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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Interesting concept - voices as orchestra in Michael Ching's opera

Opera Memphis presents Michael Ching's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" -- interesting concept which I'd love to hear (and see the score). 'way back I commissioned Peter Schickele to write a piano concerto (it's The Twelve Months) with choir instead of orchestra (well . . . it was his idea--we met after a PDQ Bach performance at PLU and I asked, as I sometimes do, "Is there a piece you've always wanted to write, but haven't had the opportunity yet?" The idea and commission followed). I know of a few other such pieces, but not an opera!

Perhaps interesting to do here at UNT . . . 

Some excerpts from the review by Heidi Waleson at the Wall Street Journal follow:

Is it possible to write an opera without an orchestra? Composer Michael Ching's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," given its world premiere here by Opera Memphis and Playhouse on the Square, has a "voicestra," an ensemble of a cappella singers, instead of instruments in the pit. Popular a cappella has branched out in recent years from its old-fashioned roots (think "The Whiffenpoof Song") to all kinds of music, including elaborate arrangements of up-to-the-minute rock and hip-hop numbers, with voices re-creating the instrumental parts.

Mr. Ching's remarkably inventive opera is a celebration of what voices can do and still, with the exception of a few startling vocal percussion effects, sound like voices. The voicestra —between 15 and 20 amplified voices, depending on the performance—supports the singers on the stage, its overlapping lines and syllables weaving around them, amplifying their characters and conflicts, sometimes echoing their words (or even their thoughts), or supplying atmosphere. The voicestra gives the opera an added human dimension, and its invisibility goes with the magical nature of the story.
The text, taken from Shakespeare, has far more prominence here than most opera composers allow, as Mr. Ching's tonal and tuneful vocal lines are written for maximum intelligibility rather than musical display, and some of the words are spoken. (There were no supertitles.) To mix things up even further, the lovers, especially Hermia and Helena, often sing in a style that draws from musical theater, and the play-acting workmen occasionally borrow tunes (Flute/Thisbe's speech in the rehearsal is comically set to a bit of "I Am Sixteen, Going on Seventeen" from "The Sound of Music"). Opera singers take the roles of Oberon and Titania, and double as Theseus and Hippolyta, thus giving the grandest style to the rulers of fairyland and Athens, respectively.

. . .

DeltaCappella, the Memphis male a cappella ensemble that was the inspiration for the opera, formed a key part of the cast. (Mr. Ching, who was general and artistic director of the Memphis Opera until last year, was the group's vocal coach.) Along with RIVA, a female a cappella group, their members made up the voicestra, and some of them also climbed out of the pit to play the parts of the mechanicals. Charles Ponder and Thomas "TeKay" King, both large, African-American men, brought a particularly potent energy to Bottom/Pyramus and Flute/Thisbe. Mr. Ponder's rendition of Pyramus's death scene, set hilariously to "E lucevan le stelle" from "Tosca," was brilliantly over the top, while Mr. King gave Thisbe's lament a bare, touching gravity.

The voicestra itself, conducted by Curtis Tucker, was splendid, creating a variety of sounds and textures—the haunting background of Oberon's "I know a bank"; a sinister repetition of "Chop! Chop!" when Hermia's angry father Egeus (Kent Fleshman) demanded "the law upon [Lysander's] head"; hunting-horn fanfares to awaken the lovers; a forest full of insect noises. It was fascinating to read the biographies of these fine avocational musicians in the program—one is an ear, nose and throat surgeon; another is a special-education teacher. In addition to creating a new kind of opera, Mr. Ching and Opera Memphis deserve recognition for successfully incorporating a wonderful local resource into their work.
Ms. Waleson writes about opera for the Journal.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

cutting music education

This article about British cuts in arts education is written by Helienne Lindvall, who went to Adolf Fredriks school in Stockholm, which is an outstanding music "magnet" school focusing on singing. The Adolf Fredriks Girls Choir, conducted by my good friend Bo Johansson, is well-known throughout the world.

