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February 2012 - Posts

2012-13 Met Season To Celebrate Bicentennials Of Wagner And Verdi

  The Metropolitan Opera has just announced details of its next season , with a typically varied  repertoire of operas ranging from  George Frideric Handel  to  the contemporary English composer Thomas Ades (Ad-ess ) .  2013 marks the bicentennial of the birth of  two of the greatest opera ocmposers of all time , Verdi and Wagner , and  there will be three presentations of teh complete Wagner Ring of the Nibelungen as well as some of Verdi's greatest stageworks .

   There will no fewer than seven new productions .  These are Verdi's Rigoletto ,which will have a modernized staging set in of all places, Las Vegas !  Actually , this is not at all inappropriate, as the story  is a sordid  tale of  lust, betryayal , and intrigue , the Met premiere of  The Tempest , by Thomas Ades , based on the Shakespeare play , with the composer himself conducting , Verdi's Un Ballo In Maschera ( A masked ball) , Donizetti's charming and whimsical romantic comedy L'Elisir D'Amore " (The elixir of love) , the Met premiere of  the same composer's Maria Stuarda , (Mary Stuart), a rather fictionalized but  entertaining  story of the conflict between  Queen Elisabeth th efirst and Mary Stuart , Handel's Giulio Cesare (Julius Caesar) , another less than historicaly accurate but  musically splendid  tale , this time about  Julius Caesar and Cleopatra , and Wagner's mystical and enigmatic final opera Parsifal .

   Operas returning to the repertoire will be  Verdi's Aida , Don Carlo , Otello , Il Trovatore and La Traviata , Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro , and  La Clemenza di Tito (The clemency of emperor Titus ) , and Don Giovanni ,Bizet's Carmen , Puccini's La Rondine (The swallow ) , and Turandot , Gounod's Faust , th emonument;a Les Troyens (the Trojans) by Berlioz, The Dialogues of the Carmelites by Francis Poulenc , Rossini's Le Comte Ory , and after nearly three decades , Francesca Da Rimini by the little-known Italian composer Riccardo Zandonai based on Dante's Inferno .

  The casts will include a who's who of today's most renowned opera singers , including Anna Netrebko, Karita Mattila , Jonas Kaufmann, Rene Pape, to name only a few , and newly appointed principal conductor Fabio Luisi ,  will have a busy season taking over repertoire which would normally have been  led by the Met's ailing James Levine, who unfortunately will  be altogether absent from the Mert's porchestra pit for the first time in 40 years . 

   The Met's acclained HD live broadcasts in movie theaters all over America will continue , as well as the Saturday afternoon radio broadcasts , some of whoich will  co-incide .  You can go to for more information . Even if you live far from New York , it's always easy to experience its performances on th einternet, television, the radio or your local movie theater .


Posted: Feb 26 2012, 07:52 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Next New York Philharmonic Season To Combine Old ,New, Familiar And Unfamiliar

  The New York Philharmonic has just annouced its 2012-13 season , its fourth under music director Alan Gilbert .  There will be something for all tastes ; familiar masterpieces , new music , and  rarely heard but  interesting works from the past .  The works will range from  masterpieces by Bach written nearly 300 years ago to  world premieres by distinguished contemporary composers . 

  Guest ocnductors will include eminent veterans such as Lorin Maazel ,Kurt Masur, both former music directors with the orchestra , the rising young Latvian maestro Andris Nelsons , Christoph Eschenbach , David Robertson ,  and others , plus renowned soloists such as Itzhak Perlman, pianist Emanuel Ax , Georgian violinist Lisa Batiashvili , to name only a few .

   There will be new or recent works by composers such as Christopher Rouse , Steven Stucky , Wynton Marsalis , Tristan Murail of France , Sweden's Anders Hilborg ,  and others .  Among these are the "Swing Symphony "" of eneowned Jazz trumpeter and composer Wynton Marsalis , combining Jazz and symphonic traditions .

