November 2010 - Posts
The Detroit Symphony Orchestra is one of America's top orchestras and has been in existence since 1914. Its conductors have included such eminent maestros as Paul Paray, Antal Dorati, Sixten Ehrling, Aldo Ceccato, Gunther Herbig ,Neeme Jarvi and its current music director Leonard Slatkin.
The orchestra has also made acclaimed recordings for Decca,Mercury and Chandos records . For many years, Detroit's auto industry provided generous support for the orchestra, but in these difficult economic times, that support has dried up, and the US government and the state of Michigan provide virtually nothing now.
A strike has canceled all the orchestra's concerts in Detroit's acoustically superb orchestra hall and elsewhere. The orchestra's management has been forced to make significant cuts in the muscian's salary and the orchestra's existence could be threatened. If this were to happen, it would be not only a tragedy but a national disgrace.
But what is the US government doing? Nothing. The Honolulu symphony in Hawaii is also threatened with non-existence, and orchestras all over the nation are reeling from the economic woes and lack of government and private support. The musicians in many other US orchestras have also been forced to accept pay cuts, and there seems to be no relief in sight.
The orchestra had flourished under its previous music director Neeme Jarvi of Estonia for about a decade,and had a recording contract with Chandos records of England. But it went for a period of about two years without a music director when Jarvi stepped down and its future is now uncertain.
As I've pointed out before, America's orchestras and opera companies are not a frivolous entertainment for the rich;they are vital part of our nation and improve the quality of life for so many people in all 50 states. In addition, they are good for the economy. If they flourish,they help the enconomy to flourish and privide gainful employment for many thousands of talented,dedicated and hard-working musicians,as well as the many people who work in administration.
Any one who thinks that our orchestras and opera companies are irrelevant and expendable could not be more mistaken. Please contact your senators and representitivews in Washington and remind them of this fact.
This month's Opera News marks the beginning of the Saturday afternoon Metropolitan Opera radio broadcast series ,which has been a beloved institution for some 60 years now. They begin December 18 with the new production of Verdi's great and somber historical opera based on 16th century Spanish history, Don Carlo .
As usual with the broadcasts, there is a list of cast,conductor ,director and designer plus photos of the sets and a synopsis of the opera and valuable and interesting background information about the opera . There is no live broadcast the next week on Christmas day,but a taped broadcast of a perfromance at the Met of the delightful comic opera The Bartred Bride by the great Czech composer Bedrich Smetana from 1978 sung in English with a great cast;Teresa Stratas,Nicolai Gedda and the late Martti Talvela,conducted by a much younger and healthier James Levine.
The January 1 broadcast is the brooding and enigmatic Pellas &Melisande by Claude Debussy, with the renowned English conductor Sir Simon Rattle in his Met debut.
American diva soprano Deborah Voigt is on the cover. She will be singing the title role of Minnie in the revival of Puccini's The Girl Of The Golden West ,the original Spaghetti western ,set among miners in 19th century California to mark the 100th anniversary of the opera's world premiere this month at the old Metropolitan opera house. Opera News staffer Fred Cohn interviews her,and there are discussions of the opera by conductor Steven Mercurio,who analyzes its sophisticated and complex orchestration,as well as a discussion of some of the legendary divas who have sung the role of Minnie,such as the late Renata Tebaldi and others.
There is also an interesting article on the once famous playwright and drama impresario David Belasco,who wrote the play on which the opera is based, as well as an interesting discussion of the sinister character of the grand inquisitor in Verdi's Don Carlo,who plays a pivotal role in the opera,which takes place at the height of the infamous Spanish Inquisition.
Reviews of live performances include the Met's controversial new production of Das Rheingold ,which marks the beginning of the new Ring cycle there, the world premiere at the Los Angeles Opera of the opera Il Postino by Mexican composer Daniel Catan,based on the famous film of the same name, performances from Chicago and Washington D.C. and London,Madrid, Monaco and Vienna.
There are CD reviews of the new recording on period instruments of Mozart's Magic Flute conducted by Rene Jacaobs on the Harmonia Mundi label ,Handel's Orlando and a new live Rusalka from the Glyndebourne opera in England,and a non-operatic choral work, a setting of the St.Mark passion in a latino manner by the Argentinian composer Osvaldo Golijov. Plus reviews of recial albums by the fast-sising young Italian tenor Vittorio Grigolo,who just might be the next superstar tenor and the glamorous Latvian Mezzo Elina Garanca.
There are DVD reviews of the exotic and enigmatic opera King Roger by the great Polish composer Karol Szymanowski from the opera festival at Bregenz,Austria, Don Carlo from the Royal Opera in London,and a rare revival of Wagner's early opera Rienzi from Berlin.
