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October 2012 - Posts

Preeminent German Composer Hans Werner Henze Has Died At 86

 One of the world's foremost composers, Hans Werner Henze (Hen-tse )  has died in Dresden at the age of 86 .  Henze may possibly be the last in a long line of great German and Austrian composers  beginning with Bach ,Handel, Haydn, Mozart  ,Beethoven , Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Bruckner ,Mahler  ,Richard Strauss ,  Hindemith  and his eccentric  contemporary Karlheinz Stockhausen, who passed away in 2007 . 

  Henze  was born in the  northwestern  region of Westphalia in 1926 , studied  with  the composer Wolfgang Fortner , who is little known outside of Germany today , and  began to make a reputation as one of  Germany's most promsing young composers  .  He developed a  highly eclectic style of composition  , sometimes using  12-tone serialism  and at other times  adapting a  neo-classical style influenced by Stravinsky  while  maintaining a  distinctive voice of his own . 

   Henze was  a confirmed  left-winger  and an unabashed Marxist ,maintaining  his ties with  various communist parties in Europe, including  that of italy  where he settled  after the second world war  , as well as spending  time in Cuba  where he taught and composed works with  a decided Marxist  bias   .  He was also active  as a teacher at  leading  European  avant-garde music centers  and in America , which he visited regularly , and was active as a conductor , not only of his own music . 

   Henze composed prolifically  in  virtually all musical  idioms  ; operas, symphonies, concertos,ballet and film scores ,  choral works , chamber music  etc , including no fewer than 15 operas and 10 symphonies .  Among his best known operas are Der Junge Lord (the young lord ) a bizarre  black comedy about  an eccentric English  nobleman who visits a small German town , passing  an ape  off as his nephew with  weird results ,  the Bassarids, based on Greek mythology ,  Elegy For Young Lovers ,  Konig Hirsch  ( king of the stags ) ,  and the political opera We Come To The River . They have been performed  regularly by  virtually all of the leading European opera companies , though not quite as often in America, and the Metropolitan opera has yet to perform any of them. Perhaps this will change sometime in the future . 

   His works are hardly easy listening , but they are  by no means as  esoteric  and  abstruse  as  those of  Pierre Boulez,  Elliott Carter ,  Stockhausen  and Milton Babbitt  , for example  , and  his orchestral works  feature  sumptuous  and highly colorful orchestration  .  Many  eminent conductors  , such  as  Christoph von Dohnanyi, former music director of the Clevenad orchestra , Sir Simon Rattle ,Kurt Masur , Sir Georg Solti  and others, have  performed his orchestral works  all over the world  , and most of his output has been recorded , including  the composer conducting  .  Many of these recordings  are on the  Deutsche Grammophon label . 

    Only time will tell  how posterity  sees Henze's music , but  the world of classical music has lost  one of its most important figures .




Posted: Oct 29 2012, 08:49 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Symphony Orchestras - The Football Teams Of Classical Music

 There's an old joke about a music critic who opened his unfavorable review of a concert with the line - The X Philhamonic orchestra played Beethoven last night -Beethoven lost .  But serioulsy ,  this post will compare the similarities and differences between symphony orchestras and football teams .  There are definite similarities, but considerable differences,too .

   Think of the orchestra members as the team , and the music director, who is the orchestra's chief conductor , as the head coach .The assistant conductor is the assistant coach .  The orchestra has a variety of people working in its management , and th eorchestra has its management and  owner or owners, but orchestras don't have owners per se . They have a  boards of directors , and a general manager who is in charge of  running the orchestra , and people working in various capacities, such as publicity ,  public relations ,  commiunity outrach , artistic  management  ,  finance etc .   They have borads of directors , often consisting of wealthy  people involved with philanthropy etc .

   Each member of the orchestra has a  particular  position  and  function .  Just a sa football team has its quartback, halfback,  linebackers ,etc , there are the different sections of the orchestra ; strings  ,consisting of first and second violins, violas, cellos, and double basses , the harp ,  the woodwinds, consisting of the flutes, piccolo,  oboes,  English horn,  Clarinets,  bass clarinet ,  bassoons and contraassooon , the brass, with the horns, the trumpets, the trombones , tuba .  Finally, there are the percussion, consisting of the tympani  , and  the  rest of the section which plays a wide variety of instruments, including cymbals,  bass drum, snare drum,  etc  .

