After a long and difficult search , the world-famous Boston symphony orchestra has chosen a new music director , 34 year old Latvian Andris Nelsons, who is currently music director of the City Of Birmingham symphony orchestra in England . Nelsons will fill the shoes of the eminent but ailing American conductor James Levine ,who was forced to resign because of severe back trouble and various injuries caused by accidents .
Although not a household name , Nelsons has conducted many of the world's greatest orchestras with considerable success for several years as well as at the Metropolitan opera and other leading opera companies . From all reports , he has earned the respect and admiration of the demanding musicians of the world's great orchestras , something which is not easy to win , as they do not impress easily . Nelsons was rumored to be one of the most likely candidates to win this prestigious appointment .
He follows in the footsteps of such legendary Boston symphony music directors as Serge Koussevitzky , Pierre Monteux, Charles Munch, Erich Leinsdorf ,and more recently ,Seiji Ozawa and James levine , and will assume his post beginning with the 2014-15 season . Ndelsons has appeared with such storied orchestras as the Berlin Philharmonic , the Royal Concertgebouw orchestra of Amsterdam , the Vienna Philharmonic , the New York Philharmonic etc and has had considerable success at the Wagner festival in Bayreuth Germany .
Despite his youth , Nelsons has a wide repertoire and is committed to programming contemorary music , which is vital for the health of orchestras everywhere in order to ensure that they do not stagnate . Only time will tell how Nelsons and the Boston symphony will fare in the course of classical music in America , but for the time being , things are looking up for this storied orchestra .
A recent production of Wagner's opera Tannhauser (Tann - hoy-zer ) at the Dusseldorf opera in Germany has opened up a hornet's nest of controversy in the opera world . Outrageous productions of operas are the norm in German opera houses ,and have been for many years ,as well in other European countries , but this one took the cake for sheer perversity .
The director of the production , one Burkhard C. Kosminski , has set the production in Nazi Germany , despite the fact that it is set in that country in medieval times . Huh ? The minstrel knight Heinrich Tannhauser is the protagonist , and he is a member of the Minnesanger, or the German equivalent of the Troubadors of southern France . He is a member of the medieval German nobility who sings of the medieval ideal of chaste love from afar . He is ostracied by the supposedly chaste and puritanical community of Minnesanger (Minne being an archaic German word for love ) because he has dallied with the goddess Venus, who lures men to her grotto in a cave with her voluptuois nymphs for a life of orgiastic self-indulgence .
So they send him off on a pilgrimage of penitence to Rome in order to beg forgiveness from the Pope . Although the Pope tells him that his dalliance with the goddess of love has doomed him to eternal damnation , he dies in the end ,miraculously redeemed . What the heck does this have to do with Nazi Germany ? Absolutely nothing . Kosminski portrays Jews being executed by the *** for sheer shock effect in this production set in the 1940s .
There was so much outrage in the press and the public that the production was cancelled by the administration of the Dusseldorf opera after only one performance and the following performances are beinbg done in concert form, that is without sets and costumes as is sometimes done when symphony orchestras perform operas in the concert hall rather than the opera house .
Kosminski explained that he had no intention of offending anyone in the audience who might be Jewish , but this did not hold water . He complained of censorship . A production of the same opera back in the late 80s by the Chicago Lyric opera took a similar revisionist approach but without being anywhere near as arbitrary and perverse . At least the production had some similarities to the original story .This time, the opera was set America, and Tannhauser is a televangelist and country wetsern style singer who must repent for having spent time in a legal brothel in Nevada, and flies off to Rome ! , also hoping for a Papal pardon, even though he is not a Cathoilic .
The Met's recent production of Verdi's Rigoletto, which is set among the decadent Italian aristocracy in 16th century Mantua Italy , has been updated to Las Vegas in the 1960s . Here too , the production is set in an environment which is not at all off the mark . In the original, Rigoletto is the hunchback court jester to the libertine duke of Mantua , and is terrified of the Duke seducing his innocent motherless young daughter , whom he keeps isolated for her own protection . But everything goes horribly wrong .
In the Met production , the duke is a handsome and charismatic Vegas singer who is also a serial womanizer , and Rigoletto is a Don Rickles like commedian in his act . This taped production will be shown on PBS this Friday evening, and you can check tis out on the Met's website metopera.org . You can also see it streamed over the internet .
How far can directors and designers go in making travesties of beloved staples of the operatic repertoire ? Just when you think they could not possibly be more outrageous , they never fail to outdo themselves, particularly in Germany . Will this madness never end ? The operatic world is eagerly awaiting th ebicentennial production at the Bayreuth festival this Summer of Wagner's mighty Ring of the Nibelungen, the epic portrayal of Germanic and Scandinavian mythology . There have already been numerous productions of it which take ridiculous liberties with story , and who knows what will ensue at the Wagner shrine this Summer . Chances are it won't be pretty .
If you want to see an excellent traditional realistic production of Tannhauser on DVD , get the one from the Metropolitan opera conducted by James Levine , which should be easy to find at amazon.com .
I hate to harp on Greg Sandow and his constant complaints about how there is supposedly something very wrong about the world of classical music and that unless our orchestras and other classical institution change radically , they are doomed to irrelevance and lack of an audience, particularly one with lots of young people attending . I like the guy and of course he means well . However, he's barking up the wrong tree .
I've come up with a name for this onslaught on orchestras etc ; it's "The classical blame game ". If only classical musicians would play in a freer , more spontaneous way , more people would attend concerts .Supposedly . If only concerts weren't such stuffy affairs, more people would come .If only musicians would stop wearing tuxedos or black ties at concerts, more people would come . If only orchestras played more new music, audiences would increase . If only classical musicians weren't so obsessed with accuracy of performance rather than spontaneous communication with audiences , more people would come . Yadda yadda yadda .
