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All Evidence Shows That Orchestras Today Play Much Better Than Those of Past Centuries

   It's commonplace for critics and  classical music fans to wax nostalgic  for the "good old days"  when
performances were supposedly so much better than those of today , but when it comes to  symphony
orchestras at least ,  things may not have been so great . 

   If you examine the evidence , orchestras of the 18th,19th and early 20th century , with  a few notable
exceptions ,  could not come remotely close to those of the present when it comes to  precision , richness of sound  etc .  And  they often did not play in tune .  The great Catalan cellist Pablo Casals (1876-1973) , who  was also  active as a conductor , stated flatly that in his youth , orchestras did not play in tune . 

   In  the early years of the 19th century , when Beethoven wrote his revolutionary  symphonies ,  the  very first
performances  of them, which took place in  Vienna ,  the musical capitol of Europe , were  downright awful  from all reports .  The music was fiendishly difficult to play ,  and the musicians  apparently had woefully inadequate rehearsal time .  In those days , there was no such thing as  a resident orchestra in one concert hall
with  permanent  personnel  playing a  different program every week  such as is the norm today ;
the musicians were basically freelancers  hired  on an ad hoc basis  , so it was impossible to  provide them with enough rehearsal time . 

   If we could go back in a time machine ,  the performances would have sounded  distressingly  out of tune,  the performances would no doubt have sounded  woefully out of tune , imprecise  and
tentative .  Two hundred years later , these masterpieces  have become so familiar to audiences and orchestras  that we tend to take them for granted .  Even youth orchestras play them much better than 
the  premieres .

   Later in the century , the  wildly original French composer Hector Berlioz  (1803 -1869 ) , who
idolized Beethoven's music ,  wrote such  boldly original  large scale works as the Symphonie Fantastique , the Requiem ,  the oratorio Romeo &Juliette ,  and other  masterpieces .
The music was even more difficult  for the orchestras of the day , and often called for
unprecedentedly large forces .  Berlioz , who  frequently conducted his works , as it was difficult to find
conductors up to the task ,  struggled to get  the musicians through  these  wildly difficult  works.
    But with the passage of time ,  orchestras mastered them and they became a part of the standard repertoire .

  In addition , the number of world-class orchestras has increased greatly from the past .  The major
musical centers such as Vienna, Berlin, London ,  Paris , Amsterdam ,  Prague , New York etc
have had great orchestras for a long time .  But  in  smaller cities ,  there were slim pickings ,
with either  mediocre to poor ones , or none at all .

   In America ,  the so-called "Big Five" orchestras  ,New York Philharmonic, Boston symphony ,
Philadelphia orchestra , Chicago symphony , and  Cleveland orchestra  were  the cream of the crop
for a very long time,  but in recent years ,  the  orchestras of Los Angeles, San Francisco ,
Saint Louis, Detroit ,  Pittsburgh ,Dallas, Houston, Seattle ,  Baltimore ,  Washington ,  Cincinnati,
and other U.S. cities have given them a run for their money . 

   This is because America's many great conservatories have been graduating so many  talented
young musicians looking for jobs in orchestras ,despite the fierce competition  for them .  It may be that the golden age is NOW !
Posted: Dec 07 2011, 06:37 PM by the horn | with no comments
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