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December 2011 - Posts

It's The Spirit , Not The Letter , That Counts In Performing Music
   Music critics and musicologists can be  frightfully pedantic people , holding performers up to impossibly
high standards of  musical  scholarship in performance .  The musicologists do  among other things,
painstaking research in  preparing the works of different composers  for publication , correcting  errors
that had crept into  many works  in publishing , doing research into what is called "performance practice "
or the way music was performed in the past etc .

   This is all well and good ,  and valuable .  But mere correctness is not enough .  The important thing is for
the performer to  BRING THE MUSIC TO LIFE .  Who cares if a musician  does not  follow all the latest
research into "the correct style" and use  the correct edition of the music  if  that individual is  able to 
communicate  the spirit of the music to the audience ?

   And would the composers themselves have been  as picky as the critics and scholars if they were still alive ?
Who  knows ?   Of course, there are still plenty of important composers who are very much alive . 
Most likely , they don't care if the performer observes every jot and tittle in the score  in a surgically correct
manner as long as they bring the music to life .   
Posted: Dec 31 2011, 11:11 AM by the horn | with no comments
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What Do Orchestral Musicians Expect From A Conductor ?
  The concert going  public sees  some one in front of the orchestra  leading the public , but for the most part they don't know  what actually goes on  in the making of any given concert .  They may adore  certain
world-famous conductors for their charisma and glamorous public image ,  but  the members of an
orchestra  do not always  think much  of the man (or the woman increasingly) on the podium .

   The relationship between conductors and orchestras is a complex one , and  it's not always  a pretty
one .  The members of  any first-rate orchestra are  often tough and stubborn people , and they  don't
impress easily .  A glamorous  public image  does not fool them ,  and they  can see through  a conductor
who  is not well=prepared  or lacking in  a solid  conducting  technique and general knowledge instantly .

   They can make rehearsing hell for conductors they dislike , and have been known to be  uncooperative
and disrespectful at rehearsals  if they  do not respect whoever is on the podium .  But  certain great conductors
have also been  known to be as tough and demanding as  a Marine drill instructor , such as Arturo Toscanini ,
George Szell and Fritz Reiner , who  terrified the musicians with their  demanding  behavior , not to mention
their  power to fire musicians  who  did not  measure up to their exacting standards .

   Conductors and orchestras have often been  either like dogs and cats , or cats with mice .  In other cases ,
they have gotten along  fine .  But what do the musicians expect from a conductor ? 
Above all, they must know the score  thoroughly , all the countless notes , written instructions , 
and  diverse markings in  it  . Reading a score is like trying to read  twenty or more lines  of words
at a time !   The individual musicians are responsible for their individual parts , but the conductor
has to know  everything in the score and what is going on  during either a rehearsal or a performance .

   The musicians want a conductor  who  has the ability to  beat time  clearly , which is more easily said than done .  The basic beat patterns of  four,three, or two beats per measure,  and sometimes irregular
ones of five or more are very easy to learn , but actually  getting through a score  is often  very
tricky .  You might compare this to  the difference between cutting your food with a knife  and  the
difficulties of a surgeon  learning how to cut bodies   up in an operation !

   The musicians also want a conductor who  is an efficient rehearser , and who does not waste time with too much  unnecessary talk  and does not stop too often to  make corrections .  This also wastes time .
They don't like a conductor who uses 500 words  where  only a few are necessary .

   When  a  conductor who  has never conducted that  orchestra  before  appears  at  the rehearsal for
the first time , musicians have been known to  try to test his  ability by  playing deliberate wring notes
and playing  deliberately  out of tune to see whether  he  knows what he is doing !  

   The musicians  are not impressed by flowery talk from the conductor  at rehearsals  and  attempts to impress them .  They want a conductor who knows exactly what he wants  and can say it  with as
few words as possible .  

    At the concert , all the work has been done  , and all the conductor can do is beat time  and use whatever  gestures are necessary to  keep the musicians together , such as cues  for entrances in tricky sections , which  are sometimes  needed .  The  truly great conductors are not only highly efficient technically ,  but  are able to inspire the musicians to give their best  through  sheer  force of
personality .  Some conductors have been able to  achieve great success  despite  less than
perfect techniques through sheer  force of personality  and  innate musicianship ,  but without  this
some one who is inept  will never make a great career . 

