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March 2015 - Posts

Happy 90th Birthday To The Great French Composer And Conductor Pierre Boulez !
  Today is the 90 th birthday of one of the most important and influential  classical musicians of  our time  , Pierre Boulez . It would be difficult to

overstate his  enormous impact on  classical music in the 20 th and early 21st centuries  , both as a composer and conductor , as well as a teacher ,

writer and theorist .  He is now  retired from conducting   and  composing  due to  failing eyesight and  physical frailty , but  the  entire vast 

world of classical music is celebrating his  birthday today . 

   Born in  Montbrison , France in 1925 , Boulez  studied  composition in  Paris with the  great  French  composer  Olivier Messiaen  at the

Paris conservatoire ,  and   became  known as  a composer of  rigorous  , highly complex  serial music  which    never pandered  to   

audiences  and    even   alienated many listeners  , as well as a champion  of   the  12 tone music of   the so-called "Second Viennese school " of 

Arnold Schoenberg , Anton Webern   and other  modern composers .  

   Boulez  became known as an Enfant Terrible of contemporary music ,   contemptuously dismissing  20 th century composers who did not meet

his    rigorous standards of  modernity , Shostakovich , for example and  once arrogantly declared that any living composer who did

not conform to   rigorous  atonal serialism  was  "irrelelvant" and "useless " , showing total disregard for  what concertgoers  expected  ,

as well as alienating many other prominent composers  . but he  continued to  produce   works which  gained  performances and  

earned the admiration of   such  musical giants as Igor Stravinsky .  Most have been works for  smallish ensembles of  diverse instruments ,

including  electronic instruments  ,  marimbas  and other  exotic  devices  , some with solo voices .  Three extremely difficult  piano sonatas ,

and  works with  such  strange titles as " The hammer without a master ",  "Pli Selon Pli " (fold on fold )  etc .

   He used the   texts of once  avant-garde French poets  for his vocal works and   these were reocrded  a mumber of times , sometimes under 

his direction .   Boulez did not originally intend to become a conductor , but felt the need to in order to   have  his intentions   best realized  .

    Boulez began to appear with  such great orchestras as  the  Cleveland orchestra ,  the London symphony and others , and in the 1970s

became principal conductor of Lndon's BBC symphony orchestra , which was sponsored by  the BBC  and  allowed him ample rehearsal  

time to achieve  performances of  the  greatest polish and precision .  He also began to conduct opera ,    appeared regularly at the
world famous Wagner festival  at Bayreuth  , leading the   controversial 1976 centennial production of Wagner's Ring  , which    brike with

traditional sets and costumes ,  and acclaimned  productions of   Berg's Wozzeck and Lulu at the Paris opera ,  and Debussy's Pelleas &

Melisande at London's Royal opera  .

   When Leonard Bernstein  stepped down as music director of the  New York  Philharmonic in 1969 ,  Boulez  took the orchestra over in  

1971 .  He was   exact opposite of the  the flamboyant , exuberant and  highly emotional  podium figure which Berbnstein was  ;

he  was   sober , restrained and   undemonstrative on the pppodium , and many  critics and listeners accused him of   being  a  coldly

analytic musician who  favored a totally cerebral  approach to  music making  .  But all acknowledged his enormous   technical  expertise  

and  fastidious attention to detail  .   

    The musicians of the New York Philharmonic  were  sometimes  exasperated by his  rigirous attention to detail in rehearsals and  insistence 

on  achieving  perfectly  in tune playing   , clarity of  texture , that is making sure that everything in a score can be clearly heard ,  which is far 

easy .  Particularly with  contemprary  works with their  enormous complexity .  

   Boulez   avoided  the   audience -pleasing  works of  Tchaikovsky , Rachmaninov and other Romantic era composers ,  with which he had no 

affinity and even  disdain for , concentrating on  music by Debussy , Ravel,  Schoenberg, Berg, Webern , Bartok, Stravinsky , Messiaen and 

20th century composers.  However , he did not  bar guest conductors  from  doing  the audience favorites .

   When he stepped down from the Philharmonic in  1977 , he moved to Paris , where  with the generous  funding of the  French government , 

he became director of a center for  avant garde music called  IRCAM  , the International center for experimentation in modern music ,  leading

musicians  who  specialized in new music as well   as experimenting with combining  electronic and acoustical instruments .  .