Important questions for us all, given budget cuts happening everywhere.

Behind the music: Why music education cuts could be a dumb move

The coalition government clearly sees music lessons as a luxury we can do without. But evidence suggests music can be beneficial to both overall academic performance and well-being

The first things to go when there are governmental budget cuts are "luxuries" such as arts funding. Education secretary Michael Gove's decision to declare music students ineligible for the new English baccalaureate certificate sends the message that music education is another luxury we can live without. As does cutting the £82.5m a year in funding specifically aimed at providing music education – not to mention the news that one in four councils have already issued redundancies for music teachers.

What these decisions appear to ignore are the overall benefits music lessons provide to children and teenagers. Growing up in Sweden, I went to a music school that provided regular academic education with extra lessons in music and choral singing. The school, called Adolf Fredriks Music Skola, was free of charge, and the students – from age 10 to 19 – were accepted through auditions. At the time, it was the only school of its kind in the country. What's interesting is that the school regularly came top for average grades of all subjects. As there is no proof that musicians are cleverer or more academic than others, there must be another reason for these results.

First of all, there was less truancy: if you cut class you would also lose out on music-making at school. Singing together created a sense of community and connection between students, making school something students looked forward to instead of dreaded. There's also been evidence that learning an instrument can improve numeracy and literacy skills in young people, as well as behaviour.

A friend of mine told me about a London scheme in which he'd taught music programming and recording to teenagers in a studio made available through government funding. The young people had been placed on the scheme after being deemed "problem students" due to their high rates of absenteeism. The change in their behaviour was palpable, according to my friend. It was as if creating music brought out a sense of purpose and self-worth that had previously been absent.

Music lessons shouldn't be seen as an optional extra for students who desire a career in the field (just as sport in school isn't just for children aiming to be professional athletes). The majority of my fellow students at Adolf Fredriks did not become musicians, nor did they desire to.

Judging by the comments on my recent Comment is Free blog, about how listening to great music makes the brain produce dopamine, it's clear that music is a great source of passion, joy and wellbeing (in fact, just reading the comments made me feel good). Part of the point of music education is for children to be exposed to music they wouldn't normally come across. If music classes were cut in public schools, this opportunity would be the sole preserve of the middle class.

The decision to wipe out funding for the teaching of arts and humanities courses at universities means becoming a classical musician, for example, could be less about talent and more about independent wealth. Even conservative estimates believe the cost will be over £7,000 a year.

But all is not lost – yet. The government has commissioned Darren Henley, the head of Classic FM, to carry out a review of music provision in schools, which is due to be concluded this month. When cuts to libraries were announced last year, writers such as Philip Pullman, Kate Moss and Will Self publicly fought the decision. Why haven't famous British musicians done the same? Maybe Damon Albarn – who this week agreed to become president of the Colne Valley Youth Orchestra, with whom he played violin 30 years ago – could set the ball rolling.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Huge challenges for classical music

In this article on NY's classical radio station WXQR website, Brian Wise covers some of the stories of financial difficulties, particularly in the orchestral world. How will our world of classical music change? Are there solutions?

Classical Music in 2010: Joyful Noise, Troubled Silence

Sunday, December 26, 2010

In 2010, some of the most memorable moments in classical music were marked by silence, not sound: Joan Sutherland passed away, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra went on strike, classical radio stations went dark and several orchestras faced continued financial troubles.

No force had as big an impact on arts institutions and audiences this year as the country’s economy, which has led to a flood of red ink, cutbacks and conditions that cultural leaders say are the most challenging they've ever seen.

Deficits are up, individual and corporate donations are down, ticket sales are weak and anxiety is racing through the corridors of culture like an especially virulent infection. What is particularly striking about 2010 is the parity of the impact: even top-tier organizations have not been spared.