   Slick publicity alone has never  enabled  an incompetent  musician to  make a  great career on the
podium .  It never has and never will . 
Posted: Dec 30 2011, 04:37 PM by the horn | with no comments
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I Don't Have Anything Against Conductor Christopher Hogwood
   Unfortunately , Matthew Boyden completely misunderstood  the meaning and purpose "Christopher Hogwash",
the term I recently coined  to describe  the arrogant rhetoric of  some period instrument musicians , and their snooty  dismissal of  performances which fail to use period instruments .  The term is in no way meant to
belittle the distinguished English conductor and harpsichordist Christopher Hogwood .

   I don't have anything against Hogwood and in fact, have enjoyed some of his recordings .  So let me give you some information about this erudite and highly versatile musician .  He was born in 1941 and studied music and
classical literature at Cambridge , and  studied harpsichord  with such renowned masters of that instrument as Gustav Leonhardt of the Netherlands and Rafael Puyana , as well as conducting with  the renowned English
maestro Raymond Leppard . 

   He  became involved in the burgeoning early music movement  and the  revival of  period instruments as a young man ,  and  became director of London's Academy  of Ancient Music , which was one of the pioneer
ensembles for  the performance of  music of the Baroque and Classical periods , recording among other things ,
the complete symphonies of Mozart and Beethoven , as well as a starting a  project to  record all 104 symphonies of Joseph Haydn which was never completed for some reason . 

   Hogwood also achieved renown as a harpsichordist , performing music for that instrument by a wide variety of  composers  of the 18th century and  earlier .  He is also  a respected scholar who has done
work editing the music of a variety of composers  for publication , famous and obscure .

   Hogwood   is far from being limited  to performing and recording the music of bygone centuries  and
has performed and recorded   familiar music by composers of  the Romantic era and the 20th century ,
including  Stravinsky, Martinu ,  Hindemith ,  Mendelssohn ,  Brahms ,  and other  composers .

   In addition to his work with  period instrument  orchestras , Hogwood regularly conducts  mainstream
orchestras all over Europe and America , and has served as music director of the St. Paul Chamber orchestra in  Minnesota , one of America's leading chamber orchestras . 

   Hogwood has written among other things , an admired biography of George Frideric  Handel , a composer very close to his heart , and  one whose  music he has made numerous recordings of ,
including many of the oratorios and operas .  Hogwood has also been active as an opera conductor ,
appearing  at  London's Royal opera ,  the Berlin State opera ,  the Houston Grand opera , and Milan's La Scala  and elsewhere . 

   He has a very extensive discography ,ranging from  the music of bygone ages to the  20th century .
For more information , you can visit his website  . Just put his name on your search engine .

Posted: Dec 29 2011, 06:27 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Classical Music Is A Feast - Why Are So any People Starving ?
  Despite all the difficulties , classical music is everywhere .  There are more symphony orchestras , opera
companies and other groups than ever before in the history of this art form .  It's never been so easy for any one to hear it , unless one is living in some extremely remote area away from civilization .

  Even if you don't live in a city with an orchestra or an opera company , you can hear an incredibly wide
variety of classical music on CD , and an ever increasing amount on DVD and the internet . 
Nothing like these conditions has ever existed before in the history of Western Classical Music .
In addition , there are countless of books about it available, magazines ,articles and websites devoted 
to it .  In previous centuries ,even  royalty , the nobility and the wealthiest people , if they loved classical
music , never had access to such an embarrassment of riches .

   And yet , there are still so many people in America and elsewhere who are totally unaware not only of
how enjoyable and stimulating classical music can be , but of how easy it is to make it a part of their
lives .  What a shame !  
The music-loving count Eszterhazy  had the great Joseph Haydn as his personal music director and private composer for many years , and employed his own small private orchestra directed by Haydn , and even his own opera house with resident singers and chorus in the 18th century .  But if you were just Joe Shmo in
some remote Austrian village , your chances of hearing live concerts of music by Haydn, Mozart and other composers of the day were non-existent . 

   So I say to all the people in America who are unaware of the joys of classical music -
What are you waiting for ?
Posted: Dec 28 2011, 06:36 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Are Audiences And Critics Too Concerned With Mistakes In Performances ?
  Classical musicians are human like the rest of us , and they can't be expected to give technically flawless
performances every time .  Accidents happen .  Pianists sometimes hit clunkers ; horn players crack notes,
orchestra musicians will sometimes miss an entrance or come in too early . Singers have off nights
and sometimes struggle to hit the high notes .  Any one can play the occasional note which is not quite in tune,
and the brass may sometimes drown out the rest of the orchestra .  Even conductors get lost at times during a performance, and the musicians have to wing it to stay together .

