Spotlight: The Yundi Li-Lang Lang 'Rivalry'; Cover Girl Anna Netrebko; a Classical Celebrity Encounter

Classic Arts News   Spotlight: The Yundi Li-Lang Lang 'Rivalry'; Cover Girl Anna Netrebko; a Classical Celebrity Encounter
What the stars are up to onstage and off.

The "other" young Chinese pianist, Yundi Li, made a successful recital debut in Carnegie Hall early this month, stepping in for Murray Perahia, who canceled due to the flare-up of a finger injury. Li played Schumann, Mozart, and Liszt, earning favorable reviews and, inevitably, comparisons to his supposed nemesis, pianist Lang Lang. The press and the two pianists' record label, Deutsche Grammophon, have made much of the alleged rivalry between Lang Lang and Li, who were both born in China in 1982 and burst on the international scene a year apart. Lang Lang has garnered tons of publicity thanks to his flamboyant manner and playful demeanor. Li has been positioned as the more contemplative of the two. For their part, the two young musicians profess respect for each other's artistry. But both seem to invite comparisons by performing the same heavyweight Romantic repertory, and some concert promoters are apparently eager to cash in on the rivalry; this month, Li played Schumann, Liszt, and Mozart at the Music Center at Strathmore, outside Washington. A few days later, Lang showed up at the same hall, with a program of, yes, Schumann, Liszt, and Mozart. That prompted the Washington Post to ask, "Why not just put a boxing ring onstage and have at it?"

It looks like April belongs to Anna Netrebko. The Russian diva graces a slew of publications this month, ranging from Opera News to Vogue, in which she reposes in soft focus as the straps of a red, ruffled Dolce & Gabbana dress slip gently off her shoulders and a sultry pout forms on her lips. The curvaceous soprano gives up her fashion secrets to the glossy mag, saying that she says she favors American designers (Tracy Reese, Nanette Lepore) and likes to mix colors and accessories so she doesn't look "too perfect." And when she's home alone, she eschews high fashion altogether in favor of comfy pajamas. The Netrebko media blitz coincides with her April performances as Norina in the Metropolitan Opera's new production of Donizetti's comedy Don Pasquale. The Met was counting on the glamorous 34-year-old soprano to deliver big box office numbers in a largely lackluster season; Netrebko—costumed to show off her shapely legs—delivered, delighting audiences and critics with both her voice and her agility: in addition to handling vocal acrobatics, she performs a somersault on a lounge chair and bounds up a set of stairs two at a time. The New York Times called her performance "dazzling" while the Associated Press said, "this will go down as the season Metropolitan Opera audiences fell in love with Anna Netrebko." Don Pasquale made it clear that Netrebko was back on her game after a brief bout of uncertainty. Several months ago, she canceled her Carnegie hall debut, scheduled for this spring, saying she wasn't ready. She also pulled out of a concert scheduled for Kansas City. Netrebko did make back to St. Petersburg recently to record a CD of Russian opera arias conducted by Valery Gergiev, the man credited with discovering the soprano 12 years ago.

It's not every day you encounter a world-famous virtuoso at an ATM. So what are the odds of two of them showing up at the same machine? Violinist Hilary Hahn blogs that when she stopped at an ATM on London's Marylebone High Street recently to withdraw cash for a taxi, none other than pianist Leif Ove Andsnes stepped up behind her to use the same machine. The two, who hadn't seen each other since they both performed at the Verbier Festival in Switzerland seven years ago, spent a few minutes catching up before Hahn got her money and caught a cab for the airport. Hahn was in London to get her violin refurbished—a piece had come unglued, giving the instrument a "foggy" tone. She then headed to Sweden for a series of recording sessions for her next album. That disc, due out in September, features two Romantic violin concertos that don't get played much these days: Paganini's First and the even rarer Concerto No. 8 by Spohr. The CD ties in with the upcoming release of Hahn's first DVD—a "road" picture depicting her life on and off the stage.

Pierre-Laurent Aimard, one of the most musically adventurous pianists on the circuit, recently premiered a work that required him to play not one but two keyboards. Aimard played Peter E‹tv‹s's piano concerto CAP-KO with the Bavarian Radio Symphony, conducted by the composer. The piece, an unusual joint commission by five European orchestras (the Bavarian Radio Orchestra, the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam and the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France), was written for Aimard to mark the birthday of Bela Bart‹k, who would have turned 125 on March 26. Aimard performed the work on a normal grand piano that was part of the orchestra and on a digital MIDI keyboard that provided an expanded range of sounds. Munich newspapers applauded both the music and Aimard's dexterity. After playing CAP-KO with the other orchestras that commissioned it, Aimard is getting ready to head to the United States for a more conventional assignment—he will play Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 1 later this month with the Los Angeles Philharmonic under David Robertson. He is also schedule to play Stravinsky and Elliott Carter in June with the New York Philharmonic.

Seemingly overnight, Los Angeles' new Disney Concert Hall has become a local icon. Esa-Pekka Salonen, the Los Angeles' Philharmonic's music director, notes that almost every Hollywood car chase now zooms past the shimmering, Frank Gehry-designed building and many an advertiser with artistic pretensions uses the undulating hall as a backdrop. For some reasons, the building seems to be a special favorite of lingerie makers. So Salonen wasn't fazed when he showed up for work one morning and found supermodel Cindy Crawford standing outside his office in a black brassiere. "I thought that very clearly the building is making progress in integrating itself into various layers of our culture," he told Bloomberg News ... Bass-baritone Bryn Terfel has been named the 2006 winner of the Shakespeare Prize, an annual award honoring contributions to European culture in English-speaking countries in Europe. Past winners include Graham Greene, Simon Rattle, Richard Attenborough, and Matthew Bourne ... Rising star soprano Magdalena Kozenš just finished recording an album of her favorite Handel arias. The disc is due out next year. Later this month, she plans to join Terfel in the studio to record a Mozart disc.

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