April 2011 - Posts
It took about two years , but the New York Philharmonic has finally chosen a clarinettist to succeed the legendary Stanley Drucker ,who reitred at the end of the 2008-09 season at the age of about 80 after an astonishing 60 years or so in this key orchestra position .
The new man on the job is Ricardo Morales , who has been principal clarinet of the now financially toubled Philadelphia orchestra for some time, after having served in the same position in the Metropolitan opera orchestra .
No candidate was chosen in the long and difficult audition process , so the Philharmonic decided to invite a number of leading clarinettists from other top American orchestras to play as guests at concerts . The orchestra's associate principal clarinettist had been serving as acting principal for some time. Associate principal woodwind players divide the work of the principal at concerts and play other positions in addition .
Normally , a winner is chosen at the auditions , which are held with a group of musicians from the orchestra called the audition committe . The auditions are held in preliminaries and finals , with only a handful of applicants surviving to the finals , and the music director ,who is the chief conductor of the orchestra , joins the committee in the finals to decide . Check an earlier post of mine called "How Do You Get A Job In A Symphony Orchestra?" for more details on the audition process .
Morales will officially take over in the 2012-2113 season ,but is expected to spend some time with the orchestra before this. He leaves the Philadelphia orchestra with the task of finding a new principal clarinettist at a very difficult time for the orchestra . Let's all wish him the best in his demanding new job .
Without fanfare , Philips records ,one of the top classical record labels has gone out of existence. The Dutch label has produced so many superb recordings over the years by such great conductors as Sir Colin Davis,Bernard Haitink ,Valery Gergiev , Sir Neville Marriner,
Antal Dorati , Kurt Masur , and others , with such great orchestras as the Royal Concertgebous orchestra of Amsterdam , the London Symphony, Berlin Philharmonic , Philadelphia orchestra, the Vienna Philharmonic , Boston symphony and others , as well as great violinists ,pianists and other instrumentalists as Henryk Szerying, Alfred Brendel, Claudio Arrau , etc, and a galaxy of great opera singers .
What happened ? Well, Philips was part of a consortium of major classical record labels including Decca and Deutsche Grammophon etc , and the vicissitudes of the classical recording industry have forced it to reissue many recordings from its back catalogue on the Decca label .
But it will no longer be issuing any new recordings ,unfortunately , and many fine Philips recordings have yet to be reissued on Decca.
Things have changed vastly for the entire classical recording industry . Hardly any of the world's great orchestras has a contract with any record label , and some,such as the Chicago symphony, Royal Concertgebouw ,Boston symphony and others have been issuing live live performances on their own . Sales of classal CDs ,never more than a small part of alll CD sales , have declined .
However , there is a growing market for classical DVDs, particularly of live opera performances , and Deutsche Grammophon ,Decca, EMI and other labels have been issuing many of these . Studio recordings of operas , made like movies in edited takes without an audience ,are pretty much a thing of the past . They are simply too expensive to produce , and tend not to sell that well anyway. But there is an enormous back catalogue of these studio opera recordings from the past of a vast range of operas .
Most complete opera recordings on CD are now of live performances, sometimes issued both on CD and DVD. In the past , great conductors , instrumentalists and opera singers had contracts with record labels , and produced a steady stream of recordings . But now , far fewer of their younger counterparts are able to do this ,though some have been making a fair number of recordings .
Some of the independent classical labels, such as Chandos and CPO , are still managing to produce quite a few studio recordings ,and even some studio recordings of operas . But they specialize in offbeat repertoire , not the repertoire standards . The budget label Naxos ,after a modest beginning in the late 1980s making low cost recordings wth lesser-known orchestras from eastern Europe , has now become the most successful classical record label , and also produces DVDs .
But recordings of the popular masterpieces by such top labels as Decca, EMI , R.C.A. and Sony Classical (now combined into one label ,andd Deutsche Grammophon are now quite rare . There are hundreds of smaller independent labels competing for sales , and many offer high quality performances of interesting repertoire .
So there is good and bad in the classical recording industry ; some of the mighty have fallen , but there is incredible diversity of classical repertoire available to classical CD collectors ,and more and more on DVD . Those who are tired of collecting the same old masterpieces by Mozart,Beethoven,Bach , Schubert ,Tchaikovsky and Brahms etc now have a mind-boggling variety of classical repertoire ot choose from . It's rather like being the proverbial kid in a candy store .
As I've pointed out before here , these are difficult times for so many of America's symphony orchestras and opera companies , and the existence of more than a few of them has been jeopardized by tough economic times and lack of government support . Some of them have already gone under . Let['s face it ; running a top notch symphony orchestra or opera company is an expensive proposition , and also not easy for the smaller ones because of lack of money.
