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September 2010 - Posts

Composers Aren't Always The Best Judges Of Their Music

 Recently,at the classicalmusicguide.com forum, of which I'm a member, there was a discussion of an early work by the great Finnish composer Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) called Kullervo(accent the first syllable) , a large scale choral symphony based on Finnish mythology .  It's a powerful,sweeping and colorful work for orchestra,chourus and vocal soloists, but for some reason, the composer was not happy with it ,and it was never published or performed until the 1970s, over a decade after Sibelius died .

  The first recording of the work also dates from the 70s, and since then it has had a fair number or performances, and leading Sibelius conductors such as Paavo Berglund, Neeme Jarvi, Leif Segerstam, and Sir Colin Davis have championed and recorded it.  Do try it, and the recordings come with English translations of the vocal sections. Other parts of it are purely orchestral.

  This just goes to show you that composers sometimes misjudge the works they have written. In fact, some of them have even destroyed works which they felt were not good enough to deserve being published and performed. Johannes Brahms is known to have burnt more than a few of the works he wrote, and Sibelius did this also. He wrote seven symphonies, and the classical music world was anticipating an 8th, but this never materialized. It's not certain whether the manuscript was destroyed or was never even written, and this question has yet to be resolved by musicologists.

  One of the most notable examples of composition- destruction is the French composer Paul Dukas, born the same year as Sibelius and who died in 1936. He is best known for the symphonic poem The Sorceror's Apprentice, made famous from its use in the classic Disney film Fantasia. It's a very colorful and effective piece, but unfortunately is one of the composer's few surviving works. He was so self critical that he destroyed most of his output, and his entire surviving catalogue of works would probably fit on only five CDs. 

 

  Contrast with the enormous CD sets of the complete works of Mozart,Bach,Beethoven and other composers which are available, often at amazing bargain prices.  Other surviving Dukas works, and very fine ones,include a symphony, a piano sonata, and an opera called Ariane&Barbe Bleue which is occaisionally revivied and has been recorded. Dukas was also an eminent teacher,and taught for many years at the prestigious Paris conservatoire. Among his many pupils was the great French composer Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992, whose music I have discussed previously on my blog .

  Another work is the ballet score La Peri, a colorful and exotic score based on an ancient Persian legend. Yet Dukas considered destroying it before it was published. If so,we would never have had the chance to hear this  very appealing work. As far as I know, no one who has heard it has ever thought that it should have been destroyed.

  Which leads one to wonder how many genuine masterpieces may have been destroyed because some composers were not pleased with them. Not a pleasant thought at all.

Posted: Sep 29 2010, 05:44 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Opening Night At The Met Is This Evening !

 Opening night at the Metropolitan Opera has been one of the most glamorous and celebrity-filled events in New York City for over a century ;in fact, it has often been more about the wealthy and influential showing up in their finery to see and be seen than the opera being perfomed that night.

  Of course, this merely reinforces the stereotype of opera being a frivolous entertainment for the wealthy and a stuffy,snobbish event where you have to wear formal clothing, but the rest of the season is nothing like this, and there is no dress code at the Met at all. Many people come straight from work to performances.   

  But tonight is different; it's the inauguration of the Met's much-anticipated and discussed new production of Wagner's monumental Ring Of The Nibelunger,at least the first part of it,Das Rheingold , and the acclaimed maestro James Levine, who has been with the Met for nearly 40 years,is ready to return to the podium after months of being sidelined by serious health problems,including severe back pain.

  As this work is in four continuous scenes and lasts about two and a half hours,there won't even be an intermission, and there will be large screens outdoors at Lincoln Center and elsewhere in Manhattan for public viewing on a first come,first serve basis. 

  Every one is hoping that maestro Levine will be up to the enormous demands of conducting the Ring as well as a number of other operas this season , and his concerts with the Boston Symphony, his other job.  The second of the Ring Dramas,Die Walkure,(The Valkyrie), will be presented later this season, and the rest of new Ring will be unveiled next season. 

  Das Rheingold and several other operas will be part of the Met's High Definition broadcasts in movie theaters around America starting next month, and check your local movie theater for this. If these broadcasts are not in a theater near you, you can check the Met's website metopera.org, about streaming the performances over the internet.

  The Met has a cast filled with some of today's finest Wagnerian singers,including the great Welsh Bass Baritone Bryn Terfel, as Wotan, chief of the gods.  Whatever the evening is like, it won't be dull !

Posted: Sep 27 2010, 05:37 PM by the horn | with no comments
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How Too Cook A Conductor

 Orchestra musicians always love to tell jokes about conductors,those egotists of the classical music world. Here's great one.

How To Cook A Conductor: Ingredients: One large conductor,or two small assistant conductors. Ketchup. 26 large garlic cloves. Crisco or other solid vegetable shortening. Lard may be used. One cask of cheap wine. One lb. alfalfa sprouts. 2 lbs. of assorted yuppie food such as Tofu or yoghurt. One abused orchestra.

  First, catch a conductor ,and remove the tail and horns.Carefully separate the large ego and save it for the sauce. Remove any batone or pencils (on permanent loan from principal second violin) and long articulations .Remove the hearing aid(it never worked anyway) and discard. Examine your conductor carefully- many of them are mostly large intestine .If you have such a conductor,you will have to discard it and catch another conductor.

  Clean the conductor as you would a squid ,but do not separate tentacles from body. If you have an older conductor,such as one from a major orchestra or Summer music festival, you may wish to tenderize it by pounding the conductor on a rock with tymapni mallets or by smashing the conductor between two or three cymbals.

