Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Forgoing Mediocrity for a Time: The 2013 Echo Klassik Award Winners

     Awards for achievements in music are plentiful. There are perhaps none so auspicious and yet openly mocked as the Grammy Awards of the United States, an award which still carries tremendous weight with its bestowment upon many an artist. However, it is rather a more difficult task to find music awards devoted exclusively to classical music. One award bearing a decent amount of prestige in at least recent years has been the Classical Brit Awards. This revered establishment saw its own demise when it embraced crossover ensemble Il Divo as its Artist of the Decade in 2010, and its name was swiftly altered to simply the Classic Brits. However, no facade is powerful enough to change the reality that it is a laughing stock among all who follow classical music.

Joyce DiDonato with her Echo Klassik Award (Image courtesy of www.zimbio.com)
     Despite such a depressing situation in England, Germany presents us with the Echo Klassik Awards, which are to many the classical equivalent of the Grammy Awards. While the Grammy Awards do have categories reserved for classical music, these are threatened to be removed at any time if popularity for them should wane; the Echo Klassik Awards, being an offspring of the German Echo Awards for music that has developed into its own association, deal exclusively in classical music. Governing the awards on both accounts is Germany's music recording industry as the Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences does here in the United States for the Grammy Awards. The judges are comprised, according to the Echo Klassik Awards themselves, of distinguished politicians, arts and media personalities, and members of the Bundesverband Musikindustrie, the German equivalent of the aforementioned Academy.

Cecilia Bartoli with an Echo Klassik Award in 2008 (Image courtesy www.zimbio.com)
      Begun in 1994, the Echo Klassik Awards, while they have become a standard for excellence, have not been so throughout the entirety of their history. During the turn of the century when the future of classical music seemed to be turning toward the crossover style with new sorts of performers such as Charlotte Church, Sarah Brightman who dabbled in it, and Il Divo, it was the Echo Klassik Awards that also embraced this ambitious, lucrative foray from record companies by awarding their distinguished prize to none other than Filippa Giordano, whose career is probably one of the worst products of this phenomenon. One of her early hits was her debut album she made that included such tracks as O mio babbino caro and Casta diva, and the worst part of it is that she comes from a classical music background. With record sales from Charlotte Church, Sarah Brightman, and Andrea Bocelli soaring, the Echo Klassik Awards bestowed one of its honors upon Giordano and allowed her to perform for the awards show in 2001.




     Lest we should fear that the honor has devolved too far to be considered with any esteem, I am pleased to announce that we are not to be so disappointed, for in recent years the Echo Klassik Awards alumni have included such famed performers as Vittorio Grigolo, Renee Fleming, Cecilia Bartoli, Joyce DiDonato, and Danielle de Niese. The award winners for the 2013 Echo Klassik Awards were made known to me today, and the roster is interspersed with many glittering achievements. The list of winners is somewhat lengthy, so I shall include the ones for which I am most excited and proffer the most congratulation. The awards ceremony is scheduled for October 6, 2013, at the Konzerthaus Berlin in Berlin, Germany.

Danielle de Niese with her Echo Klassik Award 2008 (Image courtesy www.zimbio.com)
Female Singer of the Year: Joyce DiDonato -- Drama Queens: One of the previous year's most anticipated releases due in part to DiDonato's performances in Donizetti's Maria Stuarda, this accolade is well deserved, and I am certain she shall be among the nominations for the Grammy Awards, as well, with this disc. Whether you shall believe it or not, I have still yet to hear this CD. All of you may henceforth disown me as an opera aficionado.

Male Singer of the Year: Jonas Kaufmann -- Wagner: In Kaufmann's final release for Decca prior to signing with Sony Classical, which did not seem a shrewd business maneuver for him to my knowledge of Sony's track record with representing and keeping artists, many were enamored with Kaufmann's foray into Wagner. Often praised by critics for his versatility in both the Italian and German repertoire, this award comes as little surprise to those who follow opera.

Instrumentalist of the Year (Violin): Leonidas Kavakos -- Beethoven: The Complete Violin Concertos: In a field as crowded with exceptional talent as that for the violin is, what sets this performer apart is his ambition to record such masterpieces as Beethoven's violin masterpieces. With an endeavor such as this, it is little wonder that Kavakos was voted to receive this award.

Conductor of the Year: Esa-Pekka Salonen -- Lutoslawski: The Symphonies: Salonen is one of the world's most exciting conductors with his attention to new music, his own compositions, and his expert readings of symphonic scores. Turning his baton to Lutoslawki's compositions proves his adventurous nature, and it is well time that these were recorded. Lutoslawski is also having some excellent hearings at the 2013 BBC Proms. If this composer is new to your ear, there has never been a better time than the present in which to acquaint your ear with it.

