Cello, Concerto, Dance, Music, Tango, Uncategorized

Soloist Profile: Anssi Karttunen in conversation with Christian Baldini

In preparation for our performance of Peter Lieberson’s “The Six Realms” (for cello and orchestra), I had the occasion of asking our wonderful soloist Anssi Karttunen a few questions:

Christian Baldini: Anssi, what a treat to get to perform this piece with you as our soloist, thank you so much for joining us! This will be the first time that this piece will be performed without the cello being amplified, is that correct? You were very good friends with Peter Lieberson, so can you tell us the history behind the reason for this piece being published for amplified cello, despite the composer’s wishes?

Anssi Karttunen: I know exactly what must have happened at the first performance with Yo-Yo Ma because the same thing has happened to me with other first performances. There is no piece more difficult for balance than a cello concerto. Nowadays there is mostly very little time to rehearse for any orchestral piece and the one aspect that takes time to sort out is balance. So it sometimes happens that in order for the cello to be heard in the first performance one has to ask for a discreet amplification. Usually in the following performances the composer can work out the problematic passages. That is exactly what happened in Toronto, the only problem being that it was then published as a piece for amplified cello and orchestra which was not Peter’s original idea. When I suggested that we take a look at the dynamics together in order to make a version that can be performed and rehearsed in normal time he was delighted. We were both convinced that Six Realms would work very well with some small revisions which he was going to do himself. Unfortunately he got very ill and wrote to me some time later that he would not able to finish the work but that he trusted I would make the right decisions. A few months later he passed away, it has taken 8 years to find the right conditions for this performance.

CB: This work is based on some Buddhist principles, and the concept that (in Lieberson’s own words) “differing states of mind and emotions colour our view of the world and shape human experience”. We know Lieberson was a Buddhist, but can you develop on this and how it might have affected his compositional output?

AK: I don’t think Peter is trying to give us a lecture on the Buddhist idea of cycle of rebirths through six realms, but as it was for him a very concrete and deep belief it gave him a story thread to follow and to tell through his music. There is a universality in the message of the piece that does not require knowledge on Buddhism. The movement through different stages of existence and emotional states can be felt and received either concretely or as an abstraction. The sincerity of Peter’s relation to his own music and his beliefs is there for all of us to feel.

The Six Realms is structured as follows:

1. The Sorrow of the World (introduction)
2. The Hell Realm (aggression: acute, self-perpetuating anger at the world and ourselves)
3. The Hungry Ghost Realm (passion: the need to possess or continually consume; we are never satisfied because we can never get enough)
4. The Animal Realm (ignorance: an obsessive need to control or to find security)
5. The Human Realm (passion: the desire for something better, and a lessening of self-absorption, allows for the possibility of our becoming dignified humans who long for liberation from these six realms of existence. It is only from this realm that we are able to move on to achieve Enlightenment: the right way to view, and interact with, the world.)
6. The God Realm (ignorance: blissful self-absorption of our godlike powers, until doubt sets in and shatters our confidence) and The Jealous God Realm (aggression: extreme paranoia and competitive drive; we never trust anyone or their motives)

CB: What is so very special to you about this piece, and, are you hoping that now that we finally perform it without amplification (with some of the edits that you did with PL before he died), it will finally become a staple of the Cello Concerto repertoire?

AK: The important thing is not that we play it with or without amplification, it is simply that the piece gets heard again. It often happens even to masterpieces that for one reason or another they do not receive the success they deserve immediately and need to wait for their moment. I sincerely think that this is one of the great American concertos and there are not too many of those for any instrument. At the same time it is not merely American, it is a universal piece. Peter didn’t want his music to sound American or Buddhist, he followed the principle of « being brave enough to experience existence without dogma or belief of any kind ». I hope we can bring justice to this wonderful piece.

CB: You have given the world premiere of over 180 works (and counting), and have worked with some of the most celebrated composers of our time such as Esa-Pekka Salonen, Luca Francesconi, Kaija Saariaho, and Pascal Dusapin. Can you tell us why it is so important to actively promote the works of living composers?