   Other highlights will include a concert performance of the musical Carousel by Rogers and Hammerstein,  as well as one of  the opera Il Prigionero, by the Italian composer Luigi Dallapiccola (1904 -1975), one of th efirst Italian composers to adopt Schoenberg's 12-tone system of composition ,  Stravinsky's ballet score Petrushka ,complete with dancers, puppets and animation , a contunuation of the Philharmonic's cycle of the complete symphonies and concertos of the great Danish composer Carl Nielsen , set to be recorded by Da Capo records of Denmark , a Bach series including the monumental Massin B minor .

   The season opens in September with a gala concert conducted by maestro Gilbert featuring Stravinsky's seminal ballet score The Rite of Spring .  Even if you don't live in or near New York you will be able to hear many of th eorchestra's concerts on the internet . For more information, go the Philharmonic's website, . 

Posted: Feb 25 2012, 05:03 PM by the horn | with no comments
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The Met's Don Giovanni On PBS - No Fat Ladies Singing !

  The other night I caught the PBS telecast of the Met's new production of Mozart's Don Giovanni (Don Juan ) , and enjoyed the performance very much . As usual, many of the critics  poured scorn on the staging, for this or that reason, the Met being damned if it does and damned if it doesn't as usual .  But it seemed to me like a perfectly good and straightforward production , refreshingly free from the Eurotrash gimmiclk concepts that are the bane of opera productions all over .

   It was also beatifully sung and expertly conducted by the Met's new principal conductor Fabio Luisi. But this is not the point of my post . My point is that this was in no way the kind of stereotypical opera production which is in the minds of so many people who know little or nothing about opera . The proverbial "fat lady" was not there at all . 

   The women singers, as well as the men, were all very good-looking and youthful in appearance , and their acting was perfectly natural and realistic . They were all believable people acting out a great story about Don Juan, a serial womanizer in 18th century Spain who makes Warren Beatty look like Rick Santorum ! 

   If a film about Don Juan to were to be made in our time, the casting director could not have found better-looking and more believable actors to play the roles of the wicked Don , his bumbling and reluctant servant Leporello ,  Donna Elvira , one of the countless women the Don has seduced ,  the innocent peasant girl Zerlina whom  he Don brazenly tries to seduce on her own wedding day , and the vengeful Dona Anna , whose father the Commendatore  had been killed by the Don defending her from  being ravished , and her nice but nebbishy betrothed Don Ottavio .

   In the chilling final scene , the ghost of the Commendatore comes to  the Don to make him a final offer - repent or  be swallowed by flames and sink into hell !  Of course, the Don is brazenly defiant, and  gets his comeuppance (or rather come-downance ).

   So if you think that opera is just about  fat people screaming at each other ridiculous costumes in some incomprehensible language, I urge you to check out the repeat on PBS on Sunday afternoon standard time this afternoon , or go to the Met's website for information about seeing theeproduction on the internet . It will also be coming out on DVD before long .  All formats have English subtitles . What are you waiting for ?

Posted: Feb 24 2012, 01:41 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Debussy's La Mer - On Period Instruments ?

  I recently checked out the website of one of today's leading period instrument orchestras , the sonorously if pretentiously named Orchestra Of The Age Of Enlightment of London .  According to the blog , the orchestra is about to perform  Debussy's  hauntingly atmosperic masterpiece La Mer (The Sea) on PERIOD INSTRUMENTS . That's right, a work from th eearly 20th century given the "Historically Informed" treatment .

  The orhcestra has givewn accllaimed performances of music by Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart ,Beethoven and Schubert on period instruments , and even Wagner , and made recordings under conductors such as the late, great Sir Charles Mackerras and other eminent maestros. .  Following the trend of   applying the trend of  pursuing th euse of period instruments  ever further in time , the orchestra is now about to tackle this masterpiece of French musical impressionism . 

