Mystery score

Mystery score

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Why Usability Matters

It's August, which means that Drew McManus is looking at various aspects of orchestra Web sites. In the past, he has typically not evaluated usability at this sites - but usability matters. Here are some issues I've seen at...well...let's call them the web sites of major classical music institutions.
  • This past June, I tried to find 2007-08 season information at one opera company's web site, and could not. I sent email to the webmaster, who then pointed me to the link. Now, I'm reasonably sophisticated about technology and how web sites work, but the link was not in an obvious place mere months before the commencement of the 2007-08 season. I felt slightly dumb for not having found it, but there were too many places to look.

  • One symphony has a search box that periodically goes out of whack, to the extent that searching for the music director's name doesn't return anything like the number of concerts he's conducting. Pick a composer whose work is being performed once during the season, search for that, and that program doesn't come up. I have a long-standing professional interest in search, so this is this is the sort of thing I notice, but I'm sure I'm not the only one.

  • The same organization's web site is so hammered today, because single-ticket sales went live, that you can't actually use their Web site to buy tickets. They're in the process of fixing that, and the box office will sell you tickets over the phone even though that wasn't scheduled for today, I found when I called the box office after 2 hours of trying. By then I was so frustrated I declined to buy anything.
  • Post-script to the bullet above: the fix for the hammered web site was to turn off single-ticket sales entirely. In the course of doing this, the same apologetic text appears twice on the home page. The text is text in one place, in a graphic in the other. Embedding text in a graphic means that people using screen readers will never see the text; it's a big usability error. The text plus graphic bit makes no sense at all. OTOH, this web site is notably cluttered, and it's antiquated both in layout and function. I've been informed that a redesign is in the works....
These episodes occurred at the web sites of big, well-funded organizations that presumably have IT departments, and they were pretty darned frustrating. I can't be the only person ready to hit my head against the wall over web sites that don't work very well.

The bottom line is that poor usability costs organizations money and good will, when patrons try to find out what's going on or buy tickets and can't.

Updated Aug. 31.

Friday, August 24, 2007

This Week's Quiz

From Matthew Guerrieri comes another insane quiz. I am failing utterly on the great piece/terrible title and terrible piece/great title questions, but here we go.

1. What's the best quotation of a piece of music within another piece of music?

I'll have to go with an obvious one, the quotation of "Non piu andrai" in the last act of Don Giovanni. Although, of course, the quotation from Tristan during Elisir is also very good. *

2. Name the best classical crossover album ever made.

Cheating: Caruso's "Over There" and Melchior singing various pop tunes in his movie career.

3. Great piece with a terrible title.

4. If you had to choose: Benjamin Britten or Michael Tippett?

Britten. Are you mad?

5. Who's your favorite spouse of a composer/performer? (Besides your own.)

Much as I'd like to cite Clara Schumann or Pauline Strauss, I have to pick Sir Peter Pears, the greatest of all musical muses. (I deeply regret missing Alma.)

My least favorite is Charles Seeger, because Ruth Crawford was destined for greater things than she accomplished as a composer.

6. Terrible piece with a great title.


7. What's the best use of a classical warhorse in a Hollywood movie?

Depends on your definition of warhorse, I guess. I am having to tie up my hands to keep from posting THAT piece in THAT movie. However, I can't keep away from Kubrick, so I'll say that Ligeti piano piece in "Eyes Wide Shut" or maybe the waltz in the same film.

8. Name the worst classical crossover album ever made.

Leontyne Price singing patriotic songs, maybe. I have a copy on LP and have never had the nerve to play it.

9. If you had to choose: Sam Cooke or Marvin Gaye?

Sam Cooke.

10. Name a creative type in a non-musical medium who would have been a great composer.

Robertson Davies, who understands musicians so well, or maybe Lawrence Durrell, whose highly perfumed prose might be Zemlinsky or Sorabji or someone in between.


