November 2011 - Posts
It's almost holiday season , and once again , I'd like to remind people that classical CDs and DVDs can make wonderful Christmas and holiday gifts . And they're a great way to encourage more people to make classical music a part of their lives .
Instead of the same old ties and sweaters for Christmas , how about giving your loved ones the gift of classical music for the holidays ? If you have children ,grandchildren ,nieces or nephews who have reached the age of say, 10 - 13 , why not use gifts of classical CDs and DVDs to introduce them to classical music ?
When they open their gifts , tell them that classical music is awesome !
For a starter , you might give some one the classic DG CD of the Beethoven 5th and 7th symphonies with the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by the late , great Carlos Kleiber , or colorful descriptive works such as
Debussy's La Mer, Mussorgsky's Pictures At An Exhibition , Ravel's Daphnis & Chloe ballet music ,
Richard Strauss tone poems such as Tilll Eulenspiegel , Don Juan, Also Sprach Zarathustra and Ein Heldenleben , Smetana's The Moldau , Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherezade , etc. Recordings by such great conductors as Herbert von karajan , Leonard Bernstein , Sir Georg Solti , James Levine, Valery
Gergiev , Riccardo Muti , Lorin Maazel , Andre Previn , Sir Simon Rattle , Leonard Slatkin , Clauidio Abbado, Daniel Barenboim etc are reliable choices .
Or piano concertos by Rachmaninov , Tchaikovsky , Chopin , Liszt , Mozart and Beethoven ,
symphonies by Dvorak , Rachmaninov , Beethoven, Tchakovsky , etc. Violin concertos by
Tchaikovsky, Beethoven , Mendelssohn , and Sibelius etc. Horn concertos by Mozart .
For operas , on either CD or DVD , Puccini's La Boheme ,Tosca ,Madama Butterfly and Turandot ,
or Verdi's Rigoletto ,La Traviata , Il Trovatore , and Aida , Mozart's The Magic Flute , Don Giovanni or
The Marriage Of Figaro , Hansel &Gretel by the original and real Engelbert Humperdinck (ideal for kids),
Beethoven's Fidelio , Offenbach's The Tales Of Hoffmann , The Bartred Bride by Smetana ,
Yevgeny Onegin by Tchaikovsky , Boris Godunov by Mussorgsky , etc.
You can't go wrong with the DVDs from performances taped at Metropolitan opera performances ,
and for CDs , with recordings by such great singers as Joan Sutherland, Luciano Pavarotti,
Marilyn Horne,Placido Domingo , Renee Fleming etc . It's best to get complete opera recordings which have a booklet with the original libretto and an English translation plus the synopsis,; not all do .
These books are excellent introductions to classical music and fine gifts : The Essential Canon Of Classical Music by David Dubal , and Classical Music 101 by Fred Plotkin . Someday , some one may be grateful that you gave them the gift of classical music this way . You never know !
Decca records has recently released a new set of all nine Beethoven symphonies by the distinguished Italian conductor Riccardo Chailly , with the august Gewandhaus orchestra of Leipzig ,Germany , of hwich he is currently the chief conductor . So what else is new ? There are countless sets of the Beethoven symphonies on the market , and quite a few which are out of print . Plus who knows how many which were recorded individually , not as complete sets.
Virtually every great conductor of the 20th century and the present one has recorded them , not always complete . There are complete sets by such legendary names as Toscanini, Bruno Walter, Szell, Karajan ,Solti
Bernstein , Klemperer, Furtwangler,Solti , Karl Boehm , Willem Mengelberg , and others who did not record all nine , such as Stokowski , Carlos and Erich Kleiber (father and son), plus more recent ones by such eminent living or recently deceased maestros as Abbado , Muti, Gardiner , Mackerras , Norrington , Zinman, Barenboim,
Dohnanyi, Haitink, Harnoncourt , Rattle, and others .
If you're looking for them complete or individually , where do you begin ? The selection is bewilderingly large .
Do you want a recording by legendary maestros of the past despite the dated recorded sound , or a recent one with
clear and vivid digital sound ? Do you want a recording on the instruments of the period , which have been revived in recent years by certain specialist orchestras , or one with one of the great mainstream orchestras of Vienna, Berlin, Dresden,Leipzig, New York, Chicago , Amsterdam etc ?
And further , is it really necessary for so many conductors to record the Beethoven symphonies ? There are so many of them. Some of them must be superfluous . The late Herbert von karajan recoorded the nine no fewer than FOUR times in his long and illustrious career , the last one in digital sound . These sets range from the 1950s to the 80s.
