Thursday, 27 August 2015

Prom 55 F X Roth SWR SO Boulez Ligeti Bartók

At Prom 55, François-Xavier Roth  conducted the SWR Symphony Orchestra Baden-Baden and Freiburg in their first - and regrettably last - appearance at the Royal Albert Hall.  The orchestra is being disbanded, merged into the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra. When bureaucrats win over musicianly excellence, even in Germany, it's a blow against art.  Those who stand by watching the BBC being dismantled, from within as well as from without, would do well to ponder. The SWR Symphony Orchestra isn't just another orchestra. It was founded by Hans Rosbaud in 1946, as a statement of faith in the renewal of Europe after the barbarism of the war years. Its demise is thus one of the many symptoms of the anti-intellectual, destructive fundamentalism that's sweeping the world over. .

At the end of this Prom, Roth stood in front of his musicians, declaring his appreciation for them, and for the tradition they represent. It was a gesture of defiance, yet tinged with sadness. Roth is going on to head the Gürzenich Orchestra in Cologne, another of the less famous but distinctive orchestras that make German music great. I'm not sure what will happen to his players, who are individually infinitely better than some heard recently. The Prom was also a tribute to Pierre Boulez, whose conducting career was launched by Rosbaud, who summoned him to Baden-Baden. He's lived there ever since. When Roth conducted Baden-Baden's concert for Boulez this January, the presenters and audience looked visibly moved.

Nothing routine or sloppy in this Proms performance. Pierre Boulez "....explosante-fixe" (1985) scintillated because Roth and his orchestra respect the music enough to create it properly. With his background in baroque, Roth knows the connection between baroque and new music. Please read more here.  One of the hallmarks of the French aesthetic is lucid intelligence. Think Descartes, Moliere, Voltaire. Complex elaborations need clear basic foundations.  Debussy's swathes of subtle  colour sparkle because he understood the importance of clarity. It's no accident that Boulez was perhaps the finest Debussy interpreter of all.  

The original  "Mémoriale ...explosante-fixe" was written to honour Stravinsky, but the larger 1985 version also honours Debussy. The soloist is now surrounded by two other flautists and a small ensemble, so we can hear the purity at the soul of the piece. This is one of the relatively rare pieces where Boulez extends his palette with electronic effects, but these didn't come through as effectively as the "acoustic" playing, perhaps because I was sitting in the wrong place. Impressionist painting shines because colours are carefully defined by light, not muddied.  "....explosante-fixe" is impressionistic in that individual units are clear, the rainbow created by good players for sensitive listeners. Sophie Cherrier combined technical excellence with sophisticated élan. I thought of Pan, surrounded by purity, an image behind the original Mémoriale and in Debussy Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune.

The technical excellence of the SWR Symphony Orchestra made György Ligeti's Lontano shimmer, like "music from another planet".  Like Ligeti's Atmosphères, this reached mass audiences thanks to being "borrowed" for the movies. So nuts to the myth that audiences are hard wired not to cope with new music! I got hooked on Ligeti when I heard 2001: a space odyssey, hypnotized by the music, ignoring the movie. Lontano was premiered by the SWR SO, whose players remembered the importance Ligeti placed on precision. The textures are so complex that they benefit from the careful attention Roth and his orchestra gave to them.  Roth marked the invisible bars, showing how the music doesn't simply end when the players stop. The silence evaporates into the ever more rarified resonances of the imagination. 

It's a mistake, I think, to expect  Béla Bartók's Concerto for Orchestra to sound quaint and folksy. In 1940, the composer was looking back on his past well aware of what was happening in the Europe he'd left behind, and in the  right wing extremism in Hungary, whose government aligned itself with Hitler. At this Proms performance the SWR SO played it so well that they brought to the fore the atmosphere that Bartók might well  have intuited: the end of civilized culture.  This isn't a concerto for orchestra for nothing, since the interactions between the different parts of the orchestra suggest the importance of relationships and cross-connections.  Roth and the members of the SWR SO listen to each other: their starting point isn't their own playing but precision and attentiveness . Boulez conducted Bartók's Concerto for Orchestra many times.  Ten years have not dimmed the memory of him  conducting it at the Royal Festival Hall with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.. Bartók's Concerto for Orchestra was commissioned for the Boston Symphony Orchestra by Serge Koussevitsky. As the present BSO embarks on a new future, they might do well to listen to Roth and the SWR SO.