Take the Metropolitan Opera, which is not really typical of classical music in America because it is heavily endowed by wealthy donors . It's the world's largest performing arts organization , and puts on about 200 performances a year of a diverse operatic repertoire. Its operating budget is about 300 million dollars , more than the combined budgets of all the other opera companies in America !
In addition to all the many opera singers from all over the world who appear there , the Met has to pay for an an orchestra of over 100 members, a large chorus , a musical staff consisting of coaches who prepare the singers , rehearsal pianists , assistant conductors , and others, as well as all the stagehands, and a staff of people who work making costumes and wigs, electricians, and so many other jobs . There's even a fencing master for operas in which swords are used ! It's a veritable opera factory with amazingly sophisticated and complex technology . Then there's the large administrative staff , people who work with public relations , education, fund-raising,, etc. This costs a heck of a lot of money.
The many other opera companies in America don't operate on quite as large a scale, although the Chicago Lyric opera comes the closest , but they need the very same kind of talent .
Orchestras don't need quite as many people , but the costs are still considerable . In addition to the members of the orchestra , there is also a staff of assistant conductors , a large administrative staff which is involved with public relations,education,fund -raising etc.
This is why people who are opposed to government funding for the arts and say,as they often do, that if the musicians can't succeeed on their own, they don't deserve support are dead wrong. If our orchestras and opera companies are having a rough time financially ,it's not the fault of the individual musicians . It's the enormous costs of running them . They just don't realize this fact .
Remember -despite Sarah Palin and other conservative politicians in America , the arts ,and classical music in particular are not frivolous . They are something which makes life a better experience , more than just a daily grind to earn a living . They provide gainful employment for so many
talented, dedicated and hard-working people ,not just performers but administrators and others . They deserve al the support they can get ,whether from private donations or the government .
If you've never heard of the English composer Havergal Brian (1876 -1972 ),you're hardly alone. His music is almost never performed live , but a fair amount has been recorded . Yet for all his obscurity , he's a fascinating composer who has been receiving a fair amount of attention in recent years in the classical music world , and who has a surprising number of admirers .
In England , the Havergal Brian society was formed some years ago by a number of distinguished English composers and conductors , and has sponsored recordings of some of his 32 symphonies and other works . Brian was born into a poor working-class English family in 1876 , and had to struggle for much of his life to earn a living and gain recognition as a composer . Like the much more famous Sir Edward Elgar, he was largely self taught , but unlike Elgar, had to earn his living for most of his life in far from lucrative non-musical jobs . His last five symphonies were written after his 90th birthday ! But most of Brian's music languished in obscurity until after his death .
His most famous work ,the gargantuan "Gothic" symphony ,written between 1919 and 1927 , is going to receive one of its extremely rare performances this Summer at the world-famous London music festival known as "The Proms" . You might call it the Halley's comet of classical music because of its rarity. Why is it so rarely performed ? It's a nearly two hour choral symphony composed for an orchestra consisting of :
2 piccolos, 6 flutes,including alto flute, 6 oboes , including bass oboe, 2 English horns,
5 clarinets, the small and shrill-sounding e flat clarinet, 2 basset horns ,( sort of a bass clarinet ), 2 bass clarinets , contrabass clarinet , 3 bassons and 2 contrabassoons,
8 French horns, 8 trumpets ,with 2 doubling cornets, bass trumpet ,
3 trombones ,bass trombone, 2 baritone horns, 2 tubas,
2 sets of timpani, 2 bass drums, 3 snare drums, African long drum , 2 tambourines,
2 triangles, 6 pairs of large cymbals, gong, bird scare , thunder machine , small chains,
xylophone, glockenspiel , tubular bells , chimes , celeste, organ ,
20 first violins, 20 second violins , 16 violas , 14 celos , 12 double basses , 2 or more harps . Soprano, Alto,Tenor, and Bass vocal soloists , 4 mixed choirs , children's chorus ,
4 offstage brass bands . Whew !
Any performance of this mind-boggling work is an event. I've heard the only commercial recording of it ,which is still available on the Naxos label , and it took me several hearings to digest the whole thing . But it was worth it ! This was recorded in of all places , Bratislava ,capitol of Slovakia , with the Slovak conductor Ondrej Lenard conducting the whole shebang with two ! Slovak orchestras and all the choral forces .
The symphony consists of a purely orchestral first part ,leading without pause into the vocal part , a setting of the traditional Latin Hymn Te Deum Laudamus (We praise thee,oh God ).
There is a pirated live performance from London conducted by the eminent English conductor Sir Adrian Boult (1889 -1983 ) from 1966 .