The answer is yes and no . Maybe there are too many recordings, but it's important that we have documentation about how the various conductors have interpreted these timeless masterpieces of the decades ranging from the very first recording of the fifth by the legendary Artur Nickisch (1855- 1922)
nearly a century ago , in antiquated acoustical sound , before the invention of electrical recordings in the 1920s to such prominent living conductors as Chailly , Thielemann, Rattle , and even Gustavo Dudamel , who is only 30 years old , a baby by the standards of conductorial longevity .
The same is true of the symphonies of other great composers such as Haydn, Mozart , Schubert, Schumkann, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Dvorak , Tchaikovsky , Bruckner ,Mahler , Sibelius, and Shostakovich and others . There are countless complete sets of their symphonies plus individual ones .
Again , we need documentation of the way different conductors have performed them over the years .
But the good thing is that if you're a collector of classical CDs , you're not limited to these famous established orchestral masterpieces . You can also get recordings of rarely performed yet wonderful symphonies by composers such as Nikolai Myaskovsky , Franz Berwald , Franz Schmidt, Arnold Bax , Havergal Brian , Carl Nielsen , Karol Szymanowski , Albert Roussel , Alberic Magnard, Vincent D'Indy,
Sergei Taneyev, George Whitelfield Chadwick , Zdenek Fibich , Alexander von Zemlinsky ,
Paul Dukas , Carlos Chavez , Gheorghe Enescu , Alexander Glazunov , and so many other composers who are not household names but definitely worth exploring . Classical CD purchasers have never had it so good !
I just wasn't like most kids , who listen to Rock or Pop music from their earliest yeas because that's what they're surrounded by . In fact , I wasn't even particularly musical until I entered my teen years . I had taken guitar lessons as a kid , and when I was nine , the band director at my elementary school on Long Island was
trying kids out on different instruments to see if they had any aptitude ,as he was looking for new kids for his band .
He gave me a French horn and tried me out , and lo and behold , he noticed that I seemed to have a natural aptitude for this very difficult instrument and and an inborn musicality as well . I made swift progress on the instrument , and continued playing it throughout junior and senior high school , playing in the band and orchestra , as well as the band and orchestra taken from the best kids in the whole school district .
But something happened when I was about 13 - I discovered classical music through large collection of
classical LPs in my local library . I had already heard a recording of Wagner's Das Rheingold which a relative had , and became fascinated by the cool mythological plot of the opera , and Wagner's thrilling music , and
that was the start of my lifelong love affair with the music of Wagner .
I began to take classical LPs out of my library , and discovered the music of not only Wagner , but other giants such as Mozart, Beethoven ,Brahms , Berlioz , Schumann , and many other composers . There were a wide variety of complete operas on LP , and I discovered that they came with booklets with original libretto plus an English translation . This was the beginning of my lifelong love of opera .
Now I knew just what the characters were saying , and I became familiar with Italian, French , German , and even Czech , which was stimulated my lifelong fascination with language and linguistics .
For a foreign language in junior and senior high school , I took German , and when I started to learn this language in class , I was already fairly familiar with the language and had a good idea of how to pronounce it .
I also began to take books on classical music out from the library , and devoured all the information I could get on the great composers , as well as great conductors ,orchestras , opera singers ,pianists,violinists and other musicians . I was a classical music and opera freak now , and many other kids in school thought I was more than a little bit weird because I would talk to them about opera etc .
When I mentioned in class to an English teacher that I was an opera fan when the class was discussing music , he looked at me as though he had just seen an alien !
The other kids may have thought I was weird , but I didn't care ! Classical music was now my life.
I've never regretted it .
Continuing my discussion of how orchestras sound , and the controversy over them allegedly all sounding alike , it should be remembered that major orchestras with year-long seasons play an extremely wide variety of repertoire, ranging from music by Bach,Handel , Haydn,Mozart , Beethoven and Schubert etc, to the latest works by living composers .
This extremely diverse repertoire covers a vast range of music from different periods , nationalities and styles
ranging from the 18th century to the present day . Orchestras today also play music by composers of many different nationalities ; German, Austrian, French , American, Russian, Czech , Polish , Hungarian ,
Scandinavian and other European countries, and even ones from China, Japan, South Korea and Latin America .
So an orchestra has to be very versatile and flexible, changing its sound and style of playing from week to week, and even within one program . It should not have a one-size-fits-all sound and style which it applies indiscriminately to all kinds of music . Mozart and Haydn should not sound like Wagner and Brahms ; Richard Strauss should not sound like Debussy , Berlioz should not sound like Shostakovich etc. Orchestras and conductors should also have enough knowledge to play baroque music so that it does not sound like Rachmaninov .