   But is a technically flawless performance  absolutely necessary to enjoy live performance ?
Of course not .  A  less than perfect performance  with  plenty of verve and panache is far preferable to
one  where everything is note perfect but  coldly clinical . 

   Some  experts  believe that the invention of recordings  over a century ago has had  an adverse effect
on  classical music  by enabling  recording engineers and producers to edit out flaws in performances
with multiple retakes  and  slick editing .  This may be true .  There have been books and articles which
claim that before the invention of recording ,  performers, critics and audiences did not care about mistakes or flaws in performances , because there was no way to fix  them . 

   Possibly .  But like it or not , recordings are here to stay , and it would have been terrible if such great
musicians of the past as Rachmaninov ,  Fritz Kreisler,  Pablo Casals , Toscanini, Stokowski ,
and others  had not been able to  preserve  their  performances .  Or great singers such as Caruso,
Fyodor Cahliapin , Claudia Muzio, Lotte lehmann, and others .  Their recordings are fortunately still
very much available , and  we are the richer for this . 

  Sometimes music critics make a fetish out of mistakes in live performances , complaining about
cracked notes by horn players (if they took a couple of lessons on this very difficult
instrument  they might not be so picky ) ,  or  when pianists miss notes etc ,  but  it's  very easy for
them to take minor flaws out of context and exaggerate them ,making it sound as though the
musicians  were actually inept .

   At top music school such as  Juilliard ,  the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia etc ,  if you are
auditioning , you had better not make a lot of mistakes . Ditto if you are auditioning for a  real
job in a major orchestra    .  Once the aspiring young virtuosos have gotten into these top
conservatories , they are  trained to fear  being less than perfect by their teachers
Too bad ..


Posted: Dec 27 2011, 06:31 PM by the horn | with no comments
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What Christopher Hogwash Is And Isn't
   In case you're wondering what I mean by "Christopher Hogwash ", here is an explanation . Matthew Boyden,
who has been casting aspersions on me as , should pay attention .
Christopher Hogwash is my term for the kind of snooty talk of  musicians , critics and musicologists who
espouse Historically Informed Performance , or the use of period instruments combined with scrupulous observance of the latest musicological research on the supposedly "correct" way to perform the music of the
past .
   Christopher Hogwash does not refer to the performances themselves on period instruments or the attempt
to recreate the sound and style as closely as possible .  Nor is it an attack on the distinguished  English
conductor and harpsichordist Christopher Hogwood as a musician . 
   Christopher Hogwood is when people make snooty comments dismissing  performances which use 
"inauthentic"  modern instruments, such as pianos instead of harpsichords or  early pianos , or  the use of valved brass instruments instead of natural ones, or  string instruments with steel rather than the "authentic"
gut  strings .  It is when musicians say that period instruments are the only valid way and  sneer at  the use
of modern instruments .

   As well as pedantic nitpicking about  the "correct" way to perform music .  Christopher Hogwash is when
people, musicians, critics, scholars etc ,  blindly accept the latest research as the one and only way to perform
the music of the past , or when  musicians claim to have found the one "right" way to interpret a composer,
despite the fact that there is no such thing .  Or when they claim to  know exactly what any composer wanted, even though these composers have long been dead and we have no way of knowing what they would or would not have approved of .

   I have read  countless examples of this arrogance and presumption on the part of certain  distinguished
conductors , instrumentalists , critics and musicologists over the years . 
Christopher Hogwash is NOT when some one says , "I prefer period instruments to modern ones"
That is just personal opinion . Or  when some one expresses admiration for  the performances on period
instruments of such conductors as Hogwood, John Eliot Gardiner , Roger Norrington , Frans Bruggen,
Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Philippe Herreweghe or others , or  musicians such as cellist Anner Bylsma ,
and harpsichordist Gustav Leonhardt and others . There is nothing wrong with  doing this . 

   Incidentally , I recently borrowed a CD of  Handel's opera "Rinaldo " from my library with  such renowned singers as Cecilia Bartoli and  David Daniels in the cast , conducted by Christopher Hogwood , and I've been  enjoying it very much . which goes to show you that I have nothing against Hogwood as a musician .
enjoying it very much . 
Posted: Dec 26 2011, 05:05 PM by the horn | with no comments
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An Orchestra Founded On False Premises
   The New Queen's Hall orchestra was founded 20 years ago by John Boyden ,  a former producer of  recordings for  EMI classical  , with the intention of  trying to  recreate the sound and style  of  orchestras
of the late 19th and  early 20th century orchestras .  So far so good .  Other period instrument  orchestras and ensembles had already been  trying to do this with  the music of  the 18th century and earlier  for some time .

