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May 2011 - Posts

Don't Miss John Adams' Opera "Nixon In China" From The Met On PBS
  PBS will offer a telecast of the acclaimed opera "Nixon in  China by composer John Adams
  on June 1st . Check your local newspaper , because it may not be shown everywhere .
  If not , you can see this production ,new to the Met this past season on Metplayer .
  Check the Met's website for more information .

  The world premiere of this fascinating  opera was in 1987 at the Houston opera , and this was
  also telecast on PBS .  The Met premiere was conducted by the composer ,and you can see him
  leading a cast which includes such well-known singers as James Maddelena as Nixon ,
 Janis Kelly as his wife Pat, Richard Paul Fink as Henry Kissinger , Robert Brubaker as Mao Zedong,
 Russell Braun as Chou En Lai , and Kathleen Kim as Mao's wife Chiang Ching .

 The director is the controversial  Peter Sellars ,who also directed the premiere in Houston ,and the libretto is by Alice Goodman .  The opera deals with the historic visit of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger to China in 1972 , and their encounter with  Mao Zedong and Chou En Lai .
 In addition to colorful public scenes such as banquets and visits to factories and  a communist progpaganda ballet ,  there are more intimate scenes where the characters reflect on the historic importance of the visit and reminisce about the past .

Adams' music has sometimes been described as "minimalist " ,that is making use of deliberate repetition , but his stule has little in common with such leading musical
minimalists as Philip Glass and Steve Reich , and is more in the tradition of Stravinsky and other 20th century composers , though very much in his own personal style .

The opera has been successfully performed at leading opera houses in America and Europe
since its premiere in the late 80s , and though not all critics were pleased by it , it seems
to be one of the most important American operas of our time .  Check it out and decide for yourself . There is a recent CD of a production from Colorado on the Naxos label conducted by Marin Alsop , music director of the Baltimore symphony ,and an earlier recording conducted by the Dutch maestro Edo De Waart, a ongtime champion of Adams' music which may be hard to find .
Posted: May 31 2011, 09:02 AM by the horn | with no comments
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The Philadelphia Orchestra - Sumptuous-Sounding Rolls Royce Of U.S. Orchestras
  The world-famous Philadelphia orchestra was founded in 1900 by a German-born conductor by the name of Fritz Scheel  and was succeeded by a countryman of his by the name of Karl Pohlig.
   These two worthies have been completely forgotten , but when the legendary London-born 
conductor Leopold Stokowski  took over the orchestra in 1912 at the age of only 30 , he transformed  the orchestra into one of the finest in existence with his mixture of  musical brilliance , glamorous image and technical savvy . 

   Stokowski was always at the forefront of  musical and technological  innovation , and made the
first recordings  of an orchestra in 1925  using the then revolutionary electronic  system ,
replacing the primitive  and woefully inadequate  acoustical  method .  He  championed the music of  leading  composers of his day such as Stravinsky , Prokofiev ,Shostakovich and others  and cultivated the so-called  "Philadelphia sound "  ; the most plush ,colorful  and  exciting  sounds that had ever come from an orchestra . 

   He made  sumptuous  transcriptions of the organ music of Bach , having begun as an organist in England  himself  which  scandalized the musical puritsts ,and made  recordings of them which are still classics .  He may have been a  shamelss showman , but he was  an undeniable  musical
genius.  His freewheeling  interpretations ,which often took outrageous liberties with the written texts ,  and  outraged many critics and musicologists ,but no one could accuse
him of being dull  as a conductor !

   When Stokowski  stepped down ,  a young Hungarian-born conductor by the name of
  Eugene Ormandy  was the new man in Philadelphia .  He had begun as an orchestral
 violinist ,  and had begin to make a  successful career as a conductor , and had been music
 director of the Minneapolis symphony , now known as the Minnesota orchestra ,which he
 had built into an excellent  one. 

   He remained with the orchestra until his retirement at  the age of 80 in 1980 ,  more than 40 years !  Ormandy was not as flamboyant a personality as Stokowski , but  preserved the sumptuous "Philadelphia sound "  and made  hundreds of recordings with the orchestra
of repertoire ranging from  Mozart and Beethoven  to contemporary composers ,for labels such as R.C.A.  and what is now Sony Classical, formerly Columbia records ,than  C.B.S.
records , and  late in his career ,the English label E.M.I.

   A young ,talented and  dynamic  Italian conductor named Riccardo Muti  (1941-) , began to appear regularly with the Philadelphians in the 1970s, and was named principl guest conductor .  In  1981 , he succeeded Ormandy .  Some critics faulted him for allegedly
"destroying" the famous Philadelphia sound , as he  wanted a leaner ,  crisper  sorority from
the orchestra .  But to these ears ,  the orchestra still sounded fine .  He continued to make recordings for EMI with the orchestra as well as the now defunct Dutch label  Philips,
as well  as giving  performances of  Italian operas  in concert with the orchestra .

   Muti, now a seasoned veteran about to turn 70 , has recently become music director of the Chicago symphony , and had vbeen music director of  the renowned La Scala opera in Milan  and the Philharmonia orchestra in London .  In 2003, the distinguished German conductor  Wolfgang Sawallisch (1923-) ,who had been a regular guest conductor with the
orchestra became music director , and was praised for "restoring"  the Philadelphia sound , and continued to make recordings  with EMI ,  especially the tone poems of Richard Strauss,  a composer with whose music he had long been closely associated . He had previously been music director of  the Bavarian State opera in Munich, one of Germany's
leading opera companies ,  as well as a regular  with top orchestras and opera companies all over Germany and Europe .

   In  2003 , another distinguished  German conductor ,  Christoph Eschenbach (1940-) ,who began as a piano virtuoso, succeeded  Sawallisch , but  his  stay with the orchestra lasted only until  2008 .  There were reports that  Eschenbach and the orchestra did not have the "right chemistry",
which sometimes happens .  The distinguished Swiss French conductor Charles Dutoit
(1936 -)  was appointed not music director but chief conductor as an interim  appointment
until a full-fledged new music director could be found .  A chief conductor does not quite have the same authority is  management,such as appointing new musicians . Dutoit
had been a regular and pop[lar guest conductor for many years .

  Last year, the young and switfly rising  French-Canadian conductor Yannick-Nezet-Seguin  was appointed music director after having had considerable success as guest conductor  and
impressing the orchestra with his talent ,and will  assume his post in 2112 .  Every one is
hoping for the best with this new appointment ,and it looks very promising. But unfortunately, serious financial problems ,including loss of endowment funds and  dissapointing  ticket sales have forced this great and prestigious orchestra to declare bankrupcy ,  which is unprecendented among  America's so--called "big five" orchestras,
New York,Philadelphia,Boston,Cleveland and Chicago .  Let's all hope that this financial mess can be surmounted .

   The Philadelphia orchestra had played in  Philadelphia's elegant if acoustically challenged
 Academy of Music concert hall  since its beginning  in 1900 , but moved the the new Verizon hall  in 2001 , which  is said to be an improvement acoustically if not  ideal . 
The orchestra  has a Summer residence in  Saratoga , in upstate New York  at that town's music festival . 

