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June 2011 - Posts

July Opera NewsMagazine - Focusing On Conductors
  The July issue of Opera News magazine concentrates on interviews with distinguished  conductors of opera  as well as some rising young  names in the profession . In opera, no one is more important than the conductor - he or she is respnsible for holding the whole show
together , and this is anything but an easy task , as well  as supervising the whole preparation  for the performances .

  On the cover is the Italian maestro Nicola Luisotti , music director of the San Francisco opera ,
as well as appearing regularly with  the Metropolitan and other leading opera houses and with symphony orchestras .  Former Opera News associate editor John W. Freeman remembers the
once highly regarded Italian condictor Fausto Cleva , who died 40 years ago this August while conducting  Gluck's Orfeo&Euridice in Greece  , and was a  mainstay of the Metropolitan opera for many,many years , and a highly demanding  but  greatly respected opera conductor .

   There is also an excerpt from  the soon to be published memoirs of the eminent  conductor  Julius  Rudel , who recently turned 90 and  made the New York City opera one of the nation's most important .Editor-in-chief  F. Paul Driscoll  interviews  the distinguished  English  maestro 
Sir Andrew Davis ,music director of the Chicago Lyric opera ,  and  another well-known English conductor ,Steuart Bedford , a specialist in the operas of Benjamin Britten and a close collaborator with the composer  is also interviewed , giving  fascinating insights into his realtionship with the composer .

  Writer Patrick Dillon has a fascinating article on the monumental  Guillaume Tell (William Tell), Rosssini's  rarely performed last opera , which will receive a concert performance this Summer at the Caramoor music festival in upstate New York conducted by the Bel Canto expert and conductor  Will Crutchfield . 

   Reviews of live opera performacesinclude the Met's controversial  high-tech production of Wagner's Ring ,specifically  Die Walkure , the second part of Wagner's  monumental  work,  the NYC opera's world premiere of broadway composer  Stephen Schwarz's  first opera  "Seance on a wet  Afternoon"  (unfavorable),  the rarely performed Rimsky-Korsakov opera "The Tsar's Bride  at the Royla opera in London ,  the French  version of Weber's opera  "Der Freischutz" (the freeshooter)  at the Paris opera , and other productions.

   Reviews of new CDs include  the new recording of Umberto Giordano's rarely performed blood-and-thunder  opera Fedora with Angela Gheorghiu and Placido Domingo ,  plus
new recordings of choral works by  Rossini and Pergolesi ,both settings of the Stabat Mater
conducted by Antonio Pappano. 

  DVD reviews of  live opera performances include  Elektra by Richard Strauss from the Salzburg festival ,  Tosca  from the Zurich opera , and  one of the  lesser known operas of Donizetti .  Opera News magazine is always chock full of  stimulating  discussion of  the
infinitely varied world of opera .
  
Posted: Jun 27 2011, 05:34 PM by the horn | with no comments
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London's Much Recorded Philharmonia Orchestra
   The Philharmonia orchestra of London  is one of  the five orchestras resident in that great city,
and was founded in 1945 by  the great English record producer Walter Legge (1906-1979 ) , who recruited the members of the orchestra largely from the ranks of  the sizable pool of  English musicians who had  just served in the second world war . 

   Although the orchestra gave regular public concerts , it became famous mainly for its numerous recordings ,at first primarily for the EMI label  for which Legge worked for so many years as a  producer of classical recordings ,  and the orchestra was controlled almost entirely by
him , with the support of India's Maharajah of Mysore, who was a patron of classical music .

   Arturo Toscanini  was among the many great conductors who  appeared with the Philharmonia
 after the war , as well as Richard Strauss .  The legendary Herbert von Karajan (1908-1989) ,
was one of its most frequent conductors, although he did not have an official title with  the orchestra , and  recorded the complete Beethoven symphonies and much other repertoire with it, including  classic  recordings of such operas as  Verdi's Falstaff ,  Mozart's Cosi Fan Tutte,
and  Der Rosenkavalier of Richard Strauss wth  world-famous singers such as Elisabeth Schwarzkopf , who was legge's wife, Christa Ludwig, Nicolai Gedda and others .

   Karajan  curtailed his appearances with the Philharmonia when he was appointed principal conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic in 1955 , succeeding the great Wilhelm Furtwangler who had also  appeared with the Philharmonia  often and made a legendary recording of Wagner's Tristan & Isolde with it.  Furtwangler had died  in 1954 .

   After Karajan ,  the great German conductor Otto Klemperer (1885 -1973)   was appointed the orchestra's principal conductor and  remained  in that position until he retired in 1971 . Klemperer made numerous  acclaimed recordings with the Philharmonia
such as the complete symphonies of  Beethoven and Brahms ,  some of the Bruckner and Mahler symphonies , plus  recordings of  Mozart's most famous operas and Beethoven's Fidelio . 

   in 1964 , Legge decided to disband the orchestra he had founded and nurtured so carefully ,  but the musicians decided to continue performing  under their own  management ,changing  the ortchestra's name to the "New Philharmonia ", reverting back to  Philharmonia  in  1977 . 

   In 1973  after the death of Klemperer ,  the then young and rising  Italian conductor Riccardo Muti (1941 -) ,now music director of the Chicago symphony becme  the new
principal conductor and continued to make numerous recordings with  it ,such as  the
symphonies of Tchaikovsky , and operas by Verdi , Donizetti, and Bellini  etc ,  and brought
a new vigor and Italianate litheness to the orchestra , which  had become famous for its
Germanic  grandeur under the old lion Klemperer .

