Sunday, August 7, 2011

While on a weekend excursion, composer Benjamin Britten read poems by the nineteenth century Frenchman Arthur Rimbaud, and stated, "I must put them to music." Whereas many others - even the notoriously nationalistic French - had passed over Rimbaud's works, considering them too thorny for lyrical settings, Britten was deeply affected by them and felt a strong affinity with the author; especially familiar to Britten was Rimbaud's sense of cynicism, and a longing for the innocence of childhood. In writing "Les Illuminations" (1939) - a song cycle written for high voice and string orchestra - he not only embraced the French language, but also distinctly French elements of style; this marks the beginnings of his move away from certain identifiable "Britishisms", and toward a more cosmopolitan and personal style (All Music Guide). Watch a performance of Britten's "Les Illuminations" with soprano Laura Aikin and The Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Sir Neville Marriner conducting . . . one of this week's FEATURED NEW MUSIC VIDEOS.

Michael Daugherty is one of the most commissioned, performed, and recorded composers on the American concert music scene today. His music is rich with cultural allusions and bears the stamp of classic modernism, with colliding tonalities and blocks of sound; at the same time, his melodies can be eloquent and stirring. Daugherty has been hailed by The Times (London) as "a master icon maker" with a "maverick imagination, fearless structural sense and meticulous ear." Daugherty first came to international attention when the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, conducted by David Zinman, performed his "Metropolis Symphony" at Carnegie Hall in 1994. Since that time, Daugherty’s music has entered the orchestral, band and chamber music repertory and made him, according to the League of American Orchestras, one of the ten most performed living American composers. Listen to and watch Michael Daugherty in conversation with Frank J. Oteri of NewMusicBox . . . it's our COMPOSER PORTRAIT for the week.

Giorgio Koukl is a pianist/harpsichordist and composer who resides in the beautiful town of Lugano, located in the Italian speaking canton of Ticino in southern Switzerland. He was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia (now Czech Republic) and studied there at the State Music School and Conservatoire. In 1968 he moved to Switzerland, continuing his studies at both the Conservatories of Zurich and Milan. Koukl is the prizewinner of many international music competitions including those of Ciudad Ibague (Colombia), Tolosa (Spain), Viotti (Italy), the H.Rahn competition (Switzerland) and the Alienor Competition (Washington DC). A truly international performer and composer, Koukl has given many recitals and concerto performances, and his compositions have received first performances in many major European cities, in Asia, and in the United States. Frequently broadcast both as soloist and a composer, Koukl has collaborated in all his capacities with such organizations as the BBC London, RTSI Lugano, SRG Zurich, SSR Geneve, SFB Berlin, SWF Baden-Baden, WDR Köln, RTHK Hong-Kong, CR Prague, Radio Malta, Radio Vatican, ORF Vienna, NRC Oslo and SF Stuttgart. Listen to a performance of Giorgio Koukl's "Five Miniatures" (1976) . . . it's one of our PYTHEAS EARFULS for the week.

French director Georges Franju's "Les Yeux sans visage" (Eyes Without a Face) (1960) is an unsettling, sometimes poetic, horror film. Pierre Brasseur plays a brilliant plastic surgeon (Prof. Genessier), who has vowed to restore the face of his daughter, Christiane (Edith Scob), who was mutilated in an automobile accident. With the help of his assistant (Alida Valli), he kidnaps young women, surgically removes their facial features, and attempts to graft their beauty onto his daughter's hideous countenance. Franju's haunting, muted handling of basic horror material is what lifts "Les Yeux sans visage" out of the ordinary and into the realm of near-classic. Often cited as one of the most poetic horror films ever committed to celluloid, "Les Yeux sans visage" has a lingering effect that conjures more melancholy malaise than outright fright. Franju opts for a deliberate pacing that perfectly compliments the somber tone of his dark tale, and cinematographer Eugen Schufftan's moody nighttime photography provides the ideal visual representation of the inner turmoil experienced by both the father who longs to make up for past indiscretions (regardless of the pain he inflicts to achieve his goal) and the daughter whose horrendous appearance serves as a constant reminder of the mistake that will haunt him to the grave. French composer Maurice Jarre created an equally haunting score for the film (AMG Review). Watch an excerpt from Les Yeux sans visage . . . this week's FROM THE PYTHEAS ARCHIVES.

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