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July 2012 - Posts

Using Pedantic Nit-Picking To Attack American Orchestras

  Greg Sandow is at it again at Facebook and his blog  at artsjournal.com .  Now he's using pedantic nick-picking about English spelling to criticize  certain American orchestras , in particular the world-famous Cleveland and Philadelphia orchestras, neither which is called  a symphony orchestra or Phhilharmonic , as most other orchestras .  Sandow seems to be looking for any excuse, now matter how far-fetched, trivial or irrelevant ,  to criticize our orchestras .  The post concerns his reaction to how the orchestras advertize themselves .

   Sandow cites a  manual of correct English usage  as an excuse to call the way they advertize themselves  "pompous ".  How are they  pompous ?  Well,  the brochures for the  orchestras supposedly  don't spell  the names  "Philadelphia orchestra" and "Cleveland orchestra the correct way.  You see, the brochures  use  "Philadelphia Orchestra" and Cleveland Orchestra" , with the word orchestra capitalized , despite the fact that  the O should be lower case .  I most likely would not have noticed myself , or even if it did look funny to me, I would not have made a fedral case out of this utterly trivial matter .

   How the heck does this make  the orchestras seem "pompous", even if  the correct way is to  write the O in lower case ?  Does this even matter ?  Did  whoever wrote the brochures  consciously decide to make the O upper case ?  Was there any intention to appear "pompous"?  I doubt it .  Will the  people who read the  brochures even notice , unless they are really   particular about  correct spelling ? Probably not . 

   Can't Sandow find  better excuses to criticize these orchestras ?  In the past, he has criticized  the way other orchestras and individual musicians  are publicized , citing specific ways he thought  the  publicity agents  do a  poor or ineffective way of  trying to drum up audiences for classical music . Fine .  But now he's  gone way overboard  and is  just grasping at straws . 

   This is so unfair to these two  renowned world-class orchestras .  Who cares about  piddling details  such as correct capitalization ?  Our orchestras in America as a whole have a rough enough time  finding  new  blood  to attend their concerts .  They're not to blame for this, because they offer a truly high quality product .  If more people would just give  our orchestras a chance and  try their concerts, they would probably  love what they heard and want to attend regularly .  Lets stop blaming the victims . Greg Sandow means well , but  posts like this  do absolutley nothing to help our orchestras  . In fact, they're highly counterproductive .

Posted: Jul 31 2012, 10:16 PM by the horn | with no comments
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A Musical Time Machine

  Recently, a cellist friend of mine lent me some of his  CDs of  really  old  recordings by  once famous musicians of the past ,  the oldest of which dates from  1903 !   He's a big fan of these once starry names , and  like more than a few experts today , thinks they have a certain flair, individuality  and  Je ne sais quois which  are lacking in  many of today's  violinists, cellists and pianists .  It's really fascinating to hear these antique recordings,  made at a time when recording technique was so primitive  by  the standards of today's  amazing digital technology .

   However, such great  musicians of the present day as violinists  Itzhak Perlman, Anne-Sopie Mutter,  Gidon Kremer , cellists  Yo Yo Ma and pianists Martha Argerich , Emanuel Ax ,  to name only a handful , are not exactly chopped liver .  It'[s fascinating to hear how vastly styles of playing  and interpretation have changed  since the early 20th century . 

    You probably haen't heard of such  musicians as  Joaseph Joachim,  Eugene Ysaye,  Pablo De Sarasate ,  Jacques Thibaud , Moriz Rosenthal , Bronislaw Huberman, and Alfred Cortot,  some of the  musicians  I've been listening to . But in their day , they were stellar names in classical music . Joachim,Ysaye, Hubermann, and Thibaud were violinists, and  Rosenthal and Cortot were pianists .  Ysaye was Belgian, Sarasate was Spanish ,  Thibaud was  French and Cortot was Swiss French . There are also a couple of CDs with the great Catalan cellist  Pablo Casals  (1876 -1973 ), who is much better known today because of his very long life and career .  My friend  actually played in a master class with Casals in his youth, and  naturaly, reveres him , the  same as musicians everywhere .

   Listening  to  Joseph Joachim, who was born  in 1831 !  and lived  until 1907 ,  is an almost eerie experience .  He was born only four years after the death of Beethoven ,  and was a close friend  of and collaborator with  Johannes Brahms .  Joachim was a Hungarian jew , and a child prodigy who played the Mendelssohn violin concerto under the composer's direction as a boy . Remember, Mendelssohn was born in 1809 and died in  1847.  He was also a close friend of  Robert Schumann and his wife Clara, who was a renowned pianist .    