   In 1984 , another then young and rising Italian conductor ,Giuseppe Sinopoli (1946-2001),
succeeded Muti , and the orchestra began to record under Sinopoli's  record label, Deutsche Grammophon ,also recordng  operas by Verdi and Puccini  and a complte set of the Mahler symphonies etc . 

   In the early 1990s ,Sinopoli  left the Philharmonia to lead  the  Staatkapelle Dresden which I have already profiled , and  the German/Hungarian cnductor  Christoph von Dohnanyi
who was also music director of the Cleveland orchestra  became principal conductor until
2008, when  the distinguished Finnish conductor/composer  succeded him  and is still  with them. Salonen  was also  music director of the Los Angeles Philharonic .

   The Philharmonia orchestra  has made no fewer than  approximately  1,000 recordings
since its founding ,  a record which few other orchestras can match ,under a galaxy of conductors ,including such  distinguished names as  Carlo Maria Giulini ,  Paul Kletzki ,
Lorin Maazel  ,  Sir John Barbirolli ,  Erich Leinsdorf,  James levine ,  Wolfgang Sawallisch,
Antal Dorati, Sir Charles Mackerras ,  Julius Rudel ,  Pierre Boulez , Bernard Haitink ,
Igor Markevitch ,  and many others ,  of  an extremely diverse repertoire . 

   It remains one of  England's  greatest musical assets . 
  
Posted: Jun 17 2011, 05:49 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Why Are So many People Prejudiced Against Classical Music ?
  It seems as though any kind of music is acceptable to much of the general public than classical  today.  It has a bad rap .  Suppposedly , it's "elitist"  ,as well as stuffy and boring .Ot so too many people  believe, despite the fact that they know vitrually nothing about it, have never attended a concert or an opera performance, have never listened to classical CDs or  classical radio stations or seen  it on PBS .

   Why is classical music considered "uncool" by so many ?  The notion that it is elitist  and all that is a myth .  And a myth which closes so many people's minds .  If they would just keep an open mind and try it , they  might  come to realize what they've been missing all their lives . Television comericals which  show  stereotypical  operatic performances with  fat people in ridiculous pseudo  Viking costumes don't help at all .  Going to the opera  is nothing like this at all , and there are  quite a few  opera stars today who are as glamorous  in appearance as any of today's hot  movie stars . 

   We lovers of classical music find it irksome to have to defend  it .We should'nt have to !   Why can't people just learn to accept classical music on its own terms  and learn to enjoy it ?  Admittedly,  it takes more time and effort to  learn to enjoy  the music of  Beethoven, Bach ,
Brahms, Wagner, and other classical composers , but it's certainly worth that efforrt , and it can be incredibly rewarding .

   And if classical music is so elitist, why do orchestras and opera companies everywhere have people  who work for them on education programs, community outreach , and public relations ? That doesn't sound very elitist to me .  The term elitism implies that  these
performing arts organizations are trying to exclude people, despite the fact that that is exactly what they DON'T want to do !  Go figure .

   

  
Posted: Jun 16 2011, 07:00 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Too Many Orchestras Are Being Held Hostage By Their Own Audiences
  It's a common complaint among classical music critics and experts that symphony orchestras in America  and Europe etc are far too cautious in their programming , and tend to offer audiences the same old popular masterpieces ever year ,  the beloved  symphonies and concertos of  Beethoven,Mozart, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov and other famous composers . 
 
   This is nothing against these great works themselves ; they are wonderful  piees which are deservedly popular, and there are also million sof people in America who don't know them at all  and might love them if they  would just give classical music a chance . But there is so much else which deserves a chance ot be heard .

   Living composers are supposedly neglected . although in fact there are quite a few of them who can't complain  that their music is not being performed , such as John Adams,  Jennifer Higdon, Thomas Ades , to name only a few .  But the music directors of the orchestras and their
management are usually blamed for this cautiousness . In fact ,  to a large extent , it's the audiences  which are responsible for this  intractable dilemma .

   The problem is that if  orchestras were to offer a steady diet of new or recent works by such
uncompromisingly modernist composers  as Pierre Boulez, Elliott Carter , Charles Wuorinen,
the late Karlheinz Stockhausen ,  Brian Ferneyhough,  Harrison Birtwistle and others ,  it would be disastrous for ticket sales .  These orchestras are already having a difficult time attracting more people to their concerts , not through any fault of their own, but because of other factos such as the lack of  exposure to classical music in schools and myths about classical musc being  stuffy,boring and elitist etc. 

   Many in the audience are older people who are unfortunately set in their ways when it comes to their tastes in  classical music .  They  frankly don't like contemporary music on the whole; they know what they like and like what they know .  If orchestras don't program what they like,  audiences will vote with their feet .  Not all concertgoers , but too many of them .  They don't even want to hear  new works which are more conservative and aproachable  and  eschew  thorny atonal complexity .

   So many of our orchestras are caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place.
Many have music directors and guest ocnductors who would very much like to program new or  recent works by contemporary composers , but they don't dare to do this very often .
This is true  particularly of the smaller regional orchestras ;  the major league ones such as the New York Philharmonic and those of Chicago, Boston , Cleveland , Los Angeles and San Francisco and other major cities have been able to buck the trend  and  give performances by a wide variety of living or recently deceased composers as well as the audience favorites .

   Another and very healthy trend is the tendency of some leading conductors such as Neeme Jarvi , Leonard Slatkin , James Conlon , Franz Welser-Most , Michael Tilson Thomas.,
David Zinman and others has been to revive  some of the many  unjustly neglected works from the past which exist , including the lesser-known works of great composers and  composers who  are not nearly as well-known as they should be.  For example Carl Nielsen, Albert Roussel,  Franz Berwald, George Whitefield Chadwick ,  Nikolai Myaskovsky, Franz Schmidt,  Arnold Bax ,  and others .

