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April 2011 - Posts

The New York Philharmonic Finally Has A New Principal Clarinettist
  It took about two years , but the New York Philharmonic has finally chosen a  clarinettist to succeed the legendary Stanley Drucker ,who reitred  at the end of the 2008-09  season at the age of about 80 after an astonishing 60 years or so in this key orchestra position .

  The new  man on the job is  Ricardo Morales , who has been principal clarinet of the now financially toubled Philadelphia orchestra for some time, after having served in the same position in the Metropolitan opera orchestra . 

  No candidate was chosen in the  long and difficult audition process , so the Philharmonic decided to invite a number of  leading clarinettists from other top American orchestras to play as guests at concerts .  The orchestra's associate principal  clarinettist had been serving as acting principal for some time.   Associate principal  woodwind players divide the work of the principal  at concerts  and play other  positions  in addition . 

   Normally , a  winner is chosen at the auditions ,  which are held  with  a  group of musicians from the orchestra  called the audition committe .  The auditions are  held in preliminaries and finals  , with only a handful of  applicants surviving to the finals , and the music director ,who is the chief conductor  of the orchestra , joins the committee in the finals to decide .  Check an earlier  post of mine called "How Do You Get A Job In A Symphony Orchestra?" for more details  on the audition process . 

   Morales will officially take over  in  the 2012-2113 season ,but is expected to  spend some time with the orchestra before this.  He leaves the Philadelphia orchestra with the task of finding  a new principal clarinettist  at a very difficult time for the orchestra .  Let's all wish him the best in  his demanding new job .
Posted: Apr 30 2011, 05:54 PM by the horn | with no comments
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A Great Classical Record Label Has Ceased To Exist
  Without fanfare , Philips records ,one of the top classical record labels has gone out of existence.  The Dutch label  has produced  so many superb recordings over the years by such great conductors as  Sir Colin Davis,Bernard Haitink ,Valery Gergiev , Sir Neville Marriner,
Antal Dorati ,  Kurt Masur ,  and others ,  with such  great orchestras as the Royal Concertgebous orchestra of Amsterdam , the London Symphony,  Berlin Philharmonic , Philadelphia orchestra, the Vienna Philharmonic ,  Boston symphony and others , as well as  great violinists ,pianists and other  instrumentalists as  Henryk Szerying, Alfred Brendel,  Claudio Arrau ,  etc, and  a galaxy of  great opera singers .

   What happened ?  Well, Philips was part of a consortium of  major classical record labels including   Decca and Deutsche Grammophon etc ,  and the vicissitudes of the classical recording industry  have  forced  it to  reissue many recordings from its back catalogue on the Decca label .
But it will no longer be issuing any new recordings ,unfortunately , and many fine Philips recordings  have yet to be reissued on Decca.

   Things have changed vastly for the entire classical recording  industry .  Hardly any  of  the world's great orchestras has a contract with any  record label ,  and some,such as the  Chicago symphony, Royal Concertgebouw ,Boston symphony and others have been  issuing  live  live performances on their own .  Sales of classal CDs ,never more than a small part of alll CD sales , have  declined .

  However ,  there is  a growing market for classical DVDs, particularly of  live opera performances , and  Deutsche Grammophon ,Decca, EMI  and other labels have been  issuing many of these .  Studio recordings of operas ,  made like movies  in  edited takes without an audience ,are pretty much a thing of the past .  They are simply too expensive to  produce ,  and tend not to sell that well anyway.  But there is an enormous back catalogue of these studio opera recordings  from the past of a vast range of operas .

   Most  complete opera recordings on CD are now of live performances,  sometimes issued both  on CD and DVD.  In the past ,  great  conductors , instrumentalists and opera singers  had contracts with  record labels , and produced a steady stream of recordings . But now ,  far fewer of their younger counterparts are able to do this ,though some have been making a fair number of recordings . 

   Some of the independent classical labels, such as  Chandos  and CPO , are still managing to produce  quite a few studio recordings ,and  even some studio recordings of operas .  But they  specialize in  offbeat repertoire , not the repertoire standards .  The budget label Naxos ,after  a modest beginning  in the late 1980s  making  low cost recordings wth  lesser-known  orchestras  from eastern Europe , has now become  the most successful  classical record label  ,  and  also produces DVDs .

   But  recordings of the  popular  masterpieces by such  top labels as Decca, EMI ,  R.C.A. and  Sony Classical (now  combined into one label  ,andd Deutsche Grammophon  are now  quite rare .  There are hundreds of smaller independent labels  competing  for  sales ,  and many offer high quality performances of interesting repertoire . 

  So there is good and bad in the classical recording industry ; some of the mighty have fallen ,  but there is  incredible diversity of classical repertoire available  to  classical CD collectors ,and more and more on DVD .  Those who are tired of collecting the same old  masterpieces by Mozart,Beethoven,Bach , Schubert ,Tchaikovsky and Brahms etc now have  a mind-boggling variety of  classical repertoire ot choose from .  It's rather like being the  proverbial kid in a candy store .
Posted: Apr 29 2011, 05:40 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Classical Music Is Expensive To Support ,But It's Worth It !
  As  I've    pointed  out before here , these are difficult times for so many of America's symphony orchestras and opera companies , and the existence of more than a few of them has been jeopardized by  tough economic times and lack of government support .  Some of them have already gone under .  Let['s face it ; running a top notch symphony orchestra or opera company is an expensive proposition ,  and  also not easy for the smaller ones because of lack of money.
  Take the Metropolitan Opera, which is not really typical of  classical music in America because it is heavily endowed by  wealthy donors .  It's the world's largest performing arts organization ,  and puts on about 200 performances a year of  a  diverse operatic repertoire.  Its operating budget is about 300 million dollars , more than the combined budgets of all the other opera companies in America !

