La Scena Musicale

Monday, December 22, 2008

All's quiet at the NY Philharmonic

Since last week's sordid events, there have been three developments:
  • The Philharmonic's chief executive is apparently unwell.
  • The critic who praised Gilbert Kaplan's performance of Mahler's second symphony has admitted he did not acknowledge the conductor's full authority in his review.
  • And two more players have reiterated the trombonist's attack on the guest conductor in language so similar to one another as to suggest a football huddle.
On the first matter, there is nothing to add except to wish Zarin Mehta a speedy recovery.

Steve Smith, the critic (who is also music editor for Time Out New York), deserves much credit for disclosing on his blog that he regrets having omitted a phrase in which he described Kaplan as co-editor of the critical edition of the score - in other words, as the man who helped produce the text that is truest to the composer's final intentions.

The two new grumblers deserve no credit at all, not even name credit.

They were playing for the first time an authentic version of the symphony and all they could do was whinge about aspects of the conductor's technique. Have these people lost all interest in music? Don't they want to know more about the stuff they play? Can't they see beyond a physical rehearsal-room limitation to the possibility of actual enlightenment?

The New York Philharmonic has come out of this seedy episode looking like a rabble without a cause. When its music director invites a man to conduct a concert for the benefit of the orchestra's pension fund, it is worse than just bad manners for the players to insult him to their heart's content. It is a symptom of exceedingly bad management, of an organisation that has run out of control. Somebody needs to get a grip, to state a position, to invoke a principle of collective responsibility.

It is no surprise that Riccardo Muti turned down the offer to become music director in favour of Chicago, that Simon Rattle won't go near the band with a bargepole and that the only person with enough insurance to succeed Lorin Maazel is the son of two members of the orchestra who think they can keep the hyenas from his door. What a shambles.

Source: Artsjournal

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Friday, December 12, 2008

Schnittke : Die Klavierkonzerte

Ewa Kupiec, Maria Lettberg, piano; Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin / Frank Strobel
Phoenix Edition 103 (72 min 25 s)
***** $$$$
Serait-ce la première intégrale des concertos pour piano de Schnittke ? (Excluons la Music for piano and chamber orchestra de 1964, qui n'est pas à proprement parler un concerto.) Précisons d'emblée qu'un gouffre stylistique sépare l’œuvre de jeunesse des deux concertos suivants. Le « premier » (ils ne sont pas numérotés), en effet, ressemble davantage à Bartok qu’à Schnittke lui-même. Qu’à cela ne tienne, on tirera plaisir de l'excellente prise de son et de la fougueuse interprétation. Les jeunes interprètes ont le don d’illustrer tout le délire qui irrigue ces pages. Leur élan casse-cou provoque bien quelques erreurs de synchronisation rythmique, quelques trébuchements dans l'articulation, mais l’enthousiasme des musiciens s’avère contagieux et l’auditeur se fait indulgent. Il existe de meilleures versions du Concerto pour piano et cordes, mais pas dans un programme globalement mieux réussi. Gardez l’œil sur Kupiec, son jeu devrait s'affiner avec l'âge.

- René Bricault

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Berlin cover-up

The BBC are running a bought-in film tonight in Alan Yentob's Imagine series on Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic. It offers 'intimate' insights into the workings of the crack band and its fabulous maestro as they are cheered to the rafters on a Far East tour.

Well, believe that if you like. Rattle was recently re-elected chief conductor by a political manoeuvre and a narrow margin that some of his opponents in the orchestra are continuing to question. As for the Far East raves, did anyone look at the ticket prices? They were ten times above the means of ordinary Japanese, Korean and Chinese working people, even more expensive than in Berlin.

A tour by the Berlin Phil in the Far East is an occasion for Asian corporate society to congratulate itself on cultural refinment, and for the orchestra to augment its copper-bottomed salaries and expense account.

