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February 2011 - Posts

How A Great American Pianist Overcame A Devastating Physical Disability - Memoirs of Leon Fleisher
   "My Nine Lives" , by the renowned American pianist Leon Fleisher, has just been published by Doubleday , and  tells the extraordinarty story of the life of this remarkably gifted and versatile musician , who managed to succeed despite being struck as a young man by the worst thing that could possibly happen to a pianist - a neurological disorder called focal dystonia which adversely effected two fingers on his right hand , virtually ending a flourishing and brilliant career.

   Fleisher was born in San Francisco in 1928 , the son of Russian Jewish parents , and showed enormous promise as a child.  He went on to study with the legendary Austrian pianist Artur Schnabel (1882- 1951 ) and began his meteoric rise as one of the most gifted young pianists of the time.  Fleisher came under the aegis of such great conductors as George Szell, with whom he developed a close relatonship and made classic recordings of among other things,the two Brahms piano concertos, and the French maestro Pierre Monteux.

   But in his middle 30s, he began to have strange and distressing  difficulties with two of the fingers on his right hand , and his playing suffered .  It was a traumatic experience for the young keyboard lion , and all  medical treatments proved ineffective .  Fleisher struggled with severe depressionfor some time, but began to reinvent himself as a musician by playing concertos and other works written for the left hand alone by such composers as Ravel and Prokofiev among others. 

  These works had been commissioned by the Austrian pianist Paul Wittgenstein, brother of the famous philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein , who had lost his right arm in combat during the first world war , and commissioned various composers to write works for one hand . 

   Fleisher also took up conducting orchestras , and became associate conductor of the Baltimore symphony orchestra .  He was taught for many years at the Peabody Institute of music in Baltimore for many years . 

   But when he reached his sixties , Botox injections and physical therapy improved his ability to play , and he was finally able to return to playing with both hands , and made an acclaimed comeback.  He is still going stong , and recently became one of the recipients of the prestigious Kennedy Center honors, broadcast every year on television . 

   Fleisher has made numerous acclaimed recordings ,mostly on what used to be called CBS or Columbia records ,now Sony Classical of works by Brahms, Beethoven, Schubert , Mozart,  Schumann, Prokofiev, Ravel and other composers, many of which are still available. Written in collaboration  with     Washington Post music critic Anne Midgette ,  "My Nine Lives" is not only an absorbing read , but an inspiring story of triumph over adversity .  Don't miss it. 

  
Posted: Feb 22 2011, 06:27 PM by the horn | with no comments
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The Detroit Symphony Has Been Forced To Cancel The Rest Of Its Season
  The bad news continues in the Detroit Symphony orchestra's strike ,which has lasted since last October .  The orchestra's management ,unable to reach an agreement with the musicians , has decided to cancel the rest of the season through June .

  There is a possibility of some Summer concerts , but nothing before then .  This is unprecedented in the long and illustrious history of America's top orchestras .  What effect this decision to cancel the rest of the season will have on the orchestra in the future is uncertain , but the orchestra's existence definitely in Jeopardy .  The Detroit symphony has had such eminent conductors as Sixten Ehrling ,Paul Paray , Gunter Herbig , and Neeme Jarvi as its music directors , and has made many acclaimed recordings for such record labels as Decca ,Chandos and Mercury .
 
  The orchestra was recently able to secure the services of the eminent American conductor Leonard Slatkin ,66, to succeed the equally eminent Estonian conductor Neeme Jarvi , but this did not prevent the labor and economic woes of the orchestra from causing a lengthy strike. Slarkin had already begun to make recordings with the orchestra,including a live Naxos recording of Rachmaninov's sumptuous 2nd symphony .  Slatkin has also recently become music director of the Lyon symphony in France , that nation's second largest city.

  The musicians and the management were unable to agree on such matters as pay cuts , helath care benefits and reduction of the orchestra's size , which have been caused by the economic woes of the Motor City .  In better days , the auto industry provided generous support for the orchestra and it flourished for decades . 
 
