December 2010 - Posts
It's almost 2011 ,and it's been an eventful year for classical music worldwide, with the good and the bad pretty much evenly mixed . We've seen the demise of the Honolulu symphony, a protracted strike by the Detroit symphony which could threaten the orchestra's existence , the health proilems of James Levine, Riccardo Muti ,Seiji Ozawa and other eminent conductors,canceled performances by them , finjancial troubles dogging so many orchestras and opera companies , the passing of such classical giants as Joan Sutherland,Sir Charles Mackerras ,Shirley Verrett and others , as well as the emergence of many pehenomenal young musical talents.
Many orchestras are reluctant to play new music and interesting rarities for fear of alienating conservative concertgoers, but others have done this despite the risks,such as the New York Philharmonic. The Metropolitan opera's live HD movie broadcasts continue to draw enthusiastic audiences all over America and even Europe.
These are difficult times for the classical recording industry, but all the world's numerous classical record labels collectively offer incredible diversity of repertoire ranging from medieval and renaissance music to recent works by living composers ,and more and more live performances of operas and concerts are available on DVD.
So here's a list of my wishes for classical music in the next year :
I hope that more and more people in America and elsewhere, of whatever age or ethnicity,will discover the joys of listening to classical music , whether orchestral music,operas, chamber music etc,and will decide to make classical music a part of their lives.
I hope that our orchestras and opera companies etc will find new sources of financial support to keep them alive and kicking , and that they will attract more and more people as regular or at east sometimes concert and operagoers. And that more and more of our great orchestras will return to making CD recordings, either with the top classical labels or by issuing their own performances on CD,as some already have,and that sales of classical CDs and DVDs will increase.
I hope that current efforets in America to offer something comparable to Venuzuela's miraculous El Sistema will succeed and more and more American youngsters will benefit from learning musical instruments and playing in youth orchestras and concert bands .
I wish maestros James Levine,Seiji Ozawa and Riccardo Muti etc good health and the stamina to remain active on the podium .
I hope that classical music will get more and more publicity in the media,and that this will cause more and more people everywhere to become interested in it.
And I wish every one at Blogiversity.org and every one who reads my blog a happy new year filled with the enjoyment of classical music .
In these distressingly difficult times for classical music , last night's interview of the brilliant young Venuzuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel by Tavis Smiley was a welcome ray of hope . Smiley devoted no less than an hour to his discussion of classical music and its place in America with Dudamel , which is amazing ,given the current lack of exposure it gets on Television and elsewhere today.
And it was encouraging to see that a celebrity like Smiley seemed to be genuinely interested in classical music ,which is a rare thing in Pop culture today. Not surprisingly ,Smiley asked the question "is classical music elitist?" If only more people realized that the notion that classical music is in any way elitist is a myth.
The term elitist implies that symphony orchestras and opera companies are trying to exclude people who are not wealthy or white, which is absolutely not the case. Far from wanting to "exclude" people ,they very much want to make more people aware of the joys of listening to classical music ,and they employ people involved in publicity and public outreach . Some elitism !
Any one who attends concerts or opera, or chamber music performances etc,will be most welcome there. There's absolutely nothing keeping any one from enjoying concerts ;nothing unwelcoming about the experience.
Dudamel is the most famous product of Venuzuela's amazing "El Sistema", founded some years ago by a music-loving Venuzuelan economist by the name of Dr.Jose Antonio Abreu. He conceived of a way to help poor youngsters in his native country by having them learn to play musical instruments and to play in youth orchestras and other groups. His dream came true; thousands of poor Venuzuelan youngsters have been able to escape the poverty and crime they were born into and find a motivation to achieve excellence.
By no means all have become professional musicians, but quite a few have achieved success, and Dudamel was catapualted into international success five years ago after winning a prestigious conducting competition in Bamberg,Germany .He had already been conducting Venuzuelan youth orchestras since the age of about 11 ,and became head of the flagship orchestra of El Sistema,the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra, which plays and sounds like a world-class professional orchestra and has toured all over the world to enormous acclaim.
Dudamel was chosen to become music director of the renowned Los Angeles Philharmonic, which he took over just over a year ago ,again to enormous acclaim . His youth,charisma, infectious enthusiasm and sheer talent have made him a phenomenon in the world of classical music, and the publicity he has received is a shot in the arm to classical music in America. He has become a media superstar of sorts, not by slick publicity but through his enormous talent and charisma.
Unlike Pop music, no one can make a successful career in classical music merely through slick publicity;if the enromous talent required to succeed in this very difficult field is not there, no one can achieve success. And wonder of wonders, Los Angeles and other major US cities,whith the encouragement of Dudamel, are starting to create something comparable to El Sistema, long after most American public schools have abandoned their music programs .
Amid all the gloom and doom , there are signs that not everything is over for classical music in America . Check your newspaper for repeats of this interview if you missed it .
December 29 is the birthday of one of the towering classical musicians of the 20th century ,Pablo Casals (1876-1973 ) ,who was born in a village in Catalonia with the Catalan name Pau ,and achieved world fame as possibly the greatest cellist of all time , in addition to his activities as a composer, conductor, teacher ,Catalan patriot and humanitarian .