   Boulez maintained his relationships as guest conductor with   the Cleveland orchestra , the Chicago symphony ,  the Vienna Philharmonic

the  Berlin Philharmonic and    other great orchestras ,  but  his  activities as a conductor  limited his time to   compose .

     AS a composer ,  Boulez  began  using  Schoenberg's 12 tone techniques , but was determined to go beyond them  and achieve

even greater complexity  and  compositional rigor .  Shortly after Schoenberg's death in 1951 , he wrote  a notorious  article

called "Schoenberg is dead ", dismissing  the   great Austrian's music as no longer  sufficiently avant garde .   Music which  was once

considered outrageous in the early 20 th century was now old hat to him !

    If you are looking for  tunefulness in music , you will   never  be able to grasp  the music of Boulez .  But  it  rewards repeated listenings .

    He has also made numerous  recordings  as a conductor  for  Sony Classical  (formerly CBS  and Columbia records ) Deutsche Grammophon 

and other labels  of music by  Debussy, Ravel, Wagner,  Mahler , Schienberg ,  Webern , Bartok , Stravinsky ,Messiaen  and other  composers ,

including   operas by Wagner , Debuusy , Schienberg  ,  Berg  and  Bartok , many of which have  won awards , such as the Grammies .

   Boulez has served as a mentor to many  younger composers and conductors  who went on to achieve  world fame ; Daniel Barenboim ,  

for   example .  He is a giant of  modern music , as  uncompromising and forbidding as he may seem .  



Posted: Mar 26 2015, 03:28 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Does Classical Music Have a Diversity Problem ?
   According to conventional wisdom , the world of classical music is staid and set in its ways , and slow to change . There is some truth to this

accusation ,  but  things are still vastly different from  its past .  No longer is classical music   dominated by    white, preferably European males .  

There  are still plenty of them in the field, which is not necessarily a bad thing .  After all ,   dead white European  males  are pretty much  

what  brought  classical music into existence many centuries ago , and they have dominated the field as composers , conductors ,  

members of orchestras ,  instrumental soloists  etc .  
    But  in recent years ,  women  and  non-whites have been achieving   unprecendented prominence   in all the  fields  just mentioned . 

something which would have been unimaginable in the past .  Of course, there have been countless famous  and   beloved   female opera singers ,

as well as a fair number of  female  violinists , pianists , cellists etc .  However, there have been far more women composers   than most people

realize ,  but because of  sexism , they never achieved  the  public recognition  might have  gotten had they been male .  The sisters of  

both Mozart and Mendelssohn were  composers of  considerable talent ,  as well as  performers,  but  as women  things were  

against them .  Robert  Schumann's wife Clara was a renowned pianist who also composed , and some of her music has been recorded .  

   There are so many from the past who are now forgotten , but a surprising amount of their music has been recorded in recent years . 

But today , there are more women composer  before the public than ever before, and some of them have been widely performed .  

   Among them are  Sofia Gubaidullina of Russia , Kaaia Saariaho of Finland,  Judith Weir of England, and   Jennifer Higdon of America , to name 

only a few .  Now, it's not even news when an orchestra performs a work by a woman composer .  

   Until recently, the field of conducting was dominated bywhite  males  .  But more and more are starting to  appear with  the world's leading  

opera companies .  Marin Alsop  , a New York native and protege of  Leonard Bernstein , is the first woman to    be appointed as music director o
the Baltimore symphony , and has made recordings with them  and  achieved  considerable acclaim .  Australian  Simone Young served until

recently as music director of the Hamburg State opera , one of the most prestigious in Germany .  Susanna Malkki of Finland  is  rapidly  

achieving  international recognition  , and she has even been  touted as a long shot to become next music director of the New York Philharmonic 

when Alan  Gilbert steps down .  

   There are many others  , too many to  mention here .  50 years ago , there were very few women in  mosy of the world's top orchestras ,

but now there are plenty of them .  This began when orchestras adapted  blind auditions , with  candidates playing behind a screen , which they 

still use .

   Asian countries such as   Japan , China and  South Korea  have   been major players in classical music for many years .   Japanese conductor 

Seiji Ozawa turns 80 this year ,  Chinese superstar Lang Lang sells out audiences everywhere .  and  there are so many   others .

   Japanese , South Korean and Chinese musicians   are now common in  leading orchestras everywhere , as well as  Asian Americans /

   Young  and enormously gifted   Asian   aspiring  classical musicians  are now  filling  leading  music schools   all over America  , such as

Juilliard , the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia ,  and others .  They are actually a majority at Juilliard .  

