May 2010 - Posts
Here's a list of some terrific classical CDs I've been listening to ,all of them from my locl library , some borrowed through the very convenient interloan system for the Westchester libraries , from other libraries near me. It's an eclectic and stimulating group of works , familiar and obscure , with old works and recent ones .
The operas include the classic Decca recording of Verdi's Aida ,with such operatic greats as Renata Tebaldi , Giulietta Simionato and Carlo Bergonzi , and Herbert Von Karajan leading the Vienna Philharmonic .
Two classic recordings of Der Rosenkavalier by Richard Strauss , with Karajan and the Philharmonia orchestra on EMI and Erich Kleiber (father of Carlos) on Decca, both from the 1950s. The EMI cast has Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Christa Ludwig and Otto Edelmann in the elad roles and the Decca one has Maria Reining ,Sena Jurinac and Ludwig Weber ,all famous interpreters of the roles of the Marschallin, Octavian and Baron Ochs .
Les Contes D'Hoffmann (The Tales of Hoffmann), by Jacqes Offenbach ,a much more recent recording and digital , with Jessye Norman, Cheryl Studer , Samuel Ramey and Anne-Sophie von Otter, with Jeffrey Tate conducting the Dresden State orchestra on Philips . This recording uses the specially prepared edition of the opera ,which was left more or less unfinished when the composer died in 1880, using music usually left out ,and the performance is excellent .
Wagner: Die Walkure , from the complete Ring conducted by Marek Janowski with the Dresden State orchestra on Eurodisc , with Jeannine Altmeyer and Theo Adam .
Mozart: the complete piano concertos , with Murray Perahia and the English Chamber orchestra on Sony Classical . Not on period instruments , which may cause the purists to sneer, but you won't find more elegant performances anywhere.
Verdi: Requiem . Fritz Reiner and the Vienna Philharmonic ,with Leontyne Price , Rosalind Elias, Jussi Bjorling and Giorgio Tozzi . A rather slow-paced but majestic and powerful recording of this mighty work, and gorgeously sung .
Sergei Prokofiev: The 5 Piano concertos , with Vladimir Ashkenazy ,soloist and Andre Previn and the London Symphony on Decca. Unsurpassed recordings of these rambunctious , raucous and riotously witty concertos . Decca .
Aram Khatchaturian : Symphony no 2(The Bell). Neeme Jarvi and the Royal Scottish Orchestra on Chandos . A somber and gritty symphony inspired by the second world war by Armenia's most famous composer .
Anton Bruckner : Symphonies 3,4 , 5 and 7. Hans Knappertsbsuch conducting the NDR symphony orchestra of Hamburg, the Berlin Philharmonic ,Munich Philharmonic and Vienna Philharmonic on Music and Arts . Quirky,idiosyncratic and highly flexible live recordings of four Bruckner symphonies by a master Brucknerian who lived from 1888 to 1965.
Esa-Pekka Salonen : Piano concerto , Helix for orchestra . Though best known as a conductor , Salonen is a gifted and inventive composer,as these works show. He leads the Los Angeles Philharmonic on Deutsche Grammophon with piano soloist Yefim Bronfman , who plays with great panache .
Silvestre Revueltas : Various orchestral works , including Sensemaya and Night of the Mayas . Revueltas,who lived from 1899 to 1940 , was a brilliantly gifted Mexican composer who died tragically young of alcoholism as the age of only 40 . Salonen and the Los Angeles Philharmonic give scintillating performances of his highly colorful music on Sony Classical .
Carl Nielsen : Orchestral works .Thomas Dausgaard and the Danish National Radio Orchestra . Delightfully quirky and inventive orchestra works by this highly individual Danish composer,including the overture to the opera Maskarade .
Not all of these recordings may be currently available , but you can check arkivmusic.com ;this website is the best place to look for classical CDs and DVDs on the internet .
Otto Klemperer (1885-1973). A German Jew who began as a protege of Mahler and worked his way through the various German opera companines in his youth ,becoming music director of the Kroll Opera in Berlin and an advocate of the new music of his day by composers such as Stravinsky and Kurt Weill etc, he eventually became the grand old man of the conducting world , concentrating on the great masterpieces of Beethoven, Brahms, Bach , Schubert etc .
In the 1950s he was appointed music director of the Philharmonia orchestra of London, with which he made numerous recordings , and had previously been music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic after escaping Germany when the *** came to power . A tall, gaunt man and severe taskmaster with musicians , his performances were rugged and powerful .
A series of physical and mentral problems such as strokes,a brain tumor , accidents and Bi-polar disease dogged him , but he kept on conducting through hios 80s , often with unusually slow but majestic tempos. The late actor Werner Klemperer was his son .