   But  do we REALLY have a "desperate need"  for such an orchestra , as Mr. Boyden claims ? 
Just go to the orchestra's website , and you will get this impression , that is so, if you believe his  rhetoric .
I don't .  Don't get me wrong ; I'm not opposed to the orchestra  per se and have nothing against it  , and have absolutely no objection
to  the performances it gives .  London has a very large pool of  superb  orchestral musicians , so  it's
probably  an excellent orchestra . 

   However , what gets my goat  is Boyden's  arrogant  and snooty dismissal of  today's mainstream
orchestras , as well  as those of his son Matthew ,  who  has made some  scurrilous attacks on me at the website  for  coining the term "Christopher Hogwash " , which refers to the kind of  HIP rhetoric .

   Father and son are convinced that today's mainstream  orchestra's are virtually worthless , because they
allegedly "all sound the same " , the "brass are far too loud " etc .  They claim that the New Queen's hall orchestra  produces  exactly what the composers had in mind  , and faithfully recreates the way the music was performed in the past , and  is a breath of fresh air in the supposedly stale world  of international
orchestras .  But from my own many years of  listening to them live and recorded  , and  my own
extensive experience   playing concerts ,  I maintain that  their  claims  are patently false . Not only false, but absurd .    This is what I mean by "Christopher Hogwash ". 

Posted: Dec 25 2011, 11:51 AM by the horn | with no comments
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My Hopes For Classical Music In 2012 .
  With just one week until  the new year begins , here are some of  my hopes and wishes for  classical music]
in 2012 . 

  Help for these  orchestras and opera companies in America , Europe and elsewhere :

   The Philadelphia orchestra , Detroit symphony , Colorado symphony ,  Dallas symphony ,  Westchester
Philharmonic , Long Island Philharmonic , Queens symphony ,  and other  U.S. orchestras  to  hold their own
and stay alive .

The Honolulu symphony ,  New Mexico symphony ,Syracuse and  Utica symphony (of upstate New York),
the  Louisville orchestra of Kentucky to be successfully revived .   The successful revival of the Baltimore and Connecticut operas , and  Opera Boston , which has sadly, just gone under . 

   The New York City opera to  resolve its labor and financial  difficulties  and stay in business and possibly
return to Lincoln Center .  Help for the various opera companies in Italy which have  been  adversely
affected by  the economic woes of Italy . 

   For   maestro James levine's health to improve as  soon as possible and  for him to be able to return  to
conducting .   And  for other eminent conductors whose podium activities have been sidelined by 
health problems , such as Seiji Ozawa, Claudio Abbado  and others .

   For more people in America and all over the world to discover the joys of classical music and to make it a part of their lives .   Happy holidays and Merry Christmas to  all , and a happy new year !
Posted: Dec 24 2011, 11:43 AM by the horn | with no comments
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January Issue Of Opera News - Dynamic Bass Baritone Eric Owens
   African-American bass baritone Eric Owens is on the cover of the January issue of Opera News magazine ;
he is singing the role of the evil dwarf Alberich in the Met's controversial new production of Wagner's Ring
and is interviewed this month .  Owens has emerged as one of the most compelling young opera singers of
our time and has had great success as an interpreter of key roles in contemporary operas by John Adams and other American opera composers as well as more familiar  works of the operatic repertoire .

  Staff writer Fred Cohn discusses the troubled recent history of the New York City opera , which has been forced to leave Lincoln center and  assume a nomadic existence at various locations in the city , and whose
future is disturbingly uncertain because of financial woes , and writer David J. Baker discusses Benjamin
Britten's powerful  opera "The Rape Of Lucrecia , based on ancient Roman history , which is about to be performed by the Houston opera .

   Foster Hirsch , professor of film at Brooklyn college , discusses the controversial  Broadway revival of
Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess ", and  musicologist Sylvia Lecuver reports on  the distinguished Italian
conductor Riccardo Muti, music director of the Chicago symphony , who recently went to Stockholm to receive
the prestigious  Birgit Nilsson prize for his musical accomplishments .  This award was established by
the  great Swedish Wagnerian soprano  shortly before her death in 2005 .

   Reviews of recent opera performances around the world include  the Met's new Siegfried , part of its
high tech new Ring production , as well as its new Don Giovanni , which were conducted by its newly
appointed principal conductor Fabio Luisi in the wake of James Levine's  forced  withdrawal due to
severe back trouble ,  as well as the San Francisco opera's new production of the same Mozart classic ,
the Seattle opera's new Carmen , and  opera Boston's production of the rarely performed Beatrice &
Benedict by Hector Berlioz .

