May 2011 - Posts
PBS will offer a telecast of the acclaimed opera "Nixon in China by composer John Adams
on June 1st . Check your local newspaper , because it may not be shown everywhere .
If not , you can see this production ,new to the Met this past season on Metplayer .
Check the Met's website metopera.org for more information .
The world premiere of this fascinating opera was in 1987 at the Houston opera , and this was
also telecast on PBS . The Met premiere was conducted by the composer ,and you can see him
leading a cast which includes such well-known singers as James Maddelena as Nixon ,
Janis Kelly as his wife Pat, Richard Paul Fink as Henry Kissinger , Robert Brubaker as Mao Zedong,
Russell Braun as Chou En Lai , and Kathleen Kim as Mao's wife Chiang Ching .
The director is the controversial Peter Sellars ,who also directed the premiere in Houston ,and the libretto is by Alice Goodman . The opera deals with the historic visit of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger to China in 1972 , and their encounter with Mao Zedong and Chou En Lai .
In addition to colorful public scenes such as banquets and visits to factories and a communist progpaganda ballet , there are more intimate scenes where the characters reflect on the historic importance of the visit and reminisce about the past .
Adams' music has sometimes been described as "minimalist " ,that is making use of deliberate repetition , but his stule has little in common with such leading musical
minimalists as Philip Glass and Steve Reich , and is more in the tradition of Stravinsky and other 20th century composers , though very much in his own personal style .
The opera has been successfully performed at leading opera houses in America and Europe
since its premiere in the late 80s , and though not all critics were pleased by it , it seems
to be one of the most important American operas of our time . Check it out and decide for yourself . There is a recent CD of a production from Colorado on the Naxos label conducted by Marin Alsop , music director of the Baltimore symphony ,and an earlier recording conducted by the Dutch maestro Edo De Waart, a ongtime champion of Adams' music which may be hard to find .
The world-famous Philadelphia orchestra was founded in 1900 by a German-born conductor by the name of Fritz Scheel and was succeeded by a countryman of his by the name of Karl Pohlig.
These two worthies have been completely forgotten , but when the legendary London-born
conductor Leopold Stokowski took over the orchestra in 1912 at the age of only 30 , he transformed the orchestra into one of the finest in existence with his mixture of musical brilliance , glamorous image and technical savvy .
Stokowski was always at the forefront of musical and technological innovation , and made the
first recordings of an orchestra in 1925 using the then revolutionary electronic system ,
replacing the primitive and woefully inadequate acoustical method . He championed the music of leading composers of his day such as Stravinsky , Prokofiev ,Shostakovich and others and cultivated the so-called "Philadelphia sound " ; the most plush ,colorful and exciting sounds that had ever come from an orchestra .
He made sumptuous transcriptions of the organ music of Bach , having begun as an organist in England himself which scandalized the musical puritsts ,and made recordings of them which are still classics . He may have been a shamelss showman , but he was an undeniable musical
genius. His freewheeling interpretations ,which often took outrageous liberties with the written texts , and outraged many critics and musicologists ,but no one could accuse
him of being dull as a conductor !
When Stokowski stepped down , a young Hungarian-born conductor by the name of
Eugene Ormandy was the new man in Philadelphia . He had begun as an orchestral
violinist , and had begin to make a successful career as a conductor , and had been music
director of the Minneapolis symphony , now known as the Minnesota orchestra ,which he
had built into an excellent one.
He remained with the orchestra until his retirement at the age of 80 in 1980 , more than 40 years ! Ormandy was not as flamboyant a personality as Stokowski , but preserved the sumptuous "Philadelphia sound " and made hundreds of recordings with the orchestra
of repertoire ranging from Mozart and Beethoven to contemporary composers ,for labels such as R.C.A. and what is now Sony Classical, formerly Columbia records ,than C.B.S.
records , and late in his career ,the English label E.M.I.
A young ,talented and dynamic Italian conductor named Riccardo Muti (1941-) , began to appear regularly with the Philadelphians in the 1970s, and was named principl guest conductor . In 1981 , he succeeded Ormandy . Some critics faulted him for allegedly
"destroying" the famous Philadelphia sound , as he wanted a leaner , crisper sorority from
the orchestra . But to these ears , the orchestra still sounded fine . He continued to make recordings for EMI with the orchestra as well as the now defunct Dutch label Philips,
as well as giving performances of Italian operas in concert with the orchestra .
Muti, now a seasoned veteran about to turn 70 , has recently become music director of the Chicago symphony , and had vbeen music director of the renowned La Scala opera in Milan and the Philharmonia orchestra in London . In 2003, the distinguished German conductor Wolfgang Sawallisch (1923-) ,who had been a regular guest conductor with the
orchestra became music director , and was praised for "restoring" the Philadelphia sound , and continued to make recordings with EMI , especially the tone poems of Richard Strauss, a composer with whose music he had long been closely associated . He had previously been music director of the Bavarian State opera in Munich, one of Germany's
leading opera companies , as well as a regular with top orchestras and opera companies all over Germany and Europe .
In 2003 , another distinguished German conductor , Christoph Eschenbach (1940-) ,who began as a piano virtuoso, succeeded Sawallisch , but his stay with the orchestra lasted only until 2008 . There were reports that Eschenbach and the orchestra did not have the "right chemistry",
which sometimes happens . The distinguished Swiss French conductor Charles Dutoit
(1936 -) was appointed not music director but chief conductor as an interim appointment
until a full-fledged new music director could be found . A chief conductor does not quite have the same authority is management,such as appointing new musicians . Dutoit
had been a regular and pop[lar guest conductor for many years .
Last year, the young and switfly rising French-Canadian conductor Yannick-Nezet-Seguin was appointed music director after having had considerable success as guest conductor and
impressing the orchestra with his talent ,and will assume his post in 2112 . Every one is
hoping for the best with this new appointment ,and it looks very promising. But unfortunately, serious financial problems ,including loss of endowment funds and dissapointing ticket sales have forced this great and prestigious orchestra to declare bankrupcy , which is unprecendented among America's so--called "big five" orchestras,
New York,Philadelphia,Boston,Cleveland and Chicago . Let's all hope that this financial mess can be surmounted .
The Philadelphia orchestra had played in Philadelphia's elegant if acoustically challenged
Academy of Music concert hall since its beginning in 1900 , but moved the the new Verizon hall in 2001 , which is said to be an improvement acoustically if not ideal .