  Next, pour one half of the cask of wine into a bathtub and soak the conductor for at least 12 hours,except British, German and American ones, which can have a beery taste which some people like,and add the wine ,which might not marry with the flavor.Use your own judgement.

 When the conductor is sufficiently marinated, remove any clothes the conductor may be wearing and rub it all over with the garlic.Then cover your conductor with the crisco shortening,using vague,circular motions. Take care to cover every inch of the conductor with the shortening .If this looks like fun you can cover yourself with the crisco,too.

  Next,take your conductor and put as much music on as the stands will hold without falling over, and make sure that there are lots of really loud passages for every one, big loud chords for the winds,brass, lots of tremolos for the strings (Bruckner might be appropriate). Rehearse passages several times .Make sure the brass and winds are playing as loud as possible with the strings tremolo-ing and their highest speed.

 This should ensure adequate falmes for cooking your conductor. If not,insist on taking every repeat and be sure to add repeats in really long symphponies .You should choose your repertoire to have as many repeats as possible, but if you have pieces without any you should add some,claiming that you have seen the original but there was one passage that "looked like a repeat" which had been missed by every other fool who had looked at the score. If taking repeats does not generate sufficient flames, burn the complete score and parts to all the Bruckner symphonies.

  When the flames have died down to a medium inferno, place your conductor on top of the orchestra (they won't mind as they're used to it) ,until it is well tanned ,the hair turns back to its natural color and all of the fat has dripped out. Be sure not to overcook your conductor or it well end up tasting like stufed ham.Make a sauce by combining the ego,sprouts and ketchup to taste.

Place it all in the blender and puree until smooth. Sweeten with honey to taste, and carve the conductor as you would any turkey. Serve accompanied by the assorted yuppie foods and the wine with the sauce on the side.

  Warning: Due to environmental toxins present in conductor feeding areas, and extra high concentration of e coli,cryptosporidium, and other hazardous organisms associated with animal waste, the departements for conductor decimation (CDC) recommends that the consumption of conductors be limited to one per season. Overconsumption of conductors has been implicated in epidemiology of a virulent condition known as "Bataan Fever" .Symptoms include swelling of the brain, spasms in the extremities, delusions of competence and excessive longevity.

Posted: Sep 25 2010, 09:11 AM by the horn | with no comments
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Another Conductor Joke-How To Cook A Conductor.

 Orchestra musicians always love to tell jokes about conductors,those egotists of the classical music world. Here's great one.

How To Cook A Conductor: Ingredients: One large conductor,or two small assistant conductors. Ketchup. 26 large garlic cloves. Crisco or other solid vegetable shortening. Lard may be used. One cask of cheap wine. One lb. alfalfa sprouts. 2 lbs. of assorted yuppie food such as Tofu or yoghurt. One abused orchestra.

  First, catch a conductor ,and remove the tail and horns.Carefully separate the large ego and save it for the sauce. Remove any batone or pencils (on permanent loan from principal second violin) and long articulations .Remove the hearing aid(it never worked anyway) and discard. Examine your conductor carefully- many of them are mostly large intestine .If you have such a conductor,you will have to discard it and catch another conductor.

  Clean the conductor as you would a squid ,but do not separate tentacles from body. If you have an older conductor,such as one from a major orchestra or Summer music festival, you may wish to tenderize it by pounding the conductor on a rock with tymapni mallets or by smashing the conductor between two or three cymbals.

  Next, pour one half of the cask of wine into a bathtub and soak the conductor for at least 12 hours,except British, German and American ones, which can have a beery taste which some people like,and add the wine ,which might not marry with the flavor.Use your own judgement.

 When the conductor is sufficiently marinated, remove any clothes the conductor may be wearing and rub it all over with the garlic.Then cover your conductor with the crisco shortening,using vague,circular motions. Take care to cover every inch of the conductor with the shortening .If this looks like fun you can cover yourself with the crisco,too.

  Next,take your conductor and put as much music on as the stands will hold without falling over, and make sure that there are lots of really loud passages for every one, big loud chords for the winds,brass, lots of tremolos for the strings (Bruckner might be appropriate). Rehearse passages several times .Make sure the brass and winds are playing as loud as possible with the strings tremolo-ing and their highest speed.

 This should ensure adequate falmes for cooking your conductor. If not,insist on taking every repeat and be sure to add repeats in really long symphponies .You should choose your repertoire to have as many repeats as possible, but if you have pieces without any you should add some,claiming that you have seen the original but there was one passage that "looked like a repeat" which had been missed by every other fool who had looked at the score. If taking repeats does not generate sufficient flames, burn the complete score and parts to all the Bruckner symphonies.

  When the flames have died down to a medium inferno, place your conductor on top of the orchestra (they won't mind as they're used to it) ,until it is well tanned ,the hair turns back to its natural color and all of the fat has dripped out. Be sure not to overcook your conductor or it well end up tasting like stufed ham.Make a sauce by combining the ego,sprouts and ketchup to taste.

Place it all in the blender and puree until smooth. Sweeten with honey to taste, and carve the conductor as you would any turkey. Serve accompanied by the assorted yuppie foods and the wine with the sauce on the side.

  Warning: Due to environmental toxins present in conductor feeding areas, and extra high concentration of e coli,cryptosporidium, and other hazardous organisms associated with animal waste, the departements for conductor decimation (CDC) recommends that the consumption of conductors be limited to one per season. Overconsumption of conductors has been implicated in epidemiology of a virulent condition known as "Bataan Fever" .Symptoms include swelling of the brain, spasms in the extremities, delusions of competence and excessive longevity.

