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July 2013 - Posts

The Bayreuth Festival Has Opened With The Usual Eurotrash Shenanigans

   The world famous Wagner festival  at the otherwise sleepy northern Bavariian town of Bayreuth  has just opened , celelbrating the bicentennial of the birth of  the mighty musical genius  Richard Wagner .  The festival has been  going on with  intermittant  hiatuses  since  1876 , several yers after  Wagner quixotically chose this modest,undistinguished   town  in order to build a  special  opera  house  there to perform his  stage works and nothing else .  After closing for the second world war , the festival opened in 1951  under the management of  Wagner's two grandsons  , Wieland and Wolfgang ,  and has  occurred every year since .

    Now Wagner's great grandduaghters  are running  it ,  and the  sets , costumes  and stagings  have changed far beyond anything  he could ever have imagined .although the music itself has not changed . The festival features a much-anticipated and even  dreaded  production of  Wagner's colossal  four part operatic  epic  "The Ring Of The Nibelungen "  directed by a controversial German  director  for the legitimate stage by the name of Frank Castorf , who had no previous experience directing operas . 

    Mix a director known for staging  wildly revisionist versions of plays  with the de rigeur  policy of  revisionist  stagings of the Wagner canon at Bayreuth  , and  something outrageous  is  inevitable .  Of course, such  revisionist Eurotrash productions of opera are the norm all over Europe and to a lesser extrent in America .  Perversely, it would be sacrilege to  do a production which actually  presented what Wagner had in mind , a mythical teutonic  world of  Germanic and Scandinavian gods, godesses,  superheroes, water nixies, valkyries, dwarves who live inside the earth , giants ,  and assorted magical parapernalia . 

     What do we get in the new  production at Bayreuth ?   Well, for one thing, it's set mostly in America among  ruthless oil dealers  , and the nixies of the Rhine are hookers hanging around a  sleazy motel  out west .   And instead of the mighty Rhine, they're in a swimming pool ! ! !   A photo of one of the sets reveals a hiideously ugly  communist equivalent of  Mount Rushmore ,  with Karl Marx , Stalin, Mao Zedong and  Fidel Castro !   Marx was an almost exact contemporary of Wagner ,and the two died in the same year ,1883 , but  Mao was born ten years later .  Wotan, ruler of the gods , is a greedy oil tycoon ! Sheesh !  

      Wagner isn't spinning in his grave , he's shooting out of it  like a rocket !  The last  productions to present the Ring in a manner Wagner would have recognized as  what he conceived have been at the Metropolitan opera ;  one dating from the 1980s and which was  disliked by many critics but very popular with audiences  , and  the current and highly controversial one which uses a  massive unit set of metal planks which  constantly move around the stage  combined with  complex and sophisticated computer -generated lighting  effects . 

     Criitical reaction so far ,both in Europe and America has been  reserved but not  angry .  You can read a review of  the opening  night  of "Das Rheingold ", the first part of the tetralogy ,in  the New York Times by going to their website .  It will  probbly come out on DVD soon . But a better  bet is to get  the DVDs of  both Met productions  , available from Deutsche Grammophon records , complete with English subtitles , which will be a great help to you in  comprehending this  vast and  awesome  work .  If you would actually like to  go  to Bayreuth , be warned that there is a ten year waiting period for tickets !  It's easier to get an audience with the Pope !   There are opera tours  which  go to Bayreuth and  which have specially reserved tickets, but these are very expensive .

Posted: Jul 30 2013, 10:30 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Rich And Varied Offerings At This Summer's Classical Music Festivals

  Classical music festivals all over Europe, America and elsewhere  are getting started now , and  the rich and varied offerings prove that Classical Music is very much  alive and kicking despite  the  gloom and doom reports and the  numerous orchestras and opera companies wordlwide which  have either folded or are at imminent risking of doing so . 

    There is classical music for all tastes . Old music , new music ,  beloved staples of the repertoire and  revivals of  long neglected but intriguing works of all kinds , operatic , orchestral , chamber music , you name it .  As usual , many of the world's foremost conductors , instrumentalists and opera singers  will be  there , as well as the world's greatest orchestras . 

    In every corner of Europe  and America .  In Europe ,  there are the grand ,venerable and long established  festivals  such as  those in Mozart's birthplace  Salzburg in Austria , the  Wagner festival at Bayreuth ,Germany , this year celelbrating the 200th anniversary of the birth of Wagner ,  the opera festival  at the  elegant country estate in Glyndebourne ,  England ,  as well as  ones in such great Europeans cities as Vienna, Berlin, Munich , Amsterdam ,  Paris , Munich , Aix-En-Provence in the south of  France ,  Dresden ,  Moscow, St. Petersburg ,  Graz, Austria, and many other locations .

    In America , there are the great Tanglewood festival in  rural Massachusetts, longtime Summer home of the Boston symphony orchestra , the Aspen festival in Colorado ,  the Blossom festival in Ohio, Summer home of the Cleveland orchestra , the Ravinia festival outside of Chicago , Summer home of the Chicago symphony orchestra ,  the Hollwood bowl in Los Angeles  with its resident orchestra the Los Angeles Philharmonic ,  the Ojaj  festival of contemporary music in California ,  the Summer opera festival in Cincinnati ,  the opera Festival at Santa Fe New Mexico  with its unique  open air opera house , and many,many others .

    The annual festival at Bard college just north of New York city is the Summer home of Leon Botstein's  American symphony orchestra , and will present  the  U.S. premiere of  the obscure but great Russian opera "The Oresteia " by  Sergei Taneyev (1856-1915 ) ,part of it songoing series of  revivals of  important but long neglected operas , and the Glimmerglass opera festival in upstate New York will also present  interesting operatic rarities . 