   But unfortunately , to many concertgoers are reluctant even to hear these works, despite the fact that they are not in the least bit unpleasant to hear and  in fact, highly effective .

   What can be done ? There are no easy answers .  But one thing is certain ;  if our orchestras were to offer nothing but the same old familiar works , wonderful as they are ,
the symphony orchestra  and classical music in general would stagnate .

  

Posted: Jun 15 2011, 03:36 PM by the horn | with no comments
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A New European Chamber orchestra Performs Without A Conductor
  There's an interesting article by Tom Service, music critic of England's "The Guardian "
guardian.co.uk) on the new European chamber orchestra Spira Mirabilis , which  rehearses and performs without a conductor , and you can also read his favorable review of  a recent performance they gave in London .

   Spira Mirabilis is of course not the first orchestra to play without some one standing in front of it waving a baton and  guiding the performance ;  New York's Orpeus chamber orchestra has been active for many years ,toured the world and make many acclaimed recordings, mostly for Deutsche Grammophon  records ,  and there is also the Australian chamber orchestra .

   The group is named after the geometrical spiral shapes of certain sea shells , and actually sits
in a spiral configuration on stage .  It's a chamber orchestra with about 34 musicians  who
rehearse by  discussing  how the music should be played among themselves .  It specializes in the symphonies of Beethoven, Schubert and other composers who lived before the much larger
orchestras  used by Bruckner, Mahler, Richard Strauss and other late 19th and early 20th century composers ,  which would make performing without a conductor virtually impossible .

   Normally in a rehearsal , the conductor is the boss , and  tells the musicians how to play the music , much as the director of a  film or play explains to the actors what he wants .
His ,or her job is to co-ordinate the whole enterprise  and  the way he beats time is a kind of  rhythmical sign language which keeps the musicians together  and helps them to
maintain cohesion .

   The individual musicians are responsible for playing their own parts , but the conductor has to make a thorough study of the full score , which shows all the different parts simultaneously .  But with a conductorless chamber orchestra ,  it's much less efficient 
preparing for a concert .  The musicians  discuss how to play the music among themselves,
and the concertmaster  , the principal violinist ,  acts as a  sort of de facto conductor by
using gestures to  help the musicians start and stay together .
 
   There are so many details to take care of ; how fast will  the tempos be ?  Normally, the conductor sets these in rehearsal and concerts .  Are the brass playing too loud ?  If there is as in so many symphonies ,  a repeat of the opening section indicated in the score , should  the musicians observe it? Normally the conductor decides .  And so on .

   So it takes much more time to prepare for a concert ,  and it would be impossible  to
function the way  full size ,full time orchestras do ,playing a different program every
week .  When an orchestra is playing a  20th century work written for  a large orchestra, such as Stravinsky's Rite Of Spring,  with its  constant and treacherous  irregular rhythms ,
a conductor is absolutely indespensible . 

   It's also very difficult for an orchestra  to  make the transition to a different tempo, faster or slower, without a conductor . It can manage fine as long as the tempo remains
steady .  Or to make those subtle, unwritten changes  speeding up and slowing down 
almost imperceptibally , known as Rubato , or stolen time , without a conductor .

   A conductorless orchestra has been described as a kind of chamber music ,  that is,
music written for small  ensembles of musicians , three, four, five or more,  without 
any of the string parts doubled, as in orchestral music .  In  chamber music , it's  not at
all difficult for the musicians to rehearse  by themselves  because of the  small number sof musicians .

   Despite this , conductors are here to stay ;  some musicians describe them as a necessary evil ,  and  orchestras and conductors don't always get along very well .
   But can you imagine shooting  a film such as  Titanic ,Star Wars  or  Avatar without a
director ? It's the same with orchestras .

  
  
Posted: Jun 14 2011, 04:10 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Composer/Conductor Pierre Boulez Is As Dogmatic As Ever At The Age Of 86
   At an age when most people have long been retired and  many are living in physical and mental decline , the eminent French composer and conductor Pierre Boulez, 86 , is as busy and  vigorous as ever , still active both as a composer and conductor , if no longer conducting opera because of its physical demands .

   There's an interview with him in the English paper The Independent (independent.co.uk ) which you can read online .  Boulez is one of the most uncompromising  and  challenging of composers ,living or dead .  He makes absolutely no concessions to popularity or  accessibility , and  is a  towering intellect ,if often a rather arrogant one .  He has nothing but contempt for contemporary composers who aim to please audiences with music that is easy to listen to , and  is  obsessed with musical "progress ". 

   However , all those who meet him  or know him personally find him  quite amiable  and witty in person .  Many  find his music bafflingly complex and abstruse , even boringly arid .  Listening to it
can be the musical equivalent of trying to read a treatise on nuclear physics or higher mathematics, and indeed, Boulez  studied mathematics as a young man .  But if you give it repeated hearings ,  it can  become quite comprehensible .

   Boulez stated out after WW2 as  the angry young man of music , insisitng that any composer who  did not adopt his  rigorously complex method of serial composition was "useless ". He even dismissed the music of   Arnold Schoenberg , (1874-1951 ), the father of the whole  serial/12 system of composition as too old-fashioned , and wrote an angry essay
called "Schoenberg is Dead " after  the  great Austrian composer died .

    Boulez also began a distinguished career as a conductor  in the 1960s,  specializing in the
 music of Stravinsky, Schoneberg, Berg,Webern,  Varese, Bartok ,  and other great 20th century composers, as well as that of his teacher , the great French composer Olivier Messiaen (1908- 1992).  He  refused utterly to conduct  the music of such  popular Romantic composers as Brahms ,Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov etc, considering them beneath his dignity , but did  achieve fame as a conductor of Wagner  and Mahler, as well as Berlioz,  Ravel and Debussy etc.  
 