Newcomer of the Year (Singer): Julia Lehzneva -- Alleluia!: A release featuring sacred music from Mozart, Vivaldi, and Porpora among others, this debut from Lehzneva is promising. Her voice is round with an excellent lower register that gives her a distinct mezzo quality, but her top notes are joyous to hear, as well. This is a singer that is certainly one to follow with interest.

Newcomer of the Year (Trumpet): Tine Thing Helseth -- Tine: Taking the classical music world by storm is Norway's newest prodigy, Tine Thing Helseth. Her elegance and incessant charm look as if they are placing her on the track to following the success of Nicola Benedetti with her violin, and her performances are exquisite. Alison Balsom has a companion now in the stratosphere of trumpeters, and Helseth is an excellent champion of many styles of music for her instrument, which broadens her appeal immensely.

Solo Recording of the Year/Voice (Duets/Opera Arias): Elina Garanca -- Romantique: Garanca is well known for her gorgeous voice, and this repertoire is one of her specialties. As one expects, this release includes music by Debussy, Lalo, Tchaikovsky, Gounod, and Berlioz, but the beginning of the album is a piece from Donizetti, which seems out of place in such a program as this. Garanca's voice is, nevertheless, perfect for this repertoire, and I am elated to see her honored for what she performs best.

Opera Recording of the Year (20th/21st Century Work): Ian Bostridge -- Britten: The Rape of Lucretia: While erudite vocalist Ian Bostridge is equally at home in lieder, art song, Baroque music, or modern work, he excels in the music of Benjamin Britten. His voice is very much praised for its interpretative gifts in modern music, and it is not difficult to imagine why this recording was chosen to receive this honor.

Opera Recording of the Year (19th Century): Mariinsky Orchestra; Valery Gergiev; Nina Stemme -- Die Walkure: In the bicentennial of Wagner's anniversary of birth, it is fitting that one of his works should receive such an accolade as this, and Stemme is one of the foremost Wagnerian sopranos in the world today. She is blessed with an enormous voice, and her prowess as an actress leaves little to be desired. The Mariinsky Orchestra is very capable of producing some of the best readings of opera scores in the world, and Gergiev has proven himself on the podium time and again in Wagner's music. This may not have been a difficult choice for the judges to make, but that makes this recording no less deserving of praise.

World Premiere Recording of the Year: Cecilia Bartoli -- Mision: Ever a performer of exponential levels of excitement and dedication to her work, Bartoli is the reigning champion of world premiere recordings in my opinion. She never allows an opportunity to pass her, and she gives her heart and soul into every recording she creates. Her latest solo release is no exception to this trend, and this album caused quite the stir when it was learned that this world famous mezzo has shaven her head for the album's cover in homage to the fierce adherence that many orders of monks of old held to their beliefs and rites as novitiates of the Catholic church. Her technical skill alone deserves the Echo Klassik honor.

Music Recording DVD of the Year: Bryn Terfel; Jonas Kaufmann; Mojca Erdmann -- Der Ring des Nibelungen: Wagner seems to be sweeping the classical music festivals and awards this season, and here we have another recording to add to the list. This DVD is of the Metropolitan Opera's much heralded production by Robert Lepage. Though it has been fraught with its share of difficulties and cool reception by many critics, it is revolutionary in its concept, and though the cast listed on the announcement as the three performers in the heading are all who appear to be honored, Deborah Voigt, Jay Hunter Morris, Stephanie Blythe, Elizabeth Bishop, and Patricia Bardon made these broadcasts and these recordings superlative in their share of talent.

Chmber Music Recording of the Year (19th Century) Mixed Ensemble: Helene Grimaud; Sol Gabetta -- Duo: Ever since Grimaud parted musical company with maestro Claudio Abbado over cadenze, her musical interest seems to have taken her to more intimate settings insofar as music is concerned, and she teamed with cellist Sol Gabetta to record a new album of collaborative works for cello and piano with music from Debussy, Shostakovich, Brahms, and Schumann. Grimaud is one of the world's best talents at the piano, and Gabetta is honored with another award from the Echo Klassik Awards this year, which speaks volumes to her talent, as well. This is not a recording to be missed if it can be helped.

Chamber Music Recording of the Year (17th/18th Century) Mixed Ensemble: Jordi Savall; Hesperion XXI -- Armenian Spirit: If there was one ensemble to which I could listen for the remainder of my life, this early music consort led by the renowned, esteemed interpreter of the genre, Jordi Savall, should be it. They specialize in early music, and often tailor their programs to specific countries or heritages, and I can say without question that this recording is immensely deserving of this laud.