   Reviews of European  productions include the recent world premiere in Barcelona of an opera
about the  legendary surrealisti painter Salvador Dali by  Catalan composer Xavier Berenguel ,
the Zurich opera's new production of Verdi's Otello , which sets the opera in the present day ,
and  a new production of Tchaikovsky's Queen of Spades by Opera North in Leeds, England .

   CD reviews include the  premiere recording of the recent opera Elmer Gantry , based  on the book
by Sinclair lewis , also famous in its film version , and  recordings of little known operas by Gluck and Vivaldi .  Reviews of  opera performances on DVD  include  Don Giovanni sung in German from the German opera of Berlin in 1961 with the great German baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau in the title role ,
Handel's Alcina from the Vienna State opera , and  Verdi's  Les Vepres Siciliennes , (the Sicilian
Vespers) sung in the original French by the Netherlands opera .  The opera is more familiar in
its Italian language translation as I Vespri Siciliani .

   There are the annual awards for the best  CDs and DVDs of the year , including  recordings of
Beethoven's Fidelio conducted by Claudio Abbado , Summer and Smoke by the late Lee Hoiby ,
Donizetti's rarely performed Linda Di Chamonix  by the Royal opera in London , Handel's Ariodante
and Gluck's Ezio performed by period instrument ensembles , and  operatic recitals by
such  renowned singers as Anna Netrebko , Jonas Kaufmann , Peter Mattei ,Dmitri Hvorostosky,
and Joyce Di Donato ,and  on DVD ,  Britten's Billy Budd , Donizetti's Don Pasquale ,
Massenet's Werther , and Mozart's Don Giovanni from various opera houses .

   As usual , the magazine is packed with  interesting and stimulating articles and  reviews .
You can also check out the magazine's website, .

Posted: Dec 23 2011, 04:17 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Christopher Hogwash Is A State Of Mind
   The argument between me and Matthew Boyden  continues at , and his latest reply is
amusingly scurrilous , accusing me of being an "idiot", a "failed musician" etc. It's downright venomous .
You can see the whole debate at .  I may be a failed musician, but most people who know me
don't think I'm an idiot .

  I think my restraint and refusal to reply with the same  l venom  seems to make this gent even more angry !
He's still outraged by my term "Christopher Hogwash", and  thinks that this punning term I've recently coined
is an attack on Hogwood the musician .  It isn't . I have actually enjoyed some of his recordings  of music from
the 18th century , his bailiwick .

  Many prominent  conductors , instrumentalists, critics and musicologists have been guilty of Christopher
Hogwash ever since the emergence of the period instrument movement and the establishment of such 
well-known  period instrument orchestras as  The Academy of Ancient Music (Howgood's orchestra),
the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment  (excellent group but what a pretentious name !),
the Orchestre Revolutionaire Et Romantique ,  and other  groups all over Europe, America and
elsewhere .

   Musicians and others with a Christopher Hogwash mindset tend to be insufferable snobs  and snooty pompous asses .  They believe that they and only they know how the music of the past should be performed ,and that period instruments  virtually guarantee a superior performance of  the music of Bach,
Mozart, Beethoven etc than  one which uses modern instruments .(Okay, I may be overstating the case, but you get the basic idea,I hope ).

   Such people are always turning up their noses at  musicians, past or present who fail to live up to their
lofty ideals of  "authenticity ".  They  lack the humility and intellectual honesty to admit  that
their performances  only let audiences hear what the music MIGHT have sounded like in the past .

   Christopher Hogwash has absolutely nothing to do  with  the musical  talent  of  period instrument musicians, which is certainly often considerable , or  with their undeniable musical erudition .
It is the result of arrogance , presumption and snootiness .  I will never accuse any musician of 
Christopher Hogwash merely for  the performances they give . If I enjoy any of their performances, live or recorded ,  I will praise them  generously .  There is absolutely nothing wrong 
with  performing on period instruments , or keeping up with the latest scholarly research on 
how  the music might be best interpreted .  What gets my goat is  the overweening hubris of so many
of these musicians ,critics and scholars , including  John Boyden and his son  Matthew .

   And  by the way , Matthew Boyden's mother ,if she is still alive , should take  him on her knee and spank him for being such a rude and naughty little boy !  I doubt that his indulgent father would do this .

