Magic Moments of Music | Nigel Kennedy & The Four Seasons

Magic Moments of Music | Nigel Kennedy & The Four Seasons

Magic Moments of Music | Nigel Kennedy & The Four Seasons

A film by Silvia Palmigiano and Isabel Hahn, ZDF/arte and C Major Entertainment, 43 min

Broadcast date on ARTE: 10/04/2022 at 6:15 pm

In 1989, Nigel Kennedy’s recording of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons causes a turmoil in the world of classical music. The press call the musician the “punk violinist” while others treat him with scorn. However, the record goes on to sell more copies than any other classical album before or since. Kennedy succeeds in transcending the reservations of an audience that considers classical music too elitist or aloof. The film tells of the incredible rise of an outsider into superstar and of a Vivaldi interpretation that has achieved cult status.

When Nigel Kennedy presents his vision of a new classical album to the record company EMI, he is met with broad scepticism. Certainly, with his wild hair and an outfit that mixes punk, gothic and new wave, he’s far from the typical classical musician. But manager John Stanley senses an opportunity: “If Kennedy is permitted to be who he is, you could sell millions of records.” And he’s proven right.

The film takes viewers back to 1989 when Kennedy and the English Chamber Orchestra shook up the music scene with their recording of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. With daring and verve, Kennedy appeals to an audience that was otherwise averse to classical music, resulting in album sales of over three million and an entry in the Guinness Book of Records.

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Early on, the protege of Yehudi Menuhin stands out as a rebel: in the day he studies at the renowned Juilliard School and at night he plays in the New York jazz clubs and learns the art of improvisation, among others from Stéphane Grappelli.

Kennedy recalls: “The classical world felt like a straitjacket. I had to change something or else I had to get out. There was nothing to lose.” During the recording of The Four Seasons, he strives to free himself both from historically informed performance and the Russian School of playing. He seeks out and finds an interpretation that is inarr keeping with the times. With his playing style and arresting appearance, he breaks with the conventions of the classical concert business. The controversy is even discussed in the UK Parliament.

In the concert recording – filmed in the manner of a pop concert – the London audience sits at the edge of the stage in jeans and jumpers. The outfits of the orchestra musicians and the stage lighting change depending on the season. Star violinist Maxim Vengerov tells us what is revolutionary about Kennedy’s playing, and fashion designer Esther Perbandt gives her own view: “He’s an individualist. He doesn’t dress like this to market himself.” Nigel Kennedy says of himself: “I can only be who I am. And that’s how I am.”

With his groundbreaking recording, Kennedy helps young musicians to question the limitations and precedents of the classical music world and he pushes the door wide open for an audience to discover Vivaldi’s famous music.

Magic Moments of Music | Spirituals in Concert – Kathleen Battle and Jessye Norman

Magic Moments of Music | Spirituals in Concert – Kathleen Battle and Jessye Norman

Magic Moments of Music | Spirituals in Concert – Kathleen Battle and Jessye Norman

A film by Dag Freyer, ZDF/arte and C Major Entertainment 2021, 43 min.

When the singers Jessye Norman and Kathleen Battle step on to the Carnegie Hall stage on March 18, 1990, an aura of history pervades America’s most renowned concert hall. On this occasion, the two sopranos – considered among the world’s very best – will go on to create a monument to the Afro-American musical tradition and make a powerful musical statement in an era of conservative rollback in the United States.

Jessye Norman and Kathleen Battle

An incredible atmosphere of expectation pervades the evening of the concert in March 1990. The tension crackles in all corners of the venue: the big question is whether these two competing divas will manage to sing with and not against one another. Although the spirituals are well established as a concert repertoire, letting loose the full force of classically trained voices on these intimate and simple melodies is considered a risk. Can the spirit of the music, which was created in order to give strength, courage and consolation to people in oppression, be honoured and preserved by these virtuosic voices? Not least because they are singing for an audience poised on outrageously expensive opera seats.

