September 2011 - Posts
I've been having an interesting argument with some conservatives at a political forum recently about whether the government should support the arts or not,particularly classical music. Naturally, these guys are adamantly opposed to this. They keep trotting out the same old conservatives reasons for opposing this. For example, they don't want the government taking their hard-earned money away to "give musicians jobs". Supposedly, if the classical musicians can't make it on their own, the government has no business bailing them out.
But they are completely missing the point. It's not good for people in ANY field to be losing their jobs,period. Why shouldn't the government help people to keep their jobs,whatever the field ? I asked, how would THEY like it if they lost their jobs, and an enormous number of people in THEIR field also, and other people said that "They don't give a damn?"
Which is exactly what they said when I pointed out that many orchestras and opera companies America are having a very rough time, and more than a few have already gone under.
I also explained that if certain orchestras and opera companies here have gone under,it's not the musician's fault ,and that this is NOT the result of a lack of an audience , but due to the fact that it costs a lot of money to run these organizations . But did they understand what I was trying to say ? No way, Jose. My explanations fell on deaf ears.
It was like arguing with a wall .
But let's face it ; the arts are GOOD for America . They create many,many jobs, or at least can potentially do this . But not if there is little or no help for them, either from the government or the private sector. If our symphony orchestras and opera companies flourish , they help the American economy as a whole to flourish.
They stimulate business and industry . The two , classical music and business, create a synergy , and both
But do conservatives in America, whether politicians, private citizens or commentators get this ? Are you kidding ? They still want to abolish the National Endowment For The Arts, because it supposedly takes an enormous amount of money from honest, hard-working Americans to support "obscene art ".
This is absolute poppycock. That "enormous amount of money" comes out to taking LESS THAN A DOLLAR per year from each taxpayer in America. This is not even chicken feed ! And the purpose of the NEA is to support all kinds of artistic endeavors, including drama,dance, and classical music and more. . The federal budget for U.S. military bands is larger than the pittance the NEA gets.
Of course, many people say that it's the job of private philanthropies to support the arts in America. If only this were the case ! There is some, but nowhere near enough . So the next time you hear some Republican politician in Washington complaining about government support for the arts , why not contact him or her and point out how beneficial the arts are for America, including Classical Music .
Kurt Sanderling , the world-famous German conductor , has died at the venerable age of 98 ,just two days before what would have been his 99th birthday. His long and distinguished career ended only in 2002, when he reitred at the age of 90 , after nearly seven decades conducting the world's greatest orchestras.
Sanderling was born in East Prussia in 1912 , a part of north-eastern Germany which now belongs to Poland to a Jewish family . He studied in Berlin and began working as a rehearsal pianist in German opera companies before beginning a promsing career as a conductor, but when the *** came to power in the 1930s, he fled, not to the west but to the Soviet Union , where he became associate conductor of the Leningrad Philharmonic under the legendary Russian conductor Yevgeny Mravinsky , settling in the former East Germany after the war, where he led the Berlin symphony, not to be confused with the much more famous Berlin Philharmonic ,then in West Berlin ,and built it into a major ensemble .
He also served in the 60s as music director of the August Dresden Staatskapelle . Most of his career was confined to the Eastern bloc until the 1980s, when he began to appear regularly with London's Philharmonia orchestra, beginning at the end of the legndary Otto Klemperer's reign with the orchestra in the early 70s, and throughout Europe and America.
In addition to the traditional Germanic repertoir of Beethoven,Brahms, Schumann, Bruckner and Mahler etc, Sanderling became famous for his authoritative performances of the music of Russian composers such as Shostakovich and Prokofiev, and was a close friend of the latter, whose grim and powerful symphonies he champined.
In America, he formed a close bond with the Los Angeles Philharmonic after his debut with the orchestra in the early 80s , and also appeared with the Cleveland orchestra and New York Philharmonic. Sanderling's recordings of the four Brahms symphonies with the Dresden orchestra from the 70s are considered among the finest of these classic works ever made by many critics, and he also recorded the first Digital set of all nine Beethoven symphonies in the 80s with the Philharmonia. He has also left recordings with such orchestras as the Leningrad(now St.Petersburg) Philharmonic, the Berlin symphony, the Royal Concertgebouw of Amsterdam, the Bavarian Radio symphony of Munich , and other leading orchestras.
Sanderling is one of the last remaining old titans of the podium. His three sons Thomas, Stefan, and Michael are well-known conductors in their own wright . Stefan is currently music director of the Florida orchestra a and Toledo, Ohio symphony, and Michael has just been appointed chief conductor of the Dresden Philharmonic , the other orchestra of that city.
It's not uncommon for people to knock classical music , dismissing it as irrelevant stuff of no value to any one , and something which is "pretentious, stuffy , boring and elitist ". It's perfectly acceptable to do this in society today, but if any one who loves classical music disparages Pop music, or Rock etc, it's a No No and that person is roundly condemned as a "snob" and "elitist"
So if you've discovered the joys of classical music and have been listening to it regularly , how do you respond to people who disparage classical music ? Here are some tips for coming to its defense . 1. Say, "Don't knock it if you haven't tried it ". Yes, many people who know next to nothing about this kind of music and have been brainwashed by myths about it being "elitist" call it this.
