July 2010 - Posts
Earlier this week, there was a fascinating report on ABC's Nightline about a sort of anthrolopgist who travels all over the world to exotic places for one purpose- to eat the strangest and most unappetizing food imaginable . Insects, organ meat from animals, rats,you name it . Disgusting and gross .
But I like to think of myself as the equivalent of this in classical music . Many concertgoers all over America are extremely reluctant to hear works by such avant-garde composers as Elliott Carter, Pierre Boulez, Milton Babbitt, Brian Ferneyhough ,Kaaia Saariaho , Charles Wuorinen and others , composers which many US orchestras would never dare to feature on their programs for fear of alienating their audiences .
It's not uncommon for some outraged audience members to write angry letters to their local orchestras when they hear a contemporary work at a concert saying that if the orchestra continues to play awful music like this,they will cancel their subscriptions. But certain orchestras ,like the New York Philharmonic , the Boston Symphony and the Chicago Symphony etc, do sometimes program these difficult and challenging works ,audience be damned .
Unfortunately , many concertgoers would rather be waterboarded than listen to music by a composer like Elliott Carter, who turns 102 this December and is still writing the kind of uncompromisingly thorny and mystifying works he has been composing for decades . The very thought of listening to something other than their beloved Beethoven,Brahms, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov is extremely unpleasant to too many concertgoers .
In fact, even listening to such long-established 20th century atonal composers as Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg and Anton Webern is extremely distressing .Some concertgoers will go to a concert and stay away during the performance of a contemporary work and come back to hear their favorite violinist or pianist play his umpteenth performance of a familiar concerto by Beethoven,Mendelssohn,Schumann or Tchaikovsky, or the performance of Schubert's Unfinished symphony or Dvorak's beloved New World symphony .
But having been exposed to a wide variety of contemporary music , I'm sort of the musical equivalent of that adventurous eater .I'm willing to give any avant-garde composer a hearing .And although I certainly don't like every work by a contemporary composer I hear ,listening to their music doesn't phaze me. I'll give any avant-garde composer a hearing . In fact, I'm very curious to hear new and challenging works. It's not as though I were going to eat a rat .
According to statistics, only about one per cent of the members of Americas hundreds of professional orchestras are African-American . This is certainly unfortunate, but those who suspect racism and discrimination for this are mistaken . There are a number of explanations for this.
First , very few blacks have ever aimed at careers in American orchestras. They get very little exposure to classical music ,so very few have taken up orchestral instruments . Whenever an orchestra has an opening , it will often get 200 or more applicants for the job, but chances are that no blacks will apply at all. This is not the fault of our orchestras and their music directors; they are not trying to exclude blacks. Even if they intended to do so, they have very few to choose from. IN all the many auditions I attended over the years as a horn player, I don't recall seeing a single black applicant .
Also, to prevent any possibility of discrimination based on race or gender, US orchestras have blind auditions behind screens; the audition committees,members of the orchestras whose job is to evaluate the applicants , cannot see the applicants and have nothing but their playing to go on, and each applicant has a number, so that complete anonymity is assured. This system has also greatly increased the number of women in our orchestras over the years .
Furthermore, the members of the committees,and the music directors, who have the final decision in hiring,are not interested in an applicant's skin color . The only thing that matters is the way you play . Those few blacks who have gotten jobs in orchestras have done so purely on ability and luck. The Washington National symphony recently appointed a black tympanist, but he got the job purely on the strength of his playing.
So if there are any young aspiring orchestra musicians who are black , there is no need for them to feel discouraged from trying . Getting a job in an orchestra is incredibly difficult no matter who you are . Competition is fierce for openings .
There are however, a significant number of Asian-American and Asian-born musicians in American orchestras . Japan, South Korea and increasingly China have been supplying many US orchestras with many musicians, particularly string players, and the New York Philharmonic recently appointed a principal oboist from China.
But if you are a telnted young classical musician who happens to be African-American, there is nothing barring your way to success in the field , whether you are an aspiring orchestral musician, or aim at a solo career as a pianist , violinist, cellist or whatever, or hope to become a conductor ,composer or opera singer . Classical music is a meritocracy .
Despite the manifold woes afflicting the classical music world today, there is much to be thankful for . Yes, the existence of many orchestras and opera companies in America is in jeopardy, but the vast majority are still active and holding their heads above water. There is much worry over the aging of the audience for classical music and uncertainty as to how to increase the audience and interest young people in this great art form .
