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June 2012 - Posts

June And July Issues Of Opera News Magazines

  I've been a bit lazy recently in getting my posts about the always fascinating magazine Opera News , so I'lll combine coverage of June and July .  The June issue has extensive information about the many  great  Summer music  festivals about to  begin , and many of these  have  opera performances, both staged and in concert form .  The world fampous Tanglewood festival in Massachusetts, Summer home of the Boston symphony , celebrates its  75th anniversary  , and renowned Swiss conductor Charles Dutoit will lead a performance of the quasi-operatic  oratorio  "The Damnation of Faust"   by Hector Berlioz .  The Boston symphony will play a variety of concerts under  a variety of emoinent conductors .  The Ravinia festival  in Illionois is the Summer home of the Chicago symphony , Among the vocal offerings there are familiar operas by Mozart and  rarities by Kurt Weill and Franz Schreker .

   The Aspen festival in Colorado will feature a production  of John Harbison's  operatic version of The Great Gatsby, premiered about  a decade ago at the Met .  The San Francisco opera has a brief Summer season with productions of Mozart's The Magic Flute,Verdi's Attila, and Nixon in China by John Adams .  Te Santa Fe New Mexico opera  , which  performs in its own special outdoor theater will have productions of Tosca,  Arabella by Richard Strauss  , and interesting rarities such as King Roger by Karol Szymanowski and Rossini's Maometto Secondo .

   The Caramoor festival ,located  in Westchester county  just north of New York, will  offer a Rossini rarity called Ciro in Babilonia  conducted by Bel Canto specialist Will Crutchfield with the resident Orchestra of St. Lukes on NYC.  The Glimmerglass opera festival in Cooperstown,NY, home of Baseball ,  willl perform  the 17th century French baroque opera Armida by  Jean Baptiste Lully  ,Lost In The Stars by Kurt Weill , and Verdi's familiar Aida .

   The Bard college Summer festival  ,just north of New York , will feature among other things, the  rarely performed  opera Le Roi Malgre Lui (the king in spite of himself  by 19th century French composer Emmanuel Chabrier .  The Lincoln Center festival, which features dance ,drama and film as well as music , will  offer the N.Y. premiere of  Emile , by  Finnish composer kaaia Saariaho , one of  today's leading women composers .

   The July issue  focuses on  the art song repertoire , with interviews with the renowned Dutch  soprano Elly Ameling  and Canadian baritone Gerald Finley , both  renowned fo rsinging German lieder and other song repertoire .  Russell Platt,music editor of the New Yorker magazine , discusses the  great lider of  Austrian composer Hugo Wolf  (1860-1903 ),  In the June issue , an article called "The Girls of Summer",  has brief interviews with such renowned  sopranos and mezzos  as  Elisabeth Futral, Stepanie Blythe , Patricia Racette , Ewa Podles , and others on their  plans for this Summer .

   Opera News roving correspondants have reviews of opera performances from New York,Chicao, Dallas,  Brussels ,  Glasgow,Milan, Houston,Miami , Madrid, Toronto,  Berlin and London .   There a re CD reviews of new recordings of Massenet's Werther, Wagner's  Meistersinger ,  Parsifal,  and new releases from  Sony Classical's  issues of historic Met performances from the past, as well as song and aria recitals by various singers .

   There are also DVD reviews of live performances of such operas as  Berg's Lulu,  Mozart's Abduction from the Seraglio , Aida, La Boheme, and Verdi's Macbeth from a variety of leading opera houses  around  Europe ,  Even if you arne't an opera fan, Opera News could very well make you desirous of becoming one !

Posted: Jun 29 2012, 08:38 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Could Young Composer Jay Greenberg Be The American Mozart ?

  I recently borrowed a CD of music by a promising young Amercan composer named Jay Greenberg from my library .  His name is Jay Greenberg,  and he was born  in December 1991 .  Although his parents are not professional musicians  , his father being a professor of Slavic languages at Yale , he showed  amazing musical talent as a small boy , and began composing  before his tenth birthday .  Young  Jay attracted the attention of  a couple of noted  composers  who teach at Juilliard , and  came under their tutelage as a  student in Juilliard's  renowned pre-college program . 

   The  CBS  Sunday program 60 Minutes has  featured  him not once, but twice !  One  of his teacher's has called the  lad a child prodigy on the level of Mozart , which is high praise indeed .  So far,  He has written no fewer than five symphonies ,  a sonata for cello and piano , a quintet for  strings ,  a concert overture inspired by  the 9/11  catastrophe , and assorted other works .  