  In addition to all the many opera singers from all over the world who appear there , the Met  has to pay for an an orchestra of over 100 members, a  large chorus ,   a musical staff consisting of coaches who prepare the singers , rehearsal pianists , assistant conductors ,  and others, as well as all the stagehands,  and  a staff  of  people who work  making costumes   and wigs,  electricians,  and  so many other  jobs .  There's even a fencing master for operas in which swords are used ! It's a veritable opera factory with  amazingly  sophisticated and complex technology .  Then there's the large administrative staff ,  people who work with public relations , education,  fund-raising,,  etc.  This costs a heck of a lot of money.
  The many other opera companies in America don't operate on  quite as large a scale, although  the Chicago Lyric opera comes the closest , but they  need  the very same kind of talent . 

   Orchestras don't need quite as many people , but the costs are still considerable .  In addition to the members of the orchestra , there is also a staff of  assistant conductors ,  a large administrative staff which is involved with public relations,education,fund -raising etc.

   This is why people who are opposed to government funding for the arts and  say,as they often do, that if  the musicians can't succeeed on their own, they don't deserve support are dead wrong.  If our orchestras and opera companies are having a rough time financially ,it's not the fault of the individual musicians . It's the enormous costs of running them .  They just don't realize this fact .

   Remember  -despite Sarah Palin and other  conservative politicians in America , the arts ,and classical music in particular are not frivolous .  They are something which makes life a better experience ,  more than just a  daily grind to earn a living .  They provide gainful employment for so many
talented, dedicated and hard-working people ,not just performers but administrators and others .  They deserve  al the support they can get ,whether from private donations or the government . 
Posted: Apr 28 2011, 06:37 PM by the horn | with no comments
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The Life Of Brian (The Obscure English Composer, That Is )
  If you've never heard of the English composer Havergal Brian (1876 -1972 ),you're hardly alone.  His  music is  almost never performed live , but  a fair amount has been recorded .   Yet for all his obscurity , he's a  fascinating composer  who has  been receiving  a fair amount of  attention  in recent years in the classical music world , and who has  a surprising number of admirers . 

   In England ,  the Havergal Brian society was formed  some years ago by  a number of distinguished  English composers and conductors , and has   sponsored  recordings of  some of his  32 symphonies and other works .  Brian  was born into a poor working-class English  family  in 1876 , and had to struggle for much of his life to earn a living and gain recognition as a composer . Like the  much more famous Sir Edward Elgar, he was largely self taught , but unlike Elgar, had to earn his living for most of his life in  far from lucrative non-musical jobs .  His last five symphonies  were written after  his 90th birthday !   But most of Brian's music  languished in obscurity until  after his death .

   His most famous work ,the gargantuan  "Gothic" symphony ,written between  1919 and 1927 ,  is going to receive one of its extremely rare performances this Summer at the world-famous London music festival known as "The Proms" .  You might call it the Halley's comet of classical music because of its  rarity.  Why is it so rarely performed ?  It's a  nearly two hour  choral symphony  composed  for  an  orchestra consisting of :

2 piccolos, 6 flutes,including alto flute, 6 oboes ,  including bass oboe, 2 English horns,
5 clarinets,  the small and shrill-sounding e flat clarinet, 2 basset horns ,( sort of a bass clarinet ),  2 bass clarinets , contrabass clarinet ,  3 bassons and 2 contrabassoons,
8  French horns, 8 trumpets ,with 2 doubling cornets, bass trumpet ,
3 trombones ,bass trombone, 2 baritone horns, 2 tubas,
2 sets of timpani, 2 bass drums, 3 snare drums, African long drum , 2 tambourines,
2 triangles, 6 pairs of large cymbals, gong, bird scare , thunder machine , small chains,
xylophone, glockenspiel ,  tubular bells ,  chimes ,  celeste, organ , 
20 first violins, 20 second violins ,  16 violas , 14 celos ,  12 double basses , 2  or more harps . Soprano, Alto,Tenor, and Bass vocal soloists , 4 mixed choirs , children's chorus ,
4 offstage brass bands .   Whew  !  

Any performance of this  mind-boggling work is an event.  I've heard  the only  commercial  recording of it ,which  is still  available  on the Naxos label , and it took me several hearings to digest the whole thing . But it was worth it !   This was recorded in of all  places , Bratislava ,capitol of  Slovakia ,  with the Slovak conductor  Ondrej Lenard conducting  the whole shebang  with  two !  Slovak orchestras  and  all the  choral forces .

   The symphony consists of a  purely orchestral first part ,leading without pause into  the vocal part ,  a setting of  the traditional Latin Hymn  Te Deum Laudamus (We praise thee,oh  God ). 