2. Ask "Why do so many people all over the world go to concerts and opera all the time ,listen to classical CDs, watch classical DVDs and visit classical websites every day if they thought it was boring ?" 3. Explain that the term "elitist " implies that symphony orchestras and opera companies are trying to exclude people who are not rich and snooty, and that orchestras and opera companies very much want to attract more people to their performances, and have public realtions and community outreach workers who work for them .
4. Explain that when audiences hear a really exciting performance , they respond with enormous enthisiam ,cheers, bravos and noise . Bored people don't do this . They're as excited as sports fans when their team wins !
5. Explain that classical music has existed for centuries . Boring, worthless music does not last this long . The music of Bach, Beethoven,Mozart and other great composers has stood the test of time and still speaks to people all over the world .
6. When people say "Oh classical music - it's just music by "Dead White European Males ". How can any one in this modern day and age be interested in dated garbage like that ? " Say that classical music is a continuum of music by ocmposers living and dead going back centuries, and that there are and have been many women composers , as well as ones from America , Latin America , China,Japan, South Korea a nd other countries , and there are also African-American composers living and dead whose music has been performed .
7. "Opera - it's so ridiculous. Just a bunch of fat people in ridiculous pseudo Viking costumes screaming at each other in an incomprehensible foreign language in front of bored wealthy people who are just there to show off their jewelry and clothes and to see and be seen . " Tell them that this is just a caricature of opera. There are many good looking and believable opera singers today who ca really act . Operas are set in countries all over the world and hostorical periods, as well as the present day. Opera singers wear all kinds of costumes, not just "ridiculous pseudo Viking " ones".
Try these answers the next time you meet some one who knocks classical music . With luck ,you might convince him or her how wrong they are .
On the tenth anniversary of the fateful day when the destruction of the Twin Towers in Manhattan sent the world into a state of shock , the New York Philharmonic will offer a special memorial concert in its home Avery Fisher hall in Lincoln Center . The sole work on the program will be Gustav Mahler's monumental symphony no 2, called the "Resurrection" symphony , for a massive orchestra,chorus and soprano and alto soloists.
The Philharmonic's music director Alan Gilbert is the conductor , and he will lead the Philharmonic and a chorus, plus soloists Dorothea Roschmann and Michelle De Young .
The Mahler symphony consists of five movements , and the apocalyptic finale portrays the awesome judgement day . But the words by the 18th century German poet Friedrich Klopstock reveal that God is far more benign than the Bible suggests , and that all will utlimately enjoy eternal life . The first movement is a somber and agitated, and is entitled "Totenfeier" or funeral rite in German. The music is full of despair and anger at merciless death .
The second is a gentle intermezzo which hearks back to the happier days of life on earth , and the third is a sarcastic and bitter movement based on the melody of one of Mahler's songs, called Saint Anthony of Padua Preaches to the Fishes " . In the song, Saint Anthony goes to a crowd of fish in a lake, and they applaud his stirring sermon . Yet after it, they remain as venal, sinful and hypociritcal as they were before .
The fourth is another song ,sung by the mezzo-soprano sooist, called "Urlicht ", or primeval light . It tells of a wandering soul who is turned away from heaven by an angel , yet who refuses to let the angel deter him . The massive finale, which lasts more than a half hour and features offstage brass choirs , begins with a convulsive expolision from the orchestra - the judgement day has arrived ! The orchestra depicts the horrors of that awesome day woith shattering power . But when the chorus begins to sing exultantly that death has not been in vain and that God has forgiven all , the work ends in pure jubilation .
There are few works in classical music which are as thrilling and inspiring . Don't miss this telecast ,and you can also hear it live on New York's classical radio station WQXR . If you don't live in the New York area, you can hear it over the internet ; just go to WQXR.com for information.
World-famous Metropolitan opera maestro James Levine , who has been beset with severe back trouble and other ailments for several years , has apparently hurt his back again by falling while on vacation, and will have to cancel his performances at the Met unti early next year . Met general manager Peter Gelb has announced that the noted Italian maestro Fabio Luisi ,who was recently appointed the Met's principal guest conductor ,will assume the position of music director .
Levine will not be able to conduct the Met's new production of Mozart's Don Giovanni or the new Siegfried, part of the Met's controversial high tech new production of Wagner's Ring of the Nibelungen , and Luisi will conduct these . Luisi has had to cancel a number of concerts and opera performances in Italy and Austria , where he is principal conductor of the Vienna symphony orchestra, not to be confused with the more famous Vienna Philharmonic .
Levine has spent the last 40 years at the Met , and his accomplishments with America's foremost opera company have become legendary . He has raised musical standards there to unprecedented heights ,not that there had not been many great performances there previously .But the overall level of performances, at least on a purely musical level, has probably never been so consistently high there.
