February 2015 - Posts
If you go to facebook discussions , classical music forums, articles on the internet and other websites where classical music is discussed and
argued about , something which I as a classical musician naturally do every day , you can't help notice people who are either performers,
critics , scholars , teachers and others who are merely knowledgable listeners who are always longing for the "good old days"
of classical music , centuries or merely decades ago , when everything was so much better than the present day ; I just encountered
several in the past few days .
If you believe these individuals , everything was so much better in the world of classical music long ago ; most music was new , rather than
today's supposed concentration on music from the past, and a tiny fraction of it at that , when conductors were so much better than
those of today , ditto orchestras , violinists , cellists and other instrumental soloists , when orchestras supposedly had "distinctive sounnds"
rather than the way they supposedly "all sound alike" today , when standards of opera singing were so much higher , and when musicians
didn't all perform the same music the same way and performers had "real personality " and individuality ", as opposed to the "cookie
cutter" musicians of today who are all so" timid and pednatically literal ".
But in fact, there is no lack of new music today , and the classical repertoire is actually more DIVERSE than ever before .
Longing for the "golden age" is nothing new and can be found in all fields of human endeavor . The ancient Romans had a term for
someone who is always knocking the present and longing for the "good old days ". The Laudator Temporis Acti", or one who praises
bygone days . Classical music has been full of these "laudators " for as long as I can remember reading about it ; books,
magazine articles , etc , and now the internet . And I've been a classical music freak for nearly 50 years since I was a teenager !
I recently read an interesting article by an English musicologist which someone posted on facebook the other day , claiming that
we "don't perform classical music the right way " , based on research , historical recordings , writings etc .
According to this scholar , classical concerts have become rigid and formalized ; audiences were much more relaxed and casual at
concerts , and musicians didn't care about techincal perfection and avoided the pedantic literalism of interpretation which has become t
the norm today . Cincerts were fun and festive ! Musicians took risks and took interpretive liberties which are frowned upon today .
I've read numerous articles like in recent years . There may be some truth to it, but based on my decades of listeing experience to both
recordings and live performances, and countless reviews by critics in newspapers, magazines and now the internet , as well as books,
maintain that reports of the supposed "pedantic literalism " and "lack of individuality in interpretation " have been greatly exaggerated .
Why ? Because I've read countless reviews of live performances and recordings in my day in which critics mercilessly
lambasted msuicians for all the liberties they took with the music . !
Something just doesn't add up here . There's a huge paradox, and a double standard . If musicians today are so "pedantically literal ",
why have I read so many negative reviews in which the critics accused them of all manner of interpetive excesses , mannerisms
and other quirks which they PRAISE in old recordings by legendary musicians of the past ?
The legendary piano virtuoso Vladimir Horowowitz, (1903-1989 ) for example, is extolled for his interpetive flair, imagination , panache
and individuality . But one of today's most prominent piano virtuosos, Lang Lang of China , who is perhaps
the most renowned of today's classical pianists , is always being sneered at for his alleged "lack of seriousness and depth ,
superficial technical display at the expense of interpretive profundity and shameless exhibitionism " . Talk about a double
standard . Horowitz can do anything with the music he wants and critics rave , but Lang Lang shows his own flair and
individuality , and the critics blast him and refuse to acknowledge him as a serious musical artist . There are many,many
other examples of critics applying this double standard with other musicians of the present day .
Horowitz is held up as a paragon of pianists , yet Lang Lang is cynically used as an excuse to make sweeping generalizations about
how standards of musicianship have supposedly declined from the idealized past .
There have been similar brickbats handed out to to the brillianitly gifted Venuzuelan-born conductor Fustavo Dudmel, now in his
early 30s like Lang Lang , and who in the past decade or so has risen quickly into the foremost ranks of today' conductors
and is now music director of the prestigious Los Angeles Philharmonic . Dudamel is the most famous product of Venuzuela's
now famous "El Sistema", which has given so many poor youngsters in that country a chance to learn musical instuments and
play in numerous youth orchestras .
Dudamel is enormously gifted, charismatic , and bursting with enthusiasm . But he's no mere flashy podium glamor boy .