Top and bottom photos: Roger Thomas

Kavakos, Yuja Wang Edinburgh Festival

From Juliet Williams in Edinburgh

Edinburgh had the honour today of a return visit from the virtuosic Greek violinist Leonidas Kavakos, who so excelled in the Szymanowski second violin concerto in 2013 with the LSO under Gergiev – a truly electrifying performance. Today he played the three Brahms violin sonatas with pianist Yuja Wang in this morning's Queens Hall chamber recital (also broadcast live on BBC Radio Three and available via the iPlayer).

The consecutive playing of the sonatas displayed the progression of the composer's work in this form; the first being at times sunny in mood and at other times wistful; the second anticipating the arrival of a loved one; the third with more dramatic tension and on a larger scale, in four movements not three. All are warm and lyrical  and draw on extracts from the composer's songs. Kavakos is a remarkable performer and it was a delight to have the opportunity to see him live here again. He particularly excelled in the allegro amabile opening movement of the second sonata and in the adagio of the Third.

Ms Wang's talents came more fully to the fore later in the performance and most especially in their encore, the Brahms scherzo in C minor from the F-A-E sonata, where she displayed considerable panache and flare. Her playing was also showcased to advantage in the third, playful movement of the dramatic third sonata which closed the concert. She will join the San Francisco Symphony on Friday in Beethoven's 4th piano concerto, and I am looking forward to seeing her perform as a soloist. Further reports will follow here. They are also performing together at the Proms on Monday 31st August, this time in Bartok's 2ndpiano concerto. Leonidas Kavakos and Yuja Wang have recorded these sonatas  by Brahms together on the Decca label. Today's performance can be heard again on the BBC iPlayer for thirty days.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Golijov, Edinburgh International Festival -

From Juliet Williams in Edinburgh

This 2011 work for string quartet by citizen of the world Osvaldo Golijov, entitled Quohelet, performed at the Edinburgh Festival by the St Lawrence String Quartet, is inspired by the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes. Best known for its third chapter:

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:
    a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
    a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
    a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.”

 This sense of duality pervades the work: stillness / movement; thought / action; slow / fast. Since the work's premiere, Golijov has switched the order of the quartet's two movements. The work now opens with the reflective slow movement. Just for fun, a Brazilian pop tune is inserted. The pulsing second movement which follows has been compared in the helpful introduction by first violinist Geoff Nuttall to riding a motorcycle. Again there is one track within the music which is characterised by the sense of movement whilst another element is like the mind being elsewhere whilst the body moves. The music comes to a sudden, almost abrupt end, the listener's attention left in suspense …...

Having listened to the movements in both orders (easily done using the BBC website), I think there are actually merits to each, and it is an intriguing experiment. The combination of Jewish themes and a sense of pulsing movement is remniscent at times of Steve Reich, such as Tehilim. There are also echoes of Golijov's earlier work, for Kronos, The Prayers and Dreams of Isaac the Blind.

The Stanford (California) - based St Lawrence String Quartet gave the premiere of this work in 2011, written for them in recognition of their achievement in the performance of an earlier companion piece, Yiddishbbuk, inspired by apocyphal psalms – recorded on EMI in 2002 and nominated for two Grammy awards.

They are also the dedicatees of Absolute Jest, a concerto for string quartet and orchestra  by John Adams to be performed on August 27 with the San Francisco Symphony at Edinburgh's Usher Hall. Their chamber recital included John Adams' first string quartet,and I intend to discuss the two works by Adams together later in the week. 