These issues will understandably not be raised in Alan Yentob's egregious series, a corner of television that is notorious for soft-focus, cuddly profiles of 'Al's Pals' and is the BBC's only documentary insight into the arts.

Notwithstanding all these reservations, the inclusion of Rattle and Berlin at this stage seems strangely off the pace, given that their progress has stagnated while a new conducting generation is striking sparks in London, Liverpool, L.A., Birmingham, Toulouse and Paris. That's where the current action is. The BBC has lost its nose for cultural reporting.

Source: Artsjournal


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Lead from L. A.

I left the door a foot open in my previous submission for others to nominate the Los Angeles Philharmonic as a pioneer of orchestral courage and adventure - and up she pops in the first three responses.

I couldn't be more enthusiastic about LA's choice of young, fairly inexperienced conductors - Salonen, and now Dudamel - in preference to the greying Europeans of the East Coast. But one might argue that L.A. is an exception that proves the rule. In a city where movies are dominant, symphonic music has to fight for every crumb of attention. Youth - Hollywood's elixir - is one way to catch the eye.

I once asked Ernest Fleischmann while he managed the LA Phil if there was any interface between his company and the dream factories. He thought for a long while before replying, 'well, Walter Matthau's a subscriber...'

As for Jason's suggestion that 'it doesn't pay to ignore internal and external dissension when assessing the merits of music directors', if that were the case Mahler would never have been boss in Vienna, nor Solti at Covent Garden, nor Boulez at the NY Phil, and the musical horizon would be coloured a uniform shade of grey.

Source: Artsjournal


Monday, June 9, 2008

Who dares, wins

No blogs from me for the past six weeks - I've been immersed in a new book.


But the word from Cleveland this weekend deserves a cheer or three, if only for its courage and foresight in an industry noted for its timidity. The Cleveland Orchestra has renewed contracts with music director Franz Welser-Möst for another six years, taking them up to 2019, by which time they will have been together for two full decades.


FW-M is also due to become music director of the Vienna State Opera in two years' time and is in high demand with orchestras on both continents.


So what's so brave about the rehire? It is no secret that Cleveland's chief music critic, Donald Rosenberg, struggles to find a kind word to say about Franz and that several of his colleagues on the NY Times take a comparably sceptical line when the orchestra comes to Carnegie Hall. Such dissent can affect public perceptions, as well as box office sales.


I have known musical organisations to turn chicken when critical opinion went sour on a maestro - check the recent Philadelphia Story (though that's only half the story), or the way English National Opera treated its last two music directors. So all praise to Cleveland for sailing straight ahead and showing two fingers to the malcontents.


FW-M is never going to be to everyone's taste. He has strong ideas about music and likes to get his own way. But there has never been a doubt of his ability to achieve exactly the performance he envisaged, or to maintain and improve the playing wherever he waves a wand. Cleveland, after ten years of Franz, is still by some margin America's finest ensemble - and among its most adventurous, with a stream of new commissions and, in the near future, a season of fully-staged opera .


Which other US orchestra is showing such enterprise and determination?


Go on, name me one.

Source: Artsjournal


Sunday, March 30, 2008

Save CBC Radio 2 Battle Heats Up

The battle to save CBC Radio 2 is heating up. In Saturday's Globe and Mail, the CBC took out a full page ad to defend its recent decision to change CBC Radio 2's programming (See the ad here). The Facebook Save Classical Music at the CBC group has responded by questioning where the CBC got the money ($30,000 according to Mary Soderstrom's blog) to take out an expensive ad when it claimed just days ago that due to lack of funds, they are cutting the CBC Radio Orchestra (See's spotlight for the news articles). The Facebook group's next action is to mount an email letter campaign from March 30 to 31st. See . Here is what they wrote including a list of cuts CBC has been making to its Radio over the last few years:

Here we go again, folks. It sure appears we've made our voices heard. Columnists in the major papers are taking note and taking sides. And the CBC execs themselves sense the threat to their schemes, taking out a full-page ad in the Saturday Globe in rebuttal to our criticism. We're going to keep the pressure up.

