Sunday, March 29, 2015

Maestro for the Screen After Wilhelm Furtwangler's death, it was Herbert von Karajan who took on the mantle at Berlin Philharmonic and reigned supreme as a Maestro for thirty four years from 1956 to 1989. This documentary has been well crafted along with another that was made by BBC called `Karajan's magic and Myth'. During Furtwangler's regime with the Berlin Philharmonic, he was active in London with the Philharmonia Orchestra for a brief stint in the early nineteen fifties, guest conducting along with the then resident director, Otto Klemperer. Karajan has always remained an enigma to his fans all over the world. He wore his hair coiffed all the time. With his baton rarely in his hand, he was keen on being filmed from his left hand side with soft lighting focused on him. He insisted that he looked his best from his left side. Karajan is that very familiar face on hundreds of vinyl records, CDs, DVDs, laser discs and videos. There can be no argument about him being the only conductor who turned symphonic music into a big commodity in the period after the Second World War. He was a Maestro who had imperialistic ambitions. He wanted to achieve all pinnacles of media coverage and turned such events into commercially lucrative opportunities for the Berlin Philharmonic and himself. Within the philharmonic society in Berlin, Karajan was never a popular figure; he remained elusive for people playing under him and was not able to form friendships with those musicians whom he associated with for more than three decades. His political past also linked him to the Nazi party and this was a faint stigma on his reputation throughout his career. There were critics of his style of conducting who repudiated his superficial gloss, and showmanship for orchestral sonority.They thought that he had a philosophy of a one-size-fits-all style for repertoires of Bach to Alban Berg. Some called him the `Emperor of Legato'. Many felt that his style of orchestral sound had no place in the orchestral culture of today. John Bridcut tried to cover all these aspects in his film called `Karajan's Magic and Myth'. there are some interesting moments in this documentary. There also interviews with musicians from London's Philharmonia Orchestra from early nineteen fifties and from the Berlin ensemble. There is an interesting interview with Nikolaus Harnoncourt who played as a cellist with the Vienna Philharmonic under Karajan. Other interviews are by Anne Sophie Mutter and Jessye Norman. There is also an interesting angle to the filming obsession. As mentioned earlier, he always wanted his shots covering his left profile mostly; he also did not want his principal flautist, James Galway covered on the film as he did not like his facial hair. He also did not like bald players in his ensemble. He made some bald players wear wigs for the filming sessions. Another thing that you cannot miss out about Karajan's inimitable style of conducting is his approach of keeping his eyes closed. The contract with the Berlin Players was made out in such a way that they had to be available at his beck and call round the clock whenever he was stationed in Berlin. They were summoned at just an hour's notice for recordings, rehearsals and filming sessions. Whatever may be said or written against him, Karajan was an achiever. He achieved fame and stature for himself and his unit. No one can afford to risk rejecting many of his recordings as they are a valuable treasure. Those who reject his conducting will always miss out on the very scale of power and intensity of the sound he created in that famous Philharmonie Halle in Berlin. He was a true visionary in the way he made use of the latest media. An example of his master classes is his rehearsal with the Vienna Philharmonic of Schumann's D Minor Fourth Symphony. He turned a rehearsal and musical analysis into a great filming experience. What he is saying to the Vienna Philharmonic ensemble gives us a great insight into the makeup of Schumann's Fourth Symphony. Karajan's philosophy of conducting involved treating every piece of music as one single sweep of momentum in musical terms that was made up of several interconnecting lines of harmony and melodies. He had answered to queries about his closed eyes performances that it was a way of recalling the scores by seeing them in his mind's eyes and turning the pages in his imagination. He told the people interviewing him that he kept his eyes shut in order not to lose his concentration on the musical scores. His physical gestures also told a great story of what he was doing on the podium. You would have often found him reaching down with the help of his hands and moulding a sound wall that began somewhere under his podium. His crescendos were almost always powerful as the music surged upwards with brutal energy and orchestral clarity. His two Beethoven symphonies' cycle with Berlin are a testimony to his dedication to make Berlin Philharmonic an ultimate ensemble to reckon with on the world stage. I recall watching a DVD of Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony of a recording that was made in 1968. The cinematography was as strong as his interpretation; so much so that you could almost feel the storm brewing and the stream flowing peacefully in the finale. You could sense Beethoven's expression through your ears and your eyes, as well. (Source: Herbert von Karajan will always remain a Maestro with extraordinary abilities for me and I consider him as one of the top ten conductors the world has experienced.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Beethoven changed the very World of Music