Other than the Gothic symphony ,I've heard only two other CDs of Brian's music , but would definitely like to hear more of it . Most of the later symphonies are much shorter and call for far less extravagent forces . Brian has some truly passionate fans among classcal CD collectors , and how could a classic English eccentric like Brian not attract them ?
The great Russian composer Igor Stravisnky died 40 years ago this April 6th. He was the most famous, and some would say the greatest composer of the 20th century , and certainly the most prominent and influential . In his long , rich , and highly productive life , which lasted from 1882 to 1971 , he put an indelible mark on the music of the 20th century , beginning as a young revolutionary and ending as a venerable old master .
He was born near St.Petersburg as the son of a famous operatic bass ,Fyodor Stravinsky , and showed musical talent as a child , studying piano and dabbling in youthful composition despite the fact that his father wanted him to become a lawyer . He dutifully studied law but studied composition with the renowned Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov of Scheherezade fame , and his early works show the marked influence of the older Russian master .
But he began to find his own distintive voice , and caught the attention of the renowned Russian impresario Sergei Diaghilev of the legenday Ballet Russes , and produced his first mature works - the ballet scores The Firebird , Petrushka and the revolutionary Rite of
Spring , which startled the musical world with its savage dissonances and jagged , irregular rhythms.
The world premiere of the Rite in 1913 ,when it was danced by the Ballet Russes to the choreography of the legendary dancer Vaslav Nijinsky in Paris has become legendary - the work was so shocking that a near riot ensued !
Stravinsky did not want to remain in Russia when the Bolshevik regime took over in 1917 , and took up residence in the west , alternating between Paris and rural Switzerland . His compositional style evolved ,and he began to write in what is called a "neo-classical" idiom , writing works which draw from the style of composers such as Bach and other composers of the 18th century , but with spiky 20th century harmonies and the characteristic irregular and jagged Stravinskian rhythms .
Stravinsky never returned to his native Russia again ,except for one acclaimed visit in 1962 conducting his music in Moscow and Leningrad, which is now called St. Petersburg again. The Soviet government officially disapproved of Stravinsky's music for purely political reasons, but by the 1960s, he was so famous that he was allowed to visit .
But no matter what the imitation of past composers , Stravinsky always remained himself , and you could never mistake his music for that of any other composer . In the 1940s , he settled in America , and lioved for the rest of his life in Hollywood of all places , where many distinguished European composers , writers ,artists and intellectuals had come, and he befriended many of them . Curiously enough , he lived near his older contemporary and rival Arnold Schoenberg , founder of 12-tone music ,although the two rarely met each other.
Stravinsky also had an active international career as a conductor of his own music and playing his own piano works , and recorded much of his music for what used to be Columbia records , now Sony Classical , and many of these recordings are still available .
His personal assistant and over all right hand man the American conductor Robert Craft , born in 1923 and still very much alive accompanied him on his many international tours and shared conducting duties with him . Craft was very much interested in the music of Schoenberg and his school , and is credited with persuading Stravinsky to take up the 12-tone system of composition in the 1950s. However , Stravinsky's unmistakable personal stamp remained on these austere and rarely performed late works .
Since Stravinsky's death Craft has performed his master's music all over the world and made made authoritative recordings of much of his output ; he has also written many interesting books about his experiences with the great man ,and written numerous articles for leading newspapers and magazines .
Stravinsky died in New York in April 1971 , and according to his wishes , was buried in Venice , a city which was close to his heart . He lived a remarkably full and eventful life and died heaped with honors from around the world.
In addition to the three famous ballet scores The Firebird ,based on a Russian fairy tale , and Petrushka , a whimsical fantasy about puppets at a Russian fair come to life, and the Rite of Spring ,which evokes the pagan rites of ancient Russia , Stravinsky wrote such well-known works as the oratorio Oedipus Rex, based on Greek mythology ,a violin concerto , one full length opera The Rake's Progress ,set to a libretto in English based on the paintings of William Hogarth , the Symphony of Psalms, for chorus and orchestra based on Biblical psalms , Les Noces ,or the weddng, an evocation of a traditional Russian folk marriage , and numerous ballet scores other than the Rite of Spring , to name only a handful .
Stravinsky's works are not the kind of lush,romantic music which so many consertgoers love to hear ; they are spiky and often austere , and deliberately avoid sentimentality of any kind, which he detested . Some are even rather arid . But his music is always highly inventive and rewards further listening .
Most people think of You Tube as a way to see and hear Lady Gaga , Britney Spears and other Pop idols , but it's also a wonderful place for classical music . If you go there , you can see an enormous number of different performances of virtually any classical work , and see and hear performances by just about any of the greatest muscicians of the 20th century and the new one for free .