The orchestra has a Summer residence in Saratoga , in upstate New York at that town's music festival .
Other eminent conductors who have made recordings with the Philadelphia orchestra include James Levine , Arturo Toscanini , Charles Munch , Charles Dutoit , Andre Previn,
Christian Thielemann , Bruno Walter , and even Sergei Rachmaninov ,who was much better known as a piano virtuoso but also conducted .
The Philadelphia orchestra became the first American orchestra to tour the people's republic of China in 1973 under Eugene Ormandy and in 1929 became the first orchestra
to make a radio broadcast ,when the R.C.A. company sponsored it ,among other firsts.
This great orchestra remains a formidadble plaer in American classical music .
It remains a Rolls Royce of orchestras .
I've discussed this before here . Why are people always making unfair comparisons between classical and non-classical music , finding fault with classical and blaming it for not being like
Rock ,Pop, Jazz, or what have you ? Not necessarily the music itself , but with the way classical music is presented . You know, concert halls where people the audience is nicely dressed , quiet
and the musicians onstage are dressed formally ,although not always .
What is wrong with musicians in an orchestra wearing tuxedos or black tie ? Does this really
make the experience of attending concerts a "stuffy" one ? Many people today think so ,
including such ctitics and commentators as Greg Sandow , Alex Ross and others , and
wonder if more people, particularly young ones, teenagers and young adults ,might avoid
these concerfts because the "stuffy " atmosphere is so off-putting .
But concerts and operta have never been like Rock or pop concerts . People behave more
quietly because it's necessary to have quiet in order to concentrate on the music , and to
avoid distracting the performers . What's so terrible about that ? It's no different than when
you go to the movies . You don't want other people in the audience to distract you while you're
watching the movie .
As to formal wear for the musicians onstage , no one complained long ago during the
heyday of such great Jazz musicians as Duke Ellington ,Count Basie and others about
the snazzy formal dress at their concerts , so why should people object to the way
orchestras ,conductors and other classical musicians use formal wear . Actually, some of
them have been using their own kind of concert dress without balck or white ties for
some time jnow, especially conductors and soloists when they appear with orchestras or
give solo recitals .
There's nothing wrong with this , but the reason to go to a classical concert is not to see
what the musicians are wearing but to listen to the music . Ultimately ,it's the music,
and only the music which counts . So if you haven't been to one of these classical
concerts ,but would like to, don't worry about this non-issue . Just go ,and enjopy the
Why can't people just learn to enjoy classical music on its own terms , and stop
making pointless comparisons with concerts of other kinds of music ?
Now I have no objection to experimenting with alternate ways of presenting classical
performances , but I maintain that the traditional classical concert is still a perfectly
valid thing and that there is absolutely no reason for people to avoid them .
Enough apples and oranges . Let classical be classical and Pop and Rock be Pop and
The city of Dresden ,not far from Leipzig with its renowned Gewandhaus orchestra , is home to
the world's oldest orchestra , the Staatskapelle , now known as the Saxon State orchestra as
it had been in the past . Known as the "florence of Germany" , the ancient and picturesque
capitol of Saxony , located on the Elbe river , was bombed severely in 1945 , and its historic
Semper opera house , where the Staatskapelle had played concerts and performed operas for so long , was destroyed in the Dresden bombing . The orchestra had served as the official instrumental ensemble of the Royal court of Saxony since the 16th century .
It was rebuilt in the 1980s and reopened in 1985 , and the orchestra is again in residence there . Such great composer conductors as Carl Maria Von Weber (1786-1826) and Richard Wagner served as directors of opera and concerts there , and Richard Strauss also had a long
relationship with the orchestra . Wagner's early operas Rienzi , the Flying Dutchman and Tannhauser were premiered there under his direction , and such famous 20th century operas by Richard Strauss as Salome, Elektra, and Der Rosenkavalier were also premiered at the Semper
Before WW 2, such eminent conductors as Fritz Busch, Fritz Reiner , and Karl Boehm served as chief conductors of the Dresden opera and Staatskapelle concerts , and later
renowned conductors such as Rudolf Kempe, Franz Konwitschny , Lovro Von Matacic,
Otmar Suitner, and Kurt Sanderling .
In more recent years , Herbert Blomstedt , Giuseppe Sinopoli , Bernard Haitink ,
Hans Vonk . and most recently the Italian Fabio Luisi ,recently appointed principal guest conductor of the Metropolitan opera ,and a possible successor to James Levine as music director . Luisi resigned last year over a dispute with the orchestra's administration , and in 2112 , Christian Thielemann will take over in Dresden .
Other renowned conductors who have been regulars with the Staatskapelle include Sir Colin Davis , Marek Janowski , Daniel Harding , Nikolaus Harnoncourt , Andre Previn ,Eugen Jochum,
Wolfgang Sawallisch , Jeffrey Tate , and Silvio Varviso .
Many of the conductors mentioned here have made acclaimed recordings with the Staatskapelle, both operas and orchestral works ,for such top record labels as EMI ,
Deutsche Grammophon and Philips .
After the demise of the German Democratic Republic , the Saxon State opera once again became one of the world's leading international opera houses , and its resident orchestra continues to attract the world's leading conductors for its concerts .
The Gewandhaus orchestra of Leipzig ,in what used to be East Germany ,is one of the world's oldest symphony orchestras , and few have such a rich and venerable history . Gewandhaus means the "Clothier's or textile merchant's hall" in German, and thereby hangs a tale .
This curious name for an orchestra dates back to the 18th century , when a group of musicians
founded a series of concerts in Leipzig . The musicians were unhappy with performing in what
was virtually a pub , so the Leipzig town council allowed them to adapt part of the building
occupied by the Leipzig textile merchant's guild , and the orchestra became known as one of
the finest in Germany. Eventually the orchestra got its own concert hall in which to perform,
but the title "Gewandhaus orchestra " has remained to the present day .
In the early 19th century , the renowned composer Felix Mendelssohn became the orchestra's conductor ,or Kapellmeister in German , and Gewandhaus concerts became among the most prestigious in Europe . Mendelssohn remained Kapellmeister until his untimely death
in 1847 at the age of only 38 .
