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March 2011 - Posts

Another Dubious List Of The Greatest - BBC Music Magazine's "20 Greatest Conductors Of All Time"
  Recently,BBC Music Magazine ,one of the leading classical music magazines both in print and on the internet , asked a number of eminent conductors for their choices for the greatest conductors of all time .  The absurd thing was that only 20 great conductors were on it.  How can you leave out so many great names in a field which has produced so many legendary figures ?

   Among the maestros consulted were Valery Gergiev, Mariss Jansons, Sir Colin Davis ,as well as an infant in a field where many ocnductors have continued to lead orchestras well into their 80s, the phenomenally talented Gustavo Dudamel, only 30 years old .

  Here is the list :!.  Carlos Kleiber (1930 -2004).  Austrian , who was voted THE greatest .
  no 2: Leonard Bernstein (1918 -1990). American. 3.  Claudio Abbado, Italian, (1933-).
 4. Herbert Von Karajan (1908-1989).Austrian. 5.  Nikolaus Harnoncourt .(1929 -) Austrian.
 6. Sir Simon Rattle. (1955-) .British.  7. Wilhelm Furtwangler (1886-1954 ). German.
 8.. Arturo Toscanini . (1867- 1957).Italian.  9.. Pierre Boulez .(1925-).French.
 10.. Carlo Maria Giulini .(1914-2005).Italian. 11. Sir John Eliot Gardiner. (1943-). British.
 12. Sir John Barbirolli .(1899-1970). British.  13. Ferenc Fricsay (1914-1963). Hungarian.
 14. George Szell. (1897-1970). Hungarian. 15. Bernard Haitink .(1929-). Dutch.
 16. Pierre Monteux .(1875-1964). French.  176. Yevgeny Mravinsky .(1903- 1987). Russian.
  198 Sir Colin Davis .(1927- ). British. 19. Sir Thomas Beecham. (1879- 1961). British.
  20. Sir Charles Mackerras .(1925-2010).

   Carlos Kleiber was a very picky maestro who became a legend in his time, not only for his outstanding performances but for his quirky personality ,  a repertoire limited to a handful of the most popular operas and orchestral works , and  his insistance on  being given a great deal of extra rehearsal time, even for thrice-familiar works orchestras could  figuratively play in their  sleep .  He was very picky about accepting conducting  engagements , and  led only  400 opera opera performances and about 100 orchestra concerts in his entire career . 

  The most prestigious orchestras and opera companies all over Europe and America  were so eager to have him , but he accepted only when  he felt  it suited him , and was plagued by self-doubt .  He left only a handful  of commercial  recordings, most on Deutsche Grammophon , but a number of  pirated live recordings of his performances exist and are still available . 

   An  impressive list, without question , but  as many critics and fans pointed out on the internet,  putting Rattle ,still alive, before an established giant like Furtwangler was absurd .  Ferenc Fricsay ,(pronounced Fer-ents Free-chigh ),  was an outstanding conductor but nowhere near as famous as many others and died  prematurely before turning 50. 

   But how could one leave such greats as Leopold Stokowski (1882-1977) ,  Otto Klemperer (1885-1973),  Karl Boehm (1894 -1981 ) ,  Sir Georg Solti (1912-1997) , Charles Munch (1891-1968),  Fritz Reiner (1888-1963), Bruno Walter (1876-1962),  Willem Mengelberg (1871-1951),  Serge Koussevitzky (1874-1951), Hans Knappertsbusch (1888-1965),
 Erich Kleiber (1890-1956) and father of Carlos,  Eugen Jochum (1902-1989),
 Rafael kubelik (1914-1996),  Victor De Sabata (1892- 1967) , and others ?