Although specialists in contemporary repertoire such as this,  in their tour to the Edinburgh Festival they included in the programme Saint Saen's late-written and rigorous First Quartet, and a very lovely account of the slow movement from Haydn's Op20 no1 as an encore. Their excellent performance in such more traditional repertoire showcases their versatility  and span of musical achievement. Their playing is characterised by energy and imagination.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Prom 53 Shostakovich Orango Salonen Bartók

For Prom 53, Esa-Pekka Salonen brought two works with which he's been closely associated :  Bartók  The Miraculous Mandarin and Shostakovich's "lost" opera Orango 

Since Salonen and the Philharmonia Orchestra have given many fine performances of The Miraculous Mandarin, (Op 19, Sz 73, 1924)  it was a given that this Proms outing would be good, but it exceeded expectations. Enlivened and emboldened by the manic craziness of the Orango that was to come, Salonen conducted with a wild freedom that lifted the inventiveness of  Bartók to levels that felt almost dangerous. The Miraculous Mandarin is  an audacious work, which horrified its first audiences, and was promptly suppressed, by Konrad Adenauer, then mayor of Cologne, no less. So the impassioned flair with which Salonen and the Philharmonia created this performance, bristling with menace and sexual violence, truly an "Infernal Dance". Sleazy trombones and clarinets, frantic, manic brass and percussion, low brass and winds exhaling strange sighs, suggesting a connection between orgasm and death? 

To bridge the gap between Bartók and Shostakovich, Mozart Piano Concerto no 24 in C minor K491, with David Fray as soloist. Mystery again, with a hint of something sensual, given the dark, rich orchestration, with pairs of  clarinets, oboes, bassoons, horns and trumpets, in this context vaguely reminding me of the "stalking" clarinet duet - or duel - in the Miraculous Mandarin. A bit of Mozartean poise, preparing us for the grotesque of Orango to come?  

And so, at last, to the eagerly awaited Proms premiere of Shostakovich's Orango, which Salonen premiered in Los Angeles and also conducted at the Royal Festival Hall last year, and in Helsinki (in a  slightly different production).  The manuscript was discovered among the composer's papers in 2004. Only the Overture was completed, the rest of the opera existing only in piano score, now orchestrated in a performing version by Gerard McBurney. The piece was written to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the Russian revolution, that grand experiment in social engineering. In the grand new era after the 1914-18 war, people placed their hopes in Science and Progress, however loopy the theories might be. Some believed, for example that injecting monkey glands would enhance human virility. Orango is a half-ape, half-human creature,  not so much the missing link  but a new hybrid. A metaphor for the Brave New World ? Shostakovich would also have been well aware of Mikhail Bulgakov's 1926 novel The Heart of a Dog, where scientists give a man the heart of a dog, but nature asserts itself, and the man reverts to dog.  Please read my review HERE of the brilliant ENO A Dog's Heart, created by Complicité and Simon McBurney (Gerard's brother). 

The Overture is patriotically upbeat, driving brass and mechanical rhythms suggesting triumphal march.  "We will dress the land (of free labourers) in the fabric of the Sun." Soviet realism in all its glory. The bass (Alexander Shagun) sings of the wonders of the new era, with its multi-megawatt power stations and infants who can dance. "No bedbugs in Moscow!"  The part is written as if the character were a ringmaster in a circus: Did Shostakovich know of Lulu, which Berg was still in the process of writing? A long semi-lyrical sequence follows, which would have been set for ballet. Shostakovich uses material from his ballet Bolt!, which I've written about HERE. It's rather worrying how dance fits  authoritarian form: people moving in regimented unison, their individuality suppressed. From dance to military displays and marches. Watch Ratmansky's choreography for Bolt! if you can. 

 "This music has grated in my ears for 15 years" sang Shagun, then, leaning towards the conductor,  asks him to "play something gentler, a lullaby". But no luck, the crowds want Orango, and bombastic noise. The trombones blew grotesque raspberries.. Orango (Ivan Novoselov) appears. "He can blow his nose, and play clapping games!" sang Shagun. But of course, he doesn't sing.  Foreigners come to admire the spectacle - another wry comment on the foreigners who admired Stalin at this period. If the plot is sketchy, that's because the opera wasn't finished. We have to make allowances. the music is crude, but then, the subject is crude, and it's possible that Shostakovich might not have got much further.  Orango is not, and can never be, much more than a fragment, but it's a tantalizing one. The plot, potentially, has more possibilities than Shostakovich's football ballet The Golden Age, though the music for The Golden Age is rather good, especially  in the highly recommended recording conducted by José Serebrier.  Orango isn't great art, but the world would be a gloomier place without it.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Andris Nelsons Mahler 6 BSO Prom 49

For Prom 49, Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall. It's been eight years since the BSO last came to London, with James Levine. Some of the players may even be the same personnel. But eight years is a long time, during which Levine has been seriously ill. So it was a wise move on the BSO's part to bring in Nelsons as Chief Conductor.  He's  a stellar Wagnerian who's featured at Bayreuth, so closely connected to the Berlin Philharmonic that he was a contender for the top job there. He's the prize racehorse in his field.  Music doesn't stand still. Good orchestras can rise to the challenge.  As in so many cases, change takes time. Fortunately, the BSO has Nelsons contracted until 2022.  Europe's loss might be America's gain.