   There  is a pirated live  performance from London  conducted by  the eminent  English conductor  Sir Adrian Boult  (1889 -1983 )  from 1966 . 

   Other than  the Gothic symphony ,I've heard only  two other CDs of Brian's music , but would definitely like to  hear more of it .  Most of the later symphonies are  much shorter and call for  far less extravagent forces .  Brian has  some  truly passionate fans  among classcal CD collectors ,  and  how could  a  classic English eccentric like Brian not attract them ?

Posted: Apr 27 2011, 05:47 PM by the horn | with no comments
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April Marks The 40th Anniversary Of The Death Of Igor Stravinsky
  The great Russian composer Igor Stravisnky  died  40 years ago this April  6th.  He was the most famous, and some would say the greatest composer of the 20th century , and certainly the most prominent and influential .  In his long ,  rich , and highly productive life , which lasted from 1882 to 1971 , he  put an indelible mark on the music of the 20th century ,  beginning as a  young revolutionary  and  ending as  a   venerable old master . 

   He was born near St.Petersburg  as the son of a famous  operatic bass ,Fyodor Stravinsky , and  showed musical talent  as a child ,  studying piano and dabbling in  youthful composition  despite the fact that his father wanted him to become a lawyer .  He dutifully studied law  but studied composition with  the renowned Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov of Scheherezade fame , and  his early works show   the marked influence of the older Russian master .

   But he began to  find his own distintive voice , and   caught the attention of the renowned Russian  impresario Sergei Diaghilev  of the legenday Ballet Russes , and  produced  his  first mature works -  the  ballet scores  The Firebird ,  Petrushka and the  revolutionary  Rite of
Spring , which  startled the musical world with its  savage dissonances and  jagged , irregular rhythms. 

   The world  premiere of the Rite  in 1913 ,when it  was danced  by the Ballet Russes to the choreography of the legendary dancer  Vaslav Nijinsky in Paris  has become  legendary - the work was so  shocking that a near riot ensued !  

   Stravinsky  did not want to remain in Russia  when  the  Bolshevik  regime took over  in 1917 , and  took up residence in the west ,  alternating between Paris and  rural Switzerland . His compositional style  evolved  ,and  he  began to write in  what is called  a  "neo-classical"  idiom ,  writing works  which  draw from  the style of composers such as Bach  and  other composers of the 18th century , but with  spiky  20th century harmonies and  the characteristic  irregular and jagged  Stravinskian rhythms .
   Stravinsky  never  returned to his native Russia again ,except for one  acclaimed visit  in 1962  conducting his music  in Moscow  and  Leningrad,  which  is now  called St. Petersburg again.  The Soviet government  officially disapproved of  Stravinsky's music for purely political reasons,  but by the 1960s, he was so famous that  he was allowed to visit .

   But no matter what the imitation of  past composers ,  Stravinsky always remained himself  , and   you could never mistake  his music for  that of any other composer .  In the 1940s ,  he  settled in America ,  and lioved for the rest of his life in Hollywood  of all places , where many  distinguished  European composers ,  writers ,artists and intellectuals had  come, and he befriended  many of them .  Curiously enough , he lived near  his older contemporary and  rival  Arnold Schoenberg , founder of  12-tone  music ,although the two rarely met each other. 

   Stravinsky also had an active international career as a  conductor of his own music  and  playing his own piano works , and  recorded much of his  music  for  what used to be  Columbia records , now Sony Classical ,  and many of these recordings are still available . 

   His  personal assistant and over all  right hand man  the American conductor  Robert Craft , born in 1923  and still very much alive  accompanied him on his many international tours and shared conducting duties with him .    Craft was very much interested in  the music of Schoenberg and his school , and is credited with  persuading  Stravinsky  to  take up the 12-tone system of composition  in the 1950s. However ,  Stravinsky's  unmistakable personal stamp  remained on these austere and rarely performed late works . 
  Since  Stravinsky's death Craft has  performed his master's music all over the world  and made made  authoritative recordings  of much of his  output ;  he has also  written many interesting books about his experiences with  the great man ,and written  numerous articles  for  leading  newspapers and magazines . 

  Stravinsky died  in New York  in  April  1971 ,  and according to his wishes , was buried in Venice ,  a city which was close to his  heart .  He lived a  remarkably full  and  eventful  life   and died  heaped with  honors  from around the world.

   In addition to the three famous ballet scores  The Firebird ,based on a Russian fairy tale ,  and Petrushka , a whimsical fantasy about puppets at a Russian  fair come to life,  and  the  Rite of Spring ,which evokes the pagan rites of  ancient Russia ,  Stravinsky  wrote  such well-known works as  the  oratorio Oedipus Rex, based on Greek mythology ,a violin concerto ,  one full length opera  The Rake's Progress ,set to a libretto in English based on the paintings of  William Hogarth ,  the Symphony of Psalms,  for chorus and orchestra  based on Biblical  psalms ,  Les Noces ,or the weddng,  an evocation of a traditional Russian folk marriage ,  and numerous  ballet scores  other than the  Rite of Spring , to name only a handful .

   Stravinsky's  works  are not  the kind of lush,romantic  music which  so many consertgoers  love to hear ; they are  spiky and  often austere , and  deliberately avoid sentimentality of any kind, which  he  detested .  Some  are even  rather  arid .  But  his music  is  always  highly inventive  and  rewards further listening . 