   These are all  departed, but there are quite a few other outstanding living conductors, such as  Daniel Barenboim ,  Riccardo Chailly ,  Christoph Von Dohnanyi, James Levine, 
Riccardo Muti,  Kent Nagano,  Mariss jansons,Neeme Jarvi , Valery Gergiev,
 Seiji Ozawa, Andre Previn,  Esa-Pekka Salonen,  Leonard Slatkin , Michael Tilson Thomas,
 Herbert Blomstedt, Charles Dutoit, Christoph Eschenbach,  Lorin Maazel , Kurt Masur,
 Christian Thielemann and others .

   Not every classical music fan or professional critic likes every conductor ,and just about every one has marked antipathy to just about every famous conductor .  One fan will be a passionate fan of  say Riccardo Muti and  rave about his every performance and recording, while another will  dismiss him  contemptuously every time his name comes up for discussion . 

   This just goes to point out the utter futility and pointlessness of making such arbitrary lists up . 


Posted: Mar 30 2011, 04:24 PM by the horn | with no comments
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March Issue Of Opera News - A Bawdy Rossini Comedy Comes To The Met
  The March issue of Opera News magazine focuses on a rarely performed comic opera Rossini, Le Comte Ory (Count Ory) ,which has just had its first performance at the Met .On the cover is the lovely German soprano Diana Damrau ,who portrays the love interest of the licentious medieval French count Ory ,who disguises himself as a nun to gain access to her !  The count is sung by the charismatic Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Florez .

  Damrau is interviewed by Opera News editor-in-chief F. Paul Driscoll , and opera expert Roger Pines discusses how the long-neglected Rossini comic masterpiece was revived at England's prestigious Glyndebourne opera festival in 1954 and has has since become a (fitful) part of the opera repertoire.  It's a delightfully witty and melodious work ,and Rossini's only comic opera in French . 

   There's also an article on the new and intriguing New York City opera production of three brief one act operas by Arnold Schoenberg ,  the late American composer Morton Feldman, and  the maverick contemporary composer John Zorn ,who is still very much alive . Freelance writer Eric Myers discusses  the portrayal of the role of Boris Godunov by the late,great Canadian Bass baritone George London ,one of the foremost interpreters of this great role .

  Ken Benson, a leading manager of opera singers , discusses the plum Bel Canto tenor role of Edgardo in Donizetti's Lucia Di Lammermoor , and some great tenors who have sung the it, such as the legendary Enrico Caruso , Luciano Pavarotti , Alfredo Kraus , and Carlo Bergonzi among others .

  As usual, there is a list of cast,conductors , directors and designers of this month's Met radio broadcasts , and brief portraits of the singers and conductors .  eviews of live performances in America and Europe include the Met's recent revival of Puccini 's spaghetti western opera The Girl Of The Golden West st the Met this past December ,marking the centeniial of its world premiere at the Met , as well as its new and modernistic production of Verdi's La Traviata , and the Met debut of the distinguished English conductor Sir Simon Rattle conducting Debussy's Pelleas &Melisande .Other reviews cover performances in Chicago ,Milan's La Scala ,Paris and Berlin .

   CD reviewsinclude new song and opera recitals by Juan Diego Florez , German soprano Angelika Kirchschlager and Canadian soprano Measha Bruggergosman , and a new recording of Mozart's Idomeneo from Copenhagen led by Hungarian maestro Adam Fischer , and DVD reviews of Benjamin Britten's final opera Death in Venice right from Venice's renowned La Fenice opera, Bellini's I Puritani from Bologna with Florez and the rising young Georgian soprano Nino Machaidze ,  If you enjoy opera at all , you can't afford to miss Opera News magazine !

Posted: Mar 29 2011, 05:39 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Happy 326th Birthday ,Johann Sebastian Bach !
  Today is the 326th birthday of a hard-working ,unpretentious man whom many consider to be the greatest composer of all time - Johann Sebastian Bach ,who was born in the small east central German town of Eisenach in Thuringia ,which formerly belonged to East Germany in 1685.

   He came from a long line of  once well-known German musicians ; the Bach family had been famous in Germany for producing respected  church organists, choirmasters and composers for generations.  Bach was the greatest of course,    and had four sons who went on to become respected composers themselves, the most notable being Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach .

