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March 2013 - Moravska filharmonie Olomouc - 5th symphony
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PostPosted: Fri Feb 22, 2013 11:32 am    Post subject: March 2013 - Moravska filharmonie Olomouc - 5th symphony Reply with quote

With my last concert cleared out of the way, I am now in full preparation mode for my second attempt at Sibelius' 5 Symphony:


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As some of you may recall, my first attempt was in March 2010 (

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), so it seems like March is a good month for that work.

The Moravian Philharmonic is a good regional orchestra, about twice the size of the orchestra in Marienbad that I worked with, so I am looking forward to this opportunity. But in my preparation, although it has been "only" 3 years, I am discovering that I need to rediscover this piece. So much has changed for me in my life and in music since then, I find myself a different person and through that I am discovering a different piece before me.

More later!

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PostPosted: Sat Feb 23, 2013 7:01 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Intriguing.... so what differences can we expect? (Or is that a secret?)

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PostPosted: Sat Feb 23, 2013 10:21 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

To begin with, I am noticing more retrospective motivic connections within (and across) movements. The various foreshadowings of themes in this symphony are obvious, but the "looking back" aspect is actually more important, because that is where the connection can be made musically.

One must be careful not to stress these connections too much, for example by playing them louder, slower, or with undue intensity of expression, so as not to disturb the flow of the piece and unbalance the inherent proportions of elements. However, I feel that in my first performance I simply "glossed over" these thematic associations. Perhaps by just being aware of them, I can make "something" happen.
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 20, 2013 2:05 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Kurkikohtaus and Andrew B in Olomouc, enjoying the best that CZ has to offer:

(night before the dress rehearsal)


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PostPosted: Fri Mar 22, 2013 7:50 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

The concert is finished!

A little bit of the conclusion:

(I've moved the clip down below so that all 3 are together)

More to come later, but first of all a very heartfelt thanks to Andrew B and his family for being there, it was very special to have them in attendance![/i]

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 22, 2013 9:11 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

That clip has wet my appetite for more. I was well impressed with the six final hammar blows, well spaced out and emphatic--kp

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 22, 2013 8:58 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Kurki, I presume you make your living in music. Do you have a permanent post in your field?

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PostPosted: Sun Mar 24, 2013 9:24 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

For the last year-and-a-half I have been freelancing, but am hoping to secure a šéfdirigent position in the Czech Republic again, hopefully in the horizon of about 3 years.
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PostPosted: Sun Mar 24, 2013 10:20 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I looked up the page on the Czech philharmonic:
Quote:
The first gramophone recording of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra took place in 1929 , when Václav Talich recorded for world famous music label His Master's Voice Smetana's cycle of symphonic poems My Country . After several recordings for the brand after the war began CPO build his extensive discography with Supraphon

It's a google translation. About the same as Finland for recording history, up to 1939.

How is the funding for arts in this poor economy?

I may still have one or two Suprapon CDs. It was either baroque music or similar.

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 25, 2013 2:42 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Arts funding in the Czech Republic maintains institutions at a sustainable level, but does not allow for growth or development of personnel. Musicians' wages are extremely low, and when young people do land a position with an orchestra, their immediate concern is what else can they find so that they can put together a decent living.

_____________________________________________

I will try to add a few more clips from each movement of the symphony, I cannot post the whole thing (here or on YouTube) as per my agreement with the orchestra.

With regards to the changes in my thoughts and approach to this piece after 3 years, here is a summary, which I now feel comfortable writing seeing as the concert is over.

In studying and reflecting upon the 5th Symphony, two things occupy my thoughts: the interrelatedness of the themes and the interesting forms that grow out of the various key areas that the themes themselves lead Sibelius into exploring. As tempting as it is to trace these elements through the piece and try to make that a focus of the performance, it leaves me with an unsolvable problem: what do I do? How do I emphasize these elements? Do I have the orchestra play them louder? Do I have them slow down? Do I ask for and intensification of expression? These are all devices that would distort the music into something that Sibelius didn't write, and would be a futile attempt to show how clever I am as opposed to how good the music is.