Somehow, it's always the musician's fault , or the fault of orchestra managements if they're having such a rough time increasing their audiences and attracting more younger people to concerts . But has Sandow ever considere the fact that one of the main reasons it's so difficult to increase the audience for classical music are other factors ? For example, the myth that classical music is "stuffy,boring and elitist," which too many people accept blindly ? Or the fact that so many people just aren't aware of how enjoyable classical music could be if they just GAVE IT A CHANCE ?
Or that too many people in America of whatever age just haven't had any exposure to classical music ? The problem is certainly not a lack of excellence in performances ; on the contrary , standards of performance are higher than ever . There are so many outstanding conductors, solo violinists, cellists ,concert pianists etc , and there are more world class orchestras in America than ever before . There is no lack of new music at concerts .
But how can you expect to attract more people with new music alone when they have never even heard the great symphonies ,concertos and other works of Mozart,Beethoven, Schubert,Brahms,Tchaikovsky and other great composers of the past ? If your first exposure to classicla music at a concert is a program of Elliott Carter, Milton Babbitt ,Charles Wuorinen or other composers of esoteric and complex modern music, you are going to be completely baffled by it .
New audiences need a context, a frame of reference, before they are ready to hear contemporary music, and that context is the great works of the past . And newcomers ot concerts should not really be concerned with what themusicians wear on stage ; these concerts are not displays of fashion . They should just concentrate on THE MUSIC .
Another problem Sandow has often mentioned is that newsomers often tend to applaud between movements of a symphony or ocncertos, and are often hushed by experienced concertgoers , and this sometimes intimidates them and causes them to decide they don't want to attend any more ocncerts, which is unfortunate . I suppose it wouldn't be a bad idea if applause before th eend of a work became more ocmmon , but many performers seem to get unnerved by mid performance applause and it upsets their concentration . Why not just explain this to newcomers to concerts ?
So let's stop blaming the victims, namely the performers ,for their plight and explore other ways to expand the audience for classicla music in America . It won't be easy , but we need to stop barking up the wrong tree .
The world of classical music has just lost one of its greatest conductors . The eminent British maestro Sir Colin Davis, 85 , has passed away after a brief illness not long after leading his final concerts in London . Sir Colin never fit the stereotype of the glamorous ,flamboyant playboy of the podium which so many people have in their minds when they think of world famous conductors . He always put the music first and not his own ego .
In hsi long and distinguished career , he conducted a remarkably wide range of orchestral and operatic repertoire with most of the world's foremost orchestras and opera companies , and held posts as the head of the London symphony orchestra , the Royal Opera in London , the B.B.C. symphony orchestra of London , and the Bavarian Radio symphony of Munich . His association with the London symphony orchestra lasted no fewer than five decades , several as principal conductor in the 1990s up to about 2007 , and his music directorship of London's Royal opera company was remarkably fruitful .
In America , Sir Colin was a regular guest conductor with the Boston symphony, New York Philharmonic and Cleveland orchestras , and led several acclaimed new productions at the Metropolitan opera . In Europe, he regularly conducted such leading orchestras as the Dresden State orchestra , The Royal Concertgebouw orchestra of Amsterdam , and the Vienna and Berlin Philharmonics .
Davis made a wide variety of recordings , many for the now defunct Philips label with these orchestras and opera companies of works ranging from George Frideric Handel to music by leading 20thcentury composer ssuch as Benjamin Britten ,Sir Michael Tippett and others . He also made recordings for R.C.A. records, Sony Classical , and other labels , many of which have have been widely acclaimed by both critics and listeners everywhere .
Sr Colin was particlarly noted for his championship of the quirky and highly original music of Hector Berlioz , and recorded virtually his entire orchestral ,choral and operatic output , re-recording some of them several times . Sme 40 years ago , he made the first complete recording of "Les Troyens" in London with the Royal opera i , revealing this elusive ,difficult and monumental opera for as towering masterpiece it is , as well as the first recording of the scintillating comic opera "Benvenuto Cellinoi" ,based on the life of the rogue Italian goldsmith and sculptor .
There are also acclained recordings of the Berlioz "Symphonie Fantastique," his most famous work, which Sir Colin recorded no fewer than four times , plus the monumental Requiem , etc .
Mozart was another composer for which sir Colin was renowned , and he made acclained recordings of all seven of Mozart's mature operas for Philips, The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, The Magic Flute , The Abduction from the Seraglio, Idomeneo and La Clemenza di Tito , with some of the world's foremost opera singers . Plus Mozart's greatest symphonies concertos and choral works .
Davis was the foremost champion of the great but quirky English composer Sir Michael Tippett , (1905 - 1998 ) , and was a close friend , recording Tippett's operas "The Midsummer marriage", The Knot Garden", and a variety of symphonies ,concertos and other works of this composer .
There are also recordings of operas by Benjamin Britten, such as "Peter Grimes", " A Midsummer Night's Dream , Wagner's Lohengrin ,Beethoven's Fidelio , Weber's "Der Freischutz", Verdi's "Falstaff ", and other operas , as well as the complete symphonies of Beethoven, no fewer than three recordings of th eseven Sibelius symphonies, )another composer for which he was famous ), a variety of Haydn symphonies , and ones by Brahms, Dvorak, Elgar, Bruckner,Mahler , Schubert ,etc .
Although he was never a flashy interpreter , his performances were anything but dull and staid . He always thought deeply about the music , its meaning and significance , and sought to delve as deeply as possible into both the spirit and letter of the wroks .
As a young man, Sir Colin's path toward becoming a conductor was far from easy ; he studied clarinet at the Royal college of music in London , but his ambitions to study conducting there were were stymied by his lack of skill playing the piano , which is an important instrument for conductors to be able to play . But he managed to work his way up the ladder of podium success starting as an assistant conductor with various musicla organizations such as the Sadlers/Wells opera of london, now the English National opera , and his big break came in the late 1950s when he was a last minute substitute for a concert performance to be conducted by legendary German conductor Otto Klemperer ( 1885-1973 ) when the elder conductor was indisposed , and as they say, the rest is history . The musicians of the world's leading orchestras , who are often highly critical of the ocductors who lead them and are not easily impressed , had nothing but the greatest respect and admiration for him .