In Wagner , for example or Brahms, Bruckner, Mahler and Richard Strauss, the brass should have a rich , dark ,powerful yet never coarse or raucous sound . But the ideal brass sound for French music ,
Debussy and Ravel, in particular, is quite different ; a much thinner and more transparent sound , with a fair amount of vibrato allowed . But that kind of vibrato is absolutely wrong for the German and Austrian composers .
Traditionally in the 20th century , Russian brass players also use considerable vibrato , but with a much more powerful and even raucous sound which is appropriate for Russian composers such as Prokofiev and Shostakovich . So a Russian orchestra will have the ideal sound for Russian music,
a German or Austrian orchestra such as the Vienna Philharmonic will have the ideal sound for German music , and a French orchestra will have the ideal sound for French music.
For Czech music , the Czech Philharmonic of Prague has the ideal sound for Czech composers such as Dvorak,Smetana, Janacek and Martinu . It's difficult to describe in exact words, but when this orchestra plays Czech music , it sounds Czech .
Of course it's virtually impossible to get every orchestra to have the absolutely right sound for each composer and national style , but conductors and orchestra should strive to come as close as possible to getting the sound and style as close as possible to what is appropriate for the music . In some cases, brass and woodwind players use different makes of instruments at different concerts to try to adapt to the music .
In some ways , this is rather like the way a skillful actor can do different accents depending on the nationality of the character . You don't want an American actor who is playing the role of some German or Austrian aristocrat to use his native Brooklyn accent ! This is why an orchestra should be as changeable as a chameleon .
For the past thirty years or so , many music critics and other experts (or so-called experts), have been complaining that all or most of today's orchestras sound alike , and long for the "good old days" when different orchestras had their own immediately identifiable "sounds" . Supposedly , there has been an internationalized homogenization of the way different orchestras sound , and the differences between German, French , Russian, Czech, English and American orchestras has disappeared, perhaps never to return .
But this is a myth . It's absolutely impossible for orchestras to sound alike , as they consist of different musicians playing different makes of instruments in concert halls with different acoustics . To my ears , the Berlin Philharmonic , the London symphony, the New York Philharmonic, the Vienna Philharmonic, the Czech Philharmonic and other great orchestras do not sound alike at all .
How did the myth of internationalized homogenization come about ? My guess is that it's a psychological illusion based on the knee-jerk assumption that everything was "better" in the past of classical music .
Classical "declinists" are dime a dozen . They've been complaining about how standards of musical interpretation and musical interpretive flair have been declining ever since I became a classical music lover over 40 years ago in my early teens !
Another myth is the notion that "absentee music directors" of the world's great orchestras have led to all or most orchestras sounding the same . Supposedly , great conductors of the past who spent so many years building great orchestras ,such as Stokowski in Philadelphia, Szell in Cleveland and Ormandy in Philadelphia, for example , and they saw to it that their orchestras had "distinctive" sounds.
Today, music directors supposedly jet all over the world guest conducting other orchestras , so they have failed to maintain their orchestra's distinctive sounds. But this is a myth . Today, top orchestras have very long seasons, from September through May , and many have Summer residencies at music festivals, such as the Boston symphony in Tanglewood . It's impossible for one conductor to be there every week of the season . In the past , many top U.S. orchestras had much shorter seasons, so the music director could spend a larger chunk of it with his orchestra .
Certain great European orchestras such as the Vienna Philharmonic still use unusual makes of instruments which give their orchestras a distinctive sound. Outside of Austria, for example, no orchestra uses the Viennese horn , which has a different construction and valve system .
American and German oboists have totally different timbres . Many Americans do not like the German oboe sound at all , finding it unpleasantly reedy . Chances are that a German oboe player would never win an audition for an American orchestra .
Then there's the difference between the overall sound of an orchestra and the timbre of its individual instruments . The great Italian conductor Riccardo Muti, for example , when music director of the famously plush -sounding Philadelphia orchestra during the 80s after decades of plauying under the late Eugene Ormandy , was harshly criticized by many critics for having "destroyed" the orchestra's distinctive plush sound , as he preferred a leaner more sinewy sound . But he did not change the actual timbre of the orchestra's woodwind and brass sections, so the orchestra didn't actually "sound" different . To my ears from the recordings Muti and the Philadelphia made, the orchestra still sounded fine .
Often an orchestra's sound will change over the years as its personnel changes with principal players retiring . A music director sometimes chooses principal wood wind and brass players who sound different from their predecessors . But no matter how much the sound of an individual orchestra may change over the years , different orchestras around the world will always sound markedly different .
Despite the terribly difficult economic situation in Europe , the German government has decided to increase its already generous funding for the arts by 50 million Euros , to the approval of all political factions , right and left .