    Brahms  consulted Joachim when  writing his  only violin concerto , still  one of the most famous in the repertoire , for technical advice about writing for the violin ,  and Joachim made the work famous .  Joachim made only  a tiny handful  of primitive recordings,  five short  works in all ,in 1903 .  They include excerpts from Bach's works for solo violin ,  a breif work of  his own composition for violin and piano , and  two of the Brahms Hungarian dances  , originally written for piano two hands and later orchestrated by the composer and others,  in transcriptions for violin and piano .

   Joachim was in his 70s, somewhat past his prime , and the  antiquated sound has a  great deal of snap, crackle,and    pop, as is the norm with ancient recordings .  One thing you notice is  that  he uses  considerably less vibrato than  string players today , and how freely he applies  the rhythmic flixibilty called rubato  , speeding up and slowing down  freely in a manner not written into the score  . and a tendency to  go from note to note with a  curious  sliding effect which is very rare today .  To unaccustomed ears, it  sounds rather  sentimental, but you get used ot it .   

   A time machine has yet to be invented yet,  but  I almost feel as though I've been in one .

  

Posted: Jul 30 2012, 10:06 PM by the horn | with no comments
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A Contemporary American Composer Calls Mozart "The Most Overrated Composer Of All Time "

  There's an interesting discussion at  a classical music forum I belong to  called classicalmusicguide.com  today .  A member  started a thread about  American composer Arnold Rosner (  1945-) , who teaches at Queensborough community college of the City University Of New York  , who  has called  Mozart, probably the most universally  adored composer of all time,  vastly overrated . In fact, Rosner  thinks  he's the most overrated composer of all time . 

   Of course, to his countless  admirers  today  ,  this is absolute heresy , and  is enough to  make their blood pressure rise to stroke-inducing levels .  Blasphemy .  Wolfgang friggin' Amadeus Mozart ? The divine Mozart  ?  How dare he ?   The  incomprehensible musical genius and  astonishing child prodigy who began composing  as a small  boy ,  had a perfect ear  and  astonishing  mastery of the art of composition from such an early age , not to mention  piano virtuoso of  the highest rank  and a violin virtuoso to boot ?    The  boy wonder composer who matured  into  a  supreme master who wrote sublime masterpieces  in every musical form ?   Some of the greatest operas, symphonies, concertos,  chamber works,  and choral works  ever written, and one of the most frequently performed and recorded  composers of all time ?   And who died at the tragically early age of 35  yet still wrote over 500 works  and  departed this world  leaving who knows how many great works unwritten ? 

   However, Rosner is not alone .  Even the greatest geniuses have their detractors ,  and the  legendary eccentric Canadian pianist Glenn Gould  actually called Mozart a "bad ocmposer who died  too late rather than too early ".  Which did not prevent him from making some  renowned  but eccentric recordings of some of Mozart''s piano sonatas .  And the  once famous English composer Frederick Delius (1862 - 1934)  said that  he considered any musician who admired Mozart to be a bad  musician . 

    Oh well, there's no accounting for tastes .  On the forum, the reaction to  Rosner's provocative statements ranges from  outrage  to agreement .  But  Mozart has been idolized by  such great names as  Schubert, Chopin, Tchaikovsky , Rossini, Wagner,  Richard Strauss and  so many other great composers, not to mention  such great  performers as  pianists Artur Schnabel,  Vladimir Horowitz, and  renowned conductors such as George Szell Sir Thomas Beecham,  Bruno Walter, Sir Georg Solti,  and countless others .

   Of course,  fulsome praise of any one can become annoying , and  not everything  Mozart wrote is a sublime masterpiece .  Everything he wrote  is  the product of impeccable  technical skill  and  craftsmanship , but his earlier works  do not come anywhere near the greatness of the mature ones, even though they show astonishing  talent for someone that young .  He wrote  to please his audiences , and often this included writing  plleasant diversions for  European aristocrats who liked to have nice music to accompany their  meals .  Many of these works are clalled Divertisments and serenades, including the famous "Eine Kleine Nachtmusic ", which contrary to  popular belief does not mean  a little  night music in the sense of  a little bit of nice music  for the evening, but a little serenade . Nachtmusik being the  German equivalent of  serenade .

    Bu at their best, Mozart's works are indeed sublime masterpieces .  How could any one belittle such  miracles as the operas Don Giovanni,  Le nozze Di Figaro,  The Magic Flute,  the last three  out of  41 numbered symphonies ,  the greatest of his 27 piano concertos, the clarinet concerto,  the Requiem, which  was left unfinished at his untimely death and completed by a pupil ,  to name only some ?