Posted: Dec 22 2011, 11:59 AM by the horn | with no comments
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The Great Composer revival
   It seems to me that there has been a vast change in the repertoire of classical music in the past 30 years or so ; I call it the great composer revival .  No longer are conductors and orchestras relying on the same
established warhorses at concerts , at least quite a few of them , and  many opera houses are no longer
confining themselves to the  same old familiar operas by Mozart, Rossini, Verdi, Puccini and Bizet etc .

   This change has also been evident in the classical recording world ;  there is an infinitely wider variety of repertoire , whether orchestra, operatic, chamber,choral,piano, or what have you than ever before .  The music of
Beethoven,Bach, Mozart, Schubert, Brahms, Tchaikovsky , and other world-famous composers is still popular ,
live or recorded , but audiences as CD collectors can hear music by an enormous number of comkposers
who are quite obscure , though far from deserving of neglect . 

   Have you ever heard of composers such as  Alberic Magnard , Nikolai Myaskovsky, Sergei Taneyev,
Franz Schmidt, Alexander von Zemlinsky , Franz Berwald , Wilhelm Stenhammar,  Ried Langgaard ,
Arthur Bliss, E.J. Moeran , Granville Bantock , Reynaldo Hahn , Havergal Brian , Zdenek Fibich,
Mieczyslaw Weinberg , George Whitefield Chadwick , Nikolai Medtner , Hans Pfitzner , Jon Leifs  ,
Roberto Gerhard , Walter Braunfels , Pavel Haas , Franz Schreker , Erwin Schulhoff ,  John Alden
Carpenter , Adnan Saygun , Ernst Toch , etc ? 

   I doubt it , unless you are a  long-time and die-hard classical music fan .  And there are many,many, more  obscure composers from the past whose music can be heard live and recorded today who
never became  part of the everyday repertoire of  classical music in the past .  Some of them were fairly well-known in the past in their native countries , but  until recently ,  you would never have been able to find any of their music in the classical music section of your local record store , and your likelihood of
hearing their music live was non-existent. 

   Take  the repertoire of a world-famous conductor of the past such as Arturo Toscanini (1867-1957).
He is best known today for his many recordings with the legendary N.B.C. symphony, which was founded for him and which he led from 1937 to 1954 , the year he retired from conducting .
Did Toscanini ever conduct music by the composers mentioned above with that orchestra ?
Not on your life .

   Much of his time was spent endlessly rehashing the same old familiar works of Beethoven, Brahms,
Wagner, Schubert, Mendelssohn,  Mozart ,  etc , works which have been staples of the repertoire
for ages .  He was an elderly man , set in his ways and  had been conducting  since the 1880s .

   But certain conductors of the present , such as the Estonian Neeme Jarvi , the Americans
James Conlon, Gerard Schwarz , David Zinman , Leonard Slatkin  and others , have been exploring the
neglected corners of the orchestral repertoire . They realize that there is more to music than Bach,Beethoven, Mozart and Brahms, great as they are .

   At opera houses , such  familiar and beloved operas as Aida, Carmen, La Boheme, La Traviata,
Rigoletto, Il Trovatore, Tosca, Madama Butterly ,Il Barbiere di Siviglia,  Faust ,  Cavalleria Rusticana,
Pagliacci , Manon ,  Lohengrin ,  Otello , Fidelio ,  Der Rosenkavalier etc have been  staples of the operatic repertoire  for ages . 

   Burt now , if you go to the opera, not every opera house , you can experience such rarely heard but
wonderful operas as Dvorak's Rusalka , King Roger by the Polish composer Karol Szymanowski ,
Carl Nielsen's Maskarade ,  The Birds by Walter Braunfels , Doe Gezeichneten (The Branded ones)
by Franz Schreker ,  The Excursions of Mr. Broucek by leos Janacek , The Nose by Shostakovich ,
Ariane & Barbe Bleue by Paul Dukas ,  Francesca Da Rimini by Riccardo Zandonai ,
L'Etoile (The Star) by Emanuel Chabrier ,  Sadko by Rimsky-Korsakov , and many many other
operatic rarities . 

   You can see them on DVD and hear them on CD,in addition .  When I first came to experience
the joys of classical music as a teenager more than 40 years ago ,  this kind of  incredible
diversity on recordings did not exist , although the picking were hardly slim .  The DVD was
yet to come .  The conductors I mentioned above  were just starting out on their careers ,
in music school or not even out of High School yet . 

   My, how things have changed !   And changed for the better .