   The renowned  Vienna Philharmonic , which  in order to preserve its traditional   sound  , has   always favored  native born  

Austrian  male musicians , has  been subject ot considerable criticism for failing to give women  and   Non-Austrians a chance   , has 

gradually begun  to   accept  some of these lately .  

    Unfortunately ,  African Americans still   make up only  about one percent of  American orchestras .  but this is not due to discrimination , but 

the fact that very few  African Americans have ever  aimed at  careers  in orchestras .  But no one is standing in  they way , and  

blind auditions  guarantee that they will not face discrimination .  There are no doubt  some  talented aspiring young  black  

instrumentalists  now , and there is no reason for  young blacks with talent  not to aim   for a career in them .  

   Opera is  the  field within classical which has produced  the most   African Americans  , and these include such legendary  

opera stars  as   Leontyne   Price , Marian Anderson , Grace Bumbry , Shirley Verret and others .to name only a few .  

Marian Anderson was the first balck  singer  to  star at the Metropolitan opera , as far back as the 1950s .

   The late Henry Lewis  was the first black conductor to appear at  the Metropolitan opera, and first  to  be music of a major  

US orchestra , the New Jersy symphony orchestra .  Marian Anderson's nephew  James De Priest , who passed  away last year ,

was an internationally acclaimed conductor who  appeared with  leading orchestras around the world  for decades . 

   Maybe the world of classical music is not quite as staid   as we've been led to believe by critics  and  commentators !


Posted: Mar 11 2015, 11:00 PM by the horn | with no comments
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The Latest News About Classical Music - Interesting Times Indeed !
  The old Chinese saying  "May you live in interesting times "  can be interpreted as a curse or something  not so negative .  These are certainly  

interesting times for classical music .  The Chinese pictogram  for  the word  crisis  consists of  the words danger and opportunity .  

   A crisis could  bring  good news as well as disaster  .  So here are some of the most important  recent stories  from the  anything but staid and boring

world of classical music .

   The billionaire  media moghul  David Geffen , who is said to be a lover of classical music , has  just donated  millions of dollars  to

Avery Fisher hall, home of the New York Philharmonic  in Lincoln  center  , to subsidize   renovation  of the  acoutically troubled   concert

hall  in the hopes   of improving  its acoustics .  This is scheduled to begin in  2019 , and   will force   America'soldest  symphony

orchestra to seek  temporary change of venue for its concerts .  No one is certain about this, but   the neighboring   David H. Koch

theater , former home of the defunct  NewYork City opera has been  proposed .  

   This is always a   dicey  move .  When   what used to be called  hilharmonic hall  , now Avery Fisher hall, opened in   1972   when the late, 

great Leonard Bernstein was music director  ,  it was considered  by all to b e an acoustical disaster .  The late  billionaire  businessman  

Avery Fisher donated money for a renovation in the mid 1970s , and   while there was definite improvement, the hall is still   

considered   to be far from the equal of  those in  Boston , Vienna and Amsterdam  , which are renowned for the way they   make

orchestras sound magnificent  .

   A new concert   in Paris has just opened  a few months ago , and   according to reports , the acoustics are excellent .  Building new

concert halls is always  a  crap shoot ;  there is no way to predict how good the acoustics will be .  For every acoustical  success in

recent years ,  many  duds have  opened .  

    London has no fewer than five  full time orchestras  , unlike New York which has  only its Pilharmonic  and  various part time ones .

But there have  been many complaints that  London , one of the world's greatest centers of classical music , does not have a single  

concert hall with  superlative acoustics , and  there are plans to build  a new one  which  will aim  to remedy this situation .  

   The acoustics of Carnegie hall  , which had  been the home of the New York   Philharmonics until the opening of  Lincold center

in the early 1960s   are considered  world class .

   The   renowned  English conductor  Sir Simon Rattle has been appointed to   become the next chief conductor of the London symphony  

orchestra in 2017  when Valery Gergiev steps down and takes over the Munich Philharmonic .  Rattle has been chief conductor of the Berlin  

Philharmonic since  2002  and   no definite  successor in Berlin has been decided on yet .  He has expressed hopes for   a first rate

new hall for London , and his  considerable influence seems to have worked .  
Posted: Mar 05 2015, 09:59 PM by the horn | with no comments
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