The music of Ludwig van Beethoven not only turned him into a phenomenon after his death but it also brought about some changes that were disconcerting enough to make way for a romantic idiom in musical history. It broke away from Classicism. His music left a big impact on the composers that were to follow him. It also molded the whole world in the way that people began to acknowledge musical ideas through the voice of an orchestral ensemble. Beethoven moulded the identity of what was termed as Romanticism in music. It has also been observed that during the second half of the nineteenth century, the concert halls mostly played music of composers that were long dead and Beethoven was very much the focus of most of the concert programs. This is mainly due to the intensity that is brought out by his compositions and his unique style of generating large structures with a dense development of motifs. These motifs went on to shape the very culture of Romanticism in music and its repertoire. It is now one hundred and eighty eight years after his death and we can be honest by saying that we cannot get bored of hearing his music even when we are hearing it for the umpteenth time. Beethoven's orchestral music, especially, brings before us what is mighty in music and its value can not be measured. You can sense infinite yearning, setting in motion awe and pain, at the same time. After Beethoven, the orchestra was not any longer a cute ensemble for the entertainment of the elite classes but it came to life thereafter. It is an interesting fact to note that majority of concert programs after Beethoven's death generally included one of his symphonies to close the concerts. The art of conducting also took shape as a result of his mighty symphonies and styles developed through various interpretations of how his works were performed. This was unthinkable in the days of Mozart and Haydn. There was not much room for improvisation or style of interpretation. Forget the orchestra; the pianoforte also went through a transformation and carried the mark left by Beethoven as a highly flexible instrument. When the twentieth century arrived, the technology behind recording techniques also evolved more or less taking Beethoven's symphonies into consideration. The first classical music long playing vinyl record was made in 1931 and it was Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. When the first compact disc was issued, it was formatted to last seventy five minutes and this was mainly because the entire Choral Symphony could be captured on it. There can be no argument on the issue that Ludwig van Beethoven changed the very world of music, particularly that which is played in the concert halls. The concert hall transformed from being regarded not as a place where diverse musical entertainment could be acquired but it became a meeting place for austere memorials to the brilliance of the composer and the artists performing their music. Music listening went through a revolutionary change after Beethoven passed away. Listeners were now expected to pay complete attention to the dense and emotional narratives of the expressions by Beethoven. Take the example of Eroica, for example. Haydn could not stomach it when he first heard it and expected that the world should be ready to change their attitude to what they perceive music as. The musicians' platform changed into an invisible drama stage and the concert halls became prayer rooms where the Creator was glorified through revelations with sound. During the Second World War, Beethoven's Fifth Symphony took on the code of being symbolized for victory. The opening motif notes were then linked to the Morse code for victory. In 1989, Bernstein conducted the Choral Symphony after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Beethoven's late string quartets have also been hailed as a pinnacle in string ensemble writing. Many authors who wrote biographies of Beethoven have mentioned that the unrest during the Napoleonic wars in Austria and Germany and the eventual restoration of the monarchy rule had an influence on Beethoven's life and turned him into a recluse in a world of visions. His deafness also led him to behave the way he did; he was agitated and impulsive. It separated him from the mundane and daily life activities. As he grew in age, he started becoming fond of dead masters like Haendel, Bach, Haydn and Mozart. He started taking interest in counterpoint and polyphony. Beethoven was perpetually influenced by several political forces in his life, from a very early point in his career. The influence is seen ihis Creatures of Prometheus, Ruins of Athens, Coriolan, Missa Solemnis, Wellington's Victory, the Eroica, Fifth and the Choral Symphonies. The European Union has gone ahead and converted the finale of his Choral Symphony - the Ode to Joy- as its national anthem, officially. There is no tribute that will be sufficient for Beethoven. You do not come across this kind of musical genius everyday. It is rare. He went through tough experiences during his journey in life with so many tribulations. It was not in vain that he suffered inside with a mental anguish; it moulded his musical compositions to shape the very world of music after him. His life may have been a whole lot of pain for him but it was a big victory for the age of Romanticism. If you want to feel the anguish that he felt, you have to read his Heiligenstadt Testament in which he describes that his thirty-second year was the darkest hour in his life; he was struggling with love, loyalty and political ideas and with the approaching deafness. The testament to this struggle was the Eroica which shattered the walls of the classical and bourgeois world.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

The Two Towers

The Two Towers was completed in 2002. It is the second film in the trilogy of Tolkien's 'Lord of the Rings', directed by Peter Jackson. Some of the events from the Second Book have been carried forward to the third edition called `the Return of the King'. The Two Towers are Orthanc and Barad-Dur.
Besides many characters coming back from the Fellowship of the Ring, this edition features Éowyn - a noble lady of Rohan who wants to become a warrior, Éomer - a Marshal in Rohan and Eowyn's brother; Théoden - the troubled king and uncle of Éowyn and Éomer and his counsellor, Gríma Wormtongue. The actors were supplemented by several special effects creatures that included tree-like Ents, the pterodactyl-like flying steeds of the Nazgûl. You cannot forget Gollum who is perhaps the most uniquely realized CGI character in a non-animated film. His facial expressions were modeled on those of Andy Serkis. The surviving members of the Fellowship of the Ring were made to split into three groups - Frodo and Sam face many dangers on their journey to save Middle-earth by the destruction of the One Ring in the furnace of Mount Doom; Merry and Pippin escape from the Orcs and are sheltered by the Ents in their eventual battle against evil forces of Saruman and Sauron; Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas come across a mysteriously transformed Gandalf as the white Wizard of the forest and battle Saruman's army at Helm's Deep in alliance with King Theoden. The Two Towers combines stunning action sequences with an emotional narrative, leaving the audience spellbound and eager for the final edition. Peter Jackson is in full command in this second edition of the Ring Trilogy. Howard Score reigns over the film with his towering and epic score once again:

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Silver Linings Playbook

Jennifer Lawrence deserves the best actress award she picked up for this film. The film revolves around Bradley Cooper (Pat Solatano). He loses his wife and his job and spends time in a mental facility. After being discharged, he lives with his parents Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver. He rebuilds his life and wants to reunite his wife who has separated from him. His father is obsessed with Philadelphia Eagles and gets into regular bets on their games. Solatanos' life changes when he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence). She is instrumental in helping him reconnect with his wife but only if he helps her out in her ambitions. The title of the film is after Cooper's lifestyle and the playbook he compiles mentally with positive items as silver linings.