January 2012 - Posts
The Met has just unveiled its new production of Wagner's Gotterdammerung (The Twilight Of The Gods) , culmination of its controversial new version of Wagner's mighty Ring Of The Nibeluingen , and the reviews so far have been less than enthusiastic about the sets and overall staging concept . Canadian director Robert Lepage, of Cirque Du Soleil and designer Carl Fillion may have created a white elephant .
I haven't seen this Ring yet, although it should end up on television , DVD and at various places on the internet before long . The massive unit set consists of a series of moveable steel planks which constantly move all over the massive Met stage , plus computer generated visual effects which have displeased most of the reviewers so far . I'll have to reserve judgement until I experience the whole thing . The verdicts on the singing and conducting have been somewhat more favorable .
But this is part of an overall critical malaise which has dogged the Metropolitan opera for decades . No matter how it does any given opera when the production is new , critics seem to damn it most of the time . Do I detect bias here ? Multiple boys crying wolf ? For example , many critics hate the visually spectacular sets and costumes of the renowned Italian director and designer Franco Zeffirelli ,calling them overstuffed , pretentious , and so massive they distract from the drama of the individual characters on stage .
The same have also blasted the Met's previous Ring production , which is pretty much unique in our time in actually setting the story in the kind of mythical Germanic world Wagner hiself conceived ,rather than the ridiculoulsy pretentious "Eurotrash " production which are all the rage in Europe, and contain all many of ludicrous arbitrary production gimmicks which make a mocery out of the story . The new Met Ring . whatever its possible faults, does no such thing , proving that the company is damned if it does and damned if it doesn't . However , audiences on the whole tend to disagree , and they loved the previous Met Ring. Many European opera lovers came to New York just for the chance to see a Ring which was not merely ludicrous .
The recent Met Tosca , which replaced the sumptuous Zeffirelli production, which recreated the Rome in which the opera is set very realistically , was also blasted . Then two years ago , the Met did a new production with simpler,plainer sets which critics described as drab and even ugly . It's a no win situation . The new production of Donizetti's Anna Bolena , a fictionalized story of Anne Boelyn and Henry v111 , was criticized for sets which were also too plain . I saw it on PBS this past January 20th, and was not bothered by this . But if Zeffirelli had designed the production ,with elaborate and sumptuous realistic period sets, the critics still would have pounced on it . The Met just can't win for losing !
Yes, that's the title of this post, strange as it may sound . Believe it or not, some one on a classical music forum I frequent and post on actually compared Mahler to Republican Presidential candidate Ron Paul . I don't think it's a very apt comparison, but I thought it was awfully funny !
Basically , the idea of this thread the member started is that Ron Paul is rather like Mahler in that he has some great ideas , and some foolish ones . According to this person , the Mahler symphonies combine "mind-blowing great parts " ,"immediately followed by the most ridiculous crap ". They are "too long and over-the-top" , full of " bloated ideas with no sense of form and structure ". Ouch !
Accusations like this have dogged Mahler's music for over a century . Yes, they are very long , up to an hour and a half in the 3rd symphony , and can seem over-the-top to many listeners . The music combines the sublime and the ridiculous side-by-side , and is supposedly full of "banality", whatever that is.
But this is exactly the point of the music . Mahler once said "A symphony should be like the world". It should contain everything . The nine sprawling symphonies ( the first and fourth are relatively compact ) are rather like stream of conscious writing . There are moments of suublime grandeur and seeming triviality . Folklike ditties , cow bells , military marches, sarcastic humor and childlike simplicity , with enormous orchestras filled with outsize woodwind and brass sections and plenty of percussion . Moments of profound gloom and depression alternating with exultation .
To find fault with the Mahler symphonies because they are not as clear-cut in construction and concise as those of Mozart and Haydn completely misses the point . I have no intention of voting for Ron Paul, but Gustav Mahler still has my confidence as one of the greatest symphonists . I'd vote for him as this any day !
Every year , a number of music critics and composers make compaints about the way our symphony orchestras play nothing but the same old warhorses, and that new music is neglected . Every year, the so-called experts write several articles for newspapers ,magazines , in print and on the internet which make it sound as though none of our orchestras had played a single new work in the past 50 years or so .