   Other eminent conductors who have made recordings with the Philadelphia orchestra include  James Levine ,  Arturo Toscanini ,  Charles Munch , Charles Dutoit ,  Andre Previn,
Christian Thielemann ,  Bruno Walter , and even Sergei Rachmaninov ,who was much better known as a piano virtuoso but also conducted .

   The Philadelphia orchestra became the first American orchestra to tour the people's republic of China in 1973 under Eugene Ormandy and in 1929 became the first orchestra
to make a radio broadcast ,when the R.C.A. company sponsored it ,among other firsts.
This great orchestra remains  a  formidadble plaer in American classical music .
It remains a Rolls Royce of orchestras .
Posted: May 30 2011, 05:29 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Apples And Oranges ,Nothing But Apples And Oranges
  I've discussed this before here .  Why are people always making unfair comparisons between classical and non-classical music ,  finding fault with classical and blaming it for not being like
Rock ,Pop, Jazz, or what have you ?  Not necessarily the music itself , but with the way classical music is presented .  You know,  concert halls where people the audience is nicely dressed , quiet
and the musicians onstage are dressed formally ,although not always .

   What is wrong with musicians in an orchestra wearing  tuxedos or black tie ?  Does this really
   make the experience of attending concerts  a "stuffy"  one ?   Many people today think so ,
   including such  ctitics and commentators as  Greg Sandow ,  Alex Ross and others , and 
   wonder if more people, particularly young ones, teenagers and young adults ,might avoid
   these concerfts because the "stuffy " atmosphere is so off-putting . 

   But  concerts and operta have never been like Rock or pop concerts . People behave  more
  quietly  because  it's necessary to have quiet in order to concentrate on the music ,  and to
  avoid  distracting the performers .  What's so terrible about that ?  It's no different than when
  you go to the movies .  You don't want other people in the audience to distract you while you're
  watching the movie . 

  As to formal  wear for the musicians onstage , no one complained  long ago during the
  heyday of such great Jazz musicians as  Duke Ellington ,Count Basie and others  about
  the snazzy  formal  dress  at their concerts , so why should  people object to the way
  orchestras ,conductors and other classical musicians  use formal wear .  Actually, some of
  them have been  using  their own kind of concert dress without balck or white ties for
  some time jnow, especially conductors and soloists  when they appear with orchestras or
  give solo recitals . 

  There's nothing wrong with this , but  the reason to go to a classical concert is not to see
  what the musicians are wearing but  to listen to the music .  Ultimately ,it's the music,
  and only the music which counts .  So if you haven't been to one of these classical
  concerts ,but would like to, don't worry about this non-issue . Just go ,and enjopy the
  music !

     Why can't people just learn to enjoy classical music on its own terms ,  and  stop
     making pointless comparisons  with concerts of other kinds of music ? 
    Now I have no objection to experimenting  with alternate ways of presenting classical
    performances ,  but  I maintain that the traditional  classical concert is still  a perfectly
    valid  thing  and that there is absolutely no reason for people to avoid them .

    Enough apples and oranges .  Let classical be classical and Pop and Rock be Pop and
Posted: May 29 2011, 06:09 PM by the horn | with no comments
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The Dresden State Orchestra - Mother Of All Symphony Orchestras
  The  city of Dresden ,not far from Leipzig  with its renowned Gewandhaus orchestra , is home to
  the world's oldest orchestra , the  Staatskapelle , now  known as the Saxon State orchestra as
  it had been  in the past .  Known as the "florence of Germany" , the ancient and picturesque
  capitol of Saxony , located on the Elbe river , was bombed  severely in 1945 , and its historic
  Semper opera house , where the Staatskapelle had  played concerts and performed  operas  for so long , was  destroyed  in the Dresden bombing .  The orchestra had served as the official  instrumental ensemble of  the Royal court of Saxony since the 16th century .

  It  was rebuilt in the 1980s and  reopened in 1985 ,  and the orchestra  is  again in residence there .  Such great composer conductors as Carl Maria Von Weber (1786-1826) and Richard Wagner  served as  directors of  opera and concerts there , and  Richard Strauss also had a long
 relationship with the orchestra .  Wagner's early operas Rienzi , the Flying Dutchman and Tannhauser were premiered there under his direction , and  such  famous 20th century operas by Richard Strauss as Salome, Elektra, and Der Rosenkavalier were also premiered at the Semper
opera .

   Before WW 2, such eminent conductors as Fritz Busch, Fritz Reiner , and Karl Boehm served as  chief conductors  of the Dresden opera and  Staatskapelle concerts , and later
renowned conductors such as Rudolf Kempe, Franz Konwitschny , Lovro Von Matacic,
Otmar Suitner, and Kurt Sanderling .

   In more recent years ,  Herbert Blomstedt ,  Giuseppe Sinopoli ,  Bernard Haitink , 
   Hans Vonk . and most recently the Italian Fabio Luisi ,recently appointed principal guest conductor of the Metropolitan opera ,and a possible successor to James Levine as music director .  Luisi resigned last year  over a dispute with the orchestra's administration , and in 2112 , Christian Thielemann will  take over in Dresden . 

   Other renowned conductors who have been  regulars with the Staatskapelle include Sir Colin Davis ,  Marek Janowski , Daniel Harding ,  Nikolaus Harnoncourt ,  Andre Previn ,Eugen Jochum,
 Wolfgang Sawallisch , Jeffrey Tate , and Silvio Varviso .
 Many of the conductors mentioned  here have made acclaimed recordings  with the Staatskapelle,  both operas and  orchestral works ,for such  top record labels as EMI ,
Deutsche Grammophon and Philips .

   After the demise of the German Democratic Republic , the Saxon State opera  once again became  one of the world's leading international opera houses ,  and its resident orchestra  continues to  attract the world's leading conductors for its concerts . 


Posted: May 28 2011, 05:31 PM by the horn | with no comments
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The Venerable Gewandhaus Orchestra Of Leipzig Germany
  The Gewandhaus orchestra of Leipzig ,in what used to be East Germany ,is one of the world's oldest symphony orchestras , and few have such a rich and venerable history .  Gewandhaus means the "Clothier's or textile merchant's hall" in German, and thereby hangs a tale .

  This curious name for an orchestra  dates back to the 18th century , when  a group of musicians
   founded a series of concerts in Leipzig .  The musicians were unhappy with performing in what
   was virtually a pub , so  the Leipzig town council  allowed them to  adapt  part of  the  building
   occupied by the Leipzig textile merchant's guild , and the orchestra became known as one of
   the finest in Germany. Eventually the orchestra  got its own  concert hall in which to perform,
   but the title "Gewandhaus orchestra "  has remained to the present day .

   In  the early  19th century , the renowned  composer Felix Mendelssohn  became  the orchestra's conductor ,or Kapellmeister in German ,  and  Gewandhaus concerts became  among the most prestigious in Europe .  Mendelssohn  remained  Kapellmeister until his untimely death
in 1847  at the age of only  38 . 

