lunes, noviembre 29, 2010

On how Valery Gergiev made New York City sound like Mahler

I. Mahler and New York

Gustav Mahler and New York hold an intimate relationship. Mahler lived the final years of his life in the city, from 1908 until 1911, where he conducted the Metropolitan Opera right after leading the Vienna Court Opera, where he was praised by his outrageous performances and also established the strict -and still existent- protocol concertgoers must follow in terms of dress code, behavior and applauses. In 1909, Gustav Mahler would become the Musical Director of the New York Philharmonic.

Mahler's years in New York were bittersweet. His tenure at the Metropolitan Opera was acclaimed by the media, but his first season with the New York Philharmonic was frustrating throughout the 46 concerts it offered: it gained him harsh criticism because of his program choices, and the box office revealed significant losses.

In spite of these hard circumstances, Mahler kept on conducting the New York Philharmonic through 1911. At the beginning of that year, Mahler would start to complain about a persistent pain in his throat, an injury that failed to bring down his drive of conducting and writing music. On February 21st, 1911, Mahler conducted his last concert at Carnegie Hall. From that moment on, his health gradually worsened until he passed away on May 18th, 1911.

This year represents Mahler's 150th birthday, and 2011 signifies the centenary of Mahler's death. New York paid homage to one of the most important composers ever -and one of its most prominent conductors- through a cycle of some of his symphonies performed by one of Europe's finest ensembles: Mariinsky Orchestra, conducted by Valery Gergiev.

II. Gergiev, his theater and his orchestra

Valery Gergiev is not just one of the most remarkable conductors nowadays. This Russian titan is also one of the most emblematic cultural managers of these times. General and Artistic Director of the Mariinsky Theater, Principal Conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra, Honorary Conductor of the Rotterdam Philharmonic, and Principal Guest Conductor of the Metropolitan Opera are all roles that have earned him the title of "the hardest working conductor".

Gergiev has run the Mariinsky Theater since 1988. Since then, he embarked himself on making it into one of the best cultural institutions of the world, an already achieved goal thanks to his deep-rooted patriotism, a sharp group of politic skills and lots of work: the Mariinsky Orchestra is the opera ensemble with the largest annual number of performances and it's also the best paid in the world.

One of the main objectives Gergiev has set himself with his orchestra is to exalt the music from Russian composers of the twentieth century like Stravinsky, Shostakovich and Prokofiev, one that was vetoed throughout the last century by several orchestras due to their strong political attachment. Gergiev has firmly called the attention to their music: "You have to stop associating Shostakovich's music with Stalin, in Shostakovich's music there's just his music, and it's beautiful music", the Russian conductor declared in a recent interview with Charlie Rose.

This sensitive liaison between politics and art, so inherent to Russian culture, is something that is very difficult to assimilate and hence to understand for the American society -one wherein art isn't well viewed when it gets too political. Additionally, Gergiev has been severely criticized in the States because of his close relationship to Vladimir Putin.

However, Gergiev's effort to turn his beloved theater into one of the most important cultural complexes around the world, rather than looking diminished, it keeps on growing vigorously. In 2012, he hopes to inaugurate the new Mariinsky Hall, a venue that's been built with the most advanced technology for operatic spaces. If that wasn't enough already, Gergiev has also founded a record company by the name of Mariinsky Label to release high quality recordings with his orchestra -something that, according to him, isn't possible to get anymore from the already established and big classical music labels. The releases include a complete cycle of Shostakovich's symphonies and other works by Stravinsky and Prokofiev, and critics and listeners have already praised them.

All of these initiatives might respond to the ultimate goal Gergiev looks forward to achieve: inspire young people to make music. "Just like Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky decided to become composers after being at the Bolshoi and Kirov Theaters, that's what I hope it happens when one kid enters and experiences one of my concerts at the Mariinsky Theater". (When he performed Mahler's Fifth Symphony, the first four rows in the Orchestra section of Carnegie Hall were indeed occupied by kids from public schools of New York.)

III. The verdict

According to The New York Times, Mariinsky Orchestra's distinctive sound consists of "mellow, warm strings; reedy and soft-edged poignancy woodwinds; and weighty and rich brasses". However, when this journal reviewed this series of concerts, it remarked some inconsistencies during the performances of the Second and Eighth Symphonies. (The Times attributed this imprecision to the frantic agenda the orchestra had to face in the course of its New York run.)

(Just so you have an idea of how much it takes these two symphonies to be played, it's been said that in terms of production it could take even a year to coordinate between the orchestra, the venue and the large number of choral ensembles involved. That's why many consider it's highly unlikely that there's any other orchestra in the world capable of playing a group of six Mahler symphonies in just five days -one that especially includes the second and eighth.)

Gergiev has stated that a great conductor's role "is not to order, but to inspire". And even though some of his musicians have complained about their exhaustive rehearsals, they do not hesitate to admire and celebrate their Maestro's energy and leadership.

I always dreamed of watching Gergiev and his beloved orchestra doing their thing. When it finally came true, I could witnessed his impressive way of conducting and noticed how his musicians played inspired guided by his baton.

miércoles, noviembre 24, 2010

Linkin Park: delivering another type of success

Linkin Park is so commercially successful already that it didn't need to worry about how much its latest record was going to sale. That's one of the many advantages of success. Instead of making an effort to deliver yet another typical -and indeed commercial- endeavor, Linkin Park has gone experimental. And they sound amazing. A thousand suns (2010) is like nothing they have edited before. In this album the production is refined, electronica plays an outstanding and definitive role, and many interludes add to the album a subtle yet appropriate mystique of edginess. When a band pushes his boundaries and offers a groundbreaking material like these, you can't but feel a great amount of respect for their talent. Linkin Park, by trying to sound different, has managed to sound striking.