But don't believe the hype . The 21st century is still very young , but in the past 11 years or so , a wide variety of new works have been premiered all over the wolrd of classical music by composers from all over Europe, America , and elsewhere . Dead White Male composers do not have a monopoly on classical music , despute what you may hear . There are plenty of LIVING white European malke composers , and female ones, too .
Not to mention all the different American composers , and ones from Japan, South Korea, China, Argentina, Estonia, Sweden Fonalnd, Denmark , Norway , and elsewhere .
The world's opera companies spend much of there time performing the familiar and beloved operas of Mozart, Rossini, Verdi,Puccini, Bizet , Donizetti, Massenet , Wagner, Richard Strauss etc, but they have also put on a wide variety of new operas by Philip Glass, John Adams, Kaaia Saariaho . William Bolcom, Thomas Ades, Hans Werner Henze, Daniel Catan , Harrison Birtwistle , Tobias Picker , Nico Muhly , Carlisle Floyd , Nicholas Maw, Poul Ruders , Unsuk Chin , EinoJuhani Rautavaara , Tan Dun, and other leading contempirary composers . Opera has been areound for four centuries , but it's still very much a living art form .
Concertgoers expect conductors to give them the umpteenth performance of Beethoven, Brahms,Tchaikovsky,Rachmaninov, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Debussy, Ravel, Berlioz, and other great composers , but there are also conductors such as Leonard Slatkin, David Zinman, Michael Tilson Thomas, Simon Rattle, Marin Alsop , Christoph Eschenbach, James Levine, Gerard Schwarz, Franz Welser-Most, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Riccardo Chailly, Alan Gilbert , and others who are committed advcates of new music and have given a wide varity of new works a chance to be heard .
Remember , there is absolutely no conflict between old and new music . We need them both . The world of classical music is big enough for old and new .
The New York Philharmonic willl be playing a a cycle of the nine Beethoven symphonies later this season under the distinguished Americna conductor David Zinman , and I see that there's another one about to take place in London . So what ese is new ? How many Beethoven festivals can orchestras play ? It's Beethoven, Beerthoven, all you can eat Beethoven at concerts around the world .
Of course, the New York cycle will be somewhat different in that the performances will be using newly corrected scores by a team of musicogists , follow the original swift metronome markings, and make use of period instrument performance practice . But the Philharmonic has played Beethoven festivals under previous music directors Kurt Masur and Lorin Maazel in recent years . How many Beethoven festivals do we need ?
Especially when there are so many wonderful symphonies by other composers which you have little chance of ever hearing live but which can easily be heard on CD . Fortunately, there is an amazingly diverse array of obscure but worthwhile music on CD. How about a cycle of all none symphonies by Antonin Dvorak ? Only the last three are played with any frequency, which is unfortunate, since the first six are splendid works . The world-famous "New World Symphony, Dvorak's ninth and last, is a great work, but has been played to death .
The centennial of Dvorak's death occurred in 2004 , but unless I am mistaken, no orchestra I know of performed a series of all nine, although this may have happened in the Czech republic . What a missed opportunity ! Why don't orchestras perform the symphonies of other composers, such as Franz Berwald of Sweden , Russian composer ssuch as Nikolai Myaskovsky, Sergei Taneyev, Vassily Kallinikov, Mily Balakirev , Frenchmen Albert Roussel, Alberic Magnard , Paul Dukas , Englishmen Arnold Bax, Havergal Brian, and Arthur Bliss , and other composers such as Max Bruch , Zdenek Fibich, George Whitefield Chadwick , Rued Langgaard of Denmark , or so many other composers who are unjustly neglected ?
As I've popinted out before , it's largely the fault of conservative audiences who know what they like and like what they know, and don't want to take a chance at hearing something out of the usual ,for fear that it might be something horribly modern . None of the composers I just mentioned wrote music which could be called "horrible" by any stretch of the imagination . People might love their works if they just gave them a chance !
