Violinist Richard Tognetti Connects Surfing and Sound, the Lincoln Center Celebrates 50 Years, Los Angeles Embraces Gustavo Dudamel
Australian violinist RICHARD TOGNETTI, who serves as artistic director of the AUSTRALIAN CHAMBER ORCHESTRA, and famed surfer pal Derek Hynd set out two years ago for King Island, Tasmania, for a project they called Musica Surfica. Recalling the ancient Hawaiian surfing style, the duo and a few professional surfers and shapers removed the fins from their boards for a "friction-free" ride. Tognetti invited ACO assistant leader and violinist SATU VÃNSKÃ„, ACO cellist JULIAN THOMPSON, fiddler MIKE KERIN, and others to perform a "friction-free" concert for the locals on the island. The concert of Paganini, Bach, folk tunes, and originals is now serving as the soundtrack to the film Musica Surfica, which documents the experiment and won Best Feature at the 2008 New York Surf Film Festival.
"[Hynd] and I were drawn to surfing as the closest sport to art, unlike, say, football," Tognetti says. "We wondered what it would be like to create a collision of classical music and surfing. The further down the track we went with it, the more we realized it had a certain power. [The film] was meant to be artful. It was meant to be an ecstatic celebration of human endeavor. That takes it to the universal. That might have appealed to the judges in New York, that they didn't get another bit of 'surfing porn' on their desks."
Tognetti, who plays the 1743 "Carrodus" del GesÃ¹ violin, brings the ACO to the States in April and May, and may perform Musica Surfica in San Diego. He is celebrating his 20th year as leader of the ACO.
"Socially we're an incredibly healthy group of people, which I do think is important in this democratic age," Tognetti says. "In earlier times, dictatorship times, you would have an icy cold formal relationship with your colleague.
"These days, [democracy] is essential."
Sitting on 50
Fifty years ago, slums on the Upper West Side of Manhattan were demolished for a federally aided urban-renewal project to make room for what has become 16.3 acres of high culture—the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. On May 14, 1959, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, John D. Rockefeller III, and other politicos and patrons of the arts, gathered along West 64th Street and Broadway at an open-air groundbreaking ceremony in front of a crowd of 12,000. Maestro Leonard Bernstein led the New York Philharmonic and Juilliard Chorus through a few numbers under a green-and-white tent.
On May 11, the center begins a yearlong celebration to mark the 50th anniversary of that occasion (though the complex actually opened in 1962). The celebration will feature performances and programs from 11 of its resident arts organizations, including the New York Philharmonic, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the Juilliard School, and Jazz at Lincoln Center. Look for a free performance by YO-YO MA and the SILK ROAD ENSEMBLE at the newly restored Guggenheim Bandshell in Damrosch Park in June.
Visitors to the center's website, lincolncenter.org, are encouraged to post their favorite memories on the Digital Time Capsule, which will close at the end of celebrations in May 2010.
Borodin Cellist Passes
After serving 60 years as cellist of the veteran Borodin Quartet (formerly the Moscow Philharmonic Quartet), VALENTIN "VALYA" BERLINSKY died December 15 in Moscow. He was 83. Born in Irkutsk, Siberia, Berlinsky amiably took the seat from MSTISLAV ROSTROPOVICH shortly after the latter formed the quartet in 1945 with violinists ROSTISLAV DUBINSKY and VLADIMIR RABEIJ, and violist RUDOLF BARSHAI. The other seats also changed hands a few times, but Berlinsky remained dedicated to the group and to Russia, as other artists defected to the West. The ensemble would go on to become closely associated with Shostakovich, and played at the funerals of Prokofiev and Stalin. Berlinsky also taught at the Gnessin School of Music in Moscow. He retired in 2007, and appointed his student VLADIMIR BALSHIN to the post.
In a prepared statement on the quartet's website, Borodin violist IGOR NAIDIN writes, "At the time of joining the ensemble, we each became his students and he has been dear to us not only as a teacher and colleague, but also as a true friend. We are exceptionally grateful to him and are very fortunate to have been in the same group over the years, sharing a unique musical experience onstage with him. We will miss him enormously and he remains forever in our hearts and minds."
LA Embraces 'The Dude'
Maestro GUSTAVO DUDAMEL met with much fanfare, enthusiasm, and optimism during a press conference that was webcast in January. LOS ANGELES PHILHARMONIC Association president Deborah Borda quizzed the new 28-year-old Venezuelan music director as well as unveiled several surprise developments, which include the LA Phil's naming composer John Adams to the newly created creative chair. "Classical music has been far from the real community," Dudamel told the audience. "The access to classical music until now in the 21st century is so little.... For us it's very important to have a new audience coming together with our regular audience and to have involved young kids from all the ages. This is one of my goals because I'm coming from Venezuela, the System, where the music is the life for our kids. And this time of our lives is very important."
Dudamel, who succeeds conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, will begin his tenure on October 3 by leading a free LA Phil concert at the very venue that marked his US debut, the Hollywood Bowl. Throughout the 2009-10 season, Dudamel will conduct five LA Phil commissions, four world premieres, and one US premiere. Among these is Adams' City Noir, which the composer will take on the road as he serves as director of the LA Phil's "West Coast: Left Coast" festival. The three-week festival, which runs through November and December, will also feature the KRONOS QUARTET as ensemble-in-residence.
Temperatures in Washington, DC, hovered in the teens during "We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration," a star-studded January 18 concert held on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial that kicked off inaugural festivities for President Barack Obama. But the string section of the JOINT SERVICE ORCHESTRA, composed of 44 members of the various branches of the Armed Forces, was impervious to the cold. To combat the chill, each string player performed on a carbon-fiber instrument made by Luis and Clark, the brainchild of cellist LUIS LEGUIA, a longtime member of the BOSTON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA. STAFF SGT. BEN WENSEL, a cellist in the US Army Band, told the New York Times this marked the first performance by a major orchestra using all carbon-fiber stringed instruments. To learn more about carbon-fiber instruments, see the feature on page 57.
Presenting a Challenge
Oh, what to get the violin that has everything? For the 400th anniversary of his Brothers Amati violin, EMANUEL BOROK, longtime concertmaster of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, commissioned the 'In Excelsis Violin Concerto,' by Russian composer Alexander Raskatov. Borok and the DSO will premiere the piece in April under maestro Jaap Van Zweden, who began his tenure this season.
"I wanted [the commission] to reflect in some way the extraordinary fact that the violin is 400 years old and it's being played," Borok says. "There are so few violins that are that old. At the time it was made, there was almost no secular music written for the violin. When you think of this, it takes your breath away. It takes my breath away, at least."
Raskatov was enthusiastic about the request, and ultimately made a connection between the instrument and the great Jewish players of the past. The result is five contrasting movements that reference Jewish history and the holocaust. "I have Jewish roots," Raskatov says. "For me it was very interesting to start writing the music with kind of thinking about the blood, to write something really bloody in the sense of the story of the instrument. That's why I didn't use any devices. I didn't try to write a concerto just for the sake of virtuosity....
"The musician will find psychological difficulties and also psychological possibilities to bring to the audience the subtle nuances and details."