   Later in  the 19th  century, the legendary Hungarian conductor  Artur Nickisch  (1855-1922)
   took the orchestra to  new heights ,  and  conducted among other things , the world premiere
  of Bruckner's great 7th symphony .  Nickisch  also served as music director of the Berlin
  Philharmonic until his death in 1922 , and was the first conductor to record  a complete
  symphony of Beethoven, the fifth .

  Later, the  great German conductor Wilhelm Furtwangler , who also succeeded Nickisch
  at the Berlin Philharmonic ,became Kapellmeister in Leipzig .  Another great German conductor ,Bruno Walter ,  (1876-1962 ), also served in the same position .

  Within  the past 50 years or so , the orchestras conductors have included  the eminent
  Czech conductor Vaclav Neumann (1920-1995) ,  and  distinguished German Kurt Masur
  (1927-)  ,  was also music director of the New York Philharmonic in the 1990s .
  The  distinguished Swedish  conductor  Herbert Blomstedt (1927-)  , who had also been conductor of the Dresden State orchestra  and the San Francisco symphony  was the next Gewandhaus Kapellmeister , and  in 2005 ,  the distinguished Italian conductor  Riccardo Chailly (1953-)  was chosen  to succeed Blomstedt ,  and  has been  garnering considerable praise  with  the orchestra .

   The Gewandhaus orchestra , like the Vienna Philharmonic is also an opera orchestra , and
   is the official orchestra of the Leipzig opera , as well as performing  concerts of  the music of Bach  at the St. Thomas church in Leipzig , where  he served as  organist and music director .  The orchestra performs concerts in the so-called "New Gewandhaus "
which opened in 1981 , and  this is the third concert hall to bear the name .

This  venerable orchestra  continues to be  one of Germany's finest .
Posted: May 27 2011, 05:44 PM by the horn | with no comments
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The Plight Of The Contemporary Composer
  It's not easy to become a successful composer today , but this has always been the case .
  Getting your music recognized and composed is tough , especially with the popularity of composers from the past ,and the fact that orchestras and opera companies tend to be rather conservative and  tend to offer the same old same old .

   It's tough to compete with  Beethoven ,Mozart , Tchaikovsky , Brahms, Rachmaninov ,
   Chopin ,  Dvorak ,  Schubert et al .  They're an established  part of classical music today , and their music has been popular for ages , and always will be .  But it's not impossible to get performed ,  and  new music is not quite as marginalized  as  many  classical naysayers would have you believe.  Those naysayers include many composers today .
   When the great Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev was living in America during the 1920s, he expressed
   his anger at  the reluctance of  America's  great orchestras to play his music , so this is nothing new .

   It's not easy to  become a successful  novelist ,poet ,painter or sculptor ,either .  That's due to
   the market  for anything , which is always a crap shoot .  How do  composers  get
  started ?  
    Today ,many study  at  universities  and conservatories , and many have  a master's degree
  and a doctorate in composition ,and have studied with  composers who teach there ,including some  eminent ones .  From there on  it's  very uncertain , but some have  received  grants  and other  honors ,  and have  gotten comissions to write works for  different orchestras around Europe and America  etc  ,or write  chamber music ,  works for piano or operas .

   In the past , most great composers studied  privately with other  composers , such as
   Beethoven ,who studied with haydn as a young man ,Mozart, who was trained by his father from childhood , a  respected violinist  and composer himself ,  for example .  Composers were employed by the church and  the European nobility to write  music , and  this support has
produced  much great music , as well as countless deservedly forgotten run-of-the-mill 
works .

   Today , some orchestras  have resident composers  who work with  the orchestra  to
   produce music and foster  contemporary music as a whole .  Many  composers have also been  active as performing musicians too,  as pianists ,violinists, conductors etc .
Great pianists  and composes such as  Chopin ,Liszt ,Rachmaninov ,Bela Bartok ,  etc.
Wagner , Richard Strauss , Gustav Mahler  were  renowned conductors ,  not only of their own music .  Stravinsky , Paul Hindemith , Aaron Copland , Benjamin Britten , Claude Debussy ,  Ravel , and other famous composers also conducted , but primarily their own music .

   Many  prominent composers of the 20th century and the early 21st  have held teaching positions  at  presitigious universities and music schools , such  as  Elliott Carter ,Olivier Messiaen ,  Walter Piston at Harvard , to name only a few .  Not too many composers have become  wealthy from their music alone .

   Despite the  difficulties , there is no lack of  aspiring young composers  currently studying
  at universities and music schools in America ,Europe and elsewhere , and some of them may achieve prominence in the near future .Only time will tell .
   Here is a  far from exhaustive list of  some of today's leading composers . Not all of them
   are white males .   American : Elliott Carter , John Adams ,Philip Glass ,Ned Rorem ,
  William Bolcom ,  Christpher Rouse , Charles Wuorinen ,John Harbison , Gunther Schuller,
  Jennifer Higdon , Ellen Taafe Zwillich .
  European : Hans Werner Henze , Pierre Boulez ,  Henri Dutilleaux , Gyorgy Kurtag ,
  Sofia Gubaidullina ,Kaaia Saariaho , Arvo Part , Krzystof Penderecki , Wolfgang Rihm ,
  Einojuhani Rautavaara , Magnus Lindberg ,  Poul Ruders. Harrison Birtwistle, Peter Maxwell Davies , Thomas Ades ,  Giya Kancheli , Louis Andriessen ,Kalevi Aho .
  Asian : Tan Dun ,  Unsuk Chin .  Latin American :  Osvaldo Golijov . 
  Recently deceased :  Peter Lieberson , Milton Babbitt , Daniel Catan , Henryk Gorecki ,
  Karlheinz Stockhausen , George Perle ,George Rochberg , Nicholas Maw ,
  Gyorgy Ligeti ,Luciano Berio .   Recordings of music by all of these composers can easily be found  on CD , and you can also hear there music on the internet ,  for example ,

Posted: May 26 2011, 04:00 PM by the horn | with no comments
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The Difficult And Thankless Art Of Planning An Orchestra's Concert Season
   How does an orchestra plan what it will play in the course of any given season ? And who plans it?  Good question .  Every year , top U.S. orchestras in New York,Chicago , Boston, Philadelphia, Boston ,Los Angeles and  other cities reveal their plans for the next season ,usually some months before they begin in September .  Classical music fans await these eagerly to see what
their local orchestra and others will have to offer .

   Basically , the orchestra's chief conductor ,known as the music director ,along with the orchestra's administrative staff , decide what will be played and when, as well  as which  famous or not so famous  pianists,  violinists,cellists , and other solo performers will appear with the orchestra as guests , and  singers in addition , as  it's not uncommon for vocal works such as operas and oratorios etc to be scheduled .

   This is anything but an easy  task .  It's absolutely impossible to please every one,  audiences ,
   critics ,  board members etc with  the selection of repertoire .  No matter what a conductor decides , some one will complain bitterly .  You're samned if you do, and damned i you don't .