  Detroit Senator Carl Levin was involved in the negotitions , and it's reassuring to know that
   politicians who care about the arts actually exist !   But let's all hope that the Detroit Symphony will rise from the economic and labor morass and continue to brighten the existence of Motor Town . 
Posted: Feb 21 2011, 05:56 PM by the horn | with no comments
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The Republican Party Must Not Be Allowed To Jeopardize The Arts In America
  The Republican party is out to defund NPR , PBS and the National Endowment For The Arts
  based on the questionable premise that they waste government funds and are forms of left-wing propaganda.
  Waste government funds?  Our government wastes more money   in one day on the futile and disastrous Iraq war than  it "wastes" on funding these organization in a year. As well as other questionable expenses of many kinds.

  How much money would defunding these organizations save ?  The amount would be miniscule.
  And the effects on the arts in general, and especially classical music, would be catastrophic.
  Talk about destroying jobs !  More than five million Americans earn their living in the arts some way, whether as musicians,dancers,actors, artists and other professions, as well as in arts administration and other professions which have something to do with the arts in some way. Is this good for America ? Are you kidding ?

   We cannot allow misguided  and  foolish politicians in Washington to jeopardize the arts in America .  Classical music will most likely be the most seriously effected by the Republican's perverse plans.  Our orchestras and opera companies are already reeling from current economic problems , and  things can only get far worse if the Republicans get their way .

  Don't these people realize that the arts are vital to a nation ?  They are not just a frivolous entertainment for people who can afford them .  They are very beneficial to the economy and improve the quality of life for millions of people .  If our opera companies, symphony orchestras , dance and drama companies etc flourish they help the economy to flourish,too.  They are very important in creating jobs for so many people,not just performers.

  Many conservatives say that the job of supporting the arts is something for the private sector alone,and not the government .  If the private sector provided enough help for our orchestras and opera companies to flourish it would be wonderful . But that isn't happening.
   Private funding HAS  helped to support classical music in America over the years, but current support is woefully inadequate and has been decreasing steadily .

  So please, contact your senators, congressmen, governors etc and tell them how important support for the arts in America is . 
 
 
Posted: Feb 16 2011, 06:04 PM by the horn | with no comments
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It's Time For A Classical Music Reality Check
   Yes, these are difficult and uncertaIn times for classical music ,not only in America but in Europe and elsewhere because of economic conditions.  But one thing is certain, despite all the
wringing of hands over declining and aging audiences, the alleged "stodginess" of the classical music world ,  the orchestras and opera companies whose existence is in
 jeopardy, classical music is still very much alive and kicking .
 
  Consider some of the positive things about this magnificent ,centuries-old art form today. Not many critics and commentators do this ;  there's too much one-sided harping on how classical music needs to"change" to adapt to the present day in order to become "relevant".

  There are now more symphony orchestras,opera companies, chamber ensembles, choruses, and other groups performing classical music than ever before .  Classical music has never been easier to hear ,whether live or recorded .  There is an absolutely staggering amount and variety of it available on CD,and now more and more of it on DVD.
 
  The internet makes it possible for any one with a computer to purchase or download classical music of all kinds at the click of a mouse.  Any one can stream all manner of concerts and opera performances with the greatest of ease.  Any one who enjoys classical music can hear everthing from music written 500 or more years ago to the most recent works by contemporary composers . 
 
   Despite all the experts who long for the "golden age" of musical performance , standards of performance are higher than ever.  There is absolutely no lack of great conductors, pianists,violinists,cellists and virtuosos on other instruments .  Standards of orchestral playing are higher than ever. There are more world-class orchestras than ever before.
 
   50 or 60 years ago in America, there were only a handful of world-class orchestras in America. Now there are dozens.   Our orchestras are not "museums", or "dinosaurs" as some so-called experts would have us believe .  They are the repositories of a vast range of orchestral music ranging from the 18th century to the present day. 
   Old and new music co-exist in the repertoire,as they should.

  If you attend the opera, you can hear operas by Mozart and Handel which were written in the 18th century as well as operas receiving their world premieres.  There are certain beloved operatic standards by Verdi,Puccini, Rossini,Bizet, Mozart, Massenet, and Donizetti which long ago achieved lasting popularity , but there are also wonderful operas by such composers as Janacek,Dvorak, Zemlinsky, Franz Schreker, Berlioz,  Prokofiev, Shostakovich, and others which were obscure until recently , and  contemporary composers such as John Adams, Philip Glass,  Kaaia Saariaho,  Thomas Ades, Daniel Catan,
 Tan Dun and others have written recent operas which have had considerable success .