Posted: Apr 26 2011, 05:48 PM by the horn | with no comments
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You Tube Is A Great Place To Experience Classical Music
  Most people think of You Tube as a way to  see and hear Lady Gaga ,  Britney Spears and other Pop idols , but it's also a  wonderful place for classical music .  If you go there , you can  see an enormous number of different performances of  virtually any classical work , and  see and hear  performances by just about any  of the  greatest muscicians of the 20th century and  the new one for free .

   You can also see interviews with many of  these great musicians ,living and dead , and  documentaries .  You name 'em,  they're there on You Tube .  Leonard Bernstein ,  Jascha Heifetz,  Vladimir Horowitz ,Luciano Pavarotti ,  Leopold Stokowski ,Maria Callas ,  Joan
Sutherland ,  Artur Rubinstein , all  caught in live performances , and sometimes on  studio recordings . 

   Many longer works ,such as symphonies and operas  are available  in excerpt form .  You can see great opera singers  performing  individual arias  from  a wide variety of different operas ,  and single movements from symphonies and concertos .  The numerous interviews and documentaries  enable you to  hear the  opinions and ideas of so many great classical musicians ;  many are and were very interesting people . 

  For example , there is a  documentary about the late ,great conductor Carlos Kleiber  , with  comments by many great  opera singers who worked with him ,  and comments by  famous conductors who knew him ; it's quite fascinating .  Most of the  documentaries and interviews  have  English subtitles if  they're in foreign languages .  

   What are you waiting for ?   You Tube is now essential for any one who enjoys classical music .  

Posted: Apr 25 2011, 09:01 AM by the horn | with no comments
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The Long And Amazingly Fruitful RelationShip Between Classical Music And Religion
  On this Easter Sunday , I thought it might be an  interesting idea   idea to discuss  the enormous influence religion has had  on classical music over the centuries .Of course, this is an enormous topic , and  one could write multiple books on the subject .

   The liturgical traditions of the Catholic church have inspired so many composers , great and obscure , to produce an enormous  body of  music  for  ten centuries ;  in addition ,  some composers who happened to have been Jewish have also been inspired by  ancient Hebrew liturgy , and  Protestant composers have also  been inspired by  the Lutheran tradition in Germany .

   The Roman Catholic mass has been set to music by countless composers  from  medieval times  to the 20th century , at first A Capella , and beginning with the 18th century  for  chorus, orchestra and  vocal soloists .   Other  Catholic texts set to music  include the  somber   Requiem mass for the dead ,  and  the  joyous Te Deum Laudamus (We praise thee,oh God), and the Stabat Mater ,  which deals with the grieving  Mary at the cross . 

   There are also  oratorios dealing with the  Passion  of Christ ,  the  condemnation by Pilate and the  reaction of the crowd  at the crucifiction , and numerous choral works  based on a variety of Catholic hymns. 

   Among the greatest composers of  classical music of a liturgical nature are  Johann Sebastian Bach ,George Frideric Handel , Mozart ,Haydn, Beethoven ,  Schubert and Anton Bruckner .  In  Medieval and Renaissance times ,  the great composers of these eras  ,included  Palestrina,  Lassus,  Machaut, Guilaume Dufay ,  Claudio Monteverdi ,  Josquin Desprez , Heinrich Schutz ,  William Byrd and others.  These composers were respectively Italian,  Belgian, Dutch or French ,  German ,and English . 

   Although Handel's ever popular Messiah is  very popular at Christmastime , it actually deals with  the  crucifiction and resurrection  ,and is most appropriate at Eastertime , and  its text is drawn from the Bible .  The great St. Matthew Passion of Bach is a lengthy oratorio , almost operaitc in style ,which  tells of how Christ was betrayed ,sentenced and  crucified , with  a tenor  singing the role of the narrator , a bass a Jesus,  and other singers, and a chorus representing the crowd .  It has even been performed as a stagework at times in the 20th century.
   The 200 or so Cantatas of Bach are also for chorus ,orchestra and soloists , if much shorter , and  are in effect , Lutheran sermons set to music . 

   Palestrina and many other composers who lived before the time of Bach  made an enormous  number of a cappella settings of the mass ,  and  Bach wrote  the mighty Mass IN B Minor  in the early  18th century ,for orchestra,chorus and  vocal soloists.

   Later ,Mozart and Haydn wrote numerous settings of it , for the same combination, and Beethoven in  the 1820s came out with his monumental "Missa Solemnis ".   Later , in the 19th century ,the great Austrian symphonist Anton brucker wrote three settings of the Mass , a  radiant Te Deum ,  and numerous  hymns for chorus . 

   His contemporary  Johannes Brahms was an agnostic ,  but knew his German Bible very well, and wrote the "German Requiem" , which is sung in German, also for chorus,orchestra and soloists,  which  sets passages from the Bible dealing with the bitterness of death and  consolation for the bereaved . 

   The somber  Latin language Requiem mass for the dead has been  set by  among others, Mozart , who did not live to complete it. It was soon after completed by one of his pupils , Hector Berlioz ,  Giuseppe Verdi , and Antonin Dvorak .  The Requiem is the most drammatic of the liturgical texts , and the setting of the Dies Irae, or "Day Of Wrath "  is always the most  powerful part of the  work.   It portrays the terrors of the day of judgement.