   Boulez  has been music director of the B.B.C. symphony in London  and the New York Philharmonic , and has been a regular guest conductor with  such great orchestras as the Cleveland orchestra, the Vienna Philharmonic, Lonson Symphony ,  Berlin Philharmonic ,
the Royal Concertgebouw in Amsterdam , as well as conducting  at leading opera houses such
as the Paris Opera, the Royal opera in London ,  and Wagner at the Bayreuth festival . He has made numerous  distinguished recordings with  theseorchestras and opera houses for Deutsche Grammophon, Sony Classical ,  and Erato records . 

   He once made a comment in an interview that  "the world's opera houses should be burned down" , because they concentrated to much on  the operas of Verdi,Puccini, Rossini,  and other composers  whom he would not have touched with the proverbial ten foot pole .  He jokingly reaffirmed this in the Independent interview , saying that we must forget the past and concentrate on the new . He even wished that we would destroy all
our libraries !
 
   After Boulez stepped down as music director of the New York Philharmonic in 1977 , he returned to France to head  a new  organization called  the Institut De Co-Ordination Acousticque-Music (Institute for the co-ordination of music and acoustics ) IRCAM, in Paris,at the Pompidou center.  It has always been generously subsidized by the French government ,  and  its purpose is to  experiment with  music  which mixes  acoustical and electronic instruments .  It remains at the forefront of avant-garde music today.

   But like it or not,  the music of the past is very much here to stay in our concert halls
and opera houses.  There is no way that they can offer nothing but  the most complex and  mind-bending  new works .  The music of  Brahms, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov will never
be forgotten ,nor should it be .  Boulez is simply out of touch with reality ;  we can't destroy the Mona Lisa or Michelangelo's David ,  or stop playing the music of Beethoven and Bach ,
or stop reading the novels of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, or perfoming the plays of Shakespeare.

   There is absolutely no conflict between old and new music in our concert halls ; we need them both .  It would certainly be disastrous to  play nothing but music from the past ,
but it would be equally wrong to abandon it .

  
Posted: Jun 13 2011, 05:35 PM by the horn | with no comments
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America Could Use A Lot More People Like This Austrian
  Some years ago , I heard a story about an Austrian who declared that even though he did not live in the capitol city of Vienna and had never been to a performance at the world-famous
Vienna State opera , he was proud as an Austrian city to contribute his tax money to this
prestigious opera company , and felt it was his duty to do so .

   Why can't more Americans have such an  admirable attitude ?  There's so much hostility to
contributing tax money to the arts today , and many Republican politicians and  conservtive
citizens are calling for the abolition of the controversial National Endowment For The Arts because it supposedly takes so much money from honest, hard-working Americans to subsidize
"obscene " art . 

   But as I've pointed out before here, the government takes less than a dollar from each taxpayer per
year to support ALL the arts in America .  It's appalling the way so many conservatives in America have been mislead into thinking that the NEA takes a great deal of money from the public to support nothing but art works which some people find offensive .  The federal budget for
U.S. military bands is larger than what the government provides for the NEA !  It spends more in ine day on the futile and disastrous Iraq war .  Now THAT'S truly obscene .

   Not to mention the economic woes which threaten so many of our great symphony orchestras and opera companies . 

  
 
 

  
Posted: Jun 12 2011, 09:18 AM by the horn | with no comments
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A List Of Endangered Or Defunct American Orchestras And Opera Companies
  These orchestras and opera companies have either gone under recently ,or are facing serious financial difficulties which threaten their existence :

 Recently gone under :   Honolulu symphony ,Hawaii . 

                                          New Mexico symphony.

                                          Syracuse symphony ,New York .

                                          Baltimore opera .

                                          Connecticut opera .

                                           Opera  Orlando ,Florida .

                                           Opera Pacific , California . 

 At serious risk :                  New York City opera .

                                            Detroit symphony .

                                             Utica symphony ,New York .

                                             Philadelphia orchestra .

                                             Westchester Philharmonic ,New York .

                                             Columbus ,Ohio, symphony .

                                             Brooklyn Philharmonic .

                                              Queens symphony , New York .

    There are no doubt more  which are facing difficulties or which will be in the near future,
    given the severe economic crisis facing America , the paltry support from our government  and  inadequate suport by the private sector .  However ,  the vast majority of this nation's hundreds of  opera companies and orchestras are functioning ,  and all is not lost . 

   Please do your part and  contact your local Senators or members of the House of Representitives ,  and your local politicians to ask them to do something about  the
crisis facing classical music in America .  Urge them not only to  keep the National Endowment For The Arts from being abolished but to provide a substantial amount of
more funding for it ,  and  contact major corporations urging them to provide more  support
for America's orchestras and opera companies .

   Remeber - if  our  orchestras and opera companies flourish they help  the U.S. economy
   to flourish ,too .  
Posted: Jun 11 2011, 04:34 PM by the horn | with no comments
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African- Americans And Classical Music - A Vexed Question
   Critic, composer and  blogger Greg Sandow has an interesting  discussion of why more African-Americans aren't involved in classical music today on his blog gregsandow.com , and it's also being discussed on his Facebook page . 

  Although classical music is not very popular among blacks in America , black classical musicians have made a great contribution to it as perfomers , particularly opera singers .  Leontyne Price ,
the late Shirley Verret , Grace Bumbry ,Reri Grist , Simon Estes ,  Willard White ,  Denyce Graves,
Marian Anderson  and others are among the greatest names in opera and  the concert hall  in the 20th century .  James De Preist ,nephew of Anderson , is an eminent conductor who has appeared with virtually all the world's greatest orchestras for decades with great success , and  there are quite a few other  outstanding  black classical musicians, too many to name here.

