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June 2013 - Posts

Happy 80th Birthday To The Great Italian Maestro Claudio Abbado

  Today is the 80th birthday of one of  the foremost living conductors ,  Milanese-born Claudio Abbado , who has  a resume which few classical musicians can equal .  He has served as  principal conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic , where he was chosen to  fill the shoes of the legendary  Austrian conductor Herbert von Karajan  after his death in 1989 ,  music director of  Milan's  prestigious  La Scala opera ,  the Vienna State opera and the London symphony orchestra , as well as as  a regular  with the Vienna Phhilharmonic , and such great American orchestras as  the Boston symphony, Philadelphia and Cleveland orchestras . 

    Since  stepping down in Berlin  about a decade ago , when  England's Sir Simon Rattle  took over , he has  continued to conduct the world's leading orchestras  as well as founding  the Lucerne Festival orchestra in Switzerland ,  an all star  festival orchestra chosen from the cream of  the  greatest orchestras in Europe , as well as  other festival ensembles of his  design .  A bout with stomach cancer several years ago forced him to cut down on  his activities , but he ppears to be in  reasonable health now . 

    Maestro Abbado has a wide-ranging repertoire ranging from Mozart ,Haydn and Bach to  contemporary music and he is  equally at home in the opera house and the concert hall .  He has made numerous  recordings , mostly for Deutsche Grammophon records but also  for Sony Classical and Decca  ,many of which have been internationally acclained by leading music critics .  You can hear his recordings of  the complete symphonies of Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Schubert ,Mendelssohn and Mahler ,  plus others by Schumann, Bruckner , Prokofiev .,Berlioz and others ,  and works by Rachmaninov, Stravinsky , Debiussy, Ravel,  Schoenberg,  Alban Berg, ,  and many other composers .

     He has collaborated on  concertos with  such  great instrumentalists  as  Isaac Stern,  Alfred Brendel . Itzhak Perlman , Martha Argerich , to name only  a handful .

    In opera , he has made acclaimed recordings of such  great operas as Don Giovanni, Carmen ,  Pelleas&Melisande,  Verdi's  Aida,  Don Carlo, Macbeth , Simon Boccanegra , Rossini's The Barber of Seville, La Cenerentola (Cinderella )  , Wagner's Lohengrin ,  Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov , and others , with some of the greatest opera singers of the 20th century, including Placido Domingo,  Teresa Berganza, Sherill Milnes, Nicolai Ghiaurov,Mirellla Freni  and others .  

    Some  years ago , I  attended a concert by Abbado and the Vienna Philharmonic in  Carnegie hall playing Mozart's symphony no 39 and the Bruckner 7th symphony , and it was one of the greatest musical experiences of my life .  In the Bruckner symphony , the orchestra produced a sound  of unerathly richness, beauty and power  and tonal purity  as to seem like an orchestra from heaven,not earth . The audience  cheered so loudly at the end I had to cover my ears !  

    So happy birthday ,maestro Abbado !   You have enriched the lives of  opera and concertgoers all over the world for a half a century .

Posted: Jun 26 2013, 06:49 PM by the horn | with no comments
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It's Easy Enough To Poke Fun At Wagner's Ring Cycle

   Wagner's mighty  four opera  epic "Der Ring Des Nibelungen " The Ring oif the Nibeling "  has come in for  lot of  satire  over the years since its  first  complete  performances  at  the historic  Wagner festival  in Bayreuth  Germany  in 1876 .  It has inspired  the  beloved  television crtoons with  Bugs Bunny  (I'll kill da wabbit sung the  the  theme of the Ride of the Valkyries ) and  the  antic  spoofs  of  the late  musical comedienne  Anna Russell  (1911 - 2006 )  ,to name only tow of the best known examples .

    Also ,  there are  stereotypical images of fat opera singers  dressed in  absurd pseudo Viking costumes  which have been used in so many television  commercials .  You can see Anna Russell's  Ring  satires on youtube in whiich she  whoops it up  imitating  fat Wagner sopranos and  jokes about the supposed absurdities of the Ring's  plot . 

    But is the Ring of the Nibelung  really silly , and proof of how  ridiculous opera plots supposedly are ?  Not at all if you  actually attend  performances of it  either in its  16 hour four day  complete form  or  one  opera at a time , listen to complete recordings or CD or  live perfomrances on DVD . 