Casals was the first cellist to become internationally famous; there had been some well-known ones previously, but none achieved anything remotely close to his renown . He discovered the six suites for unaccompanied cello by Bach by chance in a music store as a young man; they had been forgotten since the early 18th century , and made the first integral recording of them ,after which they became part of the repertoire of cellists everywhere ; these are still available on CD ,as well as in recordings by many other eminent cellists .
Casals also made recordings of the great cello concertos of Elgar, Dvorak, Schumann and other composers which have become benchmarks of the recorded repertoire, as well as the five piano sonatas of Beethoven ,and many other works for cello. He collaborated with virtually all the great conductors opf his time such as George Szell, Sir John Barbirolli etc, and was a chamber mnusic partner with such great names as violinists Jacques Thibaud, Isaac Stern, pianists Rudolf Serkin and Mieczyslaw Horszowski ,and appeared at the White house to perform during the Kennedy Presidency.
He was closely associated with such great music festivals as Prades in southern France and the Marlboro festival in New England , and taught many cellists who went on to international renown, as well as making recordings as a conductor of symphonies by Beethoven and Schubert etc.
Casals lived well into his 90s and although his physical strength may have declined somewhat, he remained active as a cellist . He was a staunch opponent of Franco's tyrannical regime and passionate supporter of Catalan culture and indepepndence , and when he died in 1973, he was one of the most revered people on earth .
I came across the absorbing PBS documentary on the legendary Canadian pianist Glenn Gould (1932-1982 ) by chance the other night ,and I urge you to check for repetitions of it later this week . It was part of the Great Americans series even though Gould was not American .
Glenn Gould was no ordinary piano virtuoso ,and he was much more than a mere pianist . He was a thinker,writer,composer and all around character . His eccentricities became legendary in the world of classical music, almost as much as his probing mucinianship and phenomenal keyboard technique . He left a wide variety of brilliant and often provocative recordings of piano works ranging from Haydn,Mozart and Beethoven to Schoenberg ,Hindemith and other leading 20th century composers for what is now the Sony Classical label, formerly known as Columbia records .
A child prodigy like many other great pianists, he rose to international fame in his 20s ,performing all over Europe,America and elsewhere to great acclaim , and then abandoned live performing at the age of only 31 for a solitary life in his native Canada where he made numerous brilliant but often controversial recordings and became involved with other projects such as radio documentaries for the CBC on a variety of topics,not always musical .
The life of a touring pianist became intolerable for him ; he hated the experience of constant travel ,living in hotel rooms and the pressures of performing under often less than ideal conditions . He loved the experience of recording , where he could with the help of engineers and record priducers , create idealized performances . This was the very opposite of the attitude of many other great classical musicians, who feel that recordings are artificial products,carefully edited and lacking in the spontaneity of a live performance and the inspiration of the moment .
Gould was a notorious hypochondriac who often canceled performances , wore heavy winter clothing even in Summer , hated to be touched physically and may have even had a mild autistic condition known as Asperger's syndrome, in which a person may be brilliant but lacking in the abilty to socialize normally with others, according to some psychiatrists and other experts .
He had friends, but lived a pretty much solitary life and never married , although he did have women friends , and rumors that he may have bennn homosexual have been shown to be false . He died of a stroke at the tragically early age of 50 , and his many recordings remain bestsellers on CD to this day, including the classic recording of Bach's Goldberg Variations from the late 1950s which is still very much available and launched his legendary recording career .
Gould's performances could be eccentric and even perverse ; he sometimes played fast and loose with the composer's written instructions and chose strange tempos either much slower or faster than other pianists , but you could never call his performaces dull ! There are biographies and other writings on him by such well-known writers as Kevin Bazzana, Otto Friedrich, Peter Ostwald and Geoffrey Payzant , and a fascinating collection of his thought-provoking essays on music .
Classical music is a continuum of music from the past stretching back centuries to the latest works by living composers . It has evolved steadily through the ages and is still doing so . The earliest important names in the field include such great composers as Claudio Monteverdi of the late 16th and early 17th centuries , his pupil Heinrich Schutz of Germany, and even earlier masters such as Palestrina , Lassus, Dufay , and Machaut .
This long line of great composers continues with such giants as Johann Serbastian Bach , Mozart ,Beethoven,Schumann, Wagner, Brahms etc to the present day with such leading contemporary figures as Pierre Boulez ,Elliott Carter , Hans Werner Henze , John Adams and others . Today , we are priveleged to hear music by all of these great names and infinitely more .
And there are promising young composers beginning to make a name for themselves at the moment . But unfortunately , many people who attend concerts are set in their ways . They have grown accustomed to their beloved familiar masterworks by Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov and other familiar names ,and are reluctant to give new works a hearing at concerts .
Some concertgoers will actually walk out before a new or recent work is being performed at a concert and return when their local orchestra plays its umpteenth performance of the Beethoven fifth or the Dvorak New World symphony , or the 2nd piano concerto of Rachmaninov . They know what they like and don't want to hear something new and unfamiliar .