Willem Mengelberg (1871-1951). This eminent Dutch conductor made the Concertgebouw orchestra of Amerstam,now called the Royal Concertgebouw , into one of the world's greatest orchestras , and also served as music director of the New York Philharmonic in the 1920s, as co-director with Toscanini .
He favored a rather free-wheeling approach to interpretation , with ample use of rubato, or license with flexibility of tempo , and was a friend of Mahler and Richard Strauss a champion of their music, as well as a brilliant interpreter the great masters of the past .
Pierre Monteux (1775-1964) Perhpas the greatest of French conductors , Monteux was never a flashy interpreter , but neverthe less brought the music vividly to life, in a long career which took him to posts in Boston,Amsterdam ,Paris and London, and long associations with virtually all the world's great orchestras.
A friend of Stravinsky and champion of his music, he conducted the legendary 1913 premiere of The Rite of Spring , as well as Ravel's sumptuous ballet Daphnis and Chloe . He was as home in German music by Beethoven and Brahms etc as in the French music with which he was so closely associated , Debussy, Ravel, Berlioz etc.
Sir Thomas Beecham (1879-1962) This colorful and witty podium personality was the scion of a welathy British pharmaceutical company , and used his family wealth to start opera companies and orchestras , such as the London Philharmonic and Royal Philharmonic . He championed the music of the now rarely performed expatriate English composer Fredrick Delius (1862-1934) as well as a wide variety of other composers ,ranging from Mozart and Handel to his time , and became famopus for his razpr-sharp wit and sarcastic humor .
Yevgeny Maravinsky (1903-1988) . This great Russian conductor's career was almost entirely within the former Soviet Union ,apart from touring with his longtime orchestra, the Leningrad Philharmonic ,now the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic . He ruled the orchestra with an iron fist for many years , and was a close friend and champion of the music of Shostakovich, conducting the world premieres of some of his symphonies , as well as other Russian composers, although his repertoire also included many non-russian works .
Fritz Reiner (1888-1963). This native of Budapest is most famous for his legendary leadership of the Chicago Symphony in the last decade of his life, but has previously been music director of the Pittsburgh and Cincinnati symphony orchestras , as well as European posts in Dresden etc before settling in America .
Reiner was another tough disciplinarian who frightened orchestras and even bore a striking resemblance to his exact contemporary and fellow Hungarian Bela Lugosi of Dracula fame , and was just a frightening to musicians as Dracula to others,apparently .
A close friend of the great Hungarian composer Bela Bartok and authoritative interpreter of his music , his performances were notable for their almost surgical precision and transparency of orchestral Texture.
George Szell (897-1970) Alo a native of Budapest and a strict disciplinarian , Szell was a formidable pianist and protege of Richard Straus who conducted opera in Berlin,Prague and elsewhere as a young man and settled in America in 1946 when he took over the Cleveland Orchestra ,which he led until his death and built into one of the most polished and precise orchestras ever .
Sir Georg Solti (1912-1997) Another native of Budapest , Solti began as a piano virtuoso and studied with leading Hungarian composers such as Zoltan Kodaly in his youth , and worked at the Budapest opera as a rehearsal pianist ,eventually beginning to conduct there, but fled Nazi occupied Hungary for Switzerland and launched an international career in concerts and opera , becoming music director of the Frankfurt and Munich operas after the war and later the Royal Opera in London , as well as conducting the world's great orchestras such as the Vienna Philharmonic,London Symphony and Chicago Symphony , which he led to international acclaim from 1969 until 1991, but continuing to conduct it regularly until his death .
Far less harsh and overbearing than Szell or Reiner, but still an exacting taskmaster , his performances were more spontaneous ,warm and emotional than theirs , impassioned and colorful . He was one of the greatest conductors of the music of Wagner, Richard Strauss , and Bartok, but had a very wide repertoire .
Bruno Walter (1876-1962) . Also a disciple of Gustav Mahler and one of his greatest interpreters , Walter conducted opera in Berlin ,Cologne,Munich and elsewhere in Germany and in Vienna, and as a Jew moved to America to escape the *** , where he regularly conducted the New York Philharmonic and other leading US orchestras , and returining to conduct regularly in Europe after the war .
A native of Berlin , born Bruno Schlesinger , Walter was much milder and easygoing than other conductors and was not feared but loved by his musicians . His performances were both vigorous and warmly lyrical .