There is no question that Sir Colin Davis will go down in music history as one of the greatest conductors of the 20th century . R.I.P.
It was only until fairly recently that the profession of orchestral and operatic conducting was an exclusively male one, as well as almost exclusively white . Was it sexism alone , or a lack of women aiming to make a mark in this difficult, demanding and highly competitive field ? It's difficult to say .
It's never been an easy profession to break into , and traditionally , one became a conductor by working as a rehearsal pianist in an opera house as well as assisitng the conductor with rehearsals, preparing the chorus , conducting offstage bands , which are quite common in opera ,etc . Eventually, if one showed one's mettle, one would be assigned some performances to conduct , gradually achieving more prominence , getting invited to conduct at other opera hpouses and eventually moving to concert halls to conduct orchestral works .
So many of the greatest ocnductors have started this way, and there is no better hands on training for this very difficult and complex profession . They include such legendary names as Otto Klemperer, Gustav Mahler, Bruno Walter, Sor Georg Solti, Herbert Von Karajan, Erich Kleiber and his son Carlos , Karl Bohm, Erich Leinsdorf, George Szell , Antal Dorati, Fritz Reiner , and many others .
Beginning with the second half of the 20th century , conservatories and university music schools began to offer graduate degrees in conducting , and Leionard Bernstein , Leoard Slatkin, James Levine , Riccardo Muti , and many more recent conductors have begun this way, studying with eminent conductors such as Fritz Reiner , George Szell, Serge Koussevitzky , who taught not at conservatories but the Summer Tanglewood festival in Massachuissetts, among others . Becoming the protegee of a famous conductor was they way to make contacts in the field .
But where were women conductors all this time ? The eminent French composition teacher Nadia Boulanger ( 1887 - 1979) , who taught so many great 20th century composers , was active as a conductor and was the first woman to conduct the New York Philharmonic , but that was not her primary activity . A Dutch woman , Antonia Brico , had something of a career but never achieved the prominence of the greatest male maestros .
In America , the pioneering Sarah Cadwelll (1924-2006) founded the Boston opera , and performed many important 20th century operas by Schoenberg and others , as well as staging them . Beverly Sills was one of many renowned singers who were attracted to her enterpising productions, and in 1976 , she became the first woman to condut at the Metropolitan opera with Verdi's La Traviata . She also conducted orchestral repertoire and appeared with the New York Philharmonic ,Cleveland orchestra and other leading orchestras .
Eve Queler (1936), founded the Opera Orchestra of New York , which was devoted to giving concert performances of numerous rarely performed yet interesting and important operas by Meyerbeer, Massenet , Rossini, Donizetti , and other composers , primarily in Carnegie hall . She also attracted many of the greatest opera singers of the time as well as giving opportunities for promising young vocal talents . She used an orchestra consisting of some of New York's finest free lance musicians , and several of her performances were recorded live . She has recently retired , but the OONY as it is known, continues to the present day . She has a very devoted and enthusiastic audience audience of New York opera fans .
More recently ,Marin Alsop , (1956-) a protegee of Leonard Bernsttein at Tanglewood , has become perhaps the most high profile woman conductor of the present day , and was appointed the first music director of one of America's major orchestras, the Baltimore symphony several years ago , and has recently been appointed music director of the Sao Paolo symphony in Brazil, as well as formerly heading England's Bounemputh symphony, one of England's leading regional orchestras . She has made recordings for the Naxos label in Baltimore, Bournemouth and London of a wide variety of repertoire .
Joann Faletta , a Juilliard conducting pupil of the distinguished Swedish conductor Sixten Ehrling , is currently music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic in upstate New York , and has appeared with leading orchestras all over America, Europe and elsewhere , also making recordings for Naxos records . She has been a champion of long neglected orchestral works by many different composers, and is known for her advocacy of women composers .
Australian Simone Young, is currently nearing the end of her music directorship of the Hamburg State opera , one of Germany's most presitgious, and has also conducted at the Metropolitan opera and elswhere . American Anne Manson has conducted at the New York City opera and was the first woman to conduct the tradition rich and highly conservative Viena Philhamonic , having conducted Mussorgsky's great opera Boris Godunov at the prestigious Salburg festival .
Xian Zhang of China is a protege of Lorin Maazel and served as assistant and later associate ocnductor of the New Yokr Philharmonic when Maazel was music director there several year ago , and has been appointed music director of one of the leading orchestras in Milan . Susanna Malkki of Finland has achieved renown as a specialist in contemporary music in Europe but also conducts traditional repertoire , and and Anu Tali of neighboring Estonia is also making an important career .
These are only several of the increasing numbers of women who have been breaking the glass podium . The website of the Kapralova society , named after a promising young early 20th century Czech composer and ocnductor whose career was cut short by untimely death , lists what appear to be at least 300 or so women conductors active today . Things are definitely looking up for women conductors today, and it's about time !
This year marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of one of the greatest composers of all time , Richard Wagner , who is also without a doubt the most controversial figure in all of classical music . He died in 1883 , already extremely controversial for most of his life , and the controversy has never died down . Nor is it likely to any time in the future .
What made a mere composer, albeit a towering genius , into a bone of contention all over the world for nearly two centuries ? The answers are very complex . Wagner is a polarizing figure in classical music and opera ; people tend to love or hate his music ; few are indifferent to it . There is something about his music which fascinates and thrills some listeners yet also something which disturbs and repels many others .