Or if they do listen to the new work , they sometimes find it so disagreeable as to write letters to the orchestra's music director saying that they will cancel their subscriptions if he continues to program such awful stuff .
Don't they realize that it is vital for new music to be heard ? Otherwise , classical music will stagnate and die . But their minds are closed . Fortunately ,there are still some lovers of classical music who are willing to give new music a chance .
They don't realize that Beethoven was once considered a dangerous radical by more than a few critics composers and listeners in the early 19th century ,when he departed from the style of Haydn and Mozart and wrote revolutionary worksd such as the Eroica symphony, the fifth, his late string quartets and other masterpieces . There were those who found these strange new works incomprehensible ,confusing and incoherent .
It was the same with the wild new music of Hector Berlioz (1803-1869 ) with its enormous orchestras and outlandish use of orchestral color . The monumental operas of Wagner with their once insanely daring harmonies caused costernation in the world of 19th century music . In the 20th century , such great composers as Stravinsky,Bartok, Prokofiev, Schoenberg and others were always pushing the envelope .
But they are all now established figures in classical music . And who knows how things will develop in the 21st century ,which is only entering its second decade ? No one can predict this . Grand old men such as Pierre Boulez ,85, and Elliott Carter, who just celebrated his 102nd ! birthday are still very much with us and have created important if extremely esoteric catalogues of works are being performed fairly regularly despite audience resistance and only time will tell how posterity sees their music .
And there are other composers such as John Adams,Philip Glass, Ned Rorem,William Bolcom and others who write in a more accessible style and have been widely performed and frequently recorded . Again,only time will tell what their ultimate place in the history of classical music will be . But there are still many people who will squirm at the mere mention of Arnold Scheonberg,who was born in 1874 and died in 1951 , and whose still thorny 12 tone music alienates many concertgoers .
And in these extremely difficult times for orchestras and opera companies , where full houses are needed so badly ,many orchestras are understandably cautious about alienating conservative audiences with music that is not "easy listening ". But the world of classical music cannot afford to degenerate into stagnance . New music MUST be heard .
The great but often ailing maestro James Levine is on the cover of the January issue of Opera News magazine- 2111 marks the 40th anniversary of his debut at the Met ,which is being duly celebrated by the company throughout nest year. Levine has led over 2,000 performances at the Met of a wide variety of operas ranging from the 18th century to the present day ,and his enormous accomplishments with the company and elsewhere have become legendary in classical music .
Writer Scott Rose has written an article profiling 40 of those great accomplishments-one for each year. These include some of the many important operas he has introduced into the Met's repertoire,his auspicious debut performance of Puccini's Tosca as a promising young conductor in 1971, and the many innovations he has brought to the august opera company .
Features editor Brian Kellow offers a tribute to the late,great mezzo soprano Shirley Verret ,who passed away this November at the age of 79 and who graced the Met and other great opera houses with her artistry for so many years .
Wall Street Journal opera critic Heidi Waleson asks a variety of leading composers, opera managers and other experts about their choice for the best new operas of the 21st century .These include prominent music critis Alex Ross, Greg Sandow, Mark Swed, Seattle opera general manager Speight Jenkins ,among others.
Musicologist Hugh Macdonald discusses the pluses and minuses of opera in translation, and laments the fact that American opera companies rarely perform operas in English translation any more . Writer Barry Singers interviews German opera director Willy Decker regarding his Met debut in a new production of Verdi's beloved La Traviata which will be set in the present day, as many operas are today even though the stories are set in the past.
There are reviews of the Met's new production of Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov, the New York City opera's production of A Quiet Place ,Leonard Bernstein's only full length opera , the new Salome at the Washington national opera , the new Aida at Toronto's Canadian National opera, the new Don Giovanni at the Dallas opera, and productions in Madrid and Barcelona etc.
CD reviews include a live concert performance from London of Verdi's Otello led by the venerable English conductor Sir Colin Davis,now 83 years old and still going strong, a live performance of Gershwin's Porgy and Bess from a Summer music festival in Graz Austria led by of all conductors, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, a specialist in the music of Bach, Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven etc, and other opera and vocal recordings.
The magazine critics also have a list of opera and vocal recordings which they consider to be the best of this year. DVD reviews include Berg's Lulu from the Met,part of the CDs and DVDs of Levine's Met performances released in honor of his 40th anniversary with the company, and Schoenberg's thorny but powerful 12-tone opera Moses and Aron from Bochum,Germany .
Whether you're new to opera or a knowledgable veteran, you should never miss Opera News magazine .
Articles about the woes of classical music are always being written by critics ,composers and other experts . Many wonder what can be done to make classical music more "relevant". How can our orchestras,opera companies, chamber ensembles and other classical musicians reach out to those who know little or nothing about this centuries-old art form and persuade them to make it a part of their lives?