I suppose there's zero chance of a moratorium on performances of the Beethoven symphonies happening , but it might be a good thing . Of course, this is nothing against these great works , which are famous and beloved for a good reason . But we need a change from the same old same old .
Fortunatley, there are encouraging signs of conductors who think outside the box . Havergal Brian's gargantuan masterpiece "The Gothic Symphony" was performed in London this Summer, and a recording has been issued on the Hyperion label . The Russian conductor Vladimir Jurowski recently conducted a symphony by the once obscure Russian composer Nikolai Myaskovsky (1881-1950) in London with his orchestra, the London Philharmonic , and New York Philharmonic music director Alan Gilbert is interested in off-beat repertoire . The eminent Estonian conductor Neeme Jarvi has made a career out of performing and recording all manner of interesting rarities , and has put classical music fans and CD collectors all over the world in his debt . Myaskovsky's music , which includes no fewer than 27 symphonies, is finally starting to gain some recognition ,mostly through recordings. He was highly respected in the former Soviet Union, but his music never achieved the recognition it deserves internationally.
Give the underdog composers a chance, please ! Nothing against the immortal Ludwig Van.
Lately , the Metropolitan Opera has been placing ads on television trying to promote itself . I've seen an ad announcing the new production of the pastiche opera "The Enchanted Island " on ABC several times . Could ads like this be beneficial to classical music as a whole in America ?
Who knows ? Possibly they could increase the audience for classical music , or they might not . But I think it's worth trying . It's just possible that some people who have never been to an opera performance or heard recordings and seen DVDs of them might think "Hey,maybe I should try going to the opera . It looks like a cool experience " . People like this might come to love opera this way .
And what about orchestra concerts ? Could ads for the New York Philharmonic bring more people to its concerts ? A lot depends on how well these ads are done . It's necessary to do them in a way that makes concerts and opera look truly appealing , which is more easily said than done . The Met ads look pretty good to me, but I've been an opera fan since I was a teenger, so I can't know with any certainty how people who are unfamiliar with opera would react to them . I just hope they will react to them,period !
If the Met can put up ads like this , other American opera companies should do this, such as those of Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle,Dallas, Houston, Washington etc. Of course, such ads are hardly inexpensive to put on, but if they could help increase the audience , it would be money well spent .
How about it, guys ? This could be a great opportunity .
The charismatic Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky , who combines vocal spendor with matinee idol looks ,is on the cover of the February issue of Opera News magazine, and is interviewed there . Despite being a native of Siberia , he has been becoming more and more involved in Italian opera roles , particularly Verdi , and will be singing the role of a Spanish king in the Met's upcoming revival of Verdi's Ernani there in February .
Although it's a broadway musical,not an opera ,Jerome Kern's legendary "Showboat" is about to be performed by the Chicago Lyric opera , and New York University professor of drama Laurence Maslon has an interesting article on the show's history and the new production in Chicago . Editor-in-chief F. Paul Driscoll interviews the u-and-coming American heroic tenor Jay Hunter Morris , who will sing the demanding role of Siegfried in the Met's new production of The Twilight Of The Gods , culmination of its controlversial new Ring cycle . Tenors with the ability to do justice to the fearsome demands of Wagner's heroic tenor roles are a rare species indeed , and Morris just may be the real thing .
As usual during the radio broadcast season , there are synpses of the operas being heard , lists of casts, stage directors, set designers ,photos of the scenery , as well as interesting and informative information about the operas and the composers . The February operas are the new production of Donizetti's Anna Bolena, Twilight of the Gods, Rossini's Barber of Sevile and Verdi's Ernani .
Opera News roving correspondants have reviews of the Met's new production of Gounod's Faust , Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin from the English national opera in London , a new production of Verdi's La Forza Del Destino at the Paris opera , Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov from the Valencia opera in Spain , and two world premieres of operas by American composers Kevin Puts and Nico Muhly at respectively, the Minnesota opera and Gotham Chamber opera in New York .