It is rich, sensual music filled with sumptuous and multi-hued orchestration . But it can also be grandiose and rugged at times . From the dramatic viewpoint , Wagner was also a keen psychologist , and his principal characters are extremely complex and highly interesting people ,no mere cardboard characters and stock villains, heroes and maidens in distress . Unfortunately, his operas, or "music drams" as he preferred to call his mature stage works , are extremely long , fearsomely complex and extremely challenging to singers, conductors ,orchestras , directors and designers to produce . Some consider them too much of a muchness .
Ah, and yes, there's the inconvenient fact he happened to be the favorite composer of one Adolf Hitler , the over ambitious nobody from Austria who became perhaps the most evil person in world history . But is all this the fault of Wagner, who died six years before Hitler was born , as so many people assume ? I think not .
Yes, both were anti-semites . Wagner was frankly a pretty nasty felow . Monstrously egotistical , self-centered , manipulative, unscrupulous , a dead beat of the worse kind, womanizer and serial adulterer , etc. But when it comes to evil , he was no Hitler , who was determined to commit genocide against the Jews or Europe, and almost accomplished his monstrous goal , as well as slaughtering millions of others and leaving Europe in utter destruction and unspeakable misery at the time of his death .
Yes, Wagner disliked Jews very much , was always making nasty comments about them and wrote an appaling extended essay called "Judaism in Music", which accused Jews of being incapable of creating great art works of any kind, despite their enormous contributions to the arts in history . Yet , as the old cliche goes, some of his best friends were jews .
But did he advocate genociide against the Jews or any other group ? No. Did he advocate creating a totalitarian fascist police state of the kind Hitler and the *** created ? No. Basically , all he wanted to do in life was to reform opera , which he certainly did , create great operatic masterpieces and to promote them as best he could . Would he have approved of the monstrous cruelty,barbarity and brutality of Hitler and the *** ? I doubt it .
The problem is that Hitler read his own insane ideas into Wagner's music and dramas which simply aren't there . Take the stories of his operas ; there are no Jewish characters in them , no discussions of Jews or Judaism either positive or negative, and not a single anti-semitic statement by any of the characters in the librettos ,which he wrote entirely himself ,uliken most other opera composers ,who collabortated usually with professional librettists .
The plots of the operas have nothing to do with Judaism ,except for his last work,Parsifal, only indirectly . The word "Jew" cannot even be found in any of his librettos . His operas deal with love, hate , ambition , lust, greed for power, and the redemptive power of love, in the Greek sense of Agape . There is absolutley nothing in them which glorifies Aryan Germanic triumph over the Jews, although some critics and musicologists have read this into them, albeit in an oblique way .
Yet so many people have condemned Wagner's wroks for supposedly being anti-semitic and having had a baneful influence on Hitler and the *** . However, this makes about as much sense as blaming Jesus for the Spanish Inquisition , the Witch trials and executions and the violence of the Crusades .
It's about time that all those who love classical music and opera jettisoned all the baggage which comes with Wagner's music and learned to accept it on its own terms . But it will not be an easy task to bring this about .
Van Cliburn , who died last week at the age of 78 , was a penomenon of classical music ; the only classical musician who has ever had a New York ticker tape parade in his honor . He was the most famous concert pianist ever produced by America . Not the greatest , which is not to disparage him . No one can ever be the "greatest" of anything in classical music . There have been plenty of great American pianists such as the tragically short lived William Kapell , (1922-1953), who was killed in a plane crash , Leon Fleisher,who is still very much alive and active in his 80s , Peter Serkin ,son of the great pianist Rudold Serkin , John Browning , Ruth Laredo , to name only several .
But no other pianist has ever captured the imagination of the American public . In 1958 , at the height of the Cold War , the lanky young Texan pianist , who had studied at Juilliard , won Moscow's prestigious Tchaikovsky competition and was instantly catapaulted into classical superstardom . Renowned Rissian pianists such as the late Sviatoslav Richter and others were bowled over by his enormous talent and winning personality . The panel of distinguished Russian and teachers pianists and the Russian audiences were were stunned by his playing .
Cliburn seemed to have caused a one man thaw in the tense relations between the Soviet Union and America . He came home to America a national hero ,and his career was instantly launched . He began to record for the prestigious R.C.A. record label for which all his commercial recordings were made , and appeared with renowned conductors such as Fritz Reiner, Eugene Ormandy and others with America's top orchestras . He specialized in the romantic piano repertoire of Chopin, Tchaikovsky,Rachmaninov, and Brahms, and these early recordings have been classics and best sellers for a half century .
His technique was prodigious and his sound was rich and plush ,never hard and metallic . His future seemed assured . His interpretations were warm and spontaneus ; he had the world at his feet . But unfortunately, after a number of euphoric years at the top of the classical music world, something went very wrong. Puzzlingly wrong . Cliburn seemed to have burned out . His playing has declined badly. Not in technique, but something was missing . The spark and bloom of youth was gone .
In 1978 , Cliburn decided to retire from public performing . What happened ? He remained very much involved with classical music and founded the now famous and prestigious Fort Worth piano competition in the Texas city where he lived . He had been born in Shreveport ,Louisiana but settled in Texas with his parents as a child and became a confirmed Texan . He never married and was known to be gay by his friends and associates ,but this did not become common knowledge until relatively late in his life . He had many friends in and out of the field and was out of the limelight but by nomeans reclusive .
The most plausible explanation for his burnout has been ascribed to his small repertoire and his lack of inclination to expand his repertoire regularly, something which many other great pianists have done . This may have led to the relative lack of luster of his later performances . Many other great pianists have performed everything from Bach ,Mozart, Beethoven , Chopin and Rachmaninov to works by living composers as well as exploring the less familiar corners of the piano repertoire .
In this respect he resembled the legendary German/Austrian conductor Carlos Kleiber, (1930-2004) who had a similarly small repertoire of orchestral works and operas and rarely appeared in public unless he found the conditions for performing ideal . But Kleiber did not seemto burn out and remained somewhat active much longer .