   In fact, Bach fathered no fewer than 20 or so children from his two marriages,his first wife having died .Unfortunately fewer than half lived to adulthood .  The infant mortality rate was very high in his day .  Bach  lost both parents in his youth  studied music with an older brother, and achieved  virtuoso skill as an organist and haprsichordist ,as well as being no mean violinist .

   Bach went on to become a renowned church organist and court composer to a variety of members of the German nobility ,and  went on to produce a prodigious amount of music in virtually every musical form but opera , which was the bailywick of his great contemporary George Frideric Handel , born  in the same year and in a town not far from Bach's birthplace .  Handel was far better-known in his day , settled in London as a young man ,spending the rest of his life there and achieving enormous fame as not only a composer but a kind of musical impresario .  The two great composers never met , but admired each other greatly.

   Bach held a number of positions as Kapellmeister (music director) to a number of music-loving members of the German aristocrary , producing music for their delectation and for ceremonial purposes , but was a devout German Lutheran who also spent much time as a church organst .

   His last post was in the Saxon city of Leipzig ,still an important music center , at the St.Thomas church,which still exists and  where his works are still performed, as  music director of the church, organist and choirmaster, as well as teaching  music and other subjects to the choirboys .  This kind of position was called Cantor . 

   He died there in 1750  at the age of 65  after having suffered through blindness and strokes .  He was considered an incomparable organ virtuoso , but curiously ,his music never achieved the renown and admiration it gained after his death . 

   Among Bach's duties was to write music for the Lutheran services , and he wrote more than 200 church cantatas  for them . These cantatas are written for a small orchestra,primarily  strings and harpsichord,  with occaisional parts for woodwinds,trumpets,horns and tympani ,plus a chorus and one or two vocal soloists. 

   These canatatas are in effect Lutheran semons set to music , and Bach employed  a number of  individuals to write the texts .   All of these have been recorded many times by many distinguished  musicians ,  including  emsembles which use  replcas of  the instruments of Bach's day  in an attempt to  recreate the  way the music may have sounded  in the past, although we can never be sure how "authentic" these  actually are .

   Among Bach's most famous works are the so-caled "Brandenburg" concertos, which he wrote and dedicated to  the Markgrave of Brandenburg ,  the area where  the German capitol Berlin lies , but the  good  Markgrave never responded to  the fawning letter Bach sent  with the works .  Composers   wrote these fawning  communications to the music-loving nobility  frequently in  the attempt to  gain their  recognition and favors .

  The six  delghtful  concertos,written for  different groups of solo instruments set against an ensemble which supports them  are among the most  famous masterpieces of classical music .   There are numerous works written for  harpsichord ,as the piano was in its infancy  at the time ,  suites of  dance rhythms such as  the Bouree, Gigue,Sarabande,  etc,  and the great "Goldberg" variations ,  supposedly written for a harpsichordist by the name of Goldberg  who  played it  to   ease the insomnia of  a   Russina diplomat in Germany .

   Bach's largest scale works include such towering masterpieces as the Mass in B Minor , and the Passion according to St. Matthew , which  is a  very long and moving  depiction of the  betrayal and crucifixion of Christ , for  soloists and chorus . 

   Bach was considered the ultimate master of the techniqe of counterpoint, or polyphony in music .  His  skill in combining  complex strands of  different melodic lines  to create  an elaborate  web of sound  has never been surpassed , and  virtually every composer who came after him  made a careful study of  his  works .  Mozart, Haydn,  Beethoven ,  Schumann, Brahms ,  and other great masters  had the greatest reverennce for the music of Bach ,  and every serious student of music  studies his works in  music school or college .

   Beethoven said of him that  while the name "Bach " means a brook in German ,  the music of Bach is more like an ocean .  How right he was ! 