How can we attract more young people to concerts and the opera etc? Does classical music have to"change" with the times in order to achieve the elusive goal of "relevance",whatever that is ? Is going to classical performances really a stuffy and boring experience?
But relevance is a loaded term . What's relevant to one person is not necessarily relevant to another . As a classical musician, this kind of music is certainly relevant to me, and others in the field would certainly agree with me. It's the same with other kinds of music .
Jazz is relevant to Jazz musicians and afficionados . Pop music is relevant to fans of pop music and pop musicians . Folk music is relevant to folk musicians , and the traditional classical musics of India, Iran , and other exotic countries is certainly relevant to people in those nations . Who is to say which kind of music is relevant or not ?
But when people who are supposedly experts on classical music question its relevance, such as the well-meaning but misguided composer, teacher,critic and commentator Greg Sandow, who is always calling for classical music to change with the times, they are unwittingly giving ammunition to the myth that classical music is stuffy,boring ,elitist and irrelevant .
But people need to be aware that classical music is just as valid as other kinds of music ; it isn't really superior or inferior to the others, but DIFFERENT . Why can't more people just keep an open mind and accept it on its own terms ? To make a comparison , is French quisine "superior" to Chinese quisine? Or Chinese to French? Or are they superior to Italian, Spanish ,Japanese, Mexican, Thai , or other kinds of food ? Silly question .
They're all just different quisines . All have their admirers and one doesn't invalidate another .It's the same with music . Classical music is simply vastly different from other musics; it tends to be much more complex than anything by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Michael Jackson, Britney Spears , Lady Gaga and other popular musicians known to the general public .
You could also make the comparison between Rock and pop as fast food and classical as slow food in a gourmet restaurant ,but that could invite accusations of snobbism and elitism .
Unlike Rock and Pop, only some of it is vocal; much of it is purely instrumental , such as symphonies, concertos, sonatas, and other classical genres. When many people think of music, they think of the kind of popular songs that appeal to the general public, not purely instrumental music ,which tends not to be "about" anything. They are accustomed to listening to short,simple songs with a beat and catchy melodies.
There's nothing wrong with that, but listening to classical music will be a challenge at first to people who are not accustomed to it. They are not accustomed to listening to an instrumental work which consists of themes which undergo constant transformation with complex harmonies and rhythms over a period of time much longer than a simple song .
There are however, classical songs, or art songs as they are sometimes called, which are short songs set to poetry by virtually any poet with piano accompaniment, but sometimes with an entire orchestra . But a 45 minute long symphony or concerto can be baffling to some one new to classical music .
But any one who is new to classical music and takes the time and effort to learn about it and listen to it carefully and repeatedly can come to find it absolutely relevant. Don't blame the art form !
Chalk one more up to the classical music crisis in America . The respected Honolulu symphony orchestra, which describes itself as "The oldest US orchestra west of the Rockies" has officially gone under a year after ceasing public performances . And what is the US government doing about this, or the private sector ? Nothing .
The orchestra's musicians will be getting paid for work as the orchestra of the Honolulu opera , but a large number of talented, hard-working and dedicated musicians are now out of work ,not to mention the members of the orchestra's administrative staff . The two-month long strike by the Detroit symphony is still not settled , and that orchestra's existence is also in jeopardy . If this great orchestra goes under, it will be first top-tier one to go under in America .
The members of the orchestra and its administration are hoping to resurrect the ensemble as soon as possible , but this will require a lot of help- from some one . But is the help out there ? The muscians will have to rely on whatever freelance work comes their way and private teaching , but there is worry that Hawaii will lose some of its best music teachers if the musicians leave the island for (one hopes) greener pastures .
You can read about the orchestra at its website ,which is still on the internet, honolulusymphony.com, and the website of the musicians ,honolulusymphonymembers.org . And please, contact any US politicians ;senators,congressmen and the White House etc by e mail to let them know that America's symphony orchestras and opera companies are threatened and need help desperately . But not the conservative ones who want to abolish the National Endowment For The Arts ,unless you are willing to berate them for their indifference to the arts in America !
It's no secret that symphony orchestras all over America are threatened with non-existence today, or at least to the unenviable fate of being forced to play fewer concerts per year at much lower salaries for both the musicians and those who work on administration . The renowned Detroit Symphony orchestra could be destroyed by both its current extended strike and economic woes, and the Honolulu Symphony has declared bankruptcy ,to name only a couple of sad examples of what is going wrong in the orchestral world currently.
Even in Europe ,where generous government subsidies for orchestras have long been taken for granted , economic woes have created difficulties for some orchestras there. But what would it be like in a worst case scenario ,if the centuries old symphony orchestra as an institution were to go the way of the dinosaur ? It wouldn't be pretty .
The symphony orchestra has been in existence since around the middle of the 18th century . But it isn't a dinosaur, as many wrongly claim today , but a vital and constantly evolving organism . In the beginnning , European aristocrats supported it and composers, but there was no such thing as an independent orchestra resident all year in one concert hall playing a different program every week with a music director , guest conductors and soloists engaged to performwith it.