In the end, the two divas take Carnegie Hall by storm, and critics and audiences duly pay tribute: it is a musical festival of charisma, virtuosity, vibrancy. A true show. Jessye Norman dominates the stage with her authentic timbre and a colourful African costume, while coloratura soprano Kathleen Battle is still able to hit the very finest of high notes. As they tackle a repertoire that in their youth marked the beginnings of their musical careers, a magical unity arises between the two contrasting artists.

Peter Gelb, producer of the concert and now general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, remembers the circumstances in which the unique concert event came about. Queen Esther Marrow, founder of the Harlem Gospel Singers, and Jocelyn B Smith, now a resident of Berlin, reiterate the spiritual and political dimensions of this singular evening.

Peter Gelb

Joy Denalane

E. Curenton

Listening to the concert today a full three decades of disillusionment later, it is against a backdrop of the Black Lives Matter movement that has emerged as a reaction to unceasing police brutality against black people in the US. Having completed their own chapter of the civil rights movement by helping normalise the appearance of non-white singers on the opera stage, these two singers could never have anticipated such a rollback of society.

During the concert, we are treated to gripping duets such as Scandalize my Name as well as classics like Swing low sweet Chariot. In the documentary film, we capture the concert in its musical-historical and political dimensions then and now, and above all try to impart the joy and uniqueness of an authentically Afro-American form of expression and a performance that went on to gain worldwide recognition.

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Magic Moments of Music | The 1976 Bayreuth Centenary Ring

Magic Moments of Music | The 1976 Bayreuth Centenary Ring

Magic Moments of Music | The 1976 Bayreuth Centenary Ring

A film by Eric Schulz, ZDF/arte and C Major Entertainment 2021, 43 min.

Der Jahrhundertring 1976The opera production sent ripples through art and society even before the curtain was lifted. Leaflets were distributed, signatures were collected and musicians left the orchestra pit in disgust, all because of disagreements over the bold new interpretation of Wagner’s Ring Cycle by conductor Pierre Boulez. The conservative press turned against the politically critical and anti-capitalist interpretation of Richard Wagner’s major work, The Ring of the Nibelung. After Ingmar Bergmann had turned down the invitation, the festival hired 31-year-old television and film director Patrice Chéreau, a relative unknown who had only directed two operas previously, by Rossini and Offenbach. Chéreau’s submitted concept for the multi-part, many hours long Ring Cycle had fitted on a single typewritten page. Once hired, he had just four months to prepare the monumental dramatic work.Der Jahrhundertring 1976

Celebrations of the 100th anniversary of the Bayreuth Festival in 1976 were set to focus on a new production of Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle. In the foyer of the Festspielhaus for the supposedly joyous start of events, Bayreuth’s regular patronage were highly displeased and vocal about what they termed “degenerate art”. Other criticism of the production included “puppet theatre” and a “brutal violation”, while Wagner was said to be “turning in his grave“. In Mannheim and Heidelberg, citizens’ initiatives were founded with the slogan “site security for Wotan” and attempts were made to disrupt the opening performance with booing. There were even sporadic scuffles and fistfights.

For his own staging, Patrice Chéreau was strongly influenced by the socio-political writings of Richard Wagner that were penned around the time of his work on the Ring Cycle. Far from leftist ideology, these were an attempt from Wagner to lend a mythological foundation to an epoch and to capture the sentiments of the time. In Chéreau’s hands, the Ring Cycle became an allegory of the industrial age in the second half of the 19th century, with all the political implications that this entailed. His unprecedented approach was to understand the Ring of the Nibelung as “a description of the terrible perversions of society that is rooted in this preservation of power” and to unmask this through the “mechanisms of a strong state and the opposition”. In particular, the Altwagnerians (who opposed any modernisation of Richard Wagner’s works) and right-wing conservative circles were vexed by this new interpretative approach. Despite the overwhelming hostility, festival director Wolfgang Wagner and the directorial team stayed true to their concept and gave over the stage to their own concept of art.

Der Jahrhundertring 1976The “Centenary Ring” was a fulfilment of Richard Wagner’s dictum that the Ring Cycle should represent a musical synthesis of the arts. With the staging, set design and lighting, costumes, musical interpretation and, last but not least, the exceptional singing of the numerous soloists and choir, a legend was born. When the curtain came down, the Franco-German project was already being celebrated as a musical triumph, and in time the production would be celebrated as an event of the century.