But there are also more orchestras,opera companies and other performing organizations for classical music than ever before in America, and there are also more of these in Asian countries than ever before. Interest in western classical music in China is booming, and Asian countries are are major source of musical talent.
Commercial studio recordings by our major orchestras have virtually become a thing of the past ; the New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony,Boston Symphony,Philadelphia and Cleveland orchestras, as well as those of Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, St.Louis, Dallas,Houston, Washington, etc have not had recording contracts with major record labels for years . But the Boston, San Francisco, and other orchestras elsewhere, such as the London Symphony and others,have formed there own recording organizations to release some of their live performances on CD.
Naxos records, which has grown in the past 20 years from a small label recording obscure but very good eastern European orchestras dirt cheap, has grown into the largest and most successful classical record label in the world, and now records prestigious orchestras such as the London Symphony and others with major conductors, and is enabling more and more American orchestras to record again , as well as offering numerous DVDs.
The Metropolitan Opera and Boston Symphony face major difficulties because of the physical disabilities of their towering leaderJames Levine, but outstanding young podium talents such as Gustavo Dudamel, Yannick Nezet-Seguin and others have been accomplshing much and achieving international acclaim.
The Metropolitan Opera's High Definition broadcasts of live performances in movie theaters around the US are attracting more and more people, and the internet has transformed the way people listen to classical music by making so much of it available online . Sales of classical CDs are only a small part of overall CD sales worldwide, but there are more classical labels than ever before ,and they offer a mind-bogglingly wide variety of classical music of all eras to the public.
Classical CD collectors who are tired of getting CDs of the familiar masterpieces because they already have too much replication can now choose from an incredibly wide range of obscure but interesting works by lesser-known but worthwhike composers as Jon Leifs, Charles Koechlin, Nikolai Myaskovsky,Sergei Taneyev, Silvestre Revueltas, George Whitefield Chadwick, Arthur Bliss, Othmar Schoeck, Hans Pfitzner, Alfredo Casella and many,many others who are rarely performed live .
Despite the vicissitudes, those who love classical music have never had it so good.
The August issue of Opera News magazine magazine features a variety of interesting articles on French opera . William R. Braun discusses the spectacular but now rarely performed operas of Giacomo Meyerbeer, who though a Berlin-born Jew ,lived in Paris most of his life and was the Andrew Lloyd Webber of the 19th century ,and who wrote such once popular French langauge operas as "Le Prophete" ,"Les Huguenots" , "Robert Le Diable" and " L'Africaine" among others .
Patrick Dillon discusses the long vanished tradition of performing popular Italian operas in French in France ,including descriptions of recordings by famous French opera singers of the past doing this . Nowadays, with the international casts of opera performances everywhere , these operas are sung in the original Italian there.
The distinguished Australian conductor Richard Bonynge ,husband of the great and now retired soprano Joan Sutherland , is interviewed about his love for the elegant operas of French composer Jules Massenet (1842-1912) , which he has often conducted and recorded ,and classical music journalist and blogger Jessica Duchen interviews the versatile French soprano Patricia Petibon ,who sings everything from the operas of Handel to the 20th century operas of Alban Berg .
There is also an interview with the rising French composer and conductor Frederic Chaslin, recently appointed music director of the Santa Fe opera in New Mexico ,who blames the renowned composer and conductor Pierre Boulez for his alleged adverse affect on classical music in France today with his championship of avant-garde music .
Hugh Macdonald ,a musicologist on the faculty of Washington University in St.Louis , chooses what he considers to be the "Top 10 French Operas"; they are Carmen, Les Troyens by Berlioz , Debussy's Pelleas et Melisande , Rameau's Hypolite et Aricie , Massenet's Werther , Saint-Saen's Samson & Dalilah, Gluck's Iphigenie en Tauride , Ravel's L'Heure Espagnole, Poulenc's farcical Les Mamelles de Tiresias and Chabrier's L'Etoile(The Star).
Reviews of live performance include the recent world premiere of Jake Heggie's Moby *** at the Dallas opera , and performances from the Metropolitan opera , and the opera houses of Houston ,Boston and Seatlle ,as well as Paris ,London ,Milan, Zurich , Florence and Geneva in Europe .
The CD review section has reviews of a new recording of an early opera by Meyerbeer in Italian called "Il Crociato in Egitto " (the crusade in Egypt) on Naxos , Ruddigore by Gilbert and Sullivan from the Ohio Light opera festival ,and a reissue of the opera "Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines " by the late American composer and Columbia University music professor Jack Beeson, who passed away only a few weeks ago .