Posted: Mar 22 2011, 07:13 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Apparently , Sarah Palin Thinks The Arts Are "Frivolous "
  Sarah Palin has just shown her philistine soul .  She has declared that the National Endowment For The Arts is "frivolous" , and that in these times of economic woes ,  the government has no business wasting money on it when there is so much need for trimming the fat off the Washington budget .

   But there's just one problem with her statement .  The amount of money saved  by eliminating the NEA would be so paltry that it would do abslutely no good for this nation .  In fact , it would be devastating to the arts in America ,which generate billions of dollas in money every year for the economy , provide gainful employment to 5,7 million Americans and improve the quality of life for millions in all 50 states .  Is this good for America ?

   Imagine a worst case scenario where all our symphony orchestras ,opera, dance and drama  companies  and other  arts institutions  went under .  And you think unemployment is bad now ?
 The Republican's  misguided ,foolish , perverse ,  clueless and  vindictive  move to defund  NPR is just the tip of the iceberg in  their  wrong- headed campaign to  defund the arts in America . 

   No , Ms. Palin , the NEA is not a "frivolous " thing .  It is of vital importance ot America , and you are pathetically ignorant  of  the importance of the arts to America .  Shame on you .
Posted: Mar 18 2011, 06:32 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Classical Exceptionalism ?
  I just discovered a new term in the pointless and futile debate over the relative merits of classical music vs. Pop.  First there was "American Exceptionalism" in political debate, and now apparently,something called "Classical Exceptionalism" exists,too.
   At , there's a debate started by Greg Sandow in which he claims that there's much more freshness and innovation in Pop music than classical . Really? How can you compare these two vastly different kinds of music?  For one thing, the kind of Pop music people listen to today has nasn't been around for centuries,unlike classical music .  Why is it that so many people assume that just because our symphony orchestras and opera companies spend so much time playing music from the past that there must be something wrong with them, and that they are in desperate need of change?
   There's a false dichotomy between old and new music in classical.  Too many people think that our classical music organizations are "stodgy and hidebound" institutions, hopelessly stuck in the past and extremely timid and cautious.  But they fail to realize that a vast and precious legacy of music from the past has been preserved by composers such as Bach,Mozart,Beethoven, Brahms, and so many other great composers . Pop music doesn't have anything remotely close to this,because it hasn't been around for centuries.

   Of course,there have been popular songs all over the world for centuries, but commercial Pop music as such is a realitvely new thing.  Will people centuries from now still be listening to the music of Michael Jackson,Britney Spears,Lady Gaga and other Pop starts ? Who knows? 

   So the person who responded to my comment on Greg's blog defending classical music assumed that I'm a "snob" and "elitist" who believes in what he calls "Classical Exceptionalim".  I responded by saying that I have absolutely nothing against other kinds of music , and that it's fine with me if other people are fans of Pop music. 

   But there has been an enormous amount of innovation in classical music in recent years ;
  people who lived in the past could never have imagined how different the world of classical music today is from the past.  The repertoire is vastly different and has expanded enormously ,despite the lasting popularity of certain works from the past. 

   There is greater diversity of repertoire than ever before ; everything from music by composers who lived 500 or more years ago to the latest works by living composers .  There's much more than music by "Dead White European Males". There's music by LIVING white European males too, and there are more women composers than ever before, and their music is being performed more than you might expect . There are many American composers who are being perforned everywhere.  The conducting profession, previously almost the exclusive domain of white males,particularly European ones , has seen the rise of more women conductors than ever before,as well as many who are neither white or male.

   And classical music   music from countries such as China,South Korea,Japan,  Argentina,  and elsewhere. 
   The classical music world has made use of the latest technology to do things such as bringing performances from the Metropolitan opera to movie theaters all over America and the world,  streaming classical music of all kinds through the internet ,  etc. 

   We don't need "classical exceptionalism " or classical chauvinism of any kind. The classical music world has plenty to be proud of, and it's a magnificent thing.  It's neither superior nor inferior to other kinds of music, just DIFFERENT.  Why can't people just accept it on its own terms, instead of always knocking it?  

