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February 2015 - Posts

So Classical Music Is "In Decline " Again . Ho Hum .
  If you go to facebook discussions , classical music forums, articles on the internet  and other  websites where classical music is discussed  and

argued about ,  something which I as a classical musician naturally do every day ,  you can't help notice  people who are  either  performers,

critics ,  scholars , teachers and   others who are merely knowledgable listeners  who are always longing  for the "good old days"

of classical music , centuries or merely decades ago , when  everything was so much better than the  present day ; I just encountered

several  in the past few days  . 

   If you believe these individuals ,  everything was so much better in the world of classical music long ago ;  most music was new , rather than

today's supposed concentration on music from the past, and a tiny fraction of it at that , when  conductors  were so much better than

those of today , ditto orchestras ,  violinists , cellists and other instrumental soloists , when   orchestras supposedly had "distinctive  sounnds"

rather than the way they supposedly "all sound alike" today , when  standards of opera singing were so much higher ,  and when   musicians   

didn't all perform the same music the same way and performers had   "real personality " and individuality ", as opposed to   the "cookie  

cutter" musicians of  today who are all so"  timid and pednatically literal ".  
    But in fact, there is no lack of new music today , and the classical repertoire is actually more DIVERSE than ever before .

   Longing for the "golden age" is  nothing new and can be found in all fields of human endeavor .  The ancient Romans  had a term for  

someone who is always  knocking the present  and longing for the "good old days ".  The    Laudator Temporis Acti",  or   one who  praises

bygone days .   Classical music has been full of these "laudators "  for  as long as I can remember reading  about it  ; books,  

magazine articles ,  etc , and now  the internet .  And I've been a classical music freak for nearly 50   years since I was a teenager !

   I recently read an interesting article by an English musicologist  which someone posted  on facebook the other day , claiming   that 

we   "don't perform classical music the right way " , based on  research ,  historical recordings ,  writings etc .  

   According to this  scholar ,  classical concerts have become  rigid and formalized ;  audiences were much more  relaxed  and casual at  

concerts , and  musicians  didn't care about  techincal perfection  and  avoided the pedantic literalism of interpretation which has become t

the norm today .  Cincerts were fun  and festive !   Musicians took risks and   took  interpretive liberties   which are frowned upon today .  

   I've read numerous articles like  in recent years . There may be some truth to it, but    based on my decades of listeing experience to  both 

recordings and live   performances, and  countless   reviews by critics in newspapers, magazines  and now the internet ,  as well  as  books,

maintain that reports of   the supposed  "pedantic literalism "  and "lack of individuality in interpretation " have been   greatly exaggerated . 

   Why ?   Because I've read countless   reviews of live performances and  recordings in my day in which   critics   mercilessly

lambasted   msuicians for all the liberties they took with the music . !

    Something just doesn't add up here .  There's a huge paradox, and a double standard .   If   musicians today are so "pedantically literal ",  

why have I read so many  negative reviews   in which the critics  accused them of  all manner of interpetive excesses , mannerisms  

and other  quirks which  they PRAISE in old recordings by legendary musicians of the past ?  

    The  legendary  piano virtuoso Vladimir Horowowitz, (1903-1989 ) for example, is extolled for his  interpetive flair, imagination ,  panache

and individuality . But one of today's most prominent  piano virtuosos,  Lang Lang of China ,  who      is perhaps

 the  most renowned    of today's classical pianists , is always  being sneered at for his alleged  "lack of seriousness and depth ,

superficial  technical display at the expense of   interpretive profundity  and   shameless  exhibitionism "  . Talk about a  double

standard .  Horowitz can do anything with the music he wants and critics rave  , but  Lang Lang  shows his own flair and   

individuality , and the critics   blast him  and refuse to acknowledge him as a serious musical  artist .   There are many,many

other examples of critics applying this double standard  with other musicians of the present day .

   Horowitz is held up as a paragon   of pianists  , yet   Lang Lang is cynically  used as an excuse to  make sweeping generalizations about  

how  standards of    musicianship have supposedly declined   from the idealized past .  

    There have been similar  brickbats   handed out to to the brillianitly gifted Venuzuelan-born conductor   Fustavo Dudmel,  now in his

early 30s like  Lang Lang , and who in the past decade or so has  risen quickly  into the foremost ranks of   today'  conductors 

and is now music director of the prestigious Los Angeles Philharmonic .  Dudamel is the most famous product of  Venuzuela's

now famous "El Sistema", which has  given so many poor youngsters in that  country  a chance to learn musical instuments and  

play in numerous youth orchestras .  

