1968 Holland Festival – Rotterdam Philharmonic -Amsterdam Concertgebouw – Radio Nederland – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
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Music from the 1968 Holland Festival this weekend. Two mid-twentieth century works. Starting with Sinfonia Brevis by Tadeusz Baird and concluding with Contrasts for piano and Orchestra by Rodion Shchedrin with the composer at the piano accompanied by the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, led by Gennady Rozhdestvensky. The Baird is played by the Rotterdam Philharmonic led by Hiroyuki Iwaki.
Tadeusz Baird was born in Grodzisk Mazowiecki, in Poland. His father Edward was Polish, while his mother Maria (née Popov) Russian. Tadeusz Baird studied composition, piano and musicology in Warsaw under Kazimierz Sikorski, among others teachers. In 1949 he founded Group 49 along with Kazimierz Serocki and Jan Krenz. The aim of Group 49 was to write communicative and expressive music according to socialist realism, the dominant ideology in the Eastern Bloc at the time. In 1956, along with Kazimierz Serocki, he founded the Warsaw Autumn international contemporary music festival. In 1974 he began to teach composition at the National College of Music (currently the Music Academy) in Warsaw. In 1977, now a full professor, he was offered a post to teach a composition class at the Warsaw Academy of Music, and also a membership of the Academie der Künste der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik – Berlin in 1979.
He died in 1981, aged 53.
Rodion Shchedrin was born into a musical family – his father was a composer and teacher of music theory. He studied at the Moscow Choral School and Moscow Conservatory (graduating in 1955) under Yuri Shaporin and Nikolai Myaskovsky. Since 1958, he has been married to the great ballerina Maya Plisetskaya.
Rodion Shchedrin’s early music is tonal, colorfully orchestrated and often includes snatches of folk music, while some later pieces use aleatoric and serial techniques. In the west the music of Shchedrin has won popularity mainly through the work of Mstislav Rostropovich who has made several successful recordings.
Among his works are the ballets The Little Hump-backed Horse (1955), Carmen Suite (1967), based on the opera Carmen by Georges Bizet (the project had been turned down by both Dmitri Shostakovich and Khachaturian), Anna Karenina (1971, on the novel by Leo Tolstoy), and Lady with a Lapdog (1985); the operas Not Only Love (1961), and Dead Souls (1976, after Nikolai Gogol’s novel); piano concertos, symphonies, chamber and piano music and other works. He composed 24 Preludes and Fugues after he heard those of D. Shostakovich. Also remarkable is his Polyphonic Notebook.
Rodion Shchedrin has written five concertos for orchestra: the first, variously translated as Naughty Limericks or Mischievous Folk Ditties (neither of which completely get the gist of the Russian which refers to a chastushka (часту́шка), an irreverent, satirical kind of folk song) is by far the best known, and was the work which first established him on the international stage. The second of the Concertos for Orchestra was subtitled Zvony (The Chimes), and was premiered by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra under Leonard Bernstein as one of the many commissions in honor of the orchestra’s 125th anniversary. The third Concerto for Orchestra is based on old music of Russian provincial circuses. Concerto 4, Khorovody (round dances), was written in 1989, and Concerto 5, Four Russian Songs, was written in 1998.
Admittedly, not for all tastes – mid-late 20th century Classical music can be an acquired taste and some of it requires work and stamina to listen to. And for those of you more keen on color, rather than dissonance, I would head over to the Shchedrin first (in about 24 minutes) and work your way back. I was going to offer only the Shchedrin and drop the Baird, but getting an adequate picture of contemporary Classical music, particularly in the 60s is really best sampled as a whole – that’s how we got it at the time – and we could pick and choose – but we had to get all the exposure in first in order to make educated assessments. How do you know what you like if you don’t hear everything in order to choose?
And on that happy note: enjoy the adventure and the 1968 Holland Festiva!