Earlier this week, Nelsons conducted the opening night of the Lucerne Festival, one of the sacred places of European music, still  hallowed by Claudio Abbado. Lucerne Festival players are the best in the business, individually hand picked, for their personal standards of excellence.  The Lucerne ethos of orchestra as chamber ensemble predicates on these high standards. very different from perfectly normal  orchestral experience.  Enjoy the Lucerne concert HERE. .

At Lucerne, Nelsons conducted Haydn's "Surprise" Symphony and Mahler Symphony no 5, both well suited to the intimacy of Lucerne, and performed with the intensity and spark of an ultra-chamber unit.  In London, at the Royal Albert Hall, Nelsons conducted Mahler Symphony no 6 and Brett Dean Dramatis Personae. Unlike so many Brett Dean pieces which rely on non-musical gimmicks, this piece has better musical foundations. The presence of Håkan Hardenberger certainly helped.  He's not stretched and the piece could probably work fine with lesser players. The ideas are undemanding and Dean's thing for cute visuals gives it appeal.

In Mahler 6 Nelsons and the BSO followed the Allegro moderato with a surprise : Scherzo  first, Andante Second.  The controversy on the order of movements is somewhat pedantic.  If it were easily settled, it wouldn't be an issue. Most of us grew up with Scherzo-Andante and it did us no harm. Three years ago,  Chailly conducted Andante-Scherzo with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, and that worked fine, too, because it capitalized on the legendary warm glow the Leipzigers do so well, so the contrast with the Scherzo felt heart rending. Nelsons' order worked better with the BSO because it injected dramatic urgency into the symphony sooner rather than later. The Andante felt like a gentle Ruckblick, a wistful looking back on gentler times. Hence the cowbells, clearly audible on this occasion from where I was sitting. Mahler wanted them heard "as if from a distance" -- easier said than done in practical performance. When Semyon Bychkov conducted Mahler 6 in 2011, with the BBC SO, (more here),  he made the Andante seem haunted, rather than peaceful.  Nelsons' approach is more conventional, but makes more of the BSO's good string sections. Nelsons' Finale was suitably haunted though, the strings and harps creating a chilling, "icy" character from which the violent march returns.  The hammer blows fall, but the trumpets herald a future beyond.  the March here isn't military, but the march of life, itself.  It's not necessarily "tragic"or maudlin. This connects to the ideas of life-affirmation, so closer to the deeper understanding we now have of Mahler's overall idiom. In the last section, Nelsons lets the BSO rip. Good contrasts, suggesting tension, but also inexorable forward movement. In many ways, this symphony suggests hope, and triumph over death. Certainly, this Prom suggested a bright new future for Nelsons and the BSO. 

Photo: Roger Thomas

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Prom 47 Leifs bombs. Sakari surprises

How I had looked forward to Jón Leifs' Organ Concerto BBC Prom 47!  Leifs does monumental like few others do.  I'm a fan. (read more on this site)  If  there were ever an occasion for a performance worthy of the piece, it would have been at the Royal Albert Hall with the second-biggest organ in the world. The Nazis hated the concerto? For once, they might have been right. Leifs' Organ Concerto bombed.

It wasn't the performance. The BBCSO and Sakari Oramo are used to pulling off big spectaculars with the verve they deserve. Leifs' Organ Concerto looks big and ambitious, on paper and on the stage, but once the music started, its horrors were revealed. How dated it sounded, as if it were written  for horror movies in the 1930's. Bad horror movies, the kind that rely on cornball rather than real horror. At any moment I half expected a guy in vampire costume to fly across a rope hidden among the microphones. Nice special effects, though. A mallet a foot in diameter! Perhaps the percussionist was secretly laughing inside, thinking of Mahler. In any case, he (the percussionist, not Mahler) was having a sublime J Arthur Rank moment. And he didn't have to take his clothes off.