   Dudamel is  enormously gifted, charismatic ,  and   bursting with enthusiasm  . But he's no mere  flashy   podium glamor boy .

He's the genuine article ; a conductor  who has the  potential to become one of the greatest  conductors in a field where  conductors

often do not reach   until long past youth , and   elderly maestros who are still active are not at all uncommon .  

    But there has been plenty of   critical flack  , not necessarily nasty , but  dismissing him   as   possibly haven risen  to  

prominence before reaching maturity as a musician .  

    To be a prominet classical musician today often means being damned if you do and damned if you don't .   It's a no

win situation ,   because of   those annoying Laudators Temporis Acti , or however  the Latin plural  goes .   I don't think

I got the plural right, but you get my point .  

    But you can be sure that  decades from now, when  today's leading classical musicians  are either dead or   too elderly to  

perform any more,   people will be longing for the good old days of  Lang Lang and   Gustavo Dudamel, and their contemporaries 

of the present day . The more things change, the more they stay the same .

Posted: Feb 25 2015, 10:43 PM by the horn | with no comments
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The Metropolitan Opera Has Just Announced Its 2015 -16 Season - There's Lots To Look Forward To !
  The Metropolitan Opera's 2015 - 16 season  will  offer its usual  varied  operatic fare with the world's greatest singers , conductors  , directors

and designers .  The overall repertoire looks somewhat more conservative than usual , with no new or recent operas , but it's far  from

uninteresting .  There is less emphasis on 20th century operanext season than in the past several years also .  

   The veteran and beloved James Levine remains the Met's music director despite severe back trouble and other ailments which have 

sidelined him  for the past several years .  But the good news is that his health seems to have   improved considerably, even if he  is forced

to   use a motorized wheelchai  in order to conduct .  

    There will be six new productions  and a variety of  other  productions , some new this season .  Verdi's great  Otello , based  on  

Shakespeare's Othello will be the first new production and will open the season this September 21 st .  Many consider this to be  one of

the greatest of  Italian operas , and it's   gripping adaption of the Shakespeare play .  The Latvian tenor  Alexanders Antnenko will  sing

the  title role , and the brilliant young  French -Canadian  conductor Yannick Nezet-Seguin , currently music director of the Philadelphia 

orchestra , will conduct . 

   "Elektra" , a harrowing  tale of  the  vengeful  Greek   Greek princess Elektra , daughter of  King Agamemnon of Trojan war fame  , will be

a recent European-based  production by the late French opera director Patrick Chereau , and will be conducted by the renowned  

Finnish  conductor and composer Esa-Pekka Salonen, currently composer in residence at the New York Philharmonic .  The opera is not for the 

faint-hearted , but you'll never forget it !

   The 19th century French composer Georges Bizet is best known for his world famous opera   Carmen , but the Met is reviving  a much

less familiar opera of his after exactly 100 years !   It's "Les Pecheurs des Perles "  (The Pearl Fishers ), an exotic tale of love and rivalrly

set in what is now   Sri Lanka , formerly Ceylon .    Anyone who enjoys  Carmen should like this a lot .  

   "Roberto Devereaux " , by Gaetano Donizetti , is the completion of  the trilogy of  historical operas by the Italian composer

about Queen Elisabeth the first and her loves and rivalries .  The other two , which will also be in the Met repertoire next season ,

are "Anna Bolena" (Anne Boelyn) and "Maria Stuarda ", about Mary Stuart .  The late  ,great Beverly Sills gave acclaimed performances of

these  operas with the now unfortunately defunct New York City opera many years ago .    The operas play fast and loose with the  

historical facts but are so enjoyable  it doesn't matter .  

    Puccini's "Manon Lescaut  "  was   the composer's first  successful  opera , and is basically the same story  as the slightly earlier French 

opera by Jules Massenet called simply Manon .  It's the story of a naive young French girl from the provinces who meets a dashing but

impecunious young nobleman  while  on the way to a convent  and falls madly in love with him, with ultimately  fatal results .

Finally , there is a new production of the   strange and kinky opera "Lulu " by the Austrian composer  Alban Berg , a pupil of Schoenberg  .  

The music is 12-tone  but highly expressive . It's the bizarre story of an enigmatic young woman and Femme Fatale  wo marries  at least

three men in the course of the opera , each of whom dies in mysterious circumstances .  In the last act, which was left uncompleted

by Berg at his untimely death but fisished by another composer many years later from the sketches , Lulu has become a  prostitute

in London and is killed by none other than Jack the Ripper .  The opera is decadent fun  and qite approachable despite its atonality .

   Other  beoved operatic masterpieces in the repertoire next year will include Puccini's evergreen "La Boheme ",  the thundering  

melodrama "Tosca", and  the exotic "Turandot ", set in ancient China ,also by Puccini .  