   So what does the music sound like ?  For one thing, it's  extremely well-crafted and technicaly assured .  The CD, which is on the Sony Classical label  , features his 5th symphony and  the quintet for strings,  written for two violins,  one viola and two cellos, the same as the  great string quintet by Franz Schubert .  It's  entirely tonal,  and not at all  outlandishly avant-garde . In fact, it would not  have sounded  avant-garde  70 years ago .  The knotty music of  the venerable American composer Elliott Carter is far  more  modernistic  despite the fact that at 103 , he is old enough to be Greenberg's great grandfather . 

   One thing it seems to lack is  a distinctive  personal style which  is  uniquely his own .  It sounds at times like Hindemith , Bartok or Shostakovich  .  But  he could certainly develop his own  unmistakable  personal voice with time .  Many great  composers did not find their own  voices until  they gained maturity . 

   The symphony is performed by no less than  the distinguished   Uruguayan-born conductor and composer  Jose Serebrier , leading  the world-famous London symphony orchestra, and the quintet is performed by the  renowned Juilliard string quartet  with an extra cellist , and both performances  are  excellent . A young composer could not hope for  better recdordings . 

   It should be interesting to see how this remarkably gifted young man  develops as a composer .  Will he become  a  truly great one ? Only time will tell . 

Posted: Jun 28 2012, 10:25 PM by the horn | with no comments
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According To Greg Sandow, "Classical Music Is Easy "

  The irrepressible composer,critic,teacher and blogger Greg Sandow is at it again, bless him, at his blog  at .  A recent post discusses a  recent survey by 60 Minutes magazine about which kinds of music people found most easy or difficult to loisten to .  900 people were questioned and asked to rank Heavy Metal , Country music Hip Hop and classical according to how easy or difficult they are to listen to .

  The most difficult ?  The majority said Heavy metal .  Only a small percentage  said classical .  Interesting, but what kind of classical music have these people heard ?  Sandow sets up  his usual straw men of  classical musicians and fans supposedly praising the lofty complexisty and profundity of classical and looking down at the Neanderthal public which is too stupid to appreciate it  etc. 

   But classical music is a vast field with  vastly differing kinds of music ranging from quite simple to mind-bogglingly complex .  Naturally, not too many people like to  spend their time with the most complex kind , although some do and  don't mind the challenge at all, including yours truly .  In classical, there are  works as simple and straightforward as Vivaldi's The Four Seasons and Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik ,  and works  by composers such as Elliott Carter, Pierre Boulez, the late Milton Babbitt and others  which  are abpout as easy to grasp as a treatise on nuclear physics  or  advanced mathematics . 

   Sandow cites the cliche abpout the way so many people enjoy classical music because's so "relaxing"  and "sweetly melifluous".  Certainly, some classical music is beautiful , melifluous and soothing .  Then he compares classical with  the raw power of Heavy Metal, sayuing that htis is music that really makes people sit up and pay attention . 

   Well, there are quite a few classical works which make Heavy Metal sound like a lulaby !  A 100 piece orchestra  can generate more raw power than any Rock band, which needs amplification,anyway .  Not only that, it has  something you just don't get in rock - dynamic constrast, or many gradations of loud and soft, from almost inaudible to  the wake the dead and cause earthquakes level .

   Some examples of these would be  "The Ride Of The Valkyries" , from Wagner's Ring, Die Walkure to be specific ,  Stravinsky's Rite of Spring , Prokofiev's Scythian Suite ,  Hekla by the obscure Icelandic composer  Jon Leifs (  1899 - 1968 ), which portrays the mighty volcano of that name ,  the Alpine symphony of Richard Strauss, which has a section describing an alpin storm which will make you run for shelter ,  Prokofiev's infernal symphony no 3 ,  Ottorino Respighi's symphonic poems The Pines of Rome and Roman Festivals ,  Mahler's gargantuan choral symphony, his 8th, written for  everything including the kitchen sink  .In fact, many Heavy Metal musicians really love these loud  works and think they're cool as all getout .   But these classical composers also wroite plenty of quiet,reflective music,too .

    The five string quartets of  103 ! year old American composer Elliott Carter may call for only two violins, a viola and a cello ,  but they are  mind-bendingly intricate works , filled  with  unbelievably complex and irregular rhythms  ,  and so many different ideas  going on at the same time  that it will make you rmind reel .  Not much noise, but  an awful lot to ponder . 