   Seasons need to be planned  quite a long time before  they begin ;  there are so many things to coordinate ;  who will be available to play  what piano,violin, or cello concerto etc ?   How much will  these soloists have to be paid ? What if  one of them is  unable to appear because of illness  etc ?   The music director has to  contact guest conductors to  make sure that  they  are not  planning to play  a work  which he or she has already scheduled .
Which guest cnductors will be invited to appear with the orchestra ?  If the orchestra  could not stand  one who  recently appeared  for the first time with them ,it's not a good idea to  invite  that conductor back . 

   In some cases ,  the orchestra's  board of directors or the general manager might not want the conductor to do a particular work , such as something by  a contemporary composer who  writes  thorny and complex music which might  upset certain subscribers and  potentially cause  a  loss of ticket sales .  Sometimes there are conflicts .

   It's  important to  provide  a judicious balance between new music , old music ,  established audience favorites and  interesting rarities , and this is  extremely difficult .
If the conductor  concentrates too much on  the same old same old ,  the music critics in the papers will  complain that  new music  is being neglected  , and grumble about having to hear their umpteenth  performance of the same old symphonies and concertos by  the old masters Beethoven ,Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov ,  Mozart , Schubert, Mendelssohn , Schumann  etc . 

   But  many  people in the audience are very conservative in their tastes , and  want to hear those same olf familiar works over and over again ;  the thought of trying a work by a living or recently deceased composer is  threatening to them . They need their  beloved repertoire  staples  the way some children need their security blankets . 

   They would rather be waterboarded than hear something by that  awful Arnold Schoenberg  ,the boogey man of modern music ,despite the fact  that  this "awful modern
music "  was written  in the first half of the 20th century as is not even really "modern" any more !   And there  are more recent composers , such as Pierre Boulez, Elliott Carter, 
Milton Babbitt, Charles Wuorinen ,  and others whose music is even more daunting . 

   There are also  contemporary composers  who write in a more conservative idiom , and aim to please audiences .  But if a conductor  programs music by these  composers ,
some critics  will blast him or her  for pandering to the audience with "easy listening ".
You're damned if you do ,and damned if you don't.   It's not uncommon for some conservative concert subscribers to write angry letters to an orchestra's music director after a concert  where a new or recent work  was performed  saying how awful the piece was  and threatening to cancel their subscriptions .

   But some one has to  do the job  of programming .  It's an endless challenge and not for the faint-hearted .


Posted: May 25 2011, 05:37 PM by the horn | with no comments
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The New York City Opera Announces Plans To Move Out Of Lincoln Center
  According to the New York Times , the financially troubled New York City Opera has announced  that it plans to move out of  its home ,the David H. Koch theater in Lincoln Center, formerly the New York State theater  some time in the near future.

   The company has also announced that it will  have a season  beginning  this fall , but  repertoire has yet to be announced , and apparently the season will  also be as  short as the just concluded one ,  which featured only five  productions.   The costs of  its  residence at Lincoln Center have proved  too burdensome , so  the company ,under its  enterpising and ambitious general manager George Steel  will be looking for another  residence . 

   A number of different venues  are being considered  around  the city ,including  its previous home  before  the move to Lincoln Center  in the 1960s , the City Center .  But this leaves the Koch theater  and Lincoln Center  as a whole in a quandary .  The famed New York City ballet shares  the theater with  the opera company ,  but  at different times.  Who or what will occupy the recently renovated  Koch theater  for the rest of the year ?   Having  the theater dark for  long periods of time would be very  bad for Lincoln Center as a whole  financially.

   The Times  states that the company very much enjoys  performing  in Lincoln Center , but  the costs have become prohibitive .  Which is doubly unfortunate , considering that the recent renovations have by all reports  made a considerable improvement in the  theater's notoriously  poor acoustics , which were designed to muffle the sound  of  the feet  of ballet dancers .   Those renovations required  the NYC opera to miss an entire season , which was financially  disastrous .

   Could the Koch theater becme a venue for  visiting opera companies from  America and Euerope , for example ?  This would be extremely difficult financially , but  the tours might be very beneficial  for a variety of different opera companies , or perhaps other theatrical  and dance organizations .  As well as for opera and dance  in Lincoln Center  and the New York  City economy .

   Or could another opera house be built  somewhere  in the city ?  It won't be an easy task
  to adapt  other venues to  an opera company ,which has  very specific needs in terms of
  the kind of stage and backstage facilities needed, as well as the technology needed to
  put on  elaborate opera productions.  The Metropolitan  opera ,next door to the Koch theater in Lincoln Center , has  phenomenal , state of the art  technology  and backstage
 facilities, for example .

   Let's hope for the best for the beleaguered NYC opera .  The new plans  could be either
   a  great opportunity for the  company or  could spell disaster for it  and  cause its  end . 
Posted: May 24 2011, 05:35 PM by the horn | with no comments
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An Interesting If Highly Tendentious Book About The Great Italian Conductor Toscanini
  I've been rereading the book "Understanding Toscanini" by the noted American music historian and critic Joseph Horowitz ,which first came out in the late 1980s . This book purports to discuss the supposed ill effects of the hero worship in America which surrounded the legendary Italian maestro Arturo Toscanini (1867-1957) during the first half of the 20th century . And yes, few classical musicians have ever been so idolized as Toscanini during their lifetimes and after .

  Some background information if you're not familiar with the life and career of Toscanini .  He was born into a rather poor family in  Parma Italy, center of the Italian dairy industry and home of a famous and historical opera house in 1867 .  He showed great musical talent as a child , studied the cello and composition at the Parma conservatory , and  went on to become one of the most acclaimed conductors in the history of both the opera house and the concert hall, and died  loaded with honors in New York city shortly before his 90th birthday, having retired from the podium only three years before .

   Toscanini knew such great Italian composers as Verdi and Puccini personally , led the world premieres of such famous operas as La Boheme,Pagliacci and others , worked with countless famous opera singers and  instrumental soloists in the course of podium career which lasted
nearly 70 years .  He served as music director of  Italy's greatest and most historic opera house, La Scala in Milan, the New York Philharmonic, the Metropolitan opera , and the famous N.B.C. symphony in New York was founded in the 1930s especially for him , and was hand-picked from the finest orchestral music ians in America.  He was also the first Italian conductor to conduct at the famous Wagner shrine ,the Bayreuth festival , and appeared with the Vienna Philharmonic at the famous Salzburg festival in Austria etc.

   Toscanini's many recordings,mostly with the N.B.C symphony , have been bestsellers since the 1930s, and are greatly admired by critics, musicians and music lovers everywhere.  Most are still available .  In America , where many of his musical triumphs took place and where he settled ,living  in Riverside ,New York city ,  most of the leading music critics fawned endlessly over his insterpetations,  calling him 'the greatest ocnductor of all time". 

   Toscanini was famous for his supposed faithfulness to the composer's intentions ; he refused to play fast and loose with the music as many of his most famous podium contemporaries allegedly did.  He was a martinet with orchestral musicians and treated them like a Marine drill master , often heaping profanities (many in Italian) at them .
Musicians feared him ,to say the least. He was also a  fierce opponent of Mussolini and his fascists, and  loathed the ***.

