December 2012 - Posts
No one could say that 2012 was an uneventful year for classical music , or any year in recent times . So much happened, both good and bad , hence the paraphrase of the famous opening line of Dicken's "Tale of Two Cities ". The existential crisis of the world's orchestras and opera companies continued , and more than a few have either gone under or are at imminent risk of folding .
The New York City opera is still looking for a permanent home after being forced out of its long time home in Lincoln Center because of financial difficulties , the David H. Koch theater , formerly the New York State theater . The Mnnesota orchestra in Minneapolis is still locked out because of labor disputes, the Hague Philharmonic in the Netherlands has lost much government funding and must downsize th enumber of musicians it uses , the South West german radio orchestra is hanging by a thread . the storied opera companies of Italy, birthplace of opera are having a rough time because of economic woes , the Syracuse and Utica symphonies of upstate New York have gone under, as well as the San Antonio opera in Texas and the Napa Valley Philharmonic in California , and many other groups have been hit hard by tough economic times .
Despite all this, the vast majority of the world's orchestras and opera companies are still alive and kicking . Some towering figures in classical music passed away , such as composers Elliott Carter, Hans Werner Henze, baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and pianist/scholar Charles Rosen , plus the great operatic sopranos Lisa Della Casa and Russia's Galina Vishnevskaya , widow of the late,great cellist/conductor Mstislav Rostropovich .
Biut there are still so many great musicians who are still very much with us , composers and performers , and many brilliant young talents have begun to make ian international reputation as composers, conductors, instrumentalists and singers .
Venuzuela's acclaimed "El Sistema ", which has enabled so many gifted young classical musicians to make important careers is flourishing and others countries, including America, are beginning to emulate it . The East/West Divan orchestra, founding by the renowned Israeli conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim brings together gifted young Israeli and Palestitian classical musicians to play as members of an orchestra, and to tour internationally and make recordings .
The classical CD industry no longer functions as it did until recently , recording complete studio recordings of operas and issuing regular new recordings by the world's leading orchestras, and sales could certainly be better . But there is unprecedented diversity of classical repertoire available ; everything from medieval and Renaissance music to works by a wide variety of contemporary composers . So much interesting classical music which had never been previously recrded is now easily available . Classical CD collectors who are curious to hear unusual repertoire have never had it so good .
More and more classical music is now available on DVD ; four centuries worth of oepratic repertoire from opera houses all over the world , orchestral concerts and so much more . Youtube.com offers a wealth of classical music which you can see and hear at the click of a mouse .
The glass is definitely half full ,not half empty . There will be continued difficulties in 2013 , but also so much for which we must be gratefiul .
Stories have been circulating in the classical music world about the sad decline of one of the world's greatest virtuosos of the horn - the veteran principal horn of the world-famous Chicago symphony, Dale Clevenger, 72 . Clevenger has been prinicpal horn in Chicago since the mid 1960s, and has achieved great renown not only as an orchestral musician but a soloist al over the world . He has made acclaimed recordings of the horn concertos of Mozart, Richard Strauss, and the one for four horns by Robert Schumann and other works .
But any musician, now matter how accomplished , can only last so long . Advancing age inevitably brings physical decline , especially in brass players , whose lips cannot last forever . Being an orchestral musician is a very physically stressful and demanding job, and the horn is a notoriously difficult instrument to play and gto master . A study ranking different professions on their stress levels has shown that being prinicpal horn in a world-class orchestra is one of the most streesful jobs in existence !
It's not a job for the faint-hearted ! You never know if you will make it through a performance without making "clams" , or splitting and cracking notes, because of the difficulty of the horn, especially in the highest notes . Playing the long , complex symphonies of Bruckner, Mahler and many other works is a grueling experience , and in order for the first horn to save his lip endurance, many orchestras, particularly in America and England, have an assistant principal horn who takes over periodically during difficult works to keep the prinicipal from exhaustion ,fatigue and stress . This is the principal's lifeline .
For decades , Dale Clevenger has been greatly admired by critics, audiences and fellow horn players , orchestral musicians and eminent conductors for his gorgeous sound , amazing technical virtuosity and panache , and he has appeared as a soloist in the demanding horn concertos of Mozart, Richard Strauss and other composers with his hometown Chicagoans and many other leading orchestras , as well as being a leading teacher of his instrument .
But unfortunately, there are reports from leading music critics who have admired his playing for years , uncluding Chicago's John Von Rhein, Anthony Tommasini of the New York Times, and others , of concerts in which he has flubbed too many notes , standing out like the proverbial sore thumb .