He's the genuine article ; a conductor who has the potential to become one of the greatest conductors in a field where conductors
often do not reach until long past youth , and elderly maestros who are still active are not at all uncommon .
But there has been plenty of critical flack , not necessarily nasty , but dismissing him as possibly haven risen to
prominence before reaching maturity as a musician .
To be a prominet classical musician today often means being damned if you do and damned if you don't . It's a no
win situation , because of those annoying Laudators Temporis Acti , or however the Latin plural goes . I don't think
I got the plural right, but you get my point .
But you can be sure that decades from now, when today's leading classical musicians are either dead or too elderly to
perform any more, people will be longing for the good old days of Lang Lang and Gustavo Dudamel, and their contemporaries
of the present day . The more things change, the more they stay the same .
The Metropolitan Opera's 2015 - 16 season will offer its usual varied operatic fare with the world's greatest singers , conductors , directors
and designers . The overall repertoire looks somewhat more conservative than usual , with no new or recent operas , but it's far from
uninteresting . There is less emphasis on 20th century operanext season than in the past several years also .
The veteran and beloved James Levine remains the Met's music director despite severe back trouble and other ailments which have
sidelined him for the past several years . But the good news is that his health seems to have improved considerably, even if he is forced
to use a motorized wheelchai in order to conduct .
There will be six new productions and a variety of other productions , some new this season . Verdi's great Otello , based on
Shakespeare's Othello will be the first new production and will open the season this September 21 st . Many consider this to be one of
the greatest of Italian operas , and it's gripping adaption of the Shakespeare play . The Latvian tenor Alexanders Antnenko will sing
the title role , and the brilliant young French -Canadian conductor Yannick Nezet-Seguin , currently music director of the Philadelphia
orchestra , will conduct .
"Elektra" , a harrowing tale of the vengeful Greek Greek princess Elektra , daughter of King Agamemnon of Trojan war fame , will be
a recent European-based production by the late French opera director Patrick Chereau , and will be conducted by the renowned
Finnish conductor and composer Esa-Pekka Salonen, currently composer in residence at the New York Philharmonic . The opera is not for the
faint-hearted , but you'll never forget it !
The 19th century French composer Georges Bizet is best known for his world famous opera Carmen , but the Met is reviving a much
less familiar opera of his after exactly 100 years ! It's "Les Pecheurs des Perles " (The Pearl Fishers ), an exotic tale of love and rivalrly
set in what is now Sri Lanka , formerly Ceylon . Anyone who enjoys Carmen should like this a lot .
"Roberto Devereaux " , by Gaetano Donizetti , is the completion of the trilogy of historical operas by the Italian composer
about Queen Elisabeth the first and her loves and rivalries . The other two , which will also be in the Met repertoire next season ,
are "Anna Bolena" (Anne Boelyn) and "Maria Stuarda ", about Mary Stuart . The late ,great Beverly Sills gave acclaimed performances of
these operas with the now unfortunately defunct New York City opera many years ago . The operas play fast and loose with the
historical facts but are so enjoyable it doesn't matter .
Puccini's "Manon Lescaut " was the composer's first successful opera , and is basically the same story as the slightly earlier French
opera by Jules Massenet called simply Manon . It's the story of a naive young French girl from the provinces who meets a dashing but
impecunious young nobleman while on the way to a convent and falls madly in love with him, with ultimately fatal results .
Finally , there is a new production of the strange and kinky opera "Lulu " by the Austrian composer Alban Berg , a pupil of Schoenberg .
The music is 12-tone but highly expressive . It's the bizarre story of an enigmatic young woman and Femme Fatale wo marries at least
three men in the course of the opera , each of whom dies in mysterious circumstances . In the last act, which was left uncompleted
by Berg at his untimely death but fisished by another composer many years later from the sketches , Lulu has become a prostitute
in London and is killed by none other than Jack the Ripper . The opera is decadent fun and qite approachable despite its atonality .
Other beoved operatic masterpieces in the repertoire next year will include Puccini's evergreen "La Boheme ", the thundering
melodrama "Tosca", and the exotic "Turandot ", set in ancient China ,also by Puccini .