   A colorful personality,to say the least .  An inquestionably a very great conductor ,if by no means THE greatest, with such towering  podium contemporaries as Furtwangler, Walter,Klemperer, Felix Weingartner, Pierre Monteux, Beecham, and others .

   Horowitz is disturbed by the uncritical adulation which surrounded Toscanini during his lifetime by so many music critics and others , and the enormous cult of personality which surrounded him during his lifetime. He goes into detail  quoting the fawning  adulation which was heaped on him by so many critics, as well as  many other distinguished conductors and composers .  Toscanini did not lack his detractors, or at least those whop acknowledged his greatness but had some reservations about his interpetations, which some thought too metronomically rigid ,hard-driven and  tight-fisted, often  depriving the music of spontaneity,warmth and flexibility . 

   The author finds the crass publicity and uncritical adulation whcih surrounded Toscanin
extremely distasteful and feels that it somehow cheapened classical music in America.
In addition, Horowitz  notes the rather limited repertoire on which Toscanini concentrated in the 30 or 40 years of his life.  The great man had absolutely no sympathy for the music of many important 20th century composers, such as Schoenberg, Berg, Webern,Mahler,
Bartok, Hindemith and others . 

   He tended to concentrate in his later years on such established favorites as Beethoven,Brahms, Wagner, Verdi, Mendelssohn, Schubert, etc, although his repertoire had been much broader in his earlier years , and he hasd done a fair amount of then new music .  He left it to other conductors such as his younger contemporary Dimitri Mitropoulos, anative of Greece, and others to champion  advanced new works by then contemporary composers . 

   In the opera house, which he  abandoned in his later years, he never conducted such  important but  challenging operas as those of  Schoenberg,Berg, Hindemith and other 20th century composers . Atonality was anathema to him.
   The book is full of interesting  facts and analysis of  Toscanini's interpretive approaches to the music of great composers .

  However, where Horowitz goes  appallingly off base is the final chapter of the book, in which he attempts (unsuccessfully) to prove that Toscanini's conservatism of repertoire and the adulation and puvblicity which surrounded him in life has supposedly had  terrible ill effects on classical music in America posthumously .  He heavy-handedly cites the popularity of  esptablished  repertoire warhorses by Beethoven,Brahms,Tchaikovsky ,
Rachmaninov,  Schubert,  etc in America today , conveniently ignoring the fact that this has in no way prevented a vast number of new works being premiered by America since 1957, the year of Toscanini's death.  Not to mention many new operas by our opera companies such as those of Dallas,Houston,San Francisco etc,and the New York City opera.

   Horowitz paints an extremely one-sided and highly misleading of classical music in America today , dismissing it as filled with slick and vulgar publicity ,  allegedly uninteresting  and hackneyed repertoire and  superficial performances by famous  conductors and other musicians.

   He conveniently fails to mention that since Toscanini's death, American orchestras have performed new works by  such important 20th century composers as Olivier Messiaen,
Witold Lutoslawski, Elliott Carter, Michael Tippett, Roger Sessions, Milton Babbitt,
Pierre Boulez, William Schuman, John Adams, Philip Glass, John Corigliano, Hans Werner Henze,  Krzystof Penderecki , Tan Dun,  Alberto Ginastera, Walter Piston, John Cage,
Peter Lieberson,  Dmitri Shostakovich ,  Alfred Schnittke, Toru Takemitsu, Sofia Gubaidullina,  and many,many other composers ,most of whom would have been utterly rejected by Toscanini had he lived long enough to hear their music.

   In addition, Horowitz  uses his extremely questionable premise as an excuse to take pot shots at such  important classical music organizations as the Metropolitan opera, the New York Philharmonic and others, as well as such  world-famous conductors and instrumentalists as Sir Georg Solti,Herbert von karajan, Itzhak Perlman and others, finding fault with their interpretations as though Toscanini were supposedly to blame for what he finds lacking in them,which is ludicrous.

  He quotes the repugnantly unfair claim by the equally biased  American composer and critic Virgil Thomson about the New York Philharmonic asupposedly "Not being part of New York's intellectual life(merely because of one concert with music by the Finnish composer Sibelius,whose music he loathed).  This was arrogant and presumptuous on the part of Thomson ;  the  calumny  defamed the orchestra for decaders, and many people blindly accepted this blatantly false and grossly unfair claim.

  Horowitz obviously has an axe to grind, and his agenda is blatantly aparent .  He belittles and dismisses many great contemporary musicians,the Met and New York Philharmonic in a repugnantly catty manner, and uses orchestras and coductors he happens to admire
as sticks with which to bash them .   In effect, he tuns the entire last chapter into a giant non-sequitur . 

   So by all means try this interesting if extremely irritating book , which may not still be in print but sjhould not be hard to find at your local library , but take it with more than a few grains of salt .




Posted: May 23 2011, 05:39 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Once Again ,It's The Birthday Of That Megalomaniacal Genius Richard Wagner
  Richard Wagner, born 198 years ago in Leipzig,Saxony ,in what used to be East Germany,is the most controversial composer of all time.  No composer has ever divided musicians and music lovers to the degree that this eogtistical , womanizing  anti-semite has  for nearly 200 years .

  His influence in  the history of music has been immense , and no composer after him could escape the enormous effect he had on it.  People tend to either love his music passionately or
to be utterly repelled by it ;  hardly any one is indifferent to it .  And to a large extent , the baggage that comes with his music and  artistic philosophy  has influenced  the way people react to it in the 20th century.

  Wagner was no ordinary opera composer ;  others are and  have been practical   men of the theater who  wrote their operas  to please audiences and who  were pragmatists , but Wagner was a visionary genius who marched to his own drummer  and revolutionized both opera and  music and whose  music is as much a part of the concert hall as the opera house.   He makes impractical demands  on  opera houses ,singers,conductors,orchestras  and theater designers in his quest for
things that no opera composer had ever dreamed of  before.

   His operas  are vast , enormously complex  and  formidably demanding  works  which  make  almost superhuman demands on  those who perform them  and are anything but easy for  audiences to  sit through .  But sit through them they do , because  he combines music ,drama ,  psychology and philosophy  in a way  that creates  an intoxicating  experience for those who are  willing to take the time and effort to  get to know them .

   A composer like his great Italian contemporary Giuseppe Verdi, who was born in the same year , 1813 ,  wrote his operas  with  professional  librettists who  wrote his librettos ,just as most other opera composers have ,  and wrote with the public in mind , and tailored them  to  accomodate the singers  with whom he worked.  But Wagner was  a totally uncompromising composer who wrote all of his own librettos  and  had enormous difficulty in getting them  perormed throughout his life, which ended with his death  while staying in Venice in 1883 .

