GUSTAVO DUDAMEL, THE LOS ANGELES PHILHARMONIC, AND DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON JOIN FORCES FOR NEW COLLABORATION
Berlin, Germany / Los Angeles, CA (February 19, 2019) – The prestigious Los Angeles Philharmonic, led by Music & Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel, and Deutsche Grammophon, the world’s leading classical music label, are set to extend their long history of making music together. They will now build on a relationship that has already produced benchmark recordings of works by Mahler and John Adams, among others, and seen orchestra and conductor play key roles in the visionary “DG Concerts” initiative, which allowed music-lovers rapid virtual access to live LA Phil concerts.
Upcoming releases on Deutsche Grammophon will include a tribute to multi-award-winning film composer John Williams and, as the LA Phil marks its centenary season, a commemorative limited-edition box set entitled LA PHIL – 100 YEARS, which will encompass many of the most significant performances given by the orchestra over the decades. As a prelude to this renewed cooperation, in November 2018 DG released the LA Phil and Dudamel’s new reading of the complete score of Tchaikovsky’s ballet The Nutcracker to widespread acclaim, with Gramophone hailing the orchestra’s “fabulous” playing and The New York Times calling the album a “joyously vibrant recording”.
Dr. Clemens Trautmann, President of Deutsche Grammophon, welcomes the new association between the orchestra, its Music & Artistic Director, and the label. “We’re delighted to be resuming our collaboration with Gustavo Dudamel and the LA Phil. The centenary is a great occasion to showcase both the ensemble’s great artistic vision and its innovative approach to programming and outreach. We share the ambition to make Gustavo and the LA Phil’s latest productions heard by the widest global audience, thereby adding to the orchestra’s already rich recorded legacy with Deutsche Grammophon.”
Set for worldwide release on March 15, 2019, is a double album featuring some of the best-known works of John Williams, the foremost composer in the film world today. In late January 2019, Gustavo Dudamel conducted four “Celebrating John Williams” concerts at Walt Disney Concert Hall, presenting a selection of unforgettable themes from the much-loved scores for films such as Star Wars, Jurassic Park, Harry Potter, and Indiana Jones.
“What an honor to collaborate with my friend and mentor John Williams,” said Gustavo Dudamel. “His compositions are iconic, his talent is legendary, and his artistic generosity is heartwarming.”
Reviewing the January 24 event, the Los Angeles Times not only called the playing “spectacular,” but emphasized Dudamel’s ability to bring out a unique “sonic grandeur” in these well-known works, and to convey Williams’ “magical sense of writing music that sends a message – a message of hope and glory and wonder and joy.” All in all, what he and the LA Phil produced on the night was, according to the same review, “unlike any Williams music … heard before.”
A week later, on March 22, Deutsche Grammophon will issue LA PHIL – 100 YEARS, a spectacular limited-edition box set containing 32 CDs and three DVDs. The chosen recordings mirror the orchestra’s long history, with the earliest dating back to the 1920s. As well as comprising celebrated performances by the last eight of the orchestra’s music directors, LA PHIL – 100 YEARS will include several previously unreleased historic live recordings, among them a rendition of Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto by Arthur Rubinstein, one of Igor Stravinsky’s final conducting appearances, and Strauss’ Don Juan with Otto Klemperer at the helm. Several of these recordings are world premiere releases, while others are new to CD. All of them will also be made available digitally, concurrent to the physical release.
Later releases will include Dudamel conducting the LA Phil in Schumann’s Symphonies Nos.1-4, recorded in May 2018, and Andrew Norman’s Sustain, which premiered to rave reviews by the LA Phil this season. The new recordings feature audiophile sonics by Grammy Award®-winning producer and engineer Dmitriy Lipay.
“Having spent a decade of my career in the recording industry, it matters to me deeply that the LA Phil is represented in the very finest recordings, made with the most up-to-date technology and production techniques, and brought to the public across digital platforms globally,” said LA Phil CEO Simon Woods. “Most people will never have the opportunity to hear our orchestra in Walt Disney Concert Hall, so it’s vital that we give them access to recordings that capture the extraordinary experience of hearing the LA Phil on stage here in Los Angeles. We are thrilled to renew our long friendship with Deutsche Grammophon, to partner with them in this important work, and to be able to call the Yellow Label home again. As we celebrate our centennial, our past and present could not be told without the unique recordings contained in the LA PHIL – 100 YEARS box set and Gustavo Dudamel’s heartfelt tribute to John Williams.”