The great Austrian composer Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) worked for many years as music director for a music-loving Hungarian count at his estate ; he directed the count's own private small orchestra,hired the musicians,and wrote much music for the count and his aristocratic guests ,some of which is still performed today. He had to wear a servant's uniform and suck up to the count all the time, but he had a secure job and gained enormous fame all over Europe as a composer . He was a feather in the count's cap .
Mozart,in the last ten years of his life (1781-1791) had moved to cosmopolitan Vienna from nearby provincial Salzburg,where he had worked as more or less a hack church composer for the archbishop of Salzburg, whom he detested for his philistine attitudes, and attempted to make a career as a free lance composer and pianist, hiring musicians for concerts which he put on as an entrepreneur in order to perform his piano concertos ,symphonies and other works.
It was a much less stable life and more uncertain, but at least he had his creative freedom . Later,the orchestras of many European opera companies started their own independent life as concert orchestras, the most famous example of this being the Vienna Philhamonic, which spends most of its time playing in the pit of what used to be called the IMperial Vienna Opera,now the Vienna State opera .
In America , the New York Philharmonic was founded in 1842,the same year as the Vienna Philharmonic, but solely for concerts . At first it only played a handful of concerts a year ,and the musicians were free lancers who came together for a few concerts .Now it plays a different program every week in Avery Fisher Hall in Lincoln Center from September until June.
Later, orchestra proliferated in America and elsewhere ,not only Europe, but in Israel, South America and most recently, in Asian countries such as Japan,China , and Korea . The orchestra has become an established thing worldwide, and has provided a life-enhancing experience for people all over the world, as well as gainful employment for so many talented musicians, conductors and composers .
But imagine a world without orchestras, given the fact that they are threatened in so many places,especially America . I think the world would be a sadder and more dreary place. Yes, there are so many wonderful recordings of orchestras playing such a wide variety of repertoire, and now DVDs. But there is simply no substitute for the experience of actually hearing an orchestra play live; the festive atmosphere ,the electricity of a live performance .
And composers would no longer have an opportunity to write orchestral works . The magnificent tradition of composers such as Haydn,Mozart,Beethoven,Brahms,Schumann, Tchaikovsky,Dvorak, Bruckner,Mahler,Sibelius and Prokofiev etc would come to a dismal end . Fortunately, there are still composers writing for the symphony orchestras , and more than you might imagine , but the prospect of this great tradition ending is too painful to imagine .
This is why we must not take the symphony orchestra for granted in America and elsewhere . We cannot afford to allow current economic woes to threaten the existence of the symphony orchestra in America any more than we can afford to allow are great museums,libraries, national monuments and other national tresures to be destroyed .
It's almost Christmas ,and as usual ,everyone is looking for ideas for gifts . Why not surprise some one you love who isn't into Classical Music with Cds or DVDs of the music of the classical masters ? You never know what might come of this. Possibly it could kindle a life long love of classical music !
Even if your loved ones don't know Beethoven from a baseball ,it's never too late to start enjoying classical music . Or for your children,grandchildren ,neivces and nephews this could be a great way to foster love of the classics .
Any of these works would be a great place to start :
Johann Sebastian Bach : Brandeburg Concertos . Goldberg Variations . The Four Suites for orchestra . Mass in B Minor . Suites for cello . Sonatas and Partitas for violin . Assorted suites for piano or harpsichord . Magnificat . The Well Tempered Clavier .
Ludwig Van Beethoven : The 9 symphonies .(available singly or in sets of all nine) . The Five piano concertos (also singly or in complete sets). Violin Concerto . Assorted overtures (Egmont,Coriolan, Leonore etc. 32 piano sonatas (also single or complete sets.). Fidelio (his only opera,also available in DVD). Missa Solemnis.
Johannes Brahms: The four symphonies . Piano concertos 1 or 2. Violin concerto . Variations on a theme by Haydn. A German Requiem . Assorted songs . Assorted piano pieces .Georges Bizet : Carmen (CD or DVD)
Max Bruch: Violin Concerto no 1. Hector Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique .Harold in Italy . Requiem. The Childhood of Christ. The Damnation of Faust . Roman Carneval overture. Romeo &Juliette. (suite or complete work).
Alexander Borodin: Polovetzian Dances from Prince Igor. Symphony no 2. In the Steppes of Central Asia. Frederic Chopin: Assorted piano works : Preludes, Etudes , Mazurkas,Nocturnes, etc. Piano concertos 1 and 2.
Claude Debussy: La Mer (The sea). Prelude to the afternoon of a faune. Iberia . Nocturnes for orchestra. Antonin Dvorak: Symphonies 7,8,9. Cello concerto . Carneval overture . Slavonic Dances . Sir Edward Elgar: Enigma Variations. Cello Concerto . Symphonies 1,2. Cockgaine overture .Pomp and Circumstance marches.