   Verdi's  melodramatic "Il Trovatore ", hilariously pillaried by the Marx brother in the classic comedy "A Night at the Opera ",

and his sombre  tragedy  "Simon Boccanegra", set in medieval  Genoa  ,  will  return  .   Placido Domingo , ,who has lately been singing baritone

roles in his 70s , will portray the  doomed Doge of Genoa .

   Rossini;s  Scottish opera :La Donna Del Lago :(the lady of the lake)  which had its  Met premiere just last night , will return ,

as well as Donizetti's  charming bucolic   comedy "L'Elisir D'Amore " (The elixir of love ).

    Wagner's "Tannhauser " , the tale of  a medieval German troubador  caught between his chaste love of  a virtuous  young

noblewoman and the  wanton  erotic goddess Venus , who keeps a  lair in the German forest where she lures men , and goes off  

to Rome to seek forgivemess from the Pope, will  represent the German wing of the repertoire .  

    Even if you don't live anywhere near  New York city , you can still experience Met performances live  at movie theaters around the

country for much less than   a  good ticket would cost , as well as listen to the Saturday afternoon  radio broadcasts  which can be heard

all over America .  You can stream live performances on your computer, too  .  
   If you're planning to visit New York  and have  and have some free time ,  you can easily contact the Met's   website for information about tickets .  There are alos plenty of DVDs of Met performances  from the past available  .

   Attending a Met performance is a real treat !   There's absolutely nothing "stuffy or "elitist" about it .  You can dress casually  

and the audience   has no hoity-toity rich people dressed to the nines  attending for snobbish reasons .  The Met audience  is

made up of  people who are opera fans  who are just as passionate  about opera as sports fans are about their home team !

   And don't worry about foreign languages .  You'll find a device on the seat in front of you  with an English translation of the opera .

You can turn it off if you don't want it .  But I definitely recommend it if you're new to opera . 


Posted: Feb 18 2015, 10:59 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Youtube Is A Veritable Goldmine Of Classical Music !
   In addition to being a place where you can see videos about  news ,politics ,science,   religion  and virtually any subject in existence ,  as well as  
pop music , Rock music , Jazz and what have you ,  Youtube is a  fantastic way to  experience classical music in all its endless varity .

   You can hear recordings of music by virtually any composer  of any period or nationality , ranging from  ancient works written over four or

five   centuries ago to  recent works by contemporary composers .  It's all there   for you to experience at the click of a mouse !

   There are also live concerts and opera performances , or  individual  pieces from concerts and excerpts from live opera performances .

Just put the name of any composer or perfoming musician on the   youtube search engine and  you can  hear virtually anything you want !

   If you want to hear recordings by such legendary musicians as Leonard Bernstein ,  Luciano Pavarotti , , Maria Callas ,  Aerhur  

Runinstein , Vladimir Horowitz ,  Jascha Heifetz , Mstislav Rostropovich , Pablo Casals ,   Leopold Stokowski and others , their

recordings and in some cases live performances are right at your fingertips .

    You can also see   complete live performances of a wide variety of operas taken from such great opera houses as the Metropolitan opera ,

La Scala ,Milan, the Royal opera of  London , the Paris opera ,  the Berlin State opera , the Vienna State opera , the Bayreuth Wagner festival  

the Bavarian State opera in Munich , and elsewhere .  You can hear  legendary singers from the past such as Enrico Caruso ,  

Feodor Chaliapin ,  Rosa Ponselle ,  Kirsten Flagstad ,Lauritz Melchior and others sing arias and  other operatic excerpts on old recordings .

   You can also sinteresting documentaries on such great composers as Wagner, Verdi , Beethoven and others .  

Many of the world's greatest orchestras, such as the Berlin Philharmonic, the London symphony , the Royal concertgebouw orchestra of

Amsterdam , the Boston symphony and the New York Philharmonic  and others have their own youtube channels .

   Each video usually shows the performers of the recording , conductor, orchestra , record label etc, so if you hear a recording you  

really like , you can  get it from or other websites .  The sound may not be quite as good as on  a CD you purchase, ,

but it's good enough .

   Some of the classical music channels you can subscribe to on youtube are  Addio BelPassato ,  Composer Corner ,  Goodman Musica, Il 

Gruppo Di Docci , Unsung Masterworks ,  Classical Vault , 1 or 2 ,  IN Contrario Motu , to  name only a few .

   You can also e mail these performances to   anyone or send them to facebook or twitter .  If you register with youtube, you can leave

comments on any  video on the site unless  youssee the comments are closed sign . You will also receive replies to your comments .  