(what Europe calls right is pretty liberal by American standards !) .
This is wonderful news for Germany , but a wake up call for the U.S. government , although it will no doubt be unheeded by by the philistines of the Republican party . It's absolutely disgraceful that the U.S. government provides such a paltry amount of help fr the arts in America , and classical music in particular bears the brunt of its stinginess . The government takes less than a dollar from each individual taxpayer to support the arts , and this munificent sum amount to about 140 million dollars , less than it takes to support the
disastrous and futile Iraq war for ONE DAY !
And there are many Republican politicians in Washington and other prominent conservative leaders who want to abolish the National Endowment For The Arts . But here is what one of Germany's leading politicians said
about the increased aid for the arts in Germany , and since I know German well ,here is my translation :
" What lasts is culture . Whether it is the cathedral of Cologne , the folk songs of our nation ,
Goethe's Faust , this Parliament building or Beethoven's Ode To Joy , culture is what actually remains and lasts . It is the foundation of our society . It gives people orientation and identity , and
fosters the courage to live and joy in living . This is why it is appropriate to discuss it in the council
chamber . It belongs here ."
If only we had more American politicians like this ! You can read about this story at artsjournal.com .
December is around the corner , and the Saturday afternoon Metropolitan opera broadcasts are about to
begin with Handel's Rodelinda , starring Renee Fleming . The broadcasts can be heard on radio stations around the U.S. through the end of the season . If none of your local radio stations carry these broadcasts you can hear them on the internet at the website of wqxr, wqxr.com or on metplayer.org .
The gorgeous American mezzo-soprano Joyce Di Donato is on the cover , and Opera News features editor
interviews her . She will be one of the starts of the Met's new production of the artificially constructed opera "The Enchanted island" , based on Shakespeare's The Tempest , and put together from a variety of opera arias by such great baroque composers as Handel ,Rameau and others .
Musicologist Ellen Rosand , an expert on baroque opera , discusses the new production . This is an example of a baroque "Pasticcio" , or an artificial opera made by cannibalizing music by a variety of different composers
rather like the Frankenstein monster ! Renowned countertenor David Daniels is also interviewed . In case you're new to opera , countertenors are male singers who are trained to sing operatic roles too high for the normal male voice in falsetto . This may sound strange at first to you at first , but it's easy to get accustomed to this kind of singing .
Pianist and opera expert William R. Braun has an interesting article which gives advice for young,
aspiring opera singers on which arias to choose for entering vocal competitions , which are one of
the main ways of launching operatic careers . Another interesting article is by James M. Keller,
program annotator for the New York Philharmonic , who discusses how many operatic and classical music terms are commonly misused by people .
Each of the broadcast operas for the month has a list of the cast, conductors, directors and designers etc, plus a synopsis and interesting background information about the operas and the composers.
In addition to Rodelinda , the December broadcasts include the new production of Gounod's Faust,
Puccini's Madama Buitterly , and Donizetti's La Fille Du Regment (The daughter of the regiment).
The magazine's roving opera reviewers have reviews of recent performances from the Met, including the new production of Donozetti's Anna Bolena , Offenbach's Tales of Hoffmann from the Chicago Lyric opera , the world premiere of Heart Of A Soldier by Christopher Theofanidis from the San Francisco opera, which is based on a true story about the 9/11 catastrophe , as well as performances from Vienna , Zurich, Stockholm and London .
The new live recording of Rossini's monumental opera William Tell from Rome is reviewed in the CD review section , as well as a new recording of Donizetti's rarely performed Linda Di Chamonix from London, and aria recitals by such top stars as Anna Neterbko , Rene Pape, and Angela Gheorghiu .
DVD reviews of live performances include the new opera Anna Nicole by English composer Mark Anthony Turnage , which believe it or not is based on the life of the late Anna Nicole Smith !
Plus Wagner's Flying Dutchman, from not inappropriately , the Netherlands opera ,and Janacek's Jenufa from the Madrid opera .
There are reviews of three interesting new books ; one about opera fans in Argentina , home of the world-famous Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires, a book about the last years of Sergei Prokofiev ,when he returned to the Soviet Union after many years of living in Europe and America , causing him to run afoul of the conservative musical tastes of Stalina dn the Communist party , and a study of opera in the novels of such great french writers as Balzac, Proust and others .
For more information on the broadcasts and the Met's HD broadcasts in movie theaters , check
Composers, music critics, musicologists ,performers and fans are forever arguing over how music should or should not be interpreted . In many ways , this is similar to the way politicians , pundits , commentators and private citizens in America are forever arguing over the interpretation of the U.S. Constitution .