    Many so-called experts make it sound as though it were not even worth attending concerts and opera .  On the contrary -it has never been more worthwhile.

  
Posted: Feb 15 2011, 06:38 PM by the horn | with no comments
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February Issue Of Opera News Magazine- Nixon In China Arrives At The Met
 The February issue of Opera News features the smiling face and bizarre haircut of controversial opera and stage director Peter Sellars , who is responsible for the staging of the Met's new production of John Adams' acclaimed 1987 opera Nixon In China, currently being performed there with the composer conducting .
 
  That's right - an opera about Richard Nixon's historical visit to China in 1972 along with Henry Kissinger .  Writer William R. Braun has a fascinating interview with Sellars ,discussing the opera and Sellars' other controversial opera productions . Freelance cultural writer Ray Sawhill discusses
the complex public image of the late President Nixon and the various films about him, as well as Adam's opera.

   Washington Post cultural critic Philip Kennicott has a very interesting article on Paul Hindemith's strange operaitc masterpiece Cardillac, about an insane Parisian goldsmith and jeweller who murders his clients because he cannot bear to part with his creations.  This rarely performed opera is about to be performed by Opera Boston this month.

  Freelance writer Patrick Dillon discusses how French composer Jules Massenet (1842-1912) was inspired by such great singers as Feodor Chaliapin and Mary Garden to write some of his elegant operas such as Don Quichotte and others.

  There is the usual coverage of the operas being broadcast on the radio by the Met ,such as Nixon In China, Verdi's Simon Boccanegra, Don Pasquale and Gluck'sphigenie En Tauride as well as brief biographical sketches of many of this months singers and conductors . There are reviews of recent performances from London's Royal Opera, the Paris Opera, Vienna State Opera ,Zurich Opera and Geneva, as well as the Met, Chicago and San Francisco operas ,including the Met's new Don Carlo and Hindemith's Mathis Der Maler in Paris .

  There are reviews of new CDs such as a live Parsifal from the Mariinsky theater in St.Petersburg cndcted by Valery Gergiev , a live Peter Grimes from the Glyndebourne festival in England, and a new Naxos recording of a true rarity ,the opera Lw Deserteur by the obscure 18th century French composer Pierre-Alexandre Monsigny .

   There are also reviews of live opera performances on DVD of Bizet's Carmen from Paris conducted by Sir John Eliot Gardiner using 19th century period instruments , The Red Line by the contemporary Finnish composer Aulis Sallinen from Helsinki ,and Little Women by the contemporary Amercan composer Mark Adamo, based on the classic novel of the same name from Houston.

  No one who enjoys opera can afford to miss Opera News magazine, and it's also highly recommended for those who are new to opera or curious to learn more about it.
 
 
Posted: Feb 14 2011, 08:46 AM by the horn | with no comments
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Nixon In China Arrives At the Met -February Opera News Magazine
 The February issue of Opera News features the smiling face and bizarre haircut of controversial opera and stage director Peter Sellars , who is responsible for the staging of the Met's new production of John Adams' acclaimed 1987 opera Nixon In China, currently being performed there with the composer conducting .
 
  That's right - an opera about Richard Nixon's historical visit to China in 1972 along with Henry Kissinger .  Writer William R. Braun has a fascinating interview with Sellars ,discussing the opera and Sellars' other controversial opera productions . Freelance cultural writer Ray Sawhill discusses
the complex public image of the late President Nixon and the various films about him, as well as Adam's opera.

   Washington Post cultural critic Philip Kennicott has a very interesting article on Paul Hindemith's strange operaitc masterpiece Cardillac, about an insane Parisian goldsmith and jeweller who murders his clients because he cannot bear to part with his creations.  This rarely performed opera is about to be performed by Opera Boston this month.