     The Ring is no sillier than  such beloved  films  as Star Wars,  The Lord Of The Ring ,  or Hartry Potter .  You see, it's  a fantasy adventure based on German and Scandinavian   mythology  with a story  Wagner  fashioned out  of those ancient   Teutonic  legends .  The Ring is actually the granddaddy of   Star Wars , Lord of the Rings  and other  fantasy movies .  To complain that the Ring plot is  silly  is to miss the point altogether .  The Ring is a vast allegorical tale of  greed, lust for power and riches  ,  treachery , betrayal ,  love , hate , ruthless ambition  and how that  lust for power and riches destroys  everything  .  It  is set  in a mythical  Germany  among  Gods and Goddesses ,  giants, dwarves who live  deep oin the earth ,  water nixies ,  humans ,  superheroes  and the Valkyries, who are the warrior daughters of the supreme God Wotan  who  fly on magic horses .  There is a  fateful magical Ring forged from the stolen gold of the Rhine which  confers  magical powers on whoever possesses it  but which also has a fatal curse on it  .  Whoever possesses the Ring  has power over the entire world  .   The various characters  fight over the  fateful ring   throughout the  cycle with catastrophic end  results , the "Twilight of the Gods ". The  destruction of  the gods in their  castle  Valhalla  by fire and  where the  Rhine overfloows it banks  , destroying everything .  But this cataclysmic ending  comes with the hope that  a better world will  come  in its wake . 

     Sounds like a cool story, doesn't it  ? It is !   With today's  opera singers, who are for the most part  normal   looking  people who can act  well, the Ring  will not  seem  silly at all if you give it a chance .  Instead , you will experience  real people, even if they are Gods ,dwarves and superheroes ,  who are  complex and fascnating characters  struggling against  the consequences of their  greed , hate ,  ruthlessness , and  blind  foolishness , as well as others who  show great courage ,  selflessness ,  and love .  Combine this with Wagner's  sweeping ,  passionate ,  colorful  and  turbulent music  , and you have one of the greatest  works of music ever written . No womder the Ring has  captured the imagination of  people all over the world for well over  a century . 














Posted: Jun 24 2013, 10:47 PM by the horn | with no comments
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So Much Interesting Obscure Music Out There - Where Do I Find The Time For It All?

   If you examine the CD collections of many people who enjoy classical music , you'll  tend to find plenty of music by Bach,Handel, Vivaldi ,Haydn,Mozart ,  Beethoven,  Schubert,Mendelssohn , Schumann , Tchaikovsky.,Brahms,  Berlioz,  Rimsky-Korsakov, Grieg,  Mahler, Sibelius,  Debussy,Ravel,  Gershwin , Elgar, Stravinsky,Prokofiev, Rachmaninov and other  famous composers .  Possibly some other composers . 

    These are the composers who sell classical CDs .  But the sheer diversity of classical music avalable on CD today is  absolutely mind-boggling .  You can get the complete works of  virtually every composer who ever lived , ranging from  works written more than five hundred years ago to  recent works by living or recently deceased composers .  Composers  from every corner of Europe ,  ones from America ,Latin America , Canada ,  Asia  and elsewhere .  Symphonies, concertos , operas , chamber music, choral works, music for solo piano ,  art songs - you name it .  Composers hardly anyone, even the most experienced and knowledgeable listeners has ever heard of !   There's a surprisingly  wide variety of music by numerous women composers .

    So if you already have  a dozen or more sets of all nine Beethoven symphonies ,  dozens of  versions of  Vivaldi's Four Seasons,  Tchaikovsky's  1812 overture , the Nutcracker Suite ,  Puccini's La Boheme, Bizet's Carmen and other thrice familiar classical warhorses and are getting tired of the same old same old ,  there's an unbelievably wide variety of obscure but interesting music which you can easily get  at  and other similar websites . 

    Have you ever heard of these composers ? Chances are , no .  But their  music is very much available on CD , and so easy to  get .  In roughly alphabetical order : Kurt Atterberg, Franco Alfano , Havergal Brian,  Granville Bantock . Arthur Bliss ,  Woldemar Bargiel,  Amy Beach, Irwin Bazelon ,  Paul Ben Haim ,  Mily Balakirev, Boris Blacher ,  Tadeusz Baird , Grazyna Bacewicz , Jean Cras, Christian Canabich , Paul Creston, George Whitefield Chadwick ,  Alfredo Casella , Carlos Chavez, Cesar Cui , Ernst von Dohnanyi , Felix Draeseke ,  Hanns Eisler, Ferenc Erkel.  John Foulds ,Zdenek Fibich, Arthur Foote , Karl Goldmark , Alexander Gretchaninov , Antonio Carlos Gomes , Henry Hadley, Herbert Howells , Siegmund von Hausegger, Akira Ifukube,  Ludwig Irgens-Jensen ,John Ireland, Joseph Jongen , Armas Jarnefelt , Vassily Kallinikov ,  Unno Klami Joseph Martin Kraus , Rued Langgaard ,  Jon Leifs , Alberic Magnard ,  Nikolai Medtner, Nikolai Myaskovsky ,  Saverio Mercadante, Vitezslav Novak , Maurice Ohana ,  Joan Baptista Pla, Hans Pfitzner , Gabriel Pierne , Giovanni Paisielllo ,  Anton Rubinstein ,  Carl Reinecke , Knudaage Riisager ,Othmar Schoeck ,  Franz Schreker, Johan Svendsen , Sergei Taneyev,Ernst Toch, Eduard Tubin, Wilhelm Stenhammar ,  Sulkhan Tsintsadze , Rudolf Wagner-Regeny , Jan Dismas Zelenka etc. This is just the tip of the iceberg !