The LA Phil’s ongoing centennial commemorations include a forward-looking roster of globe-spanning artistic programs, education and social-impact initiatives, and public celebrations, in addition to its physical and digital release plans. On February 24, the orchestra will perform live at the Academy Awards, and in March it travels to Asia for concerts in Seoul and Tokyo, including two events dedicated to the music of John Williams, featuring the repertoire recorded for the forthcoming album.
2019 marks Gustavo Dudamel’s 10th anniversary as Music & Artistic Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Having first worked with Deutsche Grammophon in 2005, he has since led the orchestra in a series of highly acclaimed Yellow Label recordings of music by composers including Brahms – a Grammy Award-winning account of the Fourth Symphony – Bartók, Bernstein, and John Adams, whose Passion oratorio, The Gospel According to the Other Mary, was commissioned and premiered by the LA Phil. Dudamel’s career has its roots in the famous Venezuelan musical education program, El Sistema, and he has been Music Director of Venezuela’s Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra since 1999. His rich DG catalogue also reveals his deep bond with these players, and features compelling readings of works by Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, and Mahler, among others.
An Instinct for Dance Music – Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker
by Orrin Howard
When reading about Tchaikovsky and The Nutcracker in a book written around 1950, one finds the comment that the ballet was somewhat successfulat first, but that, since that time (1892), there have been very few performances outside Russia. How times have changed! For several decades since that observation was made, in America The Nutcracker has been – and continues to be – the attraction that proclaims the Christmas holiday season from sea to shining sea. In productions large, small, and in-between, with choreography by a variety of dance creators, this dance theater piece captivates children and the child that lives still in any adult. Because, for the children and the big people who take them to a performance of the ballet, the great equalizer is the marvelous score by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky.
The Nutcracker, the third and last of the ballet scores by Tchaikovsky, was preceded by the equally grand scores for Swan Lake and The Sleeping Beauty. These danced stage works form a triumvirate of what can easily be called the greatest ballets of the 19th century. Interestingly, Tchaikovsky had his own view. In a letter to his patroness Nadezhda von Meck, he wrote, “I have just heard some new music, the ballet Sylvia by the French composer Delibes. I knew it before from the piano arrangement, but in the wonderful performance of the Vienna orchestra, it completely charmed, particularly the first part. My own Lake of Swans is simply trash in comparison with Sylvia.” (How self-effacing, and wrong, can a great composer be? Although Sylvia is delightful.)
It detracts not at all from the brilliance of Tchaikovsky’s three ballets to observe that the composer had written music that is perfectly suitable for dance in all manner of non-ballet compositions, in symphonies, chamber music, etc. On one occasion, when criticized by Sergei Taneyev for “dance music” in the Fourth Symphony, Tchaikovsky defended himself by saying that there is good dance music and not-so-good dance music, the implication being that his was the good kind. The point was that it was perfectly normal for Tchaikovsky to compose music for the ballet because he had been writing dance music forever.
Nor was it possible for him to remain indifferent to an art form that had become dominant in his country’s cultural world. Russia had found its dancing feet vis-à-vis the Frenchman Marius Petipa. Petipa had gone to St. Petersburg in 1847, there to develop a Russian school that flourished brilliantly under his direction. What was even more important than dance itself to a composer like Tchaikovsky was Petipa’s creation of grand productions in which music was deemed not merely a necessary accessory, but a vital and integral part of the whole.
Enter Tchaikovsky, whose instinct for dance music, as we have seen, surfaced in scores long before he became involved with the ballet theater. His first ballet, Swan Lake, had been staged first in 1877 but had not been acclaimed until given wholly new choreography by Petipa and Lev Ivanov and presented again in 1895. By that time, the composer was dead, but he had lived to see the success of two other Petipa collaborations: The Sleeping Beauty in 1889 and The Nutcracker in 1892. The latter is based on a story by E.T.A. Hoffmann, The Nutcracker and the Mouse-King, a tale for which, in truth, Tchaikovsky had no particular fondness. He obviously overcame these reservations, however, as well as his resentment at Petipa’s measure-by-measure instructions, for he went on to produce truly wondrous music. Indeed, like Tchaikovsky, Russian audiences were not entirely sympathetic to the ballet’s German story, but they were won over by the music, which was heard in a concert suite even before the ballet’s first staging had taken place on December 17, 1892, on a double bill with Iolanta, his last opera.