Furthermore, beyond the question of the interpretive integrity with which the music is approached, there is an inherent characteristic of this music (and all music, to an extent), that is too easily overlooked when concentrating on themes and forms. The music is taking place in time. As we become more and more familiar with a piece through multiple hearings and study, we begin to develop a static image of it: we stack themes on top of each other, compare them and analyze how they comment on each other, often in retrospect. But in performance, this is not how the music happens. It is not a vertical stacking of layers on top of layers, nor is it a complete picture, static or moving, that one sees all at once and apreciates as a whole. I say again, the music is happening in time, one thing leading to another. Said differently, this piece is kinetic in nature, and it is within this moving and changing framework that the themes and forms unfold, it is this environment that gives them life.

This was the focus of my performance: to try to grasp the "right tempo", to try to pace the various long accelerandos, to make the piece move in a satisfying way. I did this in hopes that if it was done right, the motives and forms would crystalize in and of themselves without need of undue and distorting emphasis.

It was an interesting experiment, I'm not sure I succeeded fully but certainly afforded myself a positive experience on which to build for the future, whenever I am fortunate enough to be able to perform this piece again.

More to come!
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PostPosted: Mon Mar 25, 2013 9:29 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Its always puzzled me just why the music of Sibelius has not been more popular in the Czech Republic. They are a small Nation and immensely proud of their great National composer's Dvorak and Smetana. Also, like Finland the Czechs were under the yoke of Russian oppression for many years. One might have felt that a composer of Sibelius's ilk would have appealed to them. I can only think of a handful of recordings from Czech orchestras of music by JS. The Czech Phil. under Gaetano Delogu have given us an half decent fifth symphony and Swan of Tuonela on the Supraphon label and Vaclav Smetacek recorded a fine 'Tempest' Overture with the Prague SO. Sibelius does get the occasional hearing in the Czech Concert Halls and of course this Forums 'Kurki' alias maestro Michael Rohac has done fine work in the Czech Republic to bring Sibelius's music to concert audiences and I am sure that Kurki would agree with me that their audiences are as receptive to the Finnish Masters music as anywhere in the world.--kp

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 25, 2013 10:53 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

1st movement transition to scherzo:

At the largamente just after the bassoon solo, this is where the I begin to focus on the "kinetic" feeling: I really want to feel an inner pulse here, which then sets up the inner pulse of the climax and the ensuing poco a poco stretto.

I apologize for the awful sound quality, as you can see, the camera is right behind the horns, who drown out the entire orchestra when they are playing loud. I assure you, the trumpets were heard loud and clear at the climax, albeit not on the video.

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2nd movment opening:

The stillness of the opening makes for a wonderful contrast to the conclusion of the 1st movement:

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3rd movement conclusion:

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PostPosted: Sun Mar 31, 2013 1:41 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

First of a big thank you to Kurkikohtaus not only for his performance of the Fifth Symphony in Olomouc but also for his hospitality and good company throughout our stay there – and later in Prague too! I've taken a few days to reflect upon his very memorable account of the Fifth, because it was indeed a thought-provoking performance that worked on an intellectual as well as an emotional level. (Proof of its emotional impact was that the orchestra manager, who wasn't previously familiar with the work, was so affected by it that he couldn't speak to anybody after the concert - not even the conductor - and immediately went straight home to collect his thoughts.)

And so on to the results of the Brighton jury....

1) It's a good orchestra. I mention this because it isn't really apparent from the video clips. In the hall the balance was spot-on (if anything, the horns were marginally covered by the others just occasionally). They played with only five cellos on this occasion, but the quality of sound from the lower strings both in the symphony and in the first half (Beethoven Violin Concerto) was great, refined, subtle and well blended. The symphony was new to the players. Compared to the Beethoven there was undeniably a feeling of unfamiliarity - but not of hostility. They seemed to be giving it their all.

2) It's also a good hall - unusually shallow compared to its width, but despite the shape it actually has a warm and comfortable sound, though still clear and detailed.