     These composers hail from such  diverse nations as  Germany, Austria , France , Italy,  Spain,  Sweden,Norway, Denmark, Hungary, the Czech republic , Russia ,  Mexico , Brazil , Isarel,  Iceland, Belgium ,  Finland ,Estonia,  the republic of Georgia , etc. 

    There is even music by  eminent conductors of the past who also composed , such as Wilhelm Furtwangler, Bruno Walter, George Szell, Victor De Sabata ,  Felix Weingartner , Antal Dorati , and others , sometimes in recordings led by the  conductors who  composed  these works .

    And this is just the tip of the iceberg !   Myself, I've collected so many obscure works that caught my interest when I heard about them  and saw them at Tower records when it  was still in existence .   In fact, my collection lacks many famous works,  not because I don't love them , but because  the  off-beat works were simply available .  Besides, I've heard those famous works countless times , and have spent  who knows how many hours rehearsing and performing them with so many different orchestras over the years .  You could never accuse me of havng an uninteresting classical CD collection  !

     The only problem is  how do  you  find the money , the time to listen ,  and the space to store  the CDs ?.  There's so much I really want to hear, and so little time .  If I had the money , the time and the space to store it all, I'd have a  Pentagon sized  collection !


Posted: Jun 17 2013, 10:16 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Beethoven's Music Is Here to stay - Get over it !

   Composers , critics and others are always complaining about the supposed lack of new music  being performed today in our concert halls and opera houses .  And this is nothing new .  Even  in the earlier  years of the 20th century , when so many great composers were  writing so many  new works in all forms and genres and in such a bewildering variety of styles , many expressed resentment  at  orchestras ,opera companies , arts administratorsme old same o and  concert managers  who supposedly just kept on playing  and programming the same old same old .

    And who gets blamed for supposedly causing this whole mess ?  Good ole Ludwig  van Beethoven , and  other greats of classical music such as  Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Bach et al .  But it isn't their fault that their music (actually only  a limited number of works among their vast output )  has achieved a lasting place in the repertoire .  That's  just how the classical music lottery turned out .  The vast majority of all the countless symphonies, concertos,  operas, oratorios , string quartets , art songs ,  etc  which have been written over the centuries have been forgotten  and are gathering dust in  libraries across Europe , rightly or wrongly .

    But the repertoire of classical music  is not at all "ossified" as many critics and musicologists would have us believe . In fact, it is in constant flux .  There is a  "Canon" of established masterpieces which  audiences love to hear and  musicians live to perform , and which have been recorded countless times  by countless perfomers .  But new works are always being premiered , and long neglected works constantly being revived .  Only time  will tell which of  the  works premiered in recent years will  make it into that "canon ".  Most will not,  but that is true of  countless works from the past . But you can never predict when any of these might resurface .  Many  so-called "experts" do not realize that there is greater diversity of repertoire being perforned today than ever before in  the  centuries old  history of classical music .

     Some works enjoy a brief period of  popularity and then  fall into  neglect . Some  were not  widely performed at first but gradually  made  it into the canon .   But the nusic of Beethoven, to ciite only one great composer , will alway sbe with us , and will be performed as long as classical music is performed .  His music will never become dated , because it has spoken to  countless people  for about 200 years , and  has stirred ,  moved and fascinated them  from the very beginning . 

     No, we can't just stop playing Beethoven at concerts  just to make room for new music , or stop studying  and recording it for posterity any more than we can stop performing the plays of Shakespeare , Shaw, Ibsen, and other great playwrights , stop reading the novels of  Dostoyevsky,  Tolstoy, Victor Hugo and jane Austen ,  stop reading the poetry of Keats, Byron ,  and other great poets or stop  viewing the  paintings  and sculpture of  Van Gogh ,  Michelangelo  and other great artists . They are an part of  the humanity , and we  cannot and must not forget them .

     Remember - any time  an orchestra plays  an old warhorse such as Beethoven's 5th symphony, Schubert's Unfinished symphony , the familiar piano and violin concertos of Mozart, Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Schumann,  etc, there is always the chance that there will be some people in the audience, not necessarily youngsters , who have never heard these works before  . These  thrice familiar works may come as  a revelation to  these newcomers  and trigger a lifelong love of it  and the motivation to explore classical music in all its infinite diversity . 

    Also, it's impossible to achieve  understanding of the music of the present day and recent past  without adequate familiarity with the music of the past .  If the first  performace of classical  music you attend  features only  challenging music  by th elikes of the late Elliott Carter and other composers of our time ,   it will be a baffling experience . You will have no context, no frame of reference to guiide you .

     So, you grumpy and  bitter composers and critics, keep these fact in mind the next time you complain the  the orchestras  whose concerts you attend  are  still performing  the works of Beethoven  et al .  Composers - people cannot understand your music if they know nothing of the great music of the past .


Posted: Jun 10 2013, 10:30 PM by the horn | with no comments
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