  I would certainly be very curious to hear this performance , but will it truly be "authentic"?  And will it be "superior" to the supposedly "inauthentic " performances of such great mainstream orchestras as the London Symphony orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, the Boston Symphphony , and  the orchestras of France, particualarly Paris ?  Who knows ? 

  Of course, the instruments of Debussy's lifetime (1862- 1918) were much closer to those of the present day than those of  the 18th and early 19th century .  The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment will still be using gut rather than steel strings, as well as brass instruments of a narrower bore than those of today .  Recently, in a letter to arguing with me about period instruments, my Bete Noire and intellectual sparring partner Matthew Boyden claimed, rather arrogantly, that  modern instruments fail utterly to do justice to the music of  Debussy and Ravel . 

   But how does he know that  these great French composers would not have been dazzled by  the way the great orchestras of today play their music if they could miraculously come back to life and hear them ?  He does not .  The "authentic" La Mer might be very insteresting to hear . But I'm not going to throw my  recordings of  Debussy  by  Pierre Boulez and Bernard Haitink , both renowned advocates of such music away if a recording of La Mer by this London period instrument oprchestra comes out . Why should I ?  The orchestras on these recordings sound perfectly wonderful to me .

Posted: Feb 23 2012, 08:19 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Beyond Bach, Beethoven And Brahms

  These three great German composers are often referred to as ":The Three B's ". Reportedly, the great 19th century conductor and pianist Hans Von Bulow coined this term .  And they are among the corenrstones of the classical reperoire . Their music is ubiquitous in concert halls around the world and there are countless recordings of the masterpieces they produced  from the early 1700s  to the late 19th century .

  There are other great composers whose names begin with B ; Berlioz, Bruckner, Bartok, for example .  But there are other very worthy composers whose surnames begin with B but who have unfortunately been overshadowed by the most famous  ones .Have you ever heard of such composers as Mily Balakirev of  19th century Russia ,  Arnold Bax , Havergal Brian and Arthur Bliss of England , or Franz Berwald of Sweden ?  Unless you are really into classical music , the chances are that you haven't . But alll have written highly enjoyable works which deserve to be heard more often .  There are a fair number of recordings available of their music , but  your chances of hearing them live are pretty slim . 

   I have some CDs of their music , and  I  think you might  find them as enjoyanble as I do .  Franz Berwald (1796 - 1968) , is one of Sweden's most important composers , best known for his four vivacious and inventive symphonies . There are also tow concertos,, one for violin and one for piano , and miscelaneous smaller orchestral works etc. His music is full of quirky turns of phrase and all kinds of surprising moments .  But onfortunately , outside of recordings, you almost never hear his music live , with the possible exception of his native Sweden .

   If you enjoy the colorful Russian music of  Rimsky-Korsakov , Borodin and Mussorgsky , you should definitely hear the music of their contemporary Mily Balakirev (1837-1910).  The recent centennial of his death passed almost totaly unnoticed by the classical music world . His best-known work is the fiendishly difficult piano piece Islamey , which is based on the folk music of the Caucasus , and only the most accomplished piano virtuosos would dare to play it in public .  It has also been orchestrated by the Russian composer Sergei Liapunov  and th eItalian composer Alfredo Casella .  Balakirev's symphony no 1 in C is a wonderfully melodious and sweeping work whic combines  Oriental exoticism with  evocations of of traditional Russian folk songs .  A number of prominent  conductors such as Herbert von Karajan and Sir Thomas Beecham have recorded it, but it's puzzling  that hardly any one performs it live .

   Arnold Bax lived from 1883 to 1953 and wrote among other things seven symphonies and assorted symphonic poems which are highly atmospheric  and full of  rhapsodic  abandon and  Celtic flavor .  His  tone poem Tntagel is an evocation of the famous ancient castle in Wales which was supposedly the seat of King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table . I've already discussed the gargantuan Gothic symphony of Havergal Brian, which had one of its  extremely rare performances this Summer in London and was recorded by Hyperion records .

   Thank heaven for recordings !


Posted: Feb 22 2012, 08:52 PM by the horn | with no comments
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How Do You Judge A Piece Of Music ?