Other great conductors past and present , include such Germans as Hans Knappertsbusch, Eugen Jochum , Klaus Tennstedt, Kurt Sanderling, Wolfgang Sawallisch, Kurt Masur, Gunter Wand ,Horst Stein , William Steinberg, Austrians Karl Boehm, Clemens Krauss, Erich Kleiber and his son Carlos, Josef Krips, Clemens Krauss , Erich Leinsdorf , Italians Victor De Sabata, Carlo Maria Giulini, Claudio Abbado,Riccardo Musti,Giuseppe Sinopoli .
Notable French conductors include Charles Munch , Jean Martinon, Pierre Boulez, Georges Pretre , Belgian Andre Cluytens and the Swiss French conductors Ernest Ansermet and Charles Dutoit , and from England Sir John Barbirolli, Sir Adrian Boult , Sir Colin Davis , Sir Simon Rattle, Sir Malcolm Sargent , Sir Roger Norrington and Sir John Eliot Gardiner .
Notable Russians include Kiril Kondrashin , Gennady Rozhdestvensky ,Valery Gergiev , Yevgeny Svetlanov, Yuri Temirkanov , and Czechs Vaclav Talich , Rafael Kubelik , Vaclav Neumann, Jiri Belohlavek and Libor Pesek (pronounced Pesh-ek) , and Poles Artur Rodzinski ,Paul Kletzki , Stanislaw Skrowaczewski and Witold Rowicki .
As well as Bernstein , notable Americans include Lorin Maazel , James Levine ,Leonard Slatkin , James Conlon, Gerard Schwarz , David Zinman , Thomas Schippers , Michael Tilson Thomas , etc .
You can find CDs of all of these conductors in unbelievable profusion . A good place to check for them is arkivmusic.com , where you can look up recordings by these and many other conductors alphabetically and see which recordings by them are available .
Conducting as a profession is a relatively recent development in the centuries old history of western classical music . But since the late 19th century , conductors have come to be the most powerful and influential musicians .
In the time of Haydn and Mozart in the late 18th century , composers often led performances of their symphonies from the keyboard , with the concertmaster ,or principal violinist , also helping to keep the orchestra together. But by the 19th century , one individual ,usually using a baton , became responsible for co-ordinating performances , not only keeping the orchestra together , but controlling the whole interpretation of any given orchestral work .
A kind of rhythmical sign language developed ,enabling a conductor to start the orchestra ,speed up or slow down as indicated in the score , indicate nuances with hand gestures , and control the entire performance from start to finish .
Who are some of the great conductors in the history of orchestral music and opera ? What made them great ? One musicologist described conductors as "Generals on the battlefield of music ". That's a very apt description . The conductor makes no sounds during the performance and does not play an instrument ; in fact, the whole orchestra is his instrument .
The first conductor to make an extensive series of recordings is the legendary italian conductor Arturo Toscanini (1867-1957 ) . In his long and illustrious career , he led the world premieres of such famous operas as Puccini's La Boheme, Turandot and Leoncavallo's Pagliacci , was a friend of Giuseppe Verdi , and became a legend in his lifetime .
He was a fierce disciplinarian who terrified orchestra musicians and became notorious for his volcanic rages in rehearsals , but his performances were internationally acclaimed . He led the Metropolitan Opera from 1908 to 1915 , and later the La Scala opera in Milan, Italy's greatest opera company , the New York Philharmonic in the late 1920s to 1936 , and the NBC Symphony Orchestra until his retirement in 1954 . This orchestra was formed especially for him to conduct and consisted of some of the finest orchestral musicians of all time .
Leopold Stokowski (1882-1977) was a flamboyant English -born conductor , son of a Polish father and an Irish mother , who became world famous for the voluptuous and sumptuous sounds he could draw from orchestras and his ulta-glamorous public image . In contrast to Toscanini , who insisted on strict observance of the composer's written instruction in a score , Stokowski never hesitated to conduct in a spontaneous and freewheeling manner, sometimes angering critics with the liberties he took with the music .
Stokowski led the Philadelphia orchestra from 1912 to the 1930s , and built it into one of the most virtuosic and sumptuous -sounding orchestras of all time , and appeared regularly with many other great orchestras . You may remember his conducting from the classic Disney film Fantasia , whose sound track he recorded with the Philadelphia . He made an enormous number of recordings with not only the Philadelphians but orchestras in London, Los Angeles, New York, and all over Europe .
Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) was the first American conductor to achieve international fame , and the first to become music director of a top American orchestra, the New York Philharmonic , which he led from 1959 for a decade . He was also a famous composer , having written the musical West Side Story as well as symphonies and other works .
He became a household name , and led the New York Philharmonic's Young People's Concerts, which you can now see on DVD, introducing classical music to the young , as well as championing the music of Gustav Mahler , recording the first complete set of his nine symphonies , and American composers such as his close friend Aaron Copland, and Charles Ives . He became famous (or notorious ) for his flamboyantly choreographic conducting style , but this was apparently not showy but spontaneous . His performances were always impassioned and deeply felt .
