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May 2016 - Posts

"My Life With Wagner " , by German Conductor Christian Thielemann - A Fascinating Book
  I've just read an absorbing new book by the distinguished German conductor  Christian Thielemann ( Tee-leh-mahn )  , who is currently chief conductor of the  renowned Saxon State opera of Dresden and its equally renowned  resident orchestra, the Staatskapelle, Dresden .  "My Life With Wagner " is the story  of  a lifelong devotion to the music of  Richard Wagner , the most controversial  composer in the history of classical music and opera .  Born in Berlin in 1959 ,  Christian Thielemann  grew up there as the son of musical parents who took him to opera performances  and concerts of the world famous Berlin Philharmonic when he was still a child  and who encouraged his study of music  .  Young Christian became fascinated with the music of Wagner from an early age while  also diligently studying the music of other great composers such as Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and others .  
   He became an accomplished pianist as a teenager and also studied the viola .  But he aspired to become a conductor , and his talents brought him to the attention of no less than the legendary Austrianmaestro Herbert Von Karajan ,  the powerful  and influential chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic , who took him under his wing  and made him an assistant . Karajan was also a world famous  Wagner conductor  and this opened doors to  the talented and ambitious young Berliner .  But he took the traditional path toward becoming a conductor in Germany , working as a rehearsal pianist and assistant conductor in the opera companies of the smaller German cities and working his way up  toward  leading larger opera companies  as well as conducting  orchestral concerts  allover Germany and Europe .   Soon he made his debut at the legendary Wagner festival at Bayreuth , Germany , conducting  most of the 10 extant  Wagner operas which are performed there every Summer . 
   By the 1990s he  had become music director of the German Opera in Berlin,  the opera company of what used to be West Berlin , the one in East Berlin being the Berlin State opera .  He then  became chief conductor of the Munich Philharmonic ,  and was appearing regularly with the Vienna Philharmonic  and other prestigious European orchestras, as well as making U.S.  debut  leading  the top American orchestras and making his Metropolitan opera debut .  Thielemann became renowned as one of the most important interpreters of the great German masters such as Beethoven, Brahms, Bruckner , Richard Strauss, and of course, Wagner , without neglecting  new music altogether as well as conducting  music by non-german composers everywhere .  
    Thielemann began to make recordings for the prestigious Deutsche Gramophone record label of the symphonies of Beethoven, Bruckner , Schumann  and the orchestral works Richard Strauss with the Vienna Philharmonic , the Philharmonia orchestra of London ,  and the Munich Philharmonic .
    His  performances of Wagner's monumental " were   Ring of the Nibelungen " at Bayreuth were issued both on CD and DVD .  Thielemann came to be seen as the successor to Karajan  as  a  master interpreter of the great German and Austrian composers , although he was passed over by  the Berlin Philharmonic to  become chief conductor  there recently to succeed the  renowned English conductor Sir Simon Rattle  , losing out to the surprise  choice, the Russian Kiril  Petrenko .  One reason  appears to have been his  relatively limited repertoire  .   Rattle  has a very wide repertoire  and has always been a staunch champion on contemporary music .  However,  Thielemann  retains his highly prestigious position in Dresden  , where he  has conducted both opera and orchestral concerts with enormous success as well as  touring internationally his Dresden forces .  
    "My life With Wagner "  contains a wealth of fascinating information about  Thielemann's formation as a conductor  as well as his penetrating  comments  on Wagner and his immortal operas .  You learn what it is  like to conduct  Wagner operas in the theater , which is a task of daunting  complexity  and  formidable challenges both technical and interpretive .  The maestro's description of what it is like to conduct in the famous sunken orchestra pit at  the Bayreuth festival opera house , out of sigh of the audience  and visible only to the singers , which is no easy task , is fascinating . This is unlike the orchestra put of any other opera house and  makes it very difficult  for the conductor to keep  everything together . However,  the acoustics of the famous  festival theater are world famous  for their sonic splendor  , and the sunken orchestra, with the powerful brass instruments  17 feet beneath the stage make it impossible for the orchestra to drown the singers out , which is  something very difficult to avoid in other   opera houses with Wagner's large and   powerful orchestra  .  
    Thielemann  learned  so much from the advice and influence of  Karajan  and other leading  Austrian and German conductors  and observing them in action  at rehearsals and performances .  For those who may not be very familiar with the great Wagner operas, Thielemann provides  the synopses  of the operas and  describes how Wagner composed them  and how  the works are  constructed both musically and dramatically . Wagner wrote the librettos of all his operas , unlike most other opera composers .  
    The book is published by Pegasus books and  I cannot recommend it too highly .

