BMInt contributor and Boston harpsichordist and scholar Mark Kroll recently returned from a month in Europe, in the Czech Republic, Poland, France and England, where he was engaged with repertoire from the 17th to 21st centuries as a performer, teacher, competition juror and lecturer. He seems to have worn quite a number of different musical hats during this recent visit to Europe.
BMInt: Where did you go, what did you do, and more importantly, what did you hear and play?
Mark Kroll: My first stop was Prague, where I spent 10 days at the invitation of the Prague Spring Festival and Competition. I performed a featured recital for the Festival, co-sponsored by Boston’s own Terezin Music Foundation, playing solo 18th-century works by F. Couperin and Claude Balbastre, a contemporary piece by Toru Takemitsu (“Rain Dreaming”), a sonata for violin and harpsichord by the late Czech composer Viktor Kalabis, and two chamber pieces written and premiered especially for this concert by Pablo Ortiz and Vit Zouhar. The church in which we played, incidentally, still has an organ played by both Haydn and Mozart. A useful link is here.
To my pleasant surprise, the house was full and enthusiastic, despite the fact that we were competing with another festival concert that same evening: the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Daniel Barenboim. There is hope for the harpsichord yet! I was especially pleased because I thought all the music on our program was first class, and I predict that the Ortiz and Zouhar pieces will become staples of the contemporary harpsichord literature. Being in Prague also helps. It has always been a great musical city (Mozart loved it, as we know, and they loved him) and I couldn’t have asked for a better reception from both the officials of the Festival and the public.
I was also the President of the Jury of the Prague International Harpsichord Competition, and thus was busy every day with 41 candidates from Europe, North America, and Asia. We heard some really significant harpsichord talent during the week. The other jurors came from Holland, Germany, the Czech Republic, France and Hungary, and I think we did a very careful and fair job in choosing the winners. It wasn’t easy.
The morning after my Prague recital I flew to Krakow, where I gave two days of master classes for the harpsichord students of Elzbieta Stefanska at the Academy of Music. I have done this a number of times over the years, and I always know that I will find some wonderful students in Elzbieta’s class. This time was no exception, and I even taught a visiting harpsichord student from Sicily who was studying in Krakow on an Erasmus Fellowship (which is somewhat like our Fulbright awards, and can be counted among the good things the European Union has produced). Elzbieta and I also had a blast playing two recitals for two harpsichords, first in Krakow at its beautiful baroque Florianka Hall, and then in Katowice. I always say that the only thing better than a recital for one harpsichord is a recital for two harpsichords—but then again, I may a bit biased. Seriously though, the 2-harpsichord literature is really quite interesting and beautiful. It also demands some hair-trigger ensemble playing. There is no “sneaking” in on a harpsichord: if you are not together, everyone knows it. A link to a clip from the Katowice concert is here.
Then talk about culture shock, I changed hats, languages, instruments and centuries, and ended up at a Hummel Festival in Bordeaux. But I survived, especially since our host, Ian Christians, always reminds us that we get “a French chef and a French cellar.” The Hummel Festival takes place near the charming little town of Gensac, in the middle of some beautiful countryside where you see nothing but vineyards for miles. It has become a sort of meeting place for “Hummelians.” Manfred Kanngiesser, director of the Hummel Society of Weimar, was there with his wife Christal, and the variety of Hummel works one hears, and the quality of performance, is astounding. I only gave a few pre-concert lectures on this visit, but I also premiered excerpts from some Masonic songs written by Hummel. I was asked about these a few months ago by a journalist in Vienna working on Masonic influences who couldn’t find them in the online catalogue of the British Library, where they were supposed to be. Fortunately, I was going to the BL shortly after he wrote, and there they were! The song I performed last month was written in honor of Goethe.
BMInt: Will we get to hear much from you in Boston next season and can we expect some reviews and articles from you or reports on your upcoming publications?
Absolutely, although I am still on the road quite a bit. One concert in Boston to which I am very much looking forward, however, is at the Harvard Musical Association in January (unfortunately private), where my colleagues from the Boston Symphony Chamber Players and I will perform Henri Duttileux’s “Les Citations” for Oboe, Double Bass, Harpsichord and Percussion. This fabulous work is another contemporary masterpiece for harpsichord and, I hope, fast becoming a staple in the repertoire. I will also be playing some solo harpsichord recitals in New England this fall (all F. Couperin, of course) and I am still plugging away at my Moscheles biography, for which I found some new information in Prague (Moscheles’s birthplace). I have also just been asked to edit Hummel’s cello sonata for Bärenreiter. So I guess I had better keep all my hats ready for next season — including, I promise — one as a reviewer for BMInt.