The elegant and aristocratic Austrian conductor Herbert von Karajan (1908-1989) was a native of Salzburg ,also the birthplace of Mozart , and became known as the "general music director of Europe ", having led the great Berlin Philharmonic from the 1950s to his death , the Vienna State Opera , the Philharmonia orchestra of London (not the London Philhamonic) , the Orchestre de Paris, and regularly appearing at La Scala and elsewhere .
His performances were famous for their elegance and polish ,but could also be profound and powerful , and he was one of the foremost conductors of the music of Beethoven, Brahms ,Wagner and Richard Strauss ,although he had a wide repertoire . He made an enormous number of recordings ranging from Bach, Mozart and Beethoven to 20th century music , and recorded the nine Beethoven symphonies no fewer than four times !
His predecessor at the Berlin Philharmonic was the great German conductor Wilhelm Furtwangler , a philosopher and mystic of music .(1886-1954). He was a greatly revered conductor ,one of the most profound interpreters of Beethoven, Brahms and Wagner, as well as many other composers , but unfortunately became involved with scandlous but totally unfair and false accusations of having been a Nazi sympathizer in WW2, because he did not leave Germany during the war,unlike other distinguished German and Austrian conductors , but was fortunately exonerated .
The Russian -born Serge Koussevitzky (1874-1951 ),began as a virtuoso of the double bass , but married a Russian heiress to a business fortune before the revolution , and became famous as a conductor throughout Europe before being appointed conductor of the Boston Symphony in 1924. He made the BSO one of the world's great orchestras and championed music by many important 20th century composers, including American ones such as Aaron Copland and William Schuman, as well as becoming famous for his colorful performances of Russian music . He also founded the world-famous Tanglewood festival in Berkshire,Massachusetts, still in operation every Summer. He was the teacher and revered mentor of Leonard Bernstein.
To be continued .
May 22 is the 197th birthday of Richard Wagner , whose powerful and complex music has divided audiences for over 150 years , and whose controversial views and personality still cause heated arguments nearly 200 years after he was born .
He was born in the city of Leipzig in eastern Germany in 1813 , the same year as the great but decidedly less controversial Italian operatic composer Giuseppe Verdi , and opera and classical music in general have never been the same ever since . Wagner was a visionary genius who transformed opera and had enormous influence on so many composers who followed him .
His innovations in harmony led to later musical develpments in the 20th century , and composers such as Bruckner , Mahler , Schoenberg, Richard Strauss and others owe so much to him . And some 20th century composers such as Stravinsky and others rebelled against his overpowering influence .
He was also not the nicest of people . He was a notorious anti-semite and Hitler idolized him and his music , even though his hostility toward Jews and Judaism was never as extreme as Hitler's and he never advocated genocide against Jews or any one else . Unfortunately, Hitler read too many things into Wagner's music and ideas that simply weren't there .
He was also extremely egotistical , self-centered ,manipulative of others , and a serial adulterer and womanizer . But his music is sublime and intoxicatingly beautiful ,powerful and colorful . The bulk of his output is operatic ; although he wrote a number of other works , his reputation rests primarily on such immortal operas (or music dramas as he preferred to call his later works) as the monumental and awe-inspiring Ring of the Nibelung , a 16 hour four part series of music dramas based on German and Scandinavian mythology , the passionate love story Tristan &Isolde , his mystical final work Parsifal ,based on medieval legends, and his only comic opera , the sunny and exhilerating Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg (The Mastersingers of Nuremberg), and the earlier works The Flying Dutchman, Tannhauser and Lohengrin .
He wrote the librettos of all of these great works , researching the elements of history and mythology in them , and unlike other composers who wrote often formulaic operas quickly and for profit , he worked for long periods of time on his operas . The Ring alone was composed over a period of over 20 years , and was not performed complete until late in his life. Wagner died in 1883 while staying in Venice .
Unlike earlier operas , which consisted of discreet series of arias , duets,choruses and recitatives , Wagner's stage works feature continuous action throughout each act ; in this sense they are more like spoken drama than traditional operas . In addition, he used constantly recurring melodic fragments and themes which describe the different characters and the dramatic situations and even objects such as magic swords and other things .
The orchestra does not merely provide a simple accompaniment as in many earlier operas, but has an extremely important and elaborate role to play . Thus, his operas are not only very long, but highly complex and anything but easy listening . But if you take the time and effort to get to know them , they can be an enthralling experience .