     As you can veritably witness in this shortlist of mine, the Echo Klassik Awards do their best to maintain a high degree of excellence in electing recipients of their trophies. Yes, there are categories in which better candidates might have been chosen, but the variety of tastes in the world of classical music and opera can hardly all coalesce to produce results that shall please everyone in every respect. These artists all represent the best in their fields of classical music and opera, and I am anxious to see what talent the new generations shall bring to the Echo Klassik Awards as their history expands into the future. I proffer my gratitude to all of you for your continued perusal of my posts concerning the world of opera, and I am honored that you should devote your reading to my humble musings.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Hidden Gems: Edinburgh International Festival 2013

(Image courtesy of 2012.eif.co.uk)
     Continuing in the vein of summer festivals throughout Europe, we turn our gaze from London to its norther cousin, Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland. It is not often that one considers this relatively unknown place when one considers the major cities of Europe, for its influence does not seem to extend beyond the realm of tourism within the history of England and perhaps France. However, we should be quite remiss to neglect a mention of it in any sphere of interest in classical music and operatic festivals. A glance over the programs scheduled for this year tells us that any attempt to dismiss it even by a small amount when comparing it to the host of other offerings on the continent this summer is a grave error in judgment. If we, as international travelers and ardent admirers of the most excellent performances of refined music that has stood the test of time and appreciation relegated upon it by the most revered of audiences over the past few centuries, could only visit one country, a word I use loosely to define the United Kingdom, there is arguably no better place in all the world to which we might journey than precisely there. If we had three months to spend there, we could enjoy most of the BBC Proms, and then we could make a pilgrimage to Edinburgh to catch the Edinburgh International Festival.

     Running from August 9, 2013, to September 1, 2013, this year's calendar of events once again exceeds my expectations. Since this is often the case with this venue, I fear, dear most patient readers, that I am guilty of not granting the city of Edinburgh its due prominence in the world, and, if this is the regrettable case, I do hastily apologize for such an ignorance as this certainly must seem to you. If there are some who believe this to be true, please say as much in a comment, and I beseech you to bestow some light upon this for my benefit. As for the festival itself, where most festivals focus on a single realm of art, of which music is of primary interest to me, the Edinburgh International Festival juxtaposes the performing arts under its banner and gives us offerings of classical music, opera, theatre and drama, dance, and visual arts, which makes it an ideal booking for those with varied interests or for groups of people with diverse likings. Furthermore, for the more adventurous among us who strive to further the specific arts we love in the best way we can and to gain as much knowledge in so doing as is possible, there are talks and workshops from the experts in each category given for the benefit of the astute and inquisitive audiences these performances and exhibitions shall attract to them.

     Before I proceed to this year's exceptional schedule and my personal favorites from its calendar, a look at its history is well in order. It was established in 1947 in auspicious fashion by none other than Sir Rudolf Bing, then general manager of Glyndebourne Festival Opera and later very famously and rather successfully general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, and Henry Harvey Wood, who had already secured himself a distinguished history with the BBC Proms. Begun with a broad envisage of enriching the cultural scene of Europe, which does, today, seem a trifle ambitious, the festival lives up to this standard even unto this day, and its duration of three weeks remains mostly unchanged from its beginning to present. It opened in its first permanent home, the Hub, Edinburgh Festival Center, in 1999. Since 2006, its director has been Jonathan Mills, and the caliber of recent seasons proves that he is certainly worthy of his post.


The Hub, Edinburgh Festival Center (Image courtesy www.eif.co.uk)

     The 2013 season proves no less distinguished or anticipated than any other European festival's, and the varied nature of both performers and their repertoire shows that the festival caters to the broadest possible audience in music, at least. From the timeless elegance of the Baroque period of music to the niche popularity of Phillip Glass, any aficionado of classical music can be assured of finding at least a handful of concerts suited to his or her predilections in this art. While my personal preferences are inclined to lean more toward the former than the latter, I outline my what my ticket selections should be if I were blessed to be visiting Scotland within the next month.

Saturday 10 August 2013: Christian Gerhaher Recital: As the Guardian informs us, Gerhaher is one of the supreme lieder artists of the modern age, and this concert is a chance afforded to us in which we may put this praise to the test of our ears. Baritone Gerhaher performs here in a program of Schumann songs, and Gerold Huber joins him at the piano.