There are no reviews of new complete opera recordings this month , but CDs of opera arias ,duets and popular songs by such renowned singers as tenor Roberto Alagna, soprano Diana Damrau , Italian bass Ildebrando D'Arcangelo, and the up-and-coming Italian tenor Vottorio Grigolo . Live opera performances on DVD reviewed include Mozart's Marriage of Figaro from La Scala,Milan, Gian Carlo Menotti's Goya, about the great Spanish painter ,with Placido Domingo in the title role , and a documentary about Wagner's grandchildren and great-grandchildren , who have run the legendary Wagner festival in Bayreuth,Germany for decades .
Other features are a review of the new autobiography of the great Italian conductor Riccardo Muti, currently music director of the Chicago symphony , and formerly of La Scala , and an obiturary of the renowned Croatian soprano Sena Jurinac , who passed away this Novemember . Opera News is always absorbing reading , even if you're not very knowledgeable about opera .
Tempo, or the right tempo, is one of the most controversial issues in classical music . Every one has a different idea of how fast or slow a performance of any given work should be . Composers, musicologists, critics, and fans in general . Ultimately , the composer is the only one who has the right to say what this is, because he or she wrote the music.
But unfortunately , Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Brahms and other great composers are long dead . Composers have been known to change their minds about this anyway. There are various tempo markings,usually in Italian, Presto (very fast) Adagio (slow) , Andante, a going tempo, neither fast nor slow , Allegro , sort of lively but not like a bat out of hell , and so forth . Plus qualifiers such as Poco (a little bit) meno mosso (somewhat slower ) ,Piu Mosso (somewhat faster etc , and all manner of other markings, sometimes in German with German composers or in French with French ones or in English with Englaish-speaking composers .
Then there is the metronome, which was invented in Europe in the ealry 19th century, and is designed to indicate the more or less exact tempo by indicating how many beats per minute the composer wants , to give the performers a basic guideline as to the right tempo. But ocmposers have been known to change their minds there, too . Sometimes a music critic will declare that this or that performance of a Beethoven or Brahms symphony etc, was either too slow, or too fast . That's just that person's opinion, although if the tempo marking is Presto , and the conductor or pianist etc plays it Adagio , you know something is wrong .
Many critics and other experts in our time have made generalizations about tempos . Some declare, on the basis of the oldest recordings available of certain works , that tempos today have slowed doen too much . Others have stated that the Historically Informed Perfomance , or period instrument movement , which tends to favor very brisk tempos, has caused tempios to become too fast in general. Who is right ? Both claims can't be true. Either everything is too slow today, or everything is too fast .
On recordings, you can hear the same work played at a variety of different tempos by different performers from different decades, ranging back about a century . Certain famous conductors have been well-known or even norotious for very fast or very slow tempos in general . Arturo Toscanini (1867-1957) , is known for rather swift performances, although there are some exceptions . The German Otto Klemperer (1885 -1973) became famous (or notorious )for some impossibly slow ones. However, these are from his later years, when he was elderly and suffering from a variety of ailments, including a stroke which left him parlyzed on one side . In his earlier days, he is said to have favored rather swift tempos.
So it's very difficult to make generalizations . Toscanini's set of the none Beethoven symphonies with the NBC symphony on RCA ,made decades ago , is very swift and propulsive. Klemperer's set ,made in the 1950s with the Philharmonia orchestra of London , is massive,weighty and deliberate on the whole , though not lethargic by any means . Which conductor is right ? There will never be a deifinitive answer . And who wants one, anyway ?
I'm glad the centennial of the death of Gustav Mahler is over , as well as the 150th annoversary of his birth . I love his music dearly , the same as many great conductors ,singers and fans in general , but let's face it ; his symphonies have been played to death and horribly overexposed in the past two years .
It certainly wasn't always like this . Until the 1960s, when the late, great Leonard Bernstein began to champion his music , conducted it everywhere and recorded the first complete set of the nine completed symphonies , performance sof his massive and lengthy symphonies were not all that frequent, although certain great conductors such as Bruno Walter, Willem Mengelberg and Otto Klemperer ,who had known him personally , had championed his music and left recordings . The tenth symphony , which had only one movement completed at his death , was later completed from the sketches by various different individuals, and has never been performed as often .