Verdi's melodramatic "Il Trovatore ", hilariously pillaried by the Marx brother in the classic comedy "A Night at the Opera ",
and his sombre tragedy "Simon Boccanegra", set in medieval Genoa , will return . Placido Domingo , ,who has lately been singing baritone
roles in his 70s , will portray the doomed Doge of Genoa .
Rossini;s Scottish opera :La Donna Del Lago :(the lady of the lake) which had its Met premiere just last night , will return ,
as well as Donizetti's charming bucolic comedy "L'Elisir D'Amore " (The elixir of love ).
Wagner's "Tannhauser " , the tale of a medieval German troubador caught between his chaste love of a virtuous young
noblewoman and the wanton erotic goddess Venus , who keeps a lair in the German forest where she lures men , and goes off
to Rome to seek forgivemess from the Pope, will represent the German wing of the repertoire .
Even if you don't live anywhere near New York city , you can still experience Met performances live at movie theaters around the
country for much less than a good ticket would cost , as well as listen to the Saturday afternoon radio broadcasts which can be heard
all over America . You can stream live performances on your computer, too .
If you're planning to visit New York and have and have some free time , you can easily contact the Met's website
Metopera.org for information about tickets . There are alos plenty of DVDs of Met performances from the past available .
Attending a Met performance is a real treat ! There's absolutely nothing "stuffy or "elitist" about it . You can dress casually
and the audience has no hoity-toity rich people dressed to the nines attending for snobbish reasons . The Met audience is
made up of people who are opera fans who are just as passionate about opera as sports fans are about their home team !
And don't worry about foreign languages . You'll find a device on the seat in front of you with an English translation of the opera .
You can turn it off if you don't want it . But I definitely recommend it if you're new to opera .
In addition to being a place where you can see videos about news ,politics ,science, religion and virtually any subject in existence , as well as
pop music , Rock music , Jazz and what have you , Youtube is a fantastic way to experience classical music in all its endless varity .
You can hear recordings of music by virtually any composer of any period or nationality , ranging from ancient works written over four or
five centuries ago to recent works by contemporary composers . It's all there for you to experience at the click of a mouse !
There are also live concerts and opera performances , or individual pieces from concerts and excerpts from live opera performances .
Just put the name of any composer or perfoming musician on the youtube search engine and you can hear virtually anything you want !
If you want to hear recordings by such legendary musicians as Leonard Bernstein , Luciano Pavarotti , , Maria Callas , Aerhur
Runinstein , Vladimir Horowitz , Jascha Heifetz , Mstislav Rostropovich , Pablo Casals , Leopold Stokowski and others , their
recordings and in some cases live performances are right at your fingertips .
You can also see complete live performances of a wide variety of operas taken from such great opera houses as the Metropolitan opera ,
La Scala ,Milan, the Royal opera of London , the Paris opera , the Berlin State opera , the Vienna State opera , the Bayreuth Wagner festival
the Bavarian State opera in Munich , and elsewhere . You can hear legendary singers from the past such as Enrico Caruso ,
Feodor Chaliapin , Rosa Ponselle , Kirsten Flagstad ,Lauritz Melchior and others sing arias and other operatic excerpts on old recordings .
You can also sinteresting documentaries on such great composers as Wagner, Verdi , Beethoven and others .
Many of the world's greatest orchestras, such as the Berlin Philharmonic, the London symphony , the Royal concertgebouw orchestra of
Amsterdam , the Boston symphony and the New York Philharmonic and others have their own youtube channels .
Each video usually shows the performers of the recording , conductor, orchestra , record label etc, so if you hear a recording you
really like , you can get it from amazon.com or other websites . The sound may not be quite as good as on a CD you purchase, ,
but it's good enough .
Some of the classical music channels you can subscribe to on youtube are Addio BelPassato , Composer Corner , Goodman Musica, Il
Gruppo Di Docci , Unsung Masterworks , Classical Vault , 1 or 2 , IN Contrario Motu , to name only a few .