   Each section hads its prinicpal player , plus  in American orchestras , the associate prncipal, assistant principals etc . The concertmaster, or principal first violin, could be compared to the quarteback  .  He or she  is  the leader of the first violins and plays  the violin solos in any given work with  them , and is in charge of  deciding the bowings  for the section, and there are the principal second violin , associate and assistant principals of both violin sections, and then the rank-and-file players  .  Ditto prinicpal viola, cello, and bass sections etc .

   In a typical American orchestra, there are the principal  flute, oboe, clarinet and  bassoon players, plus the second flute, clarinet, oboe etc, th eassociate proincipal who divides work with the principal and plays third  flute, obe, clarinet  etc,  plus the piccolo, English horn, bass clarinet and contrabassoon players  .  There are also occaisional parts for instruments such as the  smalle flat clarinet etc. 

   The horn section in a typical major US orchestra consists of the prinicpal horn , the associate principal horn who divides the work on a program with the prinicpal  and also plays fifth horn  when six to eight horns are callled for, the assistant principal horn  who  takes over certain parts of works to  enable the principal horn to  avoid lip fatigue  , and the second, third and fourth horns .   When extra h0orns are needed n works calling for very large orchestras ,  extra players  who are not regular members of the section  are used .

   There is the principal  trumpet ,  plus the second, third  and fourth trumpets . The fourth trumpet  sometimes functions as an associate principal  . Then there are  principal, associate principal, second and third trombone. The third trombone plays the bass trombone, which is  equipped with extra tubing for low notes .  Ther eis only 0one tuba player, because very few works call for more than one tuba .  The few which do require an extra player who is not a regular orchestra member .  Certain works  require  horns 5-8 to play the so-caled Wagner tubas, and instrument  which looks somewhat like a barit0one horn or euphonium but which is a different instrument . And sometimes a trombone player  is used to play baritone horn in the occaisional work which calls for it .

   The tympanist  is  the head of the percussion section , and the other members play a wide variety of percussion instruments , including as I mentioned, cymbals, snare and bass drum, castanets , triangle etc .  Occaisionally , a pianist is needed , as a limited number of works use them as an orchestral, not  a solo instrument  .   Each orchestra also has an organist for those works which require this  majestic instrument .

   There is also a personnel manager , whose job is to  co-ordinate the orchestras rehearsals, scheduling ,etc , and to make sure that each musician knows  when he or she is needed for a rehearsal or concert .  Not every musician is needed for every work an orchestra plays ,  so each must know when he or she is needed . And when extra or substitute musicians are needed , the personnel manager is responsible for engaging them  , as well as running audiitions . This is a very important job .

   Of course, no football team could function without a coach ,  and an assistant coach or coaches , and  the orchestra needs a conductor , whose job is to  lead the orchestra  , prepare works during rehearsals  etc .  But  the music director , or chief conductor cannot possibly lead every concert of th eseason ,lasting from September until possibly as late as June , plus a  Summer residency  at  a festival etc .

   So there are  guest conductors to lead  various concerts througout the season , plus an assistant conductor who assists the conductor  during rehearsals ,  and  may have to take over a concert at the last minute if the scheduled conductor is ill  or unable to appear for any reason . nSme orchestras have a  regular guest who is called the principal giuest conductor , and an associate conductor who leads some cncerts .

   Like the coach , the conductor, whoever he or she may be  for any given concert, is repsonsible for preparing everything and seeing to it that the orchestra has mastered the music  and  knows just what to do .  The individula musicians are respinsible  for their individual parts , but the conductor  has to study the full score  , which shows all the different musical lines simultaneously , and has to co-ordinate the whole concert, which is no easy task .  The conductor must be able to  correct mistakes during rehearsal ,  make sure that everyone is playing in tune, and that  all the sections of the orchestra are clearly balanced and that  everything can be heard clearly .  This is just the tip of the iceberg of the conductor's numerous tasks .

   Whether it's a football team or an orchestra , it's all teamwork ! 


Posted: Oct 22 2012, 10:22 PM by the horn | with no comments
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My Recent Encounter With The Symphonies Of Haydn- All 104 of Them !

