Today's Classical Music Video

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

John Eliot Gardinet at 70

I expect a few eyebrows would be raised if I declared John Eliot Gardiner one of the great conductors of our time. Many music-lovers have probably not even heard of him. Others would associate him solely with the period instrument and historically informed performance movement. But Gardiner's importance cannot be underestimated.

With the Monteverdi Choir and Orchestra Gardiner has indeed been a leader in performing older music as it was probably played in its own time. But he is at home conducting virtually everything from Monteverdi to the present. Audiences in London know him as a master of a vast repertoire and look forward to every concert he conducts. But he seldom appears in North America, except when touring occasionally with his own musicians.

At age 70 he can look back on a career that has illuminated a huge amount of music, not least of all, every one of Bach's hundreds of cantatas. Several years ago he toured Europe with the Monteverdi Choir and Orchestra on what was called the Bach Cantata Pilgrimage. The idea was to perform in the very churches where the music was performed in Bach's lifetime. The project was to be captured for posterity by Deutsche Grammophon. DG lost its nerve part way through the project but Gardiner persisted by raising money to release the remaining cantatas on his own label.

In this video done four years ago one gets a sense of the magnitude of the project and how brilliantly it succeeded. As always with Gardiner, the performances were vibrant and imaginative. Rhythms were infectious and the virtuosity of the singing and playing was breathtaking. The performances accomplished what all fine performances aspire to achieve: fill listeners with wonder at the beauty and profundity of the music.

Happy 70th birthday, Sir John!

Paul E. Robinson


Monday, June 17, 2013

The Philadelphia Orchestra Returns to China

The Philadelphia Orchestra was the first American orchestra to appear in China when it gave concerts there in 1973. The Cultural Revolution was still underway and there were some difficult moments. Today attitudes have changed and western classical music is enjoyed and encouraged throughout China. The Philadelphia Orchestra recently made a return visit and has plans for annual visits combining teaching and performing.

Donald Runnicles was the conductor for the Chinese tour and by all accounts the orchestra played well and was well-received. And where was Yannick? Due to prior commitments Yannick found himself leading a tour of China with one of his other orchestras, the Rotterdam Philharmonic. Presumably, this will not happen again. Yannick is music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra and will likely lead all future Chinese tours.

Paul E. Robinson


Sunday, June 9, 2013

Geoff Nuttall at the Spoleto Festival

The St. Lawrence String Quartet is probably the finest quartet ever produced in Canada. It was founded in 1989, it is currently in residence at Stanford University and tours internationally. But the first violinist of the SLSQ, Geoff Nuttall, is also the director of chamber music at the Spoleto Festival USA. In just a few years he has made a great impact on the festival both for his programming and for his quirky and entertaining introductory comments (see this recent NY Times article:

Geoff's colleagues in the SLSQ are also in residence in Spoleto and they are joined by some of the most illustrious names in music for daily chamber music performances. Unfortunately, this year's festival has just ended but mark your calendar for next year. The Spoleto Festival USA is held in Charleston, SC in late May and early June every year. Charleston is a great city to visit and the music could hardly be better. For more about the festival visit the website:

Later this year the SLSQ will have a personnel change. Violinist Scott St. John is leaving. The SLSQ plans to announce his successor in the fall of 2013.

Paul E. Robinson

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Monday, June 3, 2013

Tennstedt Conducts Wagner

The world of music is celebrating the 200th anniversary of Wagner's birth with performances everywhere. But I doubt that there will be any performances of Siegfried's Funeral March from Goetterdaemmerung to match the one on this video. This performance was given by the London Philharmonic conducted by Klaus Tennstedt in Tokyo in 1988. It is remarkable for its breadth and nobility. And the members of the LPO respond to Tennstedt as if their lives depended on it. At one point there is a loud crash. It could have been one of the musicians falling off his (or her) chair.

Tennstedt spent most of his career in East Germany at a time when there were few exchanges between East and West. When he finally got the opportunity to come to the West and conduct some of the major orchestras, managers and audiences realized that Tennstedt was an exceptional conductor. He made his North American debut in 1974, with the Toronto Symphony. Thanks to Walter Homburger, managing director of the Toronto Symphony, Tennstedt conducted often in Toronto. His major position in the West was as principal conductor of the London Philharmonic and he made many excellent recordings with them.

Due to ill health Tennstedt retired from conducting in 1994 at the age of 68. He passed away in 1998.

Paul E. Robinson