You can also see interviews with many of these great musicians ,living and dead , and documentaries . You name 'em, they're there on You Tube . Leonard Bernstein , Jascha Heifetz, Vladimir Horowitz ,Luciano Pavarotti , Leopold Stokowski ,Maria Callas , Joan
Sutherland , Artur Rubinstein , all caught in live performances , and sometimes on studio recordings .
Many longer works ,such as symphonies and operas are available in excerpt form . You can see great opera singers performing individual arias from a wide variety of different operas , and single movements from symphonies and concertos . The numerous interviews and documentaries enable you to hear the opinions and ideas of so many great classical musicians ; many are and were very interesting people .
For example , there is a documentary about the late ,great conductor Carlos Kleiber , with comments by many great opera singers who worked with him , and comments by famous conductors who knew him ; it's quite fascinating . Most of the documentaries and interviews have English subtitles if they're in foreign languages .
What are you waiting for ? You Tube is now essential for any one who enjoys classical music .
On this Easter Sunday , I thought it might be an interesting idea idea to discuss the enormous influence religion has had on classical music over the centuries .Of course, this is an enormous topic , and one could write multiple books on the subject .
The liturgical traditions of the Catholic church have inspired so many composers , great and obscure , to produce an enormous body of music for ten centuries ; in addition , some composers who happened to have been Jewish have also been inspired by ancient Hebrew liturgy , and Protestant composers have also been inspired by the Lutheran tradition in Germany .
The Roman Catholic mass has been set to music by countless composers from medieval times to the 20th century , at first A Capella , and beginning with the 18th century for chorus, orchestra and vocal soloists . Other Catholic texts set to music include the somber Requiem mass for the dead , and the joyous Te Deum Laudamus (We praise thee,oh God), and the Stabat Mater , which deals with the grieving Mary at the cross .
There are also oratorios dealing with the Passion of Christ , the condemnation by Pilate and the reaction of the crowd at the crucifiction , and numerous choral works based on a variety of Catholic hymns.
Among the greatest composers of classical music of a liturgical nature are Johann Sebastian Bach ,George Frideric Handel , Mozart ,Haydn, Beethoven , Schubert and Anton Bruckner . In Medieval and Renaissance times , the great composers of these eras ,included Palestrina, Lassus, Machaut, Guilaume Dufay , Claudio Monteverdi , Josquin Desprez , Heinrich Schutz , William Byrd and others. These composers were respectively Italian, Belgian, Dutch or French , German ,and English .
Although Handel's ever popular Messiah is very popular at Christmastime , it actually deals with the crucifiction and resurrection ,and is most appropriate at Eastertime , and its text is drawn from the Bible . The great St. Matthew Passion of Bach is a lengthy oratorio , almost operaitc in style ,which tells of how Christ was betrayed ,sentenced and crucified , with a tenor singing the role of the narrator , a bass a Jesus, and other singers, and a chorus representing the crowd . It has even been performed as a stagework at times in the 20th century.
The 200 or so Cantatas of Bach are also for chorus ,orchestra and soloists , if much shorter , and are in effect , Lutheran sermons set to music .
Palestrina and many other composers who lived before the time of Bach made an enormous number of a cappella settings of the mass , and Bach wrote the mighty Mass IN B Minor in the early 18th century ,for orchestra,chorus and vocal soloists.
Later ,Mozart and Haydn wrote numerous settings of it , for the same combination, and Beethoven in the 1820s came out with his monumental "Missa Solemnis ". Later , in the 19th century ,the great Austrian symphonist Anton brucker wrote three settings of the Mass , a radiant Te Deum , and numerous hymns for chorus .
His contemporary Johannes Brahms was an agnostic , but knew his German Bible very well, and wrote the "German Requiem" , which is sung in German, also for chorus,orchestra and soloists, which sets passages from the Bible dealing with the bitterness of death and consolation for the bereaved .
The somber Latin language Requiem mass for the dead has been set by among others, Mozart , who did not live to complete it. It was soon after completed by one of his pupils , Hector Berlioz , Giuseppe Verdi , and Antonin Dvorak . The Requiem is the most drammatic of the liturgical texts , and the setting of the Dies Irae, or "Day Of Wrath " is always the most powerful part of the work. It portrays the terrors of the day of judgement.
In the 1920s , the great Czech composer leos Janacek (Lay-osh Ya-a-check) used the Church Slavonic translation of the mass used by the Orthodox churches of Russia, Serbia and Bulgaria for his unique setting of the Mass , the so -called "Slavonic Mass ", which evokes the earthy and primitive world of the Medieval Slavs who had just been converted to Christianity .