   In the 1920s , the great Czech composer leos Janacek (Lay-osh Ya-a-check)  used the  Church Slavonic translation of the mass used by the  Orthodox  churches  of  Russia, Serbia and Bulgaria  for his unique  setting of the Mass , the so -called  "Slavonic Mass ", which  evokes the earthy and primitive world of the  Medieval Slavs who had just been converted to Christianity . 

   Of course , this barely scratches the surface of the vast word of  classical liturgical music , but I hope it gives  you a  reasonably good idea of what exists  which you could explore .  As always ,  has a wealth of  recordings of this kind of music ,  and you can  easily look up  the recordings by composer alphabetically .


Posted: Apr 24 2011, 01:43 PM by the horn | with no comments
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In Classical Music , The Grass In Always Greener In The Past
  I know, the old saying actually goes "The grass is always greener on the other side".  But what I mean by this paraphrase of the saying is that so many critics ,experts and fans of classics music are always longing for the "golden age" and the "good old days" of classical music ,whether in opera or orchestral music , or solo instrumental music etc.

   I suppose it's human nature to long for those "good old days".  People have been doing this for ages.  And it's rampant in the world of classical music ; I've been reading of the supposed decline of  standards of opera singing  etc ever snce I became a classical music freak as a teenager,when I  began to devour the reviews and commentary in such now defunct record review magazines as  High Fidelity and Stereo Review ,  and the fortunately still  viable New York Times and elsewhere. 

   In opera , the decline of singing in the oldest cliche in the book .  In the past 40 plus years ,I've witnessed whole new generations of opera starts emerge and retire .  The opera mavens and critics are always longing for the "golden age" of opera , with such legendary stars from the past as Enrico Caruso, Maria Callas,  Feodor Chaliapin, Kirsten Flagstad, Lauritz Melchior , Jussi Bjorling , Beniamino Gigli ,  Titta Ruffo, Tito Gobbi , Boris Christoff ,  Victoria De Los Angeles ,  and so many other names  you wouldn't recognize unless you're an opera buff .

   In recent years ,such great singers as Birgit Nilsson,  Joan Sutherland , Renata Tebaldi ,  Luciano Pavarotti ,  Franco Corelli ,  Regine Crespin ,  Leonie Ryasanek ,  and others have passed away ,  and other great ones are still alive but have long been retired . 

   Opera mavens are always making disparaging remarks "dissing " today's top opera  stars.
   Some have even said to me "The only reason you like any of today's opera singers is because you obviously haven't heard  recordings by the great ones of the past " !  That's a laugh !  In fact , I'm very familiar with  the voices of most of the greats from the past . And I admire the artistry of many of them greatly.

   But that doesn't mean I can't admire such wonderful  opera stars of the present day  as Renee Fleming ,Deborah Voigt,  Natalie Dessay ,  Karita Mattila,  Susan Graham ,  Ben Heppner,  Agela Gheorghiu ,  Roberto Alagna, Juan Diego Florez , Thomas Hampson ,Bryn Terfel ,  Rene Pape , and  others , who certainly have a lot to offer , both vocally and dramatically .

   And you can be sure that 40 or 50 years from now , opera mavens will be longing for the "good old days" represented by  today's top opera singers . The more things change ,the more they stay the same.

   In  orchestral music , it's very similar .  Critics and fans long for the "golden age " of conducting , and have been for as long as I can recall .   The days of such legendary podium  giants as Arturo Toscanini ,  Leopold Stokowski  ,  Bruno Walter , Serge Koussevitzky ,  Fritz Reiner ,  Pierre Monteux , Charles Munch ,  Wilhelm Furtwangler ,  Sir Thomas Beecham , George Szell ,  etc , all of whom flourished  in  the first half of the 20th century and  a few years beyond and left countless recordings . both studio  and  live but pirated  performances ,

   And more recently , such great names as Herbert Von Karajan ,  Sir Georg Solti ,  Karl Bohm , Erich Leinsdorf ,Klaus Tennstedt ,  Carls Kleiber,  Yevgeny Maravinsky , Eugen Jochum , Rafael Kubelik ,  Leonard Bernstein ,  Sir Charles Mackerras and others have departed  from the podium .

   But now , we have such living giants as  Claudio Abbado ,  Daniel Barenboim,  Bernard Haitink ,  James levine ,  Lorin Maazel ,  Andre Previn ,  Leonard Slatkin ,  Michael Tilson Thomas ,Sir Colin Davis ,  Valery Gergiev ,  Neeme Jarvi , Sir Simon Rattle ,  Kurt Masur ,
 Riccardo Chailly , Mariss Jansons , Zubin Mehta , Seiji Ozawa , etc , and  phenomenal new talents such as Gustavo Dudamel ,  Yannick Nezet-Seguin , Andris Nelsns and others .

   Despite all the wailing about the color of the grass , I don't think we're in serious decline from the past  now. 

Posted: Apr 23 2011, 09:02 AM by the horn | with no comments
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Classical Music Was Multicultural Long Before Multiculturalism Existed
  Unfortunately , many people who know little or nothing about classical music think that it's a hopelessly outdated and "Eurocentric" art form  in this day of multiculturalism and political correctness .  But no one condemns the music of Africa for being "afrocentiric", so why shouldn't classical music ,which had its origins in Europe centuries ago ,  be concerned with matters European ?