   William Grant Still  was one of the first blacks in America to become known as a classical composer ,and was born in 1895 , and  George Walker ,born in 1922 , is a Pulitzer-prize-winning composer who taught at Princeton for many years . 

   But only about 1 per cent of  the musicians in  America's orchestras  are black .  However, this is not the  fault of the orchestras, because very few blacks have aimed for careers in orchestras and gone through the years of rigorous training necessary for a  career here .  Auditions for these orchestras are held behind a screen , and each applicant is given a number to ensure absolute anonymity , so there is no chance of discrimination on the basis of race or gender .   The audition committees , members of the orchestras who
judge the applicants at auditions, are not interested in a musician's skin color .The only thing that matters is how you play.

   African-Americans are also not a common sight at concerts and opera ? Why ?  There are at least two reasons .  Very few of them are exposed to it when young , so few of them
realize how enjoyable it is .  In addition , there is the unfortunate misconception that
classical music is an "elitist" and snobbish  kind of music which is only for the rich and snobbish . 

   But did great composers such as Beethoven , Brahms, Mozart, Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky etc conciously write their music only for people who happen to be white ?
Or do living ones such as John Adams, Philip Glass,  Elliott Carter,  and others  do this
today ? Of course not . Composers are delighted  if any one listens to their music , and at
least tries to keep an open mind .

   Jazz , which some have called "America's classical music " ,  had its origins in the
traditions of African-American vernacular music , yet is  avidly listened  to by countless
people all over the world .  Europe has produced many important Jazz musicians and there
are Jazz festivals all over Europe .  The late Michael Jackson was enormously popular all
over  the world , and  toured  the globe .

   So why should only people who happen to be white listen to classical music ? 
 It has been popular in Asia for many years ,  and  is growing  by leaps and bounds in China.
 Tokyo has more symphony orchestras than New York ,Chicago , or other major U.S.
cities.  Asian musicians such as Lang Lang , Mitsuko Uchida and others  are world famous,
and  virtually  all of  the top U.S. orchestras have many Asian-American or Asian-born
members , mostly string players .  The New York Philharmonic alone has no fewer than eight  musicians from South  Korea , and others from Japan and China . Top U.S. music schools such as Juilliard , the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia,  the New England Conservatory in Boston and elsewhere are full of  talented aspiring  young virtuosos.

   If more African-Americans would just give classical music a chance , they might decide
to make it a part of their lives .  There's no reason why they should not.

  
Posted: Jun 10 2011, 04:08 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Political Strife Isn't Limited To Washington - It's In Classical Music Too
   Now that James Levine has been forced to resign as music director of the Boston symphony orchestra , the search is on for a  conductor with the stature to succeed him in this presitigious
post .  As I've pointed out in earlier posts ,  there are similarities with the search for conductors
to assume positions with top orchestras with Washington politics, as well as differences .

   Conductors are chosen ,not elected , by the management of an orchestra with the co-operation of the members of the orchestra .  There is a great deal of infighting and intrigue ,
and  music critics and  classical music fans argue about the selection every bit as much as
the American public does  with Presidential elections.
   There's just as much speculation , and rumors of who might get the job with an orchestra
are discussed  avidly by every one who is interested in classical music .  Will it be some one who
has already been a regular guest conductor , or could a dark horse emerge ?  Just as in politics, different classical music fans  and critics support certain conductors , and  are worried  that oe whose conducting they can't stand might be chosen . 

   And when a conductor is finally chosen ,  the fans  rejoice if a  conductor they admire  gets the
job, and are appalled when one they dislike  gets it .  In the first case ,  they predict that  the orchestra  will  have a new golden age, and will flourish .  And in  the opposite case , they predict that the orchestra will  be ruined   under the baton of that  &%$#@*
 maestro X. 

   Sound familiar ?  When  an American orchestra  has an opening for a music director ,
  a variety of different conductors  will be invirted to guest conduct , and the  management  consults the orchestra  to see their reactions to the various  guest
conductors .  Eventually , some one is chosen .  For example,  the up-and -coming  young
French Canadian conductor  was recently chosen as the next music director of the Philadelphia orchestra after making a highly favorable impression on the orchestra as well as the audience . Only time will tell  how the combination works out, but  it looks very promising .

   Unlike politics ,  there is absolutely no chance of  a  bad or incompetent conductor being chosen .  The management would hnot dare choose a conductor  who  makes  a poor impression on the orchestra .  Slick publicity alone gets you nowhere . 

Posted: Jun 09 2011, 06:45 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Dueling Music Critics
   It's always interesting to read reviews of concerts and opera performances for classical music fans, even if you were not there .  Especially when two critics who review the same performance have totally differing reactions .  You wonder , were they actually at the same performance ?

  Of course , it's all profoundly subjective .  One's reactions to a performance or a particular work are highly personal , and  often  colored by  previous performances and recordings  one has heard .  A reviewer can certainly tell if a perforner has the "chops" to or technique to play a given work,
although if you're hearing some one for the first time , you can't be sure whether a technically faulty
perfrmance was the result of  less than  great technique, or merely an off night .

   If a pianist hits  a lot of clunkers ,  a horn player  cracks numerous notes,  or a singer  is producing  a
horribly straned sound , the critic and the audience can tell  instantly .  But when it comes to other
factors , such as  overall interpretive approach , tempos chosen   by the performer ,  beauty of sound
or lack of it ,  it all becomes highly subjective .  Even  intonation ,  or how well in tune a musician is on
an instrument or with the  human voice ,is often subhjective .  One critic may  complain of faulty 
intonation  in a performance , and another critic reviewing  the performance may not  notice anything
wrong .  