Features editor Brian Kellow offers a tribute to the late ,great Joan Sutherland,who passed away last month. As usual,this month's issue is chock full of absorbing reading. Check out the magazine's website,operanews.com
Please note: This does not reflect my actual opinions about music,classical or other. Its purpose is to show why it is wrong to judge one kind of music by the standards of another and to make points about reverse snobbism.
Why can't Rock concerts be more like classical orchestral concerts or opera? Audiences at classical concerts are so dignified and well-behaved.They dress nicely and are quiet,and don't make the deafening ruckus that Rock audiences do, a noise possibly louder than the music. Classical audiences listen quiety and carefully to the music and applaud when the performance is over. That's when they make a loud noise, with applause and bravos.
Classical audiences aren't a bunch of slobs and lowlifes. They're intelligent,well-read and cultured,unlike the drug and booze intoxicated people who attend rock concerts and who are most likely High School dropouts.
If Rock music is to be made relevant for the kind of intelligent,cultured people who attend orchestra concerts and opera, we must make Rock concerts more dignified and decorous events. If not, Rock will lose a large audience. Audiences should dress well and be quiet until a song is over.
And classical audiences don't trash the concert hall when a concert is over,leaving it an unholy mess !
I hope I didn't offend any one with this pseudo rant,which is not only snobbish but ridiculous. But unfortunately, too many people are reluctant to go a a concert by a great symphony orchestra or opera company, or a performance by a string quartet etc, because they are worried about a dress code, and that the experience will be boring and stuffy,and the others in the audience will be snobs who will look down on them for being uncultured yahoos.
They're wrong. If they go, they will just be among a lot of people who love classical music and aren't attending because they're snobs and elitists, but because they love this kind of music, just as other people love other kinds of music.
And there's no dress code. You don't have to wear a tuxedo or fancy gown or put on a white tie or a black bow tie. You can pretty much dress as you please. Formal wear is usually reserved for gala opening nights at the Metropolitan Opera and other top opera houses,but even there,you don't have to dress this way.
I've never found concerts or opera "stuffy". I've been involved with these for decades,both as a performing musician and an audience member, and in fact, there are few experiences that are more enjoyable as far as I'm concerned. Yes,audiences aren't as noisy as at Rock concerts, but classical music is not unrelentingly loud. This is where the term Dynamics, or the loudness and softness in music comes in. A great symphony may begin so quietly as to be barely audible, and yet may end thunderously. There's an enormous amount of contrast in loudness and softness in classical music, so audiences need to listen carefully.
So why do well-meaning people like Greg Sandow, who is actually a very bright and erudite man, mislead people into thinking that there is something wrong with the way classical music is presented at concerts, and that if something is not doen to make them more "accessible" to people who don't attend concerts or opera, that there is something terrbly wrong?
There's no use judging classical music concerts by the standards of Rock or Pop music,etc. People need to learn to accept them on their own terms. Let Rock be Rock and classical be classical please. And yes, I'm fully aware that audiences at Rock concerts aren't necessarily "Lowlifes" ,junkies and ignoramuses .My apologies if any one thinks I actually meant this.
In a post the other day at artsjournal.com,composer,critic,teacher and commentator Greg Sandow has once again misrepresented the classical music scene ,making it sound like a dull,stodgy field,even though it's anything but this. He offers a totally one-sided,specious and misleading argument,as he often has,with all due respect to him. He means well,of course,and sincerely wants to help the field .
But his argument is based on false premises. Here's the opening paragraph: "There are few things,I think it's safe to say,less surprising than most classical performances. The music is mostly familiar. The musicians know it. The audience knows it. The performances move along at a comfortable,safe track.They're journeys every one involved has gone on many times before."
Whoa. This is a sweeping generalization. Yes, he's right up to a point.Any time you go to a concert where a familiar symphony or concerto by Beethoven,Brahms,Tchaikovsky,Dvorak,Rachmaninov and other beloved composers are played,this is true. The musicians have played these popular masterpieces countless times,and many in the audience have heard these works countless times,because they love the music. Sandow is right as far at it goes,but he ignores certain facts.
Some of the people in the audience at these concerts could also be new to classical music, and they are not necessarily children or teengagers. Hearing these works for the first time could be a thrilling discovery,and these people might be saying"Where has this music been all my life? I've got to hear more"after the concert.
Sandow also neglects to mention that orchestras also play new or recent works by a wide variety of living or recently deceased composers,at least many of them. Some play more than others. But there is actually no lack of new music today. In addition,many orchestras also play works that have been long-neglected,but for no good reason. There are many,many delightful works outside the standard repertoire.