Saturday 10 August - Monday 12 August 2013: Beethoven's Fidelio: Soprano Erika Sunnegardh, once destined for high hopes at the Met, portrays Beethoven's fortuitous and determined heroine trying to free her husband from prison. The remainder of the cast is unknown to my ears, but it includes Nikolai Schukoff as Florestan, Michael Eder as Rocco, and Valentina Nafornita as Marzelline. Of further worth mentioning is that this production from Opera de Lyon is a new one by Gary Hill in which the setting is a spacecraft hurtling toward infinity, a concept that is not without merit entirely.

Sunday 11 August 2013: Tchaikovsky's Pathetique and Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4: With the aid of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Dame Mitsuko Uchida plays Beethoven's fourth piano concerto, and conductor Mariss Jansons leads the orchestra in Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6, Pathetique.

Monday 12 August 2013: Mahler's Symphony No. 2: The Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra makes another appearance at the festival this season featuring one of Mahler's best loved pieces, his Resurrection Symphony. The soloists are mezzo-soprano Anna Larsson and soprano Genia Kuhmeier.

Tuesday 13 August 2013: Bernarda Fink Recital: Mezzo-soprano Bernarda Fink, heralded the world over for her interpretative gifts, visits Edinburgh to present works from great song literature including settings from Mahler's Des Knaben Wunderhorn. Also performing Debussy and others, she is accompanied by Anthony Spiri at the piano.

Wednesday 14 August: Hannah Stone Recital: The Royal Harpist plays a recital program that includes Bach and Prokofiev. Music from the harp is ever an interesting and delicate matter.

Wednesday 14 August 2013: Les Musiciens du Louvre Grenoble: The exquisite ensemble that accompanied Cecilia Bartoli on her Opera Proibita release journeys to Scotland to deliver a pair of concerts. First among their scheduled programs is Schubert's first, fifth, and seventh symphonies, the last of which is unfinished. Marc Minkowski conducts, which is ever a thrilling sight to witness.

Wednesday 14 August 2013: Nicola Boud: While one might not initially regard a clarinet recital as particularly thrilling, the course of this one is rather interesting to me. Australian clarinetist Nicola Boud takes us on a musical journey playing four different historical clarinets and showing how changes in the instrument's design influenced the music written for it and vice versa. She is joined by soprano Sabine Devieilhe, bassoonist Jane Gower, Sophie Gent on viola, and fortepianist Kristian Bezuidenhout in a concert program of Mozart, Schubert, Glinka, and Brahms.

Thursday 15 August 2013: Les Musiciens du Louvre Grenoble: Minkowski and his orchestra return to the festival again playing Schubert. This time it is his Symphony No. 3 and Symphony No. 8. This is new territory for my ears with this orchestra, and I am excited to hear these two concerts.

Friday 16 August 2013: Werner Gura: German tenor Werner Gura, a maiden voice to my ears, sings a recital including Beethoven's song cycle An die ferne Geliebte and Schubert's Schlummerliede. His accompanist is pianist Christoph Berner. Since my knowledge of German song is deplorably lacking it appears that this summer may well broaden my experience with it.

Saturday 17 August 2013: Faure Requiem: Baritone Sir Thomas Allen and treble Isaac Waddington perform what is arguably Gabriel Faure's most famous composition. Additionally the program includes works by Debussy, Schoenberg, and Webern. The music of the evening is made by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra under the baton of Robin Ticciati.

Sunday 18 August 2013: Chamber Orchestra of Europe: Under the direction of precocious and daring maestro Yannick Nezet-Seguin, who can make any orchestra into an electrifying ensemble through his rehearsals, the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, culled from the best players across the continent, plays Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat, K364, Beethoven's Symphony No. 7, and Strauss's Duet-Concertino.

Monday 19 August 2013: Dorothea Roschmann Recital: In what is one of the most anticipated recitals to take place at this year's Edinburgh International Festival, at least to my interest, much lauded soprano Dorothea Roschmann, who is skilled in many varied fachs of repertoire, sings Alban Berg's Seven Early Songs, Schumann's Liederkreis, Opus 39, and a selection from Wolf's Moricke Lieder. Accompanying her for this exquisite recital is none other than pianist Malcolm Martineau.

Tuesday 20 August 2013: Nachtmusique: I had a titillating taste of this concept when I heard Rene Jacobs's recording of La Finta Giardineria with the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra for Harmonia Mundi, and I enjoyed it immensely. Nachtmusique, a period instrument ensemble plays a host of works by Mozart for their appearance at the Edinburgh International Festival this year, and this promises to appeal to any devoted admirer of Mozart's splendid music or period ensembles.

Wednesday 21 August 2013: Christophe Rousset and Les Talens Lyriques: Harpsichordist and conductor Christophe Rousset plays a series of concerts for the festival this year, and for his first visit he presents us with a book of short pieces for solo harpsichord by Couperin. Since I am quite enamored with this instrument, this should be an exciting concert to hear, and its performance in Scotland is easily a laudable event.

