John Axelrod to record unique Brahms symphonies + Clara Schumann Lieder cycle, exploring the symphonies as four sides of the woman with whom Brahms was obsessed
“I can do nothing but think of you…” – Johannes Brahms, letter to Clara Schumann in 1855, the year he started composing his First Symphony in earnest
In a fascinating new concept, John Axelrod (2012 ICMA Award winner and winner of the ResMusica “Best Classical CD of 2012”) is to spearhead a multi-year exploration of the relationship between Brahms and the woman he loved, Clara Schumann, as depicted in their music. “If you listen to the Brahms symphonies,” says Axelrod, “each of them seems to inhabit a completely different, though connected, character. Then, if you listen to the songs of Clara Schumann, they also fall clearly into a very similar four moods. I believe that Clara’s own personality is in those songs, and so if that is true, it is also possible to think of the four Brahms symphonies as portraits of Clara – four different aspects of her.”
To explore this idea, four CDs will – for the first time - each pair a Brahms symphony with its ‘matching’ set of five of Clara’s Lieder. And to illustrate it further, there will be four different world-class singers as Clara, each a different voice-type (including one man!) - a fitting project to start in 2013, the 180th anniversary year of Brahms’s birth. Says Axelrod, “Brahms loved, and he was beloved – and they shared what Clara once called in her diary, ‘the most beautiful mutual understanding of two souls’. That is there in his symphonies, it finds its image in her songs.”
In the symphonies, Axelrod will conduct the Grammy Award-winning Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi (who, says Axelrod “truly play Brahms con amore”) and in the songs he will accompany from the piano. For the first release, in September 2013, the second and fourth symphonies will be coupled with songs sung by, respectively, Ana Maria Martinez and Indra Thomas. The second set of two symphonies and Lieder will be issued in 2014. The producer for the recording is multiple Grammy Award-winner Michael Fine, and fellow Grammy-winner Wolf Dieter Karwatky is engineer.
“This is a major release for Telarc, and perhaps one of the most fascinating we’ve ever done,” says Telarc’s Vice President of Marketing Jason Linder, “John Axelrod has not only emerged as one of the finest conductors of today, he is also one of the music world’s great innovators and both sides of him come together in this concept.”
* John Axelrod is Principal Conductor of the Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi, as well as Music Director of the Orchestre National des Pays et des Loire (ONPL). A former pupil of Leonard Bernstein, he is one of today’s most in-demand conductors. Recent recordings include a much-praised Berlioz and Ravel disc with Veronique Gens and the ONPL for Ondine Classics (which led respected US broadcaster Tom Manoff to write, “Just when I was beginning to worry about the future of classical music, I’m discovering new great conductors [like John Axelrod]”), “American Serenade” (“5 stars” – Diapason) with the ONPL and violinist Rachel Kolly d’Alba (Warner Classics), and Gorecki’s Third Symphony with the Danish National Symphony Orchestra for Sony Classical.
He regularly conducts other leading orchestras including the Leipzig Gewandhaus, Chicago Symphony and NHK Symphony and conducted the La Scala premiere of Bernstein’s Candide. He recently conducted a world tour with superstar pianists Lang Lang and Herbie Hancock. He has been fascinated by challenging musical preconceptions since his early days in Houston when he founded the boundary-breaking “Orchestra X”. His book, “How Great Music Is Made, Or Not” was recently published to critical acclaim in German by Schott-Henschel and will be published in English later this year.
* Ana Maria Martinez is one of the most admired lyric sopranos working today, singing in many of the world’s premier opera houses, including the Metropolitan Opera, the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, Los Angeles Opera. She frequently works with Placido Domingo, in both of his guises as singer and conductor. She scored a particular success recently as Dvorak’s Rusalka at Glyndebourne, a show that was both live-streamed online and issued on CD.
* Indra Thomas, a more dramatic-voiced soprano, opened the BBC Proms in 2006 and has sung with the New York Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra and the Metropolitan Opera. She is especially noted as a leading Aida, a part she has sung around the world, from Chicago’s Lyric Opera to the Bregenz Festival to London’s Royal Albert Hall.
* The Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi was founded in 1993 by Vladimir Delman, and subsequent music directors, conductors emeritus and principal guest conductors include Riccardo Chailly, Carlo Maria Giulini, Rudolf Barshai, Helmut Rilling and Wayne Marshall. Xian Zhang is the current Music Director, John Axelrod the Principal Conductor. The orchestra’s recordings have won success and awards, including a Gramophone Award, Classic FM People’s Choice, the Choc de l’Annee and, in 2010, the Grammy (for “Verismo Arias” with Renee Fleming).