     The ever popular Mostly Mozart  festival will  present  a wide variety of works by Mozart and his contemporaries with its festival orchestra made up of some of New York's finest freelance musicians .  For information , simply go to the websites of any of these  festivals  by googling them ,  and the New York Times also offers  listing of these events .  The Summer classical music festival scene is an embarassment of riches !

Posted: Jul 08 2013, 10:50 PM by the horn | with no comments
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The Strange Career Of Legendary Conductor Carlos Kleiber (1930-2004 )

 Today would have been the 84th birthday of the great conductor Carlos Kleiber , the son of another great conductor , Austrian  Erich Kleiber (1890-1956) .  He was born in Berlin in 1930 when his father Erich was music director of the Berlin State opera ,but grew up in Buenos Aires  Argentina because  his father had  taken over  as chief conductor of the  remowned  Teatro Colon opera house there  after  leaving  Europe to  escape  the Nazi regime in Germany and Austria which he detested . 

     Carlos  showed  marked musical talent in his youth , but his father  was  opposed to his son  becoming a conductor initially , so  the younger Kleiber  studied Chemistry in Zurich . But  he managed to  work his way up  through the ranks of various German opera houses as a rehearsal pianist and  coach to singers , and  his career as a conductor  began after his father died in 1956 . 

    Carlos never  wanted to become music director of  a major opera house or  orchestra because he  wanted to be free to  conduct  on a free lance basis , without the onerous tasks of  dealing with  the administration of these organizations .  The great Herbert von karajan  wanted Kleiber to  be his successor  as  principal conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic ,  and although he  had great admiration for the elder maestro , he  declined  this great honor  and  Claudio Abbado, who cellebrated his 80th birthday last week , took over  in 1989  when Karajan  passed away at the age of 81 . 

     Kleiber was a regular with the opera companies of   Stuttgart and Dusseldorf  in Germany  , and later with the prestigious Bavarian State opera in Munich  ,  and his fame grew all over Europe  .  His first recording  , and one of the   commerical ones he made  was for Deutsche Grammophon records  in the early 1970s :   Carl Maria von Weber's renowned opera "Der Freischutrz  " (the free shooter) , with  the great  Dresden State orhestra  , then in East Germany  and a cast of leading German  opera singers , and  is still considered the finest recording of  the opera by many critics and fans .

    The only other  commercial recordings Kleiber made were  acclaimed ones of  the 5th and 7th symphonies  of Beethoven , the Brahms 4th  and  Schubert's "Unfinished  " symphony and  3rd ,  Verdi's La Traviata  and Die Fledermaus of Johann Strauss  with  the Bavarian State opera , and Wagner's Tristan & Isolde , again with the Dresden State opera  , all for  Deutsche Grammophon , and for EMI records, the Dvorak piano concerto with the great Russian pianist  Sviatoslav Richter .  There is a live recording on  Sony Classical  of  a Johann Strauss New Year's day concert with the Vienna Philharmonic .

     Kleiber became known as a quirky  personality  who  conducted rarely and only when  he found the rehearsal conditions right  . He demanded  much more  rehearsal time than  was normally granted for conductors  even though he was conducting works  which the orchestral musicians and opera singers had perfomed  numerous times  .  All the world's foremost orchestras and opera companies  vied for his  presence on the podium  , but  he was very particular about  when and where he would conduct  . 

     He also became notorious for cancelling  conducting engagements  if  he became displeased with anything  , such as  not having enough rehearsal time , not having the same musicians in the orchestra for every rehearsal and performance of a particular opera etc.  Each Kleiber performance became ot be a gala event .  He appeared  sporadicaly with the Bavarian State opera in Munich , the Vienna State opera, La Scala Milan ,  the Royla opera in London ,  finally making his long-awaited debut at the Metropolitna opera in  1088 , where he  conducted performances of  La Traviata, La Boheme,  and Der Rosenkavalier  in the course of three seasons .  He also  conducted the Chicago symphony  on a few occaisions . These were his only  appearances in America . 

     Unlike his father Erich ,  Carlos restricted himself to  a  very small  repertoire  of  orchestral works and operas .  His operatic repertoire consisted of  basically , such  repertoire staples as Carmen, La Traviata, Otello ,  La Boheme, Tristan &Isolde, which he conducted  with great acclaim at Bayreuth for several seasons , Der Rosenkavalier  and  on  a few occaisions  Elektra by Richard Strauss , plus  orchestral favorites by Beethoven, Schubert , and Brahms .  He was certainly familiar with a much wider  range of works, but for some reason he could not bring himself to  conduct a wider repertoire, which is our loss .

     Carlos Kleiber's performances were rneowned for  their brilliance and  apparent improvisatory freedom  and spontaneity  despite the lavish reharsal time he demanded , and  rarely received a negative  review ,unlike most  prominent conductors . 

    There are a number of pirated recordings on smaller  record labels of  his performances , but  they do not have the luxury of  the first-rate sonics of  Deutsche grammophon, and  some  of his performances can also  be seen on DVD , such as Der Rosenkavalier and Carmen .  Kleiber lived a quiet and modest life in his Munich home  with his Slovenian wife and two children  and pretty muhc avoided the limelight . 

    By the late 1990s  he conducted  less and less , finally succumbing to cancer in 2004 .  All in all, Kleiber  conducted  far fewer performances in his career than  most leading conductors , who are usually constantly on the road , or  preoccupied with  a particular  orchestra or opera house .  Orchestral musicians and  opera singers adored him  , but rarely had the chance to work with him .  There are several interesting documentaries about  this strange and fascinating maestro which you can se eon youtube .  Deutsche Grammophon recently issued a  box set of  all the recordings  he made for them .  Carlos Kleiber was a one of a kind maestro . 




Posted: Jul 03 2013, 04:13 PM by the horn | with no comments
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