Later in the 19th century, the legendary Hungarian conductor Artur Nickisch (1855-1922)
took the orchestra to new heights , and conducted among other things , the world premiere
of Bruckner's great 7th symphony . Nickisch also served as music director of the Berlin
Philharmonic until his death in 1922 , and was the first conductor to record a complete
symphony of Beethoven, the fifth .
Later, the great German conductor Wilhelm Furtwangler , who also succeeded Nickisch
at the Berlin Philharmonic ,became Kapellmeister in Leipzig . Another great German conductor ,Bruno Walter , (1876-1962 ), also served in the same position .
Within the past 50 years or so , the orchestras conductors have included the eminent
Czech conductor Vaclav Neumann (1920-1995) , and distinguished German Kurt Masur
(1927-) , was also music director of the New York Philharmonic in the 1990s .
The distinguished Swedish conductor Herbert Blomstedt (1927-) , who had also been conductor of the Dresden State orchestra and the San Francisco symphony was the next Gewandhaus Kapellmeister , and in 2005 , the distinguished Italian conductor Riccardo Chailly (1953-) was chosen to succeed Blomstedt , and has been garnering considerable praise with the orchestra .
The Gewandhaus orchestra , like the Vienna Philharmonic is also an opera orchestra , and
is the official orchestra of the Leipzig opera , as well as performing concerts of the music of Bach at the St. Thomas church in Leipzig , where he served as organist and music director . The orchestra performs concerts in the so-called "New Gewandhaus "
which opened in 1981 , and this is the third concert hall to bear the name .
This venerable orchestra continues to be one of Germany's finest .
It's not easy to become a successful composer today , but this has always been the case .
Getting your music recognized and composed is tough , especially with the popularity of composers from the past ,and the fact that orchestras and opera companies tend to be rather conservative and tend to offer the same old same old .
It's tough to compete with Beethoven ,Mozart , Tchaikovsky , Brahms, Rachmaninov ,
Chopin , Dvorak , Schubert et al . They're an established part of classical music today , and their music has been popular for ages , and always will be . But it's not impossible to get performed , and new music is not quite as marginalized as many classical naysayers would have you believe. Those naysayers include many composers today .
When the great Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev was living in America during the 1920s, he expressed
his anger at the reluctance of America's great orchestras to play his music , so this is nothing new .
It's not easy to become a successful novelist ,poet ,painter or sculptor ,either . That's due to
the market for anything , which is always a crap shoot . How do composers get
Today ,many study at universities and conservatories , and many have a master's degree
and a doctorate in composition ,and have studied with composers who teach there ,including some eminent ones . From there on it's very uncertain , but some have received grants and other honors , and have gotten comissions to write works for different orchestras around Europe and America etc ,or write chamber music , works for piano or operas .
In the past , most great composers studied privately with other composers , such as
Beethoven ,who studied with haydn as a young man ,Mozart, who was trained by his father from childhood , a respected violinist and composer himself , for example . Composers were employed by the church and the European nobility to write music , and this support has
produced much great music , as well as countless deservedly forgotten run-of-the-mill
Today , some orchestras have resident composers who work with the orchestra to
produce music and foster contemporary music as a whole . Many composers have also been active as performing musicians too, as pianists ,violinists, conductors etc .
Great pianists and composes such as Chopin ,Liszt ,Rachmaninov ,Bela Bartok , etc.
Wagner , Richard Strauss , Gustav Mahler were renowned conductors , not only of their own music . Stravinsky , Paul Hindemith , Aaron Copland , Benjamin Britten , Claude Debussy , Ravel , and other famous composers also conducted , but primarily their own music .
Many prominent composers of the 20th century and the early 21st have held teaching positions at presitigious universities and music schools , such as Elliott Carter ,Olivier Messiaen , Walter Piston at Harvard , to name only a few . Not too many composers have become wealthy from their music alone .
Despite the difficulties , there is no lack of aspiring young composers currently studying
at universities and music schools in America ,Europe and elsewhere , and some of them may achieve prominence in the near future .Only time will tell .
Here is a far from exhaustive list of some of today's leading composers . Not all of them
are white males . American : Elliott Carter , John Adams ,Philip Glass ,Ned Rorem ,
William Bolcom , Christpher Rouse , Charles Wuorinen ,John Harbison , Gunther Schuller,
Jennifer Higdon , Ellen Taafe Zwillich .
European : Hans Werner Henze , Pierre Boulez , Henri Dutilleaux , Gyorgy Kurtag ,
Sofia Gubaidullina ,Kaaia Saariaho , Arvo Part , Krzystof Penderecki , Wolfgang Rihm ,
Einojuhani Rautavaara , Magnus Lindberg , Poul Ruders. Harrison Birtwistle, Peter Maxwell Davies , Thomas Ades , Giya Kancheli , Louis Andriessen ,Kalevi Aho .
Asian : Tan Dun , Unsuk Chin . Latin American : Osvaldo Golijov .
Recently deceased : Peter Lieberson , Milton Babbitt , Daniel Catan , Henryk Gorecki ,
Karlheinz Stockhausen , George Perle ,George Rochberg , Nicholas Maw ,
Gyorgy Ligeti ,Luciano Berio . Recordings of music by all of these composers can easily be found on CD , and you can also hear there music on the internet , for example ,youtube.com.
How does an orchestra plan what it will play in the course of any given season ? And who plans it? Good question . Every year , top U.S. orchestras in New York,Chicago , Boston, Philadelphia, Boston ,Los Angeles and other cities reveal their plans for the next season ,usually some months before they begin in September . Classical music fans await these eagerly to see what
their local orchestra and others will have to offer .
Basically , the orchestra's chief conductor ,known as the music director ,along with the orchestra's administrative staff , decide what will be played and when, as well as which famous or not so famous pianists, violinists,cellists , and other solo performers will appear with the orchestra as guests , and singers in addition , as it's not uncommon for vocal works such as operas and oratorios etc to be scheduled .
This is anything but an easy task . It's absolutely impossible to please every one, audiences ,
critics , board members etc with the selection of repertoire . No matter what a conductor decides , some one will complain bitterly . You're samned if you do, and damned i you don't .
Seasons need to be planned quite a long time before they begin ; there are so many things to coordinate ; who will be available to play what piano,violin, or cello concerto etc ? How much will these soloists have to be paid ? What if one of them is unable to appear because of illness etc ? The music director has to contact guest conductors to make sure that they are not planning to play a work which he or she has already scheduled .