Of course , this barely scratches the surface of the vast word of classical liturgical music , but I hope it gives you a reasonably good idea of what exists which you could explore . As always , Arkivmusic.com has a wealth of recordings of this kind of music , and you can easily look up the recordings by composer alphabetically .
I know, the old saying actually goes "The grass is always greener on the other side". But what I mean by this paraphrase of the saying is that so many critics ,experts and fans of classics music are always longing for the "golden age" and the "good old days" of classical music ,whether in opera or orchestral music , or solo instrumental music etc.
I suppose it's human nature to long for those "good old days". People have been doing this for ages. And it's rampant in the world of classical music ; I've been reading of the supposed decline of standards of opera singing etc ever snce I became a classical music freak as a teenager,when I began to devour the reviews and commentary in such now defunct record review magazines as High Fidelity and Stereo Review , and the fortunately still viable New York Times and elsewhere.
In opera , the decline of singing in the oldest cliche in the book . In the past 40 plus years ,I've witnessed whole new generations of opera starts emerge and retire . The opera mavens and critics are always longing for the "golden age" of opera , with such legendary stars from the past as Enrico Caruso, Maria Callas, Feodor Chaliapin, Kirsten Flagstad, Lauritz Melchior , Jussi Bjorling , Beniamino Gigli , Titta Ruffo, Tito Gobbi , Boris Christoff , Victoria De Los Angeles , and so many other names you wouldn't recognize unless you're an opera buff .
In recent years ,such great singers as Birgit Nilsson, Joan Sutherland , Renata Tebaldi , Luciano Pavarotti , Franco Corelli , Regine Crespin , Leonie Ryasanek , and others have passed away , and other great ones are still alive but have long been retired .
Opera mavens are always making disparaging remarks "dissing " today's top opera stars.
Some have even said to me "The only reason you like any of today's opera singers is because you obviously haven't heard recordings by the great ones of the past " ! That's a laugh ! In fact , I'm very familiar with the voices of most of the greats from the past . And I admire the artistry of many of them greatly.
But that doesn't mean I can't admire such wonderful opera stars of the present day as Renee Fleming ,Deborah Voigt, Natalie Dessay , Karita Mattila, Susan Graham , Ben Heppner, Agela Gheorghiu , Roberto Alagna, Juan Diego Florez , Thomas Hampson ,Bryn Terfel , Rene Pape , and others , who certainly have a lot to offer , both vocally and dramatically .
And you can be sure that 40 or 50 years from now , opera mavens will be longing for the "good old days" represented by today's top opera singers . The more things change ,the more they stay the same.
In orchestral music , it's very similar . Critics and fans long for the "golden age " of conducting , and have been for as long as I can recall . The days of such legendary podium giants as Arturo Toscanini , Leopold Stokowski , Bruno Walter , Serge Koussevitzky , Fritz Reiner , Pierre Monteux , Charles Munch , Wilhelm Furtwangler , Sir Thomas Beecham , George Szell , etc , all of whom flourished in the first half of the 20th century and a few years beyond and left countless recordings . both studio and live but pirated performances ,
And more recently , such great names as Herbert Von Karajan , Sir Georg Solti , Karl Bohm , Erich Leinsdorf ,Klaus Tennstedt , Carls Kleiber, Yevgeny Maravinsky , Eugen Jochum , Rafael Kubelik , Leonard Bernstein , Sir Charles Mackerras and others have departed from the podium .
But now , we have such living giants as Claudio Abbado , Daniel Barenboim, Bernard Haitink , James levine , Lorin Maazel , Andre Previn , Leonard Slatkin , Michael Tilson Thomas ,Sir Colin Davis , Valery Gergiev , Neeme Jarvi , Sir Simon Rattle , Kurt Masur ,
Riccardo Chailly , Mariss Jansons , Zubin Mehta , Seiji Ozawa , etc , and phenomenal new talents such as Gustavo Dudamel , Yannick Nezet-Seguin , Andris Nelsns and others .
Despite all the wailing about the color of the grass , I don't think we're in serious decline from the past now.
Unfortunately , many people who know little or nothing about classical music think that it's a hopelessly outdated and "Eurocentric" art form in this day of multiculturalism and political correctness . But no one condemns the music of Africa for being "afrocentiric", so why shouldn't classical music ,which had its origins in Europe centuries ago , be concerned with matters European ?
However , many leading European composers have been interested in non-western music from all over for more than two centuries . Mozart made use of Pseudo Turkish and middle eastern elements in some of his works ,such as the opera "The Abduction From The Seraglio , which takes place in Turkey and is the story of a Spanish nobleman who rescues his beloved from captivity in the harem of a Turkish Pasha .