Cesar Franck : Symphony in D minor . Violin sonata . The Accursed Huntsamn. George Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue. An American in Paris . Porgy and Bess (CD or DVD) . Piano concerto. Edvard Grieg : Piano concerto . Peer Gynt suite . Assorted piano pieces . George Frideric Handel : Water music .Music for the Royal Fireworks. Messiah. Gustav Holst : The Planets . Joseph Haydn : Symphonies 88,92, 94, 100,101,102,103,104) . Trumpet concerto . Oratorio; The Creation ,(based on Genesis).
Franz Liszt : Les Preludes ,symphonic poem . Piano concertos 1,2. Mephisto Waltz (available in piano or orchestral form ). Hungarian Rhapsodies for piano (or orchestra). Edouard Lalo :Symphonie Espagnole,for violin and orchestra . Gustav Mahler : Symphonies 1,2,4,5,9. Das Lied von der Erde (The song of the earth ) .Songs of a Wayfarer .
Felix Mendelssohn : Symphonies 3 (Sottish), 4,(Italian . Overture to a Midsummer Night's Dream . Violin Concerto . Overture-The Hebrides (Fingal's Cave). Modest Mussorgsky : Pictures at an Exhibition (avaialble on piano or for orchestra) . Boris Godunov ,opera, available on CD or DVD. Night on Bald Mountain .
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart : Symphonies 28,29, 35,36,38,39,40,41. Piano concertos no 9, 20,21, 22,23,24,25. Violin concertos (5) . Operas: Don Giovanni, Le Nozze di Figaro(The marriage of Figaro), The Magic Flute (CD or DVD).
Sergei Prokofiev : Symphonies 1, 5. Piano concerto no 3. Liautenant Kizhe suite . Scythian suite . Violin concertos no 1,2. Suite form ballet Romeo and Juliet . Maurice Ravel : Bolero .La Valse . Suite no 2 from Daphnis and Chloe (or complete ballet score ). Pavane for a dead Princess . Giacomo Puccini :Operas; La Boheme, Tosca, Madama Bitterfly, Turandot,(CD or DVD).
Sergei Rachmaninov : Piano concertos 1,2,3,4. Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini . Symphony no 2. Assorted piano pieces . Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov : Scheherezade(suite for orchestra) . Capriccio Espagnol . Russian Easter overture . Ottorino Respighi: Symphonic poems The Pines of Rome, The Fountains of Rome,Roamn Festivals . Gioacchino Rossini : Opera; The Barber of Seville,CD or DVD ,plus overtures to the various operas.
Richard Strauss : Symphonic poems : Don Juan ,Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks, Death and Transfiguration , Also Sprach Zarathustra (Thus spake Zarathustra This spake Zarathustra , made famopus by the Kubrick film 2001). Ein Heldenleben )A Hero's life). Johann Strauss (The waltz king,no relation to Richard), assorted waltes and polkas,including Blue Danube, Emperor waltz etc.
Igor Stravinsky : The Firebird Ballet (or suite from it) Ballet, Petrushka . The Rite of Spring . Franz Schubert : symphonies 5,8, 9. Trout Quintet. Quintet in C for strings . Assorted songs . Robert Schumann: symphonies 1,2,3,4. Piano concerto . Quintet for piano and strings . Assorted songs ,including Dichterliebe (poet's love) .
Jean Sibellius : symphonies 1,2, 5. The Swan of Tuonela . Finlandia . Violin concerto . Tapiola .
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky : Symphonies 4,5,6. 1812 Overture .Romeo and Juliet . Suies from the ballets Nutcracker , Sleeping Beauty and Swan lake,opr complete ballet scores .Violin concerto.Piano concerto no 1. Francesca Da Rimini .Opera, Eugene Onegin )CD or DVD).
Giuseppe Verdi : Requiem . Operas; Rigoletto ,La Traviata , Il Trovatore (The troubador) ,Aida, Otello ) (CD or DVD).
Richard Wagner : Preludes and overtures to operas Rienzi, The Flying Dutchman , Lohengrin, The Ride of the Valkyries , Tristan and Isolde, Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg(The mastersingers of Nuremberg),Parsifal. Siegfried Idyll.
These are just some of the most famous classical works and perfect for classical newbies . For operas, make sure you get CD sets with booklet containing original libretto and Englsih translation;Not all opera sets have this. For the symphonies , recordings by such great cnductors as Leonard Bernstein,Herbert von Karajan, Sir Georg Solti, George Szell, Eugene Ormandy, Andre Previn, James Levine, Riccardo Muti, Zubin Mehta, Claudio Abbado, Daniel Barenboim , Neeme Jarvi, etc are recommended. For the concertos, such great musicians as violinists Jascha Heifetz,Itzhak Perlman and Anne-Sophie Mutter ,pianists Vladimir Ashkenazy,Artur Rubinstein,Claudio Arrau, Alfred Brendel, etc, and cellists Mstislav Rostropovich , Lynn Harrel and Yo Yo Ma are recommended .
For the operas, great singers such as Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo. Renee Fleming,Leontyne Price, Maria Callas, Sherrill Milnes, Bryn Terfel, Thomas Hampson, Joan Sutherland and Marilyn Horne etc are recommended. For the bidget concious, Naxos records offers performers who are not quite as famous,but still excellent at bargain prices . Check classicstoday.com for recommendations, and you can easily get CDs and DVDs from amazon.com or arkivmusic.com etc. Good hunting !