   In order to realize his  ideals , he had a special festival opera house built  in the 1870s in the  sleepy  northern Bavarian town of Bayreuth (  by-roit )  designed expecially for his  operas , which include such immortal works as Tristan &Isolde, Parsifal , Die Meistersinger Von Nurnberg  (The Mastersingers of Nuremberg) and his magnum opus , the  awesome  four part  Ring of the Nibelungen  epic , which  requires four successive  days to perform in its entirety .  This festival opened in 1876 with the first complete performance of the Ring cycle , and  is still  held  every Summer  in  Bayreuth .

   Instead of writing operas the traditional way , as a series of dicreet  arias ,  duets ,
 choruses  and other ensembles ,  his operas ,or music dramas as he preferred to call them 
 are  "through-composed " or  continuous in action  throughout the length of each act .
H eused a system of  "Leitmotifs"  or  short themes or melodic ideas which  appear in the orchestra  to represent the characters , their  emotional states and even  physical objects such as magical swords ,  Valhalla  the dwelling-place of the Gods in the Ring , fate ,
nature  ,etc .  These  motifs  constantly change and  develope throughout the operas .

   Wagner's  makes use of  harmony  and  orchestration  in a way that no opera composer had  conceived of before .No wonder he caused so much controversy  throughout his life ,and that controversy has continued to the present day .  Many of his contemporaries , both  composers ,critics and  listeners , were  stupefied ,  puzzled  and even repelled by  his music , considering it  ugly ,  grindingly dissonant  and utterly lacking in melody ,despite the fact  that  his music  is  filled with  it . 

   And in the present day ,  many  people  revile Wagner for reasons which are not his fault ,namely the baggage which came with  his  association with Hitler and the *** . Unfortunately, Adolf  Hitler, who was born in 1889 , six years after Wagner's death , became
infatuated with  his music and  drama  in his youth , and  made Wagner an important part of his  twisted Nazi philosophy , reading  his own  insane  ideas about German supremacy and  anti-semitism into  his works.

   Yes, Wagner was an anti-semite ,  but  never to  the insane  degree  of  the ***.  He disliked Jews,  but never advocated genocide against them or any one else ,and as the old  cliche goes, "some of his best friends were Jews ".   And there is absolutely nothing Naziistic about  the stories of his operas , which  do not really  have anything to do with Jews or Judaism  ,and do not contain a single anti-semitic statement by any of  the characters in them . 

   The Ring of the Nibelung ,which is based on ancient Germanic and Scandinavian mythology ,  does not glorify  German  supremacism or the  so-called  "Master Race ".
On the contrary ,it shows how  the Germanic gods  and  all creation come to  a catastrophic end  through  wanton lust for power  and riches , and how  absolute power corrupts absolutely .

   Despite  Wagner's  flaws as a human being , he created  works  which  have  fascinated 
  the world  fr more than a century and a half .  John Philip Sousa called him "The Shakespeare of music ", which is  a fitting description .


Posted: May 22 2011, 03:16 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Met Maestro James Levine Faces An Uncertain Future
  The Metropolitan opera and the whole opera world  are celebrating the 40th anniversary of  maestro James Levine  with America's ,largest and most prestigious opera company .  But there are  universal worries about his health at the age of almost 68 ,  which is not  very old by conducting standards .

  Levine has accomplished  miracles with the Metropolitan opera , turning its orchestra into  one of the world's greatest ,even in orchestral repertoire , nurturing the careers of  generations of  renowned  opera singers with his  support and coaching ,  adding  many  important operas  to  the Met repertoire  which  had  never been performed there or  not performed  there for ages ,
bringing such great maestros as  Riccardo Muti, Daniel Barenboim ,Simon Rattle ,   Christian Thielemann,Seiji Ozawa , Christoph Eschenbach, Valery Gergiev ,  Carlos Kleiber and others to make their Met debuts ,  and so much more . 
   The Met still attracts the world's greatest opera singers on a regular basis , such as Renee Fleming,  Deborah Voigt , Natalie Dessay , Ben Heppner,  Angela Gheorghiu ,Roberto Alagna , Anna Netrebko,  Thomas Hampson ,  Rene Pape,  Olga Borodina ,  Dmitri Hvorostovsky , Placido Domingo ,  Juan Diego Florez ,  Waltraud Meier, Jonas Kauffman , Bryn Terfel, Stepahinie Blythe , Susan Graham ,to name only  some . 

   No one can accuse the company of being  a stodgy ,hidebound  and irrelevant  opera company  any more, although some  biased music critics do  still level this perverse accusation against it
No longer does the Met restrict itself to the same old  ever popular  operatic warhorses  by  Verdi,Puccini ,Mozart ,  Bizet , Gounod ,  and Mascagni  etc. Audiences there in recent years have been able to  experience  superb perfrmances of  great but challenging operas by  such composers as Schoenberg ,Berg , Busoni , Janacek ,  Prokofiev, Shostakovich ,  Handel ,  and other composers  which  have never been  ever daily fare there .

   The Met has also done  new  or recent operas by  leading  contemporary American  composers such as John Adams, Philip Glass , William Bolcom , John Corigliano , Tobias Picker and John  Harbison , as well  as  the  Chinese-born  Tan Dun, now a U.S. resident . 

   The singers  are no longer  a bunch of  people with  gorgeous voices  who just stand there and   and sing , but many  can act as well as  any  great stage or screen actor .  They portray real people interacting , not  just concerts with scenery .

   But Levine's health  problems, which include not only severe back  trouble but sciatica ,arm tremors , and accident which broke a rotator cuff  and  the removal of a kidney  because of a cyst ,  have put  the Met in a difficult situation .  He now conducts  sitting in a chair ,unlike most conductors . Some critics and commentators are calling for him to resign  from his position as the Met's music director .
He has already   had to resign from the Boston symphony orchestra .

   Fortunately ,  the Met has been able to secure the services of  the gifted and  much-admired  Italian conductor  Fabio Luisi ,  who is about 16 years younger ,as principal guest conductor, and there are rumors that he may  accept  Levine's job sometime soon.
He has had a flourishing career in Europe  as music director of the Dresden State opera , the Vienna symphony (not  the Vienna Philharmonic ) ,  and  appearances elsewhere , and the  Met orchestra  seems to  be very fond of him .  Luisi  is  highly versatile and  is at home in both Italian and German opera . Only time will tell what will happen .

   But whatever happens,  let's all hope that  maestro Levine, whatever his ailments, will  recover  and still be able to conduct  for many years to come , both in the opera house and the concert hall.
Posted: May 21 2011, 11:26 AM by the horn | with no comments
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Things Are Looking Grim For The New York City Opera
  This is painful to report .  The New York City Opera  may cease to exist because of  its five million dollar debt and a  dwindling  endowment .  No season has been announced  to begin this Fall .  It's hard to believe that one of New York's premiere cultural attractions could go under .

   The New York City opera ,which has performed  at Lincoln Center since the 1960s and which was founded in 1943 to provide  relatively inexpensive but quality opera  as an alternative to the glamorous and prestigious but pricey Metropolitan ,  has  contributed  enormously to  New York's
incredibly rich and diverse cultural life . It has served as an alternate to the Met in terms of repertoire ,although there has been some overlap.

