Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Visit to Teldex Studios Berlin

I’m just back from a weekend in Berlin, to interview Antoine Tamestit about his recording of Jörg Widmann’s Viola Concerto – look out for the feature in the February 2018 issue of The Strad. While there, I got the opportunity to sit in on recording sessions for the coupling on the CD, Tamestit’s arrangements of Widmann’s Violin and Cello Duos, some viola and cello, others for violin and viola. Much of my work involves writing and editing reviews of classical recordings, but most talk about the actual production process is speculative, so the visit to Teldex Studios proved very interesting. What follows is a photo diary of the day, showing how it’s done, with no secrets left untold – though when I made that threat to producer Martin Sauer, he laughed ‘we have no secrets!’, so I’m holding him to that.

The studio is in a quiet residential suburb in the south-west of the city. Like many recording studios, it was previously a ballroom. 

The interior walls are a patchwork of acoustic panelling and exposed battens, where the reverberation has been fine tuned for optimum resonance. The main control room is on the former stage (see the ominous window below), though for this session a smaller room was used, more convenient for chamber work.

The producer for the day, Martin Sauer (below centre) is a legend in the industry (check out this list of credits). He works both for the studio itself, which is an independent company, and for Harmonia Mundi, for whom this recording was being made. Martin explained that the name, Teldex, reflected the studio’s history (I’m paraphrasing his excellent English – he spoke English to me, German to the engineer and French to the artists, all fluently). The studio had previously belonged to Teldec, but became independent in 2002 (plenty more about the company that their website, http://www.teldexstudio.de/) taking several producers with it, including Martin. 

Since then, it’s done well for awards, and this display of Grammys greets visitors at the door, about half of them are Martin’s.

But down to business. The schedule looked punishing, nine movements, all in the can by the end of the day. I was surprised how musical Martin’s input was in the proceedings, making regular suggestions, mostly about balance but also about more subtle interpretive issues. He doesn’t do much contemporary music, he tells me, as their isn’t the commercial demand, about once every two years. So, for this session he had to rely on the performers, as they’d worked with the composer, then he added ‘ ... of course, if it was Brahms ...  ’ Even so, as the recording got under way, he was really getting into the music ...

... and annotating thoroughly ...

A brief lunch break offered a chance to look around the place. All sorts of strange things collect in recording studios. At a stretch of the imagination, I could think of reasons for the barometer, but the vintage motorbike?


Martin showed me the studio archive – very impressive! Every session is recorded onto a 500GB hard drive, which is filed in one of these boxes along with the annotated score. The artists named on these box spines are astonishing; everybody who’s anybody has been through here at some stage.

Here are a few more images. The picture at the bottom is of Martin (right) with the artists (L-R) Antoine Tamestit, Marc Bouchkov and Bruno Philippe. Thanks to them for their hospitality, and good luck with the edit, as they say. Look out for the album, on Harmonia Mundi early next year – it should be a good one, it sounded great in the studio – and, as mentioned above, my interview with Antoine in The Strad next February.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Schnittke Studies – Second Review

I’ve just received another excellent review for our Schnittke Studies volume, this time by Ivan Moody in the Musicological Annual. Thanks Ivan for your perceptive reading and encouraging words, and for the contributions to my (still mercifully brief!) errata list. (The review can be found here in pdf for easier reading.)

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Schnittke Studies – First Review

I’m more used to reviewing than being reviewed, so I’ve been awaiting coverage of our Schnittke Studies volume with some trepidation. But if this first review is anything to go by, I needn’t have worried. It’s by Ian Power and appears in the July 2017 issue of Tempo (Vol. 71, Issue 281, pp. 114-115). Thanks to Ian for his sympathetic and perceptive reading. I’m particularly pleased that his judgement throughout is framed in relation to the book’s stated aims.

I hope CUP don’t mind my reproducing the whole review here - if anyone from the publisher is reading this and does take issue, drop me a line and I’ll take it down.

(just click on the text if it's too small to read) 

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Between the Lands: Alexander Ivashkin Remembered – Conference Report

This conference was convened to celebrate the legacy of Professor Alexander Ivashkin, and its two days seemed woefully brief, given his huge range of interests and activities. We left with the feeling that even a week would have barely scratched the surface. Fortunately, the papers and recitals at least touched on every important aspect of his career, giving a good overview of his research and performing interests. The event was hosted by Goldsmiths, where Ivashkin served for many years as Chair of Performance and Postgraduate Studies as well as Director of the Centre for Russian Music. It was organised, with typical energy and boundless enthusiasm, by his widow, fellow cellist Natalia Pavlutskaya, who was ably assisted by Elena Artamonova, one of Ivashkin’s many former students at the event. An honourable mention, too, to Imogen Burman-Mitchell, Events Manager at Goldsmiths, for organising the logistics of five varied recitals over the two days, all of which ran without incident, and even began and ended on schedule – no mean feat.