Posted: Sep 25 2010, 09:11 AM by the horn | with no comments
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Opening Night At The New York Philharmonic- A Gala And Eclectic Evening

 Opening night of the New York Philharnonic,which I saw on PBS last night, proved that classical music is not entirely a world of "Dead White Males". It hasn't been for many years in fact, now that you can hear music by composers of almost any nationality ,as well as music by women and non-westerners at concerts.  And German composers, though an important part of the orchestral repertoire, have absolutely no monopoly on it. 

  The first half of the program was devoted to the New York premiere of a work by the renowned composer and Jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis called"Swing Symphony", which attempts to combine the symphony orchestra with a Jazz ensemble of 15,in this case the Jazz at Lincoln Center orchestra, which Marsalis has led for several years.

  It's not a symphony of the sort that classical audiences are familiar with, the traditional kind by such beloved Dead White Males as Haydn,Mozart,Beethoven,Brahms and Tchaikovsky etc, but nowadays,it's a symphony if a composer decides to call it one. It's more like a suite in multiple movements , progressing from styles such as Ragtime to later Jazz forms, and it's colorful and enjoyable,if a bit overlong at about 50 minutes.

  It gives every section of the orchestra a chance to shine,as well as the numerous riffs of the Jazz ensemble. There is even a section with a decided Latin flavor.  The Philharmonic musicians seemed to work well with the smaller ensemble, and by the expressions on some of their faces,they seemed to be genuinely enjoying themselves.

  Maestro Alan Gilbert, opening his second season as music director of America's oldest symphony orchestra, led the whole thing with confidence and flair. The world premiere took place just a few months ago in of all places Berlin, with its music director Sir Simon Rattle leading the Berlin Philharmonic.

  After intermission, the program was devoted to more traditional repertoire, this time unapologetically German.  There was the passionate and glowing symphonic poem Don Juan by the young Richard Strauss, (1864-1949) ,which does not actually describe the life of the legendary Spanish libertine,but is based on a poem by the German poet Nikolaus Lenau, which describes a man who is engaged in the futile search for the ideal woman to love. He flits from woman to woman in the vain search, and finally allows himself to be killed in a duel ,having given up all hope .

  The final work was the four movement "Symphonic Metamorphoses on Themes by Carl Maria Von Weber," by a younger contemporary of Strauss, Paul Hindemith (1895-1963).  Hindemith began as a member of what was then the musical avant garde, but ended up as a composer who was considered old fashioned and reactionary by more radical composers such as Pierre Boulez and others, never having adopted the doctrinaire compositional methods of the 12 tone or serial composers who were once all the rage in fashionable European and American musical circles.

  The work takes themes from a variety of works by the once famous German composer Carl Maria Von Weber (1786-1826) , who is perhaps most famous for his opera Der Freischutz(The Free Shooter),which is still sometimes performed in Germany but rarely elsewhere, and tranforms them in a most clever and inventive way ,also adding 20th century harmonies which would have shocked listeners in the early 19th century,when the opera was first performed. 

  The second movement is a sort of theme and variations on the pesudo oriental  Chinese flavored music Weber wrote for a play about a legendary Chinese princess called Turandot. Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924),used the same story for his last opera of the same name.  There is a gentle,barcarolle like third movement, and a swaggering and rousing finale. 

  Both works require considerable technical virtuosity from orchestras, and of course, the New York Philharmonic has this in spades.  Overall, it was a most enjoyable concert, and bodes well for Gilbert's future with the orchestra.  The orchestra's next live performance on PBS will be a gala New Year's eve all Tchaikovsky concert,also led by maestro Gilbert, with the brilliant but controversial young Chinese pianist Lang Lang playing the familiar Tchaikovsky first piano concerto . 

Posted: Sep 23 2010, 04:16 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Scratched Library CDs- The Bane Of My Life

 For some time I've been taking advantage of the Westchester library interloan system online to borrow all manner of classical CDs and some DVDs and sometimes books. It's so convenient; all you have to do is go to the website of your local library and use the search engine to locate and click on any library item, and it's soon brought to your library for you to pick up at a charge of only 40 cents per item.

  Fantastic ! But there's just one catch. Too many of the CDs I've borrowed have been scratched,making it impossible to hear them all the way through.I don't know why this has happened to me so many times.Is the Westchester library system jinxed ? Or is there some classical music-hating lunatic who takes them out and deliberately scratches them to make life difficult for classical freaks like me?  Fortunately, the scratched CDs seem to play much better on my DVD player, but the sound is not as good.

  One CD of Wagner's opera The Flying Dutchman had a purple colored spotch on it ! What kind of idiots have been taking these CDs out?  It's not easy to damage a CD. As long as you keep your hands off the surface they should play fine indefinitely.  And it's even happened to some of the many new classical CDs my local library has recently obtained through a generous donation . This damage shouldn't happen to CDs that are this recent. It's enough to drive you crazy !

  And this isn't the only problem. Recently,I got a CD of Verdi's classic opera Rigoletto on interloan, and one of the two CDs contained a CD from another Verdi opera,Don Carlo on a different record label ! Somebody seems to have accidentally put the wrong CD in and mixed it up with the set. The missing Rigoletto CD may have been put in with the Don Carlo set.

  And a few of the movies on CD I've borrowed have been scratched,too, but fortunately not the opera ones. My vexation never seems to end.

Posted: Sep 22 2010, 05:43 PM by the horn | with no comments
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What's New In The World Of Classical Music?