3) Things that worked especially well (I'm spoilt for choice here):
- the opening horn call, nice tone and absolutely tempo giusto
- that long accelerando throughout the scherzo worked very well indeed, and was very goal-oriented; once started, it simply couldn't stop, which is surely as it should be.
- end of the first movement - no pulled punched here - thrilling yet tautly controlled
- the anticipation of the 'Swan hymn' in the double basses after F in the slow movement (a point ignored or overlooked by most conductors)
- impressive energy and momentum at the start of the finale, not created by speed per se but rather by accurate string playing
- a perfectly judged pochettino stretto at the end of the finale with the timpani part (important in terms of pitch as well as rhythm) especially clear
- finale, letter N, Un pochettino largamente: how many other conductors have spotted that there is a marked change of pulse here as well as at the Largamente assai after O? (But see also below)

4) A few things that didn't/suggestions:
- first movement after J: the diminuendo to ppp sempre didn't really happen - so the strings throughout the bassoon lament were too present both tonally and in balance
- a missed oboe entry before A in the slow movement (such an easy place, betraying the players' unfamiliarity with the piece)
- a touch more space around the poco largamente 4 bars after I in the slow movement (and thereafter) might have allowed even more expression and made the return to Tempo I in the closing bars clearer (these bars last bars were great, though, phrased with great simplicity and not messed around rhythmically, e.g. no big slowing-sown on the last phrase - I'm most grateful for that).
- good though it was to hear the Un pocchetino largamente at N in the finale, it was maybe a bit abrupt. 

5) Some thoughts about Kurki's thoughts earlier in this thread:
- 'How do I emphasize these elements? Do I have the orchestra play them louder? Do I have them slow down? Do I ask for and intensification of expression? These are all devices that would distort the music into something that Sibelius didn't write'. Absolutely. I'm very pleased that he didn't do that!
- 'The music is taking place in time… we stack themes on top of each other, compare them and analyze how they comment on each other, often in retrospect. But in performance, this is not how the music happens. It is not a vertical stacking of layers on top of layers, nor is it a complete picture, static or moving…' True enough. I'd note, though, that the above-mentioned double bass anticipation of the 'Swan hymn' was added after the 1915 version of the symphony, so that at least is a conscious comment from Sibb's point of view, though maybe not evident from the listener's perspective. 
- 'to make the piece move in a satisfying way. I did this in hopes that if it was done right, the motives and forms would crystallize in and of themselves without need of undue and distorting emphasis'. That is exactly what happened.

Quote of the Moment (remembered as well as I could…): Kurkikohtaus, shortly before the concert, on his way backstage: 'I'm going to collect my wits. They are scattered all over the floor like the piecves of a mosaic, and I have to put them together again.'

I wonder if I would get a discount from British Airways if I pre-booked a flight to Prague for Kurki's next Sibelius symphony performance (he was talking about the Second some time in the coming seasons). I think I'd better try, because I surely don't want to miss it.

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PostPosted: Tue Apr 02, 2013 10:23 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Many thanks to Andrew B for his thoughts.

To summarize the whole thing: The performance was uncompromising.

For better or for worse, I spent a long time forming a strong conception of the piece in my mind and my heart, and I did not stray even for a moment from that vision through the 3 rehearsals and finally the concert. This is not something I always do, as I allow the natural rapport that I discover with an orchestra (and their technical limitations) through a week of rehearsing to delicately "shape" some of the nuances of a given work.

This time around, I really wanted to put my idea to the test and see how far I could push. Will I do it differently next time? Certainly. Will I be more flexible next time? Absolutely. Will it be better next time? You bet.

But I will be able to do the above things precisely because this time, I was absolutely uncompromising, even to a fault. This has taught me what I believe to be the limits of the piece and of myself as a conductor, and when I get a chance to approach it again after a few years, I will be better for it.