AK:There are three main reasons why working with living composers is essential for us performers:

– Firstly: Music has changed a lot during history but the work of a composer has remained essentially the same, It still starts with an empty page and through their own individual battles composers manage to put down on paper the closest approximation of their music that notation allows. Knowing how different composers work today is the best way to imagine how composers worked earlier, how they all are different and have very different priorities for us performers.

– Secondly: There is nothing more exciting than being part of the creative process. The moment when a piece is born. Being the first messenger who allow an audience to discover a new creation is a priceless opportunity.

– Thirdly: The work of a performer is ephemeral. Nothing remains of a concert, sometimes a recording, but often not event that. CDs exist, but recordings often fall out of fashion and our work is eventually forgotten. The only legacy we can leave behind are the pieces that we were able to inspire composers to compose. So through these pieces which will survive in the hands of other performers a little bit of my happy moments will survive for future generations.

CB: Can you share with us some interesting, amusing or charming anecdotes of your life as a touring musician, traveling around the world working with wonderful musicians from all walks of life?

AK: Friends are what is the most interesting, charming and amusing thing about the life of a traveling musician. And coming back to places to meet the friends again. Sometimes one meets a person that marks your life and never meet them again. Sometimes a surprising place or friend accompanies you throughout the rest of your life. One such place is Davis; when I first came here 20 years ago I had no idea that a recording Pablo Ortiz played for me of Piazzolla and Troilo led us to a collaboration that has produced now already two CDs and countless pieces and concerts. And Davis itself became a place were I am now coming for my fourth visit, each time with a completely different project. Another such person was Peter Lieberson, I only met him on two occasions, but our bond was so strong that we became very close and he and his music has accompanied me far beyond his passing.

CB: Wow, that is amazing to hear. Now changing completely the subject, and dreaming big, tell us, if you were appointed Artistic Director of a Music Festival with unlimited resources, and you had to choose the programming for 3 symphonic programs (with unlimited choices of soloists, orchestras, choirs, conductors), who would you invite, and to perform what?

AK: If you offer me unlimited resources, then I can take the liberty of traveling in time. The first concert I would program is the one that I in fact programmed four years ago in Helsinki when I directed the Musica nova Festival. This was such a happy moment of being with and listening to friends that I would love to offer it to more people to enjoy. My closest friend Olly Knussen sadly passed away last summer so the only way this concert could happen is with these unlimited resources.

1:
Peter Lieberson: Shing Kham, percussion concerto (orchestrated by Oliver Knussen)
Mark-Anthony Turnage: On Open Ground, viola concerto
Reinbert de Leeuw: Der nächtlige Wanderer
Finnish Radio Orchestra, conducted by Oliver Knussen (1952-2018), soloists: Pedro Carneiro, percussion and Steven Dann, viola

2:
The second concert would be a trip into history. To meet and hear two of my heroes and to understand how they performed themselves. Schumann’s cello concerto I would have to offer to play myself, because no cellist in his lifetime wanted to play it and he never heard it. Hearing Brahms and his friends perform the Double Concerto would be the ultimate way of understanding his music and the way he performed it himself. So much has changed since those days and there are no records to listen to, we can only guess how it may have been.

Schumann: Cello Concerto, Schumann conducting and myself as soloist
Brahms: Double Concerto, Brahms conducting, Joseph Joachim, violin and Robert Hausmann cello

3:
Arnold Schönberg: Gurrelieder conducted by Schönberg.

I would want to sit in the audience for this concert that was one of the most important moments in the history of music. Plus I would be sitting next to so many incredible people, Berg, Webern, Zemlinsky and many others. And if I had organised the concert I would have the chance to take them all out for dinner afterwards.

CB: That was very illuminating, and it speaks very much about the great breadth of repertoire that is so important to you. Once again, Anssi, thank you very much for coming to Davis to perform this wonderful music with us, and for sharing your very interesting insights with us!