   You don't  achieve  250 years of  lasting popularity  by being a mediocrity .  Maybe Arnold Rosner is merely being guilty of envy and sour grapes .

 

Posted: Jul 23 2012, 10:51 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Mozart - Most Overated Composer Of All Time ?

  There's an interesting discussion at  a classical music forum I belong to  called classicalmusicguide.com  today .  A member  started a thread about  American composer Arnold Rosner (  1945-) , who teaches at Queensborough community college of the City University Of New York  , who  has called  Mozart, probably the most universally  adored composer of all time,  vastly overrated . In fact, Rosner  thinks  he's the most overrated composer of all time . 

   Of course, to his countless  admirers  today  ,  this is absolute heresy , and  is enough to  make their blood pressure rise to stroke-inducing levels .  Blasphemy .  Wolfgang friggin' Amadeus Mozart ? The divine Mozart  ?  How dare he ?   The  incomprehensible musical genius and  astonishing child prodigy who began composing  as a small  boy ,  had a perfect ear  and  astonishing  mastery of the art of composition from such an early age , not to mention  piano virtuoso of  the highest rank  and a violin virtuoso to boot ?    The  boy wonder composer who matured  into  a  supreme master who wrote sublime masterpieces  in every musical form ?   Some of the greatest operas, symphonies, concertos,  chamber works,  and choral works  ever written, and one of the most frequently performed and recorded  composers of all time ?   And who died at the tragically early age of 35  yet still wrote over 500 works  and  departed this world  leaving who knows how many great works unwritten ? 

   However, Rosner is not alone .  Even the greatest geniuses have their detractors ,  and the  legendary eccentric Canadian pianist Glenn Gould  actually called Mozart a "bad ocmposer who died  too late rather than too early ".  Which did not prevent him from making some  renowned  but eccentric recordings of some of Mozart''s piano sonatas .  And the  once famous English composer Frederick Delius (1862 - 1934)  said that  he considered any musician who admired Mozart to be a bad  musician . 

    Oh well, there's no accounting for tastes .  On the forum, the reaction to  Rosner's provocative statements ranges from  outrage  to agreement .  But  Mozart has been idolized by  such great names as  Schubert, Chopin, Tchaikovsky , Rossini, Wagner,  Richard Strauss and  so many other great composers, not to mention  such great  performers as  pianists Artur Schnabel,  Vladimir Horowitz, and  renowned conductors such as George Szell Sir Thomas Beecham,  Bruno Walter, Sir Georg Solti,  and countless others .

   Of course,  fulsome praise of any one can become annoying , and  not everything  Mozart wrote is a sublime masterpiece .  Everything he wrote  is  the product of impeccable  technical skill  and  craftsmanship , but his earlier works  do not come anywhere near the greatness of the mature ones, even though they show astonishing  talent for someone that young .  He wrote  to please his audiences , and often this included writing  plleasant diversions for  European aristocrats who liked to have nice music to accompany their  meals .  Many of these works are clalled Divertisments and serenades, including the famous "Eine Kleine Nachtmusic ", which contrary to  popular belief does not mean  a little  night music in the sense of  a little bit of nice music  for the evening, but a little serenade . Nachtmusik being the  German equivalent of  serenade .

    Bu at their best, Mozart's works are indeed sublime masterpieces .  How could any one belittle such  miracles as the operas Don Giovanni,  Le nozze Di Figaro,  The Magic Flute,  the last three  out of  41 numbered symphonies ,  the greatest of his 27 piano concertos, the clarinet concerto,  the Requiem, which  was left unfinished at his untimely death and completed by a pupil ,  to name only some ?

   You don't  achieve  250 years of  lasting popularity  by being a mediocrity .  Maybe Arnold Rosner is merely being guilty of envy and sour grapes .

 

Posted: Jul 23 2012, 10:51 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Have Studio Recordings Of Classical Music Become A Thing Of The Past ?

  Classical recordings , whether  on LP ,CD or  cassette ,  are either  made  with or without an audience , and  those without one are called "studio" recordings , because they are sometimes made in a studio specifically desinged for  making recordings , or in actual concert halls or opera houses .  Recordings of  live performances, in concert halls and opera houses , are common ,  but many of these are subject to  special post -performance sessions  where  mistakes or  less than  precise  moments  are  redone and doctored by the engineers  to make them  appear  more perfect in execution  , and  applause  and audience noises  removed  through  technological  savvy . 