EVERYBODY: Write an email outlining your outrage over the changes happening to Radio Two. be as personal as you can. If you need inspiration, we've got a list of issues below, and many people have posted create feats of rhetorical splendour back at the Save Classical Music at the CBC site. Write your quick email tonight to Richard Stursberg and CC it to all the people we mention below plus any journalists you can think of. We expanding things this time to board members and members of parliament. Write you letter before the end of the day on Monday. Let's make another huge statement, folks!

LIST OF ISSUES AND EMAIL ADDRESSES (Thanks to Margaret Logan for compiling all this!)

1. The CBC Young Composers Competition has not been held since March 9, 2003. It, as well as the CBC Young Performers Competition, have been suspended for the past four years. The Canada Council provided the funding for the $10,000.00 grand prize.
2. CBC erased the classical music budget for CBC Records in February 2008, precisely on the eve of their first Grammy win by Canadian violinist James Ehnes and the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra under Bramwell Tovey on the CBC Records label. Many artists, such as Measha Brueggergosman, launched their careers on a CBC Records label recording.
3. The commissioning budget previously devoted to commissioning new works from composers is now spread out to cover jazz, pop musicians, and some unspecified amount of contemporary music.
4. CBC cancelled Two New Hours, a multiple-award winning program that was aired for two hours a week in the incredibly prime time slot of Sundays 10pm to midnight. This program was dedicated to the music of living Canadian composers. It was cancelled in March 2007 in its 29th year.
5. CBC cancelled The Arts Report. The late Val Ross, an arts columnist for The Globe and Mail, lamented the loss of this particular radio segment, saying that it kept her in touch with important cultural developments across the country.
6. CBC cancelled Music For A While, which aired classical music daily from 6pm to 8pm. It has been replaced by Tonic, a jazz program which also features hip-hop, soul and world music.
7. CBC cancelled In Performance the flagship Classical concerts program. It was replaced by Canada Live, which has an uneven and unpredictable offering of funk and R and B bands, jazz, Middle eastern fusion music, throatsinging...
8. The proposed cuts for the Fall of 2008 represents further reductions in classical music content, eliminating classical music 6am to 10am and 3pm to 6pm.
9. The new hosts are not musicologists and have little depth of knowledge to share with radio listeners. Howard Dyck, for example, who is no longer hosting Saturday Afternoon at the Opera, is an Order of Canada recipient, a conductor and the recipient of numerous honourary degrees for his contribution to music in Canada. See Larry Lake, former host of Two New Hours, is a Toronto composer, performer and broadcaster. He is Artistic Director of the Canadian Electronic Ensemble, the oldest active live electronic music group in the world, now in its 35th season. Other hosts whose, such as Tom Allen, Eric Friesen, Rick Phillips are also giants in the field of music broadcasting.
10. The axing of the CBC Radio Orchestra: North America's 70 year old last remaining radio orchestra and platform for countless premieres of new Canadian compositions
11. Gone are Music & Company - Tom Allen's morning show, Here's to You - Catherine Belyea's (Formerly Shelley Solmes') all-request show, Studio Sparks - due to the venerable Eric Friesen's "retirement", and Disc Drive - Jurgen Gothe's popular drive-home show after almost 30 years. These changes come on the heels of last years round of cuts to vital programs such as Danielle Charbonneau's much-loved Music for Awhile; Larry Lake's new composer showcase Two New Hours; Symphony Hall - Canada's live orchestra recording showcase; The Singer and the Song - Catherine Belyea's excellent Classical vocal program; Northern Lights - the overnight Classical program beloved by Night Owls everywhere; The reformatting of In Performance- a primarily classical live performance show into the much-reviled Canada Live - a uniformly non-classical and completely unfocused hodge-podge of World music, soft pop, and sort-of Jazz; and the controversial replacement of veteran Howard Dyck from Saturday Afternoon at the Opera after many years of great service.
12. The CBC axing the Radio Orchestra one day citing lack of resources, and the next day buying hugely expensive full-page ad in the Globe and Mail to convince us how wonderful everything is going to be in their Brave New World.