   Reverse snobbism against classical music is unfortunately rampant today.  It's perfectly acceptable for people to disparage it and dismiss it as hopelessly outdated and irrelevant, but any one who tries to defend it is automatically accused of being a "snob" and an "elitist".  Talk about a double standard .

Posted: Mar 17 2011, 06:36 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Can't We All Just get Along ?
  There's more pointless discussion about the relative merits of classical music vs pop and Rock going on at Facebook with critic and composer Greg Sandow and other people, including me. As usual, Sandow is complaining about what's allegedly wrong about the field of classical music,not the music per se,which he loves dearly .
    Yes, no one could accuse Sandow of not loving classical music or question his vast knowledge of it. But as usual, he's barking up the wrong tree.  He claims that pop and rock are much supposedly in much more "healthy" condition than classical and more "relevant",because people "connect" to them,while classicla music is hopelessly dated and out of touch with the real world,or words to that effect .

   But why can't we just let pop be pop and classical be classical?  Why judge classical by the standards of pop and rock music?  What good does this do?  Let's face it, different people have different tastes in music, and that's the way things should be.  De Gustibus Non Est Disputandum .

   But why is the onus always on classical ? Why can't people just accept it on its own terms?  If you disparage pop or rock music, you're invariably condemned as a contemptible snob and elistist. But if you disparage classical music , it's perfectly acceptable.   Talk about a double standard.

   Let's face it ; classical music is vastly different from other kinds of music ;not necessarily superior , but not inferior either.  But certainly different . It requires a completely different mindset from pop and rock to listen to it.  It tends not to be a formulaic commercial product designed for casual entertainment, although there are lighter and simpler classical works,such as Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik and Vivaldi's Four Seasons.
  But these works are Mickey Mouse classical , very easy to listen to. Mozart wrote much more challenging works ,too. However, if you're going to try Beethoven's string quartets, the symphonies of Bruckner or Mahler, the operas of Wagner,Richard Strauss and Alban Berg for example,  these are anything but easy listening. They're long and highly complex ,and require preparation by reading or hearing about them to appreciate. If you just listen not knowing anything about classical music, chances are you'll be completely flummoxed by them and probably bored.

   But if you take the time and effort to get to know these challenging works, you can get things out of them which are completely beyond rock or pop etc.  They have a profundity and emotional power that pop music never even aims at. 

    Now there's absolutely nothing wrong with being a fan of pop or rock music.  If you enjoy these,that's fine with me. I myself have nothing against other kinds of music,and I've certainly heard them . But classical just happens to be my cup of tea. Do you have a problem with that? I hope not.  Can't we all just get along ? 

Posted: Mar 10 2011, 06:29 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Bad News From Boston - James Levine To Resign From Boston Symphony
  I suppose it was going to happen sooner or later , but it's still something of a bombshell .  James Levine has decided to resign from his post as music director of the Boston Symphony orchestra for health reasons ,although he will stay on as music director of the Metropolitan opera.

  Levine has been with the world-famous B.S.O. since 2004 ,and is the orchestra's first American  music director .  But according to the New York Times article by Daniel Wakin ,he has been plagued for several years by sciatica ,arm temors ,weight problems , severe back trouble requiring surgeries , as well as an accident after a concert where he fell and broke his rotator cuff,requiring surgery . In addition , he had to have a kidney removed because of a cancerous tumor , and has been conducting from a chair for some time.

   Levine has been forced to cancel numerous opera performacnes and concerts because of his ailments , but has recently returned to conducting with out incident for some time until more back trouble several days ago .  Even without these kind of health problems ,conducting is an extremely strenuous job ,not only physically but mentally , and not a job for any one . 

   Fortunately , both the Met and Boston symphony have on the whole been able to find distinguished conductors to fill in for maestro Levine , but somemes used young assistant conductors or members of the conducting staff .  But the question is ,who will succeed him in the prestigious Boston position ,which has been held by such legendary podium figures as Serge Koussevitzky ,Pierre Monteux, Charles Munch , Erich Leinsdorf ,William Steinberg and most recently ,Seiji Ozawa ,who is currently recovering himself from a bout with cancer of the esophagus ?