Major Presenters Cut Concerts
January brought a particular chill when the chairman of the Philadelphia Orchestra suggested that bankruptcy was possible as the venerable ensemble saw average turnout fall to 65 percent of capacity last season and revenue plunge. Just days earlier, the Cleveland Orchestra went on a short-lived strike when players balked at management-proposed pay cuts.

Both orchestras regained their footing; in Philadelphia, leaders were forced to assemble an emergency bridge fund of $15 million to cover projected deficits. But their problems were not unique.
The orchestras of New York, Atlanta and Detroit ran multimillion-dollar deficits, as have the Metropolitan Opera and San Francisco Opera. Meanwhile, Carnegie Hall reduced the number of concerts it presented this season by "10 to 15 percent," a preventative measure that, according to Clive Gillinson, the hall’s executive and artistic director, “enabled us to get through.”

“We’re nowhere near where we were before the recession, in terms of revenue streams,” Gillinson continued. “I don’t think the world is, and I don’t think the arts are. Everybody is going to be building back much more slowly than it went down. But equally, I think everybody’s much more rigorous about their business because they absolutely must respond because otherwise they're gone.”

Carnegie’s cutbacks may be hardly noticeable to the average concertgoer, in part because hall rentals by outside groups have filled in some of the gaps. Elsewhere, programming cuts are far more apparent.

Columbia University’s Miller Theater is presenting 35 concerts this season, down from as many as 60 concerts in the 2007-08 season.

Lincoln Center’s Great Performers series has just 33 concerts on its calendar in 2010-11, down from as many as 76 performances in 2008-09, and 62 in 2009-10. Instead, there are two thematic festivals -- November's White Light Festival and the TullyScope Festival which will run this February and March -- conceived partly as a way to appeal to single-ticket buyers as fewer people are investing in subscriptions.

In an email message, a Lincoln Center spokeswoman noted that the organization had balanced its budget this fiscal year and is on track to do the same next year.

Detroit as a Harbinger
Outside of New York, the recession’s impact on symphony orchestras has been extremely variable, said Jesse Rosen, the vice president of the League of American Orchestras. “Some, for whom their endowments were a critical part of their income stream, the recession has had an impact," he said.
Orchestras that were already experiencing financial strains reached a tipping point in 2010, notably the 110-year-old Honolulu Symphony, which folded in December; the Louisville Symphony, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy two weeks earlier; and Long Island Philharmonic, which has only one concert scheduled this season and is without an executive director.

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra musicians walked off the job in late September after negotiations broke down over a proposed contract calling for the salaries of veteran musicians to be cut by nearly a third. Along with cuts in salary, pension and health benefits, their jobs would be redefined to include more education activities.

It is feared that where Detroit goes first, other cash-strapped orchestras may follow. "The Detroit Symphony situation is widely looked upon in the business as just a harbinger,” said Greg Sandow, a consultant, blogger and author of the upcoming book Rebirth: The Future of Classical Music. “Basically, in the field, everybody thinks that orchestras are headed in that direction. There will be cutbacks and there will be salary cuts and musicians will have to go out in the community or the jobs won’t be there.”

Finding Ways to Adapt
No one believes that 2010 will be the year that classical music starts to disappear for good. Yet many people in the field acknowledge that orchestras, opera companies and presenters need to do more to confront deeper concerns about aging audiences and shrinking cultural relevancy.

One model for a nimbler, if ostensibly less lucrative, future is Le Poisson Rouge, the Greenwich Village nightclub that became a destination for a number of top-level artists in 2010, including Kronos Quartet and violinist Hilary Hahn. Along with its genre-hopping programming philosophy and casual atmosphere, the club eschews traditional funding models.

“You’ve created a situation where all of these festivals and all these ensembles are dependent on grant funding,” explained Ronen Givony, the music director at Le Poisson Rouge. “We said from the beginning, we never want to be in a place where if someone withdraws a $20,000 grant we can’t do something. We want to be able to do it without any help and we have always taken that as our organizing principal. The concert has to cover it’s own bottom line.”