Posted: Dec 21 2011, 06:39 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Please Don't Roll Over , Beethoven !
  New York Times music critic Allan Kozinn has an interesting review in the paper today of a new book
by Michael Broyles , professor of music at one of Florida's leading universities on Beethoven , specifically
this towering composer's surprisingly prominent place in American popular culture , as well as a history
how his music came to be established in the repertoire of America's orchestras .

  I haven't read the book yet , but very much want to as soon as possible . There's a certain paradox about
the fame of Beethoven in America ;  people have flocked to see  such movies as  "Immortal Beloved ",
which  deals with  Beethoven's mysterious and possibly non-existent love life .  The composer is quite prominent in popular culture here , and  every one is familiar with  the  melody of  the Ode To Joy from the ninth symphony , the da da da daah opening of the fifth symphony , and the piano piece "Fur Elise " which is actually very minor Beethoven..

   Every one knows Schroeder's  worship of Beethoven's music from "Peanuts " , and countless people have Beethoven mugs and  ring tones with  Beethoven  themes .  But  how many Americans really know Beethoven's music , other than confirmed classical music fans ,professional musicians, critics and musicologists ? 

   In his lifetime , which spanned from 1770 to 1827 , Beethoven wrote nine symphonies , five piano concertos, one for violin , one for violin, cello and piano , 32 piano sonatas , 10 for violin and piano , five for cello and piano ,  sixteen string quartets ,  one opera called Fidelio ,  two masses ,  miscellaneous piano works ,  songs , various concert overtures for orchestra , choral works  and much more .

   That's lot of music .  You can get a huge set of his complete works on CD from Brilliant records ,
drawn from recordings by a wide variety of distinguished musicians  for  an amazingly low price if you'd really like to get to know everything he wrote , and  it will take you  possibly weeks  to hear the entire set depending on how many CDs you hear in one day . 

   But even in a whole lifetime of listening , you'll never get to the bottom of  Beethoven's music and learn all its secrets .  Each time you hear one of his great works ( he wrote his share of potboilers just  for  money, too) , you can gain new insights into it .  But you can also get jaded if you keep listening to the same  works over and over again, no matter how great , and there's so much wonderful classical music out there beyond  Beethoven .

   So if you have only a superficial knowledge of Beethoven's music , what are you waiting for  ?


Posted: Dec 20 2011, 06:40 PM by the horn | with no comments
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A Performance Doesn't Have To Be "Authentic " To Be Wonderful
  Recently , I've been listening to a three CD set of live recordings by the great German conductor Otto Klemperer (1885 - 1973 ) , who was incidentally the father of the late actor Werner Klemperer of Hogan's Heroes Fame , which I borrowed on library interloan .

  These date from the 1950s and 60s , and  are taken from live performances with  the North German Radio symphony of Hamburg .  In addition to two Mozart symphonies , Beethoven's 7th symphony and Bruckner's
7th ,  you can hear  a performance of  the orchestral suite no 2 by J.S. Bach .

   The performance , from the 1950s , predates the period instrument  recordings of such  well-known
"Historically Informed "conductors as John Eliot Gardiner, Christopher Hogwood , Ton Koopman and others ,
which use  instruments of Bach's time, or replicas thereof, and scrupulously follow all strictures of
musicological research regarding  "authentic" style of performance, by many years , and  would be considered to be hopelessly old-fashioned and stylistically incorrect by many so-called "experts ".

   Instead of the fleet tempos and  light ,clear textures of  the "authentic" performances by today's "up to date" musicians ,  Klemperer begins the suite , with its introduction , which is supposed to be somewhat slower than the main body of the movement , in an extremely slow, broad, weighty, even ponderous manner , almost more like Wagner than in the correct baroque style .  "Wrong ! " ,say the experts . 
"That isn't the correct Bach style at all " !  The rest of the performance is still far from sluggish , but much
more rugged , even  rough hewn than the norm today .

    So what ?  Klemperer  goes his own way and he makes this approach work on its own terms . 
The venerable maestro's later years saw the dawn of the period instrument movement , which was at the time considered a fringe  group ,  and  such musicians as conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt , the harpsichordist Gustav Leonhardt and others were  making the first attempts to  reproduce the sound and style of the music of the past as closely as possible . 

   Klemperer's performance of the Bach suite may not be "authentic" in any way, and he was no doubt
fully aware of how old-fashioned his concept of the music was .  But  the grandeur and ruggedness of the performance work on their own terms .  To hell with authenticity !   If the performer  communicates the spirit of the music  vividly to the listeners , who cares about  mere correctness ?