After Bernstein , performances and recordings of the symphonies, as well as his songs and song cycles proliferated all over the classical music world , and many other conductors, famous and not so famous recorded the symphonies . In the 1950s and early 60s , there were only a handful of recordings of the symphonies ; now there are countless ones , and quite a few complete sets .
There have been recordings by such greats as Sir Georg Solti, Rafael Kubelik , Pierre Boulez, James Levine, Lorin Maazel , Claudio Abbado, Giuseppe Sinopoli , Riccardo Chaiily , Sir Simon Rattle, Seiji Ozawa, Valery Gergiev , Bernard Haitink , Klaus Tennstedt , and so many other conductors . Some have recorded multiple versions . More and more live Mahler performances are showing up on DVD .
There are so many symphonies other less well known but deserving composers, living and dead which deserve to be heard more often . For example, Russians Nikolai Myaskovsky, who wrote no fewer than 27 , Sergei Taneyev and Mily Balakirev , the English composers Arnold Bax , Havergal Brian, and Robert Simpson, from France Albert Roussel, Alberic Magnard , Paul Dukas , Scandinavians such as Wilhelm Stenhammar, Franz Berwald , Rued Langgaard , to name only some . Performing these would make our musical life a lot more interesting .
I love you, Gus Mahler, but you've had your day fo rthe time being .
Of course, a review of a concert ,opera performance or recording is just one person's opinion , but it's so annoying the way some classical music critics use their positions as reviewers as an excuse to do nothing but take cheap shots at certain musicians instead of offering a thoughtful ,sober and balanced evaluation of performances .
Some are worse than others , and most don't reduce their reviews to mindless name-calling . On the whole, Anthony Tommasini is one of the most fair even-handed, even though he has an irritating tendency to accuse the New York Philharmonic of neglecting new music and being stody and hidebound, which it most certainly is not . But he and other critics have been makiong wildly exaggerated claims about how racially innovative the programming of current music director Alan Gilbert, and make it sound as though the orchestra had done nothing but play the same olf warhoses until the arrival of Gilbert on the scene.
Many music critics have certain conductors ,pianists, violinists or singers who are their Bete Noires , and they use their reviewing space as excuses to take pot shots at them ; virtually every great conductor of our time has had critics who would do nothing but badmouth them ; Solti,Karajan, Bernstein , Barenboim, Levine, Muti, Rattle, etc all have all had their voiciferous detractors .
But many of these critics distort the facts or use outright lies to attack some prominent musician. The renowned Indian -born conductor Zubin Mehta, who has had a long and distinguished career as music director of the Israel Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic,New York Philharmonic and the Bavaroian State opera in Munich .
Mehta is the conductor many critics love to hate for some reason, although he has always struck me and others as a truly outstanding one . For some reason , he has gotten a bum rap as nothing but a shallow glamor boy, and he certainly did have a glamorous image in the past , as well as a conductor who has no commitment to contemporary music, which is ridiculous because he has always been a stauch champion of it .
He was treated in particularly vicious manner by the New York music critics(most of them) when he was music director of the New York Phil. from the late 70s to the early 90s. They savaged his performances and accused him of allowing the orchestra's standards of playing to decline . They accused him of being indifferent to contemporary music despite the fact that during his years with the orchestra, he played a wide variety of challenging works by important living composers and did an exemplary job interpreting the works. Mehta had been a staunch champion of new music from his early years in the 60s as music director of the Los Angeles Philhamonic . This had not previously been one of the world's top orchestras, but he built it into a world-class one . Did the critics give him credit for this fact. Are you kidding ?
Of course, these critics had every right dislike his interpreations , but that did not excuse the scurrilous attacks they made on him, or the ad-hominem attacks . The treatment Mehta received at the hands of these critics was unbelievably shabby and absolutely disgraceful . Some critics never learn .
The way critics at the New York Times , New York Magazine and The New Yorker etc have been bashing the New York Philharmonic for its programming and artistic policies is nothing new . Critics such as Anthony Tommasini, Peter G. Davis, Justin Davidson and others have been accusing the orchestra of being a "stodgy,hidebound institution" which pretty much does nothing but endlessly rehash the same old warhorses of the reprtoire , which is grossly unfair.