After a delicious miniature overture, Act I begins at a Christmas party at which the host’s daughter, Clara, is given a nutcracker in the shape of an old man with a giant jaw. Becoming immediately devoted to the nut-cracking gentleman, Clara is distraught when the fellow is broken; unable to sleep during the night, she comes in to look at her injured friend and finds that he and all the toys have come to life. Soon an army of mice appears upon the scene and the nutcracker leads the toys against the rodent enemy to very impressive fairy tale war music. Taking courage, Clara kills the mouse-king with a shoe, and with this victory, the nutcracker is transformed into a handsome young Prince who takes the girl with him to a moonlit forest in which snowflakes dance around them, to the waltzing wordless sighs of children’s voices.
The Prince’s kingdom is the land of sweets, Confiturembourg, and it is here that Act II takes place. Ruling over this land is the Sugar Plum Fairy, who, along with the Prince’s sisters, welcomes Clara enthusiastically. The music that prepares for their entry into the land is expansive and gracious: strings and winds, with harps in ever-present attendance, sing a simple but panoramic theme. The melody, oft-repeated in varying orchestrations, takes a dazzling turn when, again presented by strings, it is vitalized by piccolo, flutes, and clarinets skyrocketing upward on breathtaking, whiplash scales.
The celebration of dances that follows contains some of the most familiar music of The Nutcracker, known through the beloved concert suite. The divertissements begin with the Spanish Dance (chocolate), a lively bolero initiated by trumpet and sparked by the rhythmic snap of castanets. Next is the Arabian Dance (coffee), and Tchaikovsky goes exotic: woodwinds and violins present a languorous melody that sways first to a rocking accompaniment in low strings, then to a persistent drone bass. The composer’s chinoiserie for the Chinese Dance (tea) involves flutes and piccolo on a quaint, ornate melody in the high register, and a persistent, single-harmony accompanying figure in bassoons. In the Trepak (Russian Dance), Tchaikovsky is on home ground with wildly energetic music in which the mind’s eye as well as the seeing eye can be amazed by the whirling, leaping, kicking Russian figures cavorting with furious abandon. The Dance of the Mirlitons, also known as the Dance of the Reed Pipes (a mirliton is a homemade instrument known to French children), begins with a delicate, elegant melody presented by three flutes and goes on to one of those wonderfully balletic, smile-inducing hippety-hop ideas – this one with pseudo-seriousness enforced by a minor key. The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe is followed by what many consider the signature piece of The Nutcracker: the Waltz of the Flowers. Here, Tchaikovsky is at his most engaging, gracious, and brilliant, for the waltz proper is preceded by a grandiose introduction in winds and harp, the latter highlighted by dazzling cadenza flourishes.
Another of the score’s best-known and -loved episodes occurs in the second variation of the grand pas de deux – the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy. The celesta etches the Fairy’s melody, oh-so-delicately and, with Tchaikovskian tongue firmly in cheek, a comment is given in the deep tones of the bass clarinet. In the composer’s use of the celesta hangs a tale with a touch of intrigue. In 1891, Tchaikovsky wrote to his publisher Jurgenson: “I have discovered a new instrument in Paris, something between a piano and a glockenspiel, with a divinely beautiful tone. I want to introduce this into The Nutcracker and the symphonic poem The Voyevode. The instrument is called the Celesta Mustel and costs 1,200 francs. You can only buy it from the inventor, Mustel, in Paris. I want to ask you to order one of these instruments. You will not lose by it, because you can hire it out to the concerts at which The Voyevode will be played, and afterwards sell it to the Opera when my ballet is put on. Have it sent to Petersburg [and now for the intrigue], but no one there must know about it. I am afraid Rimsky-Korsakov and Glazunov might hear of it and make use of the new effect before I could. I expect the instrument will make a tremendous sensation.” One would think it difficult for a tinkly little instrument, even a lovely-sounding one, to make a sensation, much less a tremendous one. But it did – and still does – and gives a special radiance to the Sugar Plum music. Tchaikovsky’s instrumental idea was right on the money – Jurgenson’s money.
The ballet’s final waltz is, expectedly, a grand affair. The Apotheosis brings back the magical music of the opening of Act II; this time the celesta joins the harps, making the mood even more ephemeral than before. Then there is that amazing, and gloriously orchestrated, theme built on a simple descending major scale. (Who else could make such music on a major scale? Tchaikovsky did it often in his works.) Finally, brass and winds join in full force, and the curtain falls to the effulgent and exciting sounds of incomparable romantic ballet grandeur.