   Other  live performances , usually on the smaller  record  labels which  lack the  money of the major ones , give you  the actual thing , warts and all .  But  studio  recordings  are becoming rarer and rarer  , mostly because the costs of producing them have become prohoibitive  and  low  sales  .  No longer do the major classical labels such as Decca, EMI , R.C.A. , Sony Classical , and   Deutsche Grammophon  put out a steady stream of  studio recordings  of  the  great works of the orchestral and operatic repertoire ,  and virtually none  of the world's  greatest  orchestras   make  studio recordings any more due to  economic  woes and low sales . They rely on  their  vast back catalogues  of  such recordings  for sales  but occaisionally issue live recordings  . 

   Some of  the  great orchestras  have gone into business  by creating their own record labels  which issue  some  of their live performances  .  Among these are the London Symphony ,  the Chicago Symphony ,  the Royal Concertgebouw orchestra of Amsterdam ,  the Boston Symphony  , the San Francisco Sympony  and the  London Philharmonic .  Studio recordings  of  complete operas  are now virtually non-existent  because they are so expensive to produce ,  although  vast numbers of them from the past are still available .  The big thing today  in opera  is  live performances on DVD from such great opera houses as the Met, La Scala in Milan, the Royal opera in London ,  Vienna, Berlin  , Paris ,Munich and elsewhere . 

   Some are released by  the  classical record labels , and others by independent  DVD companies .  If you want  a DVD of any particular popular opera , you can now choose  from  multiple versions from different opera houses  and  many  lesser-known operas are also available .  You can see and hear  virtually all of today's  top opera singers and quite a few  from the past, too . 

   Some recent live opera performances  have also been issued on CD  by the major labels  .  But  the  good old days when  the New York Philharmonic made  numerous  studio recordings  under the late, great Leonard Bernstein  for what was then knwon as Columbia  records (now Sony Classical)  when he was music director in the 1960s,  the Chicago symphony  did the same  with the late great Sir Georg Solti  for Decca  in the  70s and 80s ,  the legendary Herbert Von karajan  produced recordings by the  bushel  with the Berlin Philharmonic  for both Deitsche Grammophon  and EMI , Eugene  Ormandy  did the same with the Philadelphia orchestra  on  Columbia  and R.C.A.  are no more .  Many of these recordings  are still available on CD, though . 

   Great pianists , violinists, cellists  and other  instrumentalists  made  countless recordings  of  concertos    solo works and works from the chamber music repertoire . Among them such legendary names as  Jascha Heifetz,  Arthur Rubinstein,  Vladimir Horowitz,  Yehudi Menuhin,  Mstislav Rostropovich ,  Dennis Brain ,  Claudio Arrau , to name only a handful .

   Such  great opera singers  as  Luciano Pavarotti ,  Joan Sutherland ,  Maria Callas,  Renata Tebaldi ,  Marilyn Horne,  Placido  Domingo  ,  Renata Scotto,  Sherill MIlnes,  Tito Gobbi,  Nicolai Ghiaurov  ,  Leontyne Price ,  Richard Tucker ,  Carlo Bergonzi ,  Regine Crespin ,  Victoria De Los Angeles,  Birgit Nilsson ,  and others  appeared  in   complete  studio   recdordings  of   famous operas  by Verdi, Puccini, Rossini, Donizetti , Bizet ,  Gounod,  Wagner,  Richard Strauss ,  Massenet  and other composers  under such  great conductors as  Karajan, Solti, Leinsdorf ,  Klemperer, Maazel,  Mehta,  Sawallisch , Abbado,  Muti, Boulez  Boehm, and others  , and  these are still very much available . 

   However , some of the independent  smaller labels  such as Chandos , Hyperion ,  CPO,  Naxos ,  and others  are still producing  studio recordings  , often with  the excellent radio orchestras of Germany  and elsewhere in Europe  under distinguished   conductors  such  as Neeme Jarvi ,  Gianandrea Noseda ,  Sir Andrew Davis  and others .  Many of these recordings are not of the core masterpieces of the orchestral repertoire  by Beethoven, Brahms,Tchaikovsky,Dvorak,  Schubert,  Mendelssohn, Schubert  etc but  of interesting off-beat repertoire  by lesser-known but  admirable composers as   Nikolai Myaskovsky ,Mily Balakirev ,  Wilhelm Stenhammar ,  Franz Schmidt ,  Vincent D'Indy ,  Arnold Bax ,  Alberic Magnard,  Sergei Taneyev,  and others . 