   Well, what are you waiting for ?  

Posted: Feb 16 2015, 10:59 PM by the horn | with no comments
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The Marginalization Of Classical Recordings At The Grammy Awards
  I didn't see last Sunday's Grammy Awards on television last Sunday as I was busy with other matters .  But as a classical musician I'm always

curious to  find out the winners in the classical recordings category .  Among these were a recent CD of  the atmospheric orchestral piece 

"City Noir "  , which  evokes the dark and seemy film noir underworld of  Los Angeles , with David Robertson and  the St Louis  

symphony , and "Become Ocean ,  " by John Luther Adams (no relation ) , which seeks to  portray a world   in which global warming has caused

sea levels to cover the earth , with Ludovic Morlot and the Seattle symphony .  

    The venerable if  highly controversial French  composer and conductor  Pierre Boulez, who turns 90 in March and who has won a number 

of Grammy awards , received a lifetime achievement award  for his  long and distinguished career .

   But unfortunately , these classical Grammy awards rceived short shrift   on television .  They apparently did not even appear  on the show

as they had  many times in the past and were announced  off air before the show .  The days when  the classical awards actually  

appeared on the show and were announced by  renowned classical musicians seem to be gone .  This appears to be  part of the  

overall marginalization of classical music in America .  Decades ago , renowned classical musicians such as Leonard Bernstein and others

actually appeared on the cover of  Time magazine ; today , this would be extremely unlikely .  
   How and why did this happen ?  There are no clear cut answers .  Those in charge in the Grammy awards  and television executives  

seem to think that classical music just doesn't sell in America .  Is there any way to reverse this  pernicious trend  and   make classical

music more visible to the overall public in America ?  Who knows ? But we've got to hope so .  


Posted: Feb 12 2015, 10:14 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Alan Gilbert To Step Down As Music Director Of The New York Philharmonic In 2017 .
   The world of classical music was stunned by a bombshell this morning when the New York Philharmonic announced that its current  music 

director Alan Gilbert  , 47  , will leave his prestigious but extremely demanding position as its music director at the end of the 2016-17 season .

    Gilbert began his tenure with the orchestra in 2009 ,  after  some years at the head of the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic in Sweden and  

the  Santa Fe  Summer opera festival in New Mexico , as well as conducting  many of  the foremost orchestras  of Europe and America as

guest .  

   The Juilliard trained Gilbert is the son of two violinists in the orchestra , his Japanese born mother still being a member .  He  came to

the orchestra  to succeed the late Lorin Maazel  , who passed away last year at the age of 84 .  Gilbert was something of a dark  horse  

in the search for a conductor to  take over after Maazel ;  he had already had a distinguished conducting career but was  not as high profile

as  many of the potential candidates .

   The Philharmonic  administration hoped he would bring   youthful brilliance and   innovative programming to the orchestra  , which had  

however already  played a wide variety of new music  under previous music directors and guest conductors  over the years .  

Gilbert proved to be a staunch champion of new music by a wide variety of contemporary composers  of varying nationalities and  

compositional styles ,  In addition , he championed works by lesser known but  outstanding composers .  

   Gilbert initiated bold projects such as a concert performance of  the phantasmagorical surrealistic opera "Le Grande Macabre ",  by the

late Hungarian composer  Gyorgy Ligeti and concerts of unusual repertoire at the Armory in Manhattan  .  There was also a  musical

Biennale  , a festival of contemporary music  comparable to the Biennales for art in Venice , to name only some of the  adventurous  

projects initiated by Gilbert .  Of course, the orchestra continued to perform the beloved staples of the orchestral repertoire by Haydn, Mozart,  

Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky  and Rachmaninov  et al .   But no one could accuse the orchestra of  sticking exclusively  to the

tried and true .  

    Critical reaction to  Gilbert's performances  has been  favorable on the whole, but  there  were always  musical snipers  who complained

about this or that ,  finding fault with his performances for this or that reason . This comes with the job in any major orchestra .

    Being music director of the New York Philharmonic is probably one of the most thankless jobs in classical music .  

Eminent conductors such as Leonard Bernstein , Pierre Boulez ,  Zubin Mehta,  Kurt Masur , Lorin Maazel and others have   been

subject to  constant critical drubbing for this or that reason .  Interpretive style,  choice of repertoire , you name it .

It's impossible to please everyone .  

    In just one day , there has already been considerable speculation on  on possible conductors to  replace Gilbert .  It won't be an

easy task by any means , and never is with a major orchestra .  Some conductors  might be a good choice , but have taken up other prestigious

posts with other orchestras , and it;s unrealistic to expect them to be lured to New York so  early into there tenures elsewhere .  

