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April 2013 - Posts

The Revered English Conductor Sir Colin Davis Has Died At 85 .

   The world of classical music has just lost  one of its greatest conductors . The eminent British maestro  Sir Colin Davis, 85 , has passed away after a brief illness  not long after leading  his final concerts in London .  Sir Colin never fit the stereotype of the glamorous  ,flamboyant  playboy of the podium  which so many people have  in their minds when they think of world famous  conductors .  He always put the music first and not his own ego . 

    In hsi long and distinguished career , he  conducted a  remarkably wide range of orchestral and operatic repertoire  with  most of the world's  foremost orchestras and opera companies , and  held  posts as the head of the London symphony orchestra ,  the Royal Opera in London , the B.B.C. symphony orchestra of London , and  the Bavarian Radio symphony of Munich .  His association with the London symphony orchestra lasted  no fewer than five decades , several as principal conductor in the 1990s up to about 2007 ,  and  his music directorship of  London's Royal opera company  was remarkably fruitful . 

    In America ,  Sir Colin was a regular guest conductor with  the Boston symphony, New York Philharmonic and Cleveland orchestras , and led several  acclaimed new productions at the Metropolitan opera .  In Europe, he  regularly conducted such  leading orchestras as the  Dresden State orchestra , The Royal Concertgebouw orchestra of Amsterdam , and the Vienna and Berlin Philharmonics .

     Davis  made a wide variety of recordings , many for the now defunct  Philips label with  these orchestras and opera companies  of works ranging from George Frideric Handel  to  music by leading 20thcentury composer ssuch as Benjamin Britten  ,Sir Michael Tippett  and others .  He also made recordings  for  R.C.A. records, Sony Classical ,  and other labels , many of which have  have been widely acclaimed by both critics and  listeners everywhere .

    Sr Colin was particlarly noted for his championship of the quirky and highly original music of Hector Berlioz , and  recorded virtually  his entire  orchestral ,choral and operatic output , re-recording some of them several times .  Sme 40 years ago , he made the first complete  recording of  "Les Troyens"  in London with the Royal opera i ,  revealing this elusive ,difficult and monumental  opera for as  towering masterpiece it is , as well as the first recording of  the  scintillating  comic opera "Benvenuto Cellinoi" ,based on the life of the rogue Italian goldsmith  and sculptor . 

     There are also acclained recordings of the Berlioz "Symphonie Fantastique," his most famous work, which  Sir Colin recorded no fewer than four times , plus  the monumental Requiem ,  etc . 

    Mozart was another composer for which sir Colin was renowned , and he made acclained  recordings of all seven of  Mozart's  mature operas for Philips, The Marriage of Figaro,  Don Giovanni, The Magic Flute , The Abduction from the Seraglio,  Idomeneo and La Clemenza di Tito , with some of the world's foremost opera singers .  Plus Mozart's greatest symphonies concertos and choral works .

     Davis was the foremost champion of the great but quirky English composer Sir Michael Tippett , (1905 - 1998 ) , and was a close friend , recording  Tippett's  operas  "The Midsummer marriage", The Knot Garden",  and a variety of symphonies ,concertos and other works of this composer .

    There are also recordings of operas by  Benjamin Britten, such as "Peter Grimes", " A Midsummer Night's Dream ,  Wagner's Lohengrin ,Beethoven's Fidelio , Weber's "Der Freischutz", Verdi's  "Falstaff ",  and other operas , as well as  the complete symphonies of Beethoven,  no fewer than three recordings of th eseven Sibelius symphonies, )another composer for which he was famous ),  a variety of Haydn symphonies ,  and ones by  Brahms, Dvorak, Elgar, Bruckner,Mahler , Schubert ,etc  .

    Although he was never a flashy interpreter , his performances were anything but dull and staid .  He always thought deeply about the music , its meaning and significance  , and sought to  delve as deeply as possible into  both the spirit and letter of  the wroks . 

    As a young man,  Sir Colin's path toward becoming a conductor was far from easy ; he studied clarinet  at the  Royal college of music in London  , but his ambitions to study conducting there were  were  stymied by his lack of  skill  playing the piano , which is  an important instrument for conductors to  be able to play .  But he managed to work his way up  the  ladder of podium success starting  as  an assistant conductor  with various musicla organizations such as the Sadlers/Wells opera of london, now the English National opera , and his big break came in the late 1950s when he was a last minute substitute for a  concert performance to be conducted by  legendary German conductor Otto Klemperer ( 1885-1973 ) when the elder conductor  was indisposed ,  and as they say, the rest is history .  The musicians of the world's leading orchestras , who  are often highly critical of  the ocductors who lead them and are not easily impressed , had nothing but  the greatest respect and  admiration for him .

    There is no question that Sir Colin  Davis will go down in music history as one of  the greatest  conductors of  the 20th century .  R.I.P.



Posted: Apr 15 2013, 11:08 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Why Aren't There More Women Conductors ?

   It was only until fairly recently that the profession of orchestral and operatic conducting  was  an exclusively male  one,  as well as almost  exclusively white .  Was it sexism alone , or  a lack of women  aiming to make a mark in this  difficult, demanding and highly competitive field ? It's difficult to say . 