Wagner was also a famous conductor both of operas and orchestral concerts , and who almost singlehandedly made conducting the complex musical profession it is today , and wrote many essays on opera , classical music in general and other topics , including the notorious antisemitic pamplet "Judaism in Music ", which claims that Jews are incapable of creating great art works . Ironically, as the old cliche goes,"Some of his best friends were Jews".
Excerpts from his operas have long been popular at orchestral concerts , including the preludes to his operas and assorted excerpts taken out of them without voices made for concert use . Before you plunge into attending live performances of the operas or listen to complete recordings or watching DVDs, you can prepare yourself by listening to recordings of these, of which many are available .
There are many complete recordings of the operas , some made at live performances and some made in the recording studio ,as well as DVDs of live performances , including many from the great annual Summer Wagner festival at Bayreuth Germany, which Wagner started and which is still in existence to this day .
Great conductors such as Wilhelm Furtwangler, Hans Knappertsbusch, Sir Georg Solti, James Levine, Daniel Barenboim , Wolfgang Sawallisch and Herbert von Karajan are among the conductors of the recordings , and the singers include such greats as Kirsten Flagstad, Birgit Nilsson, Christa Ludwig , Hildegard Behrens , Ben Heppner, Wolfgang Windgassen , Hans Hotter, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau ,Gottlob Frick, Kurt Moll and others .
But don't let Wagner's personal faults blind you to the magnificence of his music.
A standing ovation is supposed to be the ultimate compliment an audience can give to musicians at a concert , showing that they have been truly thrilled by the performance . But many critics and commentators today seem to think that they are too common today , even for "mediocre" performances .
The problem with this statement is that it begs the question . A performance which strikes one listener as mediocre may be magnificent to another . Just read a review of one concert by one critic and another by the same critic writing for a different newpaper or other publication .
You might think that they were describing two different performances , yet they were both there at the concert, or opera performance . One will say that the performance was dull and pedestrian , or that the conductor or soloist distorted the music willfully and made a travesty of the music . But the other critic reviewing the same performance might say that this was the greatest performance of that work he had ever heard . Go figure .
But standing ovations seem to be spontaneous; there's no evidence that the members of the audience went to the performance planning to stand up and cheer . Last week , I saw the PBS telecast of the Met's new production of Carmen, and yes, the audience gave it a standing ovation, as I have observed on quite a few Met telecasts . If they hadn't really loved the performance, would they have done this ? I think not . Perhaps standing ovations should be considered a non-issue.
The latest issue of Opera News magazine has articles on a variety of interesting articles on matters operatic , including a listing of Summer music festivals around the US ,many of which are devoted to opera or feature opera performances .
Among them are the performances of the Los Angeles Opera's expensive and controversial high tech production of Wagner's Ring , which had been performed in incrememts and is now being presented complete for the first time , the San Francisco Opera's Summer season , the Santa Fe Opera , which performs in a spectacular open air theater , the Opera Theater of Saint Louis , the Central City Opera in Colorado ,the Glimmerglass Opera in Cooperstown, New York, and the Seattle Opera .
There are also opera performances at such renowned Summer music festivals as Tanglewood in the Berkshires, the Caramoor festival in Katonah ,New York , the Aspen music festival in Colorado , Bard College at Annandale-On-Hudson in New York and elsewhere . The repertoire ranges from Baroque and earlier music to works by contemporary composers , and proves that despite the problems , classical music is far from dead in America .
Former New York Times and Washington Post music critic Tim Page profiles the Spoleto Festival in picturesque Charleston, South Carolina , founded by the late composer Gian Carlo Menotti , and there is an article on the flourishing classical music and opera scene in Nashville , famous for the Grand Old Opry ,entiled "Grand Old Opera" !
Rosalyn M. Story has an article on how the rich tradition of church singing in the south has produced such great African-American opera singers as Leontyne Price , Grace Bumbry , and others , and features editor Brian Kellow discusses the late writer Eudora Welty's love of opera and classical music , and how it is featured in some of her writings .
There are reivews of the Metropolitan Opera's acclaimed production of the outrageous comic opera "The Nose" by Shostakovich , and "Hamlet" by 19th century French composer Ambroise Thomas , and performances by the opera companies of Boston , Seattle , and San Diego , as well as from leading European opera houses in Paris and London .
The CD reviews feature a review of "Ivanhoe ", the only full-length grand opera by Sir Arthur Sullivan, without Gilbert , the frothy Offenbach operetta Vert-Vert , and the religious oratorio Golgotha by the Swiss composer Frank Martin (1890-1974), as well as song recitals by Anna Netrebko and German tenor Jonas Kaufman , and reviews of opera on DVD such as the spectacular Ring cycle of at the Valencia opera in Spain .