 Plenty. Don't believe those who say that classical music is dated and irrelevant, and that it's a dull and stodgy field .  For one thing, maestro James Levine is back sat the Met and expected to conduct opening night at the Met,barring some mishap, after a bout of severe back trouble which required no fewer than 10 hours of surgery to correct ,and he's raring to go after being out of comission for nearly a year. The Boston Symphony and its audience are also hoping he'll be able to fulfill his commitment to them as music director. But he has a herculean schedule ahead of him, and every one's fingers are crossed.Let's all wish him the best of health.

 Eminent Italian maestro Riccardo Muti is all set to begin his tenure as music director of the world-famous Chicago Symphony, following in the footsteps of such legendary conductors as Fritz Reiner,Sir Georg Solti, and Rafael Kubelik, and its most recent maestro, Daniel Barenboim .  The maestro and his new orchestra have just played a free concert in one of Chicago's parks to enormous acclaim, and the conductor has ambitious plans for the great orchestra . He will present a wide variety of repertoire,ranging from familiar masterpieces and interesting rarities to the latest works by contemporary composers.

  Veteran Japanese conductor Seiji Ozawa,75, returned to the podium recently after a bout with cancer of the esophagus, leading only part of a concert by the deluxe Japanese festival orchestra named after his late conducting teacher in Japan,Hideo Saito .  Ozawa recently stepped down as music director of the prestigious Vienna State Opera, and Austrian conductor Franz Welser-Most,also music director of the Cleveland Orchestra, takes over this season .

 Norwegian conductor Arild Remmereit,49, has been appointed music director of the Rochester Philharmonic in upstate New York . Remmereit has emerged recently as an important conductor,leading orchestras all over Europe and America . The orchestra is closely associated with the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester,one of America's leading conservatories.

  French-Canadian conductor Jacques Lacombe takes over this season as music director of the New Jersey Symphony,succeeding te renowned Estonian conductor Neeme Jarvi ,who will concentrate on his positions with the Hague Philharmonic in the Netherlands and the Estonian State orchestra.

  The prestigious but financially troubled Philadelphia Orchestra has received grant of $4.5 million dollars from the William Penn foundation, which comes as a godsend. The renowned orchestra has been plagued by falling ticket sales , but is hoping for better days when its newly appointed music director, the dynamic young French-Canadian conductor Yannick-Nezet-Seguin takes over in 2112 .

  The New York Philharmonic's opening night concert on September 22 will be telecast on PBS at 8 P.M. Eastern time.  Maestro Alan Gilbert begins his second season as music director, and the program will feature the first New York performance of the new Jazz symphony by renowned Jazz and classical trumpeter and composer Wynton Marsalis.  If you don't have access to PBS television, check the orchestra's website nyphil.org for information about possible online streaming of the concert. 

 

Posted: Sep 21 2010, 05:58 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Stupidest Ad Ever For A Classical CD

 From time to time, I've seen an ad for a classical CD mailed to me with an absolutely absurd description :  "The only classical CD you'll ever need".  It's a compilation of some of the most popular classical works,or parts of them, aimed at people who are dabbling in classical music ,are new to it, and would like a convenient CD of classical warhorses to listen to.

  Only classical CD you'll ever need ?  This is like saying that there is a book which is the only book you'll ever need to read !  Good heavens, there are so many great classical works out there which people could enjoy !  If you except the premise of this ad , you will deprive yourself of so much wonderful music   and will never gain anything but the most superficial knolwedge of classical music in general.

 I can't believe that classical music could be marketed in such a crass and stupid way .  There is so much great music by Bach, Handel, Haydn,Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt,Schubert,Mendelssohn,Schumann, Brahms, Wagner, Debussy,Ravel,Dvorak, Tchaikovsky, Berlioz, Stravinsky,Bartok,Prokofiev, Shostakovich , Richard Strauss , Elgar, Copland, Messiaen, and other composers out there on CD for any one to enjoy, easily available on such websites as amazon.com and arkivmusic.com etc. 

  Some people who love classical music have huge collections of classical CDs.  I wish I did ,but am limited by space and monetary circumstances,although I do have a good sized collection.  Or if you are new to classical music and are hesitant to start collecting right away, you can check your local library.Chances are they will have some classical CDs, and some have quite large collections .

  Or you can go to websites such as arkivmusic.com or Naxos records and hear classical CDs there,just by clicking .  There's a whole universe of classical recordings out there at your fingertips. What are you waiting for. Forget that stupid ad .

Posted: Sep 20 2010, 08:58 AM by the horn | with no comments
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My Adventure With The Controversial Music Of Arnold Schoenberg Today

 For my latest session with my classical music listening group at United Hebrew today,I chose an early work by Arnold Schoenberg, whose music and life I've discussed here before . Of course, Schoenberg is famous,or infamous , for being the father of 12 tone music in the 20th century , and many people who attend concerts would rather be waterboarded that hear his thorny music at a concert . But by no means all . He was born in Vienna in 1874 , and died in 1951 , he began to write his "ultramodern" music about 100 years ago,after having begun writing music in a lush,late romantic style which is not difficult to listen to at all.  Despite the controversy , his music has stood the test of time and is still performed and recorded .

  So I decided to play a recording of one of his early masterpieces,written around the turn of the century ,the elaborate symphonic poem "Pelleas &Melisande", based on the play by the Belgian playwright Maurice Maeterlinck , and made into a well-known opera by Claude Debussy ,which the Metropolitan Opera  will be performing later this season . 