    It's never been an easy profession to break into , and  traditionally , one became a conductor by working as a rehearsal pianist in an opera  house as well as assisitng the conductor with rehearsals,  preparing the chorus , conducting offstage bands , which are  quite common in opera ,etc .  Eventually, if one showed one's mettle, one would be assigned  some performances to conduct , gradually  achieving more prominence , getting invited to conduct at other opera hpouses and eventually  moving to  concert halls to conduct  orchestral works . 

    So many  of the greatest ocnductors have started this way, and there is no better hands on training for this very difficult  and complex  profession .  They include such legendary names as  Otto Klemperer, Gustav Mahler, Bruno Walter, Sor Georg Solti, Herbert Von Karajan, Erich Kleiber and his son Carlos , Karl Bohm, Erich Leinsdorf,  George Szell , Antal Dorati, Fritz Reiner , and many others . 

    Beginning with the second half of the 20th century ,  conservatories and university music schools began to offer graduate degrees in conducting , and Leionard Bernstein ,  Leoard Slatkin,  James Levine ,  Riccardo Muti ,  and many more recent conductors have begun this way, studying with  eminent conductors such as Fritz Reiner , George Szell, Serge Koussevitzky , who taught not at conservatories but the Summer Tanglewood festival in Massachuissetts, among others .  Becoming the protegee of  a famous conductor was  they way to make contacts in the field .

    But where were women conductors all this time ?   The eminent  French composition  teacher Nadia Boulanger (  1887 - 1979) , who taught so many great  20th century composers , was active as a conductor and was the first woman to conduct the New York Philharmonic , but that was not her  primary  activity .  A  Dutch woman , Antonia Brico ,  had something of a career but never achieved  the prominence of the  greatest male maestros .

    In America ,  the pioneering Sarah Cadwelll (1924-2006)  founded the Boston opera , and performed many important 20th century operas by Schoenberg  and others  , as well as  staging them . Beverly Sills  was one of many  renowned singers who  were attracted to her enterpising productions, and in 1976 , she became the first woman to condut at the Metropolitan opera with Verdi's La Traviata .  She also conducted orchestral repertoire and  appeared with the New York Philharmonic ,Cleveland orchestra and other leading orchestras .

    Eve Queler (1936),  founded the Opera Orchestra of New York ,  which was devoted to  giving concert performances of  numerous rarely performed yet interesting and important operas  by Meyerbeer, Massenet ,  Rossini, Donizetti ,  and other composers  , primarily in Carnegie hall . She also attracted many of the greatest opera singers of  the time as well as giving opportunities for promising young vocal talents .  She used an orchestra consisting of some of New York's finest free lance musicians , and several of  her performances were recorded live . She has recently retired , but the  OONY as it is known, continues to the present day  . She has a very devoted and enthusiastic audience audience of New York opera fans .

    More recently ,Marin Alsop , (1956-) a protegee of Leonard Bernsttein at Tanglewood , has  become perhaps the most high profile woman conductor of the present day , and was appointed the first music director of one of America's major orchestras, the Baltimore symphony several years ago ,  and has recently been appointed music director of the Sao Paolo symphony in Brazil, as well as formerly heading  England's Bounemputh symphony, one of England's leading regional orchestras .  She has made recordings for  the Naxos label in Baltimore, Bournemouth and London  of a wide variety of repertoire . 

    Joann Faletta ,  a Juilliard conducting pupil of the distinguished Swedish conductor Sixten Ehrling ,  is currently music director of  the Buffalo Philharmonic in upstate New York , and has  appeared with leading orchestras all over America, Europe and elsewhere , also making recordings for  Naxos records .   She has been a champion of  long neglected orchestral works by many different composers, and is known for her advocacy of women composers . 

    Australian Simone Young, is currently  nearing the end of  her music directorship of  the Hamburg State opera , one of  Germany's most  presitgious, and has also conducted at the Metropolitan opera and elswhere .  American Anne Manson has conducted at the New York City opera  and was the first woman to conduct the tradition  rich and  highly conservative Viena Philhamonic , having conducted  Mussorgsky's great opera Boris Godunov at the prestigious Salburg festival .

    Xian Zhang of China is a protege of Lorin Maazel  and served as assistant and later associate ocnductor of the New Yokr Philharmonic  when Maazel was music director there several year ago , and  has been appointed music director of  one of the leading orchestras in Milan .  Susanna Malkki of Finland  has  achieved  renown as a specialist in contemporary music in Europe but also conducts  traditional repertoire , and and Anu Tali of neighboring Estonia  is also making an important career . 

    These are only several  of the increasing numbers of women  who have been  breaking the  glass  podium  .  The website of the  Kapralova society ,  named after a promising young early 20th century Czech composer and ocnductor whose  career was cut short by untimely death , lists  what appear to be  at least  300 or so women conductors active today  .  Things are definitely looking up for women conductors today, and it's about time !

Posted: Apr 08 2013, 10:31 PM by the horn | with no comments
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