Yes, when the musicians are playing a program of thrice familiar works for the umpteenth time,they can get bored and jaded and may tend to go through the motions as if they were on auto pilot. But by no means always. Routine exists in the field, and some musicians become burnt out and apathetic,the same as in any field.
Sandow goes on to claim that"an urgent reason" is missing to attend concerts and opera etc, and imples that concertgoing may be a hum drum experience. Not necessarily. He goes on to suggest that orchestras ought to try to make concertgoing less predicatble in a variety of ways,such as playing works on the program which were not printed,as a surprise. Maybe this would please audiences, but this is not a cure all.
Sandow claims that you "Know more or less what the experience is going to be". Not when an orchestra is playing a new or recent work which the audience has not heard before,which happens much more often than he is willing to admit.
On the contrary; going to concerts and opera today is often more like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates.You never know what you're going to get.
As usual ,there's plenty of interest going on in the anything but stodgy world of classical music . There were two notable passings last week, the great African-American mezzo-soprano Shirley Verrett,79, died . She was one of the greatest opera singers of our time, a beautiful lady with a beautiful voice who graced the world's greatest opera houses for many years and left numerous recordings,among them, Lady Macbeth in Verdi's Shakespearean opera, Orpeus in Gluck's Orfeo &Euridice, and Princess Eboli in Verdi's Don Carlo ,to name only a few.
The great Russian violist and conductor Rudolf Barshai also passed away at the age of 86. He was a close friend of and collaborator with the great Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich and many other leading musicians of the Soviet era. Starting out as a violist, he turned to conducting later, and recorded among other things ,all 15 symphonies of Shostakovich, as well as transcribing some of his string quartets and other works for orchestra.
World-famous conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim, 68, has singed an unprecendented double recording contract with Decca and Deutsche Grammophon records, and will record all nine Beethoven symphonies with his specially formed orchestra the West East Divan, which brings together talented young Israeli and Arab classical musicians in an attempt to forge friendship and foster peace,as well as the piano concertos of Chopin and Liszt, etc. In an age when the classical recording industry seems to be foundering,this is encouraging news. Despite his extremely busy schedule as a conductor of orchestral concerts and opera, Barenboim continues to perform regularly as a pianist, and has been before the public since he was a small boy.
The health problems which forced renowned Italian conductor Riccardo Muti,69,to cancel his schedule opening concerts as music director of the Chicago Symphony this September turned out to be not gastric problems,but extreme stress according to his physicians. He is expected to take up his duties in Chicago early next year.
The financially troubled Detroit Symphony has been on strike for over a month and its future is uncertain despite having recently engaged the world-famous America conductor Leonard Slatkin as its music director and making at least one recording for Naxos records at a time when few American orchestras are making recrdordings at all.
German conductor Michael Sanderling has been appointed music director of the Dresden Philharmonic in Germany. He is one of no fewer than three conductor sons of the eminent retired German conductor Kurt Sanderling , 98 . The Dresden Philharmonic is not to be confused with the more famous Dresden Staatskapelle, which functions as the orchestra of the Saxon State opera in Dresden as well as playing concerts,and is one of the oldest orchestras in the world. Sanderling's brothers Thomas and Stefan are also well-known conductors.
James Levine's extremely demanding schedule of concerts and opera conducting at the Metropolitan Opera and Boston Symphony have been proceding without incident after his long bout with severe back trouble and previous history of other ailments,thank heaven.
Notable musicians who have passed away this year include not only Barshai and Verrett but conductors Wyn Morris of Wales, Austrian Otmar Suitner, Ole Schmidt of Denmark, Fuat Mansurov of the Tatar republic in Russia, Dame Joan Sutherland, English operatic tenors Philip Langridge and Anthony Rolfe Johnson, and conductor Sir Charles Mackerras of Australia.
Despite its many problems , classical music is still very much alive and as relevant as ever. It is one of the greatest achievments of mankind and something which brings joy and inspiration to countless people all over the world. There are those who scoff at it and question its importance to society and those who feel that its greatest days are behind it, but it will endure as long as humanity exists.
Conservatives are still gloating over the Republican victories in this Tuesday's elections, but I for one am worrying that this could possibly be bad news for classical music in America. Why? Conservatives tend to be opposed to the National Endowment For The Arts and want to abolish it,and for reasons that are totally wrong and the result of their misconceptions about it.