Elena Artamonova opened proceedings with a broad survey of Ivashkin’s career, an excellent framework to which later presentations could add detail. She was the only speaker to address Ivashkin’s career in Moscow in the 1970s and 80s, and her discussion of his doctoral work on Charles Ives was particularly interesting. I’ve long fostered an ambition to tackle Ivashkin’s monograph Charles Ives and the Music of the 20th Century (1991), and this put me one step closer to dusting off the Russian dictionary and getting to it. Artamonova pointed out that the book is about far more than just Ives’ music, and the broad, contextual nature of Ivashkin’s research in general was a recurring theme of the papers that followed. Another angle of Ivashkin’s personality was explored by Olga Tabachnikova in her ‘Alexander Ivashkin and the Theme of Russian Irrationalism’. Anybody who knew Ivashkin personally will know that esoteric knowledge systems—Theosophy and Chinese astrology, for example—where sources endless fascination to him, so it was fitting to hear about this aspect of his personality, especially within the context of his writings on Russian culture.

Despite his undeniable authority on Ives, Penderecki, and many other 20th-century composers, Ivashkin is likely to remain most closely associated with the music of Alfred Schnittke. Fittingly, then, several papers discussed Ivashkin’s work on Schnittke, his publications, of course, but also his performances and recordings. Svetlana Savenko (the only visitor from Russia to reach us, visa complications preventing several others), talked about how Ivashkin had studied the funereal aspects of Schnittke’s music of the 1970s, Victoria Adamenko (in absentia, I read her paper) looked at Schnittke’s Pasternak settings, Paolo Eustachi Ivaskhin’s performances of the Second Cello Concerto, and I gave a survey of the Schnittke-related events that Ivashkin had organised in the UK in the years since the composer’s death.

The conference also aimed to reflect the sheer breadth of Ivashkin’s academic interests, and so included several presentations of new research in areas close to his heart, if not directly related to his work. Vladimir Marchenkov presented a theory of music as ‘Ludic Transformation of Time’, and Razia Sultanova presented a paper based on her recent research into the cultural activities of Muslim migrants in Moscow. Two papers were presented on Soviet-era music: Daniel Elphick gave an incisive analysis of the Socialist Realist strictures guiding Soviet chamber music, and Amrei Flechsig discussed the representation of laughter in Soviet operas.

Many of Ivashkin’s teaching and research activities were related directly to performance studies, and this too was reflected in the conference programme, with several friends and former pupils giving performance-related presentations. Nicholas Walker discussed Balakirev’s piano playing, Magdalini Nikolaidou the interpretation of Rachmaninov’s Études-Tableaux, and Valerie Welbanks the extended techniques employed by Roger Redgate in his Black Icons, a cello concerto written for Ivashkin. The spirit of Ivashkin was particularly close in these presentations—Ivashkin very often illustrated his talks with playing, on the piano or the cello, moving fluidly between speaking and playing, and in several instances here we were treated to similarly enlightening combinations. Also, in the cello/performance category was a stimulating discussion from Rebecca Turner about the cello music that Ivashkin commissioned and performed in his decade in New Zealand in the 1990s. This was particularly valuable for its coverage of this period of Ivashkin’s career, but also for how it demonstrated his continual curiosity, coming to a new land and immediately engaging with the musical culture there. Turner described how Ivashkin had worked closely with a range of New Zealand composers as well as engaging with the traditional music of Polynesian islanders.

Naturally, live performances made up a significant part of the conference, and, as with the talks, the music covered a broad range of Ivashkin’s musical interests and was mainly presented by former colleagues and students. The highlight was Dmitri Alexeev performing the Scriabin op. 11 Preludes—world-class piano playing of the Russian school. On the subject of world famous Russian musicians, the Alexeev performance was followed by the unveiling of a permanent memorial to Ivashkin at Goldsmiths, a portrait of him with Mstislav Rostropovich on the occasion of Rostropovich being awarded an honorary doctorate at the college. The other recitals were given by former students and colleagues, focussing primarily on Russian repertoire—Viktoria Zora, Elena Artamonova and Rebecca Turner gave an excellent performance of the Schnittke String Trio, in a recital that also included Prokofiev and Rachmaninov from Mikhail Bozylev, recipient of the recently instigated Alexander Ivashkin Scholarship at Goldsmiths. A piano recital by Andrew Zolinsky brought the post-Soviet connection right up to date, with recent works by Mansurian, Knaifel and Silvestrov. I was particularly drawn to the Knaifel Postludia, although most people I spoke to, including the pianist himself, felt the Silvestrov Third Sonata was the highlight of the programme. The Ligeti Quartet (of which Val Welbanks is cellist) also ventured into adventurous territory with the John Cage Quartet in Four Parts and Gubaidulina’s most recent work for string quartet, Reflections on the Theme B-A-C-H.

A fitting tribute, then, to the musical and scholarly activities of Alexander Ivashkin. The programme often seemed to move in diverse and unrelated directions, but this only served to demonstrate the sheer breadth of Ivashkin’s musical interests. And the event closed with a performance that brought us right back to the man himself—a solo cello recital of music close to his heart. The cellist was Sebastian Hurtaud, a winner of the Adam Cello Competition in New Zealand, which Ivashkin and Pavlutskaya founded. A Bach Cello Suite (No. 5) opened, followed by Britten’s First Suite, which appears on Ivashkin’s very last commercial recording. And to end, Klingende Buchstaben, a piece written for Ivashkin by Alfred Schnittke and based on the letters of his name: A fitting coda to a memorable and moving celebration. Clearly, Ivashkin’s legacy lives on.