An old joke about opera goes "An opera is a form of entertainment where a man gets stabbed in the back , and instead of dying,he sings" . Samuel Johnson described opera as "An exotic and irrational entertainment".
Well,that's true as far as it goes, but don't believe all the stories about how ridiculous the stories of operas are, or be fooled by all the stereotypical images of fat singers in ridiculous pseudo Viking costumes. That's not what opera is about at all.
Opera stories take place all over the world , in Europe,America,Asia, Africa or wherever . Some are set in ancient Egypt and some in the present day. Many are set in Europe throughout its history, in Italy,Spain (many famous operas seem to be set in or near the city of Seville for some reason), Russia under the Tsars, quaint Sicilian villages, Venice, Paris, villages in the Czech republic,or Vienna , etc.
There are exotic operas set in China ,India and Japan and virtually anywhere. But are the stories really silly and lacking in any credibility? Not necessarily.
Here are the stories of a few famous ones in a nutshell. I don't think you'll find them silly in the least.
Carmen,by Georges Bizet . Seville.A young Spanish soldier stationed near a cigarette factory falls for a seductive Gypsy femme fatale named Carmen who works at the factory . He deserts the army for her and is put in prison for a while. Then he gets involved with her in smuggling contraband goods in the mountains. She dumps him for a dashing matador named Escamillo . Devastated, he begs her to come back to him outside the bullring where the matador is fighting bulls, and he stabs her to death when she tells him it's all over .
This story could have come out of the newspapers.
Modest Mussorgsky: Boris Godunov. This is based on Russian history and is a somewhat fictionalized story using historical figures. The Boyar Boris Godunov has had the only surviving son of Ivan the Terrible,just a boy, assasinated so that he could usurp the throne and become Tsar of Russia. He is proclaimed Tsar, but inherits terrible problems with the rebellious Russian people and intrigue at the court in Moscow. He is tormented by guilt for the murder and even has halucinations. Meanwhile, a young runaway orthodox monk is claiming to be the rightful heir and has misled many Russians into thinking that the Tsarevich was not actually murdered years ago. He stirs up the Russian people to rebellion and goes to Poland and forms a cynical romantic alliance with an ambitious Polish princess who wants Poland to conquer Russia. Overcome by guilt, Boris dies, and the story ends in uncertainty . If you attend a performance, you will be overwhelmed by the power of the story and the music.
Giuseppe Verdi: Don Carlo. This is also a story based on historical figures,this time set in 16th century Madrid . King Philip of Spain is having trouble with his stubborn and rebellious son,the infante Don Carlos. Philip has married princess Elisabeth of France,daughter of the French king, for political reasons and she does not love him. She had been hoping to marry Don Carlos and the two still love each other despite the fact that she is now his stepmother. Don Rodrigo is Carlos' close friend and gets him involved in the quest to free Flanders (now part of Belgium) from Spanish tyranny,but the two run afoul of the Spanish inqusition and the ruthless grand inqusitor. The king's jealous mistress princess Eboli is in love with Carlos and falsely accuses Elisabeth of adultery. The king reluctantly has Rodrigo assasinated at the orders of the grand inqusitor. In despair, Carlos goes into self-imposed exile in the tomb of his grandfather Charles the Fifth of Spain. This is another powerful and sweeping story .
These three operas are in the current repertoire of the Metropolitan opera,and you can see and hear them on the internet and in HD broadcasts in movie theaters around the country, as well as on the radio on Saturday afternoons live.
There are also many operas with fanciful non-realistic stories dealing with the supernatural , myths and legends, such as those of Wagner. But Wagner's plots are more like The Lord of The Rings and other fantasy novels and films. In fact, the Lords of the Rings and Star Wars are very much inspired by Wagner.
We're all familiar with the stereotype of the ridiculous fat lady in a pseudo Viking costume with a helmet with horns on it. But if you're curious about exploring the fascinating and infinitely varied art form called opera, don't let this stereotype get in the way of your potential involvement with opera ,something you'll never regret .
Yes, there are and have been a number of decidedly hefty opera stars over the centuries,male and female. But the fact is that opera singers come in all sizes and shapes,ranging from quite plump,even overweight ,to petite and slim. There have been very short ones and very tall ones. The late, great Finnish bass Martti Talvela (1935-1989) was an enormous but not obese man , six foot seven . The famous French coloratura soprano Lily Pons was very petite and dainty.
The late Italian tenor Franco Corelli was a matinee idol who made women swoon with his combination of a powerful,ringing yet lyrical voice and an adonis-like physique.He was the proverbial tall dark and handsome fellow and had sex appeal in spades . The late Luciano Pavarotti was a rather chubby man but had a kind of teddy bear charm which enchanted audiences ,and Placido Domingo, who is about to turn 70 and is still going strong , is very handsome and dashing .