  I explained to my listeners that while Schoenberg's "modern" works are considered very difficult and unappealing by many listeners, his Pelleas is a beautiful,lush, and  highly romantic work. But something went wrong. There was some glitch on track one of the CD I was playing  and the entire piece is on that one track   , and I had to take it off after about 10 minutes or so.The work is about 40 minutes long. I had just played it on my own equipment the day before, and there was no problem .I'm not sure what happened  today .

  As usual, I gave my listeners some background about the composer ,and explained that he began writing highly romantic music, but started experimenting in the early 20th century with a revolutionary new way of writing music which was not in any key . 

  So I improvised, and played the companion work on the CD, Schoenberg's Variations For Orchestra, a difficult 12 tone work,mbut one which I know well and like .  I told my listeners that this work might seem strange and even disturbing to them, but asked them to bear with me and give the piece a chance .

  The reception was less than ecstatic.  There's one lady, whom I've mentioned before, who comes regularly and loves classical music, but hates almost all music which is less conservative than her favorite Rachmaninov, who was an almost exact contemporary of Schoenberg .  She hated the Variations .  Oh well,you win some,you lose some . 

  I try to give my listeners as much variety as possible, but  I try to accomodate the lady who hates modern music , and I've played plenty of Rachmaninov,Tchaikovsky, Brahms, and all those popular composers whose music she loves . But I always try to stretch their minds as much as possible. 

  Don't be afraid to try Schoenberg's music yourself .  If you give it a chance, you CAN come to enjoy it.   A good way to experience the music of Schoenberg and his two most important pupils ,Alban Berg and Anton Webern, is the three disc set of their music on the Deutsche Grammophon label conducted by the late,great Austrian conductor Herbert von Karajan, which contains the two Schoenberg works I  have discussed hear and works by the other two composers .

  There are also fine recordings of the music of these composers by conductors such as Pierre Boulez,Zubin Mehta, Michael Gielen, Robert Craft and others . 

 

 

Posted: Sep 17 2010, 05:48 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Exciting Orchestral Excerpts From The Ring

  Orchestral excerrpts from Wagner's Ring as well as his other operas have been a staple of orchestral concerts since the 19th century , and here are some of them from the Ring Of The Nibelungen. A rather inelegant term sometimes applied to them is "Bleeding Chunks" from the Ring. But they are highly effective, and you might want to try a CD or CDs of them before you hear or see the whole Ring to whet your appetite for it .

  In many other operas, the orchestral parts are not very interesting in themselves except for an occaisional effective solo passage for different instruments, and no one would want to hear them alone. But Wagner made the orchestra an integral part of the drama ,not a mere accompaniment. 

  Das Rheingold, the first of the Ring dramas and the shortest at only about two and a half hours but in four continuous scenes without an intermission, contains one passage which is sometimes heard in concert; the final scene, where the Gods and Goddesses enter Valhalla in what they think is triumph but not realizing that they are ultimately doomed .  In the opera, there is a magic rainbow bridge which they cross to enter their mighty new dwelling , paid for with treachery .  The opera ends in a blaze of orchestral glory in a kind of majestic Polonaise rhythm and is absolutely dazzling in its shining colors.

  You've probabaly heard the catchy melody of "The Ride Of The Valkyries, which opens the third and last of Die Walkure(The Valkyre,the next part of the Ring. Here, the Valkyries, the nine daughters of the chief God Wotan (Odin in Scandinavian mythology) are gathering on a mountain top and are riding their flying horses. Their duty is to gather the bodies of warriors slain in battle to populate Valhalla to defend it from potential attack by the Nibelung forces led by the evil dwarf Alberich, who had been robbed of the Ring and the treasure it enabled him to make.

  The music is incredibly vivid and exciting ,filled with wild exultation; but soon after ,Brunnhilde, Wotan's favorite Valkyrie daughter comes in and must face Wotan's wrath after she has disobeyed him , and her fate is to be left to lie in a magical sleep surrounded by fire until the hero Siegfried rescues her. 

  The third drama is Siegfried, about the rambunctious and headstrong Siegfried, who is the hero of the Ring, but a tragic one who is constantly surrounded by treachery, and whom Wotan hopes will rescue the Gods from Alberich's curse, but it turns out in vain.  In the second act, Siegfried is relaxing n the forest and is surrounded by the gentle sounds of the forest and the enchanting song of the birds; this exceprt is known as The "Forest Murmurs ".

  In the final part of the Ring,Gotterdammerung(Twilight of the Gods) , the curse takes its final fateful effect , and the Gods are destroyed when Valhalla goes up in flames after the Rhine river overflows and everything is destroyed after Siegfried is killed by the treacherous Hagen, son of Alberich, who is determined to take the Ring from him at all costs . 

  There are two orchestral exceprpts sometimes played at concerts; Siegfried's Journey down the Rhine before he meets the treacherous Hagen and his half brother and sister Gunther and Gutrune, leaders of the Gibichung tribe, who are manipulated by Hagen into letting him kill Siegfried (the story is too long to explain here but you can google it at Wagner websites or get books on the composer etc).  The Rhine journey is both joyous and majestic, but ends gloomily and ominously .

  The other excerpt is the somber and overwhlemingly powerful and tragic funeral march after Siegfried is stabbed in the back by Hagen ; this is absolutely shattering in effect .  Sometimes the  final scene where Brunnhilde immolates herself by jumping with her flying horse into Siegfried's funeral pyre,leading to the burning of Valhalla is played, with or without the soprano soloist singing the role of Brunnhilde .  Either way it is awesomely tragic but ends with the hopeful and consoling motiv of redemption through love . 