   It won't be easy to find a conductor of stature who will be available , as there are so many other distinguished maestros busy with their own music directorships all over the globe .  Such leading U.S. orchestras as the Chicago symphony,Philadelphia orchestra , Detroit and Pittsburgh symphonies have taken a very long time to fill  the extremely difficult post of music director of a top orchestra,not because of a lack of outstanding conductors , but because of the sheer business of the classical music world .

   England's Sir Simon Rattle  has had considerable success in Boston as a guest conductor , but seems to be happy with hisown prestigious position with the mighty Berlin
 Philharmonic .  Michael Tilson Thomas, who had begin long ago as a young assistant conductor in Boston , seems to be happy with the San Francisco symphony, which he has led for over a decade .

   The brilliantly gifted young Venuzuelan podium dynamo Gustavo Dudamel is still in the middle ohis honeymoon with the Los Angeles Philharmonic , and the equally gifted young French Canadian maestro Yannick Nezet-Seguin will soon take over the great Philadelphia orchestra and is already music director of the Rotterdam Philharmonic in the Netherlands, succeeding Valery Gergiev .

   Emiinent veteran maestros such as Kurt Masur, Sir Colin Davis ,  Berbnard Haitink,Pierre Boulez , Herbert Blomstedt, and Christoph von Dohnanyi are in their 80s and still active but simply too old . 

   Could Daniel Barenboim , about the same age as Levne(both are in their 60s,not really old for a conductor) , be available since he stepped down from the great Chicago  symphony? His only other current post is with the Berlin State opera.  Who knows ?

   There have been rumors that the distinguished Italian conductor Riccardo Chailly, ,formerly of Amsterdam's prestigious Concertgebouw orchestra ,  the Berlin Radio symphony and Bologna opera ,might agree to take on Levine's job ,but he is busy with his current position with the legendary Gewandhaus orchestra of Leipzig in what used ot be East Germany .  This is one of the world's oldest and most admired orchestras . 

   Having a music director who is absent so oftgen cannot help but have anadverse effect on it , and levine realizes that he must step down for the good of the B.S.O. Sad , but necessary . Music critics in Boston and elsewhere feel that Levine had energized a once tired and dispirited orchestra in Boston , which they claim had deteriorated under Ozawa, who had been with them since 1973 ,one of the longest tenures n our time with an orchestra .  Only time will tell what happens. Let's all wish maestro Levine and the orchestra the best ,and hope that his protracted physical ailments will not further sidetrack an illustrious career .

Posted: Mar 02 2011, 06:34 PM by the horn | with no comments
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An Absorbing New Book On The History Of The New York Philharmonic
  John Canarina , professor emeritus of conducting as Drake University and forner assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic in the 1960s under Leonard Bernstein , has written a vivid and informative history of America's oldest symphony orchestra from the early 1970s to the present day , updating the previous history of the orchestra by the late Columbia University professor of music Howard Shanet , which covered the orchestra from its founding in 1842 up to 1971 .

   "The New York Philharmonic From Bernstein To Maazel " brings the orchestra's often turbulent and controversy-ridden recent history vividly to life .   The brillinatly gifted ,versatile and charismatic Leonard Bernstein led the orchestra during the 1960s and caught the public imagination with his impassioned performances of a wide variety of composers , including his beloved Gustav Mahler ,whose music he helped popularize and make part of the standard repertoire , and the music of the American maverick Charles Ives ,and a wide variety of other works . Bernstein was the first American-born and trained music director of the Philharmonic, and remained the orchestra's laureate conductor until his death in 1990 .

   He led the orchestra through its difficult move from the superb acoustics of its former home Carnegie hall to what is now called Avery Fisher hall in Lincoln Center ,formerly Philharmonic hall, which was plagued with hoplessly poor acoustics which have since been improved somewhat ,but not to the level of Carnegie , made a wide number of recordings for what is now Sony Classical records , composed  a number of highly controversial works , increased the orchestra's salaries and many other innovations . 