Opera nerd:
a. Are you kidding? Tibbett in a cakewalk.
b. Galli-Curci

Early music nerd:

I have never heard the 1950s recording of the Machaut mass with a mixed chorus of 50 and a symphony orchestra, but I love the idea.

* Heard only in an edition unique to San Francisco Opera. Right, it's the opening measure or so. It was side-splitting the first time, not so much the second.

Compare and Contrast 4

Or, what a good agent can get you.

San Francisco Symphony Opening Gala:
  • Copland, Fanfare for the Common Man

  • Crawford Seeger, Andante for Strings

  • Adams, Short Ride in a Fast Machine

  • Ravel, Shéhérazade

  • Puccini, “Vissi d’arte” (Tosca), “O mio babbino caro” (Gianni Schicchi)

  • Prokofiev, Scenes from Romeo and Juliet
Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor; Renée Fleming, soprano


Los Angeles Philharmonic Opening Night Gala:
  • Berlioz, "Love Scene" from Romeo and Juliet

  • Ravel, Shéhérazade

  • Boccherini/Berio, Ritirata notturna di Madrid

  • Puccini, “Vissi d’arte” (Tosca), “O mio babbino caro” (Gianni Schicchi)

  • Berlioz, "Ball Scene" from Romeo and Juliet

Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor; Renée Fleming, soprano

True, not the same Romeo and Juliet.

Changes

A press release from San Francisco Symphony announces a number of personnel changes in the upcoming season. I cannot link directly to the press release, which comes up in a separate browser window with the mysterious URL "Google." No, I have no idea why.

The magnificent Carey Bell comes on board as principal clarinet, meaning that orchestra across the street will be starting a search of its own. Robert Ward becomes principal horn and some titles in that section are reassigned. (I note that he has been acting principal horn for nine years. What??) Russ deLuna joins as English horn, which I initially mistyped as English norn (Clara Butt?), and third oboe. Amos Yang joins as assistant principal cello. Mark Lawrence retires after 33 years as principal trombone.

Katie Kaudarach, whose presence in the first viola chair I noted at the Mahler Seventh in June, joins as assistant principal viola. This translates to "we still don't have a replacement for Geraldine," and, indeed, another round of auditions begins on September 30. Kaudarach played beautifully in that concert and will be a terrific addition to SFS.

Last, but not least, longtime flutist Tim Day is now on a one-year appointment as acting principal flute, after having been named principal flute a year ago. I guess there will be new auditions for first flute, though no dates have been announced.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Contemporary Music

Here's a list of all pieces by living composers that will be played by the San Francisco Symphony this coming season, 2007-08: work, composer, conductor:
  • Short Ride in a Fast Machines, Adams, MTT

  • Cobalt, Scarlet: Two Colors of Dawn, Luca Francesconi, R.Abbado

  • Si Ji (Four Seasons), Chen Yi, Gaffigan

  • Symphonic Variations, Almeida Prado, Roberto Minczuk

  • Symphony No. 3, Oliver Knussen, MTT

  • Manhattan Trilogy, Rautavaara, Ashkenazy

  • Agnegram and Notturno, Thomas, MTT

  • Son et lumière, Stuckey, Gilbert

  • Ku-Ka-Ilimoku, Rouse, Shwartz

  • Ceres, Juno The Torino Scale, Turnage, Gaffigan, Shwartz, or Bohlin

  • New work by Magnus Lindberg, Oramu

I pulled that together by going through the whole ghastly SFS web site concert by concert. I know I've missed something, because there is a recent addition to the program, a concert where James Gaffigan is conducting a different Lindberg piece. But you see the point I'm making: MTT himself is conducting four pieces by living composers this coming season. Two are by....MTT.