Which guest cnductors will be invited to appear with the orchestra ? If the orchestra could not stand one who recently appeared for the first time with them ,it's not a good idea to invite that conductor back .
In some cases , the orchestra's board of directors or the general manager might not want the conductor to do a particular work , such as something by a contemporary composer who writes thorny and complex music which might upset certain subscribers and potentially cause a loss of ticket sales . Sometimes there are conflicts .
It's important to provide a judicious balance between new music , old music , established audience favorites and interesting rarities , and this is extremely difficult .
If the conductor concentrates too much on the same old same old , the music critics in the papers will complain that new music is being neglected , and grumble about having to hear their umpteenth performance of the same old symphonies and concertos by the old masters Beethoven ,Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov , Mozart , Schubert, Mendelssohn , Schumann etc .
But many people in the audience are very conservative in their tastes , and want to hear those same olf familiar works over and over again ; the thought of trying a work by a living or recently deceased composer is threatening to them . They need their beloved repertoire staples the way some children need their security blankets .
They would rather be waterboarded than hear something by that awful Arnold Schoenberg ,the boogey man of modern music ,despite the fact that this "awful modern
music " was written in the first half of the 20th century as is not even really "modern" any more ! And there are more recent composers , such as Pierre Boulez, Elliott Carter,
Milton Babbitt, Charles Wuorinen , and others whose music is even more daunting .
There are also contemporary composers who write in a more conservative idiom , and aim to please audiences . But if a conductor programs music by these composers ,
some critics will blast him or her for pandering to the audience with "easy listening ".
You're damned if you do ,and damned if you don't. It's not uncommon for some conservative concert subscribers to write angry letters to an orchestra's music director after a concert where a new or recent work was performed saying how awful the piece was and threatening to cancel their subscriptions .
But some one has to do the job of programming . It's an endless challenge and not for the faint-hearted .
According to the New York Times , the financially troubled New York City Opera has announced that it plans to move out of its home ,the David H. Koch theater in Lincoln Center, formerly the New York State theater some time in the near future.
The company has also announced that it will have a season beginning this fall , but repertoire has yet to be announced , and apparently the season will also be as short as the just concluded one , which featured only five productions. The costs of its residence at Lincoln Center have proved too burdensome , so the company ,under its enterpising and ambitious general manager George Steel will be looking for another residence .
A number of different venues are being considered around the city ,including its previous home before the move to Lincoln Center in the 1960s , the City Center . But this leaves the Koch theater and Lincoln Center as a whole in a quandary . The famed New York City ballet shares the theater with the opera company , but at different times. Who or what will occupy the recently renovated Koch theater for the rest of the year ? Having the theater dark for long periods of time would be very bad for Lincoln Center as a whole financially.
The Times states that the company very much enjoys performing in Lincoln Center , but the costs have become prohibitive . Which is doubly unfortunate , considering that the recent renovations have by all reports made a considerable improvement in the theater's notoriously poor acoustics , which were designed to muffle the sound of the feet of ballet dancers . Those renovations required the NYC opera to miss an entire season , which was financially disastrous .
Could the Koch theater becme a venue for visiting opera companies from America and Euerope , for example ? This would be extremely difficult financially , but the tours might be very beneficial for a variety of different opera companies , or perhaps other theatrical and dance organizations . As well as for opera and dance in Lincoln Center and the New York City economy .
Or could another opera house be built somewhere in the city ? It won't be an easy task
to adapt other venues to an opera company ,which has very specific needs in terms of
the kind of stage and backstage facilities needed, as well as the technology needed to
put on elaborate opera productions. The Metropolitan opera ,next door to the Koch theater in Lincoln Center , has phenomenal , state of the art technology and backstage
facilities, for example .
Let's hope for the best for the beleaguered NYC opera . The new plans could be either
a great opportunity for the company or could spell disaster for it and cause its end .
I've been rereading the book "Understanding Toscanini" by the noted American music historian and critic Joseph Horowitz ,which first came out in the late 1980s . This book purports to discuss the supposed ill effects of the hero worship in America which surrounded the legendary Italian maestro Arturo Toscanini (1867-1957) during the first half of the 20th century . And yes, few classical musicians have ever been so idolized as Toscanini during their lifetimes and after .
Some background information if you're not familiar with the life and career of Toscanini . He was born into a rather poor family in Parma Italy, center of the Italian dairy industry and home of a famous and historical opera house in 1867 . He showed great musical talent as a child , studied the cello and composition at the Parma conservatory , and went on to become one of the most acclaimed conductors in the history of both the opera house and the concert hall, and died loaded with honors in New York city shortly before his 90th birthday, having retired from the podium only three years before .
Toscanini knew such great Italian composers as Verdi and Puccini personally , led the world premieres of such famous operas as La Boheme,Pagliacci and others , worked with countless famous opera singers and instrumental soloists in the course of podium career which lasted
nearly 70 years . He served as music director of Italy's greatest and most historic opera house, La Scala in Milan, the New York Philharmonic, the Metropolitan opera , and the famous N.B.C. symphony in New York was founded in the 1930s especially for him , and was hand-picked from the finest orchestral music ians in America. He was also the first Italian conductor to conduct at the famous Wagner shrine ,the Bayreuth festival , and appeared with the Vienna Philharmonic at the famous Salzburg festival in Austria etc.
Toscanini's many recordings,mostly with the N.B.C symphony , have been bestsellers since the 1930s, and are greatly admired by critics, musicians and music lovers everywhere. Most are still available . In America , where many of his musical triumphs took place and where he settled ,living in Riverside ,New York city , most of the leading music critics fawned endlessly over his insterpetations, calling him 'the greatest ocnductor of all time".
Toscanini was famous for his supposed faithfulness to the composer's intentions ; he refused to play fast and loose with the music as many of his most famous podium contemporaries allegedly did. He was a martinet with orchestral musicians and treated them like a Marine drill master , often heaping profanities (many in Italian) at them .
Musicians feared him ,to say the least. He was also a fierce opponent of Mussolini and his fascists, and loathed the ***.
A colorful personality,to say the least . An inquestionably a very great conductor ,if by no means THE greatest, with such towering podium contemporaries as Furtwangler, Walter,Klemperer, Felix Weingartner, Pierre Monteux, Beecham, and others .