Posted: Dec 19 2011, 06:33 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Job Satisfaction And Orchestra Musicians
  On surveys ranking different professions for job satisfaction ,  the job of orchestra musician has sometimes been ranked  low on the lists .  I'm not sure why , but the profession ,like all others , has its problems .
In American orchestras , only the largest ,most heavily endowed orchestras pay really high salaries , starting from about $ 100.000 a year and  basic pay .  The first year is  probationary , and the music director has the option of  keeping a  musician or not , but after this ,  a player has tenure . 

   Players of principal positions make considerably more , especially the concertmaster, leader of the violins , who has a key position in the orchestra, rather like a quarterback in football .  Benefits in the top orchestras are quite good ,  and  come with no fewer than eight weeks paid vacation , which is not bad at all !   These orchestras include those of New York ,Boston,Chicago,Philadelphia, Cleveland, Los Angeles etc .

   The smaller regional orchestras in smaller cities around the country offer considerably less in pay and
benefits , and  in some cases , the musicians are paid  not a weekly salary , but  on what is called per service basis,  which is based on the number of rehearsals and  performances you play .  These musicians often have to do  other freelance work or hold teaching jobs at colleges and universities in order to earn a decent living .

   As in any job , there are  some musicians who  have become bored and apathetic in their jobs ,and have burned out .  But in many ways ,  the job of orchestra musician  can be one of the most rewarding careers any one can have .  You get to  play a wide variety of music by  great composers ,  and  at the conclusion of successful concerts , audiences are wildly enthusiastic .

   Some orchestras tend to perform the same old  familiar works by Beethoven,Brahms, Tchaikovsky ,
Rachmaninov , etc  to the exclusion of new music and  the revival of interesting rarities , because 
many concertgoers want to hear their beloved masterpieces over and over , and this can  lead to
boredom among the musicians at playing the same old pieces over and over , but other orchestras ,
particularly in the major cities , are much more adventurous in their programming .

   But let's face it - there  are far worse  jobs than being an orchestral musician , and  many 
classical musicians in orchestras would not want to do anything else !
Posted: Dec 18 2011, 05:18 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Orchestral Balance - One Of The Most Important Jobs Of A Conductor
  If you've ever attended a concert and wonder about what the real job of that guy standing in front of the orchestra is  waving his hands around  is ,  it's making sure that everything can be heard clearly during
rehearsals . 

  You see , the various instruments of the orchestra a re very unequal in  the amount of sound  they can
produce .  A single flute or violin is totally inaudible  next to  brigade of  trumpets, horns , trombones and tuba .
That's why an orchestra needs so many string instruments ;  the majority of the musicians play either violin, viola, cello or double bass ; the  rest are  woodwind and brass playing individual parts , plus percussion , which can also be very loud .

   If the conductor is not careful ,  the brass section can sometimes drown out the rest of the orchestra  at a concert . This is also true in opera , where  it's vital that the audience be able to hear the singers over the din of the  orchestra .  Conductors and musicians being human ,  balances are not always perfect .  John Boyden
of the New Queen's Hall orchestra clams that the old fashioned narrow bore brass instruments his orchestra uses  prevent  the  other sections of the orchestra being  drowned out ,  but I doubt that balances were always perfect in the past , either .

   The members of the brass section , and I know this from many years of experience  in orchestras ,
love to produce a big ,beefy and brassy sound  whenever possible, and there is a certain amount of
ego gratification in this .  But sensitive orchestra musicians, no matter what instrument they play ,
should always be aware of what is going on in the rest of the orchestra .

   And  it's not always the brass player's fault in they are too loud , because it's not  possible for them to hear what  things sound like in the auditorium of the concert hall .  There are many different factors involved ; different concert halls have different acoustics . Some are very dry and lacking in reverberation ; others have highly  reverberant acoustics . 

   Sometimes during a rehearsal , the conductor will ask  the orchestra's assistant conductor  to
conduct  parts of a rehearsal so that he or she can  go out into  the  auditorium  to check the balances .
During a concert , balances may sound different in one section of  the  auditorium  because of
acoustics . This may be why one music critic may complain of faulty balances at a concert and another
does not . It's all highly subjective anyway .

   The great composer Richard Strauss , who was also  a renowned conductor , not only of his own
music , once quipped  in his famous  rules of advice for conductors ,  "If you can't hear the brass
in rehearsal , tone them down a shade or two !"

Posted: Dec 17 2011, 11:17 AM by the horn | with no comments
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