Continue reading “Soloist Profile: Anssi Karttunen in conversation with Christian Baldini”

Concerto, Dance, Music, Tango

Christian Baldini in conversation with Composer Pablo Ortiz

In preparation for the performance of his Concerto for Bandoneon and Orchestra, I had the pleasure of asking composer Pablo Ortiz a few questions about his music, his training, and more.

Christian Baldini: Pablo, it is a real pleasure to feature your music with our orchestra, especially on a concert which showcases the wide aesthetic range that can be found in an entire “Argentina music” program. You studied in Buenos Aires at the Catholic University (just like me), with some of the most important composers of Latin America. Can you tell us about your training there, and how it formed you as the composer that you are today?

Pablo Ortiz: At the Catholic University I was able to work with Gerardo Gandini, who was the most well-known contemporary composer in Argentina, but also, at some point he became the pianist for the sextet of Astor Piazzolla. He has a series of recordings called Postangos, where he improvises on well known standards, just as a jazz pianist would. He was tremendously influential.

CB: Tango has been a source of inspiration for you for a long time. How did this love for this genre start for you? And when did you decide that you would incorporate it into your own language?
PO: When one of my uncles divorced, he came to live with us in my parents’ house, and he brought with him his extensive collection of tango records. He would sit and reminisce, and I would keep him company, becoming acquainted with the great bands of the golden age: Troilo, D’Arienzo, Pugliese, Firpo among others.

CB: In your Concerto for Bandoneon and Orchestra you use a typical structure of a concerto: in three movements, fast, slow, and faster. But your concerto does not sound “typical” or “standard” in any way. How do you go about reinventing yourself for every piece, and creating new sounds with old forms that sound fresh and unconventional?
PO: I do tend to reinvent myself in every piece. I have several different “styles” that correspond to my musical passions: for instance, I love writing for the voices, and my vocal works are different from my instrumental works, or my tango-inflected works.

CB: You wrote this concerto for JP Jofre, who is a wonderful virtuoso. Can you tell us about your relationship with JP and what it is like to make music with him?
PO: JP Jofre is an amazing musician, and he can play everything technically, of course, but his musicality and warmth is off the charts. Essentially, you cannot remain indifferent when he plays. You cannot help but be moved.

CB: It has long been said that music education is suffering in the public school system (in many countries) and that unless we do something, the classical music audience will continue getting smaller and smaller. What are some of the most important things you would point out to a politician or administrator who might have the capacity to do something about this? Why is music still important and relevant nowadays?
PO: I think that people have to realize that there is a rich cultural patrimony that is worth keeping alive. We have treasures, in art, music, theatre, architecture, that we need to preserve for future generations. In Europe, the State is instrumental in keeping this legacy, in this country [the United States], we are more dependent on the kindness of private donors and Universities. Music is important because it makes you feel things, and understand things relying on your intuition.

CB: Many thanks again for sharing your time with us, and especially for sharing your beautiful music with us. It will be a pleasure to share it with our students and our audience!
PO: I am really happy, and honored to have my concert performed at Davis. Thank you!

pablo-ortizw

Dance, Music, Tango

Christian Baldini in conversation with Tango Virtuoso JP Jofre

One of the great virtuoso bandoneon players visit California to share his artistry with us

I had the pleasure of talking to bandoneon virtuoso and composer JP Jofre, in preparation for our upcoming concert together at UC Davis at the Mondavi Center performing his own Tangódromo, as well as the Bandoneón Concerto by Pablo Ortiz.

Christian Baldini: JP, what a treat to have you with us for this program, in which we are exclusively playing composers from Argentina, thank you for joining us!
JP Jofre: It is my pleasure to share new music with the beautiful people of Davis for the first time.

