June 2011 - Posts
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 .
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 .
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 .
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 .
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 .
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 .
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 .
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 .
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.
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 &%$#@*
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 .
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
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 !
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 !
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
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 .
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 .
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 .
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