Many conservatives in America wrongly think that the government has no business funding the arts in and believe that they should be funded by private philanthropies,that is if they even think that classical music and the arts have any validity at all and are important to this nation. But the problem is that the private sector does not even come remotely close to providing enough help to keep our orchestras and opera companies alive,let alone to flourish.
Many conservative politicians in Washington frankly don't give a you-know-what about the arts and classical music in America. If an orchestra or opera company in their state folds,they couldn't care less. They,and many other Americans are outraged that the government allegedly "supports" "obscene" art. But how much money does the government take from each taxpayer per year to support the entire NEA, which supports much more than "obscene" art? Less than a dollar !
Yet these patriotic Americans don't seem to have any objections to paying much more than a dollar to support the futile and disastrous Iraq war and other foolish government expenditures, which is pure hypocrisy. We all have to contribute tax money to things we don't approve of. The government wouldn't be able to function at all if every taxpayer refused to contribute to everything he or she disapproved of.
Also, the lack of government help for classical music threatens the livelihoods of who knows how many talented,dedicated and hard-working musicians all over America. This is not good.
The NEA doesn't even get chicken feed from the government compared to what it should be getting to support the arts. The US budget for military bands is larger than what it receives. This is absolutely disgraceful. Should we classical music lovers sit back idly while our orchestras and opera companies struggle to remain alive? Absolutely not. If you are concerned, contact your senators and congressmen and tell them that classical music matters for America.
Today, we call popular entertainers such as Lady Gaga and Beyonce Divas, but the Italian term,which mean Goddess, comes from opera, where legendary singers such as Maria Callas and the recently deceased Dame Joan Sutherland have been described as Divas for much longer. The November issue of Opera News magazine is devoted to operatic Goddesses past and present.
The stunningly beautiful Russian soprano Anna Netrebko, who is far more than mere eye candy,is on the cover,and Opera News managing editor Oussama Zahr has an extended interview with this operatic superstar in which she discusses her career plans,pet peeves among conductors and directors, her relationship with her husband,Uruguayan baritone Erwin Schrott ,and their little boy,now two years old,among other things.
The veteran American soprano Deborah Polaski, one of today's leading Wagner singers , and who is still active and in remarkably good vocal shape at the age of 61, is also interviewed,and the renowned vocal coach Ira Siff offers an appreciation of the legendary Italian soprano Licia Albanese, still alive and nearing her 100th birthday !
Freelance writer and frequent Opera News contributor William R. Braun discusses the great artistry of the late,lamented American mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, who died of cancer four years ago in her early 50s and is still greatly missed by opera lovers everywhere . Another freelance writer,Patrick Dillon, has an intriguing article on loudness,or the lack of it ,in opera singing , and discusses how recordings can often make singers with less than huge voices sound much more powerful than they sound live in the opera house ,and how the size of opera houses worldwide,which varies from the enormous 4,000 seat Metropolitan to the much smaller ones of Europe,which tend to seat only about half that many or fewer, can make a difference in how singers sound to audiences.
The magazine's correspondants have reviews of opera performances from the Santa Fe Summer opera festival in New Mexico ,the Glimmerglass opera festival in Cooperstown,New York, the Bard college Summer opera productions led by the neterprising conductor Leon Botstein, also President of the college, the Seattle opera's new production of Tristan &Isolde ,and in Europe,the Bayreuth and Salzburg festivals.
There are CD reviews of new recordings of operas by Handel, and the first recording of an obscure 18th century opera by a little-known German-born but Stockholm-based composer Christian Freidrich Haeffner, a contemporary of Mozart and Beethoven based on the famous ancient Greek play Electra, which Richard Strauss truned into the much more famous early 20th centruy opera Elektra . The reviewer finds it to be surprisingly good, as well as an album of excerpts from the Strauss opera a nd others by the acclaimed American soprano Christine Brewer.
The DVD reviews include Berg's Wozzeck caught at the Vienna State opera, Mozart's Cosi Fan Tutte from the Zurich opera, Aida from the outdoor Bregenz festival in Austria,Verdi's Falstaff sung in German from Vienna in 1963,and the bizarre Shostakovivh opera The Nose, which the Metropolitan permormed last season from Moscow in the 70s.
There are book reviews of a new biography of Wagner's second wife Cosima, daughter of the legendary pianist and composer Franz Liszt,and who survived her husband by nearly 50 years, and a fascinating ,controversial and influential woman, by Oliver Hilmes,which I recently read and recommend highly, as well as a history of French opera by Yale scholar Vincent Giroud.
No one who loves opera can afford to miss an issue of this magazine,and even if you don't know much about it and are curious to learn more, you will always find Opera News an absorbing read. Check out the website,operanews.com too.