Perhaps the Granddaddy of these carping critics was the late American composer and critic Virgil Thomson , who was music critic of a New York paper whose name I don't recall at the moment and which went out of business decades ago . Many ocmposers and critics admoire Thomson's criticism greatly , and you can still read some of his reviews in books devoted to his extensive writings ,not only reviews essays and general commentary .
About 70 years ago , Thomson wrote one of the most famous , or more accurately infamous, reviews in the history of classical music criticism in America . He attended a concert by the New York Philharmonic by its then music director , the renowned English conductor Sir John Barbirolli (1899-1970 in which the main work on the program was the second symphony of Jean Sibelius, a composer whose music Thomson detested .
Thomosn hated the symphony , which has deservedly been a staple of the repertoire for more than a century , and called it " vulgar, provincial and self-indulgent". Of course, this was probably also due to jealousy , as Thomson was not getting nearly as many performances of his music as Sibelius (rightly so, because as a composer, he's a pygmy compared to the great Finn ) .
His rant did not even describe this great work in any way, and was noithing but name -calling . To make matters worse, Thomson declared in the review that this concert proved that the New York Philharmonic" was not part of New York's intellectual life ". Unfortunately , this ludicrous and gratuitously nasty comment stuck , and doigged the Philhamonic for decades . Many critics and other so-called experts blindly accepted Thomson's stupid claim , and Thomson's scurrilous accusation defamed the orchestra for decades .
Thomspn was incredibly arrogant and presumptious . How can one concert a critic hates prove theat one of the world's most important orchestras was not "part of New York's intellectual life "? In effect, Thomson was saying that the orchestra could only be part of New York's Intellectual life" if it played music HE happened to like . This is music criticism at its worst . The New York Philharmonioc has always been in the vanguard of presenting the most important works by the world's leading composers .This review was disgraceful .
It seems that the whole argument between me and Matthew Boyden has been blown way out of proportion , so I think it's time for some perspective on the whole farce .
Some time ago, I sent an e mail to musoc.org , a website devoted to defending and promoting classical music from hostility and indifference on the part of the public and to criticize those who make foolish statements about it . I suggested that they do this with John Boyden, artistic director of the New Queen's Hall orchestra of London . As I've pointed out before here, this orchestra uses period instruments, not for the music of the 18th and early 19th century as other HIP orchestras do, but for late 19th and early 20 century music .
My beef with Mr. Boyden was not over the orchestra itself, which I was not attacking, but the ludicrous and offensive statements on the orchestra's website , which arrogantly claim that this orchestra presents the music of late Romantic and 20 th century composers exactly as it "should " sound, and , and that mainstream orchestras are "wrong" for this music , and are in effect , artistically inferior and contemptible.
That was MY opinion, and I'm sure many knowledgeable people would agree with me. I was very irritatted with the fatuous and grossly unfair statements on the website .Mr. Boyden has made the same statements on a classical music website with which he is associated called theclassicalsource.com , which features reviews of live performances, CDs and DVD as well as commentary on classical music .
How can any one make such a blanket dismissal of the world's finest orchestras of the present ? This is absolutely disgusting . That was my beef . I did not make any disaparaging remarks about the playing of the New Queen's Hall orchestra's playing , because I have only heard a few excerpts from their recordings . I do not object tot he existence of the orchestra per se , and have no animus against the musicians or the conductors who lead its concerts and recordings . I Merely questiond the absurd notion that such an orchestra was desperately needed in our time . What is so terrible about that ?
Yet John Boyden sent a letter to musoc.org which denounced me for being "bigoted" against the orchestra , and defended it , saying that its performances have been very enthusiastically received by audiences and critics, which appears ot be the case . I have no problem with that and don't begrudge the orchestra its acclaim . He completely missed my point . I can understand him being defensive, though .