  Of course, judging any classical work, like anything in art or literature , is highly subjective .  And often very difficult .  Unlike popular music or Rock etc, where people will tend to like or dislike something immediately because the music is rather simple compared to classical , it often takes repeated hearings before you know if you like this or that symphony, concerto, opera or choral work or not .

  Of course, in some cases , you will find some classical works immediately appealing , such as the works oif Mozart, Haydn, Vivaldi, Schubert and other composers whose music is highly melodic .  But with  other composers , particularly ones of the 20th century and early 21st , the music can be downright puzzling the first time you hear it .  This is why you should always try to keep an open mind and not make snap judgements on any particular classical work . 

   Your average pop song is brief and simple, with catchy melodies and  a steady beat .  You have the words to the song , that is, if you can make them out, which is not always the case .  But in a symphony, concerto , tone poem ,or string quartet etc , you  are faced with purely instrumental music ,  although there is an enormous amount of classical music which is vocal .   A symphony or a concerto tends to take much more time to unfold than a pop song , and you have to concentrate in order to follow what is going on .  If it's a programatic work, or one which tells a story or paints musical pictures ,  you need to know the details of what the music is trying to portray by reading about it.  Operas can be quite long , in some cases  more than three hours , not counting intermissions, although quite a few are much shorter .

   This is why repeated hearngs are often necessary before teh muswic really sinks into your consciousness .  If you go to a concert and hear something unfamiliar and complex , you may be baffled by it and THINK you don't like it . But if you try a recording of that work and give it repeated hearings , what sounds baffling or off-putting at first may start to make much more sense to you , and you can even come to love that piece . Then when you hear it live , it won't be a problem .  This has happened to me so many times .  Works which I could not make head or tail out of at first  are now highly enjoyable to hear .

   Once you have gotten enough experience listening to classical music ,  you may begin to form your own criteria of judgement . What are my criteria ?  How do I know whether I like a particular work or the music of any particular composer or not ?   There are basically two reasons why I would not like a work ; either it is  just not interesting ,  a formulaic and nondescript work that leaves me saying "Meh ".  Or there is something off-putting about the piece, something that just rubs me the wrong way . 

   But if I hear one piece by a composer who is new to me and don't like it, I  try to keep an open mind and  give other works by the composer a chance , and not dismiss the composer  based on just one work . Music that is highly melodious is wonderful , ut a piece doesn't have to be conventionally melodious to be highly interesting and enjoyable. Thisis true of a lot of 20th century music . 

   I suppose the most important thing the remember in listening is to keep an open mind and not jump to conclusions about any given work .

Posted: Feb 21 2012, 08:40 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Subsidizing Opera For Millionaires ?

  I've been having a rather futile argument at a political forum I'm on with conservatives there who are adamatnly opposed to  givernment support of America's symphony orchestras and opera ocmpanies . They couldn't care less if  they go under , and argue that the government has absolutely no business  providing any financial help to them .  They argue that  if they can't amek it on their own, they don't deserve to survive , and they aren't really of any importance to America anyway .

  It's like arguing with a wall .  One member said that he doesn't want the government taking hard-earned money from honest, hard-working Americans in taxes to "subsidize opera for millionaires ".  This just shows how lacking in understanding of the whole situation , and his blind acceptance of  the myth that opera is just a frivolous entertainment for the wealthy . And  he doesn't even realize that the vast majority of Americans , as well as Europeans and others who go to the opera, are not even millionaires in the first place !

  It's true that tickets to the Metropolitan opera can be pretty expensive , up to about $350 for the priciest, but you can still get perfectly good  seats for only about $25.  And if tickets are expensive, it's because opera is an expensive art form, by far the most costly .  In addition to the singers, you  need to have the following kind of people to put on first-rate opera : an orchestra,chorus, conductors, reharsal pianists and musical assistants, coaches for the singers, stagehands,  technicians of all kinds for lighting etc, the people who make and  adjust the costumes, wigmakers,  and many other people with highly specialized  jobs .  The Met even has a fencing master  to teach singers how to  use swords in certain operas  where  these are needed ! 