Thursday 22 August 2013: Ian Bostridge Recital: Tenor Ian Bostridge, who is among the most erudite of performers today, is gifted with a supreme gift for recital and chamber performances. His every nuance is excellently delivered, and the repertoire he has elected for the audience's ears is not to be missed. He performs works by Ives, Brahms, and Schumann, and famed pianist Lars Vogt joins him on the stage.

Friday 30 August 2013: Veronique Gens Recital: One of the most sought after interpreters of Baroque music all of classical vocal music, Veronique Gens has built a solid reputation for herself as an exquisite singer. She brings her talent to songs of the Romantic period by Hahn, Faure, Duparc, Debussy, and Chausson. Her accompanist is Susan Manoff on piano.

Saturday 31 August 2013: Verdi's Requiem: In the 200th anniversary of Giuseppe Verdi's birth, there are no shortages of performances of his very operatic Messa da Requiem, but this is certainly an admirable addition to this specific catalog. Conducted by Scotland's foremost conductor Donald Runnicles, the soloists are soprano Erin Wall, mezzo-soprano Karen Cargill, tenor Bryan Hymel, and bass Eric Owens. The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra provides the music from the ominous score.

     As my listing hopefully well depicts, the 2013 Edinburgh International Festival is certainly not to be missed. It boasts the best in talent for its engagements, and the quality of the artistry excels beyond expectations. Though these artists could easily rest upon their laurels for their concerts and recitals here, they elect to forge new musical paths and to take chances that an audience may or may not enjoy. This, however, is the fiber of what continues to make our beloved classical music appeal to us, and this festival receives every applause from me in this regard.

     Moreover, for those of us who cannot attend this year's cultural celebration in Scotland, BBC Radio 3 is scheduled to broadcast a good many of these recitals and concerts either live or on a future date, which is a marvelous benefaction to many, myself included among them, who shall gladly take the opportunity we are afforded to hear these otherwise hidden gems. In addition to the glittering roster of artists I have mentioned, there are a fair amount of others whom I failed to reveal due to the constraints of time and a certain trial of leniency upon readers who may grow weary of perusing such lengthy lists of concert dates.

     As ever, I proffer my exceptional ingratiation to my loyal audience who continues to maintain some interest in my humble musings, and I do hope that you find these posts of mine informative in some manner. I leave you all to the divine providence of God, and I pray that all of you are and do pleasantly remain blessed. It is a privilege to write for you.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

What Is the Buying Power of $199 These Days? The Berlin Philharmoic's Digital Concert Hall's 2013-2014 Season

     There are not many of us in these present times who are untouched by the economic uncertainty and turmoil of inflation. If you, courteous readers, are without regard for such a calamity due to a life of affluence or luxurious wealth, I applaud your financial stewardship and acumen, and I stand in awe of your shrewd dealings. If, however, you are rather more related to me in such things, and you have a decidedly limited supply of capital to expend upon such a potentially trivial matter as entertainment, then this post shall have greater value for you.

     Scarcely do I know anyone who can procure every classical music or operatic concert ticket he or she fancies, and it is often that I hear tales from even those who afford themselves some of the most exhaustive budgets for such things that they must abstain from a concert here or there because the expense is too great for their allowance. It is with even greater frequency that I am informed of younger people who usually inhabit the student class who lament that they wish they could attend concerts or other performances at the expense of eating, and there is ever the dilemma that plagues concert audiences as to which performance they should see when they are forced to obtain one ticket or another.

     If you are fortunate enough to belong to the aforementioned class of students, there is some hope for you in this expensive world of refined entertainment. Many orchestras and opera houses, in an admirable effort to find more younger people to enhance and enliven their audiences, have introduced what are known as rush tickets. These are usually made available the day of the performance and can only be purchased in limited quantities with a student identification card. These usually come at a greatly reduced price, and they are generally excellent seats with a face value of over twice as much and oftentimes more. Of course, the value of the seat in more meaningful terms of sightline, accoustic situation, and other factors are superb, and, fear not, for it is my experience that your neighbors at either side of you usually never even guess that you paid a lesser amount than did they for such an exquisite evening's entertainment.

     Yes, this maximizes your buying power to a certain extent, and if you budget well, and you reside in a locale that features a good many performances every season, this can be an excellent strategy to employ for seeing the greatest quantity of performances, but it is to no avail when a favorite performer of yours visits the venue you frequent, and the event has sold its last ticket months in advance. Furthermore, it does not, in most cases outside of the Metropolitan Opera of New York, apply to those who are graduated from their educational pursuits. What is to aid people in these cases?