There are other interesting works by 20th century composers scheduled:À l‘Île de Gorée, by Xenakis, with MTT;Messiaen's L'ascencion, with Chung; Ligeti's San Francisco Polyphony, with Metzmacher; some Janacek, the Barber piano concerto, and other pieces. Overall it's a pretty dull season. Blomstedt does what he does; MTT's big festival for the year is Brahms....I know that MTT is responsible for the overall planning of the season, but, really, he's doing his most interesting work with contemporary music elsewhere, and I'm sorry about that.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Philip Glass

Philip Glass turned 70 on January 31, 2007, and various Bay Area organizations have commemorated this with concerts or commissions. Here's what's coming up around here:
  • Marin Alsop conducts Glass's Eighth Symphony at the Cabrillo Festival. Well, you missed this one - it was on August 11th.

  • Glass himself and cellist Wendy Sutter present a concert at Herbst Theater on September 28

  • A concert at Stanford Lively Arts includes a new commission, a setting by Glass of texts by Leonard Cohen

  • San Francisco Opera commissioned Appomattox, about Lee's surrender to Grant at the close of the Civil War

  • San Francisco Symphony...um....has nothing by Glass on its schedule for 2007-08, and played nothing of his last season. I'm only half-surprised by this. Last year, a new piece by Steven Stuckey was bumped from a concert in order to make room for a token work by Steve Reich commemorating his 70th birthday. MTT is living up to his reputation as an advocate for new music - in Europe and with the New World Symphony - but not, alas, in San Francisco.

Classical Music on iTunes

I don't have an iPod, and so I don't have iTunes, but a friend does, and she's not having much success finding classical music on iTunes. Alex Ross posted some time ago that 13% of iTunes downloads are classical - presumably the 100 selections, plus Bocelli and his ilk, are not responsible for that number.

What are the correct search terms for finding interesting classical music on iTunes? I seem to recall that, among other things, there are LA Phil performances from the Minimalist series John Adams curated there.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Tim Page in The New Yorker

Tim Page, the Pulitzer Prize-winning classical music critic of the Washington Post, has an extraordinary article in the August 20, 2007 issue of The New Yorker, about growing up and living with Asperger's syndrome. The article's not on line, but I urge you to pick up the print edition and read the article, then read Elaine Fine's equally extraordinary related posting at Musical Assumptions.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Elswhere...

Some excellent Not-Dead-Yet (and not even sleeping) postings elsewhere in the blogosphere, in addition to Matthew Guerrieri's, which I already mentioned:
  • Marc Geelhoed talks about classical music and the long tail effect

  • Alex Wellsung makes a good case for looking at classical music a little differently (and enjoy the photos)

  • ACD has a few cogent things to say about a recent Sandow posting, as you'd expect

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Did He Do It Himself?

There are two kinds of technical writers: the ones who like to create indexes and the ones who think indexing is the most boring and horrible work imaginable.

I myself like indexing. During my first few months as a technical writer, I even indexed a new book for a more experienced writer who was working against a deadline and didn't much like indexing. One of the minor frustrations of my otherwise-excellent new gig is that we use Dreamweaver, which is a website-design tool. It's not a good technical-writing tool, among other reasons because it has no way to create and maintain indexes other than by hand. I created my very first index by hand, for a manual documenting the Well's extract command. It was a good exercise, but not something I'd want to do for a longer document. Real technical-writing tools, such as FrameMaker and Epic, provide a way to place an index marker and the entry in the running text, then generate the index itself.

So....Alex's index runs from Abbado to Zweig. Were index cards involved? A hired indexer? (Yes, there is a such a profession!) Microsoft Word?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Seattle Ring Announcement

Seattle Opera will announce the 2009 Ring cast, sans Jane Eaglen, later this week, on August 15.

My predictions: Greer Grimsley (Wotan), Christine Brewer/Lisa Gasteen/Linda Watson (take your pick) as Bruennhilde, Eva Podles (Erda), Stephanie Blythe (Fricka), Alan Woodrow (Siegfried), Marie Plette (Sieglinde). No guesses on Siegmund or the rest of the gang.