So Cliburn's illustrious but truncated career appears to have been both a triumph and a tragedy . Who knows what he could have accomplished if he had not been the victim of burnout ?
It's been nearly two years since the great American conductor James Levine was forced to resign from the Boston symphony because of serious back trouble , sciatica, arm tremors and other ailments . He has not conducted at the Metropolitan opera, his longtime post , for nearly as long . He remains technically musical director there and continues to work with singers etc , but Italian maestro Fabio luisi has assumed the post of prinicpal conductor for the time being and has taken over much of Levine's work .
But the Boston symphony continues to languish without a music director , and has had to rely on a steady stream of geust conductors, some of whom could possibly be appointed as Levine's successor . The veteran Dutch maestro Bernard Haitink , 83, ha sbeen a steady presence with the orchestra for many years and is greatly repsected , but is too old for the job . Younger conductors such as the rising Latvian Andris Nelsons have been touted as possible choices , and neslons had had considerable success in Boston so far .
But it is definitely not a good idea for a world-class and storied orchestra like the B.S.O. to go on without someone in control ; music directors in American orchestras have the final say in deciding which candidates get the job at auditions after much deliberation by the audition committee, the musicians in the orchestra who choose the finalists from the preliminary rounds to be advanced to the final audition , and there are many other administrative tasks and decisions to be made by the man (or possibly, the woman,) in charge .
After the brief term of Christoph Eschenbach , now with the Washoington National symphony with the Philadelphia orchestra several years ago , the orchestra was able to obtain the services of th eveteran Swiss conductor Charles Dutoit as a caretaker principal conductor for a time until the recent choice of young French-Canadian Yannick-Nezet-Seguin, who is now in his honeymoon with the "Fabulous Philadelphians" ,as they have come to be known .
After Daniel Barenboim stepped down from the Chicago symphony several years ago, the orchestra appointed a caretaker team of Bernard Haitink and Pierre Boulez until Riccardo Muti was chosen as the new music director .
Choosing a new music director is never an easy task ; the orchestra's administration and the members of the orchestra must find someone who is felt to be right for the job . But there are so many distinguished ocnductors in so many different posts that it's hard to find someone who is willing to take the job on many occaisions . The orchestra will invite a number of guest conductors to lead concerts , and sometimes a dark horse who makes a highly favorable impression on the musicians and audiences . after making a debut . Sometimes it is a conductor who has been a regular guest .
There are more orchestras an dopera companies thna ever before , and they all have to vie for the services of a limited number of conductors . No conductor can lead every performance throughout the season . This is simply unfeasable . Coordinating the schedules of all these different orchestras etc is rather like a jigsaw puzzle of the most difficult kind .
Sometimes an orchestra may want a particular conductor but he or she may simply be too busy with a post of his own somewhere . There are many rpomising young conductors in the 20s and 30s beginning to make international careers , but appointing them to a prestigious post such as Boston, Philadelphia, Cleveland, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles or various major European cities could be rsiky, given their inexperience .
Bu tlet's all with the administration and musicians of the Boston symphony good luck in fdinding the right maestro for the job as soon as possible . James Levine is scheduled to return to the Met beginning next season, and let's all wish him a speedy recovery, too .
Dear Mr. Gates : You have achieved great fame for your extraordinary generosity with your enormous wealth toward charitable projects everywhere . I would like to bring your attention to a cause which is very close to my heart and that of many other Americans , namely, the plight of so many of America's outstanding symphony orchestras and opera companies in these difficult economic times for America .
I have heard that you have said that you have no desire to contribute money to opera companies in America . I do not know why this is so, but with all due respect , I feel that you are terribly misguided to think this way , and I presume you also feel this way about our symphony orchestras , and feel that they are not deserving of your help . I beg to try to convince you how wrong you are .
I do not know if you enjoy classical music and listen to it with any frequency or have any knowledge of it or interest in it . But please be aware that the livelihoods of so many talented, dedicated and hard-working classical musicians in America are threatened by the difficult economy and the woefully inadequate financial support they receive from both our government , philanthropies and corporations are threatened by this , and many members of orchestras and opera companies have already lost their jobs because of this, not to mention those who work on administration , as well as bitterly disappointed audiences all over America .
These are people with families to support . Classical music is not a frivolous entertainment for wealthy people, but something which should be available to anyone who wishes to attend concerts and opera , and there are so many of these in America . Contrary to popular belief , it is in no way "elitist " . It is something which brings joy , excitement and mental stimulation to countless peopel all over the world .
Our symphony orchestrras and opera companies provide gainful employemt to so many people in all 50 states . And they are world-class institutions ,many of which are famous throughout the world, such as the Metropolitan opera, the New York Philharmonic, the Chicago symphony, the Boston symphony, the Philadelphia orchestra, Boston symphony , to name only a handful .
Collectively, they rank with the greatest of America's national treasures . This nation cannot afford to lose them, because no nation should allow its national treasures to be lost or destroyed . Please, consider providing financial help for those which are struggling to maintain their existence, or which have been forced to gp under .
The arts are NOT a frivolous thing . They are a vital part of the life of any nation . And remember - if America's symphony orchestras and opera companies can flourish , not to mention its dance and drama companies , they help the U.S. economy to flourish, too . The arts are GOOD for America . Please do not forget this .
Thank you . Sincerely yours, Robert Berger , an advocate for the preservation and advancement of classical music in America .
The Metropolitan opera has premiered its eagerly awaited new production of Verdi's grim but beloved masterpiece Rigoletto , and the reviews are mixed, as usual . The controversy lies in the production , which has been much ballyhooed since it was first announced last year . The opera is set in 16th century Mantua,Italy in case you're not familiar with it (and you definitely should get to know it if not) , and is the sordid and tragic tale of a handsome but licentious Duke and his bitter and cynical court Jester Rigoletto , who is deathly afraid that the Duke will seduce his innocent young daughter , whom he keeps under close watch . He hates the Duke, and hires a 16th century hitman to assasinate him , but the whole thing goes horribly wrong , and the poor girl is not only seduced ,but the hitman betrays him ... well, I won't give the story away .
