October 2012 - Posts
One of the world's foremost composers, Hans Werner Henze (Hen-tse ) has died in Dresden at the age of 86 . Henze may possibly be the last in a long line of great German and Austrian composers beginning with Bach ,Handel, Haydn, Mozart ,Beethoven , Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Bruckner ,Mahler ,Richard Strauss , Hindemith and his eccentric contemporary Karlheinz Stockhausen, who passed away in 2007 .
Henze was born in the northwestern region of Westphalia in 1926 , studied with the composer Wolfgang Fortner , who is little known outside of Germany today , and began to make a reputation as one of Germany's most promsing young composers . He developed a highly eclectic style of composition , sometimes using 12-tone serialism and at other times adapting a neo-classical style influenced by Stravinsky while maintaining a distinctive voice of his own .
Henze was a confirmed left-winger and an unabashed Marxist ,maintaining his ties with various communist parties in Europe, including that of italy where he settled after the second world war , as well as spending time in Cuba where he taught and composed works with a decided Marxist bias . He was also active as a teacher at leading European avant-garde music centers and in America , which he visited regularly , and was active as a conductor , not only of his own music .
Henze composed prolifically in virtually all musical idioms ; operas, symphonies, concertos,ballet and film scores , choral works , chamber music etc , including no fewer than 15 operas and 10 symphonies . Among his best known operas are Der Junge Lord (the young lord ) a bizarre black comedy about an eccentric English nobleman who visits a small German town , passing an ape off as his nephew with weird results , the Bassarids, based on Greek mythology , Elegy For Young Lovers , Konig Hirsch ( king of the stags ) , and the political opera We Come To The River . They have been performed regularly by virtually all of the leading European opera companies , though not quite as often in America, and the Metropolitan opera has yet to perform any of them. Perhaps this will change sometime in the future .
His works are hardly easy listening , but they are by no means as esoteric and abstruse as those of Pierre Boulez, Elliott Carter , Stockhausen and Milton Babbitt , for example , and his orchestral works feature sumptuous and highly colorful orchestration . Many eminent conductors , such as Christoph von Dohnanyi, former music director of the Clevenad orchestra , Sir Simon Rattle ,Kurt Masur , Sir Georg Solti and others, have performed his orchestral works all over the world , and most of his output has been recorded , including the composer conducting . Many of these recordings are on the Deutsche Grammophon label .
Only time will tell how posterity sees Henze's music , but the world of classical music has lost one of its most important figures .
There's an old joke about a music critic who opened his unfavorable review of a concert with the line - The X Philhamonic orchestra played Beethoven last night -Beethoven lost . But serioulsy , this post will compare the similarities and differences between symphony orchestras and football teams . There are definite similarities, but considerable differences,too .
Think of the orchestra members as the team , and the music director, who is the orchestra's chief conductor , as the head coach .The assistant conductor is the assistant coach . The orchestra has a variety of people working in its management , and th eorchestra has its management and owner or owners, but orchestras don't have owners per se . They have a boards of directors , and a general manager who is in charge of running the orchestra , and people working in various capacities, such as publicity , public relations , commiunity outrach , artistic management , finance etc . They have borads of directors , often consisting of wealthy people involved with philanthropy etc .
Each member of the orchestra has a particular position and function . Just a sa football team has its quartback, halfback, linebackers ,etc , there are the different sections of the orchestra ; strings ,consisting of first and second violins, violas, cellos, and double basses , the harp , the woodwinds, consisting of the flutes, piccolo, oboes, English horn, Clarinets, bass clarinet , bassoons and contraassooon , the brass, with the horns, the trumpets, the trombones , tuba . Finally, there are the percussion, consisting of the tympani , and the rest of the section which plays a wide variety of instruments, including cymbals, bass drum, snare drum, etc .
Each section hads its prinicpal player , plus in American orchestras , the associate prncipal, assistant principals etc . The concertmaster, or principal first violin, could be compared to the quarteback . He or she is the leader of the first violins and plays the violin solos in any given work with them , and is in charge of deciding the bowings for the section, and there are the principal second violin , associate and assistant principals of both violin sections, and then the rank-and-file players . Ditto prinicpal viola, cello, and bass sections etc .
In a typical American orchestra, there are the principal flute, oboe, clarinet and bassoon players, plus the second flute, clarinet, oboe etc, th eassociate proincipal who divides work with the principal and plays third flute, obe, clarinet etc, plus the piccolo, English horn, bass clarinet and contrabassoon players . There are also occaisional parts for instruments such as the smalle flat clarinet etc.
The horn section in a typical major US orchestra consists of the prinicpal horn , the associate principal horn who divides the work on a program with the prinicpal and also plays fifth horn when six to eight horns are callled for, the assistant principal horn who takes over certain parts of works to enable the principal horn to avoid lip fatigue , and the second, third and fourth horns . When extra h0orns are needed n works calling for very large orchestras , extra players who are not regular members of the section are used .