Update, Aug. 15: Well, I was wrong. The cast is now posted. Wotan: Greer Grimsley. Bruennhilde: Janice Baird (Janice Baird?). Siegfried: Stig Fogh Andersen (whom I remember collapsing utterly on a Met Ring broadcast a few years back). Siegmund: Stuart Skelton. Alberich: Richard Paul Fink. Sieglinde: Margaret Jane Wray (returning for the third time, I think, and I was thinking of her, not Plette, dammit). Fricka: Stephanie Blythe, who also take Waltraute and the First Norn. Loge: Kobie van Rensburg (!). Mime: Dennis Petersen. Freia/Gutrune: Marie Plette. Robert Spano conducts.

More here.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Perhaps We Can Help

Terry Teachout has a little list of things he's never done. I say he really should give a few of those things a whirl, and I'd be happy to help out.

P. S. And here's no. 11 on that list: he's never studied German. Der Ring des Nibelungen means "The Nibelung's Ring," not "The Ring of the Nibelungs."

Thomas Adès

I first heard Thomas Adès's Living Toys a few years ago. I borrowed the CD it's on from a friend and gave it a couple of listens. I liked the music on it, but didn't buy the CD or investigate Adès's other works.

This year, I've heard two of his pieces live, the astonishing Chamber Symphony, Op. 1, and, this past weekend at Cabrillo, Concentric Paths, his violin concerto. I also bought the CD America: A Prophecy.

My, oh, my. Here we have one of the great living composers, and he seems always to have been that way. He wrote the Chamber Symphony at 19, and it is as assured and brilliant as anything Mozart and Mendelssohn were doing at that age. I am more sorry than ever that family issues kept me from Santa Fe Opera last year, where his opera The Tempest was performed.

Well down in the program notes from Cabrillo I found that the world premiere of Concentric Paths was conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas. I hope he'll bring it to the San Francisco Symphony, but his big musical event of the coming year is a Brahms festival. The interesting premieres are mostly in the hands of guest or associate conductors.

Programs

Dear Editor:

I love the long articles in your programs, and I see that you've got composer bios, performer bios, a list of all orchestra members, and so on. But could you please put in a couple more things?
  • The orchestration of each piece on the program, so that I don't have to try to figure out if I'm hearing a Bach trumpet or a cornet when I'm 80 feet from the stage without my binoculars. I realize that a list of the percussion used in many modern works would take a page and a half even in 8 point type, but if the San Francisco Symphony does this, you can too.

  • Any cuts you're making in the work being performed and, preferably, a performance history. Yes, I do want to know which conductors have had at it and whether a particular soprano ever sang it here. I always wondered how critics managed to track every last cut in a four-hour opera - I can't do this for Tristan Act III, for example - and then I discovered that small miracle, the press packet. Put it in the programs, dammit. The general public wants to know in detail which version of Don Carlo(s) or La forza del destino they're about to hear.
Thank you,

Sometime Critic Who Always Wants to Know

Monday, August 13, 2007

Not Dead Yet

Three cheers for Matthew Guerrieri this morning, who provides some economic theory for why classical music is still alive.

I'll take up a couple of points I've raised here before:
  • No one who thinks classical music is dying has yet taken up the meaning of a point Alex Ross made quite some time ago: where NYC had 1 new music ensemble in the 1960s, it now has about 50 (FIFTY), all of which are listed on his blog.

  • Is anyone willing to define just what it would mean for classical music to die? We've heard plenty of convincing information from Greg Sandow about the aging audience for orchestral music and from Norman Norman Lebrecht about the dying major record labels. Both confuse a particular type of institution with classical music itself. I want someone to tell me how I'll know that classical music is dead.

Marston Mystery Release

Sometime in the last week, Ward Marston changed the anticipated publication dates of his upcoming releases. The mystery release is now pushed out to December.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Intermezzo

How on earth have I managed to miss the fine London classical music blog Intermezzo for so long? That is remedied now.

Auditions; Basses Especially Wanted

Chora Nova, of which I'm a member, is holding auditions on Saturday, August 25. Singers of all voice types are invited to audition; we're especially looking for more basses.