   Faulty intonation can be  either flatness of pitch ,  too low beyond the proper  pitch , or
 sharp ,  too high above the note .   But sometimes a critic can  exaggerate , and claim  that
the performer's intonation was consistently off  from one or two  faulty notes here and there,
particlarly if he or she does not like that  performer , which sometimes happens .

   But there are other highly subjective factors . Sometimes a critic  will complain  that  the
performer , or the conductor  in the case of  an orchestral concert ,  chose a tempo which was
either much too fast or much too slow .  But in the case of two critics aat the same performance , one might  find the tempos too slow or fast , and the other  might not complain at all about them . 

   Who is right ?   Ultimately , only the composer  has the absolute right to say  what the right
 tempo is. After all, he or she wrote the music .  In some cases, composers have chosen metronome markings to  indicate the right tempo  to provide a guideline  for the performers , so that  they are not  way off  the desired speeds . But even the composers have been known to
change their minds when performing their music , and  chose different tempi  at  different times .

   Presto (Italian for very fast ) is not the same as Adagio (slow)  .  Sometimes  performers  are downright perverse and  choose tempi which are way off the mark .  The great but eccentric Canadian  pianist  Glenn Gould was famous,or notorious, for this .  Another great musician, the
German conductor Otto Klemperer (1885-1973) ,became famous for his  markedly slow, but not lethargic performaces later in his long career, when  numerous physical disabilities, including a stroke , caused him to  slow down  a great deal . In his younger days , he was  kinown as a speed demon ! 

   So when you read  reviews by different critics of the same performance , one may say it was 
the worst performance of that work he or she had ever heard ;  either  poorly played , or 
interpretively perverse  .  The critic may lambaste the performer mercilessly for either taking too many liberties with the music  in Rubato (  flexibility of tempo, spontaneous ,unmarked
accelerating or retarding the tempo ), or  in other cases of lack of flecibility , and  a metronomic approach  . 
 
   Often ,critics have certain favorite old recordings of theirs  which they listen to over and over , which become the benchmark by which they judge a performance of a given work .  But a good critic  should try to be open to different interpretive approaches , and not be dogmatic about how a work should be played .

   A different reviewer at the same performance may say it was the greatest performance of that work he or she had ever heard , and  wax lyrical about  its virtues .  It's the same with reviews of recordings .  I used to read two different  different magazines ,now defunct , which
reviewed new classical recordings .  One was called High Fidelity, and the other Stereo Review .
   Both magazines employed respected  record reviewers  who  were  acknowledged experts .

   When new recordings by such great  conductors  as Karajan, Solti,Bernstein , Boulez ,  and others were released  ,and by great pianists such as Horowitz ,  Ashkenazy ,  Arrau, and others or  famous violinists Perlman  and Zukerman  came out ,  High Fidelity would  often  pan a recording  viciously ,and Stereo Review  would praise it lavishly .  Or vice versa .  Sometimes I agreed , and sometimes not . 
 
  Some critics have beter noirs among conductors ,instrumkentalists or singers, whose work they cannot stand , and they almost always give them the harshest reviews,  often becoming boringly predictable about  this, or favorite ones, living or dead , whose work they almost always
praise  to the skies .  One  has to be wary about  this , because it's all  so subjective .
    There can never be one "definitive " performance or recording of a masterpiece .  No one has a monopoly on the "right" way .

   But  it would  be  a  far less interesting  world if  critics always agreed  on everything !
Posted: Jun 08 2011, 03:42 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Composers Behaving Badly
   Many great composers have lived  colorful  lives as well as  leaving  a precious legacy of great music which  has  enriched the world enormously .  They were  fallible human beings like the rest of us , and  have certainly had their foibles and  character flaws .

   Some were not the most  pleasant people to be around , and some have been guilty of a wide variety  of  less than admirable  actions.  Some have been adulterers, womanizers ,  deadbeats,
misers ,  greedy ,  self-centered, egotistical ,  rude ,  nasty and much much more.  Of course , some have been  genuinely  nice people ,kind, generous ,  amiable,  and  civil .

   But that's not as interesting  as  their  foibles !   Of course , Wagner was a notorious anti-semite , a serial adulterer , probably the worst deadbeat among composers ,  egotistical,
conniving ,  ruthlessly ambitious ,  and  a lover of luxury  provided by  generous people, including
a  mentally uinstable Bavarian  prince who idolized him and his music and  supported him  generously  from the 1860s .   He  committed adultery with the wives of his best friends. Tricky *** Wagner was not the kind of  guy  we talk about  when it comes to "family values" .  He was notorious for  skipping town wherever he was staying to escape his creditors . 

   His  close friend   and son-in-law  , the legendary piano virtuoso and composer  Franz Liszt  appears to have been  a very nice guy  ,generous to a fault with his help of  aspiring young composers  who later became famous ,such as  Edvard Grieg .  According to one story,  a couple of  university  students who  were hoping to get tickets for one of his  legendary piano recitals were unable to do so, and they came to him asking them if he could  help them.  He could not, but he gave them a private performace anyway in his hotel room !

   But he too, was  quite  a womanizer .  Women  swooned  at his  performances  and 
  he  had more affairs than any  Rock star !  

   More than a few composers have been alcoholics ,such as the highly original 19th century
   Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky , who drank himself to death .  Schubert is believed to have died from syphilis  caught from a prostitute .  The  16th century  Italian composer Carlo Gesualdo,famous for the daring harmonies in his madrigals,  is known to  have murdered his wife and  the man  he caught red handed in adultery .