Givony concedes that LPR has never been in the position to be able to pay musicians the kind of fees they receive at major uptown venues, let alone union scale. "We’re a 300-seat venue and we charge $10 or $20 per ticket. But people that I know that have to cobble together a living, that’s the existence they have always known."

Whether recent conservatory graduates or veteran performers, diversification proved to be a key to a viable career in 2010. Consider Eighth Blackbird (right), a contemporary music sextet founded in 1996 whose portfolio includes a variety of university residencies, educational activities and performances in art museums. In February 2011, the group will co-curate a "Tune-In Festival" in the Drill Hall of the Park Avenue Armory.
Tim Munro, Eighth Blackbird’s flutist, says the group has been going through a process of diversifying its activities and funding streams. "Since the 2007-08 season, our traditional sextet bookings have dropped off slightly,” he said. “But in addition to that, we offer a specific stage program every year. We also offer a huge number of residency activities and we’ve expanded what we offer. We now have a new Concerto for Sextet and Orchestra [by Jennifer Higdon] that we’re now currently touring with. Diversification seems to be the way that we’ve been able to weather the storm.”

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Mahler 5 in manuscript

The manuscript of Mahler 5 is now available online here. Alex Ross mentions that the Morgan Library will put on-line digitized versions of hundreds of manuscripts. Already available are Mozart's Haffner Symphony and Schubert's Winterreise

Here's the opening of the famous Adagietto:

It's always amazing to look through a composer's manuscript. I wonder if we will have such experiences in the future, with many (most?) composers using music writing software. What will be lost, not seeing the individuality of handwriting, cross-outs, scribbles? Hard to know, but this is a beautiful manuscript!

I own several facsimiles, including Bach's Mass in B Minor and Mahler 7. It was interesting to answer a question a couple of the grad students at UNT had about a spot in the Bärenreiter edition (based on the Neue Bach Ausgabe) with the facsimile last year.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

and the Philadelphia Enquirer's take . . .

Coming into view slowly before becoming music director in 2012, Yannick Nézet-Séguin is only starting to fill out a public profile, and what the public thinks of him inevitably hinges on what expectations one harbors of an orchestra leader in this unfortunate trough of institutional ambition.

If, for instance, you feel the group's way out of financial and organizational chaos is to connect a podium personality and a community, then Thursday06 night's guest appearance by Nézet-Séguin was a tidy triumph. He presided over the Mozart/Süssmayr Requiem - a crossover work as surely as is Orff's Carmina Burana – which by its very presence guaranteed to bring the house down. It did.

If, however, you desperately want this orchestra to flourish, but cling to a philosophy that the Philadelphia Orchestra is a great ensemble deserving musical leadership of suave technique, an ear for sound-cultivation and strong personal interpretive statements, you probably left Verizon Hall feeling underwhelmed.

Nézet-Séguin quite often falls short of highly developed ideas. He likes to get through a lot of music quickly, which, in parts of the Requiem, meant leaving aside the possibility for close detailing. Sweep is important to him. Momentary gusts of emotion billow up.

He does like pretty textures, which was an aspect of the Debussy Nocturnes not to be undervalued. The third movement, “Sirens,” wasn’t a place for wallowing or mystery, but, with 30 women from the Philadelphia Singers Chorale, became fluid and alluring. Making the fanfares of “Festivals,” the electric second movement, more legato than usual was a nice idea, but it muddled the rhythms.

Transitions between sections were sometimes bereft of clear direction, as if the conductor were already thinking about the music ahead before the current phrase had played out all its string.

Mozart’s Requiem (finished by Süssmayr and presented here in the Franz Beyer edition of the 1970s) is perhaps the most breathlessly myth-gathering piece in the standard repertoire, and yet it hasn’t made a Philadelphia Orchestra appearance in two decades (other local groups have done it often enough).