The Ottoman empire's attempts to invade and conquer Europe in the 18th century made Turkish culture and music all the rage in parts of Europe , and so Mozart wrote the famous "Rondo Alla Turca " movement in one of his piano sonatas ,immitating the Janissary mkusic which Europeans heard during the Ottoman invasions , and other composers such as Gluck ,wrote operas with Turkish or middle eastern stories .
Great opera composers such as Verdi ,Rossini and others also wrot operas with exotic subjects , and attempted to use local color in the music . Verdi's Aida is set in ancient Egypt , Rossini wrote an opera called "The Turk In Italy" in which a Turkish Pasha visits Italy and falls in locwe with a spirited young Italian woman , etc .
Later , when the great Czech composer Antonin Dvorak spent a few years in America as the head of a new school of music in New York which no longer exists , he became very interested in tghe folk music of America , especially African American and Native American . His beloved ninth and last symphony is known as the "New World " symphony , and was written in America . Although it does not quote actual American popular songs , it is written so as to evoke the spirit of the diverse musical folk traditions of this nation .
The main theme of the second movement was used to make the famous spiritual "Going Home " Dvorak spent a considerable amount of time studying spirituals and the music of the various American Indian tribes , and traveled around America meeting black musicians and people from the various tribes .
Composers such as Claude Debussy , founder of impressionism in music ,became fascinated with the music of China ,Japan and Indonesia when Asian musicians appeared in Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries , and you can hear this in more than of few of the works he wrote ,such as his piano works ,where there are imitations of Gamelan music and asian pentatonic (five note) scales .
In the early 20th century ,many European composers became interested in Jazz when Jazz musicians appeared in Europe or after visitning America themselves . Elements of Jazz appeared in the works of composers such as Maurice Ravel , Darius Milhaud of France , and many other composers . The Austrian composer Ernst Krenek (1900-1991) ,wrote a once popular opera called "Jonny Spielt Auf " (Jonny strikes up ) ,which is the story of the exploits of an African-American Jazz musician in Europe .It was all the rage in Europe until Hitler and the *** took power in the 1930s and banned it and other Jazz-influenced and atonal works as "Degenerate Music " . Jonny Spielt Auf was even performed at the Metropolitan opera .
It fell out of the repertoire until a few revivals in Europe in recent years ,and was recorded by Decca records in the 90s as part of its "Degenerate Music " project to record music by composers banned by the *** . I have that CD , and it's a most interesting work . So don't believe those who sneer at classical music for being allegedly "Eurocentric ! "
The latest PBS telecast from the Metropolitan opera is Puccini's "La Fanciulla Del West", or The Girl Of The Golden West , and check your TV listings for it . In the New York area it will be Thursday April 21 , but check your local TV listings for the time . You can also find about about seeing it online at the Met's website ,metopera.org .
The Met revived this beautiful if somewhat strange opera last December in honor of the world premiere at the old Met in December of 1910 . Puccini based it on a play by the once famous American playwright and theatrical impresario David Belasco of the same name .
It's strange because many people find the experience of hearing and seeing 19th century California miners singing in Italian and words such as "Doo-Dah Doodah Day " , as well as the opera's somewhat contrived and unlikely ending . But Puccini's score is passionate and ful of sumptuous orchestral colors , and full of local flavor ,including familiar melodies from Western songs of the period .
The opera takes place in a California mining camp in the mid 19th century during the gold rush . It's full of rough-and-ready miners ,many of whom are terribly homesick . The lovely tomboy Minnie runs the camp's bar , and is loved by all the miners . She also offers Bible classes for them . The camp sheriff Jack Rance , vlllain of the opera ,although not really an evil man ,loves her but his love is not requited .
The whole camp is on the lookout for a Mexican bandit named Ramirez who passes himself off as an Anglo named "*** Johnson" . He's the hero , comes into the bar one day and naturally , Minnie and he fall in love , and go off to her cabin . But Rance and the miners now know who "Johnson" is and come after him . "Johnson" explains to Minnie that he's not really a bad guy but was forced to become a bandit by cruel fate .
The men have caught him , but Minnie strikes a wager with Rance ; if she can beat him at a game of poker , he will let them go free and go off elsewhere as lovers . Minnie cheats , and Rance reluctantly leaves . In the last act , the miners and Rance have caught the bandit and are about to string him up . But believe it or not , Minnie comes riding in on horseback and begs Rance and the miners to spare him , reminding them of how kind she has been to them . And believe it or not , they allow to two two ride off happily into the sunset !