If you love opera , or are just starting to enjoy it, you can't afford to miss Opera News magazine, and you can also check out their website ,operanews.com.
Unfortunately , classical music gets almost no exposure on television today apart from PBS , but yesterday , 60 minutes on CBS featured a profile of Gustavo Dudamel , who is probably the hottest young conductor on the current classical music scene, and who recently became music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic .
Dudamel, who is only 29 years old and a native of Venezuela , is the most famous product of that nation's wonderful system of providing opportunities for young people by giving them a chance to learn musical insstruments and play in youth orchestras , which is known as "El Sistema ". Several years ago , he won a prestigious conducting competion in Germany and has since become gone on to conduct the world's top orchestras with enormous success and to get a recording contract with the prestigious record label Deutsche Grammophon .
Dudamel is also music director of Sweden's prestigious Gothenburg Symphony , and leads the Simon Bolivar Youth orchestra of Venezuela, flagship of El Sistema , and one of the world's finest youth orchestras , with which he has toured internationally to enormous audience acclaim .
And the good news is that Dudamel has initiated a plan to give poor and disadvantaged youngsters in America a chance to do something comparable to what has been going on in Venezuela for some years . He has formed the Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles and other cities in the US are starting to form a system of early musical training and youth orchestras in major cities .
Unfortunately in recent years , too many US schools have abandoned ther music programs ; but the 60 Minutes story is extremely encouraging . These music programs wil be very beneficial to many poor youngsters in America and motivate them to try to make the best of themselves . And musicians from the top US orchestras are getting involved with the music programs and teaching in them . Who said that everything is gloomy in America today ?
Last night I finally got a chance to see the Met's new production of Bizet's ever-popular Carmen on PBS . You can also see it streamed to your computer at metplayer.org , and it should be coming out on DVD shortly .
For this new production , the noted English director Richard Eyre makes his Met debut ,and the action of the opera has been updated from the 19th century story to 1930s Seville during the Franco era , without in any way turning it into one of those appallingly tasteless and arbitrarily gimmicky Eurostrash productions which are so common in European opera companies today .
The sets are fairly simple and even drab ,in contrast to the previous Met production by the ever controversial Franco Zeffirelli , with its lavish realism , and Eyre has gotten highly detailed and expressive acting out of the entire cast .
The charismatic young Latvian mezzo Elina Garanca (ga-RAN-cha) was an earthy and passionate Carmen , and her raw sexuality was entirely spontaneous , without any self-conscious vamping . She was ruthlessly manipulative of her poor obsessed lover Don Jose, played by French /Sicilian tenor Roberto Alagna , and both sang gorgeously .
The very tall and handsome New Zealand -born baritone Teddy Tahu Rhodes as the macho Toreador Escamillo , displayed a rich voice and even bears a certain resemblance to Clark Gable ! And Italian soprano Barbara Frittoli was a touchingly sincere foil to the Carmen of Garanca as the village girl Micaela , who tries in vain to save Don Jose from the clutches of the gypsy seductress .
This was my first chance to hear the conducting up the young French Canadian maestro Yannick Nezet-Seguin , who made his Met debut with this production and is one of the fastest-rising young conductors of the present day , and he left no doubt about his talents .
He conducted with a sure hand ,supported the singers expertly and brought out the many colors of Bizet's score vividly . This is definitely a major podium talent , and he will be back next season to conduct the Met's new production of Verdi's Don Carlo . Don't miss this exciting new Met production .
The world's top conductors ,who lead the world's greatest orchestras and opera companies , may be glamorous ,even quasi divine figures to the music-loving public , but being a world-famous maestro can be a thankless and extremely difficult job .
It's not easy to earn the musician's respect , and you're subject to constant critical scrutiny by both the musicians and music critics, both of whom can be a thorn in your side . Frankly , orchestras and musicians don't always get along , and orchestral musicians often grumble about the conductors they play under , for a variety of reasons .
How orchestras react to different conductors is often a mysterious thing . One orchestra will love a conductor and speak about him (now increasingly of her ) in glowing terms , but another orchestra may hate his guts . Even within an orchestra, some musicians may like a conductor and others not .
It's all about chemistry ; this exists between some conductors and orchestras, and not between others . For example , when the German conductor /pianist Christoph Eschenbach was chosen as the Philadelphia orchestra's music director several years ago , the musicians were not exactly thrilled for some reason , and he resigned after only a few years .
But previously , he had had a great relationship with the Houston Symphony , which had flourished under his direction and achieved national prominence under his guidance . He is set to take over the National symphony in Washington shortly , and only time will tell how this works out . The Philadelphia orchestra is still searching for a successor , but the eminent Swiss conductor Charles Dutoit is currently serving as an interim chief conductor, but does not have the title of music director , which entails more power and responsibility .