The last performances, led by Muti in 1991, featured Arleen Auger, Susanne Mentzer, Jozef Kundlak and Simon Estes. No such starry names join the current performances, and no huge personalities. But in many ways, soprano Lucy Crowe, mezzo Birgit Remmert, tenor James Taylor and bass-baritone Andrew Foster-Williams were ideal. There was something shared in their vocal qualities – a limpid, uncluttered sound with vibratos turned way down. Each one at various points achieved a very high level of blending with an instrumental sonority in the ensemble. Crowe was astonishing, aglow with a honey-colored purity of penetrating presence without extreme volume.

The 100-plus Philadelphia Singers Chorale, prepared by David Hayes, was expert – always producing a focused, homogenous sound, always in easily discernable diction (a few starting consonants arrived roughed up a bit). Organist Michael Stairs was a sensitively girding presence throughout. The smallish orchestra – the score omits oboes, flutes and horns – was admirably responsive. You have to believe that by the next performance the usually solid trombonist Eric Carlson will have worked through the shakes in the famous solo of the “Tuba mirum.”

Nézet-Séguin chooses an intriguing ending mood – rather than angry, it is quietly resigned, almost a final resolution for a piece that has lived in the restive imagination of its admirers long enough.

. . . and now the review of Nezet-Seguin's performance of the Mozart

. . . in the NY Times:

January 7, 2011

Bringing His Baton and Bold Hopes to Philadelphia

PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia Orchestra with a French accent? The notion is almost as preposterous as that of an Italianate Chicago Symphony.

But the indomitable maestro Riccardo Muti, ex of Philadelphia, is now in Chicago, undoubtedly imparting an Italian lilt and gusto as only he can. And the Philadelphia Orchestra — after 11 decades of music directors from Britain (Leopold Stokowski), Hungary (Eugene Ormandy, for 44 years), Italy (Mr. Muti) and Germany (most recently, Wolfgang Sawallisch and Christoph Eschenbach ) — has taken a turn toward the Gallic.

The ensemble has been without a music director since Mr. Eschenbach left in 2008, but the Swiss Charles Dutoit has been filling in as chief conductor, purveying works by Berlioz, Saint-Saëns and other French masters with a knowing touch. And last June the orchestra announced that the French-Canadian Yannick Nézet-Séguin would become music director in September 2012.

As if to drive the point home, Mr. Nézet-Séguin opened the second and last of his subscription series this season, on Thursday evening here at the Kimmel Center, with Debussy’s Nocturnes. The orchestra played with the requisite suavity, fluidity and transparency while possibly sacrificing a bit too much of its trademark plushness and heft.

Elizabeth Starr-Masoudnia was excellent in the English-horn solos. If the French feeling broke down, it was only in the finale, “Sirènes,” where the women of the Philadelphia Singers Chorale sounded a bit square and uninsinuating.

But the larger issue during a period of artistic and administrative upheaval at the Philadelphia Orchestra has been not so much how the band would emerge stylistically, but whether it would survive at all. My last experience here was in September 2009, for a season-opening (technically, preseason) concert conducted by Mr. Dutoit, and the house was less than half full.

Mr. Nézet-Séguin, 35 and dynamic, seems at least to have stirred excitement. In fact, an extra concert was added to this series, on Sunday afternoon, because of ticket demand. It didn’t hurt, certainly, that the other work on the program was Mozart’s crowd-pleasing Requiem.

Here, too, Mr. Nézet-Séguin proved willing to sacrifice some of the orchestra’s vaunted richness to another purpose. With an eye toward period practice, he reduced the ensemble to some 50 players, though using a chorus — a fuller Philadelphia Singers Chorale — more than twice that size.

Despite the chorus’s numbers, and its strength in movements like “Rex tremendae” and “Confutatis,” some of its best moments were the pianissimos at, for example, the end of the “Introitus.” And Mr. Nézet-Séguin added another of those moments at the end of the work: a surprisingly hushed and attenuated final chord.