Even though the story may sound rather improbable , the opera is colorful ,sweeping and ultra-romantic , and you should have a great time . The cast includes the acclaimed American soprano Deborah Voigt as Minnie , Italian tenor Marcello Giordani as the hero , and Italian baritone Lucio Gallo as Rance . There s a DVD available from the world-famous Milanese opera house La Scala, and for a first-rate CD version get the Deutsche Grammophon recording with Carol Neblett ,Placido Domingo and Sherill Milnes conducted by Zubin Mehta .
First the bad news, and it's a bombshell . The great Philadelphia orchestra ,one of the world's most prestigious classical music organizations , is going to file for bankruptcy. This is unprecendented in the history of America's many great orchestras . The members of the orchestra are bitterly opposed to this drastic measure , but the orchestra's management has decided that this is absolutely necessary.
The orchestra has been suffering from less than optimal ticket sales for several years , and has gone through an interim period without a music director, but has had the services of the distinguished Swiss maestro Charles Dutoit as chief conductor , but without the full duties and responsibilities a music director. The brief tnure of Chrostoph Eschenbach ,now leading the National symphony in Washington , was not considered the happiest in the orchestra's history ,which began about 110 years ago by many critics and even some members of the orchestra .
Fortunately , the orchestra has been able to find one of the most gifted young conductors of the present to succeed Eschenbach , the French Canadian Yannick Nezet- Seguin . But the orchestra's future remains uncertain . Philadelphia is the first of America's so -called "Big Five " orchestras (New York Philharmonic,Boston symphony , Chicago symphony, Cleveland orchestra and Philadelphia, to find itself in such parlous financial condition .
The Syracuse symphony in upstate New York has also ceased to function because of financial difficulties , but the Detroit symphony has finally managed to resume concerts , and music director Leonard Slatkin and the orchestra were greeted with great enthusiasm by the audience when they played their first concert in about eight months, after a prolonged and bitter strike . The orchestra's future also remains uncertain .
In Hawaii , a group of patrons has recently formed a committee to attempt to revive the Honolulu symphony , which has not played any concerts for over a year because of financial difficulties . Hopes are riding high for the oldest orchestra in America west of the Rockies.
Although there have been some difficulties for orchestras and opera companies in Europe recently because of adverse economic conditions there , it would be inconceivable for any major orchestra there to fold . Generous government subsidies are taken for granted there , unlike America , where many people are furious at having having to contibute less than a dollar per year as taxpayers to support all the arts in America .
No one in Germany or France ever seems to compain about paying taxes which support classical music there . It's considered the normal thing to do . If only America were more like Europe in this respect !
There is a great deal of talk today about the nature and function of the symphony orchestra in the present day, much of it negative and gloomy . Many experts (or pseudo experts) have questioned if the symphony orchestra is still "relevant" , and claim that it is a "dinosaur" ,and that our individual orchestras are nothing but "museums" ,endlessly rehashing the same same old established warhorses which audiences know and love, to the neglect of new music ,which is not quite the case.
In addition ,there is the parlous financial condition of so many orchestras , mainly in America, but now even to some extent in Europe, birthplace of the symphony orchestra . And the endless hand-wringing over the greying of audiences, the lack of younger people at concerts , and so on.
Unfortunately ,many of these so-called experts have even laid the blame for these troubles at the feet of the orchestras themselves, which is extremely unfair . They make it sound as though concertgoing were no longer worthwhile , both for the allegedly limited repertoire, and even for a lack of high quality and exciting performances ,which is also grossly unfair . On the cntrary ; concertgoing hasnever been more worthwhile ,despite the naysayers . If only more of the public were aware of this fact !
But these canards are badly in need of being debunked . The repertoire of our orchestras in in fact MORE DIVERSE than ever before ! In the course of any given season , major orchestra will perform works ranging from the 18th to the 21st centuries , by composers of many different nationalities and compositional styles .
A season may include works such as Bach's B minor mass his St.Matthew Passion , or one of the Handel oratorios, symphonies by Haydn,Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert,Brahms, etc, up to the latest works by today's leading composers ,such as John Adams, Thomas Ades, Tristan Murail, Hans Werner Henze, John Corigliano, Tan Dun, Arvo Part, Osvaldo Golijov, Unsuk Chin, Kaaia Saariaho, Magnus Lindberg , Wolfgang Rihm , Sofia Gubaidullina , Nico Muhly, Elliott Carter, and many other composers of the present day.
These are not "Dead White European Males " They are composers from respectively , America, England, France, Germany, China, Estonia, Argentina , South Korea , Finland, and Russia , and three are women .