In classical music , there are those who insist on strict observance of the composer's directions in the written music , and those who believe that musicians should be allowed considerable leeway in realizing those written instructions . In other words, the strict observation of the founding father's "original intentions" (whatever those were), or a "living constitution". The problem is that the written music can only tell the musician so much ; there is plenty of room for the performer to personalize the music .
If you look at the score of any orchestral work or opera, or other music such as that written for the piano and chamber music etc , you will see all manner of written instructions . Not just the notes, but indications ,usually in Italian but not always , or how fast or slow to play a work, the dynamics (loudness and softness ),
indications for the kind of expressive character of the music , speeding up and slowing down (accelerando and
ritardando in Italian , and much more .
In general , the older the music , the fewer the written instructions . For example , in the music of Bach , which comes from the first half of the 18th century, there is generally not much information about those
parameters I've just mentioned . But if you excamine the score of a symphony of Mahler, whose music was written in the late 19th and early 20th century, there is an enormous amount of specific detail as to how to perform the music , even paragraphs with special instructions . One wag said that "The only written instruction you don't find in a Mahler symphony is ' no smoking' !
But there are other things that can't be written out exactly , such as "rubato", or stolen time in Italian , or using subtle flexibility of tempo for expressive effect . The composer will sometimes ask for the performer or conductor to speed up or slow down , but rubato is much more subtle .
What's appropriate in the music of one composer or period may not be appropriate for that of another composer or time . Musicians are always talking about "the composer's intentions", but those are not necessarily written in stone, and composer do change their minds . Sometimes performers will add nuances not actually specified by the composer, but yet the composers approved of these anyway.
In other cases , performers have gone over the top and committed the musical equivalent of painting a mustache on the Mona Lisa, and the composers were outraged . Composers have often conducted or played their own music , and quite a few recordings by the composers themselves have been made over the years, those this gives musicians clear guidelines . But even they have been known to play their music differently at different times, with faster or slower tempi, for example .
Tempo, or the rate of speed at which a piece is performed , is one of the most controversial issues in classical music . If you listen to different recordings of say, any given Beethoven symphony , not all use the same rates of speed , and there is considerable difference from one recording to another . Timings for a long symphony by Bruckner or Mahler can differ by as much as ten minutes or so from conductor X or Y .
But what tempo or tempi are the right ones for any given work ? There are no easy answers .
Beethoven, who was very concerned about performers getting what he felt were the right tempi for his works , used the then recent invention of the metronome to give performers guidelines so that performances would not be either too slow or too fast . But even he is knwon to have changed his mind .
Sometimes musicians have been known to play music at perversely wrong tempi , usually too slow , although sometimes to fast . The great German conductor Otto Klemperer (1885 - 1973 ) is known to
have performed some works by Beethoven and other composers in an extremely slow and ponderous , if undeniably majestic manner , in his old age , mainly because of his many health problems . In his earlier years , his performances were said to have been full of impetuous energy .
Perhaps you could say the the score is the Constitution for the performer , but like interpretation of the Constitution , the controversies will never end . But it would be terribly boring if every performance of the same work were identical . Fortunately , there is no likelihood of this ever
This morning I received an e mail from classical music blogger A. C. Douglas , who might be called the Andy
Rooney of classical music telling me that my story about how the *** played the music of Wagner constantly to the inmates of the concentration camps was a myth . I don't know if this is the case , but it certainly sounds like something the *** might have done to torment them .
A.C.'s blog soundsandfury.com frequently discusses Wagner and regularly excoriates Eurotrash directors and stage designers for their outrageous travesties of Wagner's operas , and is always thought-provoking and stimulating even if you don't agree with him .
Still , it's understandable that many Jews and even non-Jews are disturbed by Wagner's music because of all the baggage attached to it . Indian-born conductor Zubin Mehta , who has been closely associated with the Israel Phiilharmonic for decades and is its music director for life , and Argentinian-born pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim , a regular guest conductor , have come to grief trying to perform Wagner
at concerts in Israel with the orchestra because of the public outcry .
Many people read Nazism into Wagner's magnum opus , the monumental four opera cycle "The Ring Of The Nibelungen " , which is based on Norse and Germanic mythology , and which features
the Germanic gods, goddesses , evil dwarfs who dwell inside the earth , water nixies, giants, Valkyries
and superheroes . Plus a magic sword, and a helmet which enables one to become invisible or change into other shapes .