U.S. orchestras do not have a mandatory retirement age ,unlike those in Germany, where it is generally 65 , and music directors cannot demand the retirement of veteran musicians who are past their prime because of strict union regulations . Other renowned horn players have chosen to retire before Clevenger's age of 72 in order to avoid embarassing their orchestras and audiences and even because they found the stress of the job to great after many years , including Clevenger's predecessor in Chicago , the great Philip Farkas .
Will Clevenger finally decide it is time to call it quits after such a long and distinguished career ? Only time will tell .
Charles Rosen was no ordinary concert pianist . The protean pianist, scholar, author, teacher and thinker died on December 9th at the age of 85 . He was a true polymath ; an intelectual's intellectual , brilliant in diverse fields and remarkably versatile in the field of music , a man of vast and formidable erudition .
Born in New York in 1927 , he was a child prodigy who studied from childhood with the legenday virtuoso Moritz Rosenthal , an heir to the great tradition of 19th century piano playing , but who ioronically did not study music formally at a leading conservatory . Instead , he studied French literature on both the undergraduate and graduate level at Columbia , obtaining a doctorate in this discipline ,in which he was an authority .
He went on to achieve international acclaim as a pianist in repertoire ranging from Bach to contemporary composers , making prize-winning recordings , as well as teaching at Stony Brook university , the University of Chicago and elsewhere . In addition , he wrote a number of greatly admired books on diverse musical topics, the most famous being "The Classical Style", a penetrating discussion of the music of Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven which has long been considered a classic of writing on music , as well as numerous articles and reviews for the New York Times , the New York Review Of Books and other leading publications .
Rosen's playing was not flashily virtuosic , but his technique was certainly up to the challenges of whatever music he played . Some considered him to be too cerebral a performer , but you could never accuse him of dulllness . His recordings of the music of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann , the late Elliott Carter and other composers are still very much available .
His expertise ranged from the music of Bach, Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Schumann and Brahms to the music of Schoenberg and other great 20th century composers , and he was a committed advocate of the formidably intricate piano works of the late,great Elliott Carter , who preceded him in death by only a two months and who was a close friend .
I was priveleged to take a graduate course in the criticism of music anbd other topics back in the 1980s at Stony Brook university on Long Island , and it was a memorable experience to hear his stimulating commentary on composers, critics , and criticism as well as being regaled by his recountngs of his experiences working with so many great musicians .
His books , such as The Classical Style and "Sonata Forms" , which discusses musicla structure , are not easy to digest and comprehend but are well worth the effort in reading . The world of classicla music has lost one of its foremost musicians ,scholars and thinkers .
Until a few years ago, WQXR was proudly announced as "The radio station of the New York Times . " It had been America's flagship classical music station for decades and had long been owned by te Times . But financial difficulties forced it to get rid of the venerable classicla radio station , and in order to survive, it had to become affiliated with New York's WNYC , which carries many NPR programs and also to become non-comercial and funded by pledge drives etc .
The station ,located in Manhattan , had to move to a different frequency , meaning that listeners had to put up with inferior reception , including yours truly . I had been listening for about 40 years since I was a teenager . So I pretty much gave up on listening to my regret because of poor reception . But recently, I got a BOSE radio , which many consider the best there is , and by golly , I can get pretty good reception despite move . You can also hear WQXR over the internet , but I just don't have the patience to stay glued to the ocmputer for that long .
WQXR has always offered a lot more than classical DJs announcing what particular recording is being played , the name of the composer , title of the work and performers . Over the years it has hosted the Saturday afternoon live broadcasts of Metropolitan opera performances , taped broadcasts of the New York Philhamronic , Boston symphony and other great orchestras , taped broadcasts of performances from the Chicago Lyric opera and other U.S. opera companies , special live performances broadcast from various performance venues in New York , special weekly programs on opera and other kinds of classical music hosted by eminent musicologists, critics and other experts , and much,much more .
The station plays a very wide variety of classiclal works by ocmposers of every era , nationality and compositional style , and its announcers are the best in the business ; people who really know classical music and are experts in pronunciation of difficult ,tongue-twistng names by composers such as Khatchaturian , Myaskovslky , Ippolitov-Ivanov , etc as well as performing musicians .
Many classical stations, afraid of alienating conservative listeners , stick pretty much to the same old classical warhorses by Vivaldi, Bach,Handel, Mozart, Beethoven Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov etc . Not WQXR . It does play these thrice familiar works , but also music by far less well known but high quality composers ,too . You can hear music by composers such as Josef Suk, Karl Goldmark, Carl Nielsen , George Whitefield Chadwick , Alberto Ginastera and others which other classical stations would never drema of playing . Even works by contemporary composers . Like Forrest Gump's famous box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get .
For more information , check out wqxr.org .