He built the Met orchestra , which could play very well fitfully in the past , into one of the world's greatest , and initiated a series of orchestral concerts with them at Carnegie hall and on tour . He has brought great conductors such as Riccardo Muti,Daniel Barenboim,Lorin Maazel , Simon Rattle, Christoph Eschenbach, Valery Gergiev, Carlos Kleiber, Seiji Ozawa, Esa-Pekka Salonen and others to conduct at the Met, and fostered the development of many promising young opera singers and helped t propel them to international success .
Levine has greatly broadened the Met's repertoire , with such operatic masterpieces as Mozart's Idomeneo,La Clemenza Di Tito, Benvenuto Cellini by Berlioz, Arnold Schoenberg's Moses & Aron, Berg's Lulu, Kurt Weill's Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny , Dvorak's Rusalka, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk and The Nose by Shostakovich , War and Peace and The Gambler by Prokofiev, Verdi's I Vespri Siciliani , I Lombardi ,Stiffelio and Attila , Rossini's Armida , Le Comte Ory and La Cenerentola .amd Janacek's Katya Kabanova, The Makropoulos Case, and From the House of the Dead .
There have also been world or Met premieres of such important contemporary operas as Nixon in China and Doctor Atomic by John Adams, Satyagraha and The Voyage by Philip Glass , The Ghosts of Versailles by John Corigliano , An American Tragedy by Tobias Picker , The Great Gatsby by John Harbison , and The First Emperor by Chinese -born composer Tan Dun .
There have also been revivals of many operas which the Met had not done for many decades ,such as Mussorgsky's Khovanshchina , Rossini's Semiramide , Smetana's The Bartred Bride , Hamlet by Ambroise Thomas , Donizetti's La Favorita and others.
So let's all wish maestro Levine a speedy recovery and hope that the Boston symphony will be able to find an outstanding conductor to succeed him as soon as possible now that he has been forced to resign from that renowned orchestra .
If you have collected classical recordings for many years ,and follow new releases , you can't help but notice that the entire classical recording industry has changed vastly from the past . For a variety of reasons , things just aren't what they used ot be.
No longer do the world's top orchestras regularly issue recordings of the standard repertoire and other works made under studio conditions, that is, without an audience and put together from a variety of takes and carefully edited for release for the most part. Top U.S. orchestras ,such as the New York Philharmonic,the Boston Symphony, the Cleveland and Philadelphia Orchestras, and the Chicago Symphony once had lucrative recording contracts with such leading record labels as Decca, EMI , R.C.A. , C.B.S. records (now Sony Classical) and Deutsceh Grammophon.
Every year, under their music directors and sometimes under guest conductors, they would produce a steady stream of new recordings . But all this has changed. None of these orchestras now makes such commerical recordings or has a contract with a record label, although they have issued a handful of live recordings for them here and there. It's just too expensive to produce such recordings , and few of them are best-sellers.
However, the Boston,Chicago and San Francisco orchestras have been releasing a number of their live performances on their own private record labels , as well as European orchestras such as Amsterdam's Royal Concertgebouw orchestra and the London Symphony . In countries such as Germany ,Poland and Switzerland etc, some independent record labels , for example, Chandos, CPO and others are able to make studio recordings , often of interesting off-beat repertoire ,with those countries radio symphony orchestras in various European cities ,because costs are much lower than in the U.S.
Leading record labels such as EMI,Decca, Sony Classical, Deutsche Grammophon etc have pretty much ceased making studio recordings of complete operas ; these are much too expensive to make and often don't sell very well. They already have enormous catalogues of a wide variety of operas made under studio conditions, some of which are considered classics. They occaisionally release live recordings of operas now. But the big thing in opera today is DVDs of live performances of operas from all over Europe and America, and these labels have issued many, as well as classical DVD companies which do not make sound recordings but specialize in DVDs.
Most of today's leading conductors do not have have contracts with a label , and make them on a freelance basis. There are a few exceptions, such as the Los Angeles Philharmonic's young dynamo Gustavo Dudamel, who has been recording for Deutsche Grammophon for about five years now.
The Netherland's once presitigious Philips records has ceased releasing anything new, but has an enormous back catatlogue, and Decca records, which is part of a conglomeration with Philips and Deutsche Grammophon, has been reissuing many Philips recordings as Decca releases, oftenat bargain prices .
There are encouraging reports of an increase in the sales of classical recordings, but they are still only a very small part of CD sales overall . There are an unprecendented number of smaller independent classical record labels, and they have given the giants, such as Decca,EMI, Sony, D.G. and R.C.A. a lot of competition .
But for classical CD collectors , things have never been better in many ways. They can choose from a bewildering variety of repertoire ranging from music by composers from the Renaissance and earlier to works by contemporary composers . They are not limited to the same old beloved works of Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, Mozart, Tchaikovsky and Brahms, but can hear music by countless different composers living and dead.
There are countless different symphonies, concertos, miscellaneous orchestral works, operas, oratorios, chamber works and piano pieces etc which had never been recorded before ,or which had had very few recordings previously . It's an embarassment of riches .