But they fail to realize that far from glorifying these gods and superheroes and showing their triumph over the Jews, the Ring shows how Wotan , chief of the gods , and the others characters are destroyed by lust for power and riches . The Ring is a story of all against all , and how the struggle to win the magic ring made of the gold of the Rhine which confers absolute power on its owner destroys the gods and the other characters . It ends with the so-called "Twilight Of The Gods". or Gotterdammerung . It seems that Hitler never realized that Wagner's Ring Of The Nibelungen predicted his own catastrophic downfall .
People are strange creatures . They do things for the most irrational reasons . Among them are hating or shunning the music of a particular composer because of the kind of person he or she was . Some people are so blinded by their disapproval of composer X or Y as a person that they hate the music or even shuin it altogether .
The composer most hated and or shunned is without a doubt Richard Wagner , most controversial composer
of all time . A notorious Anti-Semite , womanizer , serial adulterer ,deadbeat and megalomaniac . Yet he wrote some of the most breathtakingly beautiful , powerful and inspired music ever written .
To make matters worse , he was idolized by Adolf Hitler . But is this Wagner's fault ? And did he actually share the same insanely bigoted and murderous beliefs as Hitler ? It turns out he didn't . Yes, he disliked Jews , and even wrote a notorious lengthy essay called "Judaism In Music" , which says some rather nasty things about Jews , mainly about their supposed inability to create great and original art and music .
But did Wagner advocate genocide against the Jews or any one else ? He did not . He had a low opinion of them , but he was no Hitler . And as the old cliche goes , "some of his best friends were Jews ".
Wagner had many Jewish friends and associates ,including the once famous German-Jewish conductor Hermann Levi , whom he chose to conduct the premiere of his last opera Parsifal at the Bayreuth festival in 1882 , simply because he realized Levi's great ability as a conductor . And the son of a
Rabbi , no less !
Ever since the founding of Israel in 1948 , the music of Wagner has been unofficially banned there .
The Israel opera has never performed any of the Wagner operas , and the Israel Philharmonic's rare attempts to perform Wagner orchestral excerpts have met with loud audience disapproval .
This is I suppose understandable , as some Israelis have been holocaust survivors who were subject
to the *** constantly playing Wagner recordings at the concentration camps , and hearing the music brings back horribly painful memories for them . Yet some of the greatest Wagner conductors of the 20th century and the present day are or have been Jews , such as the late Sir Georg Solti , James Levine and Daniel Barenboim .
The problem is that Hitler read so many things into Wagner that simply are not there . There are no Jewish characters in his operas , no discussions of Jews and Judaism , and not a single Anti-Semitic statement can be found in any of the librettos . Some critics and musicologists have read Anti-Semitism into the plots and characters , but this has all been highly tendentious .
And Wagner was hardly the only composer to have been guilty of Anti-Semitism . Ironically , the two most popular composers in Israel , Chopin and Tchaikovsky , were both anti-Semites !
Some people ,such as a friend of mine , shun certain composers for an even less valid reason , merely because they were homosexual . The best known example of this is Tchaikovsky , and my friend
won't touch his music because he was gay .
But this is true of many famous composers, living and dead , such as Aaron Copland,
Leonard Bernstein , Benjamin Britten , Virgil Thomson , Michael Tippett , Ned Rorem ,Samuel Barber,
Francis Poulenc and Hans Werner henze , to name only a handful . So what ? Why can't people just
listen to their music purely as music ?
Composers are fallible creatures like the rest of us . They have been guilty of being nasty people,
mean-spirited , greedy , envious and jealous , prejudiced , adulterers , less than admirable parents ,
and other common human failings . But it's their music that counts !
I still need 94 more signatures to reach the goal of 100 at change.org , in order to get things going for my petition to get government help to keep America's many struggling symphony orchestras and opera companies alive . Just go to change.org, look under my name, Robert Berger , to access the petition .
We can't just sit there while the livelihoods of so many fine American classical musicians are threatened !
Something has to be done . Since my first post on the petition, the Dallas symphony has joined the sad list of struggling American orchestras . This is a major orchestra with a distinguished tradition .
What orchestra or opera company will be next ? Thanks for your support . And please tell your friends and
make them aware of the classical music crisis in America .
Oh to be the conductor of an orchestra ! What a glamorous profession ! You stand on stage, front and center
in your tuxedo , and wave your hands around ,usually with a baton , and all of a sudden , a hundred musicians
begin to produce magnificent sounds . People love and adore you (not always) , and you have limitless
But the job is much,much more complex than that . It requires years of rigorous training in harmony,counterpoint , composition , learning to play at least one instrument proficiently , and so much more .
You have to have a mind-boggling amount of knowledge and technical skill . You have to be a born leader ,
a coach , psychologist , have the skill of a diplomat and often to be a kind of musical politician . The job is physically very tiring , and you get an enormous amount of aerobic exercise beating time , and this is very tiring . You have to be as observant as a hawk and have incredibly sharp ears . You have to be a master at dealing with people tactfully .