    One thing that makes classical so different from other kinds of music is that  you cannot really understand it without  a context .  Why ? Becaise when most people think of music, they think of simple songs  with lyrics .  But while vocal music is a very important part of classical ,  much of it is purely instrumental ,  and if you just hear  sounds without some  kind of context, some fram eof reference, it will be meaningless to you .

   Suppose I tell ask a friend of mine who is not into classical  music and knows  virtually nothing baout it  to  listen to a symphony by Brahms on CD .  He will ask , what's a symphony, who the heck is Brahms ?  What are thpoise strange sounds? Why the heck am I listenoing to this  stuff ?  You see, he doesn't know that a symphony is  a form of classical music , sort of like  a  sonnet is a form of poetry , and that Johannes Brahms was a German guy  from the 19th century who was a composer and wrote it . Maybe I'm exagerating about how ignorant  about so many people are about classicla music , but I think you get my point .

   Now do you still think classical music is easy ?

Posted: Jun 11 2012, 08:41 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Happy 75 th Birthday To Estonian Maestro Neeme Jarvi !

   Today is the 75th birthday of the eminent Estonian conductor Neeme Jarvi (Nay-meh  Yair-vee) , who has achieved international acclaim not only for the excellence of his performances but his tireless efforts to give obscure but  desrervng works by a wide variety of composers a hearing ,including those of his native Estonia , a former Soviet republic on the Baltic sea which is now an independent nation .

   After studies in his native Estonia and in St.Petersburg when it was called leningrad  , Jarvi held positions with  the opera company of Talinn,capital of Estonia , and conducted concerts and opera  in  Leiningrad and elsewhere in the former Soviet Union . But he left the Soviet Union around 1979 and settled in America , while pursuing an international career with  such leading orchestras as the Gothenburg symphony of Sweden,  the Royal National Scottish orchestra , the Detroit symphpony  and New Jersey  symphony as music director ,  as well as those of London,  Stockholm, Oslo,  Copenhagen ,  Geneva, Munich ,  all over America and elsewhere . Jarvi is about to become music director of  the Suisse Romande orchestra in Geneva, one of Switzerland's best-known orchestras .

   Few conductors have ever had  a repertoire as wide-ranging and eclectic as jarvi's .  As an Estonian , he naturally  has a great flair for the music of  Scandinavian composers  Sibelius,Nielsen Greig and lesser-known ones from this area ,  and is the first conductor to bring the music of his native Estonia, which has a surprisingly rich musical tradition  to international  exposure .  Before Jarvi,  hardly any one had heard of  composers such as Eduard Tubin  (1905 - 1982 )  or others whose music he has performed and recorded , not to mention  the music of  Arvo part (1935 -) whose music is now  quite well known internationally .

   Jarvi is also one of the  finest interpreters of such great Russian composers as Prokofiev, Shostakovich ,  Rimsky-Korsakov, Borodin ,Tchaikovsky,  etc and has  also  championed the very interesting music of such lesser-known Russian composers as Sergei Taneyev, Mily Balakirev,  Nikolai Myaskovsky and others .  When he became music director of the Detroit symphony some years ago , he became interested in  American composers  and performed and recorded music  by  such once well-known but long forgotten composers as  George Whitefield Chadwick ,  William Grant Still ( one of the first African-American composers to achieve any success ) ,  and others .

   There seems to be no limit to Jarvi's  musical curiosity .  He does conduct  the familiar masterpieces of the orchestral repertoire but has never been content to confine himself to  these . Jarvi has made numerous recordings  of of-fbeat and standard repertoire for such  leading record labels  as Deutsche Grammophon,  Chandos  of England  and BIS of Sweden  .  He has also conducted opera at the Met  ,  the San Francisco opera and  elsewhere .  He has made acclaied recordings of such  rarely heard operas as Tchaikovsky's Mazeppa ,  Carl Nielsen's Biblical opera Saul and David and Prokofiev's the fiery Angel , and Rachmaninov's three brief  one-act operas . 

   Neeme Jarvi is also the proud father of two sons,  Paavo and Krystian, who have also made international  careers as conductors .  Paavo Jarvi has just stepped down as music director of the Cincinnati symphony, and is currecntly music director of the Orchestre de Paris and the Frankfurt Radio symphony . 

   The elder Jarvi  has put concertgoers and classical CD collectors all over the world in debt  for his tireless efforts to widen the repertoire of orchestral and operatic music  .  Happy birthday,maestro !  As many great conductors have lived to a ripe old age  without retiring until the very end , let''s all wish  the maestro  many more years before the public adn hope for many more recordings of  off-beat and intriguing works .

Posted: Jun 07 2012, 06:52 PM by the horn | with no comments
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