When a guest conductor comes to an orchestra for the first time , the musicians wil put him or her to the test . And no conductor can fool them for a minute . They are highly critical and the conductor must show that he knows his stuff . If not , he's unlikely to be invited back . In America , the musicians often fill a out an evaluation sheet , grading the conductor on baton technique , knowledge of the score and the instruments , efficiency in rehearsing, and other matters . It's not easy to impress them .
In the past , musicians have been known to test a conductor who is new to them by making deliberate mistakes and even playing out of tune on purpose to see if the man on the podium knows his business . If they don't like a conductor , they can make life difficult for him. The New York Philharmonic once had the reputation of being a group of conductor-bashers who often behaved very badly at rehearsals ,although their current concertmaster Glenn Dicterow says this has changed , and that the orchestra is now highly co-operative with conductors .
I've met msuicians in various leading orchestras , and some of them really admire one conductor and can't stand another . In the past , certain renowned conductors such as Arturo Toscanini ,Fritz Reiner, George Szell and Artur Rodzinski were notorious for being martinets and harsh disciplinarians , and often treated the musicians like an army drill instuctor with recruits .
They had total power over the musicians and could fire them summarily , and musicians lived in fear of losing their jobs . But some of them abused this privelege , and within the past 50 years or so , the musician's unions made it much harder for them to fire musicians , and granted them tenure after an initial probationary year .
The legendary Hungarian-born conductor Fritz Reiner ,who led the Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Chicago symphonies from the 1920s to the early 60s , fired so many musicians that this joke emerged: it was predicted that when he died, he would fire the pallbearers at his funeral !
Things are very different today , but conductors and orchestras still sometimes get along like cats and dogs .
"A Devil To Play " by British journalist Jasper Rees , is a wonderful book I've just read . It's the story of how Rees , a noted journalist , began playing the horn as an amateur again after many years , having studied this most difficult of instruments as a boy .
He picked up the instrument and began practicing in earnest in order to perform at the annual festival of the British Horn Society , where professional and amateur hornists gather en masse to practice and perform under the guidance of some of England's top masters of the instrument . In the course of this delightful book, Rees recounts his experiences meeting some of the world's greatest horn players ,principals of some of the world's greatest orchestras and some of the few horn players who have gone on to make careers as soloists on the horn .
They include such superstars of the horn world as Dale Clevenger of the Chicago Symphony , Philip Myers of the New York Philharmonic ,David Pyatt of the London Symphony and German soloist Hermann Baumann among others . There is also much fascinating information on the history of the horn,or French horn as some call it in English-speaking countries , and the lives of such legendary horn players as Joseph Leitgeb, for whom Mozart wrote his horn concertos , the Bohemian-born virtuoso Giovanni Punto , who was born a serf in what is now the Czech republic in the 18th century and became the most renowned horn player of his day , Franz Strauss , the brilliant but irascible father of the great composer Richard Strauss , and in the 20th century , the great British hornist Dennis Brain , considered by many the greatest who ever lived .
There is also discussion of the various leading horn-making firms ,such as Paxman of England , and Alexander and Kruspe of Germany ,among others . I loved the description of the Paxman store in London , which sells not only Paxman horns but ones from other makers ,and all manner of horn paraphernalia .
You will learn of the tragically untimely death in a car accident in 1957 at the age of only 36 of Dennis Brain , who loved fast cars and took too many risks as a driver , how Mozart was constantly kidding Joseph Leitgeb about being what we would call a dork in a good-natured way , and how Franz Strauss was constantly angering leading conductors and composers with his surly nature ,even though he delighted them with his magnificent playing , and much ,much more .
You can easily obtain "A Devil To Play " at websites such as Amazon.com . Don't miss it !
There are indeed difficult times for the world of classical music in general . The very existence of many of America's orchestras and opera companies is in jeropardy ,and some have already succumbed to the difficult economic times and scarcity of government and private financial support .
It has been extremely difficult to atttract new audiences to concerts , but considerably less so to opera performances . Every one is worried about the supposed "graying" of audiences .How can classical music attract a significant number of younger people to become regular or at least sometimes concertgoers ?
How can we convince more people that classical music is indeed "relevant " and something which can make your life more interesting and enjoyable ? And another serious problem is classical music's "image problem". You know , the myth that it is stuffy ,boring and "elitist" ,and not something for regular people .
Too many people still have a steeotypical view of classical music and opera in their heads which has been reinforced for so many years by television commercials of ridiculous-looking overweight people in pseudo-Viking costumes , and mental images of concert pianists ,conductors and orchestras in tuxedos . This image also stereotypes classical music and reinforces the false public image of classical music as being stuffy and too formal, as if there were actually anything wrong with such dress for concerts .