You can also e mail these performances to anyone or send them to facebook or twitter . If you register with youtube, you can leave
comments on any video on the site unless youssee the comments are closed sign . You will also receive replies to your comments .
Well, what are you waiting for ?
I didn't see last Sunday's Grammy Awards on television last Sunday as I was busy with other matters . But as a classical musician I'm always
curious to find out the winners in the classical recordings category . Among these were a recent CD of the atmospheric orchestral piece
"City Noir " , which evokes the dark and seemy film noir underworld of Los Angeles , with David Robertson and the St Louis
symphony , and "Become Ocean , " by John Luther Adams (no relation ) , which seeks to portray a world in which global warming has caused
sea levels to cover the earth , with Ludovic Morlot and the Seattle symphony .
The venerable if highly controversial French composer and conductor Pierre Boulez, who turns 90 in March and who has won a number
of Grammy awards , received a lifetime achievement award for his long and distinguished career .
But unfortunately , these classical Grammy awards rceived short shrift on television . They apparently did not even appear on the show
as they had many times in the past and were announced off air before the show . The days when the classical awards actually
appeared on the show and were announced by renowned classical musicians seem to be gone . This appears to be part of the
overall marginalization of classical music in America . Decades ago , renowned classical musicians such as Leonard Bernstein and others
actually appeared on the cover of Time magazine ; today , this would be extremely unlikely .
How and why did this happen ? There are no clear cut answers . Those in charge in the Grammy awards and television executives
seem to think that classical music just doesn't sell in America . Is there any way to reverse this pernicious trend and make classical
music more visible to the overall public in America ? Who knows ? But we've got to hope so .
The world of classical music was stunned by a bombshell this morning when the New York Philharmonic announced that its current music
director Alan Gilbert , 47 , will leave his prestigious but extremely demanding position as its music director at the end of the 2016-17 season .
Gilbert began his tenure with the orchestra in 2009 , after some years at the head of the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic in Sweden and
the Santa Fe Summer opera festival in New Mexico , as well as conducting many of the foremost orchestras of Europe and America as
The Juilliard trained Gilbert is the son of two violinists in the orchestra , his Japanese born mother still being a member . He came to
the orchestra to succeed the late Lorin Maazel , who passed away last year at the age of 84 . Gilbert was something of a dark horse
in the search for a conductor to take over after Maazel ; he had already had a distinguished conducting career but was not as high profile
as many of the potential candidates .
The Philharmonic administration hoped he would bring youthful brilliance and innovative programming to the orchestra , which had
however already played a wide variety of new music under previous music directors and guest conductors over the years .
Gilbert proved to be a staunch champion of new music by a wide variety of contemporary composers of varying nationalities and
compositional styles , In addition , he championed works by lesser known but outstanding composers .
Gilbert initiated bold projects such as a concert performance of the phantasmagorical surrealistic opera "Le Grande Macabre ", by the
late Hungarian composer Gyorgy Ligeti and concerts of unusual repertoire at the Armory in Manhattan . There was also a musical
Biennale , a festival of contemporary music comparable to the Biennales for art in Venice , to name only some of the adventurous
projects initiated by Gilbert . Of course, the orchestra continued to perform the beloved staples of the orchestral repertoire by Haydn, Mozart,
Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov et al . But no one could accuse the orchestra of sticking exclusively to the
tried and true .
Critical reaction to Gilbert's performances has been favorable on the whole, but there were always musical snipers who complained
about this or that , finding fault with his performances for this or that reason . This comes with the job in any major orchestra .
Being music director of the New York Philharmonic is probably one of the most thankless jobs in classical music .
Eminent conductors such as Leonard Bernstein , Pierre Boulez , Zubin Mehta, Kurt Masur , Lorin Maazel and others have been
subject to constant critical drubbing for this or that reason . Interpretive style, choice of repertoire , you name it .
It's impossible to please everyone .
In just one day , there has already been considerable speculation on on possible conductors to replace Gilbert . It won't be an
easy task by any means , and never is with a major orchestra . Some conductors might be a good choice , but have taken up other prestigious
posts with other orchestras , and it;s unrealistic to expect them to be lured to New York so early into there tenures elsewhere .