   However ,  many leading European composers have been  interested in non-western music from  all over  for  more than two centuries .  Mozart  made use of  Pseudo Turkish and middle eastern  elements in some of his works ,such as the opera "The Abduction From The Seraglio , which takes place in  Turkey and is the story of  a Spanish nobleman who rescues his beloved from  captivity in the harem of a Turkish Pasha .

   The Ottoman empire's  attempts to invade and conquer Europe in the 18th century  made  Turkish culture and music all the rage in  parts of Europe ,  and  so  Mozart wrote the famous "Rondo Alla Turca " movement  in one of his piano sonatas ,immitating the Janissary mkusic which Europeans  heard  during  the  Ottoman  invasions ,  and other composers  such as  Gluck ,wrote  operas  with  Turkish or middle eastern stories . 

   Great opera composers such as Verdi ,Rossini  and  others also wrot operas with exotic  subjects , and attempted to use local color in the music .  Verdi's Aida is set in ancient Egypt ,  Rossini wrote an opera called "The Turk In Italy" in which a Turkish Pasha  visits Italy and falls in locwe with  a spirited young Italian woman ,  etc . 

    Later ,  when the great Czech composer Antonin Dvorak  spent a few years in America  as the head of a new school of music in New York which no longer exists , he became very interested in  tghe folk music of America , especially  African American  and Native American .  His  beloved ninth and last symphony is known as the "New World " symphony , and was written in America .  Although it does not quote actual American popular songs , it is  written  so as to evoke the spirit of  the  diverse musical  folk traditions of this nation .

   The   main theme of the second movement was  used  to  make the famous  spiritual  "Going Home "   Dvorak spent a considerable amount of time studying  spirituals and the music of the various American Indian tribes , and  traveled around America meeting  black musicians and  people from  the various tribes .

   Composers such as Claude Debussy , founder of  impressionism in music ,became fascinated with  the music of China ,Japan and Indonesia  when  Asian musicians appeared in Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries ,  and you can hear  this in more than of few of the works  he wrote  ,such as  his  piano works ,where there are imitations of Gamelan music and  asian pentatonic (five note) scales .

   In the early 20th century ,many European composers became interested in Jazz when Jazz musicians appeared in Europe  or after  visitning America themselves .  Elements of Jazz   appeared in the works  of  composers such as Maurice Ravel , Darius Milhaud  of France ,  and   many other composers .  The Austrian composer Ernst Krenek  (1900-1991) ,wrote a once popular opera called  "Jonny Spielt Auf " (Jonny strikes up ) ,which is the story of the exploits of an African-American Jazz musician in Europe .It was all the rage in Europe until Hitler and the *** took power in the 1930s  and banned it and  other Jazz-influenced and  atonal works as  "Degenerate Music " .  Jonny Spielt Auf  was even performed at the Metropolitan opera . 

   It fell out of the repertoire  until  a few revivals in Europe in recent years ,and was recorded by Decca records  in the 90s as part of its  "Degenerate Music " project to record music by composers  banned by the *** .  I have that  CD , and it's a most interesting work .   So don't believe those who  sneer at classical music for being  allegedly "Eurocentric ! "
Posted: Apr 22 2011, 08:52 AM by the horn | with no comments
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Puccini's "Girl Of The Golden West" Is The Original Spaghetti Western , And The Met's Production Is On PBS This Week
  The latest PBS telecast from the Metropolitan opera is Puccini's "La Fanciulla Del West", or The Girl Of The Golden West , and  check your TV listings for it . In the New York area it will be Thursday April 21 , but check your local  TV listings for the time .  You can also find about about seeing it online at the Met's website , .

   The Met  revived  this  beautiful if somewhat strange opera last December in honor of the world premiere at the old Met in December of 1910 .  Puccini based it on a play by the once famous American playwright  and  theatrical  impresario  David Belasco of the same name .

   It's strange because many people find  the experience of hearing and seeing  19th century California miners singing in Italian  and  words such as "Doo-Dah Doodah Day " , as well as the  opera's somewhat contrived and unlikely ending .  But Puccini's score is  passionate and  ful of sumptuous orchestral colors , and full of  local flavor ,including  familiar  melodies from Western songs of the period .

   The opera takes place in a California mining camp in the mid 19th century  during the gold rush .  It's full of rough-and-ready miners ,many of whom are terribly homesick .  The lovely tomboy Minnie  runs the camp's  bar , and  is  loved by all the miners .  She also  offers Bible classes for them .  The camp sheriff  Jack Rance ,  vlllain of the opera ,although not really an evil man ,loves her  but his love is not requited .

   The  whole camp is on the lookout for a Mexican bandit named Ramirez who passes  himself  off as an Anglo named  "*** Johnson" .  He's the hero , comes into the bar one day  and  naturally , Minnie and   he fall in love , and go off to her cabin .  But Rance and the miners now know who "Johnson" is and come after him .  "Johnson" explains to Minnie that he's not really a bad guy but was forced to become a bandit by  cruel fate . 