But it's vital to debunk these myths about classical music and make more people aware that it's the music that counts ,not concert wear . How do we bring the message of classical music to more people, not necessarily young ones, that classical music can be an exhilherating experience if you just give it a chance ? Classical music needs to be defended from the constant media assault on it and myths which have circulated for so long .
Renowned American composer John Adams now has a blog called "Hell Mouth " ,in which he comments on composers and contemporary music in general ,as well as composers of the past . He's a very engaging writer , and his posts are often full of droll humor .
In one of his latest posts , he has a tongue-in-cheek discussion of a supposed new invention designed for New York Philharmonic concerts at Avery Fisher hall in Lincoln Center . It's called the "Listener Speedy Exit Ramp ."
As is well-known, many concertgoers are extremely allergic to contemporary music , or even certain works from the past by some composers . The alleged new device enables listeners who can't stand any particular piece to exit Avery Fisher hall within a few seconds and to have immediate access to the subways or train stations .
It's also full of in jokes for people who are knowledgable about classical music which will be lost onnewbies , but they're a blast . One of them is a reference to a listener who found Mahler's great song cycle with orchestra "Das Lied Von Der Erde "(The song of the erath) tedious . This person mentions the singer in the last song "going on about an erarwig "
No, the song does not mention that insect , but uses the German word "Ewig" (eternal or eternally) . The post also mentions how a device analyzes the music technically to determine when any given audience member might want an instant exit .
Adams' piece is a blast , but it does raise questions about close-minded audience members at concerts , who are unfortunately very common , and who sometimes force orchestras to restrict themselves to the most familiar works , and avoid challenging new music in order to avoid disastrous drops in ticket sales .
But orchestras MUST play new works , or the repertoire will become stagnant . What if composers such as Beethoven , Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Dvorak , Bartok, Stravinsky , Prokofiev and others had not gotten a chance to have their music heard long ago ? We would not have many great works which are now staples of the orchestral repertoire .
What if Beethoven had just kept on writing pleasant symphonies in the style of Haydn and Mozart instead of giving the world HIS once revolutionary symphonies ? Classical music is not and has never been an unchanging entity . Nor will it be .
Composer , critic and commentator Greg Sandow is at it again at his blog at artsjournal.com . He's been comparing audience behavior at classical and Rock concerts and wondering if there's something wrong with the former because of the very different way that audiences behave there compared to Rock concerts .
But is there really something wrong with classical music in general because of these differences ? I don't think so . As usual, Sandow is comparing apples and oranges . Rock concerts are very different because Rock music is very different from classical music . Rock music tends to be consistently loud and raucous as well as amplified with microphones . There's an insistent beat , and people who are accustomed to Rock music often wonder where the "beat " is in classical music when they go to classical concerts ro listen to recordings of it .
But classical music has an enormous amount of contrast between softnes and loudness, with many gradations of volume . This is what classical muscicians call dynamics . The rhythms of classical music are much more varied ,complex and irregular . Instead of a constant four beats per measure there are sometimes three or six , or even irregular measures of five and seven occaisionally . The harmonies are much more complex. Instead of thre or four chords, there is a virtually limitless number of possible chords in classical .
A work might begin very softly and end very loudly ,or vice versa . A symphony will have fast-paced movements as well as reflective slow ones . Audiences have to concentrate and listen very carefully, particularly if it's a work which is new to them . Classical music are a totally different experience from Rock concerts .
This is how Sandow compares the two experiences : "Rock, by its very sound ,its inherent informality ,its beat , just invites participation (not to mention its familiarity, its ease and the way it invites just about any one to start a band and join in . " )
Later he asks, "Can classical music ever arouse people in the simple ,human, ecstatic participatory way that Rock does ? " And here's the clincher : "Or is that even necessary ? Does classical music walk its own austere road with all the exciement going on within ?"
Again, he's comparing apples and oranges . But unfortunately , his comments reinforce the myth that classical concerts are stuffy and boring . Even though audiences may be quiet while the music is playing , they burst out into cheers and bravos at the end . THey're are as excited as as sports fans when their team wins the game .
Some years ago , I attended a memorable performance in Carnegie hall by the great Vienna Philharmonic conducted by the eminent Italian conductor Claudio Abbado . At the conclusion of a magnificent performance of Bruckner's 7th symphony , the cheering and stamping was so loud I had to cover my ears !
Personally,( and this should not be construed as a snobbish dismissal of Rock or other kinds of music ), classical music has a complexity ,profundity and emotional power which Rock music cannot even come remotely close to offering . That's why I've devoted my life to it .