not for the conductor, singers and musicians.

It is really a pity, because he loves opera and he loves working with singers. This is how he works with musicians as well – looking for character, for expression, for colours. Breathing in music means nothing more than the music itself, and that is something you learn best from singers. Working with an orchestra is the same for a conductor as working with actors for a director.

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San Francisco Symphony Orchestra © Bill Swerbenski

For Tilson Thomas, communicating with the audience is the most important thing. In Davies Symphony Hall (THE house of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra) he often rehearses from the hall. If the music is complicated, he calls in an assistant, but he himself, seated on a high chair, leads the orchestra from where the audience sits: only there can he hear what it will actually sound like.

He conducts a lot more than we can imagine, with the Russians, Mahler, modern Americans and the Impressionists as his guides. Is there something he doesn’t do?

“Bruckner. Of his symphonies only numbers 6, 8 and 9 are on my repertoire and for the time being I don’t feel like doing the other ones as well. Bach’s ‘Matthaeus Passion’? Why? It is music that I think should be performed like chamber music, in a small, intimate hall and I work with large orchestras.”

“What do I do if there is a difference of opinion between me and the soloist about tempi or interpretation? I listen to the other person. There are no absolute truths in interpretations. And (smiling): I can usually choose the soloist myself.”

Michael Tilson Thomas on music and emotions through the ages:

http://www.thomashefsky.org/

Translated with http://www.DeepL.com/Translator