   And don't forget , if you want to get tickets for broadway shows or the most famous pop singers , that can be just as expensive as  tickets to the Met .  The people who attend opera ar eoverwhelmingly midlle class . True, there are some wealthy people who go to the opera , but if you think that opera is just a fancy social event for the wealthy, you're dead wrong ! 

   In addition ,  America's many opera companies , which can be found in all 50 states, provide gainful employment  for so many people .  Is it good  for America for  so many people to have their livelihoods jeopardized ? Of course not . 

  And would  providing  subsidies to opera companies be a burden on taxpayers ?  Not at all .  The Iraq war, which  turned out to be futile and disastrous, was a far greater ta burden on  us Americans than  subsidies  for the arts  could ever be .  Some people never learn .

Posted: Feb 20 2012, 05:53 PM by the horn | with no comments
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I Don't Look Down On Them - I Pity Them !

  Many people who are not fans of classical music assume that if you  are, you must be a snob who looks down on those who don't share your rarified tastes .  This may be true in some cases , but as for me, I don't look down on people who know little or nothing about classical music and have never made it a part of their lives - I pity them !

  They just don't know what they're missing .  If they die without ever having heard the music of Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, Wagner, Berlioz, Tchaikovsky and  the many other great composers , they will will never realize what they have been missing .  What a pity !   They will never have have gotten a chance to experience the sublime Mass in B Minor of Bach ,  and  never have experienced the thrill of  Beethoven's 9th .  They may have heard the famous melody of the Ode to Joy, but that is NOT the symphony itself, just a famous melody . 

   They will never enjoy the sensuous and atmospheric  La Mer(the sea), of Debussy ,  the  vivid evoacation of  the Arabian Nights of Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherezade ,  or  the rambunctious humor of  "Till Eulenspiegel;s Merry Pranks" by Richard Strauss .  Or the majestic Cathedrals in sound  which are the symphonies of Bruckner,  the brooding  nordic nature painting in the music of Finland's  Jean Sibelius,  These are only a tiny handful of all the wonderful music  that's so easy to experience today, with the easy availability of classical CDs,DVDs, and  classical music on the internet .

  They will never  experience the thrill of a great night at the opera , with  great singers chewing the scenery  and singing their hearts out .  The  great operas of Mozart, Verdi, Wagner,  Richard Strauss,  Leos Janacek and others will remain a closed book to them .  As I've pointed out before , classical music is a feast ,  yet so many people are starving for great music .  What a shame .

Posted: Feb 15 2012, 06:20 PM by the horn | with no comments
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(Lack Of) Culture Wars

  If  the Republican Party takes the White House this November , it may be bad news for classical music in America , whether Romney or Gingrich is elected .  Republican politicians are stubbornly opposed ot government finding for the arts , and  our orchestras and opera ocmapnies are particularly vulnerable to this foolish and counterpriductive hostility . 

  The National Endowment For The Arts is something which so many conservatives want to se abolished, a government agency which is already pitifully underfunded .  If this happens, it could be catastrophic to  classical music in America . According to reports , Newt Gingrich is something of an opera fan , but  if either he or Romney is elected ,  they will definitely NOT want to do anything to increase funding for the arts in America . 

  Why are so many Americans so hostile or at best indifferent to  the arts ?  Don't they realize how beneficial they are to America , what a great source of jobs they are and how beneficial they are to the economy as a whole ?  The so-called culture wars  show what a lack of culture  they have .  People should not be ashamed of  "high culture" in America .  In fact,  the fact that there are so many world-class orchestras and opera companies in America is something that all  Americans should be proud of , not hostile or indifferent to. 

  No wonder Europeans look down on us  uncultured , philistine Americans .

Posted: Feb 06 2012, 05:31 PM by the horn | with no comments
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