Than his son Matthew , a writer on music who is well-known in England and who has written biographies of Richard Strauss and Arnold Schoenberg , entered the argument and furiously denounced me , even calling me very unflattering names . He queistioned my intelligence, scholarship, knowledge ,etc in a scurllious manner .
In addition , he completely missed the point of my punning term "Christopher Hogwash", which is not an insult to conductor Christopher Hogwood as a musician , but my term for fatuous statements made by any musician, musicologist, or critic about period instruments of whatever era . He was offended by the term . In fact, masny other musicians in the period instrument movement have been far more guilty of Christopher Hogwash than Hogwood himself, such as another noted English conductor, Sir Roger Norrington .
I have no problem with musicians using period instruments for Bach,Handel,Mozart,Haydn, Beethoven etc, or even Wagner Elgar and Brahms . What gets my goat is the notion that period instruments are the ONLY way , and who snootily dismiss any performance on the "incorrect" instruments . If I offended John and Matthew Boyden , I offer my apologies . But there was absolutely no reason for the younger Mr. Boyden to make the scurrilous comments he did about me. I was far more restrained in my responses . Some people just don't know how to disagree without being disagreeable .
Carnegie Hall has just announced plans to form the National Youth Orchestra Of America , to be made
up of talented young musicians from all over the nation . Youth orchestras can be found all over America ,
but this appears to be the first drawn from the entire country .
Such ensembles exist all over Europe , such as the the National Youth orchestra of England , and
ones from Germany and Sweden are scheduled to appear in Carnegie hall this season . The Simon
Bolivar Youth orchestra of Venuzuela has achieved international renown in recent years and has toured
internationally and made recordings for Deutsche Grammophon under Gustavo Dudamel,
now music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic .
Not too long ago I saw a performance of Mahler's monumental 8th symphony with the National
Youth orchestra of England under Sir Simon Rattle on television , and sounded to me like the equal of any
world -class professional orchestra !
The initial concerts of the new youth orchestra will take place in Carnegie hall next year with the
renowned Valery Gergiev conducting , and national auditions on line are scheduled for later this year
for young musicians between the age of 16 and 19 from all over the U.S. The competition will be
fierce , and many talented youngsters will be disappointed , but the lucky 120 who are selected will have the
opportunity of a lifetime , and the orchestra will appear in London,Moscow and St.Petersburg .
My own experiences playing in youth orchestras long ago have included an unforgettable tour
of Australia, New Zealand, the Fiji Islands and Samoa with the Long Island Youth orchestra back in the
1970s . This orchestra, which still exists , was founded the head of a Long island travel agency who
was a classically trained musician by the name of martin Dreiwitz , who with his connections in the travel industry has been able to take the orchestra on Summer tours all over the world , in fact ,
on every continent but Antarctica !
The stay in Australia included a concert in the world-famous Sydney opera house , then only a
year old . The orchestra was also the first one ever to appear in the Fiji islands ! Ah memories .....
As usual, things are far from dull in the world of classical music , despite any one who claims that it is a dull and stodgy one . The San Francisco Opera , one of America's largest , is facing financial difficulties, according to its general manager Dovid Gockley , and will probably have to cut costs in a number of ways, although
fortunately, the situation is not nearly as dire as that of the New York City opera .
The Metropolitan Opera will unveil the final installment of its new Ring cycle with the cataclysmic
Gotterdammerung , or twilight of the gods , conducted by newly appointed principal conductor Fabio
Luisi on January 27 . Unfortunately , James levine, who had been scheduled to conduct , has been forced to
withdraw from all conducting engagements through the 2012-13 season die to severe back trouble .
The production has proved to be highly controversial , with its high tech computer effects and a massive unit set which is able to magically transform itself throughout the action of the monumental Ring cycle .
Many critics have found fault with it for various reasons, but I will have to withhold judgment until I am able
to see it .
The new Ring can be seen on the internet ; check metopera.org for more information . The renowned
Bulgarian-born pianist Alexis Weissenberg ,82 , has died . He was a formidable virtuoso but his
interpretations divided critics . The acclaimed German baritone Thomas Quasthoff ,52, has decided to
retire from perfoming to to ill health , but will continue to teach in Berlin and to foster vocal talent.