     It is here that we should do well to abandon the option of attending a live performance in the traditional sense and welcome the saving grace of the Internet to rescue us from the throes of grief that our limited budget of almost two hundred dollars can provide. Indeed, there are a great many offerings for live streaming of performances on the Internet. The BBC's iPlayer service does a more or less excellent effort at broadcasting and streaming them to users worldwide mostly through audio, and there are free options such as sonostream.tv, which is built upon Microsoft's Silverlight video encoding platform, the same as Netflix's streams. Medici.tv grants subscription holders access to its catalog of over 1,000 on demand concerts and art films, but free users may access its "live" concerts for up to thirty days, and sometimes more, which makes it a worthy alternative, but there is a final option for us to consider.

Sir Simon Rattle, Music Director of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra (Image courtesy of www.guardian.co.uk) 
      Within the last couple of weeks, I received the Berlin Philharmonic's Digital Concert Hall 2013-2014 season program guide. Since it is among distinguished conductor Sir Simon Rattle's final seasons with this exceptional world-class orchestra, I was intrigued to discover what masterpieces had been included in this season. I can honestly say that there were few performances that were listed that did not immediately capture my interest for some reason or another. With a season lasting from August 23, 2013, to June 10, 2014, it is among the longest in the sphere of classical music seasons, and its schedule of 40 events through the Digital Concert Hall is impressive. All of this comes at the utmost expense of $199 dollars a year, which equates to a cost of a mere five dollars a concert, and if you only enjoy half of them in the season, your charge is only doubled to ten dollars a performance, but this does not take into account the access this provides to the Digital Concert Hall's impressive archive of past performances, too, which gives you a plethora of other options for your entertainment wishes. Add to this fact the reality that they have a mobile application for iOS devices later than the iPhone 3GS and several smart television platforms, and you notice a technology infrastructure that is rivaled by few arts organizations in the world. A Windows 8 application for the Digital Concert Hall is available for native support in your new operating system, and an application is being developed for Android 4.0 and above. For those who are interested, the video is encoded in the H.264 standard and filmed in high definition. The sound is stereo channel sound encoded in the AAC codec, and the best quality rate of transfer is presently capped at 256 kilobytes per second, which could be better in my opinion.

     Of course, all of this means little without the talent to back it. While it is a well understood piece of knowledge that the Berlin Philharmonic is one of the foremost orchestral forces of the world with perhaps the greatest talent pool of any of their international rivals, any orchestra is only as good as the repertoire it delivers to the audience. If it plays all of the predictable pieces and lacks a sense of adventure and the musical leadership necessary to make each performance live with passion as if it was new in the hearts of the audience, its merits should matter not to most of us, and we should seek other talents to fill these voids. However, I am pleased to divulge that the Berlin Philharmonic wants for none of these banes to an orchestra.

      A study of the program book I received proves my preceding statement to be true. My natural inclination is to lean with the greatest predilection toward vocal music concerts, but I have lately had a desire to expand my knowledge of orchestral works. I am familiar with a good many of these, but my knowledge of vocal music and opera is much greater, and I should like to rather close the gap of knowledge between these two. It is with this in mind that I study the orchestral offerings, too, to see if anything appeals to my inner ear to hear and desire to learn more of the works that have made the truly great composers. If I was blessed enough to possess a season pass to the Digital Concert Hall, these are the orchestral concerts I should anticipate the most in the coming season.

Friday 23 August 2013, 7:00 PM: Mozart -- Sir Simon Rattle opens the Digital Concert Hall's season leading the Berlin Philharmonic in an all-Mozart program that includes his Symphony No. 39 in E-flat Minor, Symphony No. 40 in G Minor, and Symphony No. 41 in C Major, "Jupiter." Any music of Mozart's is worth hearing at least once, and one could do far worse than hearing the Berlin Philharmonic playing his works.

Saturday 14 September 2013, 8:00 PM: Lutoslawski, Janacek, and Bartok -- Alan Gilbert, Music Director of the New York Philharmonic, leads Berlin's orchestra in this enticing program including Janacek's Violin Concerto Putovani dusicky (The Pilgrimage of a Little Soul) and Wutoslawski's Symphony No. 4. Thomas Zehetmair is the violin soloist for the evening, and one can hardly ask for more gorgeous music than what Janacek wrote for such an emotive instrument.

Saturday 28 September 2013, 8:00 PM: Mahler -- Mahler's unfinished Symphony No. 10 is on the program for this particular evening, and maestro Daniel Harding, with whom I am sad to say that I am unfamiliar, leads the musical forces. It is interesting to note that the Berlin Philharmonic recorded this very work in 2000 under the baton of Sir Simon Rattle, so I am anxious to hear the differences in the color and mood of the piece in different leading hands.