DVD reviews include a performance of "Sophie's Choice" by the recently deceased English composer Nicholas Maw from the Royal Opera in London ,based on the famous novel by William Styron . No one who enjoys opera should ever miss a issue of Opera News ,and you can visit their website, operanews.com .
Word has just come out that the revered Australian conductor Sir Charles Mackerras has died of cancer at the age of 84. In his long and distinguished career , Mackerras appeared with enromous success with virtually all of the world's leading orchestras and opera companies , and leaves a legacy of many acclaimed recordings of music ranging from Handel to the 20th century .
He was born of Australian parents in Schenectady New York in 1925 and grew up in Australia ,where he became an accomplished oboist and a member of the Sydney symphony orchestra . But he had ambitions to become a conductor and studied in Prague with the great Czech conductor Vaclav Talich (1883-1961) , and became filled with enthusiasm for the music of such great Czech composers as Janacek and Dvorak .
Mackerras almost single-handedly made the highly original music of Janacek world famous by championing his music throughout his career ,both the operas and the orchestral music, and made a historic set of definitive recordings of the operas with the Vienna Philharmonic and leading Czech and non-czech conductors for Decca recordings in the 70s and 80s.
He was also famous for his performances of the music of Handel and Mozart, and was a pioneer in the use of period instruments in orchestras and the application of aspects of "Historically Informed Performance " or HIP with modern orchestras . But his performances were never merely pedantic or doctrinaire , and he always brought the music vividly to life .
Sir Charles had close relationships with the various London orchestras such as the Philharmonia and London Symphony , the Vienna Philharmonic , the Sydney Symphony orchestra ,the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and period instrument groups such as the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, and leading opera houses such as the Royal Opera in London and the English National Opera .
He also conducted at the Metropolitan and the San francisco Opera on numerous occaisions . Sir Charles will be greatly missed throughout the classical music world .
Many people have a lot of preconceived notions about classical music; they've been misled into thinking that classical music is stuffy, boring and "elitist" , and wonder if they should go to concerts at all . So here's some information about what to expect at a concert by a symphony orchestra if you've never been to one of these allegedly mysterious events .
Firdt of all , there's absoutely nothing to worry about . Just get your tickets, go, and enjoy yourself . There's no "dress code". You don't have to wear a tuxedo or black tie . The musicians in the orchestra do dress nicely , but don't let that bother you . Some people actually don't want to go to concerts because of the way the orchestra is dressed , and this is not only silly , but terribly unfortunate . Concerts aren't about clothes-they're about the music !
There's some controversy today about when the audience should applaud . Generally , they wait until the very end of a work , and don't applaud inbetween movements of a symphony or concerto . Some people who are new to concertgoing have been known to applaud inbetween, and others in the audience have been known to shush them . This can be an embarassing experience , and has even led some of these concert novices to stay away from concerts, which is a pity .
Some critics and commentators have been deploring the lack of applause between movements, and point out the fact that this kind of applause was the norm until the 20th century, and that composers were dismayed if there was no applause here in the past , and saw it as a sign that the audience disliked the work when it was new . Now there is a trend to be more tolerant of applause between movements, although some musicians who are the soloists in a concerto or are playing a solo recital find the applause unnerving and say it interferes with their concentration .
When you are listening , try to concentrate and focus on any given work . But feel free to applaud vigorously and yell bravo if you really enjoy something . Some orchestras allow concertgoers to see the conductor backstage and congratulate him or her . If you like, you might send the conductor and orchestra a thank you note saying how much you enjoyed the concert, and describe what you enjoyed about the music and the performance . They really appreciate this .
Some years ago, when I was auditioning for the New York Philharmonic and went backstage at Avery Fisher halkl in Lincol Center , I noticed some of these letters put up in the backstage area .
Be sure to read the program with its information about the music , which is usually written by a learned musicologist whose job is to explain the music for the audience . Sometimes the notes are very helpful, and sometimes audiences complain that they are much too technical ; it varies from orchestra to orchestra . You can also google the composers to find information about them and their works , and you can also listen to recordings of the music before .
There's nothing to worry about at a concert . Just go and enjoy the music ! You won't regret the experience .
This Saturday evening's third annual meetup for members of the classicalmusicguide.com forum at Gabriel's restaurant in Manhattan was a huge success . Gourmet food and stimulating conservation provided a memorable eveing . I met quite a few of the same people who were there last year at O'Neal's restaurant near Gabriel's , and several who hadn't been there . We were fortunate to have a private room .