His background is remarkable . Despite having been born a Thalidomide baby , with stumps for arms
and only about four feet tall, his enormous talent and artistry as a singer earned him international fame as an interpreter of German lieder and other non -operatic music . He rarely sang opera because of his physical deformity .
The Royal Danish opera and Ballet in Copenhagen has been forced to lay off numerous members
of its administrative staff and other employees due to financial difficulties , showing that
even European performing arts organizations are no longer invulnerable to such problems , even though they are nowhere near as severe as those affecting the arts in America .
Still , there is no reason not to remain cautiously optimistic about classical music in America, Europe and elsewhere - you can't keep a great art form down !
Once again , the "expert" Matthew Boyden has attacked me at Musoc.org , with another sneering but ridiculous reply , including some choice examples of Christopher Hogwash at its worst . Again, he claims that
I'm stupid,ignorant, uniformed, and need to "read some books" on composers etc .
Despite the fact that I'm exceptionally well read about the musical subjects he claims I'm ignorant about .
Of course, he's assuming that I'm ignorant not from any real evidence, but merely because I had the gall to
expose his many fatuous statements about the symphony orchestra as a whole, as well as those of his father .
Agree with me or not, I happen to be a highly educated and experienced classical musician with a through
training in music theory, harmony,counterpoint, orchestration , form , conducting , music history and music education . I know what I'm talking about . My beef with Matthew Boyden and his father is the mind-boggling
arrogance and hubris of their claims about their beloved orchestra, the New Queen's Hall orchestra of London .
Their asinine and grossly unfair blanket dismissal of mainstream orchestras on an artistic level and their
fatuous claim that the NQHO performs the music of such great composers as Wagner,Brahms, Elgar and others THE right way , and that mainstream orchestras fail to do justice to their works . How do they know how these composers would react to hearing today's orchestras is they could come back ? They don't !
Are modern brass instruments too loud, as father and son claim ? Possibly at times , but this is almost always the fault of the CONDUCTOR, not the kind of instruments used . And I doubt very
much that balances were always perfect in the past when instruments were different . I have heard countless performances in recent years , live and recorded , in which I
had absolutely no difficulty hearing the rest of the orchestra and the brass were perfectly under control .
Sometimes, when an orchestra is on tour and playing in an unfamiliar concert hall and is not accustomed to its acoustics, balance problems can happen , but with repeated visits , these problems can be solved . Matthew Boyden can say whatever he wants about me, but that does not mean
that what he is saying has any validity .
There are extremists on both sides, the period instrument musicians , plus the critics and musicologists
who insist that period instruments are the only way for the music of the past and sneer at "inauthentic "
performances , past and present , and the mainstream musicians who dismiss the whole period instrument
movement as worthless and reactionary .
There are not a lot of prominent mainstream musicians who pooh-pooh period instruments , but there are some, such as the renowned violinists Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman , the eminent and veteran conductor Lorin Maazel to name a few . But there are definitely more period instrument musicians and critics
who pooh-pooh modern instruments and sneer at those who do not use them as "uninformed ".
It's rather like the arguments between devout Christian believers and atheists . Myself, I'm more of an agnostic on the issue of "Historically Informed Performance" than an atheist . But why can't these musicians just get along ? The world of classical music is big enough for both period and modern instruments .
There's still absolutely nothing wrong with the great mainstream orchestras of London,New York,Berlin,Chicago , Amsterdam, Munich ,Paris and elsewhere performing the music of Bach,Handel,
Haydn,Mozart, Beethoven and other great composers the traditional way , and the period instrument
performers have given us performances which were interestingly different , if not necessarily "better" than modern instruments .
More than a few of the modern instrument orchestras have been adopting some of the features of
HIP , such as less vibrato from the strings , faster tempos than had been the norm , dividing the
first and second violins left and right on stage rather than together , etc , and many of the period
instrument performances are no longer as rigid in tempo and as thin-sounding as they were previously .
Certainly , all this has made our musical life more lively and interesting . But I repeat , can't we
all just get along ?
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