As is so common today , the director and designer of the new production have updated the action to around 1960 in - Las Vegas ! The Duke is now a popular Vegas singer, and Rigoletto is a comedian who is part of his act . In the original setting , the court at Mantua is just as corrupt, licentious and decadent as Las Vegas , and there's plenty of intrigue and lust . The court at Mantua becomes a gaudy Las Vegas casino .
Anthony Tommasini , chief music critic of the New York Times , had some reservations about the staging , but liked it on the whole . James Jorden of the New York Post , thought it was lame and unconvincing . I'll reserve judgment until I see it on a PBS telecast . But the production does not appear to be nearly as outrageous as many European stagings of operas since about the 1980s , which have been downright bizarre, even grossly perverse , with all kinds of gratuitous sexnudity , gratuitous violence and absurdly arbitrary gimmicks .
The acclaimed German coloratura soprano Diana Damrau, who sings Rigoletto's beautiful but naive daughter Gilda in the Met production ,recently starred n a Munich production of the opera where the characters were dressed as gorillas and chimpnzees ! Last year's Bayreuth production of Wagner's Lohengrin, which takes place in medieval Belgium , has the chorus dressed in costumes which deliberately make them look like rats ! What on earth does this have to do with the knights and soldiers of medieval Belgium ? The production of Parsifal, Wagner's last opera, which takes place in the north of medieval Spain in the realm of the knights who guard the Holy Grail , features a prop on stage which is the decaying body of a rabbit ! Much larger than a real rabbit, of course . But why ?
The famous American theater and opera director Peter Sellars has staged Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro", which takes place in an 18th century Spanish palace of a nobleman , in New York's Trump tower , and the nobleman is a blllionaire tycoon ! Sellar's production of Mozart's "Don Giovanni" , which is set in 18th century Seville , is set in Spanish Harlem among pimps and drug dealers ! Sheesh !
Opera directors and designers have been vying with each other to create the most outlandish and perverse opera productions possiible . It's De Rigeur in Europe , and it seems that any production team which did a traditional production set in the actual time and place of the opera would get booed off the stage today there, especially in Germany .
What is the point of all of this nonsense ? It's known as "Regietheater" in German , or "director's theater " . It also goes by the name of "Eurotrash opera ". In recent years, there have also been similar updated productions of some of the Shakespeare plays ; not too long ago, I saw a London production of Hamlet on PBS which transferred the action of the opera to what looked like the near future . It didn't bother me too much , and the drama came through unscathed .
Fortunately, the Met has resisted the most outrageous staging and visual gimmicks , and although critics might justifiably have some reservations about the productions , they have not been ridiculous for the most part . The recent new production of Donoizetti's charming bucolic comic opera "L'Elisir D'Amore (the elixir of love ) , which was telecast on PBS just two weeks ago,is entirely traditional , and put the opera in the original early 19th century setting . Even the sets looked chamringly old-fashioned , rather like something from the 1920s or 30s .
But several years ago, the New York City opera, now unfortunately struggling to mainstain its existence , set the opera in 1960s America , and the characters were right out of "Laverne and Shirley " on television . The set evoked 60s pop culture America .
Ultimately, what matters is whether the production works or not , or is just a ridiculous collection of arbitrary gimmicks . You have to take each production today on an indivisual basis . Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't . You can get many of these productions on DVD . Decide for yourself .
Commentators on classical music are always telling us that classical music has to "change" , and change drastically , in order to "survive" and to be "relevant ". As I've pointed out here on a number of occaisions, composer/critic/ blogger and consultant Greg Sandow has been one of the most vocal advocates of this meme . And he's far from alone in saying this . But is classical music really so stodgy , hidebound and resistant to change , and are performances really the kind of dreary and boring affairs these Chicken Littles would have us believe ?
We are told, for example, that unless musicians in orchestras dress more casually instead of wearing tuxedos or black tie , and concerts become less "stuffy" and intimidating , the audience for classical music will inevitably shrink , and younger people will not be persuaded to attend and make classical music apart of their life .
The repertoire has to change, too . We need more new music at concerts . Orchestras can't just go on playing the same old warhorses by Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov and a few other famous composers . Pop and Rock music are things that audiences can relate to . Why can't classical music catch up and get with the times ?
The problem is that you can't judge classical music by the standards of popular music ,Rock are what have you . Pop and Rock are what countless people are accustomed to . They're meant to be easy to listen to . They don't require homework to get to know . They also haven't been in existence anywhere near as long as Classical music . To complain that classical concentrates too much on musci of the past ignores the fact that the masterowrks of Bach, Mpozart, Beethoven, Brahms and so many other composers have been popular for a very long time and have stood the test of time, and that there is a vast reservoir of works from the past which are not at all familiar to the general public but which are very much worth hearing .
And is there realy a lack of new classical music today ? Not at all . There are many composers today who have been widely performed in our time and who are still writing new works all the time . John Adams, John Corigliano , William Bolcom, Tan Dun, Richard Danielpour, Jennifer Higdon, Peter Maxwell Davies, Harrison Birtwistle Wolfgang Rihm, Henri Dutilleaux, Unsuk Chin may not be household names , but they are promient and highly respected ocmposers , and might achieve a lasting place in the classical music repertoire in the future .
How is classical music different from what it was 50 or 60 years ago ? In many ways . The musi cof the great composers of long ago was popular then and is still popular, but the repertoire is still vastly different . Many,many composers have come to prominence since that time, and are now performed regularly . There are more women composers than ever before , and when an orchestra plays a work by one, it isn't even news any more .