Photos were taken , and every one had a wonderful evening . My cellist friend Richard , who is not a member ,came along as a guest , and was delighted to meet every one and talk about classical music with them . We discussed famous musicians ,past and present , the latest buzz from the classical music world , told jokes and recalled our experiences as listeners or in some cases, performers .
It was great to meet people we normally have contact with on the internet live and to have extended chats . You should try this forum ,either just to lurk or become a member. Any one who's enthisiastic about classical music, whether expert or newbie, professional musicians or just listeners, is welcome .
The other day ,conservative pundit L. Brent Bozell was excoriating certain controversial art works which have been shown at museums around the USA ,ie,the works of Andres Serrano and Robert Mapplethorpe ,at Townhall.com, a conservative website. He was using these questionable art works as an excuse to trot out the same old conservative straw men about the supposed waste of vast amounts of government money to support obscene art etc, and how this is symptomatic of America's moral decline, and all that nonsense.
Of course, he conveniently failed to mention that the National Endowment For The Arts ,which he and many other right-wingers oppose so vehemently, takes less than a dollar from each taxpayer a year to support the arts in general in America, including our orchestras,opera companies, legitimate painters and sculptors, dance and drama companies etc.
Like other conservatives, Bozell is always making it sound as though evil liberal politicians in Washington are taking an enormous amount of money from honest,hard-working Americans for no other purpose than to support "obscene art", and that this must be stopped and the NEA abolished once and for all.
The NEA gets a pitiful amount of money from Washington to support the arts in general in America while so many of our symphony orchestras and opera companies are struggling to stay in existence and others are getting by but not without considerable financial difficulties. A number of them have already gone under,or are on the brink of doing so.
The livlihoods of who knows how many talented, dedicated and hard-working musicians are in jeopardy, as well as theose who work on administration in all 50 states. In my response at Townhall.com, I pointed out these facts . But the other people who left comments fell for Bozell's nonsense and expressed their outrage that the government supports disgusting things,and called for the NEA to be abolished.
One person showed some sympathy to classical music, but said that the government does not"owe classical musicians a living" and that if classical musicians are good enough they should be able to make a living on their own. In addition, my response mentioned the fact that private philhanthropies,which many feel should provide for classical music in America, do not provide anywhere near enough,and thus, our orchestras and opera companies are in danger .
This person ,like others who have said similar things over the internet,just doesn't get it. I was not calling for the government to "provide a living " for classical musicians, nor did I say that it owes them a living. What I meant was that withoyt help, the future of classical music in America could be grim. Furthermore, these people do not realize that it's not the fault of individual classical musicians that they are having difficulties, but the fact that it costs a considerable amount of money to run world class symphony orchestras and opera companies .
Without help, they could be doomed . This is not good for America . People who are so opposed to government funding for the arts fail to realize that the arts are good for America. They help the economy to flourish . If classical music, dance, drama, painting,sculpture and photography etc do well, this is highly beneficial to the US economy . Some people just don't get it.
It would be wonderful of course, if we could get more financial help from the private sector to help classical music flourish in America . But tycoons such as Bill Gates,Warren Buffett and others don't seem to be interested, or else they are unaware of the crisis of the arts in America.
So if you're reading this, and you enjoy classical music, please contact Bill Gates ,Buffett and other wealthy captains of industry in America and let them know that our symphony orchestra and opera companies need help. If not, it may only be a matter of time before you and I cannot attend concerts and opera in your local town because they no longer exist .
If you're new to opera, or would like to get to know this fascinating and infinitely varied art form, DVDs are just the thing for you, and there's a very wide variety of operas easily available to you . With a few exceptions, they come with subtitles in English and other languages which you can access through the DVD menu .
Most are from live performances in operas houses all over Europe ,America and elsewhere, even Australia, but a number are films made by famous directors such as Franco Zeffirelli with the singers lip-synching the acting and the sound tracks recorded by them and the orchestra and conductor in a studio.
Tickets at opera houses such as the Metropolitan Opera ,The Royal Opera in London and elsewhere can be very expensive, but a DVD allows you to see performances from opera houses everywhere for about a tenth of the cost of ticket . You can experience 400 years of operatic repertoire in the comfort of your own home . Operas by such 18th century composers as Handel, Gluck , Rameau, and Mozart all the way to recent ones by contemporary composers such as John Adams, Thomas Ades, Hans Werner Henze and others.