Der Jahrhundertring 1976The film shows excerpts from this unforgettable opera event. Contemporary witnesses look back and comment on events both on and off the boards. Soprano Dame Gwyneth Jones, contralto Hanna Schwarz and tenor Heinz Zednik were on stage as it unfolded; French director Vincent Huguet tells of his collaboration with Patrice Chéreau, whose assistant he would later become. The young singer Anna Prohaska, frequent Wagner singer Günther Groissböck and director Barrie Kosky have dealt at length with the Centenary Ring and talk about their impressions. The interviewees also include writer Friedrich Dieckmann, who authored one of the most important reviews of the events in Bayreuth.

Magic Moments of Music | Arthur Rubinstein: Farewell to Chopin

Magic Moments of Music | Arthur Rubinstein: Farewell to Chopin

Magic Moments of Music | Arthur Rubinstein: Farewell to Chopin

A film by Anne-Kathrin Peitz, ZDF/arte and C Major Entertainment 2021, 43 min.

Arthur Rubinstein auf der BühneIn April of 1975, a piece of music history is made in London’s Fairfield Hall: the legendary pianist Arthur Rubinstein, who is gradually going blind, wants to leave a legacy to the world. Chopin’s Second Piano Concerto has accompanied him throughout his life. At Fairfield Hall, Rubinstein brings it to life a final time in his warm-hearted, lyrical style.

For this occasion, Arthur Rubinstein returns to London, where he made his debut 63 years earlier. Now 88 years old, he is a living legend, on a par with the great composers like Rachmaninoff and Stravinsky. It is the finale of a lifetime of achievement and a grandiose performance from a past master.

Rubenstein dominated the world stage for three quarters of a century and lived life to the fullest as a connoisseur, globetrotter and notorious womaniser. Although he claimed to practice as little as possible, he would go on to become one of the most important pianists of the 20th century and described himself as “the happiest man I ever met in my life”.

In Farewell to Chopin Daniel Barenboim confesses that at the age of just 14, he smoked his first cigar and drank his first vodka together with Rubinstein. His constant companion Annabelle Weidenfeld recalls his incredible charm, and youngest daughter Alina Rubinstein remembers the charismatic but often absent father whom she “wouldn’t trade for anyone in the world”. Rarely seen archive recordings provide fascinating insights into the family life of the Rubinsteins, while the master at the keys also has his own say.

No audience is present for this legendary concert recording – the performance is exclusively for the cameras. Together with the London Symphony Orchestra under conductor André Previn, Rubinstein is every bit the lustrous piano icon: upright and elegant in his tailcoat, he is enthroned at his instrument. The maestro’s playing is generous, luminous, supple, rhapsodic. Seemingly effortlessly, he evokes his singing and breathing “Rubinstein tone” that is venerated to this day. At almost 90 years of age, this exceptional musician and interpreter of Chopin is as captivating as ever: he is buoyant, a little mischievous. His audience always loved him for these qualities – and he loved them back.

Magic Moments of Music – Anna Netrebko & Rolando Villazón sing La Traviata

Magic Moments of Music – Anna Netrebko & Rolando Villazón sing La Traviata

Magic Moments of Music – Anna Netrebko & Rolando Villazón sing La Traviata

A film by Anaïs Spiro, ZDF/arte und C Major Entertainment, 43 min.
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The performance of La Traviata at the 2005 Salzburg Festival drew attention from all over the world: it is not the first time on stage together for Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazón in the leading roles – but it is here in Salzburg that they finally rise to superstardom. Each are brilliant on their own, but under the direction of Willy Decker, they shine above all as a couple, playing to the fantasies of the audience. Opera stars had never before been so up-close and personal, and had never been so present in the media. Previously unseen rehearsal scenes and interviews with Anna Netrebko, Rolando Villazon, Thomas Hampson and Willy Decker bring this magic moment of music to life.