There is the principal trumpet , plus the second, third and fourth trumpets . The fourth trumpet sometimes functions as an associate principal . Then there are principal, associate principal, second and third trombone. The third trombone plays the bass trombone, which is equipped with extra tubing for low notes . Ther eis only 0one tuba player, because very few works call for more than one tuba . The few which do require an extra player who is not a regular orchestra member . Certain works require horns 5-8 to play the so-caled Wagner tubas, and instrument which looks somewhat like a barit0one horn or euphonium but which is a different instrument . And sometimes a trombone player is used to play baritone horn in the occaisional work which calls for it .
The tympanist is the head of the percussion section , and the other members play a wide variety of percussion instruments , including as I mentioned, cymbals, snare and bass drum, castanets , triangle etc . Occaisionally , a pianist is needed , as a limited number of works use them as an orchestral, not a solo instrument . Each orchestra also has an organist for those works which require this majestic instrument .
There is also a personnel manager , whose job is to co-ordinate the orchestras rehearsals, scheduling ,etc , and to make sure that each musician knows when he or she is needed for a rehearsal or concert . Not every musician is needed for every work an orchestra plays , so each must know when he or she is needed . And when extra or substitute musicians are needed , the personnel manager is responsible for engaging them , as well as running audiitions . This is a very important job .
Of course, no football team could function without a coach , and an assistant coach or coaches , and the orchestra needs a conductor , whose job is to lead the orchestra , prepare works during rehearsals etc . But the music director , or chief conductor cannot possibly lead every concert of th eseason ,lasting from September until possibly as late as June , plus a Summer residency at a festival etc .
So there are guest conductors to lead various concerts througout the season , plus an assistant conductor who assists the conductor during rehearsals , and may have to take over a concert at the last minute if the scheduled conductor is ill or unable to appear for any reason . nSme orchestras have a regular guest who is called the principal giuest conductor , and an associate conductor who leads some cncerts .
Like the coach , the conductor, whoever he or she may be for any given concert, is repsonsible for preparing everything and seeing to it that the orchestra has mastered the music and knows just what to do . The individula musicians are respinsible for their individual parts , but the conductor has to study the full score , which shows all the different musical lines simultaneously , and has to co-ordinate the whole concert, which is no easy task . The conductor must be able to correct mistakes during rehearsal , make sure that everyone is playing in tune, and that all the sections of the orchestra are clearly balanced and that everything can be heard clearly . This is just the tip of the iceberg of the conductor's numerous tasks .
Whether it's a football team or an orchestra , it's all teamwork !
The other week I was able to borrow a huge set of CDs from a nearby library on interloan - nothing less than the complete symphonies of Joseph Haydn (1732-1809 ) . Yep. All 104 of the symphonies by the great 18th century composer known as the "father of the symphony" , even though he was not the first one actually to compose them . 37 , count 'em, 37 CDs ! The performances are on the Sony Classical label , with the noted American conductor Dennis Russell Davies and the excellent Stuttgart chamber orchestra , and are excellent .
I had already heard most of them on individual recordings by many eminent conductors , including parts of the first integral set by the late Hungarian conductor Antal Dorati , and Bernstein,Karajan, Colin Davis, Karl Boehm , and others , but this was my first chance to hear the whole vast symphonic output of Haydn in one fell swoop . These works , most of which are rarely if ever heard live , were written over a period of nearly 40 years , from the 1760s to the late 1790s and are highly varied , ranging from the brief and simple early ones to the grander and somewhat lengthier later ones . None is as long as the Beethoven symphonies except for Bethoven's first and eighth , his shortest . Haydn's range form about fifteen minutes to a little over thrity .
Quite a few have nicknames , none of which was given to them by the composer . Over the years , various listeners and even critics were reminded of certain extramusical things by the music , and nicknames somehow stuck to them . Probably the best known of these is the so-called "Surprise symphony", no 94 , which features sudden outbursts of loudness amid quietness in the slow movement . No 68 is known as "La Poule" (hen in French ) because a certain passage reminded someone of the pecking of a hen ! No 100 is called "The Military" because it makes use of extra percussion in the second movement and the finale . No 101 is called "The clock " because the slow movement reminded someone of the ticking of a clock . And so forth . A trio of early ones are known as "Morning, Midday and Evening ". No 31 is called the "horn signal" because it features prominent virtuosic parts for four French horns and is virtually a concerto . All the others use only two French horns ; four did not become the norm until the 19th and 20th centuries when composers began to write for larger orchestras .
