Today's Classical Music Video

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Fourteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition

It was just a few months ago that pianist Van Cliburn passed away, but his piano competition continues without him. This year's edition began in Ft. Worth this past Friday and will continue until June 9.

Earlier this year a 5-member jury travelled the world listening to no fewer than 133 possible competitors and narrowed the field down to 30. In the First Round currently under way in Ft. Worth each of the 30 pianists will present two 45-minute recitals, and then the field will be reduced to 12 semi-finalists for the next round. Each of the pianists will play a 60-minute recital, including a performance of a piece by Christopher Theofanides written especially for this competition, as well as a piece of chamber music with the Brentano String Quartet. In the finals there will be six finalists who will each play two concertos with the Ft. Worth Symphony conducted by Leonard Slatkin.

Past winners of the Cliburn include Radu Lupu, Barry Douglas, Olga Kern and Cristina Ortiz. This year prize money totally $175,000 will be handed out to the winners.

Music-lovers unable to travel to Ft. Worth for the competition will nonetheless be able to follow along from their computers. The Cliburn Competition is presenting a live webcast directed by Christopher Wilkinson every day during the festival. On the website there is a schedule giving times for all performances in every round of the competition.

Paul E. Robinson


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Andris Nelsons Gets Boston

The long wait is finally over. The Boston Symphony has a new music director: 34-year old Latvian conductor Andris Nelsons. He succeeds James Levine who resigned several years ago after a series of illnesses that made it impossible for him to continue. Coincidentally, Levine mad a long-awaited return to the podium last week conducting the MET Orchestra.

Nelsons is one of the hottest conductors around these days with every major orchestra vying for his services. Nelsons has already conducted the Boston Symphony and the players found him to be absolutely what they were looking for: a fine musician with a rare gift for galvanizing an orchestra. The music director of the Boston Symphony also has a special responsibility for the orchestra's summer home in Tanglewood. He must not only lead BSO concerts there but also oversee the educational activities of the Tanglewood Music Center program. Nelsons conducted the student orchestra at Tanglewood last summer and will return this summer to lead a performance of the Verdi Requiem with the BSO on July 17. His wife Kristine Opolais will be the soprano soloist.

Nelsons was principal conductor of the Latvian National Opera early in his career, and in 2009 he conducted Turandot at the Met. He has conducted Lohengrin at Bayreuth and returns to Bayreuth in 2016 for Parsifal.

Andris Nelsons is a frequent guest conductor with the Berlin Philharmonic and in our video he leads an excerpt from Strauss' Ein Heldenleben. From this video one can see that Nelsons often conducts with a smile on his face, and that he is very physical, in the Bernstein tradition.

Nelsons was a professional trumpet player and took conducting classes with Neeme Jarvi, Jorma Panula and Mariss Jansons.

At a time when the classical record business is in the doldrums Nelsons is featured on a very large number of recent CDs and DVDs. The afore-mentioned Met Turandot is available on DVD along with a La Boheme from the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Most of his CDs have been made with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, the orchestra he has headed since 2008. He recently extended his contract through 2015. With the CBSO he has recorded music of Strauss, Stravinsky, and Tchaikovsky.

For the 2013-2014 season Nelsons will be music director designate of the BSO, appearing for only two weeks of concerts. The following season he will officially settle in as music director and conduct 8-10 weeks and probably some tours. For more on Andris Nelsons visit his website at The site includes video excerpts from many of his recent concerts, and from a documentary about his work in Birmingham.

Paul E. Robinson

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Monday, May 13, 2013

The Aldeburgh Connection Presents Its Final Concert

After more than 30 years of distinguished music-making, the Aldeburgh Connection has decided to pack it in. This month it will give its final concert. The organization was created by pianists and life partners Stephen Ralls and Bruce Ubukata, and presented most of its concerts at Walter Hall at the University of Toronto. The "Aldeburgh Connection" relates to the close relationship the organization always had with the Aldeburgh Festival and its founders Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears. Ralls worked at the festival as a rehearsal pianist for Britten's opera Death in Venice, and both Ralls and Ubukata were frequent visitors to Aldeburgh over the years.

The main purposes of the Aldeburgh Connection were to promote Britten's music, concentrate on both the words and music of art song literature, and not least of all, to give fine Canadian singers a showcase. All three goals were magnificently realized year after year.

When I was music director at CJRT-FM in Toronto in the 1980s we often recorded and broadcast concerts by the Aldeburgh Connection. They became some of our finest broadcast hours.

In this video Gerald Finley, by now an international star, is featured in music by Vaughan Williams with Stephen Ralls at the piano.

The Aldeburgh Connection was unique and it will be greatly missed. Best wishes to Stephen and Bruce for many more fruitful years of life and music!

Paul E. Robinson


Monday, May 6, 2013

Sarah Willis of the Berlin Philharmonic

Sarah Willis is a British-born horn player who became the first female brass player in the Berlin Philharmonic. She is not one of the orchestra's principal players but she is a fabulous musician and very articulate and personable when it comes to talking about music.

In this video she is giving an abbreviated master class to horn players auditioning for the YouTube orchestra. She demonstrates and gives helpful tips about playing some of the repertoire. In this excerpt she concentrates on the Beethoven 9th symphony and Richard Strauss' Till Eulenspiegel. I suspect that any young horn player would find this video very useful.

Paul E. Robinson