Some pointedly detached phrasing in the Kyrie made the pleas for mercy sound more perky than anguished. And Mr. Nézet-Séguin’s pounce from the Kyrie into the Dies Irae robbed the Day of Wrath of some of its harrowing thunder.

The vocal soloists — Lucy Crowe, soprano; Birgit Remmert, mezzo-soprano; James Taylor, tenor; and Andrew Foster-Williams, bass-baritone — were good and well balanced. The orchestra played beautifully, though the trombone solo in “Tuba mirum” was less than stellar.

Mr. Nézet-Séguin and the chorus and orchestra presented an encore — just about the only one conceivable after the Requiem, Mozart’s exquisite hymn “Ave Verum Corpus” — again showing the chorus to best advantage singing in an awestruck quiet.

Mr. Nézet-Séguin was originally scheduled to make his debut at the Cleveland Orchestra this weekend but re-allotted the dates to Philadelphia after his appointment was announced, to give him a greater presence here this season. That sort of thing is not uncommon, as a matter of courtesy — or negotiation — between orchestras.

But Mr. Nézet-Séguin has definitely raised eyebrows by canceling his debut appearance with the Chicago Symphony next weekend on short notice for unspecified “personal reasons.”

He now amplifies in a statement released by the Philadelphia Orchestra: “Due to an overly taxing fall schedule, I made the extremely difficult decision to create additional time in my schedule for rest and study.”

Mr. Nézet-Séguin is evidently content to put all his American orchestral eggs in one basket, and Philadelphia, as it emerges from a painful interregnum, seems happy to have them.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Yannick Nezet-Seguin--Mozart Requiem

Yannick Nezet-Sequin leads the Philadelphia Orchestra & Philadelphia Singers in a short section of the Mozart Requiem on YouTube.

And here he does a brief promo.

At age 35, Nezet-Seguin has been named Artistic Director designate for the Philadelphia Orchestra. He's also AD for the Rotterdamm Symphony Orchestra since 2007, when he took over from Valery Gergiev.

He studied with Joseph Flummerfelt at Westminster Choir College and started his career as a choral conductor. His own website is here.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Thomas Hampson on Mahler's songs

Thomas Hampson has long shown an interest in the culture and background of the music he sings (his own website is also interesting). This article in the Wall Street Journal demonstrates that:

Parsing Mahler's Poetic Songs
'Gustav Mahler's life, his symphonic works and certainly his songs represent a crucial orientation point in my own career," Thomas Hampson observes by phone from Zurich, Switzerland over the Christmas holidays. Mahler's songs run like a golden thread through the fabric of Mr. Hampson's musical life, and during this year marking the 100th anniversary of Mahler's death, the singer is focusing considerable attention on those songs.

Christmas saw the release of Mr. Hampson's superb recording of Mahler's "Des Knaben Wunderhorn" ("The Youth's Magic Horn"), a series of enchanting lieder with orchestral accompaniment—Mahler also wrote a version with piano—based on folk verses collected by the early 19th-century German poets Clemens Brentano and Ludwig Achim von Arnim. This week, Mr. Hampson joins the New York Philharmonic for three performances of "Kindertotenlieder" ("Songs on the Death of Children"), Mahler's moving settings of verses by the German Orientalist poet Friedrich Rückert (1788-1866). Then on Monday, Mr. Hampson will present for a studio, radio and Internet audience a recital and discussion of songs by Mahler, Schubert, Schumann and several Americans at the Jerome L. Greene Performance Space in New York.

Mr. Hampson credits Mahler's Wunderhorn songs with "drawing me into the study of early Romantic German literature." He explains that the taproot of German Romanticism was "the folk-spirit promoted by the 18th-century philosopher Johann Gottfried Herder and taken up by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. It influenced lieder composers like Franz Schubert and Karl Loewe, poets Wilhelm Müller and Heinrich Heine, and culminated, if you will, with Mahler."

