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December 2012 - Posts

For Classical Music, 2012 Was The Best Of Times And The Worst Of Times

   No one could say that 2012 was an uneventful year for classical  music , or any  year in recent times .  So much happened, both good and bad , hence the paraphrase of the famous opening line of  Dicken's "Tale of Two Cities ".  The existential crisis of  the world's orchestras and opera companies  continued  , and more than a few  have either gone under or are at imminent risk of  folding . 

    The New York City opera is still looking for a permanent home after being  forced out of its long time home in Lincoln Center because of financial difficulties , the David H. Koch theater , formerly the New York State theater .  The Mnnesota orchestra in Minneapolis  is still locked out  because of labor disputes,  the Hague Philharmonic in the Netherlands has lost  much government funding  and  must downsize  th enumber of musicians it  uses , the  South West german radio orchestra  is  hanging by a thread . the  storied opera companies of  Italy, birthplace of  opera are  having a rough time  because of  economic woes ,  the Syracuse and Utica symphonies of upstate New York have gone under, as well as  the San Antonio opera in Texas and the Napa Valley Philharmonic in California , and many other groups  have been hit hard by tough economic times .

    Despite all this, the vast majority of the world's orchestras and opera companies are still alive and kicking .  Some towering figures in classical music  passed away , such as composers Elliott Carter, Hans Werner Henze,  baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and pianist/scholar Charles Rosen ,  plus the great operatic sopranos  Lisa Della Casa and Russia's   Galina Vishnevskaya , widow of the late,great cellist/conductor  Mstislav Rostropovich . 

    Biut there are still so many  great musicians who are still very much with us , composers and performers , and  many brilliant young talents have begun to make ian international reputation  as composers, conductors, instrumentalists and singers .

     Venuzuela's  acclaimed "El Sistema ", which has  enabled so many gifted young classical musicians to  make  important careers is flourishing  and  others countries, including America, are  beginning to  emulate it .  The East/West Divan orchestra, founding by the renowned Israeli  conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim  brings together gifted young Israeli and Palestitian  classical musicians  to play  as members of an orchestra, and to tour internationally and make recordings . 

    The classical CD industry  no longer functions as it did until recently ,  recording  complete studio recordings of operas and issuing  regular new recordings by  the world's leading orchestras,  and sales could certainly be better .  But  there is unprecedented diversity of  classical repertoire available  ; everything from  medieval and Renaissance music to  works by a wide variety of contemporary composers .  So much interesting classical music which had never been previously recrded is now easily available .  Classical CD collectors who are curious to hear  unusual repertoire have never had it so good . 

    More and more classical music is now available on DVD ;  four centuries worth of oepratic repertoire  from opera houses all over the world , orchestral concerts and so much more .  offers  a wealth of classical music which you can see and hear at the click of  a mouse .

     The glass is  definitely  half full ,not half empty .  There will be  continued  difficulties in 2013 , but  also so much for which we must be gratefiul .




Posted: Dec 31 2012, 09:39 PM by the horn | with no comments
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When Is It Time For An Orchestral Musician To Retire ?

   Stories have been circulating in the classical music world about the sad decline of one of the world's greatest virtuosos of the horn - the veteran principal horn of the world-famous Chicago symphony, Dale Clevenger, 72 .  Clevenger has been prinicpal horn in Chicago since the mid 1960s,  and has  achieved great renown not only as an orchestral musician but a soloist  al over the world . He has made acclaimed recordings of  the horn concertos  of Mozart, Richard Strauss, and the  one for four horns by Robert Schumann and other works . 

    But  any musician, now matter how accomplished , can only last so long .  Advancing age  inevitably brings  physical decline , especially in brass players ,  whose  lips  cannot last forever .  Being an orchestral musician is a  very  physically stressful and demanding job, and the horn is a notoriously difficult instrument to play and gto master .  A study ranking different professions  on their stress levels  has shown that  being prinicpal horn in a world-class orchestra is one of the most  streesful  jobs in existence ! 

    It's not a job for the faint-hearted !   You never know if  you will make it through a performance without  making "clams" , or splitting and cracking notes, because of the difficulty of the horn, especially in the highest notes .  Playing the long , complex symphonies of Bruckner, Mahler  and many other works  is a  grueling  experience , and in order for the first horn to  save his lip endurance,  many orchestras, particularly in  America and England,  have an  assistant principal horn  who takes over  periodically during  difficult works  to  keep the prinicipal from exhaustion  ,fatigue  and  stress .  This is the principal's lifeline . 

    For decades , Dale Clevenger has been  greatly admired by critics,  audiences and fellow horn players , orchestral musicians  and eminent conductors for his  gorgeous sound ,  amazing  technical virtuosity and  panache  , and he has appeared  as a soloist in the demanding horn concertos of Mozart, Richard Strauss and other composers  with his  hometown Chicagoans and many other leading orchestras , as well  as   being a leading teacher of his instrument . 

     But  unfortunately,  there are reports  from  leading music critics who have admired his playing for years , uncluding  Chicago's John Von Rhein,  Anthony Tommasini of the New York Times, and others , of concerts  in which he has  flubbed too many notes  , standing out like the proverbial sore thumb . 