   The men have caught him , but Minnie strikes a wager with Rance ; if she can beat him at a game of poker , he will let them  go free and  go off elsewhere as lovers .  Minnie cheats , and Rance reluctantly  leaves .  In the last act , the miners and Rance have caught  the bandit and are about to string him up .  But  believe it or not , Minnie  comes riding in on horseback and begs  Rance and  the miners to  spare him ,  reminding them of how kind she has been to them .  And believe it or not ,  they allow to two two ride off happily into the sunset !

   Even though the story may sound rather improbable ,  the opera is  colorful ,sweeping and  ultra-romantic , and you should have a great time .  The cast includes  the acclaimed American soprano Deborah Voigt  as Minnie ,  Italian tenor  Marcello Giordani  as  the hero , and  Italian baritone Lucio Gallo as Rance .  There s a DVD  available  from  the world-famous Milanese opera house La Scala,  and for a first-rate  CD  version  get  the Deutsche Grammophon recording  with  Carol Neblett ,Placido Domingo  and Sherill Milnes conducted by Zubin Mehta . 
Posted: Apr 21 2011, 05:39 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Good And Bad News From The Orchestral World
  First the bad news, and it's a bombshell .  The great Philadelphia orchestra ,one of the world's most prestigious classical music organizations , is going to file for bankruptcy.  This is unprecendented in the history of America's many great orchestras .  The members of the orchestra are bitterly opposed to this drastic measure , but the orchestra's management has decided that this is absolutely necessary.

   The orchestra has been suffering from  less than optimal ticket sales for several years , and  has gone through an interim period without a music director, but has had the services of the distinguished  Swiss maestro Charles Dutoit as  chief conductor , but without the full duties and responsibilities a music director.  The brief tnure of Chrostoph Eschenbach ,now leading the National symphony in Washington ,  was not considered the happiest in the orchestra's history ,which began about 110 years ago by many critics and even some members of the orchestra .

   Fortunately , the orchestra has  been able to find  one of the most gifted young conductors of the present to succeed Eschenbach , the French Canadian Yannick Nezet- Seguin . But the orchestra's future remains uncertain .   Philadelphia is the first of America's so -called "Big Five " orchestras (New York Philharmonic,Boston symphony , Chicago symphony, Cleveland orchestra and Philadelphia, to find itself in such  parlous financial condition . 

   The Syracuse symphony in upstate New York has also ceased to function because of  financial difficulties , but  the Detroit symphony has finally managed to  resume concerts , and  music director Leonard Slatkin and the orchestra were greeted with great enthusiasm by the audience when they  played their first concert in about eight months, after a prolonged and bitter strike . The orchestra's future also remains uncertain .

   In Hawaii ,  a group of patrons has recently formed a committee to attempt to revive  the Honolulu symphony , which has not played  any concerts for over a year because of financial difficulties .  Hopes are riding high for the oldest orchestra in America west of the Rockies. 

  Although there have been some difficulties for  orchestras and opera companies in Europe recently because of  adverse economic conditions there , it would be inconceivable for any major orchestra there to  fold .  Generous government subsidies are taken for granted there ,  unlike America , where many people are furious at having  having to contibute less than a dollar per year as taxpayers to support all the arts in America .

   No one in Germany or France ever seems to compain about paying taxes which  support  classical music there .  It's considered the normal thing to do .  If only America were more like Europe  in this respect !

Posted: Apr 19 2011, 05:35 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Where Is The Symphony Orchestra Headed In Our Time ?
  There is a great deal of talk today about the nature and function of the symphony orchestra in the present day, much of it negative and gloomy .  Many experts (or pseudo experts) have questioned if  the symphony orchestra is still "relevant" , and claim that it is a "dinosaur" ,and that our individual orchestras are nothing but "museums" ,endlessly rehashing the same same old established warhorses which audiences know and love, to the neglect of new music ,which is not quite the case.

  In addition ,there is the parlous  financial condition of so many orchestras , mainly in America, but now even to some extent in Europe, birthplace of the symphony orchestra .  And the endless hand-wringing over the greying of audiences, the lack of younger people at concerts , and so on. 

  Unfortunately ,many of these so-called experts have even laid the blame for these troubles at the feet of the orchestras themselves,  which is extremely unfair . They make it sound as though concertgoing were no longer worthwhile , both for the allegedly limited repertoire, and even for a lack of high quality and exciting performances ,which is also grossly unfair .  On the cntrary ; concertgoing hasnever been more worthwhile ,despite the naysayers . If only more of the public were aware of this fact !

   But these canards are badly in need of being debunked .  The repertoire of our orchestras in in fact MORE DIVERSE than ever before !   In the course of any given season , major orchestra will perform works ranging from  the 18th to the 21st centuries , by  composers of many different nationalities and compositional styles . 

   A season may include works such as Bach's B minor mass his St.Matthew Passion ,  or one of the Handel oratorios,  symphonies by Haydn,Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert,Brahms, etc, up to the latest works by today's leading composers ,such as John Adams, Thomas Ades, Tristan Murail, Hans Werner Henze, John Corigliano,  Tan Dun, Arvo Part, Osvaldo Golijov,  Unsuk Chin, Kaaia Saariaho, Magnus Lindberg , Wolfgang Rihm ,  Sofia Gubaidullina ,  Nico Muhly, Elliott Carter, and many other composers of the present day.