This is the video for The catalyst

lunes, noviembre 22, 2010


Somos uno, dos, tres puntos, puestos uno al lado del otro.

Somos tres puntos que están en fila, como soldados que esperan por una orden.

Somos tres puntos que duran lo que dura un mientras tanto.

Somos tres puntos que caminan agarrados de las manos por temor a perderse.

Somos tres puntos que aguardan al final de un muelle, de un terminal de autobuses, de una aduana de aeropuerto.

Somos tres puntos que tienen la ilusión de los optimistas.

Somos tres puntos perseverantes, como los árboles en otoño.

Somos tres puntos que suspiran, pero que rechazan la fácil tentación de la nostalgia.

Somos tres puntos que entonan en armonía la canción del sueño.

Somos tres puntos que yacen como monedas en el fondo de algún pozo que guarda deseos.

Somos tres puntos que suenan a un gemido irrefrenable.

Somos tres puntos pacientes, como el que espera en invierno la llegada del verano.

Somos tres puntos que sueñan como los niños en Diciembre.

Somos tres puntos que oscilan entre la interrogación y la exclamación.

Somos tres puntos que esperan por ti, por mí.

Eso es lo que somos.

Somos tres puntos suspensivos, al final de una oración que aún no tiene final.

jueves, noviembre 18, 2010

Prince: when 'not that great' actually means 'very good'

I've been following Prince's career since he had his last comeback -when he edited Musicology (2004). Listening to such a great album made me listen to his classic albums, and that research led me to become his fan. After releasing Musicology, Prince has maintained quite a prolific recording pace. His most recent efforts have not been good, though. When I was about to listen 20TEN (2010), I felt a little uptight about running into another regular delivery, but I was wrong. This album, while it certainly doesn't reach Prince's greatness, it does offer some very good tunes. The thing about Prince is that he has such an enormous talent, that when he makes records not as good as his previous efforts, they end up being actually very good. 20TEN is appealing, funky and exquisite -the ballads are just beautiful. When you're listening to an album made by one of your favorite artists, you shouldn't be so snob about it, you just have to trust in their artistry and allow yourself to have fun with it.

lunes, noviembre 15, 2010

Three movies I just can't wait to see


Black Swan

Blue Valentine

viernes, noviembre 12, 2010

Sufjan Stevens: musique extraordinaire

Sufjan Stevens belongs to that rare and exclusive type of musicians that even musicians themselves look up to. Yes, he's that good. He's known for embarking on sophisticated musical endeavors, but it'd be inaccurate to say his work is ambitious. He just seems to have a remarkable talent to pull all of that grandeur off present in his records. For his latest record, Age of adz (2010), he has written a magnificent score for synths. His previous efforts were more acoustic driven; yet his turn to the electronic field proves to stay magnificent. The way he arranges his vocal and instrumental harmonies, definitively one of his strongest skills, shines throughout the entire album. Sufjan Stevens writes, plays and sings beautiful music. Age of adz is a modern music masterpiece. Please, take a listen to this music and allow it to embellish your life.

Listen to I walked

miércoles, noviembre 10, 2010

Yani: cuando la pena asesina a la esperanza

Este es un post triste.

Constantemente estoy pendiente de la música que se está haciendo en Caracas. Muchas bandas y Dj's ponen sus EP's y discos en sus MySpace y blogs para que la gente los pueda descargar de manera gratuita. En estos días, mientras buscaba nueva música por Internet, volví a encontrarme con la historia de Yani. La triste historia de Yani.

Yani era un joven artista que estaba a punto de editar Sorrow/Hope (2009), su primer disco como solista. Aunque lo grabó y lo dejó listo, nunca pudo ver su producción materializada: murió asesinado de seis puñaladas en circunstancias aún no resueltas. Tenía sólo 21 años.

Esta es una de las tantas y lamentables historias que tienen lugar en la ciudad de Caracas, y la verdad es que se me hace difícil tratar de describirles lo que sentí, primero cuando me enteré de todo esto hace ya más de un año y, segundo, cuando recientemente vi el documental que abajo les posteo -un video que documenta el proceso de grabación del primer disco de Yani.

Creo que tristeza y arrechera son los sentimientos más cercanos a lo que sentí al leer el terrible relato de cómo murió este joven músico. Esta espeluznante historia registra cómo un prometedor talento como el de Yani se vio truncado por la espiral de violencia que azota y consume a la ciudad donde nací, a la ciudad que amo, a mi ciudad.

Los invito entonces a que conozcan más sobre Yani visitando la página de "Justicia para Yani" en Facebook y lo sigan en Twitter; escuchen Sorrow/Hope en su MySpace; lean la excelente crónica Y llegaron los cuchillos, escrita por Jessica Polanco (publicada en la revista Marcapasos); y finalmente, a que vean el siguiente documental:

Que descanses en paz, pana.

jueves, noviembre 04, 2010

Belle & Sebastian: when love plays music

When you're about to listen to an album entitled Belle & Sebastian Write about love, you could pretty much have a good idea of the type of songs you'll hear. And Scottish ensemble Belle & Sebastian has managed to give you just what you want to hear, and much more. The tunes they have written for their last record are endearing, charming and heartfelt, and they'll surely draw you a lovely smile upon your face when you sing, dance or love with them. This album works great as a soundtrack to when your heart is filled with love. It sounds corny, right? It's okay. Corny has never sounded cooler. So take a listen to Belle & Sebastian Write about love and fall in love. Or fall in love first and then listen. It's up to you. Belle & Sebastian have done their part.

This is the video for I want the world to stop