Many of the symphonies were written when Haydn was serving as Kapellmeister, or music director for music -loving members of the nobility who had their own small private orchestras and would have him compose a variety of works for their enjoyment and to entertain noble visiitors . Haydn spent many years in an isolated Hungarian manor owned by the count Nikolaus Eszterhazy , a great music lover . Haydn also composed a number of operas for the count , who maintained his own small opera company in a private theater . Haydn was responsible for writing the music and hiring the musicians , and directing the orchestra at private concerts . He was literally a paid servant, and had to wear a servant's uniform , but it was a secure and well-paying job . Having the great Haydn as his kapellmeister was a feather in the count's hat . Over the years , Haydn's music achieved great popularity throughout Europe , and when the count died and the estate was inherited by a relative who was not much of a music lover , Haydn moved to Vienna , iwell off on his own and famous . He continued to compose and traveled around Europe , including extended stays in London ,where he was ocmmissioned ot write his late symphonies, which became known as the "London symphonies " . He was also awarded with an honorary doctorate from Oxford University , and the symphony he wrote for the occaision , no 92 , is known as the "Oxford symphony ".
Haydn died in 1809 at the advanced age of 77 , unusual for the day , universally revered as a great master . He outlived his great younger friend Mozart , whom he greatly admired , by 18 years . The symphonies are so inventive , melodious and life-affrming that I fail to see how anyone could possibly dislike them in the least . It's feel good music .
It's been a great experience hearing the whole shebang !
Yes, too many American orchestras and opera companies are experiencing serious financial difficultes and even some of those in Europe . And to make matters worse , the Atlanta symphony , the Minnesota orchestra in Minneapolis and the Indianapolis symphony are struggling with labor disputes which have kept their seasons from opening as usual . Maestro James Levine is still beset with health problems and will be absent from the Metropolitan opera's roster of conductors for the first time in forty years . The Boston symphony is still searching for the right conductor to take his place as music director .
But the season as a whole has been going strong for a month now, and the young and highly gifted French Canadian conductor Yannick Nezet- Seguin has taken the rens of the August Philadelphia orchestra and hopes are running high for him to revitalize this great orchestra . Riccardo Muti , beginning his third season as music director of the great Chicago symphony , has just completed a critically acclaimed set of concerts in Carnegie hall .
The world's opera houses are set to present an amazingly wide variety of operas ranging over four centuries - a diversity of repertoire unprecendented in the history of opera . Great conductors such as Muti, Pierre Boulez , Daniel Barenboim , Bernard Haitink , Mariss jansons , Claudio Abbado , Valery Gergiev , Leonard Slatkin , Neeme Jarvi , Kent Nagano , Simon Rattle , Christian Thielemann , Riccardo Chailly , Michael Tilson Thomas , and others are very much in action , and young lions of the podium such as Gustavo Dudamel , Nezet-Seguin, Andris Nelsons and others are establishing themselves as conductors of stature .
There is an abundance of highly talented talented young conductors , instrumentalists and opera singers is emerging all over the classical music world , and new works by a wide variety of contemporary composers is being performed . As far as this observer of the classical music scene is concerned , the glass is more than half full , and not half empty by any means . Classical music is very much alive and kicking , and will endure . You can't keep a great art form down !
Lazy me ! I've been neglecting posts about Opera News magazine for a while . But here's a profile of the August and September issues . In the August issue , Washinton Post critic Philip Kennicott discusses his ideas of how opera may change in the next decade in terms of production technology , reaching new audiences , new forms of broadcasting etc . Jennifer Melick , managing editor of Symphony magazine , discusses the impressive new National Opera Center in New York , which offers splendid facilities for auditions and opera rehearsals etc .
Opera News editor-in-chief F. Paul Driscoll has an article entitled "Opera's Next Wave " - a profile of sme of the most talented up-and-coming younger singers , conductors , composers and arts managers in the field of opera in America today . These are likely to be the superstars of opera in the near future .
The September issue has the annual preiview of the repertoire in opera houses for 2012-13 alll over the globe, not only Europe and America , but Australia , South America and elsewhere . This includes dates of performance for the Met, La Scala, the Royal opera in London, the great houses of Berlin,Vienna, Munich , Paris , Dresden , Hamburg , you name it . The preview shows amazing worldwide diversity of operatic repertoire ; old operas, new ones, familiar and unfamiliar ones of dazzling variety .
A particularly interesting article on the members of the orchestra of the San Francisco opera shows what it's like to work in the pit of a major opera house ; the chalenges, frustrations and joys of this extremely demandng yet rewarding job . Noted American opera conductor David Lawton, professor of music at the State University of New York at Stony Brook , has an article on the Los Angeles opera's revival of the rarely heard early opera I Die Foscari (the two Foscaris ) .
Reviews of opera performances around the world from London ,Berlin , Milan, Geneva, Salzburg , New York, Washington D.C. , San Francisco , and Brussels by the magazine's travelling reviewers can be read , as well as reviews of new CD recordings of operas by Handel , Dvorak, Franz Schreker , Puccini , and DVDs of operas by Richard Strauss , Janacek , Monteverdi , Verdi, Tchaikovsky , etc .
Editor F. Paul Driscoll has an extensive obiturary of the late great baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau , who passed away this May . You can also check out the agaznes website operanews.com .