   Beethoven was  the Oscar Madison of music .   He was grouchy ,surly , hard to live with
and  his slovenly appartments (he changed residences often) made Oscar Madison look  positively neat .  Fortunately, he didn't have a Felix Unger  living with him ,  and of course , never  found  a woman willing to marry him .  But otherwise ,  he wasn't really a bad guy .

   Johannes Brahms, also a lifelong bachelor , was notorious for his rudeness . There's a story about  him leaving a party in Vienna by saying  "If there's any one here I haven't offended, 
my apolologies !"  

   Mozart seems to have been something of a weirdo ,  and had  a potty mouth.,  aristocrats  were always marvelling at his  odd behavior in public at  balls .  He was very fond of 
a girl cousin of his, and  wrote her many  lewd and scatalogigal letters .  There are rumors that he may have had an affair with her .  He seems to have been obseesed with  the ruder bodly functions ,  and  loved hunor of the most crude  and indelicate kind .

   The great English composer Benjamin Britten  (1913-1976 ), who was  a homosexual , may or may not have bneen guilty of molesting  young boys .  The avant-garde American composer Henrry Cowell ( 1897 -  1965 )  spent time in prison  on such accusatons . 

   And that's just the tip of the iceberg .  Of course , in the long run ,what really matters
  is their music .  But  you won't be bored reading their biographies !


Posted: Jun 07 2011, 11:29 AM by the horn | with no comments
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Let's Face It ; Classical Music Is Different !
   Now that I've discussed the question of  what classical music is or isn't, I'd like to talk about
what makes it different from the kind of  music people listen to on an everyday basis just for
casual entertainment.  As to the question of whether classical music is "better" or "superior" to other kinds of music, let's not go there . This is a thorny question which  has caused do much
unnecessary friction between devotees of  this or that kind of music .

   First of all , classical music in general is not intended for the kind of casual entertainment which
most people get out of Pop ,Rock , Country , or whatever . It tends to require careful listening
and  real concentration .  Yes, there are simpler, lighter kinds of classical, such as the works
called "Serenades" and "Divertimentos" which 18th century composers such as Haydn, Mozart and  others wrote to make dining more pleasant for aristocrats . 

   But these composers also wrote more complex works, such as their symphonies , concertos,
  operas,  oratorios and Masses  which  are far more complex and requre  careful listening to
  appreciate .   Probably the most famous example of the kind of simple,diverting music for
 aristocrats  is Mozart's serenade for strings, the famous "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik".  The title doesn't mean a little night music in the sense of hearing a little bit of music , Nachtmusik (night music in German, simply means a serenade .The German title simply means "a little serenade".

   Classical works tend to last much longer than  the simple Pop songs most people listen to everday .  A symphony by Mahler or Bruckner ,two great Austrian composers of the 19th and early 20th century , can last well over an hour !   If  you've got ADD and  you're caught in the concert hall  during  one of these ,you're in trouble !   Operas can last even longer,
and usuall have one or two intermissions, depending on the number of acts in any given
one. 

   In terms of harmony and rhythm , classical music is  much more complex than Pop music.
   Instead  of "Three Chords".  the number of possible chords in classical music is
  virtually infinite !   Instead of the simple rhythmic patterns and  steady "beat" of Pop
  music , rhythms in classical music canbe quite complex and highly irregular , particularly
  in  20th century  works  and those which have been written within this  young century .

    Music  is generally  constructed in terms of the number of beats per  measure ; four,three or two .  But  in classical, you  sometimes find  irregular  numbers of beats ,such as  5 or seven,or even more .  Several bars in music make what is called a phrase ;  but in classical music  the number of bars in a phrase  can be irregular ,not just  phrases of two or four bars , again,particularly in 20th century music .

   In classical music , works are not just melodies or tunes ;  the melodies ,often called simply  "themes" or motifs" , are  just the building block of a work .  A symphony is not just
a simple medley of tunes , but  a work carefully built out of a variety of different melodies
which  change and develop within  a work.  Each movement of a symphony contains different themes , although  themes which appear in the first sometimes  reappear in later movements, particularly in 19th and 20th century ones . 

   In order to understand  what is going on in  a symphony , you have to follow how the
   themes  develop and progress through a movement .  The themes  modulate ,that is
  change from the original key to  another one ,  and change rhythmically throughout
 a symphony .  It's rather  like  following the action of a novel or short story , and observing how the characters and situations change through the course of the story .

    All this makes classical music much more mentally challenging to listeners than  other kinds of music .  But if you make the effort to  listen carefully ,  you will  experience  a kind
 of listening pleasure which  Pop  music can never  provide .

   

 
Posted: Jun 06 2011, 03:45 PM by the horn | with no comments
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What Exactly ,Is Classical Music ?
   Good question .  Classical music is not an easy thing to define .  Just as a supreme court justice
once said that it's hard to determine what is pornographic , but you know it when you see it ,
classical music is a pretty vague term . but you know it when you hear it !  Is it Western Classical Music, since the traditional musics of India ,Iran and other non-western nations are sometimes described as "Indian classical music",etc , or  "art music" as some insist on calling it , or what ?

   Another problem is that some experts object to calling  it classical music and insist that this
 applies only to the European concert music written during the so-called  "classical period" of music history circa 1750 to  the 1820s , the time when  Haydn , Mozart and Beethoven flourished.  Picky picky picky .  You could call the music these great composers "music of the classical period .

   To put this term in context , the history of Western Classical Music is usually  divided into these  periods ;  Medieval music ,  from approixmately 1,000 years ago until circa 1400  when  the music of the Renaissance  was written , and then the Baroque period ,which lasted from approximately 1600 to 1750 with the death of J.S. Bach,  the classical period ,
the Romantic period  of the 19th and early 20th, and then 20th century and now 21st century music .