Many composers form the past who had been long neglected have been brought back into the repertoire , such as Alexander von Zemlinsky, Franz Schmidt, Carl Nielsen , Karol Szymanowski , Havergal Brian , to name only a handful . German music no longer has anything near a monopoly on the repertoire , and you can hear composers from such previously unlikely places as Japan, South Korea, China, Latin America and even tiny Estonia on the Baltic sea .
Conducting used be a profession monopolized by white males, mostly European .But more and more women have begun to make international careers in both concerts and opera , and conductors from Asia and latin America are everywhere . There ar emore orchestras and opera ocmpanies than ever before , and they have been sprouting up in such unlikely places as Qatar , Malaysia , Singapore and elsewhere .
Classical music is enjoying a boom in China, where Mao Zedong had silenced it and stymied the art form in his zeal for total control of China . Asian classical musicians are now an integral part of classical scene . They are ubiquitous .
In America, the number of opera companies has multiplied exponentiallly from the past , when New York, San Francisco and Chicago were the only game in town . The HD broadcast of live performances from the Metropolitan opera into movie theaters around America and Europe has revolutionized the way people experience opera . The internet has enabled people to see and hear concerts an dopera performances from not only the present day, but the past .
For all its problems, classical music has never been more vibrantly alive . Remember these facts the next time somebody you meet and converse with sneers at it . And let him know about it ,please !
Recently, someone on a classical music forum I'm on put an old recording of one of the orchestral suites of J.S. Bach by the great German conductor Wilhlem Furtwangler (1886-1954) on a post citing it as a example of impossibly slow tempos and a hopelessly old-fashoned and long discredited way of performing baroque music . The recording was posted from youtube, and you can hear it yourself there .
Yes, the opening movement is very,very slow, flying in the face of everything which is currently believe dot be "correct performance practice " . This is no-no ; you're not supposed to do this . Such au courant "Hiistorically Informed " conductors as John Eliot Gardiner, Christopher Hogwood , Frans Bruggen, Roger Norrington and others would would have apoplectic fits hearing this old curiosity ; we have come to expect fleet, bouncy , even rushed performances from them of Bach, Handel, Vivaldi and other Baroque composers .
But Wilhelm Furtwangler lived long before the whole "authenticity " movement in classical music became an integral part of the scene ; he was a product of his time , having been born only three years after the death of Wagner and having known , collaborated and even studied with so many legendary 19th century musicians .
But he was also one of the greatest conductors of all time and a towering musical intellect . For me at least, he may have been "wrong" by the standards of the present day , but he made the tempo WORK on his own terms . He imbued the Bach suite with a grandeur and nobility which you don't find in the supposedly "authentic" performances of the present day using instruments of Bach's time or copies thereof , and dutifully making music by the book .
Cllassical music fans , critics and musicologists are always disputing the "right" tempo for the works of this or that composer in general or individual works . Ultimately, the only person who can say what THE right tempo is is the composer , since he wrote the music himself . But unfortunately , Bach, Handel, Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven and so many other great composers ave been dead for a very,very long itme .
We will never know with certanty what they would have thougt about the tempi of performances today, live or recorded . There are various tmepo indications, mostly in Italian , such as adagio, slow, alllegro , fairly lively , presto, very fast ,andante, a rather moderate tempo, neither fast nor slow , and others , and in the early 19th centry, the metronome wa sinvented in Europe, allowing composers to specify and exact tempo based on the number of beats per minute , to give the performer an exact guideline to the basic tempo .
But tempo is not set in stone . Composers themselves have been known to change their minds and performing the same work with different tempi on different occaisions . You can even hear this on recordings made by composers as either conductors or playing the piano . Therefore, SOME performances by other musicians may use the wrong tempo at times, but no performance can ever be considered to use the ONLY right tempi .
If a musician plays a work or movement of one marked "presto" (very fast ) at an adagio (slow) tempo , this is just being perverse . Or a slow, solemn work at a breakneck tempo . But otherwise, things are far from being black and white .
Two classical music fans may have different recordings of the same Beethoven symphony by different ocnductors and orchestras at different tempi . Both may be convinced that their recording has the "right" tempi, and the other's has tempi which are "wrong ". Who is right ? The composer, if he could hear them, might not like the tempi of either . But we will never know .
The late,great Elliott Carter , who departed the earth only a couple of months ago , had a coterie of distinguished musicians whose performances of his music he approved of, and some of their recording were actualy made under his supervision .So we know that these musicians did not use tempi which he disapproved of , or he would have made his displeasure known to them . But that does not mean that future performances of his music could not be different yet valid . But again, we'll never know . Arguments over performaces of his music will continue in the future . But that's the nature of the beast .
No one could say that 2012 was an uneventful year for classical music , or any year in recent times . So much happened, both good and bad , hence the paraphrase of the famous opening line of Dicken's "Tale of Two Cities ". The existential crisis of the world's orchestras and opera companies continued , and more than a few have either gone under or are at imminent risk of folding .
The New York City opera is still looking for a permanent home after being forced out of its long time home in Lincoln Center because of financial difficulties , the David H. Koch theater , formerly the New York State theater . The Mnnesota orchestra in Minneapolis is still locked out because of labor disputes, the Hague Philharmonic in the Netherlands has lost much government funding and must downsize th enumber of musicians it uses , the South West german radio orchestra is hanging by a thread . the storied opera companies of Italy, birthplace of opera are having a rough time because of economic woes , the Syracuse and Utica symphonies of upstate New York have gone under, as well as the San Antonio opera in Texas and the Napa Valley Philharmonic in California , and many other groups have been hit hard by tough economic times .
Despite all this, the vast majority of the world's orchestras and opera companies are still alive and kicking . Some towering figures in classical music passed away , such as composers Elliott Carter, Hans Werner Henze, baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and pianist/scholar Charles Rosen , plus the great operatic sopranos Lisa Della Casa and Russia's Galina Vishnevskaya , widow of the late,great cellist/conductor Mstislav Rostropovich .