    U.S. orchestras do not have a mandatory retirement age ,unlike those  in Germany, where it is generally 65 , and music directors cannot  demand  the retirement of veteran  musicians who are past their prime  because of strict union regulations .  Other renowned horn players have  chosen to retire  before  Clevenger's age of 72  in order to  avoid  embarassing their orchestras and audiences  and even because they  found the stress of the job to  great after many years , including  Clevenger's predecessor in Chicago ,  the great  Philip Farkas . 

     Will Clevenger  finally decide it is time to  call it quits after such a long and distinguished career ? Only time will tell . 


Posted: Dec 26 2012, 11:27 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Renowned Pianist, Scholar And Author Charles Rosen Has Died

  Charles Rosen was no ordinary  concert pianist .  The protean pianist, scholar, author, teacher and thinker died  on December 9th at the age of 85 .  He was a true polymath ;    an intelectual's intellectual ,  brilliant in diverse fields and remarkably versatile in the field of music , a man  of vast and formidable  erudition .

    Born in New York in 1927 , he was a child prodigy  who  studied  from childhood  with the legenday virtuoso  Moritz Rosenthal ,  an heir to the  great tradition of 19th century  piano playing   , but  who ioronically  did not  study  music formally at a  leading conservatory . Instead , he  studied  French literature  on both the undergraduate and graduate level at Columbia , obtaining a doctorate in this discipline ,in which he was  an authority . 

    He went on to  achieve  international acclaim as a pianist  in repertoire ranging  from Bach to contemporary composers ,  making  prize-winning recordings  ,  as well as teaching at  Stony Brook university , the University of Chicago and elsewhere .  In addition , he wrote a number of  greatly admired books on diverse musical topics, the most famous being  "The Classical  Style",  a penetrating  discussion of the music of Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven which has long been considered a classic  of  writing on music , as well  as  numerous articles  and reviews for the New York Times , the New York Review Of Books and other leading publications . 

     Rosen's playing was not flashily virtuosic , but his technique  was certainly  up to the challenges of whatever music he played .  Some  considered him to be too  cerebral a performer  , but you could never accuse him of  dulllness .  His recordings of the music of  Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann  ,  the late Elliott Carter and other composers  are still very much available  . 

    His expertise ranged from  the music of Bach, Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Schumann and Brahms to  the music of Schoenberg  and other great 20th century composers , and he was  a committed advocate  of the formidably  intricate piano works of  the late,great Elliott Carter , who  preceded him in death  by only a  two months  and  who was a close friend . 

    I was priveleged to take a graduate course in the criticism of music anbd other  topics  back in the 1980s  at Stony Brook university on Long Island , and it was a memorable experience  to hear his  stimulating commentary on  composers, critics ,  and criticism as well as being regaled by his  recountngs of his experiences working with so many great musicians  . 

     His  books , such as  The Classical Style and "Sonata Forms" , which  discusses musicla structure ,  are not  easy to digest and comprehend but are well worth the effort  in reading  .  The world of classicla music has lost  one of its foremost  musicians  ,scholars and thinkers .



Posted: Dec 10 2012, 11:08 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Rediscovering WQXR - America's Foremost Classical Music Station

  Until a few years ago, WQXR  was proudly announced  as "The radio station of the New York Times .  " It had been  America's flagship classical music station  for decades  and had long been  owned by  te Times .  But  financial difficulties forced  it to get rid of the venerable classicla radio station , and in order to survive, it had to  become affiliated with  New York's WNYC  , which carries many NPR programs  and also to become  non-comercial  and  funded by pledge drives etc .

   The station ,located in Manhattan , had to move to a  different frequency , meaning that  listeners had to put up with  inferior reception , including yours truly . I had been listening  for about 40 years since I was a teenager .  So I pretty much gave up on listening  to my regret  because of poor reception .  But recently, I  got a  BOSE radio ,  which many consider the best  there is ,  and by golly , I can get pretty good reception  despite  move .  You can also hear  WQXR over the internet , but I just don't have the patience to  stay glued to the ocmputer for that long .

   WQXR has always offered a lot more than classical DJs  announcing what particular  recording is  being played  , the name of the composer , title of the work and performers .  Over the years it has hosted the Saturday  afternoon live broadcasts of  Metropolitan opera performances , taped broadcasts of  the New York Philhamronic , Boston symphony and other great orchestras  ,  taped broadcasts of  performances from the Chicago Lyric opera  and other U.S. opera companies ,  special live performances broadcast from various performance venues in New York ,  special weekly programs on opera  and other  kinds of classical music hosted by  eminent musicologists, critics and other experts , and much,much more .

    The station plays  a very wide  variety of classiclal works  by ocmposers of every era , nationality and compositional style  , and its  announcers  are the best in the business ; people who really know classical music  and are experts in pronunciation of difficult ,tongue-twistng  names  by composers such  as Khatchaturian ,  Myaskovslky ,  Ippolitov-Ivanov ,  etc as well as  performing musicians . 

    Many classical stations, afraid of  alienating  conservative listeners , stick pretty much to the same old classical warhorses by  Vivaldi,  Bach,Handel, Mozart, Beethoven  Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov etc . Not WQXR . It does play these  thrice familiar works , but also music by  far less well known but  high quality composers  ,too .  You can hear music by  composers such as Josef Suk,  Karl Goldmark, Carl Nielsen , George Whitefield Chadwick ,  Alberto Ginastera and others  which  other classical stations would never drema of playing . Even works by  contemporary composers  .  Like Forrest Gump's famous box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get . 

    For more information , check out . 


Posted: Dec 04 2012, 10:32 PM by the horn | with no comments
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