Send your letter to Richard Stursberg, head of English services at CBC, condeming any of the issues above, or, preferably, one of your own. Demand his resignation for single-handedly destroying 70 years of a carefully evolved musical ecology at CBC Radio 2.

cc: ALL the following individuals:
1. CBC President Hubert Lacroix
2. CBC board chairman Timothy Casgrain through his assistant Kathleen Martin
3.. Board members Peter Herrndorf
4. and Trina McQueen
5. Stursberg's Executive Assistant, Cathy Katrib-Reyes KatribC@CBC.CA
6. Lacroix`s Chief of Staff Francine Letourneau
7. Exec in charge of CBC Radio, Jennifer McGuire or
8. Radio 2 Programming chief or
9. Peter Steinmetz, Chair of the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame
10. Josee Verner, Minister of Heritage
11. Prime Minister Stephen Harper
12. Liberal Heritage critic Mauril Bélanger
13. NDP Heritage critic Charlie Angus
14. The major newspaper journalist of your choice - local is best!

Cc: KatribC@CBC.CA;;;;;;;,;;;;;;

Note! Your email client may require commas rather than semi-colons.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Smart Korea Move?

Responses to my personal mailbox are running 3-1 in support of my commentary on Bloomberg that the New York Philharmonic's visit to North Korea is morally and culturally unacceptable. That's high, but not overwhelmingly so.

There is, if course, considerable substance to the opposing case - that is is usually better to make jaw-jaw than war-war, and that the way to unfreeze tensions is not by hiding behind high walls of political preconception.

It seems to me, none the less, that there are two disabling flaws to the cultural diplomacy argument. The first is to apply it to Hitler's Germany. Would a 1938 trip by the NY Phil have averted WW 2 and the Holocaust?

In Pyongyang, New York's finest will be entertaining seasoned killers who, contrite today, may kill again tomorrow - if only by picking up the phone to Teheran and having another quiet swap of nuclear know-how.

The second qualm relates to consumption. Every calorie eaten, every bath taken, every light switched on by the 130 New York musicians and their entourage of 150 handlers and journalists is one kilojule of energy, one tub of water, one volt of energy stolen from a population that has been systematically starved by its unrepentant government. Playing a symphony concert to the Beloved Kim gives nothing back to his malnourished nation.

Source: Artsjournal


Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Goodbye, Columbus

A colleague in Columbus, Ohio, has alerted me to a local downturn. The city is planning to shrink its symphony orchestra into a chamber ensemble, abolishing 22 positions and cutting the concert season by half. That, they say, ought to wipe out an annual $1.5 million deficit.

"This is to try to save the orchestra and enable us to grow it into something special," said Robert "Buzz" Trafford, chairman of the symphony board, in a comment to the local newspaper which appears to endorse the move.

Hello? Come again? Anyone at home?

Surely no-one imagines that playing Haydn instead of Mahler is going to bring crowds banging on the doors, or that kicking musicians into limbo will improve morale in the band. Cutting an orchestra is usually one short step from killing it altogether.

Columbus, where I have never set foot, has (so I'm told) an appreciative, cultured audience who don't want to fly to Cleveland or Detroit for a symphonic experience. It also has a proud and supportive NPR station.

A city of 1.75 million can surely stump up a few donors to cover a $1.5 million hole. Slash and burn, which is what the board is proposing, is a policy that went out in the 90s with the bonfire of vanities. Someone needs to take a quick rethink and a look at the map.

Without a symphony orchestra, Columbus becomes a speck.

For more information, check

source: Artsjournal

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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Today's Musician Birthday: January 29

Born on January 29:

1857- The Hallé (Orchestra, England)

Wiki entry

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