Horowitz is disturbed by the uncritical adulation which surrounded Toscanini during his lifetime by so many music critics and others , and the enormous cult of personality which surrounded him during his lifetime. He goes into detail quoting the fawning adulation which was heaped on him by so many critics, as well as many other distinguished conductors and composers . Toscanini did not lack his detractors, or at least those whop acknowledged his greatness but had some reservations about his interpetations, which some thought too metronomically rigid ,hard-driven and tight-fisted, often depriving the music of spontaneity,warmth and flexibility .
The author finds the crass publicity and uncritical adulation whcih surrounded Toscanin
extremely distasteful and feels that it somehow cheapened classical music in America.
In addition, Horowitz notes the rather limited repertoire on which Toscanini concentrated in the 30 or 40 years of his life. The great man had absolutely no sympathy for the music of many important 20th century composers, such as Schoenberg, Berg, Webern,Mahler,
Bartok, Hindemith and others .
He tended to concentrate in his later years on such established favorites as Beethoven,Brahms, Wagner, Verdi, Mendelssohn, Schubert, etc, although his repertoire had been much broader in his earlier years , and he hasd done a fair amount of then new music . He left it to other conductors such as his younger contemporary Dimitri Mitropoulos, anative of Greece, and others to champion advanced new works by then contemporary composers .
In the opera house, which he abandoned in his later years, he never conducted such important but challenging operas as those of Schoenberg,Berg, Hindemith and other 20th century composers . Atonality was anathema to him.
The book is full of interesting facts and analysis of Toscanini's interpretive approaches to the music of great composers .
However, where Horowitz goes appallingly off base is the final chapter of the book, in which he attempts (unsuccessfully) to prove that Toscanini's conservatism of repertoire and the adulation and puvblicity which surrounded him in life has supposedly had terrible ill effects on classical music in America posthumously . He heavy-handedly cites the popularity of esptablished repertoire warhorses by Beethoven,Brahms,Tchaikovsky ,
Rachmaninov, Schubert, etc in America today , conveniently ignoring the fact that this has in no way prevented a vast number of new works being premiered by America since 1957, the year of Toscanini's death. Not to mention many new operas by our opera companies such as those of Dallas,Houston,San Francisco etc,and the New York City opera.
Horowitz paints an extremely one-sided and highly misleading of classical music in America today , dismissing it as filled with slick and vulgar publicity , allegedly uninteresting and hackneyed repertoire and superficial performances by famous conductors and other musicians.
He conveniently fails to mention that since Toscanini's death, American orchestras have performed new works by such important 20th century composers as Olivier Messiaen,
Witold Lutoslawski, Elliott Carter, Michael Tippett, Roger Sessions, Milton Babbitt,
Pierre Boulez, William Schuman, John Adams, Philip Glass, John Corigliano, Hans Werner Henze, Krzystof Penderecki , Tan Dun, Alberto Ginastera, Walter Piston, John Cage,
Peter Lieberson, Dmitri Shostakovich , Alfred Schnittke, Toru Takemitsu, Sofia Gubaidullina, and many,many other composers ,most of whom would have been utterly rejected by Toscanini had he lived long enough to hear their music.
In addition, Horowitz uses his extremely questionable premise as an excuse to take pot shots at such important classical music organizations as the Metropolitan opera, the New York Philharmonic and others, as well as such world-famous conductors and instrumentalists as Sir Georg Solti,Herbert von karajan, Itzhak Perlman and others, finding fault with their interpretations as though Toscanini were supposedly to blame for what he finds lacking in them,which is ludicrous.
He quotes the repugnantly unfair claim by the equally biased American composer and critic Virgil Thomson about the New York Philharmonic asupposedly "Not being part of New York's intellectual life(merely because of one concert with music by the Finnish composer Sibelius,whose music he loathed). This was arrogant and presumptuous on the part of Thomson ; the calumny defamed the orchestra for decaders, and many people blindly accepted this blatantly false and grossly unfair claim.
Horowitz obviously has an axe to grind, and his agenda is blatantly aparent . He belittles and dismisses many great contemporary musicians,the Met and New York Philharmonic in a repugnantly catty manner, and uses orchestras and coductors he happens to admire
as sticks with which to bash them . In effect, he tuns the entire last chapter into a giant non-sequitur .
So by all means try this interesting if extremely irritating book , which may not still be in print but sjhould not be hard to find at your local library , but take it with more than a few grains of salt .
Richard Wagner, born 198 years ago in Leipzig,Saxony ,in what used to be East Germany,is the most controversial composer of all time. No composer has ever divided musicians and music lovers to the degree that this eogtistical , womanizing anti-semite has for nearly 200 years .
His influence in the history of music has been immense , and no composer after him could escape the enormous effect he had on it. People tend to either love his music passionately or
to be utterly repelled by it ; hardly any one is indifferent to it . And to a large extent , the baggage that comes with his music and artistic philosophy has influenced the way people react to it in the 20th century.
Wagner was no ordinary opera composer ; others are and have been practical men of the theater who wrote their operas to please audiences and who were pragmatists , but Wagner was a visionary genius who marched to his own drummer and revolutionized both opera and music and whose music is as much a part of the concert hall as the opera house. He makes impractical demands on opera houses ,singers,conductors,orchestras and theater designers in his quest for
things that no opera composer had ever dreamed of before.
His operas are vast , enormously complex and formidably demanding works which make almost superhuman demands on those who perform them and are anything but easy for audiences to sit through . But sit through them they do , because he combines music ,drama , psychology and philosophy in a way that creates an intoxicating experience for those who are willing to take the time and effort to get to know them .
A composer like his great Italian contemporary Giuseppe Verdi, who was born in the same year , 1813 , wrote his operas with professional librettists who wrote his librettos ,just as most other opera composers have , and wrote with the public in mind , and tailored them to accomodate the singers with whom he worked. But Wagner was a totally uncompromising composer who wrote all of his own librettos and had enormous difficulty in getting them perormed throughout his life, which ended with his death while staying in Venice in 1883 .