  Freelance writer Patrick Dillon discusses how French composer Jules Massenet (1842-1912) was inspired by such great singers as Feodor Chaliapin and Mary Garden to write some of his elegant operas such as Don Quichotte and others.

  There is the usual coverage of the operas being broadcast on the radio by the Met ,such as Nixon In China, Verdi's Simon Boccanegra, Don Pasquale and Gluck'sphigenie En Tauride as well as brief biographical sketches of many of this months singers and conductors . There are reviews of recent performances from London's Royal Opera, the Paris Opera, Vienna State Opera ,Zurich Opera and Geneva, as well as the Met, Chicago and San Francisco operas ,including the Met's new Don Carlo and Hindemith's Mathis Der Maler in Paris .

  There are reviews of new CDs such as a live Parsifal from the Mariinsky theater in St.Petersburg cndcted by Valery Gergiev , a live Peter Grimes from the Glyndebourne festival in England, and a new Naxos recording of a true rarity ,the opera Lw Deserteur by the obscure 18th century French composer Pierre-Alexandre Monsigny .

   There are also reviews of live opera performances on DVD of Bizet's Carmen from Paris conducted by Sir John Eliot Gardiner using 19th century period instruments , The Red Line by the contemporary Finnish composer Aulis Sallinen from Helsinki ,and Little Women by the contemporary Amercan composer Mark Adamo, based on the classic novel of the same name from Houston.

  No one who enjoys opera can afford to miss Opera News magazine, and it's also highly recommended for those who are new to opera or curious to learn more about it.
 
 
Posted: Feb 14 2011, 08:46 AM by the horn | with no comments
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Don't Miss Mussorgsky's Epic Russian Operatic Masterpiece Boris Godunov From The Met On PBS This Week
  This week PBS will be showing the Metropolitan Opera's acclaimed new production of Modest Mussorgsky's powerful epic Russian opera "Boris Godunov ", and you should kick yourself if you miss it.  Check your local newspaper for the time this week; it will be shown in the New York area this Thursday and elsewhere this weekend.

  Boris Godunov, but the great but erratic Russian genius Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881) , is one of the greatest masterpieces of Russian opera , and is based on the play by the same name by Alexander Pushkin.  The opera portrays a turbulent and unstable period in Russian history toward the end of the 16th century ,when the ambitious Russian Boyar Boris Godunov usurped the throne in Moscow after the death of the only surviving son of Ivan the Terrible.
 
   In the opera, Boris has had the Tsarevich Dmitri ,who was just a boy,assasinated by his henchmen in order to become Tsar ,even though historians have shown that the boy actualy died in accidental circumstances .   Boris is croned Tsar in a majestic scene filled with the bells of Moscow and  the acclaim of the people , but is tormented by guilt and is surrounded by treacherous intrigue among the Boyars as well as terrible unrest among the downtrodden Russian populace,  suffering from poverty and famine.

   Meanwhile , a young  monk named Grigori escapes from his monastary and organizes a bold plan to take power by claiming that the Dmitri was is still alive and that he is the Tsarevich .  He stirs up the populace and attempts to ally himself with Poland by courting an ambitious young Polish noblewoman, Marina ,who hopes to seize power in Russia herself.
 
   Overcome by guilt and the stress of ruling , Boris dies in one of the most powerful death scenes in opera . In the final scene,  the populace, who have been suffering under the tyranny of Boris , hail the false Dmitri as their  Tsar ,while a holy fool  laments the manifold woes of mother Russia .  What will happen is uncertain .
 
   Mussorgwsky's sweeping tale is filled with music of elemental power and filled with the spirit of Russian folk music .   The chorus , portraying peasants ,  beggars, priests and  many other characters, has a very important role in the opera .

   Boris will be sung by the magnificent German bass Rene Pape (Pah-peh) ,and the rest of the cast consists primarily of leading Russian opera singers , and the conductor is the renowned Ossetian conductor Valery Gergiev ,of the Mariinsky Theater in St.Petersburg .

   English subtitles will be on screen as usual .   Check the Met's website metopera.org for more informnation , and you can stream Met performances online easily on Met Player.  This should be an unforgettable experience .  
Posted: Feb 08 2011, 05:49 PM by the horn | with no comments
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