  The other week I was able to borrow a huge set of CDs from a nearby library  on interloan - nothing less than the complete symphonies of Joseph Haydn (1732-1809 ) .  Yep.  All 104 of  the symphonies by the great 18th century composer known as the "father of the symphony" , even though he was not the first one actually to compose them .  37 , count  'em, 37 CDs !   The  performances are on the Sony Classical label , with the noted American conductor Dennis Russell Davies and the excellent Stuttgart chamber orchestra , and are excellent .

   I had already heard most of them on individual recordings by many  eminent conductors , including  parts of the first  integral set  by the late Hungarian conductor Antal Dorati , and  Bernstein,Karajan,  Colin Davis, Karl Boehm , and others , but this was my first chance to hear  the whole  vast symphonic output of Haydn in one fell swoop .  These works , most of which are  rarely if  ever heard live  , were written over a period of nearly 40 years , from the 1760s to  the late  1790s   and are highly varied  , ranging from the brief and simple early ones  to the grander  and somewhat  lengthier later ones .  None is as long as  the Beethoven symphonies  except for  Bethoven's  first and  eighth  , his shortest . Haydn's range form about fifteen minutes to  a  little over thrity . 

   Quite a few have  nicknames ,  none of  which was given to them by the composer .  Over the years , various listeners and  even critics  were reminded of  certain extramusical  things by the music ,  and   nicknames  somehow stuck to them .   Probably the best known of these is the so-called "Surprise symphony", no 94 , which features  sudden  outbursts  of loudness  amid  quietness in the slow movement .  No 68 is known as "La Poule" (hen in French ) because  a certain passage reminded someone of the pecking of a hen !  No 100 is called "The Military" because it makes  use of  extra percussion in the second  movement and the finale .   No 101 is called "The clock " because  the slow movement  reminded someone of the ticking of a clock .  And so forth .  A trio of early ones are known as "Morning, Midday and Evening ".  No 31  is called  the "horn signal" because it features  prominent virtuosic  parts for four French horns and is virtually a concerto .  All the others use only two French horns ; four did not become the norm until  the 19th and 20th centuries when composers began to write for larger orchestras .

   Many of the symphonies were written  when Haydn was serving as Kapellmeister, or music director for  music -loving  members of the nobility  who  had their own  small  private orchestras  and would  have him compose a variety of works for  their enjoyment  and  to entertain noble visiitors .  Haydn spent many years  in an isolated  Hungarian  manor owned by  the count  Nikolaus Eszterhazy , a great music lover .  Haydn also composed a number of operas for the count  , who maintained  his own small opera  company  in a private  theater .  Haydn was responsible for  writing the music  and hiring  the musicians  , and directing the orchestra  at private concerts .  He was literally a paid servant, and had to wear a servant's  uniform , but it was  a  secure and well-paying job .  Having the great Haydn as his kapellmeister was a feather in the count's hat . Over the years , Haydn's  music achieved great popularity throughout Europe  , and when the count died  and  the estate was  inherited by a  relative  who was  not much of a music lover , Haydn moved to  Vienna  , iwell off on his own  and  famous .  He continued to compose  and traveled  around Europe , including  extended stays in London  ,where he was ocmmissioned ot write  his late  symphonies, which became known as the "London symphonies " .  He was also  awarded with an honorary doctorate from Oxford University , and the symphony he wrote for the occaision , no 92 , is known as the "Oxford symphony ". 

   Haydn died in 1809  at the advanced age of  77 , unusual for the day ,  universally revered as  a great master .  He outlived his great younger friend Mozart  , whom he greatly admired , by  18 years .  The symphonies  are  so inventive , melodious  and  life-affrming  that I fail to see how anyone could  possibly  dislike them in the least  .  It's feel good music . 

   It's been a great experience  hearing  the whole shebang  !  


Posted: Oct 10 2012, 09:44 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Despite All The Problems , The Classical Music Season Has Begun And Is Going Strong !