Today , some of our leading opera singers,male and female, are as good looking and glamorous as any of today's most glamorous movie stars . The Russian soprano Anna Netrebko ,currently the darling of the operatic world, is one of the most beautiful women imaginable , and she's much more than mere eye candy . She has a gorgeous voice and is a fine actress .
Romanian soprano Angela Gheorghiu and her French-born husband Roberto Alagna, who comes from a Sicilian family resident in Paris , are opera's power couple . They are two very good ooking people and fine singers and actors . The great Welsh baritone Bryn Terfel ,who has been described as having a striking resemblance to the Rock star Meatloaf , is a big sexy hunk of a man with a robust voice and great stage presence ,while the American baritone Thomas Hampson is tall ,slim,suave and elegant .
The days of excessively plump opera singers who just stand there singing are pretty much over . Acting ability is now a must have for most singers ,although there a few holdouts . Of course ,there is also concern among experts that looks may come to trump singing soon, but this does not seem to be happening . Becoming a world famous opera singer is extremely tough . It's not like the world of Pop singers,where you have a microphone and slick promotion can go a long way toward making a big career .
Singing opera is infinitely more difficult technically than pop, and requires years of rigorous training . You have to sing in front of an orchestra which may number up to a 100 in opera houses without a microphone . You also have to study languages , diction , music theory , and much more . The vocal lines in opera are much ,much more complex than any pop song , and learning the necessary technique is unimaginably more difficult than for any pop song .
Singing opera at the world's top opera houses is an extremely difficult but potentially fantastically rewarding life . Very few people have the combination of innate vocal talent , acting ability, musicianship and sheer personality required . But chances are ,if you go to the opera today , or watch DVDs or stream performances over the internet , you will see people onstage who are very believable and convincing on stage ,and you won't get the impression that opera is in any way silly and not worth taking seriously as drama .
John Cage (1912-1992) was one of the most influential and controversial composers of the 20th century. As a new biography by Kenneth Silverman shows, he was also a fascinating man who led a fascinating life.
Silverman, professor emeritus of English at New York University,traces the life of a man who was not only an important composer ,but as Wikipedia describes him , "a philosopher, poet, music theorist, artist, printmaker and collector of mushrooms" Cage was never a composer in the Beethovenian sense , writing in such established forms as the symphony, concerto , sonata etc , but an inveterate experimenter who departed radically from the tradittions of western classical music .
Instead , he used used techniques of improvisation ,chance , electronic music , standard instruments used in unusual was such as putting nuts,bolts, and other objects inside pianos to alter their sound , and non-standard notation among other things . Many critics ,experts and listeners dismissed him as a mere charlatan , replacing musical substance with arbitrary gimmicks , but he stubbornly continued to go his own way .
Perhaps his most famous (or notorious ) work is 4' and 33'' ,in which a pianist is directed to sit at the piano and play absolutely nothing for four minutes and 33 seconds . The ambient noises in the concert hall or wherever the piece is "played" are the work itself ! Other works reflect his fascination with Asian philopophy and aesthetics and his use of the Chinese I Ching as a means of writing a new kind of music .
Cage was always a very tendy composer ! He was born in California in 1912 ,the son of an inventor , which no doubt explains his fascination with musical experimentation , studied with composers such as Henry Cowell (1897 -1965 , a keen experimenter himself , and the very different Austrian expatriate Arnold Schoneberg in Los Angeles, inventor of the 12 tone system of composition . Schoenberg called him "more of an inventor of genius than a composer ".
He was also involved in modern dance , and the famous dancer and choreographer Merce Cunningham (1919-2006) was his life partner ,even though he had previously married the daughter of a Russian orthodox priest from Alaska, Xenia Kashevarov ,with whom he also collaborated on artistic endeavors.
Cage for the most part rejected the aesthetic principles of 19th century European art music ,and declared that "Beethoven was wrong ", implying that HIS musical aesthetics were the one and only way ,even though this is rather like faulting Goya for not painting like Picasso . He befriended many prominent composers, artists and trendy aestheticians ,such as Pierre Boulez ,Virgil Thomson , Morton Feldman and others , and traveled widely in Europe ,where he became something of a cultural hero to the musical and artistic avant-garde .
Cage studied Hindu philosophy and Zen Buddhism ,and became an amateur mycologist ,or expert on mushrooms, which he collected avidly on trips to the countryside wherever he went ,and was expert enough to distinguish poisonous from edible ones .
But he sometimes fell afoul of the classical music establishment . When Leonard Bernstein programmed a work of his Atlas Ecliptpticalis ,which involves improviasatory techniques at a New York Philharmonic concert in the 1960s as its then music director , the members of the orchestra hated the work and the unconventional methods required to perform it ,and deliberately sabotaged the performance , infuriating the composer !
Cage continued to experiment with chance elements ,unorthodox notation and oriental influence in western music until his death in 1992 , and remains as controversial to this day as he was during his life . Silverman's biography is an absorbing read ,and it made this listener curious to invesitigate his music further ,even though his previous encounters with such unorthodox music had not made him an admirer . It may very well make you curious about this strange man also.