Walter Bitner

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Matthew Halls on J.S. Bach and the Oregon Bach Festival

Part 2 of 3

Continued from An Interview with Matthew Halls (Part 1)


I asked Matthew Halls what he felt about dramatizations of the Bach Passions – for example, the stagings of the St. Matthew and St. John Passions by Peter Sellars with the Berlin Philharmonic.

Matthew Halls: I have many different feelings on this. The work that Peter Sellars did with the Berlin Philharmonic is wonderful – it’s inspiring, it gives you a new insight. I also saw an incredible realization by Deborah Warner (with the English National Opera), and Katie Mitchell’s done some work in this field as well. There seems to have been a trend in recent years to give dramatic presentations of Bach’s great sacred works.

Fundamentally, I have nothing against this. Any way we can present music from the distant past in a way which is going to make the presentation of the ideas more vivid for someone coming to see the piece for the first time: that gets a big gold star in my book! That a wonderful way of helping and reinterpreting the music of the past.

I think that it comes with the acknowledgement that I’m not quite sure what Bach would have made of it. But at the same time – this is the 21st century and we face different challenges. As long as the integrity of the music survives then I’m really interested and excited by all sorts of approaches to the music.


The Medieval Lute

The Lute Part III

two lutenists from the manuscript of Cantinas de Santa Mariaof Alfonso the Wise of Castile (1221-1284)

two lutenists from the 13th century manuscript Cantigas de Sancta Maria of Alfonso the Wise

By the middle of the 16th century, professional lutenists led by virtuosi such as Francesco da Milano had established the lute, and more importantly secular instrumental music, as a deep, abiding, and richly developed component of Western culture. The impact the early lutenists made on both their contemporaries and on the generations that followed influenced the course and development of our musical traditions in ways that are still felt today.

How did the lute rise from a little-known cultural import to become the defining instrument and symbol of music in Renaissance Europe – including its elevation to preeminent stature as the instrument of princes?


Roger Wiesmeyer Plays Mozart

Roger Wiesmeyer

Roger Wiesmeyer

“I just adore it.” says Roger Wiesmeyer, speaking of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor, K. 491. “I’ve never played it on piano before. I’ve sat in the orchestra for performances of this concerto three or four times and every time it just completely captures my imagination, for at least the week after – I’ll have at least two weeks of living with it and thinking about it all the time. There is this incredible mood that Mozart casts with this piece.”

A few days ago Roger and I sat down after a rehearsal to talk about this piece, which we will be collaborating together to perform this week.  Roger will be performing the solo piano part – the part originally played by Amadeus himself – and I am playing a reduction of the orchestra’s part on second piano for the first and third movements.  The second movement – a slow Larghetto – will be performed by Roger joined by Nashville Symphony musicians Kate Ladner, flute; Jeremy Williams, violin; and Keith Nicholas, cello in a quartet arrangement by Johann Nepomunk Hummel, an Austrian composer and pianist who was a contemporary of Beethoven.


What Kind of Human Being Do You Want To Be?


Music Education and the Whole Child

This weekend I attended a chamber music recital presented by a small local community music school. Roughly twenty students from middle and high school presented an hour of short pieces for small ensembles: music for woodwinds and strings, with a couple of pieces featuring voice as well. The students represented a wide range of experience, accomplishment, and commitment; some of these children will go on to study music in college and perhaps even pursue professional careers as performers or educators, while others will likely put their instruments away for good by the time they graduate from high school.

Regardless of the differences in commitment for the students and their families – to say nothing of the teachers – all of them clearly regard music as an important part of their lives.  Parents make it possible for their children to attend weekly lessons and regular ensemble rehearsals, have the instruments and other materials they need, and the students must exert consistent effort over a long period of time (years) to learn how to play their instruments and develop at least enough acumen that they derive satisfaction from the process.

Why do they do it?


Anton Bruckner and his Romantic Symphony

Linz, Austria ~ engraving by J. Ouartlev, 1863

Linz, Austria ~ engraving by J. Ouartlev, 1863

Austrian composer and organist Anton Bruckner is primarily known today for his symphonies – his music is often paired with that of Gustav Mahler as the apotheosis of the late Romantic Austro-German symphonic tradition. Although Bruckner and Mahler symphonies share many characteristics – a common musical heritage and language, the robust late nineteenth century orchestra, sprawling scales and harmonies in which the symphony seems to encompass an entire world of expression – in many ways their music also differs.  Mahler was 36 years younger than Bruckner, whom Mahler admired and considered his forerunner – at 17 years old, Mahler was present at the premiere of Bruckner’s Third Symphony in 1877.  Mahler famously said “A symphony must be like the world. It must contain everything.” and his symphonies contain myriad references to themes, experiences, and objects from life. Many of Mahler’s symphonies incorporate vocal soloists and chorus – and hence text – whereas Bruckner’s symphonies are without exception purely instrumental works (which is interesting to note as Bruckner also composed many sacred choral works in addition to his symphonic output). Bruckner’s symphonies inhabit a more abstract, elemental “tone world” than Mahler’s – every bit as overwhelming, inspiring, and at times terrifying as Mahler’s, but for the most part at more of a remove from direct references to the world we live in. The Romantic Fourth Symphony is an exception.