   The conductor and  arts administrator George Steele has recently become its general manager  after  the  controversial Belgian  opera administrator Gerard Mortier resigned before taking over because of  his  frustration in being unable to find more financial support for the company ,  and he has done a valiant job triying to  steer the beleaguered  organization in  difficult times . 

   The two companies complement each other ; the City opera doing  many operas  which the met has  not done and the Met  often doing the  large-scale  heavier operas beyond  the  means of the City opera .  The City opera, for example, has done far more new operas , and operas by American composers , and the Met has done  things such as  the  massive Wagner operas  and other  grandiose  works , and has traditionally concentrated on the bread-and-butter standards by  Verdi,Puccini, Bizet ,  Mascagni,  Gounod etc,although its rerpertoire has become much more adventurous in recent years .

   The casts at the City opera  have never been as star-studded as the Met's although it has launched the careers of quite of few great singers who went on to perform at the Met and internationally,such as Beverly Sills,Placido Domingo,Sherill  Milnes,  and Samuel Ramey,for example .  Its casts have largely been solid American opera singers who were not superstars but  had many admirable qualities both vocally and dramatically .

   The current NYC opera season has just ended , and consisted of only one  repertoire staple, Donizetti's  sparkling  Bel Canto comedy  "The Elixit of Love ".  But the other works included a  trio of  brief one act operas  by Schoenberg and two other  contemporary Americans and  the New York premiere of Leonard Bernstein's controversial  "A Quiet Place," his only full length opera  etc.

   The critics hailed  the  interesting repertoire , but unfortnately , audiences seem to have voted with their feet ,and attendance was disappointingly low .  Many New York operagoers want to see their beloved  operatic staples such as la Boheme,Carmen, La Traviata, etc,and  are reluctant to try anything out of the ordinary .  Sad but true. 

   If  the NYC opera  truly goes under , a  large bite will be taken out of the Big Apple .



Posted: May 20 2011, 04:11 PM by the horn | with no comments
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June Opera News Magazine - Focusing On Summer Music Festivals In Europe
  The June issue of Opera News magazine has an extensive and detailed listing of  the rich operatic and classical music fare at Europe's many presitigious Summer music festivals .
These include such world-famous festivals as Salzburg in Mozart's native city in Austria, the
Wagner festival in Bayreuth Germany , the Glyndebourne opera festival in England,
Aix-En-Provence in the south of France, the Maggio Musicale festival in Florence Italy,
as well as festivals in such great European cities as Vienna,Munich, Vienna, Dresden, Prague,
St.Petersburg Russia and elsewhere.

Operas to be performed range from four centuries ,  and include long-popular ones as well as long-forgotten ones by composers famous and obscure .  The performances will feature the cream of vocal and conducting talent from all over the world ., as well as many great orchestras from around the world.

  There are articles on  the current operatic scene in Italy,birthplace of opera ,  and the picture is not rosy ,given current political and economic conditions,which have caused difficul;ties for many opera companies there , the music of the late Italian film score composer Nino Rota, who wrote music for many classic Italian films,including those of
Fellini , the historic San Carlo opera hoise of Naples, which has such a rich tradition of
premieres of 18th and 19th century Italian operas by Verdi,Rossini and others ,
the Rossini festival in the composer's home town of Pesaro,Italy, the town of Busseto,Italy,where Verdi spent his early years and which still has an opera house which performs his operas, the versatile Italian soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci whose lovely face graces the cover, and more.

   Reviews of live performances include the Met's recent new production of Rossini's ZLe Comte Ory ,which I mentioned previously on a recent post, its revival of Tchaikovsky's
dark and brooding  Queen of Spades, the Chicago Lyric opera's new production of Hercules by Handel. Hindemith's Cardillac from Boston, Massenet's Don Quichotte from Seattle,
and performances from Paris,Rome, Los Angeles and Strassbourg France .

   The reviews of new or reissued CDs include a recording of the new opera Kepler by Philip Glass, based on the live of the great 17th century astronomer, a live La Trasviata from the Royal opera ijn London with the legendary Maria Callas, and a couple of operas from  Sony Classical's new series of live performances captured at the old Met decades ago with such legendary singers as Jussi Bjorling, Bidu Sayao,  LilY Pons and Giuseepe Di Stefano. 

   Recent live performances captured on DVD include Bellini's La Sonnambula(the sleepwalker) and Donizetti's Maria Stuarda (Mary Stuart) from Italy, and Verdi's Falstaff from Belgium .  There's a book review of anewnovel which sounds very interesting; it's called "Butterfly's Child",by Angela Davis-Gardner, and it's the imaginary story of what happened to Madama Butterfly's little boy when his father,Lt Pinkerton takes him to America after Butterfly commits Hara-Kiri .

   Evejn if you don't know a lot about opera,  Opera News is always packed with  interesting things to learn about this fascinating  and  infinitely varied art form . There's no better place to learn about it.

Posted: May 19 2011, 05:37 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Gustav Mahler Died 100 Years Ago Today
   The great Austrian composer and conductor Gustav Mahler died exactly a century ago on May 18 1911 .  He was only 50 years old , and his untimely death was mourned all over the classical music world .  In his lifetime ,he had achieved far more success as a conductor than a composer,
having worked his way up as music director of various smaller opera comapnies in Germany to more important posts in Hamburg, and Budapest. In 1897 ,he had achieved so much acclaim that he was appointed to the most prestigious post in Europe - director of the Vienna Imperial  opera,now the Vienna State opera , and achieved standards of performance and stage production which have become legendary,untgil he was forced out through a combination of
court and music intrigue and anti-semitism in 1907 .

   Mahler was born into a large Jewish family in what is now the Czech Republic in 1860 and was compelled to officially convert to Catholicism in order to be appointed in Vienna.  After this, the Metropolitan opera in New York called on his services as conductor ,and he also became music director of the New York Philharmonic .But despite his great successes in America, a serious heart condition forced him to  return to Europe, where he died ,  mourned more as a conductor than a composer.

   But his own music meant more to Mahler than anything else .  His vast,sprawling and highly emotional symphonies  alienated more than a few music critics and some audiences.  At his death ,more than a few critics  predicted that his music would be quickly forgotten despite his  undeniable greatness as a conductor .  But they were wrong !

  Many thought his symphonies, with their combinations of popular melodies , the sounds of nature, military marches, funeral  processions, moments of grandeur and exaltation ,childish wonder  and  deep despair over fate , were hopelessly overblown,  vulgar,
and incoherent .  But they  failed to recognize the utter originality of  the music

    Such great conductors as Bruno Walter, who had been his disciple,Willem Mengelberg and  Otto Klemperer,both of whom had known him well ,continued to champion his symphonies  all over Europe and America.  Mahler predicted that "His time would come", and  it most certainl;y did ,especially  since the 19602, when Leonard Bernstein  took up Mahler's cause and recorded all nine of the completed symphonies for what was then Columbia records , and continued to  do so untill his death in

   Mahler's music is now as much a part of the orchestral repertoire as the works of Brahms,Tchaikovsky ,  Sibelius, Rachmaninov ,  and  other great composers of the 19th and 20th century, and great singers such as Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Janet Baker,  Thomas Hampson ,Christa Ludwig and others have been internationally acclaimed for their performaces and recordings of the Mahler songs.