You can see and hear such great opera singers as Luciano Pavarotti,Renee Fleming, Karita Mattila, Placido Domingo,Bryn Terfel, Benjamin Heppner, Angela Gheorghiu, Natalie Dessay, Thomas Hampson, and many others , and there are even older performances preserved on DVD by famous singers who are either no longer living or retired, such as Renata Tebaldi, Maria Callas, Franco Corelli, Sherrill Milnes, Leontyne Price, Birgit Nilsson, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Renata Scotto, and many others.
Here are some suggestions for operatic newbies, covering only some of the most famous operas ,which are perfect ones to start with:
Giuseppe Verdi: Aida : Metropolitan Opera, Deutsche Grammophon DVD. James Levine conducting.
Georges Bizet : Carmen: Grace Bumbry,Jon Vickers, Deutsche Grammophon,Herbert von Karajan,conductor.
Verdi: La Traviata: Anna Netrebko, Rolando Villazon, Deutsche Grammophon.
Gioacchino Rossini: Il Barbiere Di Siviglia(The Barber Of Seville) Kathleen Battle,Leo Nucci, Deutsche Grammophon,Metropolitan Opera.
Giacomo Puccini: La Boheme. Teresa Stratas,Jose Carerras, Metropolitan Opera, Deutsche Grammophon.
Verdi: Il Trovatore: Luciano Pavarotti, Eva Marton,Metropolitan Opera,Deutsche Grammophon.
Mozart: Le Nozze Di Figaro. Bryn Terfel, Deutsche Grammophon.
Gaetano Donizetti: Lucia Di Lammermoor. Joan Sutherland,Alfredo Kraus, Metropolitan Opera, Deutsche Grammophon.
Verdi: Rigoletto. James Levine,conductor,Metropolitan Opera, Deutsche Grammophon.
All of these are easily available from arkivmusic.com and other websites, but arkiv has the best selection by far. Opera is a magical art form !
I'm a member of the classicalmusicguide.com forum , and this Saturday ,some of the members will be having a dinner at Gabiel's in Manhattan this Saturday evening ,including me. This will be the forum's thrid annual meeting, and the second for me. I'm really looking forward to it, and it should be wonderful evening,filled with scinillating conversation and (I hope) wonderful food.
The food was certainly wonderful last year at O'Neill's restaurant near Lincoln Center, and it was a truly memorable evening. This time at Gabiel's, we'll have a private room,which should be very nice,and it will be great to meet some of the forum members face-to-face again.
Even if you're new to classical music , you should enjoy becoming a member of classicalmusicguide.com . It's a very welcoming forum with classical music fans from all over the US and Europe . The members range from professional classical musicians to people who just love to listen, and there are separate forums to discuss current events and politics, movies, live performances and books.
All you have to do to register is to choose a user name and get your password, and you can discuss any aspect of classical music,composers,individuals works, recordings, conductors,violinists,pianists,opera singers etc. If you're a newcomer to classical music, the knowledgable members will be glad to help you with any information and advice on classical music,recommendations of recordings to get and works to hear etc.
The rising young French conductor Ludovic Morlot ,36, has been chosen to succeed the controversial American conductor Gerard Schwarz ,62, as music director of the Seattle symphony orchestra . The orchestra had been searching for a new conductor for some time after Schwarz decided to step down from the orchestra after some 25 years .
This will be Morlot's first orchestra to lead as a music director . He has been appearing as guest conductor with a many leading orchestras for several years and had previously served as assistant conductor of the Boston Symphony under James Levine ,who has been a mentor to him .
Morlot's career has been boosted by substituting at the last minute for such eminent conductors as Riccardo Muti and Christoph von Dohnanyi and others , and from all reports , musicians in the Seattle symphony and other leading orchestras think highly of him , which is not always the case with these highly critical and difficult to please individuals .
Schwarz will assume the position of conductor laureate in Seattle . The New York born conductor , who began his career as a world class trumpeter and had left his position as principal trumpet of the New York Philharmonic to pursue a conducting career in the 1970s , had brought the Seattle orchestra to national prominence and made numerous recordings with it for the now defunct Delos records .
But not without a considerable amount of controversy and infighting within the orchestra . There had been dissension within the orchestra ; some of the musicians frankly disliked Schwarz and there were reports of harsh treatment of some of the musicians at rehearsals by him , and lawsuits and rancor followed .
There are hopes that Morlot and the orchestra will have a smooth and artisitically productive relationship , and the musicians and orchestra management are highly optimistic . He will assume the position next year and has signed a six year contract . Let's hope the best for them .