  There are many different recordings of these Ring excerpts available on CD led by such great Wagnerian maestros as Sir Georg Solti,Herbert Von Karajan, Klaus Tennstedt, Lorin Maazel, Wilhelm Furtwangler and others,with such great orchestras as the Berlin Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony, the Vienna Philharmonic, the Staatskapelle,Dresden and others.and as usual, the best place to order them is arkivmusic.com, which cannot be beat for variety of selections in classical CDs and DVDs.

Posted: Sep 16 2010, 06:12 PM by the horn | with no comments
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There Is Nothing Like Wagner's Ring Of The Nibelungen

 Now that the Metropolitan Opera is about to unveil its eagerly awaited new production of Wagner's mighty Ring ,at least the first part of it, Das Rheingold , I thought  it would be a good idea to discuss the significance and meaning of this astonishing and unique operatic masterwork , an almost incomprehensively vast and profound creation , and one of the most constroversial art works in world history .

  If you're unfamiliar with it , the Ring of the Nibelungen is a gigantic four part operatic epic based on Norse and German mythology which is so long that to perform  complete  that it requires four successive days, and consists of about 16 hours of music . The great but wildly eccentric and egomaniacal German composer Richard Wagner (1813-1883) wrote the libretto of all four parts ,as he did with all of his operas,unlike most opera composers , and he labored on and off on it for over twenty years ,while being involved with many other activities, such as writing other operas,conducting, writing numerous lengthy essays on music,opera and politics etc . Wagner was one of the greatest geniuses of all time in any field , but something of an inspired madman . 

  The work is so vast and calls for such a large cast and orchestra that it is not very practical to perform on a regular basis by most opera companies ,because of its technical difficulty and the enormous costs . But in 1876 , Wagner was able to open a special theater in the small northern Bavarian city of Bayreuth (Buy-royt) which is specially designed for his extravagant operas ,and which still exists today and gives special festival performances of his works every Summer. 

  The Ring is a vast epic story of the Germanic Gods and Goddesses, warrior maidens called Valkyries,  evil dwarves, giants, water nixies , super heroes , and other strange creatures .  Think of it as the granddaddy of such popular epics as The Lord Of The Rings, Star Wars, and other fantastic adventure stories, but much more profound .  I tinvolves the robbery of the magic gold of the Rhine by a malevolent dwarf ,one of the nibelungs, or race of dwarves who live underneath the earth and are expert smiths .  It is basically an allegorical tale .

  But in order to obtain the gold, which enables one to create a magic ring which gives you power over the world and unimaginable riches and gold, one must renounce ever having love for any one. The Rhine Maidens guard the magic gold, and the dwarf Alberich, who is cruelly teased and rejected by the maidens when he becomes amorous with them in the Rhine, learns from hom that if he forswears love he can obtain incredible power and riches,does so, and goes back to Nibelheim, the home of the dwarves, and forges the magic ring, which sets the whole fateful story in motion.

  Wotan, head of the gods, is able to go underground and steal the ring from Alberich with the help of the crafty fire God Loge (Lo-gheh) , in order to repay the giants who have built the mighty castle Walhall, or Valhalla, for him and his wife,the Goddess of marriage Fricka and the other Germanic deities .  But in his rage at being tricked out of the Ring,Alberich places a fatal curse on it. Any one who owns it will be doomed to a terrible death ,and it will bring nothing but death and destruction to the world until it is returned into his hands.

  At the end of the complex story, Wotan,the Gods, and creation has been destroyed by the greed and ruthlessness of Wotan , and Valhalla goes up in flames .  There's much more to the story of course, more than I have space for here. 

  For this epic, Wagner wrote music that combines shattering power and radiant lyricism ,  incredibly vivid dscriptions of  fire, nature, storms,  cataclysms, and  and human emotions and actions such as love , hate ,greed , brutality , treachery, heroism, selfless sacrifice , the blackest gloom and shining hope . 

  The Ring is about life, destiny , ambition , magic , and human nature .  It is an almost incomprehensibly primal work, but a very controversial one .  It's not easy to get to know in one fell swoop , and requires considerable effort to appreciate , and by no means every one loves it . No other composer divides people as Wagner ;  people tend either to love his works or hate them . But it's hard to find any one who is indifferent to his music or the dramas . 

  There are many people who love the Ring and would not want to live without it ,  including yours truly, but there are probably just as many who find it intolerably long, boring ,bombastic ,pretentious and overblown, and find the story downright absurd, which it is definitely not.  Then there is the unfortunate link between Wagner and Hitler, who idolized the composer but read all manner of things into his works which simply are not there, such as using his music as a background to the holocaust . 

  But Wagner is no more to blame for the horrors of WW 2  than Christ is to blame for the Spanish Inquisition .  He died six years before Hitler was born , and though an anti-semite, never came remotely close to being as extreme  and insanely malicious as Hitler and the *** .  And the Ring ,far from glorifying Nazi  ideas of Aryan supremacy, genocide and world conquest, shows the terrible destructive effects of lust for power . 

  There are numerous recordings of the Ring, some live and some made in the recording studio , and a steadily growing number of DVD versions .  Performances by such great conductors as Wilhelm Furtwangler, Hans Knappertsbusch , Herbert Von Karajan , Sir Georg Solti , Karl Bohm , Pierre Boulez, Daniel Barenboim, Bernard Haitink , James Levine , and others have been preserved on CD , and you can get the four Ring dramas, Das Rheingold,Die Walkure, Siegfried and Gotterdammerung (The Twilight of the Gods) complete or separately . There are also many recordings of excerpts from the Ring recorded over the years by many famous singers, and orchestral excerpts intended for concert use.