   Recordings of the Mahler symphonies were once scarce , but in the past 30 or 40 years or so ,  they  have become virtually impossible  to count .  Such great conductors as Claudio Abbado,Pierre Boulez, Lorin Maazel , Seiji Ozawa, Simon Rattle, Michael Gielen, Sir Georg Solti,
Riccardo Chailly, Bernard Haitink , Rafael Kubleik , Giuseppe Sinpoli,Klaus Tennstedt and others have recorded complete sets of the symphonies, and Bernstein recorded a second set of them for Deutsche Grammophon in the 18980s.  Many other great conductors ,such as Dimitri Mitropoulos,Bruno Walter, Otto Klemperer, Erich Leinsdorf, Fritz Reiner,
and others  have left recordings of some of the individual symphonies.

   Mahler left a tenth symphony unfinished at the time of hi9s death , and only the first movement was completed.This has been performed and recorded fairly often, but it was not until the 1960s that a British musicologist named Deryck Cooke was able to make a performing version out of the sketches, and several other musicologists have made their own versions. 

  In fact, performaces and recordings of the Mahler symphonies have become so common
  as  to cause us to take his music for granted .  But the works , which  explore virtually every emotion and mental state ,as well as vividly  depicting nature and fate , remain  undying masterpieces .

Posted: May 18 2011, 09:02 AM by the horn | with no comments
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Chicago Symphony - Musical Wonder Of The Windy City
  The great Chicago symphony orchestra is one of the prime attractions of America's third largest city .  It was founded in 1891 ,and its first principal conductor was the now largely forgotten
German-born conductor Theodore Thomas  (1835- 1904) , who was a seminal figure in the developement of orchestral music in America ,and has been described as  the Johnny Appleseed of orchestras in America . 

  After his death in 1904 , another German-born musician, Frederick Stock ,who had been a violist in the orchestra , became conductor ,and  although he was never one of the world's most famous conductors as he had an almost totally local reputation ,  led  the orchestra  with distinction until his death in 1942 ,and was one of the first conductors to make recordings with an American orchestra, beginning in 1916 .  Some of his recordings are still available on CD .

   The  orchestra then went throgh a decade with  music directors who for various reasons had a brief  tenure , the  Belgian Desire Defauw,  and the  combatitive Polish conductor Artur Rodzinski, who lasted only one season because of  disputes with the orchestra's management, and three seasons under the then young but rising Czech conductor Rafael Kubelik (1914- 1996),who went on to achieve a great reputation,mostly in Europe. He was hounded out of his position by  the peppery  Chicago critic Claudia Cassidy , who disliked his  unusual but interesting  programming ,which featured a considerable amount of music by Central European composers who music she disliked ,such as Bartok and Janacek.

   Then came what many critics and  music historians consider the first golden age of the
  Chicago symphony ,the appointment of  the great Hungarian conductor Fritz Reiner (1888-1963), who is credited with building the orchestra into one of the finest ever .
   But Reiner was a notorious martinet and  achieved  extradinary polish and precision of performance with  the  ferocity of a Marine  drill seargent , and fired many musicians who did not  satisfy his  extraordinarily high standards .

   Reiner's numerous recordings on R.C.A. of works by  Bela Bartok ,  who was a close friend ,
   Richard Strauss, and many other composers are considered some of the finest orchestra recordings ever made by many critics and CD collectors ,and are still very much available .

   Reiner resigned  due to failing health  shortly before his death in 1963 , and was succeeded by  the distinguished French conductor  Jean Martinon (1910-1976) , who also made some  greatly admired recordings with the orchestra but lasted only five seasons .

   In 1969 , another great Hungarian conductor ,Sir Georg Solti (1912-1997 ) became music director and led the orchestra  until  1991 .  This was another golden age for the orchestra , and for the first time, the orchestra  toured Europe and  Asia , to enormous acclaim . 
   Solti was a  much more easy-going conductor than Reiner,but still a  highly demanding one , and  the orchestra switched from R.C.A. to Decca records,  and to Deutsche Grammophon under  other conductors . 

   The first appearances with Solti and the Chicagoans  in Carnegie hall  were greeted with
 wild enthusiasm by audiences , as well as on tour in Europe.  Solti was a much more  spontaneous  interpreter who although he demanded great polish ,  inspired the orchestra  to  play with  enormous enthusiasm  and panache .  He made numerous recordings with the orchestra for Decca, including the complete symphonies of  Beethoven, Brahms ,Mahler and Bruckner,
as well as  Bartok,  Berlioz , Wagner ,  Richard Strauss and other composers .

   He also recorded several operas  by Wagner,Verdi,  Beethoven, and Schoenberg after acclaimed concert performances of them in Chicago and Carnegie hall  with  prominent
opera singers . 

  In 1991 , the renowned  Argentine-born  pianist and conductor  Daniel Barenboim  became music director . He had been  one of the orchestra's most frequent guest conductors ,and had also made recordings with it .  He maintained the orchestra's high standards of playing 
and  and  began to make recordings with the orchestra on other  record labels such as Deutsche Grammophon, Teldec and Erato .  The orchestra continued its tradition of concert performances of operas,  including those of Mozart  and Richard Strauss .

   When Barenboim stepped down in 2006,  the orchestra  was unable to find a music director immediately , and appointed the distinguished Dutch conductor Bernard Haitink ,who had  been music director of the famous Concertgebouw orchestra of Amsterdam for many years, as  principal conductor ,which is not really the same as being music director .
   The great French composer and conductor Pierre Boulez, who had been  a regular guest,
was named condctor emeritus.

  In 2110 , the eminent Italian conductor Riccardo Muti  assumed the  position of music director , but got off to a rocky start with the orchestra because of ill health ,and was forced to cancel    most of his initial concerts .But his health has improved and he is now  securely  in place as music director . 

   Among the great conductors who have been  regular  guests with the orchestra are the Italian Carlo Maria Giulini (1914-2005), who served as principal guest conductor in the 1970s, and was  especially beloved by the orchestra ,  Erich Leinsdorf ,  Leonard Bernstein,
Claudio Abbado ,  Neeme Jarvi , Pierre Monteux,  Seiji Ozawa, James Levine, Christoph Eschenbach , Zubin Mehta, Andre Previn ,  Leonard Slatkin , Klaus Tennstedt, Gunter Wand,
and many others .  Many have made recordings with the orchestra .

  The official Summer home of the Chicago symphony is at Ravinia park outside of Chicago ,where the orchestra plays  under  a wide variety of guest conductors  and with renowned soloists .  Few orchestras anywhere inspire such civic pride among their residents than the great Chicago symphony . And rightly so.
Posted: May 17 2011, 05:46 PM by the horn | with no comments
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