   An equally distinguished but vastly  different composer/conductor was his successor in 1971-  the austere and cerebral Frenchman Pierre Boulez ,still active at 85 , whose music was esoteric in the extreme and whose conducting was as cool and analytical as Bernstein's was impassioned and spontaneous .  Boulez upset and even angered many in the orchestra's audience with his insistence on performing the compex and thorny music of 20th century composers such as Schoneberg, Berg ,Webern , and Elliott Carter and others on as regular basis and some critics found his conducting cold , pedantic  and dry . 

   The controversial and much-maligned Indian-born and Viennese-trained Indian conductor Zubin Mehta took over from Boulez in 1978 , and   was regarded by some critics as a shallow glamor boy ,all flash and no substance ,despite the fact that he was and is a serious,dedicated and highly skillful musician who had come from the Los Angeles Philharmonic, which he had led since 1962 and built a once minor-league orchestra into wolrd-class stature . 

  In 1991 , the distinguished German conductor Kurt Masur ,now 83, succeeded Mehta .  Masur was also music director of the prestigious Gewandhaus orchestra of Leipzig in the former East Germany , a venerable orchestra even older than the New York Philharmonic,which had once been led by none other than Felix Mendelssohn in the 19th century .

   Masur was considered what is called a "Kapellmeister" by some crtics. This is a rather derogatory German term for a conductor who is solid and reliable but not a great and inspired orchestra leader .
    Critics who disliked Mehta's conducting accused him of having allowed the orchestra's playing standards to deteriorate ,  which is highly debatable, and hailed Masur as a strict disciplinarian and solid musician who would resotre the orchestra to its "former stature ". 

   Masur was and is renowned for his probing performances of Beethoven,Brahms, Mendelssohn, Schumann ,Brucker and other great Austro/German composers ,but did not discontinue the Phlharmonic's commitment to contemporary music .

   In 2002 , the orchestra chose the first American since Bernstein to be its  music director since Bernstein ,albeit one who had been born in France of American parents, the veteran  Lorin Maazel , who took over the orchestra at the advanced age of 72 and had vast experience as music director of such prestigious orchestras as the Pittsburgh symphony , Bavarian Radio symphony in Munich as well as the Vienna State opera the West Berlin opera . 

   Once again , Maaze's tenure with the orchestral created controversy among New York's often captious music critics, who sometimes accused him of giving super-polished ,slick but interpretively empty and mannered performances .  Aparently , headng the New York Philharmonic is the most thankless job in classical music despite the presitge olf the position .

  Maazel stepped down in 2009 , and was succeeded by a surprise choice for the job - a youngish and  relatively untested   conductor ,Alan Gilbert , whose parents were members of the orchestra's violin section , and whose mother,still with the orchestra is Japanese  . Though not a superstar maestro , Gilbert had made quite a name for himself in concerts and opera all over Europe and America , and came from a quite prestigious orchestra , the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic in Sweden.  Gilbert was born as recently as 1967.

   Critics hailed Gilbert as an enormously promising conductor who would restore youthfullness and vigor to the orchestra and change the orchestra's supposedly "staid" programming , which was simply not the case, as it had already  been presenting some of the most varied and interesitng programming of any orchestra anywhere in our time, and performned much more challenging new music than most other orchestras . Unfotunately, reports of how radically innovative Gilbert's programming is have been greatly exaggerated , even if  he has been offering some very interesting off-beat works.  The same had already been true iof the orchestra for decades.

   So far, Gilbert has been fairly well-received by the New York press as a whole and elsewhere on tour, and only time will tell how his tenure with the orchestra turns out .  But praise can easily turn to brickbats ,as New York critics are among the most picky and fickle in the classical music world .