  Yes,  too many American orchestras and opera companies are experiencing serious financial difficultes  and even  some of those in Europe .  And to make matters worse ,  the Atlanta symphony ,  the Minnesota orchestra  in Minneapolis and the Indianapolis symphony  are struggling with labor disputes which have  kept their seasons from opening as usual .  Maestro James Levine is still  beset with health problems  and will be absent from the Metropolitan opera's roster of conductors for the first time  in forty years .  The Boston symphony is still searching for the right conductor to  take his place as music director . 

   But the season as a whole has been  going strong for  a month now,  and  the young  and highly gifted  French Canadian conductor  Yannick Nezet- Seguin  has  taken the rens of the August Philadelphia orchestra and hopes are running high  for him to  revitalize this great orchestra .  Riccardo Muti , beginning his third season as music director of the great Chicago symphony , has just completed a critically acclaimed set of concerts in  Carnegie hall  . 

   The world's opera houses  are  set to present an amazingly wide variety of operas  ranging over  four centuries  -  a diversity of repertoire  unprecendented in the history of opera .  Great   conductors such as  Muti, Pierre Boulez , Daniel Barenboim ,  Bernard Haitink ,  Mariss jansons ,  Claudio Abbado , Valery Gergiev ,  Leonard Slatkin , Neeme Jarvi , Kent Nagano , Simon Rattle ,  Christian Thielemann , Riccardo Chailly ,  Michael Tilson Thomas , and others  are  very much in action ,  and  young lions of the podium such as Gustavo Dudamel , Nezet-Seguin,  Andris Nelsons  and others  are establishing themselves as  conductors of stature . 

   There is an abundance of highly talented talented young conductors ,  instrumentalists  and opera singers  is emerging  all over the  classical music world ,  and new works by a wide variety of  contemporary  composers is being performed  .  As far as this observer of the classical music scene is concerned , the glass is  more than half full , and not half empty by any means .  Classical music  is very much alive and kicking , and will  endure .  You can't keep a great art form down ! 

Posted: Oct 08 2012, 10:25 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Catching Up With The Latest issues Of Opera News Magazine

  Lazy me ! I've been neglecting posts about  Opera News magazine for a while . But here's a profile of the August and September issues .  In the August issue , Washinton Post critic Philip Kennicott  discusses his  ideas of how opera may change in the  next decade in terms of  production technology , reaching new audiences ,  new forms of broadcasting etc .  Jennifer Melick , managing editor of Symphony magazine , discusses the impressive new  National Opera Center in New York , which offers splendid facilities for auditions and opera rehearsals etc .

   Opera News editor-in-chief F. Paul Driscoll  has  an article entitled  "Opera's Next Wave " - a profile  of sme of the most  talented up-and-coming younger singers , conductors , composers and arts managers in the field of opera in America  today .  These are likely to be the superstars of opera in the near future .

   The September issue has the annual  preiview of the repertoire  in opera houses  for 2012-13  alll over the globe, not only Europe and America , but  Australia , South America and elsewhere .  This includes dates of performance for  the Met, La Scala,  the Royal opera in London,  the great houses of Berlin,Vienna, Munich , Paris ,  Dresden , Hamburg  , you name it .  The preview shows amazing  worldwide diversity of  operatic repertoire  ; old   operas, new ones, familiar and unfamiliar ones of dazzling variety .

   A particularly interesting article  on  the members of the orchestra of the San Francisco  opera  shows  what it's like to work in the pit  of a major opera house ; the chalenges, frustrations and joys of this  extremely demandng yet rewarding job .  Noted American opera conductor David Lawton, professor of music at the  State University of New York at Stony Brook , has an article on the Los Angeles opera's revival of  the rarely heard early opera I Die Foscari (the two Foscaris ) .

   Reviews of opera performances around the world  from London ,Berlin , Milan, Geneva, Salzburg , New York, Washington D.C. , San Francisco , and Brussels by the magazine's travelling reviewers can be read ,  as well as  reviews of new  CD recordings of operas by Handel , Dvorak, Franz Schreker , Puccini , and DVDs of operas by Richard Strauss , Janacek , Monteverdi , Verdi, Tchaikovsky , etc .

   Editor F. Paul Driscoll has an extensive obiturary of the late great baritone Dietrich  Fischer-Dieskau , who passed away this May .  You can also check out the agaznes website .

Posted: Oct 03 2012, 11:02 AM by the horn | with no comments
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