CB: Tell us about your piece Tangódromo. What is the “seed” for this piece, and what were the circumstances in which you wrote it?
JP: It is originally a suite for string quartet and bandoneon. I write it between 2012 and 2013 inspired by some of my favorites composers such as Piazzolla, Shostakovich and Stravinsky with the need of expanding the bandoneon repertoire. The world premiere was in NYC with the Attacca Quartet, latter on I made the oficial recording with the Catalyst Quartet on an album entitled Bandoneon y Cuerdas.

CB: You’ve been a wonderful champion of composers from Argentina. Can you name a few composers from Argentina that you’ve worked with, and tell us what was special about working with each of them?
JP: I’ve been lucky to work with some wonderful Argentine composers such as Ortiz, Viñao, and Otero and Bruno Cavallaro. With Fernando Otero I made around 200 performances between 2010 and 2015. I learned so much playing his music and going on tour with him that I feel he was one of my main teachers without taking lessons with him.
With Ezequiel Viñao also was a wonderful experience, performing and recording his suite Sonetos de Amor, a very complex, yet gorgeous song cycle for mezzo and chamber ensemble. Collaborating with a living composer is one of the most amazing experiences.

CB: What was your path into music when you were growing up, what (or who) got you started?
JP: Unconsciously I started composing music since very little maybe around 4-5 years old. It was like playing games, for example, I would create a song to sing to my grandma so I would make her laugh. Later on, when I was 15 years old I started more seriously composing on the piano and guitar. First I was very much into rock and pop, I was playing drums on a heavy metal band, but as a teenager about 16-17 years old I fell in love with Dvorak, Leoncavallo (my mother used to play Pagliacci all the time and I loved it), and Albeniz too. Anyways, I have to say there was one composer who made me rethink everything and made me decide what I wanted for my life, that was Piazzolla.

CB: Tell us about the bandoneon. What makes this instrument so special?
JP: It’s basically a portable and expressive organ. I believe the sensitivity of the instrument and the range makes it very special.

CB: Have you ever danced the tango? One would imagine that specializing in this, you are probably a phenomenal dancer, but it’s that the case?
JP: I dance just a bit. It’s a beautiful dance.

CB: Well, it is thanks to wonderful players like you that this instrument and this genre live on, and the great tradition from the masters of the past is passed onto the next generations. Thank you for all that you do to preserve this great art, and for sharing it with us!
JP: Thank you and I can’t wait to play Ortiz’s bandoneon concerto. It’s a wonderful piece that’s deserves to be heard.

For a wonderful feature in the New York Times about Mr. Jofre, visit this link.

jp jofre

Music, Uncategorized

Christian Baldini in conversation with pianist Andrei Baumann

In preparation for our upcoming performance of Copland’s Piano Concerto at the Mondavi Center at UC Davis, I spent some time with Andrei Baumann talking about Copland, music in general, and about the importance and role that art has in society nowadays.

Christian Baldini: How would you describe the Copland Piano Concerto to someone that’s never listened to it, or who knows nothing about it?

Andrei Baumann: Be open-minded. You will hear sounds that are jarring and dissonant. Expect the unexpected. After listening to the piece for the first time, you will hopefully want to listen to it a few MORE times, because it moves by so quickly and can seem so spontaneous and unexpected. If the first movement has gone by, and you have enjoyed the wonderful melodies exchanged between the piano and orchestra; the piano cadenza to begin the second movement will be a good hint for what’s to come!

CB: One could undoubtedly describe Aaron Copland as one of the great American composers, with vast influences on so many others such as Leonard Bernstein, but perhaps reaching out to other cultures as well such as Carlos Chávez or Alberto Ginastera. In this concerto, the obvious references to jazz and blues are crystal clear and omnipresent, and in some of his other music we have references to the “folksy feeling”, in Copland’s own words, or even the adoption of serialism. These terms can all equally be used to describe Copland’s varied output. How do you see Copland’s legacy in the music of the 20th and 21st century?

AB: Copland’s language is very new to me. I remember working on his Sextet at a chamber music festival. It took such a long time for us to find a level of comfort while working on this piece. I love his songs set to Emily Dickinson poetry, and of course Appalachian Spring.