   The book contains numerous quotes from reviews of concerts by such prominent New York music critics asthe late Harld C. Schonberg , who  often gave harsh reviews to Bernstein but was generous with praise when he was favorably impressed during the 1960s when he was the chief music critic of the New York Times , and later Times music critics such as Donal Henehan,Edward Rothstein and the paper's current chief music critic Anthony Tommasini , who has been a more benign and fair-minded reviewer .

   There is also ample coverage of such eminent Philharmonic guest conductors as Klaus Tennstedt ,Giuseppe Sinopoli ,  Erich Leinsdorf , Sir Colin Davis , Neeme Jarvi , Christoph Eschenbach , Valery Gergiev , Riccardo Muti ,  Mstislav Rostropovich and others ,  and their sometimes turbulent relationships with the Philharmonic ,which used to have a fearsome reputation as an undsciplined orchestra in rehearsal which would often behave rebelliously toward conductors it disliked .  In recent years , the orchestra has become much more cooperative, according to its current cncertmaster Glenn Dicterow . Stories about the orchestra's cantankerousness are legendary in the classical music world.

   The history of this great orchestra has been one of triumphas , scandals , setbacks,dissapointments , and all manner of both vexation and joys .  Canarina's book ,by a conductor with an intimate knowledge of the orchestra , is the kind of book you can't put down, as the old cliche goes .  You should also check out the earlier history by Howard Shanet .



Posted: Mar 02 2011, 03:45 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Music Critic Alex Ross Has Come Out With His Second Book Entitled "Listen To This "
   Three years ago , "The Rest Is Noise "  by New Yorker magazine music critic Alex Ross , an absorbing cultural history of classical music in the 20th century, came out to enormous acclaim , and Ross has just released his second book " Listen To This ", which is a collection of his writings for the New Yorker on a wide variety of composers and performing musicians ranging from Franz Schubert to Bjork . 
   The new book is every bit as absorbing ,if quite different in emphasis .  The essays include a discussion on how recordings have effected music in the 20th centiry both positively and negatively ,enabling us to hear an astnishingly wide variety of classical music but possibly spoiling us with their artificial technical perfection through retakes and splicing if sometimes robbing the recorded performances of spontaneity ,  the surge in the popularity of western classical music in China and the rise in the number of world-famous Chinese classical msucians such as pianist Lang Lang ,  Bjork's background in classical music and the classicalmusic scene in Iceland , a discussion of the melodious music of Schubert and his life and personality ,about which so little is actually known , the brilliant Finnish composer/conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, former music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic , the operas of Giuseppe Verdi , the late great African-American contralto Marian Anderson and how racism in America effected her career , the brooding,melancholy late music of Johannes Brahms ,  the prestigious Marlboro musc festival in Vermont , the sorry state of music education in America and what mioght be done to help it , and  Bob Dylan and other Pop ,Rock and Jazz musicians .
   Ross discusses the problems of the classical music world , the aging audiences ,  the conservative tastes of so many concertgoers, the difficulty of contemporary composers getting a hearing and achieving success given the enormous popularity of music from the past ,  the public image of classical music as "elitist" , and how some conductors ,instrumentalists and singers are willing to think outside the box and give the public more than that same old same old , the good, the bad, the negative and the positive in an admirably balanced manner ,even though if he occasionally makes some not quite fair statements about certain orchestras, such as the New York Philharmonic , which was nowhere near as "stody,conservative and hidebound "with regards to programming as he and other critics would have us believe before the recent and acclaimed arrival of Alan Gilbert as music director.

   Each essay is thought-provoking and  full of vivid descriptions of a wide variety of classical works and the performances of great musicians of our time .  Even if you disagree with him at times ,as I did in some of his claims about some of our orchestras and the current classical music scene in general , you can'thelp but be filled with admiration for this critic's onfectious enthusiasm and ability to bring his subjects vividly to life .  The book is published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux and is easily abtainable at and elsewhere on the internet .

Posted: Mar 01 2011, 06:05 PM by the horn | with no comments
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