In order to realize his ideals , he had a special festival opera house built in the 1870s in the sleepy northern Bavarian town of Bayreuth ( by-roit ) designed expecially for his operas , which include such immortal works as Tristan &Isolde, Parsifal , Die Meistersinger Von Nurnberg (The Mastersingers of Nuremberg) and his magnum opus , the awesome four part Ring of the Nibelungen epic , which requires four successive days to perform in its entirety . This festival opened in 1876 with the first complete performance of the Ring cycle , and is still held every Summer in Bayreuth .
Instead of writing operas the traditional way , as a series of dicreet arias , duets ,
choruses and other ensembles , his operas ,or music dramas as he preferred to call them
are "through-composed " or continuous in action throughout the length of each act .
H eused a system of "Leitmotifs" or short themes or melodic ideas which appear in the orchestra to represent the characters , their emotional states and even physical objects such as magical swords , Valhalla the dwelling-place of the Gods in the Ring , fate ,
nature ,etc . These motifs constantly change and develope throughout the operas .
Wagner's makes use of harmony and orchestration in a way that no opera composer had conceived of before .No wonder he caused so much controversy throughout his life ,and that controversy has continued to the present day . Many of his contemporaries , both composers ,critics and listeners , were stupefied , puzzled and even repelled by his music , considering it ugly , grindingly dissonant and utterly lacking in melody ,despite the fact that his music is filled with it .
And in the present day , many people revile Wagner for reasons which are not his fault ,namely the baggage which came with his association with Hitler and the *** . Unfortunately, Adolf Hitler, who was born in 1889 , six years after Wagner's death , became
infatuated with his music and drama in his youth , and made Wagner an important part of his twisted Nazi philosophy , reading his own insane ideas about German supremacy and anti-semitism into his works.
Yes, Wagner was an anti-semite , but never to the insane degree of the ***. He disliked Jews, but never advocated genocide against them or any one else ,and as the old cliche goes, "some of his best friends were Jews ". And there is absolutely nothing Naziistic about the stories of his operas , which do not really have anything to do with Jews or Judaism ,and do not contain a single anti-semitic statement by any of the characters in them .
The Ring of the Nibelung ,which is based on ancient Germanic and Scandinavian mythology , does not glorify German supremacism or the so-called "Master Race ".
On the contrary ,it shows how the Germanic gods and all creation come to a catastrophic end through wanton lust for power and riches , and how absolute power corrupts absolutely .
Despite Wagner's flaws as a human being , he created works which have fascinated
the world fr more than a century and a half . John Philip Sousa called him "The Shakespeare of music ", which is a fitting description .
The Metropolitan opera and the whole opera world are celebrating the 40th anniversary of maestro James Levine with America's ,largest and most prestigious opera company . But there are universal worries about his health at the age of almost 68 , which is not very old by conducting standards .
Levine has accomplished miracles with the Metropolitan opera , turning its orchestra into one of the world's greatest ,even in orchestral repertoire , nurturing the careers of generations of renowned opera singers with his support and coaching , adding many important operas to the Met repertoire which had never been performed there or not performed there for ages ,
bringing such great maestros as Riccardo Muti, Daniel Barenboim ,Simon Rattle , Christian Thielemann,Seiji Ozawa , Christoph Eschenbach, Valery Gergiev , Carlos Kleiber and others to make their Met debuts , and so much more .
The Met still attracts the world's greatest opera singers on a regular basis , such as Renee Fleming, Deborah Voigt , Natalie Dessay , Ben Heppner, Angela Gheorghiu ,Roberto Alagna , Anna Netrebko, Thomas Hampson , Rene Pape, Olga Borodina , Dmitri Hvorostovsky , Placido Domingo , Juan Diego Florez , Waltraud Meier, Jonas Kauffman , Bryn Terfel, Stepahinie Blythe , Susan Graham ,to name only some .
No one can accuse the company of being a stodgy ,hidebound and irrelevant opera company any more, although some biased music critics do still level this perverse accusation against it
No longer does the Met restrict itself to the same old ever popular operatic warhorses by Verdi,Puccini ,Mozart , Bizet , Gounod , and Mascagni etc. Audiences there in recent years have been able to experience superb perfrmances of great but challenging operas by such composers as Schoenberg ,Berg , Busoni , Janacek , Prokofiev, Shostakovich , Handel , and other composers which have never been ever daily fare there .
The Met has also done new or recent operas by leading contemporary American composers such as John Adams, Philip Glass , William Bolcom , John Corigliano , Tobias Picker and John Harbison , as well as the Chinese-born Tan Dun, now a U.S. resident .
The singers are no longer a bunch of people with gorgeous voices who just stand there and and sing , but many can act as well as any great stage or screen actor . They portray real people interacting , not just concerts with scenery .
But Levine's health problems, which include not only severe back trouble but sciatica ,arm tremors , and accident which broke a rotator cuff and the removal of a kidney because of a cyst , have put the Met in a difficult situation . He now conducts sitting in a chair ,unlike most conductors . Some critics and commentators are calling for him to resign from his position as the Met's music director .
He has already had to resign from the Boston symphony orchestra .
Fortunately , the Met has been able to secure the services of the gifted and much-admired Italian conductor Fabio Luisi , who is about 16 years younger ,as principal guest conductor, and there are rumors that he may accept Levine's job sometime soon.
He has had a flourishing career in Europe as music director of the Dresden State opera , the Vienna symphony (not the Vienna Philharmonic ) , and appearances elsewhere , and the Met orchestra seems to be very fond of him . Luisi is highly versatile and is at home in both Italian and German opera . Only time will tell what will happen .
But whatever happens, let's all hope that maestro Levine, whatever his ailments, will recover and still be able to conduct for many years to come , both in the opera house and the concert hall.
This is painful to report . The New York City Opera may cease to exist because of its five million dollar debt and a dwindling endowment . No season has been announced to begin this Fall . It's hard to believe that one of New York's premiere cultural attractions could go under .
The New York City opera ,which has performed at Lincoln Center since the 1960s and which was founded in 1943 to provide relatively inexpensive but quality opera as an alternative to the glamorous and prestigious but pricey Metropolitan , has contributed enormously to New York's
incredibly rich and diverse cultural life . It has served as an alternate to the Met in terms of repertoire ,although there has been some overlap.
The conductor and arts administrator George Steele has recently become its general manager after the controversial Belgian opera administrator Gerard Mortier resigned before taking over because of his frustration in being unable to find more financial support for the company , and he has done a valiant job triying to steer the beleaguered organization in difficult times .