  Great Wagner singers such as Kirsten Flagstad, Birgit Nilsson , Hans Hotter, Wolfgang Windgassen ,Lauritz Melchior, Hildegard Behrens, Helga Dernesch , Regine Crespin, James King , Jess Thomas, Siegfried Jerusalem , Gottlob Frick , Martti Talvela , Matti Salminen , and others have participated in Ring recordings , and quite a few live performances recorded at Bayreuth  are available .  Among the DVD versions, the most generally admired is that of the Met's previous production ,which avoids the ridiculous anachronistic gimmicks of the others and is very solid musically,conducted   by James Levine, who is scheduled to conduct the New Met Ring, health permiting .  The best place on the internet to order is arkivmusic.com .  There are also countless books and articles on Wagner , and a wealth of material on the internet ,and you can google all this .

  If you take the time and effort to get to know the Ring , you will never regret it ,and whether you listen to it on CD, watch DVDs or see it live , it will never cease to thrill you ,and each new performance will enable you to gain more form it .

 

Posted: Sep 15 2010, 05:47 PM by the horn | with no comments |
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October Opera News Magazine- Celebrating 75 Years Of Existence

  The October issue of Opera News magazine just arrived, and as usual ,it's chock full of interesting articles .  The magazine is the house organ of the Metropolitan Opera guild , and began with the founding of the guild early in 1936.  There is a timeline of notable issues which have aapeared since the magazine's beginning .  At first, the magazine was published weekly ,then bi-monthly and now monthly. 

  On the covers are such great singers of the past as Ezio Pinza, Richard Tucker, Renata Tebaldi, the late Beverly Sills, Eleanor Steber, Regina Resnik, Leontyne Price, the late Luciano Pavarotti, Marian Anderson, all deceased or long retired, and current operatic greats as Placido Domingo,still going strong at nearly 70, Karita Mattila, Susan Graham,Dolora Zajick, maestro James Levine, and others. 

  Other articles are on Leonard Bernstein's only full length opera,A Quiet Place, will will receive its New York premiere by the New York City Opera later this season and which has had a number of performances since its 1983 premiere in Houston, but not without considerable controversy , an interview with Serbian baritone Zelko Lucic (Zhelko Lu-chich) one of today's leading Verdi baritones, and features editor Brian Kellow has a thought-provoking article on how he thinks audience behavior has changed over the years since he first began attending performances .

  There is also an interview with the distinguished American-born,Paris -based conductor and harpsichordist William Christie , a specialist in period instrument performances of music from the 18th century, and who makes his Met debut next month conducting Mozart's Cosi Fan Tutte , and an article on opera blogs such as Opera Chic  and Parterre Box, both of which I frequent.

  There are reviews of new CDs such as the first recording of Ruggero Leoncavallo of Pagliacci fame's opera I Medici , about  political and amorous intrigue in Renaissance Florence on Deutsche Grammophon, Orphee by Philip Glass ,one of many operas about the legend of Orpheus and Euridice recorded by the forces of the Portland Oregon opera , a long forgotten opera by Antonio Vivaldi called Armida Al Campo D'Egitto , based on the legendary Saracen sorceress Armida and her attempts to foil the crusaders through amorous intrigue, and even a review of opera diva Renee Fleming's new recording of rock music !

  DVD reviews include the recent production in Munich of Wagner's Lohengrin starring German tenor Jonas Kaufmann, one of today's hottest tenors , Beethoven's only opera Fidelio from the Zurich opera , and Metropolitan opera performances of Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel and The Barber Of Seville from the 1980s , and obituaries of the late great maestro Sir Charles Mackerras, the English tenor Anthony Rolfe Johnson and the Italian tenor Giancinto Prandelli , who recently passed away at the ripe old age of 96 .

  Even if you don't know much about opera, this magazine is always very interesting to read, and you can learn a great deal about this fascinating and infinitely varied art form.  You can also check its websitre,operanews.com. 

 

Posted: Sep 14 2010, 06:29 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Is Musoc.Org The P.E.T.A. Of Classical Music ?

  Last year I did a post on Musoc.org (Music and Society), the website of an organization devoted to furthering the cause of classical music in America and the world by obtaining much greater government support of orchestras and opera companies in America and increasing and improving education about classical music in our schools,among other things.

  These are desirable and laudable goals. But unfortunately, Musoc.org is unabashedly elitist about classical music,which it insists should be called "art music", and has caused it to be roundly condemned by many critics and composers for this. It's not politically correct to be elitist about classical music today.

  On the Musoc website, you can see these goals and decide for yourself.  On its FAQs, musoc states that it is attempting to "provide a cultural oasis in the arid sands of pop culture", and to"repudiate cultural relativism in music", to obtain greater state subsidies for classical performing institutions and to campaign for making loud music in public ,whether pop or classical to be made illegal ,as it is a public nuisance to many people.

  Wow ! That's pretty elitist, and people like Greg Sandow, whom I've discussed before and other critics and experts are shaking their heads. Likewise, Musoc depolores Sandow's harsh criticisms of the classical music establishment as supposedly being much too "elitist" and out of touch with the modern world.  Musoc does not even want private business and other philanthropies to fund classical music organizations,because there would supposedly be too many strings attached. It wants the kinds of generous subsidies for classical music which are taken for granted in Europe.