   Other conductors might  be either too old  to  have the vigor to take up such a great responsibility so late in their careers, and others

are too young and inexperienced , as talented as they   are . Thre has even been talk about appointing  a woman conductor, 

which would be unprecedented for one of the so-called "big five " orchestras in America (New York, Chicago, Philadelphia,

Boston , Cleveland ).  

   And of course, it must not be a conductor who has never appeared as guest , because  this would be like  getting married to

someone you had never met .  The orchestra will not stand for a conductor it does not like and respect musically .  

    Gilbert has decided to step down before the  scheduled renovation of Avery Fisher hall in Lincoln Center, formerly known

as Philharmonic hall , which has  been  plagued by  problematic acoustics since its opening in 1962 .  This is tentatively scheduled to begin in

2018 , and the Philharmonic will have to find temporary residence somewhere else in New York .  

    There is no way to know now who the next music director will be . But the search will be as interesting as it is difficult .  Let's all hope for the 

best . 

Posted: Feb 06 2015, 11:03 PM by the horn | with no comments
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What's So Special About The String Quartet ?
   A kind of musical mystique surrounds  the chamber ensemble known as the string quartet - two violins, one viola, a cello .  It's one of the most 

rarified and  esoteric  genres of classical music , not something as immediately  appealing and colorful  as opera or orchestral music  ,

but something which  is highly rewarding to listen to if you give it a chance .  

   Of course, there are various other combinations of instruments in chamber music , such as  the piano trio , consisting of violin, cello and piano ,

quintets with a string quartet and a piano , etc , woodwind quintets, consisting of a flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and french horn ,

brass quintets , consisting of two trumpets , one horn,  two trombones , or one trombone and a tuba , and various miscellaneous ensembles

mixing strings, woodwinds and brass , amd   others .  But for some reason, the string quartet has been one of the most prestigious

musical   genres , and  many of the   greatest composers have written them , including Haydn, founder of the form ,  Mozart,  

Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms , Dvorak , Tchaikovsky ,  Mendelssohm , Smetana ,  Bela Bartok,  Shostakovich ,  Charles Ives ,  

Elliott Carter ,  and others have written memorable ones .  

   Haydn wrote about 80 of them ,  , and Beethoven 16 .   These, particularly the late ones, are considered to be some of Beethoven's most 

personal and profound works .  A symphony  might be said to reflect a composer's public  proclamations, but a string quartet is reserved  for his

most   intimate and   private thoughts .   

    In the 18th and early 19th centuries , the structure   of a typical string quartet is very similar to that of a symphony ; four movements ,

sometimes with a slow introduction to a relatively lively first movement in sonata form , a dignified slow movement  , a lively minuet for the 3, 

and a vivacious finale which is also in sonata form .  

   Beethoven, in the sublime and rather enigmatic late quartets he wrote not too long before his death in 1827 , experimented with   unorthodox  

structures, such as his radical  14th which consists of seven movements played without a break .  

   Some of the most notable string quartets of the 19th century are those byBrahms , Dvorak ,  Thaikovsky ,  the Belgian Cesar Franck ,

and the Czech Bedrich Smetama, best known for his comic opera  "The Bartred Bride ".  

   Yje 20th century is particularly rich in string quartets , some of the most notable being the six of the great Hungarian  Bela Bartok 

(1881 - 1945) , and the 15 of  Dmitri Shostakovich .  Those of Bartok  are steeped in the influence of  the folk music of  Bartok's native

Humgar  They are highly pungent and   spiky harmonically ,  though not unpleasant, and may take repeated hearings to  grasp .

    Those of Shostakovich   are brooding   commentaries on  the grim life inside the formewr Soviet Union and  the horrors of  the senond

world war .  They are extremely intense and  even harrowing at   times .

    IN America ,  the late Elliott Carter  (908 - 2012 )  wrote five highly complex and abstract quartets which are  truly challenging to the 

listener and definitely not for newcomers to classical music .  They are some of the most thorny and uncompromising music   you will

ever hear .  

    Among the most famous string quartet ensembles ,  active and  defunct are the Emerson quartet ,  the Juilliard quartet,consisting  of

string faculty members of the Juilliard faculty , the Budapest quartet ,  the Amadeus quartet ,  the Tokyo quartet,  

theGuarnieri quartet ,  to name only  some .  There is a welath of recordings of   string quartet repertoire on CD , and a good place

to order them online is, which specializes in classical CDs and DVDs and has a fantastic selection  overall  .    
Posted: Feb 02 2015, 09:58 PM by the horn | with no comments
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