Our director is Paul Flight, a fabulous all-around musician and singer. Next year's repertory includes Haydn's Missa Sancti Nicolai, a concert of music by women composers, and Brahms's own two-piano arrangement of his Requiem. We have a great rehearsal pianist, Esther Archer.

We rehearse Monday nights in Berkeley, from 7:30 to 10 p.m., at First Congregational Church (aka First Congo). We're a friendly and welcoming group of people, so if you are looking for a chorus, email contact@choranova.org for information on how the auditions will be conducted.

Reposted at the top of the blog, Aug. 12. Originally published July 23.

ACD & Runnicles

A.C. Douglas caught the Proms Götterdämmerung and reports that Donald Runnicles made an encouraging showing.

Having heard Runnicles conduct the Ring, Lohengrin, Flying Dutchman (twice), and, most magnificently, Tristan und Isolde (also twice), I'm happy to confirm that he's the real thing in Wagner. Last year's Tristan was beautiful beyond my ability to describe it, though ACD might not have liked the astonishing orchestral transparency, in which you could hear every line and instrument, if you listened, and it all added up to a magnificent whole.

He's less than perfectly happy with the singing. I note with a snicker that the last time I heard Katherine Broderick, who sang Woglinde, she was taking on the Walkuere Bruennhilde at ENO. I can't quite regard this as the sort of luxury casting Solti enjoyed, with the likes of Lucia Popp and Gwyneth Jones as his Rheinmaidens.

However, Christine Brewer is a marvelous singer, with a big, gorgeous voice and stamina to spare. I'm looking forward to hearing her in the Ring, sooner or later.

Update: That big strikeout is because I saw Kathleen, not Katherine, Broderick at ENO. Thanks to AlisonC, who pointed this out to me in comments.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Wow!

M. C-, proprietor of The Standing Room, tells all today, on the blog's third birthday. (Happy birthday!)

So...now I can ask a question I keep forgetting to ask in person: what do artistic administrators do?

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Another Day in the Death of Classical Music

It's at the end of the article, but Anne Midgette reports that Metropolitan Opera subscriptions are up ten percent for the upcoming season over the past season.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Parental Advisory: Explicit Content

That's the label on my nice new Thomas Ades CD, which does not include Powder Her Face. I can't wait!

Jennifer Higdon

In Jeff Dunn's review of the opening-night concert at the Cabrillo Festival is this astonishing sentence:
[Jennifer] Higdon is now the most-performed living composer in the U.S. and Canada.
I would never have dreamed. Has anyone got the statistics? Where would I find them?

Mr. Noise On Tour

Alex Ross has posted the schedule for his fall book tour. Bay Area folks, note his appearances at City Arts and Lectures and a location to be named in Berkeley.

Update, August 8: Not much ferreting was involved, considering that the link is right there on the blog!

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Marin Alsop

To Santa Cruz last night for the second Cabrillo Festival concert, at which I heard Marin Alsop conducting for the first time. (More about the concert in Tuesday's SFCV issue.)(The review can now be read here).

Alsop is the real deal, a conductor of enormous power and depth; I was more impressed with her than I have been with Alan Gilbert.

I am dying to hear her in Wagner, because she's got the grasp of large-scale form, proportion, and drama that he needs. The Baltimore Symphony is extremely lucky to have her, and I hope it's not long before the San Francisco Symphony joins the impressive list of orchestras where she has been a guest conductor.

Congratulations!

To Dr. L.P. and Steve.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Chacun a son gout

Joshua Kosman is entertainingly crabby on the subject of Camille Saint-Saëns:
Then there was Saint-Saëns' prodigiously vacuous Second Piano Concerto, which returned to Davies after a mere two years -- far too soon for an exhumation -- under the ministrations of soloist Jean-Yves Thibaudet.