  Among the brickbats Musoc has been getting are comments like thiese: It's accused of "hilariously clueless cultural imperialism", and one critic accuses it of being "downright nasty and even racist at times."  One American composer who shall remain nameless says that he"looked at this website and couldn't breathe for a few minutes". And those are some of the nicer comments !

  This would be wonderful to have generous government funding, but fat chance !  There's simply too much opposition to government support of the arts in America,unfortunately.  Musoc also chides classical musicians who it feels are selling out to commercialism and cheapening the classical music world,such as the controversial Chinese pianistic superstar Lang Lang and others. But if this helps bring in publicity and funds for this kind of music, that's the price it must pay. 

  In this sense, Musoc somewhat resembles P.ET.A. with its extremist and over-the-top rhetoric,and pathetically unrealistic goals.  Just as this animal rights extremist group wants all of mankind to become vegan ,to abandon all scientific and medical research on anilmals, and even disapproves of people keeping pets,among other wacko notions, Musoc demands too much.  But you must admit, in this age of multiculturalism and political correctness, this takes guts ! 

Posted: Sep 13 2010, 05:48 PM by the horn | with no comments
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A Varied New Season For The New York Philharmonic Begins September 22

  The New York Philharmonic begins its 2110-11 season at Avery Fisher Hall in Lincoln Center on Sptember 22 with the New York premiere of a new work by the renowned Jazz and classical trumpeter and composer Wynton Marsalis called "Swing Symphony".  The orchestra's music director Alan Gilbert begins his second season with the orchestra ,and the rest of the program will consist of the impassioned symphonic poem Don Juan by Richard Strauss and Paul Hindemith's Symphonic Metamorphoses on Themes of Carl Maria Von Weber.

  The season will as usual be highly diversified in repertoire, with familia works by composers such as Handel,Mozart,Beethoven,Tchaikovsky and Brahms ,as well as works by living or recently deceased ones , and rarely heard but very interesting ones too from the past.  Conservative concertgoers who feared that maestro Gilbert's commitment to contemporary music would deprive them of a chance to hear their favorite masterpieces need not fear, as these will be a prominnent part of the repertoire.

  But it's vital to give new works a chance to be heard, or the repertoire would stagnate, which would be fatal for classical music.  But no one can accuse the New York Philharmonic of ever having failed to give contemporary composers a hearing .

  Distinguished guest conductors will include such eminent veteran maestros as Sir Colin Davis and Christoph Von Dohnanyi, and rising young podium talents such as Andris Nelsons of Latvia, who recently made his Metropolitan opera debut leading Puccini's Turandot .  Others will be Michael Tilson Thomas , David Robertson , Paavo Jarvi, son of renowned conductor Neeme Jarvi, and  Finnish composer/conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen. 

  The soloists will include such great names as violinists Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman, Joshua Bell and Anne-Sophie Mutter   The English composer pianist and conductor Thomas Ades (Ad-es) will play his new piano concerto, and many other distinguished musicians, as well as such renowned opera and concert singers Karita Mattila and Thomas Hampson. 

  Works by contemporary composers such as Russia's Sofia Gubaidullna,  Estonia's Erkki-Sven Tuur,Sebastian Currer and the late Gyorgy Ligeti,who passed away a few years ago.  Maestro Salonen will conduct a festival of music by the leading composers of Hungary,such as Bela Bartok, Franz Liszt, Gyorgy Ligeti and others, and composers who wrote music inspired by the music of that nation ,including a concert performance of Bartok's only opera, the brooding and mysterious "Bluebeard's Castle", which features a cast of only two singers and no chorus.

  Maestro Gilbert will conduct a staged performance of the opera "The Cunning Little Vixen "by the unique Czech composer Leos Janacek, a fascinating opera about the animals of a Czech forest and their relationships with humans. The main character is a Fox ! 

  The season will be a stimulating mix of familiar and unfamiliar. I'm not sure if the opening night concert will be telecast by PBS, but check your newspaper to see if it is, and don't miss it.  For more information,check the orchestra's website,nyphil.org.

 

Posted: Sep 12 2010, 06:02 PM by the horn | with no comments
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New York Times Preview Of The Upcoming Classical Music Season

 Every September, the Arts And Leisure section of the New York Times features a preview of the upcoming season in the arts in general ,primarily New York events but sometimes notable events out of town by the paper's various arts critics, and classical music is fortunately not neglected , despite reports of how marginalized it has supposedly become in American culture.

  Music critic Allan Kozinn has provided a month by month list of notable upcoming classical performaces by the extraordinarily wide variety of resdent and visiting groups performing this season at Lincoln Center,Carnegie Hall and other performance venues throughout New York City. 

  The resident groups include the New York Philharmonic, Metropolitan Opera, New York City Opera, the American Symphony orchestra, Chamber Music Society Of Lincoln Center, the conductorless Orpheus Chamber orchestra and numerous other ensembles , and  such great visiting orchestras as the Vienna Philharmonic, the Philadelphia orchestra and many others, as well as a galaxy of the world's greatest conductors, violinists,pianists,cellists and other instrumentalists, and the world's most renowned opera singers .

  The repertoire will consist of an astonishingly wide variety of classcal music,ranging from works written in the middle ages and renaissance to the latest works by contemporary composers .  There will be the beloved staples of the classical canon ,and revivals of intriguing works which had been long neglected ,music by composers of many different nationalities , periods and compositional styles , and by no means all of them are "Dead White Males" ! 

  And even if you don't live in or near New York , you can hear and see many of the performances on radio ,television and the internet.  You can see the preview at newyorktimes.com . 

Posted: Sep 11 2010, 11:18 AM by the horn | with no comments
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