You have to be able to decipher orchestral and operatic scores , which can often have twenty or thirty or more different lines of music going on simultaneously . The individual musicians are responsible for their individual parts , but you have to know every one's part from the score ! And you must constantly be learning new works . It's necessary to have a thorough knowledge of the many different instruments in the orchestra , strings,wood wind,brass, percussion etc , and to be able to detect when anything is wrong at a rehearsal ,such as problems with intonation (playing in tune) , to be able to balance the different sections of the orchestras so that everything can be heard clearly , and be able to win the
musician's respect , which is far from easy .
You see , the musicians don't worship you the way audiences might . They are very hard to please ,
and if you don't know what you're doing , they will see through you instantly , and give you a very hard time at rehearsals . They have been known to make deliberate mistakes , such as playing wrong notes
to see if you can detect them and deliberately play some notes out of tune ,etc if you're new to them .
If you come across as incompetent at rehearsals, you're not going to be invited back to conduct them again . Conducting opera is in many ways even tougher than orchestral conducting . Here, you have to deal with often tempermental singers , a chorus ,sometimes a ballet , plus the director of the opera, who has the same job as the director of a stage play . It's like controlling a three ring circus ! Anything can go wrong during a performance , and you have to be able to deal with whatever happens .
You have to keep up with the latest developments in musicological research , and constantly study and restudy the scores . You are often under constant attack by music critics who may be hostile to your conceptions of this or that work or disapprove of your choice of repertoire. No wonder an eminent musicologist once described conductors as "Generals on the battlefield of music " !
At artsjournal.com , blogger ,critic and composer Greg Sandow has a discussion about diversity in classical music , or the lack of it . Of course, diversity is a controversial issue in America , and a bone of contention .
There is always some one who is complaining about the supposed lack of women ,blacks, Hispanics or Asian-Americans in this or that field .
Especially the supposedly "lily-white" field of classical music . Sandow laments the scarcity of blacks in
America's hundreds of orchestras , as well as conductors and soloists etc ,not to mention the scarcity of
blacks who regularly attend concerts and opera etc .
But is this the result of outright racism ? The answer is no . The fact remains that there have never been a
substantial number of blacks who have gone in for the necessary training to become classical musicians and
aimed at careers in the field . No one and nothing in America is trying to exclude blacks from becoming successful classical musicians .
As I've pointed out before here , when any American orchestra has a vacancy for a position , auditions are held behind a screen to prevent any possibility of discrimination based on race or gender . The audition committee , that is the members of the orchestra who listen to the applicants play and judge them, cannot see if you are black or female . Each applicant is given a number so that the committee has no idea who you are . Applicants are asked not to say anything in front of the committee , so they cannot tell if you are make or female . The orchestra's personnel director , one of whose jobs is to supervise the auditions, is next to you , and if you need to ask any question, you can whisper to him .
The finals are out in the open, but by that time , there are usually only about four or five applicants are
left out of as many as 200 ! The audition committee is not really interested in an applicant's skin color . The only thing that matters is how you play . And whenever there is an opening in an orchestra , the chances are that no blacks will apply in the first place . But if there are any , they should not feel discouraged from trying, because their chances of getting the job will be no worse than any one else's .
So if there are any young aspiring blacks who love classical music and have real talent on an orchestral instrument, and no doubt there are some, there is no reason for them to feel discouraged from trying to make a career in this fiercely competitive but potentially enormously rewarding field .
In my horn playing days , I auditioned for such orchestras as the New York Philharmonic , the New Jersey symphony , the Washington National symphony and others . I don't recall seeing a single black applicant at these auditions .
In order to change this situation , perhaps a national program to try to encourage young blacks to learn orchestral instruments would help , and to provide them with financial aid to study at America's many fine conservatories could increase the number of blacks in our orchestras .
However , there is a sizable number of Asian-American and Asian-born musicians in our orchestras , as well as ones who have become prominent solo musicians . Most are Chinese ,Japanese and Korean -Americans , as well as ones from japan and South Korea, and there is a growing number of
Chinese-born musicians in them . But this is because of the widespread exposure to classical music and early training among Asian-American and Asian youngsters .
Ultimately , classical music is a meritocracy - if the talent is there , so is the opportunity .
New York's WQXR , America's foremost classical music station , has officially declared November to be
"Beethoven Awareness Month ". On Facebook recently, a composer I'm a friend with there expressed his
disapproval , because according to him , Beethoven is overexposed , great as he is .