Biut there are still so many great musicians who are still very much with us , composers and performers , and many brilliant young talents have begun to make ian international reputation as composers, conductors, instrumentalists and singers .
Venuzuela's acclaimed "El Sistema ", which has enabled so many gifted young classical musicians to make important careers is flourishing and others countries, including America, are beginning to emulate it . The East/West Divan orchestra, founding by the renowned Israeli conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim brings together gifted young Israeli and Palestitian classical musicians to play as members of an orchestra, and to tour internationally and make recordings .
The classical CD industry no longer functions as it did until recently , recording complete studio recordings of operas and issuing regular new recordings by the world's leading orchestras, and sales could certainly be better . But there is unprecedented diversity of classical repertoire available ; everything from medieval and Renaissance music to works by a wide variety of contemporary composers . So much interesting classical music which had never been previously recrded is now easily available . Classical CD collectors who are curious to hear unusual repertoire have never had it so good .
More and more classical music is now available on DVD ; four centuries worth of oepratic repertoire from opera houses all over the world , orchestral concerts and so much more . Youtube.com offers a wealth of classical music which you can see and hear at the click of a mouse .
The glass is definitely half full ,not half empty . There will be continued difficulties in 2013 , but also so much for which we must be gratefiul .
Stories have been circulating in the classical music world about the sad decline of one of the world's greatest virtuosos of the horn - the veteran principal horn of the world-famous Chicago symphony, Dale Clevenger, 72 . Clevenger has been prinicpal horn in Chicago since the mid 1960s, and has achieved great renown not only as an orchestral musician but a soloist al over the world . He has made acclaimed recordings of the horn concertos of Mozart, Richard Strauss, and the one for four horns by Robert Schumann and other works .
But any musician, now matter how accomplished , can only last so long . Advancing age inevitably brings physical decline , especially in brass players , whose lips cannot last forever . Being an orchestral musician is a very physically stressful and demanding job, and the horn is a notoriously difficult instrument to play and gto master . A study ranking different professions on their stress levels has shown that being prinicpal horn in a world-class orchestra is one of the most streesful jobs in existence !
It's not a job for the faint-hearted ! You never know if you will make it through a performance without making "clams" , or splitting and cracking notes, because of the difficulty of the horn, especially in the highest notes . Playing the long , complex symphonies of Bruckner, Mahler and many other works is a grueling experience , and in order for the first horn to save his lip endurance, many orchestras, particularly in America and England, have an assistant principal horn who takes over periodically during difficult works to keep the prinicipal from exhaustion ,fatigue and stress . This is the principal's lifeline .
For decades , Dale Clevenger has been greatly admired by critics, audiences and fellow horn players , orchestral musicians and eminent conductors for his gorgeous sound , amazing technical virtuosity and panache , and he has appeared as a soloist in the demanding horn concertos of Mozart, Richard Strauss and other composers with his hometown Chicagoans and many other leading orchestras , as well as being a leading teacher of his instrument .
But unfortunately, there are reports from leading music critics who have admired his playing for years , uncluding Chicago's John Von Rhein, Anthony Tommasini of the New York Times, and others , of concerts in which he has flubbed too many notes , standing out like the proverbial sore thumb .
U.S. orchestras do not have a mandatory retirement age ,unlike those in Germany, where it is generally 65 , and music directors cannot demand the retirement of veteran musicians who are past their prime because of strict union regulations . Other renowned horn players have chosen to retire before Clevenger's age of 72 in order to avoid embarassing their orchestras and audiences and even because they found the stress of the job to great after many years , including Clevenger's predecessor in Chicago , the great Philip Farkas .
Will Clevenger finally decide it is time to call it quits after such a long and distinguished career ? Only time will tell .
Charles Rosen was no ordinary concert pianist . The protean pianist, scholar, author, teacher and thinker died on December 9th at the age of 85 . He was a true polymath ; an intelectual's intellectual , brilliant in diverse fields and remarkably versatile in the field of music , a man of vast and formidable erudition .
Born in New York in 1927 , he was a child prodigy who studied from childhood with the legenday virtuoso Moritz Rosenthal , an heir to the great tradition of 19th century piano playing , but who ioronically did not study music formally at a leading conservatory . Instead , he studied French literature on both the undergraduate and graduate level at Columbia , obtaining a doctorate in this discipline ,in which he was an authority .
He went on to achieve international acclaim as a pianist in repertoire ranging from Bach to contemporary composers , making prize-winning recordings , as well as teaching at Stony Brook university , the University of Chicago and elsewhere . In addition , he wrote a number of greatly admired books on diverse musical topics, the most famous being "The Classical Style", a penetrating discussion of the music of Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven which has long been considered a classic of writing on music , as well as numerous articles and reviews for the New York Times , the New York Review Of Books and other leading publications .
Rosen's playing was not flashily virtuosic , but his technique was certainly up to the challenges of whatever music he played . Some considered him to be too cerebral a performer , but you could never accuse him of dulllness . His recordings of the music of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann , the late Elliott Carter and other composers are still very much available .
His expertise ranged from the music of Bach, Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Schumann and Brahms to the music of Schoenberg and other great 20th century composers , and he was a committed advocate of the formidably intricate piano works of the late,great Elliott Carter , who preceded him in death by only a two months and who was a close friend .
I was priveleged to take a graduate course in the criticism of music anbd other topics back in the 1980s at Stony Brook university on Long Island , and it was a memorable experience to hear his stimulating commentary on composers, critics , and criticism as well as being regaled by his recountngs of his experiences working with so many great musicians .
His books , such as The Classical Style and "Sonata Forms" , which discusses musicla structure , are not easy to digest and comprehend but are well worth the effort in reading . The world of classicla music has lost one of its foremost musicians ,scholars and thinkers .
More Posts Next page »