The two companies complement each other ; the City opera doing many operas which the met has not done and the Met often doing the large-scale heavier operas beyond the means of the City opera . The City opera, for example, has done far more new operas , and operas by American composers , and the Met has done things such as the massive Wagner operas and other grandiose works , and has traditionally concentrated on the bread-and-butter standards by Verdi,Puccini, Bizet , Mascagni, Gounod etc,although its rerpertoire has become much more adventurous in recent years .
The casts at the City opera have never been as star-studded as the Met's although it has launched the careers of quite of few great singers who went on to perform at the Met and internationally,such as Beverly Sills,Placido Domingo,Sherill Milnes, and Samuel Ramey,for example . Its casts have largely been solid American opera singers who were not superstars but had many admirable qualities both vocally and dramatically .
The current NYC opera season has just ended , and consisted of only one repertoire staple, Donizetti's sparkling Bel Canto comedy "The Elixit of Love ". But the other works included a trio of brief one act operas by Schoenberg and two other contemporary Americans and the New York premiere of Leonard Bernstein's controversial "A Quiet Place," his only full length opera etc.
The critics hailed the interesting repertoire , but unfortnately , audiences seem to have voted with their feet ,and attendance was disappointingly low . Many New York operagoers want to see their beloved operatic staples such as la Boheme,Carmen, La Traviata, etc,and are reluctant to try anything out of the ordinary . Sad but true.
If the NYC opera truly goes under , a large bite will be taken out of the Big Apple .
The June issue of Opera News magazine has an extensive and detailed listing of the rich operatic and classical music fare at Europe's many presitigious Summer music festivals .
These include such world-famous festivals as Salzburg in Mozart's native city in Austria, the
Wagner festival in Bayreuth Germany , the Glyndebourne opera festival in England,
Aix-En-Provence in the south of France, the Maggio Musicale festival in Florence Italy,
as well as festivals in such great European cities as Vienna,Munich, Vienna, Dresden, Prague,
St.Petersburg Russia and elsewhere.
Operas to be performed range from four centuries , and include long-popular ones as well as long-forgotten ones by composers famous and obscure . The performances will feature the cream of vocal and conducting talent from all over the world ., as well as many great orchestras from around the world.
There are articles on the current operatic scene in Italy,birthplace of opera , and the picture is not rosy ,given current political and economic conditions,which have caused difficul;ties for many opera companies there , the music of the late Italian film score composer Nino Rota, who wrote music for many classic Italian films,including those of
Fellini , the historic San Carlo opera hoise of Naples, which has such a rich tradition of
premieres of 18th and 19th century Italian operas by Verdi,Rossini and others ,
the Rossini festival in the composer's home town of Pesaro,Italy, the town of Busseto,Italy,where Verdi spent his early years and which still has an opera house which performs his operas, the versatile Italian soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci whose lovely face graces the cover, and more.
Reviews of live performances include the Met's recent new production of Rossini's ZLe Comte Ory ,which I mentioned previously on a recent post, its revival of Tchaikovsky's
dark and brooding Queen of Spades, the Chicago Lyric opera's new production of Hercules by Handel. Hindemith's Cardillac from Boston, Massenet's Don Quichotte from Seattle,
and performances from Paris,Rome, Los Angeles and Strassbourg France .
The reviews of new or reissued CDs include a recording of the new opera Kepler by Philip Glass, based on the live of the great 17th century astronomer, a live La Trasviata from the Royal opera ijn London with the legendary Maria Callas, and a couple of operas from Sony Classical's new series of live performances captured at the old Met decades ago with such legendary singers as Jussi Bjorling, Bidu Sayao, LilY Pons and Giuseepe Di Stefano.
Recent live performances captured on DVD include Bellini's La Sonnambula(the sleepwalker) and Donizetti's Maria Stuarda (Mary Stuart) from Italy, and Verdi's Falstaff from Belgium . There's a book review of anewnovel which sounds very interesting; it's called "Butterfly's Child",by Angela Davis-Gardner, and it's the imaginary story of what happened to Madama Butterfly's little boy when his father,Lt Pinkerton takes him to America after Butterfly commits Hara-Kiri .
Evejn if you don't know a lot about opera, Opera News is always packed with interesting things to learn about this fascinating and infinitely varied art form . There's no better place to learn about it.
The great Austrian composer and conductor Gustav Mahler died exactly a century ago on May 18 1911 . He was only 50 years old , and his untimely death was mourned all over the classical music world . In his lifetime ,he had achieved far more success as a conductor than a composer,
having worked his way up as music director of various smaller opera comapnies in Germany to more important posts in Hamburg, and Budapest. In 1897 ,he had achieved so much acclaim that he was appointed to the most prestigious post in Europe - director of the Vienna Imperial opera,now the Vienna State opera , and achieved standards of performance and stage production which have become legendary,untgil he was forced out through a combination of
court and music intrigue and anti-semitism in 1907 .
Mahler was born into a large Jewish family in what is now the Czech Republic in 1860 and was compelled to officially convert to Catholicism in order to be appointed in Vienna. After this, the Metropolitan opera in New York called on his services as conductor ,and he also became music director of the New York Philharmonic .But despite his great successes in America, a serious heart condition forced him to return to Europe, where he died , mourned more as a conductor than a composer.
But his own music meant more to Mahler than anything else . His vast,sprawling and highly emotional symphonies alienated more than a few music critics and some audiences. At his death ,more than a few critics predicted that his music would be quickly forgotten despite his undeniable greatness as a conductor . But they were wrong !
Many thought his symphonies, with their combinations of popular melodies , the sounds of nature, military marches, funeral processions, moments of grandeur and exaltation ,childish wonder and deep despair over fate , were hopelessly overblown, vulgar,
and incoherent . But they failed to recognize the utter originality of the music
Such great conductors as Bruno Walter, who had been his disciple,Willem Mengelberg and Otto Klemperer,both of whom had known him well ,continued to champion his symphonies all over Europe and America. Mahler predicted that "His time would come", and it most certainl;y did ,especially since the 19602, when Leonard Bernstein took up Mahler's cause and recorded all nine of the completed symphonies for what was then Columbia records , and continued to do so untill his death in
Mahler's music is now as much a part of the orchestral repertoire as the works of Brahms,Tchaikovsky , Sibelius, Rachmaninov , and other great composers of the 19th and 20th century, and great singers such as Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Janet Baker, Thomas Hampson ,Christa Ludwig and others have been internationally acclaimed for their performaces and recordings of the Mahler songs.