The organ was beautifully played, but the music felt strangely awry. Was Leifs having a joke, I wondered ? Did he take this seriously or was he making a secret point. Recently someone sent me an unpublished poem written by Edmund Blunden to a high official, who was notoriously full of inflated ballast. The official would have been thrilled - line after line of hyperbolic hype. Blunden's good enough that he write doggerel for a dog.

An exodus of sorts followed. which I eventually followed. No way was this because Liefs is "modern". The very opposite, the piece is so much of its time. One of the good things about BBC Proms broadcasts is that you can listen in the comfort on the radio. As we drove through Hyde Park, four ambulances and police cars shot past, sirens blaring. "More excitement than Jón Leifs" remarked the driver.  But what a surprise we were in for!

We had no expectations for Anders Hillborg's Beast Sampler but it turned out pretty interesting. Huge shapes dancing merrily along, big, brutish beasts created from invisible sound waves. And done with little percussion ! Oliver Knussen would have loved the wit and intelligence in this piece. Sakari Oramo is famous for his quiet, deadpan humour, too. No wonder he chose Hillborg after Liefs. 

Then, Beethoven Symphony no 7, which we've all heard so many times we weren't expecting miracles. But again, Oramo delivered a surprise. Gosh, what a lively, vivacious performance, sparking with athletic élan and energy.  The Prom had started with Sibelius Tapiola, which Oramo can conduct in his sleep and which the BBCSO have done so often they can do it on autopilot. So if it was oddly lifeless, perhaps Oramo was making a point, though it was lost on me. I thought they'd skimped on rehearsal time. Or, more likely, their hearts were in Beethoven.  Gosh it's good to hear an old warhorse return to stallion. Unorthodox, but refreshing. And so much fun. Without fun, what would be the point of good music?

Friday, 21 August 2015

Prom 46 Carl Nielsen Fabio Luisi, Danish National Symphony Orchestra

Carl Nielsen Prom 46 at the Royal Albert Hall, London, with Fabio Luisi conducting the Danish National Symphony Orchestra.  Nielsen's no stranger to the Proms : Barbirolli conducted Nielsen's  Symphony no 4 "The Inextinguishable " in 1965, but this programme included relative rarities like Hymnus amoris, and culminated in an outstanding Nielsen Symphony no 2 "The Four Temperaments".

This Prom began with a "golden dawn", Nielsen's Helios Overture, ()p 17, 1903). Nielsen said, "My Overture describes the movement of the sun through the heavens from morning to evening".  It's gloriously atmospheric, yet the composer was careful to add that it was merely titled "Helios" (the God of the Sun) and was more than pictorial. "Light, darkness, Sun and Rain are almost the same as Credo, Crucifixus, Gloria and so on".  The horns inn the first section sounded primeval, suggesting ancient instruments. Shimmering strings,  rising upwards, dissolving into rapturously refined textures. Much more sophisticated than straightforward "pictorial" music.

Helios thus heralded Brahms Violin Concert in D Major with Nikolaj Znaider as soloist. This was exqusitely played, Znaider's virtuosic refinement nicely haloed by the richness in the orchestra.  Luisi doesn't officially take over as Principal Conductor of the Danish National Symphony Orchestra until 2017, but he's worked with them for five years already.  This performance promises great things to come. In my eagerness to hear more Nielsen, I didn't pay enough attention to Brahms at first, but enjoyed it immensely on repeat broadcast.   This was a very long evening, (nearly 3 hours) determined, I think by the practical logistics of bringing in two choirs, including the Danish National Concert Choir, whose Nielsen Three Motets  (Op 55, 1930)  were beautifully nuanced, but the Brahms is a heavyweight piece that needs to be heard without much else around it.

It was good to hear the Three Motets with Nielsen's Hymnus amoris (Op 12, 1897)  Hymnus amoris is ambitious, scored for large orchestra, choir, a childrens' choir (Winchester Cathedral Choristers ) and  four soloists. The four sections are programmatic, tracing a person's life from childhood to old age, though structurally it's cohesive.  Nielsen was thinking in terms of polyphony and counterpoint, as evidenced in the orchestral and choral writing. However, the soprano part is relatively unadorned..  How good it was to hear Anna Lucia Richter, whom I first heard at the Wigmore Hall three and a half years ago. (more here) She's good.  Hymnus amoris was inspired by a Titian painting The Miracle of a Jealous Husband, the "wife" is more dominant. Richter's voice negotiates the sweeping curlicues in the long lines with finesse.  The Three Motets are more sophisticated and better written, but Hymnus amoris has charm.