   There are already countless  recordings of the symphonies and concertos  of Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky  and other great composers .  How many do we really need ?   Over 70 different conductors  in  the past  50 years or so  have made sets of all nine  Beethoven symphonies for example, some more than once . Karajan made no fewer than four of them !   So it's wonderful  to have  so much  lesser-known but  highly enjoyable  repertoire  available , including hundreds of operas which had never been recorded until recently . The classical recordng industry  is not in decline - it's evolving .

  

Posted: Jul 16 2012, 11:04 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Why Is It So Difficult To Promote Classical Music In America ?

   Every one who loves classical music  and follows what is going on in the field  is deeply concerned about  the greying of audiences  at concerts ,opera and  other classical events .  Where are the younger  people ?  Why is it so difficult to  sell out  performances and attract  more people to them ?  Who or what is to blame for this predicament ?  Can classical music survive and  flourish  in America ?  And given the woeful lack of  government support , how can we get  private philanthropies  and wealthy people to contribute  enough to keep  our strugggling  orchestras and opera companies from going under  and  jeopardizing the livelihoods of the many  talented, dedicated and hard-working  classical musicians in America ?

    There are no easy answers to these questions .  But one thing is certain ;  the orchestras, opera companies  , the conductors ,musicians , and  arts administrators cannot and must not  take all the blame, as some  music critics and commentators would have us believe .  The difficulties with  growing audiences are absolutley not  due to  a lack of  artistic excellence or a lack of  interesting repertoire .  Nor are they due, as some would have us believe , to the fact that  so much of what is heard  at performances is music from the past and a lack of new music . In fact, within the last 30 years or so ,  an enormous number of new orchestral works, operas , and other classical works have been  performed , more than  most peopel realize . 

   In fact, there is greater diversity of repertoire being performed today than ever before in the history of Western Classical Music .  The repertoire  is anything but  "ossified" as many critics claim .  It is in constant flux .  There is a core repertoire of lastingly popular works by Mozart, Beethoven, Bach ,  Dvorak, Tchaikovsky, Schubert, Schumann , Mendelssohn  , Rachmaninov and other world-famous composers , but ever year new works are introduced , and  long neglected works from th epast are revivied . 

    Nor  can any one claim that  standards of performance  are not  very high , and that  lackluster performances are the norm .  In fact, standards of performance is probably higher than ever before .  Fifty years ago ,  there were only  a handful of world-class orchestras in America ;  basically those of  New York, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia and Cleveland , the so-called "big five" orchestras .  But now there are world-class orchestras in Los Angeles, San Francisco,  Pittsburgh, Detroit, St.Louis,  Baltimore, Washington,D.C., Seattle,  Minneapolis,  Houston,Dallas,  and other U.S. cities, and even the so-called lesser orchestras  all over America are now  better than ever before , due to the many  highly gifted young musicians  trained at  our top music schools . 

   Until  fairly recently, the only  major opera companies in America were the Met in New York ,  the New York City opera, and  those of San Francisco and  Chicago .  But  the number of opera companies in America has  increased to a degree which would have been previously unimaginable .  

   So   why is it so difficult to grow audiences ?  Things are   not  completely gloomy , and opera as a whole in in fact more poplular than ever before .  There is absolutely no reason why ay one  who is not  a classical music lover  and knows little or nothing about this kind of music  should NOT give  it  a chance  .  If they would just keep an open mind  and try it, they might  become highly enthusiastic  and wonder where classical music had been all their lives .

   Part of the problem may be diue to a lack of music appreciation classes  in our public schools  , as these have unfortunately been  dropped  for the most part .  Another reason is undoubtebly  the fact that  th emyth that classical music is "stuffy,boring and elitist ", and not something for  "regular people".  Another is the fact that classical music  is so vastly different from the kinds of music that  so many Americans enjoy , whether ,Pop, Rock,  Country Western, or what have you . It's much more complex on the whole , and  you need to learn something about it first . 

   You see,  when most Americans think about "music", they think  of songs .  They are not accustomed to listening to purely instrumental  music  which  unflds and developes over a period of time.  Vocal music, such as opera, art songs,  oratorios etc, is a very importan tpart of classical music , but much is purely instrumental, such as symphonies, concertos, sonatas ,etc  .  Untile peopel get accustomed to it , classicla music  will often seem  as  difficult to  understand as a language with which you are unfamiliar .  But it doesn't require as much time or effort  as to learn a foreign language .   

   Again, there are no easy answers  as to how to  get more people to make classical music a part of their lives .  But  we must  never lose hope !

  

  

Posted: Jul 10 2012, 10:55 PM by the horn | with no comments
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