Posted: May 30 2016, 10:04 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Dutch Conductor Jaap Van Zweden - How will He Fare as the Next Music Director Of The New York Philharmonic ?
  A few months ago , the highly respected Dutch conductor Jaap Van Zweden (Yaap Fan Zvay-den ) 55, was appointed to be the next music director of the New York Philharmonic , where he will succeed  the American Alan Gilbert in 2018 .  Van Zweden is currently music director of the excellent Dallas symphony orchestra and the Hong Kong Philharmonic , and has been making quite a name for himself with leading orchestras of Europe and  America as a guest conductor ; he has appeared with considerable success with the New York Philharmonic several times and was one of several eminent conductors under consideration to succeed Gilbert when he steps down .  
   One of them was the distinguished Finnish conductor and composer Esa-Pekka Salonen, who is currently the orchestra's composer in residence, but he declined the job because he wants to have enough time to concentrate on composing as well as
conducting .  The orchestra's home in Lincoln Center, David Geffen hall, formerly Avery Fisher hall , will be closed for some time beginning in 2019 for extensive renovation in the hopes of improving its acoustics, long considered problematical ,  and the
orchestra's management is seeking a temporary venue or venues for the transition period .  
   Van Zweden began as a highly gifted violinist and had studied in his native Netherlands and at the Juilliard school , which is located right next to Geffen hall . At the age of 19 he became the youngest concertmaster in the history of the renowned  Royal Concertgebouw orchestra of Amsterdam , one of the world's foremost orchestras , playing  under many of the world's most renowned conductors .  Among these was the legendary Leonard Bernstein , who asked him to conduct the orchestra at a rehearsal one day so he could check the orchestra's playing from the auditorium ( conductors often do this at rehearsals to check the balance between the various sections of the orchestra to achieve clarity and transparency of sound etc ) .  Van Zweden was taken aback as he had no conducting experience, but Bernstein  sensed that he had potential to be a conductor , and the rest as they say, is history .
    So Van Zweden gave up his career as a violinist and  began to achieve success as a conductor , eventually becoming chief conductor of the Netherland Radio orchestra in Amsterdam and  was appointed music director of the Dallas symphony ,  a fine orchestra which has had such well known conductors as the Mexican Eduardo Mata and the American Andrew Litton and others as music directors and made recordings for various record labels such as EMI , RCA and others .  Van Zeden has also made recordings of the complete Beethoven and Brahms symphonies among other works in Amsterdam  .
   According to reports , the orchestra has reached world class quality under Van Zweden , known to be a very demanding and meticulous conductor , and the orchestra has released a number of recordings on its own label, including Mahler symphonies .  Van Zweden has also been conducting concert performances of  Wagner operas , and he is currently working on a cycle of Wagner's monumental Ring of the Nibelung  with the Hong Kong Philharmonic, which has also been conducted by many eminent conductors including his older Dutch countryman Edo De Waart .  Naxos records is recording these live performances, and the first part of the four part cycle, Das Rheingold, has already been released .
    But now Van Zweden has  taken on one of the most prestigious , difficult and demanding jobs in classical music - leadership of the New York Philharmonic , a position which subjects a conductor to  merciless criticism form all corners of the musical press .Eminent conductors such as Bernstein , Dimitri Mitropoulos, Sir John Barbirolli , Zubin Metha and others have received  relentless flack  from music critics in New York over the years and have been taken to task both for the repertoire they programmed and the way they have inbtepreted a wide variety of orchestral repertoire . This is no job for the faint of heart .  
   Current music director Alan Gilbert is a staunch champion of  new or recent music by a wide variety of  contemporary composers , and some critics , such as Anthony Tommasini , chief music critic of the New York Times , are concerned about whether the new man will do enough  contemporary music .  In fact, Van Zweden is no stranger to contemporary music , but the  question is will he do enough , and which composers will he champion ?  Only time will tell, but Tommasini is keeping an open mind and  has stated that  Van Sweden deserves a chance to show what he can do on the job .  This is a job where you are damned if you do, and damned if you don't when it comes to programming ; many critics will blast you for not doing enough, or the kind of works they hope to hear , and unfortunately , too many New York Philharmonic subscribers have very conservative tastes and are reluctant to hear new works . 
   From all reports, the members of the New York Philharmonic respect and admire the man who will be their next chief and are delighted to have him ; he would  never have been chosen without their approval .  Only time will tell how the combination of Van Sweden and  the New York Philharmonic turns out . But the signs are positive , and good luck to him . He will certainly need it !

Posted: May 02 2016, 11:07 PM by the horn | with no comments
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