Although I've always liked Nielsen's music, I used to wonder why I couldn't access its darkest depths until I realized that Nielsen is Nielsen, not Mahler, or Sibelius, or Janáček or Debussy, all of them his direct contemporaries. No obvious angst, nor grandeur, nor panoramic vision, but instead  deceptively simple good humour. Few composers could have posed for the comic portraits pictured here.  On the surface, Nielsen doesn't take himself seriously, but his well-balanced humanity  is a much underrated virtue. 

Nielsen's Symphony no 2 "The Four Temperaments" (Op 16, 1902)  is programmatic in that its four movements describe four temperaments - Choleric, Phlegmatic, Melancholic and Sanguine. In "Choleric", the Allegro comodo e flemmatico, for example, lines are drawn out and repeated like a personality who prefers inertia but is nonetheless harried on by the forward thrust of Nielsen's musical logic.  It's interesting how the last movement whips along with great freedom. Perhaps it's Nielsen's own signifier. But it's fun,  psychologically observant, and translated into abstract musical form.  Wonderfully vivacious playing.  The encore was The Dance of the Cockerels from Nielsen's opera Maskarade, about which I've written here).

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Abbado - Music not muzak

Hearing the silence ?  I've been watching the documentary Claudio Abbado: Hearing the Silence, by Paul Smaczny, available through Euroarts.  Some will be aghast at the very idea of "hearing silence" but I think true  music lovers will understand.  When we "listen to the silence", we're making space in our souls for real music, not muzak.

Abbado had "the most beautiful left hand I've ever seen, says Daniel Harding, who went to work with Abbado aged 19 and was part of Abbado's elite Mahler Chamber Orchestra. "It's like (he was) massaging something that already exists, ..he's almost not 'making' it but allowing it to happen and then moulding it..... you get the feeling that the music is a physical presence you can actually touch and manipulate."  Albrecht Mayer, principal oboe at the Berliner Philharmoniker says "You see a movement of the hands, and you change automatically - you change yourself, not just the way you play".

That phrase "changing yourself" is critical. Abbado inspired his players to listen to something other than themselves. Abbado is quoted as saying he liked audiences that didn't rush to applaud. These days long silences have become a silly cliché, but I think what Abbado meant was the genuine silence that comes when an audience is really listening and thinking about what they've hearD. Nowadays, we've become locked into the idea of like/not like, as if the world were a Facebook meme. But great art exists in an altogether more rarified place, something eternal that stretches the depth of human experience. Like/dislike is irrelevant: what matters is what you've learned from the experience.

"What  drives me is the love of my job" says Abbado. "and the passion for things I find inspiring, when I get a chance to immerse myself , to deepen my knowledge of a score, or a book". Abbado, who knows scores better than most, still learning? "If I can deepen that knowledge, I will always do so...  the starting point is always love". .

There's a clip from a rehearsal of the famous Lucerne Festival concert in 2003, which Abbado conducted after his near fatal bout with cancer. He looked  gaunt, since his half his insides were gone.  But he was conducting Mahler Symphony no 2., truly  a heartfelt resurrection.  No-one who heard it could ever forget. Even without knowing the background, this was a shattering performance.  One of  the secrets of Abbado's genius, especially in later years, was that he didn't take things for granted but aimed for the highest possible standards of excellence. That excellence came from choosng the finest players, and players who could work together so well that even in large ensemble, they functioned like chamber players, listening to each other. "Hearing the cross currents", as Mayer says, "not cobbled together like patchwork".

"There are no limits", Abbado is heard saying "(music)  is an ongoing process, a constant quest, a quest for new forms of music-making, a permanent state of enrichment. You arrive at a certain point and you have to go on from there"  .These days when hate, wilful ignorance and intolerant egotism seem to be taking over the world, I think we need Abbado's ideals more than ever.  As Elly Ameling once told a masterclass, "We are here for the music, and not the other way round".