In our conversation we touch on the fact that, apart from their beauty, their expressive urgency, and often their sly humor, Mahler's songs and the poetry that inspired them occupy a central position in his orchestral music. In various ways, his Second, Third and Fourth Symphonies relate, through quotation and inspiration, to "Des Knaben Wunderhorn," while, in addition to "Kindertotenlieder," his Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Symphonies are variously linked to Rückert's poetry.

In light of Mahler's strong literary bent—he wrote the text for his early cantata, "Das Klagende Lied" ("Song of Lamentation") and continued to write lyric poetry throughout his life—it should come as no surprise that, whenever he felt it necessary, he revised the "Wunderhorn" texts he set. In fact, Mahler was only doing what the brothers-in-law Arnim and Brentano themselves had done in their three-volume collection published between 1805 and 1818, where they sometimes refined the folk tales' original language and occasionally completed and added verses to the many unfinished fragments they collected. The brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Arnim and Brentano's contemporaries, held to a more purist philosophy and criticized their friends for tampering.

"Folk-lore collecting was a very complex process," notes Mr. Hampson, who hosted a scholarly seminar on this subject in Heidelberg, Germany, in 2006. "I think that the Grimms' chief complaint about the 'Knaben Wunderhorn' collection was that Brentano, in particular, often invested the old poetry with a moralistic, even semireligious tone." Yet, he notes, "while the most recent research clearly reveals that Arnim and Brentano reworked and completed more of the collected poetry than was previously thought, in early-19th-century terms they were performing an honest—indeed unprecedented—job of gathering folk material from a wide variety of sources and making it suitable for publication."

Mr. Hampson emphasizes the importance of understanding this when approaching Mahler's "Wunderhorn" series. "Mahler realized how Brentano had worked, and he recognized that these poems were themselves assembled from many different sources. So he honestly felt it necessary to his creative process to work on these poems as a sculptor carves living stone. Sometimes Mahler's carving was more cosmetic, sometimes rather extensive. But it is wrong to assume that he was in any way cavalier with his textual sources."

Turning to the rest of Mahler's song oeuvre, Mr. Hampson says that the composer's often unexpected juxtaposition of humor with drama, pathos and spiritual exultation "represents for me a world view along the lines of Dante's 'Divine Comedy,' with its presentation of metaphysical and profane ideas back to back—the sacred with the grotesque."

Mr. Hampson says that "certainly the humor in his songs is not really broad comedy as we Americans often understand it, but more the subtle twinkle of an eye as the adult recognizes the follies of immaturity." That passage from immaturity to wisdom, effectively the death of naïveté, is the underlying theme of an earlier Mahler cycle, "Songs of a Wayfarer" (1884 and revised thereafter). But with "Kindertotenlieder" the atmosphere is entirely different. Composed from 1901 to 1904, the intention of its five songs is often misunderstood by audiences. "The title is deliberately provocative," says Mr. Hampson, "but it has absolutely nothing to do with the death of his own daughter." (Maria "Putzi" Mahler died, age 4½, in 1907.) Hence, when Mr. Hampson performs the songs this week, he hopes "to invite the audience to consider why Mahler selected these five poems out of the 428 poems written by Rückert in his grief over the deaths of his two children from scarlet fever."

These poems, he says, "are full of references to stars, to light, to darkness and to other natural phenomena closely linked to the symbolism of German Romanticism. So while 'Kindertotenlieder' does not reflect a personal loss on Mahler's part, it is nevertheless his very beautiful, tightly woven contemplation of the process of grieving." Indeed, Mr. Hampson has lectured on this cycle as possibly representing Mahler's Requiem. By this he doesn't ally it with the Latin Mass for the Dead as set to towering, even terrifying music by Mozart, Berlioz and Verdi. Instead, he sees the gentle philosophy of Mahler's "Kindertotenlieder" as more closely akin to the comforting message of Brahms's German Requiem. As Mr. Hampson says, "It is nonliturgical, intended not for the dead but for us, the living."
Mr. Scherer writes about music and the fine arts for the Journal.