Possibly . I can understand his reaction . Beethoven's music has been popular wherever classical music is performed for 200 years or so . He is a world cultural icon , and for a good reason , because he wrote some of the greatest music ever written , and his stirring and impassioned music still speaks to us today nearly 200 years after his death in 1827 .
Orchestras all over Europe, America and elsewhere play his immortal symphonies , and concertos every season ; great pianists have tackled his sonatas and piano concertos for generations , and his lone violin concerto is part of the core repertoire of all great violinists . His 16 string quartets are one of the most important parts of the repertoire of all string quartets , and his lone opera Fidelio has been in the repertoire of
all the world's great opera companies from the beginning .
Virtually all the greatest conductors have recording his nine great symphonies , some multiple times .
The list is a who's who of conductors ,living and dead : Furtwanlger , Toscanini, Bruno Walter, Stokowski ,
Karajan , Willem Mengelberg , Felix Weingartner , Bernstein , Eugen Jochum , Otto Klemperer, Carlos and Erich Kleiber,Solti,
Fritz Reiner , George Szell , and among the living , Daniel Barenboim , Bernard Haitink , Riccardo Muti,
Claudio Abbado, Christoph von Dohnanyi, Sir Colin Davis , Lorin Maazel and others .
Herbert von Karajan recorded all nine no fewer than four times over four decades ! Many of these recordings are still available .
Yes, you might say that Beethoven's music is somewhat over-exposed . There are so many other fine but not not nearly as famous composers who deserve to be heard .
For example , Albert Roussel, Alexander von Zemlinsky, Franz Schmidt, Carl Nielsen , Hans Pfitzner,
Franz Schreker , Arnold Bax, Wilhelm Stenhammar , Frank Martin , Nikolai Myaskovsky,
Sergei Taneyev, Karl Szymanowski , Alberic Magnard , Franz Berwald , Bohuslav Martinu ,
Nikolai Medtner, to name only a handful .
But when it comes to people who are not fans of classical music , Beethoven awareness month is not a bad idea at all ! Countless people can recognize the famous melody of the "Ode To Joy " from the 9th symphony , and can recognize the opening Da - da-da daaah from the 5th symphony ,
but unfortunately , they've never heard the complete works live or recorded , not to mention the other seven Beethoven symphonies and his numerous other works , which is a pity . They don't know what they're missing .
You may remember the episode on the Simpsons when the famous architect Frank Gehry ,who added his voice for the show ,designed a concert hall for Springfield . When the Springfield symphony orchestra started to play
the 5th at the gala opening of the hall , most of the audience left immediately after the opening notes, because they thought there was nothing worth hearing after those notes ! They had them as their
ring tones . And after that , the concert hall was unable to sell enough concerts in Springfield to stay alive , so the odious Mr. Burns bought it and turned it into a private for profit prison !
This episode may be a rather exaggerated description of American Philistinism , but it makes a good point . If only more people could get familiar with the music of Beethoven , not to mention other greats such as Mozart , Chopin , Schumann , Tchaikovsky , Brahms ,Bach and others . Dream on .
The great Finnish composer Jean Sibelius (1865- 1957 ) completed seven symphonies in his long lifetime
but rumors of an eighth have left the classical music world guessing for decades . Musicologists have never been able to get to the bottom of the story of this mystery work . Was it ever written at all , or was it destroyed by the composer because he felt it was not worthy of survival ?
Sibelius is known to have been a highly self critical composer , and there are stories of him burning a large
number of manuscripts in the 1940s at his country home Ainola ( EYE-no-la) ) ,named after his wife Aino .
Although he lived into his early 90s , Sibelius more or less abandoned composition for the last 30 or so years of his life . Why ? The reasons are not 100 per cent certain . He suffered from depression and alcoholism ,
and may have simply written himself out .
Apparently , Sibelius labored on his eighth symphony for some years ; he had already promised the great Russian conductor Serge Koussevitzky (1874 - 1951 ) the world premiere with the maestro's Boston symphony
Koussevitzky had been one the foremost champion's of his music for many years . But nothing came of the sketches . Were they destroyed ?
But now the classical music world is abuzz with stories about the discovery of what appear to be fragments of the the work , and the Helsinki Philharmonic under its music director John Storgards has just premiered
them . Unfortunately , there is not enough surviving material to make a completion of the symphony possible , as has been done with with 10th of Mahler and the 9th of Bruckner . If you would like to read more about this fascinating story , go to artsjournal.com , which has an English translation
of the article in Finnish in the Helsingin Sanomat , Finland's top newspaper . You can hear the fragments, although some people have complained that they were unable to hear it due to technical problems . It should be appearing on youtube shortly .
More Posts Next page »