I think Copland’s music is very accessible to audiences. In the 21st century, we have become accustomed to hearing so many different sounds. As someone whose ear is more drawn to tonality, I naturally am inclined towards Jazz Standards and Classical harmony. The musical world today is so different. Copland’s music feels like a mish-mash of the “old and the new.” He is truly a great American composer.

CB: Everyone knows Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, which was written just two years prior to the Copland Piano Concerto, but why do you think such few people know about this piece? I was fortunate to get to know this piece as I was assisting Michael Tilson Thomas with the San Francisco Symphony, and one week Inon Barnatan came to play this piece. What do you think is the reason that  this wonderful concerto has not become a staple in the repertoire?

AB: This is a great question, for many reasons. One of the reasons that I have become so drawn to this piece is that the soloist and orchestra play equally important roles. I can imagine parts of the second movement being played by a big band! Sometimes I have the feeling that I am playing in a jazz combo, big band or large chamber music ensemble. I can’t understand why this concerto is not performed more often. I wonder if the fact that the orchestra and soloist parts are so intertwined makes this piece less appealing to learn. Certainly it is not a concerto that would be suitable for piano competitions, which are such a staple of ones early musical development. Hopefully this concerto will be performed much more in the future!

CB: How did you start with music?

I was introduced to music in a very unique way. My father loves Classical music, and introduced me to this music at a very young age. I fell in love with this music instantly. I have always loved playing chamber music: the interaction with other musicians, exchanging ideas, coming up with a common interpretation. A vivid memory was an outreach performance of Schubert’s Trout Quintet in Toronto. Three of us absolutely adored the piece, and we got two friends to join our group. We only performed the piece once, but I was felt as though I couldn’t stop smiling inside for the full hour! We were so lucky to play such a glorious piece of music, and communicate this together to an audience.

CB: What have been the most inspiring experiences and people to you in your professional life?

AB: In recent years, people who have inspired me the most are artists who are introducing music to the community. Some of these families would never have access to music, and these musicians educate students in a most commendable way. Locally here in Davis, Sandra Brown; in Vacaville, Chase Spruill is doing wonders for the music program at Sierra Vista; and in Providence, Rhode Island, Adrienne Taylor: who represents Community Music Works in a most admirable way. These individuals have a unique ability to communicate the language of music and to inspire the next generation.

CB: Are there any other piano concertos that you would love to play after this one? Which ones?

AB: In no particular order: Rachmaninoff 2nd, both Chopin concertos, and Beethoven’s 3rd and 4th concertos. Playing a concerto is such a unique and thrilling experience.

CB: What would you say is the role of music in society nowadays?

I believe that music can play a much greater role in society. In this country, Classical music and Jazz are appreciated by a wonderful group of enthusiasts. While I’m extremely grateful to these enthusiasts, the greater population seems very much out of touch with this tradition. It would be easy to see this as a fault, however the problems are numerous. Music and art should be a foundation of our education. If this music is presented and celebrated from a young age, then the group of enthusiasts could grow in years to come. In an age where we seem to be more and more isolated, music can create community. Thankfully it is still not possible to have an ensemble made up of iPhones and computers instead of musicians. People need to be involved, and this is clearly positive!

The excuse that tickets for concerts are too expensive simply doesn’t work. How expensive is it to go see a sports event in Sacramento or the Bay area? Are people just simply losing interest? Somehow music seems to be losing its way, and I really believe it starts from the beginning. Hopefully people will still appreciate listening to a Beethoven symphony in 100 years.