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Andrew B wrote:
- a touch more space around the poco largamente 4 bars after I in the slow movement (and thereafter) might have allowed even more expression and made the return to Tempo I in the closing bars clearer


One of those funny things that happens to otherwise good ears when one steps onto a podium and holds a stick: I thought I did slow down there! But Andrew B heard correctly and the video proves it, I didn't. Funny how being "in the middle of things" can distort one's perceptions as to what is actually happening!
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PostPosted: Wed Apr 03, 2013 7:17 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Kurki, when you are studying the score of a major piece for performance, such as Sibelius 5 Do you block from your mind all aspects of how other conductors have approached the work or would a favourite recording in any way influence your interpretation? --kp

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PostPosted: Wed Apr 03, 2013 8:36 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

While I do listen to recordings to hear how various conductors over the ages have approached various problems, I have a personal "2-month" rule, meaning that 2 months before a performance I do not listen to any recordings of the piece, except for concertos, because it's always good to hear as many as possible of those so that one gets a sense of all the things that a soloist can throw at you.

With regards to being influenced, I think it is impossible not to be. We have all heard most of the repertoire many times over and have pre-conceived ideas about what a piece sounds like, because for most of them, we have heard them somewhere before we ever opened up the score (with some exceptions). That said, most conductors will naturally find their "own way", for 2 reasons.

First of all, no real conductor will ever learn a score with a recording as the primary tool for forming an image of the piece in their mind. Studying a score and imagining a sound in your inner ear is a completely different process than listening to a recording or performance, and naturally yields a very personal pace and sound that one then tries to achieve through rehearsals.

Secondly, every conductor moves in an idiosyncratic and individual way, which subconsciously affects the players and thereby the sound that the orchestra produces. A good conductor is in constant response to what he is hearing from the orchestra, and therefore works within a kind of "feedback loop": his impetus produces a certain sound/tempo/feel, and he then reacts and shapes that sound/fell further ... at this point in the process, it is quite useless to have a certain specific recording in one's ear, because it will be quite impossible to achieve.
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 04, 2013 7:36 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Kurkikohtaus wrote:


Secondly, every conductor moves in an idiosyncratic and individual way, which subconsciously affects the players and thereby the sound that the orchestra produces.


Many thanks for that insight into your rehearsal approach and performance. A conductor was once rehearsing the NBC Symphony Orchestra in a particular work, suddenly the sound of the orchestra changed completely. Turning round the conductor noticed that maestro Toscanini had entered the hall--kp

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PostPosted: Mon Apr 08, 2013 1:02 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Kurkikohtaus wrote:
Will I do it differently next time? Certainly. Will I be more flexible next time? Absolutely.

But please don't change how you phrased it 5 bars before E in the first movement (and the corresponding place later, between I and J). The violin and w/w fz were really nicely judged so it created tension (some go floppy here) without sounding contrived.

This is post No. 998... almost into four figures...

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PostPosted: Mon Apr 08, 2013 7:31 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Andrew B wrote:


Quote of the Moment (remembered as well as I could…): Kurkikohtaus, shortly before the concert, on his way backstage: 'I'm going to collect my wits. They are scattered all over the floor like the piecves of a mosaic, and I have to put them together again.'



Couldn't help but smile at that. Smile

A very interesting read. For people like me who no longer play or have never had the opportunity to play Sibelius, it is a real eye-opener.

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PostPosted: Mon Apr 08, 2013 11:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Andrew B wrote:
... 5 bars before E in the first movement (and the corresponding place later, between I and J).


Interesting you mention that spot, I had forgotten to tell you about it when discussing the trials of that week ... for those of you without a score, it is the swirling closing theme in the first half of the first movement from which many other things in the symphony derive, including the string figurations at the end of the movement and the opening figures of the last movement.

Those 2 spots that you mention unexpectedly took a lot of work. At the first rehearsal, I must have spent well over 5 minutes on those few bars, they just sounded wrong, the rhythm was lazy and the fz was inconsistent. Repeated attempts bore very little fruit, so I finally sang it to them with the first non-sensical mnemonic aid in Czech that occurred to me:

"Ja nevim, ja nevim, ja nevim ..." (and so on to the rhythm, always prolonging the mmmmm at the end). "Já nevím" means "I don't know", and I don't know why that in particular came to my mind. But I find when some of Sibelius' more idiosyncratic rhythmic motives are put to language, they suddenly come alive. When the orchestra had those words in their minds, they finally played that rhythm with ease.
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