Orchestras have also been exploring interesting rarities from the past by lesser-known but estimable composers such as Franz Schmidt , Alexander Zermlinsky, Albert Roussel , Franz Berwald, Carlos Chavez , Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Arnold Bax , Hans Pfitzner , Nikolai Myaskovsky, Gheorghe Enescu , Wilhelm Stenhammar , Rued Langgard , Sergei Taneyev, Paul Creston , and others .
Lack of exciting performances ? Hardly . Not with such great conductors as Riccardo Muti, Daniel Barenboim, Pierre Boulez , James Levine , Lorin Maazel , Kent Nagano , Leonard Slatkin, Simon Rattle , Claudio Abbado , Riccardo Chailly , David Zinman, Michael Tilson Thomas, Christian Thielemann , James Conlon , Christoph von Dohnanyi , Christoph Eschenbach , Valery Gergiev , and others , and the galaxy of outstanding pianists, violinists ,cellists and other instrumentalists who regularly appear at concerts .
Standards of orchestral playing are higher than ever , and there are more world-class orchestras than ever before . In the past, there were only about five or six world-class orchestras in America ; now there are dozens of them , and all the great European ones.
There are also quite a few very promising young podium talents such as Dudamel , Yannick Nezet-Seguin , Edward Gardner , and others .
No ,lack of quality is not a problem at concerts today . The orchestra has evolved constantly over the centuries , from small ensembles supported by the church and aristocary in the 18th century to 100 piece super orchestras playing a vast range of music
The repertoire today is anything but "ossified" as some critics claim. In fact,it is in constant flux . The repertoire is vastly different from what it was just 50 years ago, despite the lasting popularity of the most popular works from the past . A whole new generation of composers has emerged .
And the orchestra will continue to evolve . How , no one can predict . Of course, the music of such greats as Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms , Bruckner,Mahler, Sibelius and others will always be played . But the orchestra will never become stagnant .
For the past six years ,Opera News magazine has presented awards for achievment in the world of opera to various illustrious names in the field ,both singers and conductors ,and the names of this years recipients are on the cover ; sopranos Patricia Racette and Kiri Te Kanawa, tenor Jonas Kauffmann, bass-baritone Bryn Terfel and conductor Riccardo Muti .
All stellar names , and there will be a gala ceremony at the Plaza hotel in New York honoring them The magazine's editors offer a trubute to each of these operatic luminaries . Other articles include one on the upcoming world premiere of the first opera by the noted broadway composer Stephen Schwartz ,which is Seance On A Wet Afternoon . This will be by the New York City opera , and the Minnesota opera's revival of the only opera by film composer Bernard Herrmann based on Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights. Hermann was a composer of a considerable amount ointeresting concert works as well as film scores .
The noted music historian and scholar Harvey Sachs has an interesting article on the interpretations of various eminent conductors of Verdi's blood-and-thunder opera Il Trovatore, including Carlo Maria Giulini ,Herbert von Karajan , Zubin Mehta, James Levine and Riccardo Muti on complete recordings of the opera , and there is the regular converage of this month's radio vroadcasts of Wagner's Das Rgheingold, Rossini's Le Comte Ory , Wozzeck by Alban Berg the final opera of Richard Strauss, Capriccio , and Verdi's Il Trovatore with casts,conductors etc listed and all the information any one could ask for.
There are reviews of opera performances from Paris ,Zurich , Vienna,Milan, Bologna , New York,Houston,Seattle, and Toronto, including the Met's acclaimed new production of John Adam's Nixon in China. CD reviews include a recording of the operetta El Capitan by none other than John Philip Sousa, who wrotemuch more than rousing marches during his long life, the original version of Beethoven's only opera Fidelio ,entitled Leonore from Vienna, and a long-forgotten opera by the once famous 18th century German composer Johann Adolf Hasse , as wel as well as solo albums by such well-known singers as German countertenor Andreas Scholl, and Canadian baritone Gerald Finley.
Reviews of live opera performances on DVD include Charles Gounod's rarely performed opera Mireille from Paris ,which is not nearly as familiar as his Faust and Romeo& Juliette, The Birds by the once famaous 20th centruy German composer Walter Braunfels ,based on the famous ancient Greek play by Aristophanes , the Dwarf by Alexander von Zemlinsky ,Puccini's Girl; of the Golden West from Amsterdam ,and Medea by the contemporary German composer Aribert Reimann.
There are reviews of new books ,such as abiography of Modest Mussorgsky by the distinguished English musicologist David Brown and a lavish coffee table book showing the sets from various opera productions by the controversial opera designer and director Franco Zeffirelli. As usual . there is a wealth of information and expert opinion and much to ponder .