Other conductors might be either too old to have the vigor to take up such a great responsibility so late in their careers, and others
are too young and inexperienced , as talented as they are . Thre has even been talk about appointing a woman conductor,
which would be unprecedented for one of the so-called "big five " orchestras in America (New York, Chicago, Philadelphia,
Boston , Cleveland ).
And of course, it must not be a conductor who has never appeared as guest , because this would be like getting married to
someone you had never met . The orchestra will not stand for a conductor it does not like and respect musically .
Gilbert has decided to step down before the scheduled renovation of Avery Fisher hall in Lincoln Center, formerly known
as Philharmonic hall , which has been plagued by problematic acoustics since its opening in 1962 . This is tentatively scheduled to begin in
2018 , and the Philharmonic will have to find temporary residence somewhere else in New York .
There is no way to know now who the next music director will be . But the search will be as interesting as it is difficult . Let's all hope for the
A kind of musical mystique surrounds the chamber ensemble known as the string quartet - two violins, one viola, a cello . It's one of the most
rarified and esoteric genres of classical music , not something as immediately appealing and colorful as opera or orchestral music ,
but something which is highly rewarding to listen to if you give it a chance .
Of course, there are various other combinations of instruments in chamber music , such as the piano trio , consisting of violin, cello and piano ,
quintets with a string quartet and a piano , etc , woodwind quintets, consisting of a flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and french horn ,
brass quintets , consisting of two trumpets , one horn, two trombones , or one trombone and a tuba , and various miscellaneous ensembles
mixing strings, woodwinds and brass , amd others . But for some reason, the string quartet has been one of the most prestigious
musical genres , and many of the greatest composers have written them , including Haydn, founder of the form , Mozart,
Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms , Dvorak , Tchaikovsky , Mendelssohm , Smetana , Bela Bartok, Shostakovich , Charles Ives ,
Elliott Carter , and others have written memorable ones .
Haydn wrote about 80 of them , , and Beethoven 16 . These, particularly the late ones, are considered to be some of Beethoven's most
personal and profound works . A symphony might be said to reflect a composer's public proclamations, but a string quartet is reserved for his
most intimate and private thoughts .
In the 18th and early 19th centuries , the structure of a typical string quartet is very similar to that of a symphony ; four movements ,
sometimes with a slow introduction to a relatively lively first movement in sonata form , a dignified slow movement , a lively minuet for the 3,
and a vivacious finale which is also in sonata form .
Beethoven, in the sublime and rather enigmatic late quartets he wrote not too long before his death in 1827 , experimented with unorthodox
structures, such as his radical 14th which consists of seven movements played without a break .
Some of the most notable string quartets of the 19th century are those byBrahms , Dvorak , Thaikovsky , the Belgian Cesar Franck ,
and the Czech Bedrich Smetama, best known for his comic opera "The Bartred Bride ".
Yje 20th century is particularly rich in string quartets , some of the most notable being the six of the great Hungarian Bela Bartok
(1881 - 1945) , and the 15 of Dmitri Shostakovich . Those of Bartok are steeped in the influence of the folk music of Bartok's native
Humgar They are highly pungent and spiky harmonically , though not unpleasant, and may take repeated hearings to grasp .
Those of Shostakovich are brooding commentaries on the grim life inside the formewr Soviet Union and the horrors of the senond
world war . They are extremely intense and even harrowing at times .
IN America , the late Elliott Carter (908 - 2012 ) wrote five highly complex and abstract quartets which are truly challenging to the
listener and definitely not for newcomers to classical music . They are some of the most thorny and uncompromising music you will
ever hear .
Among the most famous string quartet ensembles , active and defunct are the Emerson quartet , the Juilliard quartet,consisting of
string faculty members of the Juilliard faculty , the Budapest quartet , the Amadeus quartet , the Tokyo quartet,
theGuarnieri quartet , to name only some . There is a welath of recordings of string quartet repertoire on CD , and a good place
to order them online is arkivmusic.com, which specializes in classical CDs and DVDs and has a fantastic selection overall .