This gets at least one vote for the most pointless piano concerto in the active repertoire, a clattery stream of scales and arpeggios that the pianist must deliver at top speed in a desperate search to keep the audience from expiring out of sheer boredom at the lack of any musical ideas. Thibaudet, in whose playing elegance and virtuosity are so intimately intertwined as to become a single compound virtue, lavished all his considerable flair on the score, but in vain.
He's also honest about this particular quirk:
The only thing on the [2007-08 SF Opera] schedule that leaves me cold is the opening-night Samson and Delilah, and that's a function of my own idiosyncrasies: I have no particular use for any 19th-century French music that isn't by Berlioz (remember, "Gounod" is an anagram of "ungood"), and although I'm an Olga Borodina fan, I'm not, you know, the world's biggest Olga Borodina fan. If you're a little more normal than I am on either of those two points, then even that one should get you going.
Now, I'm a fan of Saint-Saëns (though I otherwise agree with Joshua about the value of 19th century French music), but it's a good thing when critics are clear about which composers they just can't take. I'm willing to bet that every working critic has a little list of works or composers they'd just as soon not review, or maybe hear again for the rest of their lives, whether from outright dislike or overexposure. Here's my list:
  • Rossini comedies. I've seen Barber, I've seen Cenerentola, I've seen L'Italiana (in her guise as Riot Grrrl on Mars), and I've had it. It's not worth sitting through hours of boring music and tired stage schtick for the sake of a good overture and a prima donna showpiece: I have plenty of recordings of Una voce poco fa and Non piu mesta, and that's sufficient. Neither the 20-ton revolving set nor the presence of Thomas Hampson or Nathan Gunn in the title role could drag me to the last two go-rounds of Barber at SFO. The only exception I'm willing to make is for Il viaggio a Rheims, which has a gigantic cast and an astonishing act finale with 14 singers all going at once, sometimes a capella.

  • Carmen. Only if Crespin or Supervia comes back from the dead, despite the great reviews both Hadar Halevy and Kate Aldrich got at SFO last season.

  • The Mozart Requiem, a work I've performed and still don't like very much

  • Any complete opera by Massenet, a composer whose work is best performed as excerpts

  • Palestina. Luckily, I have never reviewed a concert with any work by Palestrina on the program, but anyone who sings early music has had to sing a lot of Palestrina. His music is dull and always fails to move me; many of his contemporaries are far more interesting to sing or hear. I have reached the point where I will skip concerts in which my chorus is performing Palestrina.

  • Copland. Sorry! I cannot stand St. Aaron's music either in wide-open-spaces/Americana mode or in his overblown modernist style.

  • Vivaldi. STOP with the twittering flute concertos! STOP with the damned Four Seasons already!!

  • Most of the second-string German Baroque composers whose music clutters up the airwaves thanks to lowest-common-denominator radio programming

  • Most of Gershwin's concert music, though Jonathan Bellman's performance of the Second Prelude at the Stanford symposium earlier this year did get me.

  • Works I'd skip in a minute because I've heard them too often, but would be willing to hear again with the right cast or after a long enough break: Tosca, Butterfly (I'll probably go see Racette this season), La Traviata, Boheme, Don Giovanni (I'm very glad to have seen and reviewed this year's SFO production, but on the whole, it's done badly when it's done). The prominence of Puccini on this list does say something about opera company scheduling.
Interestingly, if I'd made up this list a decade ago, I would have put Handel on it, through overexposure to Messiah. But in 1999, I caught Semele at the English National Orchestra and have loved every note of Handel since. I'm willing to give Vivaldi's operas and sacred music a listen on the chance that my flute-playing past and too much Vivaldi in elevators are responsible for my visceral hatred of his music.

Anyone care to join me in 'fessing up?

Verbier Festival

You can see videos of Verbier Festival concerts on line. The performers include Martha Argerich, Thomas Quasthoff, Miah Persson, Lars Vogt, Joshua Bell, Evgeny Kissin, and on and on.

Friday, August 03, 2007

More Robert Ludlum Titles

I'll play, with some modifications:

The New Viennese Conspiracy
The Ferneyhough Refactoring

Not quite this game, but a blast from my very distant graduate-school past (Michael Schiano, where ARE you? Hmm, Hartt School of Music, I see.)