Recordings of the Mahler symphonies were once scarce , but in the past 30 or 40 years or so , they have become virtually impossible to count . Such great conductors as Claudio Abbado,Pierre Boulez, Lorin Maazel , Seiji Ozawa, Simon Rattle, Michael Gielen, Sir Georg Solti,
Riccardo Chailly, Bernard Haitink , Rafael Kubleik , Giuseppe Sinpoli,Klaus Tennstedt and others have recorded complete sets of the symphonies, and Bernstein recorded a second set of them for Deutsche Grammophon in the 18980s. Many other great conductors ,such as Dimitri Mitropoulos,Bruno Walter, Otto Klemperer, Erich Leinsdorf, Fritz Reiner,
and others have left recordings of some of the individual symphonies.
Mahler left a tenth symphony unfinished at the time of hi9s death , and only the first movement was completed.This has been performed and recorded fairly often, but it was not until the 1960s that a British musicologist named Deryck Cooke was able to make a performing version out of the sketches, and several other musicologists have made their own versions.
In fact, performaces and recordings of the Mahler symphonies have become so common
as to cause us to take his music for granted . But the works , which explore virtually every emotion and mental state ,as well as vividly depicting nature and fate , remain undying masterpieces .
The great Chicago symphony orchestra is one of the prime attractions of America's third largest city . It was founded in 1891 ,and its first principal conductor was the now largely forgotten
German-born conductor Theodore Thomas (1835- 1904) , who was a seminal figure in the developement of orchestral music in America ,and has been described as the Johnny Appleseed of orchestras in America .
After his death in 1904 , another German-born musician, Frederick Stock ,who had been a violist in the orchestra , became conductor ,and although he was never one of the world's most famous conductors as he had an almost totally local reputation , led the orchestra with distinction until his death in 1942 ,and was one of the first conductors to make recordings with an American orchestra, beginning in 1916 . Some of his recordings are still available on CD .
The orchestra then went throgh a decade with music directors who for various reasons had a brief tenure , the Belgian Desire Defauw, and the combatitive Polish conductor Artur Rodzinski, who lasted only one season because of disputes with the orchestra's management, and three seasons under the then young but rising Czech conductor Rafael Kubelik (1914- 1996),who went on to achieve a great reputation,mostly in Europe. He was hounded out of his position by the peppery Chicago critic Claudia Cassidy , who disliked his unusual but interesting programming ,which featured a considerable amount of music by Central European composers who music she disliked ,such as Bartok and Janacek.
Then came what many critics and music historians consider the first golden age of the
Chicago symphony ,the appointment of the great Hungarian conductor Fritz Reiner (1888-1963), who is credited with building the orchestra into one of the finest ever .
But Reiner was a notorious martinet and achieved extradinary polish and precision of performance with the ferocity of a Marine drill seargent , and fired many musicians who did not satisfy his extraordinarily high standards .
Reiner's numerous recordings on R.C.A. of works by Bela Bartok , who was a close friend ,
Richard Strauss, and many other composers are considered some of the finest orchestra recordings ever made by many critics and CD collectors ,and are still very much available .
Reiner resigned due to failing health shortly before his death in 1963 , and was succeeded by the distinguished French conductor Jean Martinon (1910-1976) , who also made some greatly admired recordings with the orchestra but lasted only five seasons .
In 1969 , another great Hungarian conductor ,Sir Georg Solti (1912-1997 ) became music director and led the orchestra until 1991 . This was another golden age for the orchestra , and for the first time, the orchestra toured Europe and Asia , to enormous acclaim .
Solti was a much more easy-going conductor than Reiner,but still a highly demanding one , and the orchestra switched from R.C.A. to Decca records, and to Deutsche Grammophon under other conductors .
The first appearances with Solti and the Chicagoans in Carnegie hall were greeted with
wild enthusiasm by audiences , as well as on tour in Europe. Solti was a much more spontaneous interpreter who although he demanded great polish , inspired the orchestra to play with enormous enthusiasm and panache . He made numerous recordings with the orchestra for Decca, including the complete symphonies of Beethoven, Brahms ,Mahler and Bruckner,
as well as Bartok, Berlioz , Wagner , Richard Strauss and other composers .
He also recorded several operas by Wagner,Verdi, Beethoven, and Schoenberg after acclaimed concert performances of them in Chicago and Carnegie hall with prominent
opera singers .
In 1991 , the renowned Argentine-born pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim became music director . He had been one of the orchestra's most frequent guest conductors ,and had also made recordings with it . He maintained the orchestra's high standards of playing
and and began to make recordings with the orchestra on other record labels such as Deutsche Grammophon, Teldec and Erato . The orchestra continued its tradition of concert performances of operas, including those of Mozart and Richard Strauss .
When Barenboim stepped down in 2006, the orchestra was unable to find a music director immediately , and appointed the distinguished Dutch conductor Bernard Haitink ,who had been music director of the famous Concertgebouw orchestra of Amsterdam for many years, as principal conductor ,which is not really the same as being music director .
The great French composer and conductor Pierre Boulez, who had been a regular guest,
was named condctor emeritus.
In 2110 , the eminent Italian conductor Riccardo Muti assumed the position of music director , but got off to a rocky start with the orchestra because of ill health ,and was forced to cancel most of his initial concerts .But his health has improved and he is now securely in place as music director .
Among the great conductors who have been regular guests with the orchestra are the Italian Carlo Maria Giulini (1914-2005), who served as principal guest conductor in the 1970s, and was especially beloved by the orchestra , Erich Leinsdorf , Leonard Bernstein,
Claudio Abbado , Neeme Jarvi , Pierre Monteux, Seiji Ozawa, James Levine, Christoph Eschenbach , Zubin Mehta, Andre Previn , Leonard Slatkin , Klaus Tennstedt, Gunter Wand,
and many others . Many have made recordings with the orchestra .
The official Summer home of the Chicago symphony is at Ravinia park outside of Chicago ,where the orchestra plays under a wide variety of guest conductors and with renowned soloists . Few orchestras anywhere inspire such civic pride among their residents than the great Chicago symphony . And rightly so.
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