 

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ANDREI BAUMANN, pianist

An active soloist, chamber musician, Andrei Baumann has performed extensively in the USA, Europe, Canada and Venezuela. As winner of the 2009 Borromeo String Quartet Guest Artist Award, he performed with the quartet in Jordan Hall on January 29th, 2009. His Carnegie Hall debut at Weill Recital Hall occurred in May 2008 with violinist Lily Francis as part of the Distinctive Debuts series. Other notable performances include a solo recital on the Sundays Live Concert Series at Los Angeles County Arts Museum which was broadcast by KCSN, 88.5 FM, solo recitals at the Crocker Art Museum Classical Music Series in California, performances at Caramoor Festival and with Itzhak Perlman at the Perlman Music Program. Andrei has performed in masterclasses for such distinguished artists as Elisso Wirssaladze, Pavel Gililov, Leon Fleisher, Claude Frank and Marc Durand. Among the numerous festivals he has participated in are Corsi in Sermoneta, Italy; Ost-West Musikfest in Krems, Austria; Internationaler Kammermusikkurs in Böhlen, Germany; Kuhmo Chamber Music Festival in Finland; Banff Centre for the Arts and Orford Arts Centre in Canada; and in the USA, Aspen Music Festival, Perlman Music Program.

Recent performance highlights have included a Mothers Day performance of the Grieg Piano Concerto with Peter Jaffe and the Auburn Symphony, and numerous chamber music performances with cellist Susan Lamb Cook and friends. Mr. Baumann is a frequent performer at the Mondavi Center, Harris Center and others venues in Northern California. He also recently released a second album Miroirs, which includes works by Bach, Debussy and Ravel.

Mr. Baumann has a Masters of Music in Piano Performance from New England Conservatory in Boston, a Künstlerischer Ausbildung Diploma from the Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst in Stuttgart, Germany, and a Bachelor of Music degree at the Glenn Gould School of The Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, Canada. His most influential teachers have been Andre Laplante, Jamie Saltman and Vivian Hornik Weilerstein.

Mr. Baumann has been a piano faculty member at the Rivers School Conservatory in Weston, MA. He is also Head of the Piano Department at Camp Encore/Coda in Sweden, Maine. In addition, he has been a jury member at the A Ramon Rivera Piano Competition at Rivers School Conservatory in Weston.

Mr. Baumann has moved back to Davis, and is very excited to open a piano studio. He is currently accepting students. Mr. Baumann is an avid nature enthusiast. He is currently pursuing the ideal sunrise, the Aurora Borealis, and many new adventures.

 

Baldini conducting UC Davis Symphony Orchestra

Christian Baldini started conducting at age 19, and he came to international attention when he made his debut in Salzburg as a finalist for the Nestlé/Salzburg Festival Young Conductors Award. He has served as Music Director of the Camellia Symphony Orchestra in Sacramento since 2012. He has also served as the Music Director of the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra and Barbara K. Jackson Professor of Conducting at the University of California, Davis, since 2009. With these orchestras he has conducted multiple world premieres, and local premieres of such important works as Varèse’s AmériquesLuciano Berio’s SinfoniaLigeti’s Violin Concerto, and many relevant symphonic cycles like those by Sibelius, Brahms and Schumann.
Baldini has conducted opera at the English National Opera (most recently Verdi’s Aida at London’s Coliseum in November 2017), Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires (Dallapiccola’s Il prigioniero, Dallapiccola’s Volo di notte, and the world premiere of Oscar Strasnoy’s Requiem), and the Aldeburgh Festival in England (Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia). Since 2009 he has been the Music Director of the Rising Stars of Opera in collaboration with the San Francisco Opera at the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts, showcasing some of the most talented operatic singers of the young generation.
Baldini previously served as an assistant conductor with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the San Francisco Symphony. His CD recording “Mozart: Opera Arias and Overtures” conducting the Scottish Chamber Orchestra was chosen as “Recording of the Month” by the BBC Classical Music Magazine, and received 4- and 5-star reviews by the specialized press. He is a frequent international guest conductor with appearances leading the Buenos Aires Philharmonic, Munich Radio Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony, National Symphony Orchestra (or Argentina and Portugal), Teatro Argentino de La Plata and the Florida Orchestra.
For more information visit: http://www.christianbaldini.info