       The term "art music" is problematic , because it's loaded with verbal  baggage.  It sounds too
much like the term "arty" , which  misleads people into thinking that classical music in general is
pretentious and  boring .  So I suppose , the term classical music is here to stay ,because
people generally know that it's music by Mozart ,Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky etc.

   So I suppose that like it or not, the term classical music will have to do. It's what you hear when you go to hear  a symphony orchestra give a concert , or  what is played by string quartets ,  a pianist giving a recital of music by Chopin ,  etc .  Opera is nt really separate
from classical music ,  but an important part of it .

    When you hear the term classical music , you know it's not referring to the Beatles,
 the Rolling Stones,  Michael Jackson , Miles Davis ,  Bob Dylan  or  Heavy Metal ,or  Bluegrass .
Good enough .

  
Posted: Jun 05 2011, 03:47 PM by the horn | with no comments
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The Artistocratic And Elegant Cleveland Orchestra
  The last of the so-called "Big Five " U.S. orchestra to be profiled here is the much-admired
 Cleveland orchestra , which was founded in 1918  but did no0t achieve world fame until  many years later under the legendary and highly demanding  George Szell (1897-1970 ) .  The orchestra's first music director was the now  forgotten Russian conductor Nikolai Sokoloff ,  who was succeeded by Artur Rodzinski  and  Erich Leinsdorf  in  the 1930s and early 40s .  They built the orchestra into a  fine one , but when the Hungaran -born Szell  took over in 1946 , he transormed  it into  an orchestra which became legendary for its amazing  polish  of accuracy , as well as transparency of sound .


   Szell was  one of the most autocratic of conductors , and  dismiised many players who  did not meet  his exacting standards .   Hw was what we would call a control freak today , micromanaging rehearsals  and insisting on  exteme attention to details .  But  critics and  audiences  in Cleveland  and wherever the orchestra  appeared on tour  were  dazzled by  its  virtuosity
  

   Szell made numerous recording in Cleveland  ,including the complete symphonies of Beethoven,  Brahms, Schumann , and selected ones by Haydn ,Mozart ,  Schubert ,  Dvorak,   Tchaikovsky , 
Mahler and Mendelssohn  , as well as other works  by  Bartok, Prokofiev , Hindemith
etc.  which have been greatly admired by critics and record collector for decades  are still available,  for what is now Sony Classical , previously Columbia  and C.B.S. records , and a few for E.M.I. of England  shortly before his death .

   The American  but French born and European based   conductor Lorin Maazel  (1930-)  ,still going strong  at 81 ,  was chosen to succeed  Szell ,  and  spent  the years 1972 to  82  with the orchestra .  Maazel was also  highly demanding  , but  concentrated more on  cultivating  a
 warmer and more colorful sound  for the orchestra ,  which  began to record  for Decca records   with him , and  this warmer sound can be heard  on the  various recordings he made with it , such as  the complete ballet score  to Prokofief's Romeo & Juliet  and  other works  by Debussy , Scirabin ,  Respighi and other composers .

   In  1984 , the distinguished German-born  but half Hungarian  donductor Christoph von
   Dohnanyi , grandson of the  famous Hungarian composer Ernst von Dohnanyi ,  became
    music director in Cleveland  and continued the orchestra's  tradition of highly polished 
   and elegant playing ,  as well as championing  music by a wide variety of  leading  contemporary composers  and the  still controversial music  of  Arnold Schoenberg and his
 puils  Alban Berg and Anton Webern . 

  Dohnanyi  still  performed  the traditional  standards of  the repertoire  and  recorded  the
  complete symphonies  of Beethoven and Brahms  as had been the case with  both Szell and  Maazel , continuing with  Decca records  as well  as for Telarc  records of Cleveland .

    In 2002 ,  the relatively young  Austrian conductor Franz Welser -Most  (1960-) , who had previously been music director of the London Philharmonic  and had  appeared with leading orchestras and opera companies all over  Europe and America  was chosen as  the new music director , and  despite  a cantankerous  music critic in the Cleveland Plain Dealer ,
 the city's leading  newspaper who  was  unhappy with many of his performances  and  was
 later  removed from reviewing the orchestra's concerts  by the paper , his contract has been renewed  to  2017 , and he  has continued to  champion a wide variety of new music
as well as  interesting rarities from the past .

Unfortunately , due to  difficult times for the classical recording  industry , the  orchestra,
like virtually all others  in America , has  ceased making commercial recording   with  any record label , although oneor two live recordings ,such as a Beethoven's 9th have been released on Deutsche Grammophn . 

   Although never music director , the renowned  French composer and conductor  Pierre
   Boulez (1925 -)   has been a regular  guest conductor with the orchestra , and has 
   recorded music by Stravinsky ,Bartok, Berlioz , Debussy ,Ravel  and Messiaen  with the
  orchestra over the years ,with  Sony  and Deutsche grammophon .

     Like all  the  major U.S. orchestras , the Cleveland orchestra  has  had  most  of  the
    20th century's greatest ocnductors  and guests ,  and has toured  all over America ,
    Europe and elsewhere .  It has also had  residencies  at  a  music festival in  Florida in
    recent years .   Other leading conductors who have made recordings  with it include
    Rafael Kubelik ,  Riccardo Chailly , Michael Tilson Thomas ,  Kurt Sanderling,
    and  even Stravinsky  conducting his own music . 

    The Cleveland orchestra remains one  of  America's formemost cultural treasures .

  


 


  
Posted: Jun 04 2011, 11:02 AM by the horn | with no comments
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