The Schenker Youth (Heil, Heinrich!)

On the Other Hand

Pace Bernheimer, Will at DesignerBlog found the Kirov Ring compelling. His comments start part-way through a chattily cozy posting.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

When, Oh, When?

The last release I received from Marston Records was not the Supervia set displayed on their home page, but the Mantelli set. Still to come before the Mystery Release are Vol. 1 of the Edison Legacy and the complete recordings of Grieg, Saint-Saëns, and Pugno. Perhaps we'll see the Mystery Release in October....

Hmmm.

Debating why Alex put Salome on his Festive Playlist in honor of the upcoming nuptials of Steve and Dr. L.P.

Okay, now I see that the sets he lists all arrived in the past week.

Upcoming and Free

Three events -
  • This Sunday, August 5, the broadcast of San Francisco Opera's Barber of Seville, KDFC 102.1, at 8 p.m.

  • San Francisco Opera performs at Stern Grove on Sunday, August 19 at 2 pm in Stern Grove. The wonderful Patricia Racette sings, among others. Stern Grove is at 19th Ave. and Sloat Blvd.

  • Samson and Delilah simulcast to Giants Stadium Pac Bell Park AT&T Park, on Friday, September 28 at 8 p.m. You can register for tickets to the simulcast starting on Wednesday, August 15 at 10 a.m. Details at SFO's special Giants' simulcast page.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Not So Fast.

A.C. Douglas has some comments on Christian Thielemann and this year's Bayreuth Ring. I heard parts of Das Rheingold and Siegfried, and hope to catch most of the rest on rebroadcast. Still, I have to comment on a couple of ACD's remarks:
...Christian Thielemann is, hands down and far and away, the best Wagner conductor working today, and can be counted among and is the equal of the greatest Wagner conductors of whom we have recorded record.....His Wagner readings recall the Wagner readings of the Wagner Gene possessors of times past — Furtwängler, Knappertsbusch, Krauss, and Solti — with an added touch of that elegant sense of orchestral color and ensemble that was von Karajan's..
First, off, before naming anyone the best Wagner conductor working today, I'd suggest experiencing in person the genius of Donald Runnicles at his best. His Tristan last year was overwhelming; magnificently proportioned, and gorgeously played and conducted, with astonishingly beautiful orchestral balances.

More seriously, I just can't put Solti in the same class as Furtwängler or Knappertsbusch. His Ring is certainly exciting and colorful, but he falls down when the score is contemplative or intimate rather than exciting. Compare, for example, his conducting of the passage starting "O ihr, der Eide, ewige Huetter" in the Immolation, with how almost anyone else handles it, from Toscanini with Traubel to Furtwängler with anyone to Goodall with Hunter. It's as though Solti goes to sleep whenever the music gets quiet and introspective. The Walkuere is seriously studio-bound, as well, compared to the other three recordings. His Ring is about the last one I put on, although there are reasons other than the conducting for that. As far as Solti's other Wagner recordings go, well....the Tristan is undistinguished, for the reason I detail above: there's too much intimate give-and-take for Solti's conducting style, which is best in highly theatrical music such as Goetterdaemmerung.

I have a caveat to this, as well:
All that's needed now is the surfacing of another Flagstad or Nilsson, another Melchior, and another Hotter, and we'd be all set to record for posterity a Ring for the ages.

Alas, not going to happen.
You need to hear Christine Brewer, an Isolde for the ages who will soon be a Bruennhilde for the ages.

A Heck of a Job

Geoff Edgers reports that Josiah Spaulding, Jr., President and CEO of Boston's Citi Performing Arts Center, made $409,000 and received a $1.2 million bonus in the 2006 fiscal year despite five years of deficits at the Center. The Center's entire annual budget for fiscal 2006 was about $6.3 million.

Board Chairman John William Poduska Sr. says that Spaulding is "doing a heck of a job." That sounds familiar!