Sunday 20 October 2013, 8:00 PM: Spatial Sounds -- Marking the 50th anniversary of the Philharmonie, the concert hall of the Berlin Philharmonic, is a gala performance featuring modern works, one of which is the premiere of Wolfgang Rihm's IN-SCHRIFT II, which was commissioned by the Berlin Philharmonic for the occasion. In homage to the classical music staples that have given it such prominence, such works are not entirely absent from the evening. Pianist Dame Mitsuko Uchida plays Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp Minor, "Sonata quasi una fantasia." Rattle conducts, of course.

Friday 6 December 2013, 8:00 PM: Stravinsky, Schubert, and Beethoven -- Darling of conductors and Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Gustavo Dudamel takes command of the orchestra for an evening of two suites by Stravinsky offset by two complete symphonies by Schubert and Beethoven. If nothing else, his charisma shall make this exquisite to watch in the hall or online.

Thursday 12 December 2013, 8:00 PM: Corelli and Vivaldi -- The Berliner Barock Solisten perform works by Corelli and Vivaldi in this program of Baroque music in its entirety under the direction of Rainer Kussmaul, who also lends his talents to the violin, and they are joined by Daishin Kashimoto on violin and Saskia Fikentscher playing recorder.

Saturday 1 February 2014, 8:00 PM: Dvorak and Lindberg -- Alan Gilbert returns to lead the Berlin Philharmonic in Dvorak's Cello Concerto in B Minor with Truis Mork as the cello soloist and Lindberg's Kraft for piano, cello, clarinet, percussion, and orchestra with the composer playing his own melodies and harmonies on piano.

Saturday 15 February 2014, 8:00 PM: Mozart, Messiaen, and Haydn -- Dame Mitsuko Uchida makes another appearance at the Philharmonie playing Mozart's Piano Concerto in B-flat Major Op. 18, K. 456 and Messiaen's Oiseaux exotiques for piano and small orchestra. Rattle leads the supporting orchestra again.

Saturday 15 March 2014, 8:00 PM: Mozart and Bruckner -- Bernard Haitink joins forces with legendary pianist Emmanuel Ax in a program of Mozart and Bruckner, a composer with whose works I am not as well versed as I should like. This promises to be an excellent foray into this relatively new composer to me.

Saturday 31 May 2014, 8:00 PM: Vieuxtemps and Tchaikovsky -- Conductor Tugan Sokhiev visits Berlin to lead the orchestra and violin virtuosa Hilary Hahn in Vieuxtemps's Violin Concerto No. 4 in D Minor.

     With such musical opulence as these concerts dare to promise, and with the great quantity of them to which we are rewarded over the course of the season, the vocal offerings should be no less of a glittering roster than this list I have just assembled. Despite such high expectations, I am pleased to reveal that even I was astonished at the superlative nature of the vocal concerts the Berlin Philharmonic have booked for the coming season. World renowned artists are juxtaposed with singers whose names many outside of their spheres have yet to hear, which is an ideal pairing for the furtherance of talent and the increased interest of the public. I was quite surprised to notice the quality of artistry that is to be expected throughout the year. I include some of these to provide something of a sample to my inquisitive readers to discern as to whether or not I speak truth in this matter.

Sunday 8 September 2013, 8:00 PM: Lutoslawski, Mahler, and Janacek -- Sir Simon Rattle conducts the orchestra in a performance of Mahler's Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen and Janacek's Glagolitic Mass with soprano Luba Orgonasova, mezzo-soprano Mihoko Fujimura, tenor Stuart Skelton, and baritone Christian Gerhaher. The baritone and tenor's talents are known to me, and their's are ones I admire, so it shall be quite educational and informative to see how the ladies compare to the gentlemen upon this evening in these two works that are as yet unheard to me.

Magdalena Kozena and Sir Simon Rattle (Image courtesy of www.osterfestspiele.de)
Saturday 19 October 2013, 8:00 PM: Bach -- Peter Sellars directs a staging of Johann Sebastian Bach's St. Matthew's Passion, and the prospect rather frightens me. I have never seen a work of his for which I have possessed any particular fondness, and his sense of fashion in both attire and coiffure is far beyond the realm of possibility for me to grasp, so I care little for his involvement. My focus is rather more concentrated on the aural bliss that shall come from Rattle's baton leading soprano Camilla Tilling, of whom I have heard excellent reports, his wife, mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kozena, whose voice fits a variety of repertoire and is ever at the least an interesting instrument since one never knows quite how her performance shall fare in repertoire in which one has not previously heard her, tenor Topi Lehtipuu, whose crystalline voice is quite exquisite and new to my ears, tenor Mark Padmore, baritone Eric Owens, who is ever a safe choice for any cast, and baritone Christian Gerhaher, who can be heard singing with Kozena on Boulez's recording of Mahler's Des Knaben Wunderhorn, an excellent addition to a library lacking a copy of this work.