   These are not "Dead White European Males "  They are composers from respectively ,   America, England,  France, Germany, China, Estonia,  Argentina ,  South Korea , Finland, and Russia ,  and three are women . 

   Orchestras have also been  exploring  interesting rarities from the past by lesser-known but estimable composers such as Franz Schmidt ,  Alexander Zermlinsky, Albert Roussel ,  Franz Berwald,  Carlos Chavez ,  Erich Wolfgang Korngold,  Arnold Bax ,  Hans Pfitzner , Nikolai Myaskovsky, Gheorghe Enescu ,  Wilhelm Stenhammar , Rued Langgard ,  Sergei Taneyev,  Paul Creston , and others .

   Lack of exciting performances ?  Hardly .  Not with such  great conductors as Riccardo Muti, Daniel Barenboim,  Pierre Boulez ,  James Levine , Lorin Maazel , Kent Nagano ,  Leonard Slatkin, Simon Rattle ,  Claudio Abbado ,  Riccardo Chailly , David Zinman, Michael Tilson Thomas, Christian Thielemann ,  James Conlon ,  Christoph von Dohnanyi , Christoph Eschenbach , Valery Gergiev ,  and others ,  and the galaxy of outstanding pianists, violinists ,cellists and other instrumentalists who regularly appear at concerts .

   Standards of orchestral playing are higher than ever , and there are more world-class orchestras than ever before .  In the past, there were only about five or six world-class orchestras in America ; now there are dozens of them , and  all the great European ones. 
   There are also quite a few  very promising young podium talents such as Dudamel , Yannick Nezet-Seguin ,  Edward Gardner ,  and others .

  No ,lack of quality is not a problem at concerts today .  The orchestra has evolved  constantly over the centuries , from small  ensembles supported by the church and aristocary in the 18th century to  100 piece super orchestras  playing a vast range of music

   The repertoire today is anything but "ossified" as some critics claim. In fact,it is in constant flux .  The repertoire is vastly different from what it was just 50 years ago, despite the lasting popularity of the most popular works from the past .  A  whole new generation of composers has emerged . 

   And the orchestra   will continue to evolve . How , no one can predict .  Of course, the music of such greats as Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms , Bruckner,Mahler, Sibelius and others will always be played .  But the orchestra will never become stagnant .
Posted: Apr 08 2011, 05:49 PM by the horn | with no comments
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April Opera News Magazine - The Annual Awards Issue
  For the past six years ,Opera News magazine has presented awards for achievment in the world of opera to various illustrious names in the field ,both singers and conductors ,and the names of this years recipients are on the cover ;  sopranos Patricia Racette and Kiri Te Kanawa, tenor Jonas Kauffmann, bass-baritone Bryn Terfel and conductor Riccardo Muti .
   All stellar names , and there will be a gala ceremony at the Plaza hotel in New York honoring them  The magazine's editors offer a trubute to each of these operatic luminaries . Other articles include one on the upcoming world premiere of the first opera by the noted broadway composer Stephen Schwartz ,which is Seance On A Wet Afternoon .  This will be by the New York City opera , and the Minnesota opera's revival of the only opera by film composer Bernard Herrmann based on Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights. Hermann was a composer of a considerable amount ointeresting concert works as well as film scores .

  The noted music historian and scholar Harvey Sachs has an interesting article on the interpretations of various eminent conductors of Verdi's blood-and-thunder opera Il Trovatore, including  Carlo Maria Giulini ,Herbert von Karajan , Zubin Mehta, James Levine and Riccardo Muti on complete recordings of the opera , and there is the regular converage of this month's radio vroadcasts of Wagner's Das Rgheingold, Rossini's Le Comte Ory , Wozzeck by Alban Berg  the final opera of Richard Strauss, Capriccio  ,  and Verdi's Il Trovatore with casts,conductors etc listed and all the information any one could ask for.

   There are reviews of opera performances from Paris ,Zurich , Vienna,Milan, Bologna , New York,Houston,Seattle, and Toronto, including the Met's acclaimed new production of John Adam's Nixon in China.  CD reviews include a recording of the operetta El Capitan by none other than John Philip Sousa, who wrotemuch more than rousing marches during his long life, the original version of Beethoven's only opera Fidelio ,entitled Leonore from Vienna, and a long-forgotten opera by the once famous 18th century German composer Johann Adolf Hasse , as wel as well as solo albums by such well-known singers as German countertenor Andreas Scholl, and Canadian baritone Gerald Finley.

   Reviews of live opera performances on DVD include Charles Gounod's rarely performed opera Mireille from Paris ,which is not nearly as familiar as his Faust and Romeo& Juliette, The Birds by the once famaous 20th centruy German composer Walter Braunfels ,based on the famous ancient Greek play by Aristophanes , the Dwarf by Alexander von Zemlinsky ,Puccini's Girl; of the Golden West from Amsterdam ,and Medea by the contemporary German composer Aribert Reimann.

   There are reviews of new books ,such as abiography of Modest Mussorgsky by the distinguished English musicologist David Brown and a lavish coffee table book showing the sets from various opera productions by the controversial opera designer and director Franco Zeffirelli.  As usual . there is a wealth of information and  expert opinion and much to ponder .

Posted: Apr 04 2011, 05:47 PM by the horn | with no comments
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