There is a growing divide between the audiences of today and classical musicians of the 21st century. As many know, the bulk of what we call the classical music canon was produced hundreds of years ago, and by composers that are now deceased.
When this music was conceived, composers had their favorite performers for whom they would write their music. And oftentimes, the interpreter was just as revered as their songwriting counterparts. They would offer advice, critique, and even edit the work.
So as this music falls deeper and deeper into legend, it’s good to remind ourselves that it was once very real and very human. More importantly, that it still can be.
That’s where the Artist of the Week on CapRadio Music comes in. We want to showcase the vessel through which this beautiful, timeless music continues to endure. Skilled performers will always find the connection to today’s audiences within the music. And in each new generation of classical musicians, the best artists step away from the rest of the pack and channel these compositions as if the music were written specifically for them.
So, with that in mind, I have three of the artists that we will be presenting as Artist Of The Week: Argentinian pianist Martha Argerich; German Bassoonist, Klaus Thunemann, next week’s featured artist; and in 2 weeks, it’s guitarist Sharon Isbin, whose new album has just been released.
Guitarist Sharon Isbin performing “Capricho arabe” by Francisco Tarrega
Let’s start with a selection from Isbin’s new album called Alma Espanola or “Spanish Soul;” released just this past month.
She may be familiar to concert goers since she’s been to the area several times to perform. Most recently, Isbin appeared at the Mondavi Center last year with the New York Chamber Soloists.
This piece is called Capricho arabe by Francisco Tarrega. Tarrega is referred to as the “father of classical guitar.” Guitar music settled in Spain and South America in the late 1800s. The Spanish composer Tarrega is not only one of the great scribes for the instrument but one of the great guitarists as well.
I’ve heard the Capricho arabe played by guitarists other than Isbin, most notably, the Spaniard Andres Segovia, who lived closer to the time of Tarrega. His performance is more forceful than Isbin’s. He packs a little more power than she does. But I quite like Isbin’s interpretation which is subtle and lyrical. Frankly, it just sounds like she has more elegant, flexible fingers than Segovia.
If every artist played the piece the same way, it would be pretty boring. Great musicians will usually follow the rules put forth by composers, but where there is not a marking in the music - that’s where an expert performer shines. As in the quote from Claude Debussy, “music is the silence in between the notes.”
Pianist Martha Argerich performing “Piano Concerto No. 1” by Franz Liszt with the London Symphony Orchestra, Claudio Abbado
Our current Artist of the Week is Argentinian pianist Martha Argerich. At 76, she is still performing today and a “rock star” in the classical music world. When she was coming to prominence in the 60s, you could easily mistake Argerich for someone who ran with Joan Baez or Bob Dylan. Let’s just say she has a coolness factor.
Argerich gives off an air of not caring much outside the performance hall. While she’s never been too keen on the profession of being a world-class musician, she remains one of the great pianists of our time. Her stellar musicianship, photographic memory, and sincere love of the music set her apart from others.She plays with passion, power, and grace and can change on a dime. Like in this clip from Franz Liszt’s first piano concerto.
You’ll hear Argerich follow the first theme of the orchestra with her version which, you’ll hear, competes in sound and power with the ensemble; then she reigns it in with the utmost tenderness and sensitivity.You can always find out more about the current Artist of the Week at the Artist of the Week Blog at www.capradio.org/classical.
Bassoonist Klaus Thunemann performing “Concerto for Bassoon in G Major (30)” by Antonio Vivaldi
Antonio Vivaldi wrote a lot of music. For the violin alone, the most popular instrument of the late 17th/early 18th centuries, Vivaldi wrote over 200 works. Even more mind-blowing are the 40 concertos that he wrote for bassoon and orchestra because the bassoon was not a popular instrument at the time. In fact, it was just invented and has evolved quite a bit since then. Older bassoons were nimbler than their modern counterpart. Thus, it would take a performer with a degree of athleticism in his playing to pull off these concertos today.
Next week’s artist of the week, Klaus Thunemann is that guy. He brought Vivaldi’s 40 bassoon concertos back to prominence after recording all of them on the Philips label. So here’s Thunemann breathing new life into Vivaldi’s Concerto for Bassoon in G. Listen to the dexterity with which Thunemann moves through some pretty tough passages.
Thunemann is not the only one who’s recorded these concertos, but he got the ball rolling for sure. That’s the thing about Artist of the Week; without these performers, we might not have this music today. Thankfully, there are musicians in every generation dedicating themselves to reinterpreting the canon.
Guitarist Sharon Isbin performing “Aranjuez ma pensee” by Joaquin Rodrigo with Isabel Leonard, mezzo-soprano
Now, back to guitarist Sharon Isbin; our Artist of the week in two weeks.
Earlier we heard her solo, but on the bulk of her new album Alma Espanola, she is joined by operatic mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard.
Leonard is one of the shining stars in the opera world right now and was drawn to this project because of her roots. Her mother is Argentinian, and she grew up speaking both Spanish and English in her New York City home.
This next piece is taken from the Adagio, the second movement of Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez. The slow movement is pensive and nostalgic. Rodrigo and his wife spent time on vacation at the Palacio Real de Aranjuez and the music is famously inspired by the beautiful gardens there. Well, Rodrigo’s wife, Victoria Kahmi wrote some lyrics to go along with the movement which turned into the gorgeous song “Aranjuez ma pensee” (Aranjuez, My Thought).
The opening lyrics are as follows: “Aranjuez, a place of dreams and love / Where a rumour of crystal fountains in the garden /seems to whisper to the roses”