Sunday 27 October 2013, 8:00 PM: Schoenberg -- Rattle again marshals impressive talent for Schoenberg's Gurre-Lieder in soprano Soile Isokoski, who, for my taste, is heard too little at the Met these days, mezzo-soprano Karen Cargill, whose musicality and amicability are beyond question if Twitter is of any indication, tenor Burkhard Ulrich, whose voice is a new one to my virgin ears, tenor Stephen Gould, and baritone Lester Lynch. In his post-retirement career, baritone Thomas Quasthoff makes an appearance as the Speaker, which makes an erudite addition to the cast.

Sunday 15 December 2013, 8:00 PM: Schumann -- Nikolaus Harnoncourt, in what I must imagine must be an increasingly rare appearance for him these days due to his lengthy career, leads the Berlin Philharmonic in a performance of Robert Schumann's Scenes from Goethe's Faust. The soloists are led by four stellar artists in soprano Dorothea Roschmann, bass-baritone Luca Pisaroni, bass-baritone Franz-Josef Selig, and baritone Christian Gerhaher. Joining them are soprano Martina Jankova, tenor Werner Gura, and contralto Wiebke Lehmkuhl. Beyond the inclusion of the former four artists something of interest is the inclusion of an actual contralto in the cast as opposed to a mezzo-soprano.

Sunday 21 December 2013, 8:00 PM: Abrahamsen and Brahms -- Young conductor Andris Nelsons, Music Director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in England and who is soon headed to the prestigious Boston Symphony Orchestra to accept the same position there, leads soprano Barbara Hannigan in a performance of a world premiere commissioned by the Berlin Philharmonic by Hans Abrahamsen entitled Let Me Tell You for soprano and orchestra. This captivates my imagination almost as much as a modern work performed by sopranos Hila Plitmann or Dawn Upshaw. I shall listen in rapt bliss, indeed.

Saturday 18 January 2014, 8:00 PM: Crumb and Bruckner -- Legendary maestro of distinguished musical intelligence Zubin Mehta takes the podium conducting soprano Marlis Petersen singing Crumb's Ancient Voices of Children for mezzo-soprano, boy soprano, and small orchestra. This is a new work to my ears, and it promises a subject of immense pleasure and tremendous emotion.

Friday 28 February 2014, 8:00 PM: Bach -- Rattle assembles much of his previous cast for Bach's St. John's Passion, which is again staged by Sellars. An addition to the former group of soloists is baritone Roderick Williams. This shall be an excellent complement to Bach's St. Matthew's Passion.

     As many of my kind readers shall see from these concerts I have listed, there are many incentives and inspirations to purchasing a subscription to the Berlin Philharmonic's Digital Concert, and the cost of $199 is paltry, indeed, for such marvelous musical gems as these have ever hope and intention of being. If I had such an amount at my disposal, I could hardly elect a better manner in which to spend it on entertainment. Likewise, subscriptions are available monthly with automatic renewal and at thirty day intervals and weekly intervals without renewal in addition to the annual option, which also comes without automatic renewal. The Digital Concert Hall's partners this year are Deutsche Bank and Sony. With Sony's Bravia smart television systems, Sony Entertainment Network customers receive the free application for their system pre-installed, and they are granted with a thirty day free access period of the entire live schedule as it is premiered and the archive, which is certainly an incentive to upgrade your television if you have yet to do so. You will need an Internet connection to access this content.

     I hope that all of my gracious audience who peruse my posts with any predilection and liking have enjoyed this post and found it at least somewhat informative for scheduling their season of classical music concerts to attend. It has certainly helped to shape mine, and I shall gladly wait in anticipation for the performances of which I have spoken to greet us, for the Berlin Philharmonic also included a free seven day pass to the Digital Concert Hall in my season program booklet packet. My greatest obstacle now shall be deciding which week in which to employ it. Which concerts draw your greatest degree of excitement in this glittering season? Do leave a comment, or send me a Tweet to provide such information if you are so inclined. I express my gratitude to all of you for your continued reading, and I humbly leave you in the love and mercy of our Lord and Savior Christ Jesus, whose grace is all that can save us from sin and death in the spirit.

(Image courtesy of www.examiner.com)