Wednesday, December 31, 2008
This Sunday, January 4, you can catch this fall's SFO Boccanegra on KDFC at 8 p.m. The singing ranged from good to outstanding, and Runnicles was ON, so it's highly recommended.
Monday, December 29, 2008
I didn't get email or a mailing about this, despite having attended the 2007 symposium (groan). I am not sure whether I can go - it's opposite the Saariaho and Andriessen premieres at LAPO (groan). But I had a wonderful time at the 2007 symposium, and if you're interested at all in old performance styles or old records and what we can learn from them, I urge you to attend.
Saturday, December 27, 2008
- La Boheme, Acts I and II. Toscanini/Peerce, Albanese, McKnight, Valentino. My traditional Christmas Eve music. The good transfer of my favorite Boheme (Gigli/Albanese, need I say more? The conductor is also splendid, among the best, but I can never remember his name.) is at work along with the Beecham, and I couldn't find the bad transfer of G/A, so it was back to the Toscanini. Peerce is servicable and correct, never quite inspired and not in a vocal class with Gigli or Bjoerling, the Marcello and Musetta are not better than okay, but Albanese is as touching as with Gigli, and the occasion - the 50th anniversary of the opera's premier, also under Toscanini - and greatness of the conducting make it worth a spin. For Italian-opera doubters, I suggest following along with the score sometime. I'd rather conduct an act of any Wagner opera than take this on, with its myriad orchestral details, metrical complexity, extended syncopations, and constantly shifting tempos. It's the most-performed opera in the repertory because it's a great, great masterpiece.
- O Holy Night, a raft of YouTube performances on Tuesday. My favorites turned out to be the elegant and slightly understated Florez and Bjoering, singing magnificently in Swedish. Fleming is very good but I couldn't watch her because of the smirking. Also notable is Thill, singing in about 1932, and of course, Caruso. Yes, I do like my tenors.
- Schmidt, Second Symphony, Jarvi/CSO, Chandos. Whew.
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
- Schoenberg, Gurrelieder; Leibowitz/Lewis, Semser, Tangemann, Riley, Gruber, Gesell; Preiser. From 1953. I've only heard one CD, more later.
- Charpentier, The Judgement of Solomon; Christie/Les Arts Florissants; Virgin Classics
- Tan Dun, Internet Symphony, Eroica. God, what crap. ANAblog has the clip.
- Carter, String Quartet No. 1. Arditti String Quartet, Etcetera
This is a tough year for far too many people, given the state of the economy, layoffs all over, foreclosures, and so on. Food banks have been hit from all sides, with fewer people in a position to donate and more needing their services.
Mrs. Obama's email provided a useful link, to Feed America (formerly America's Second Harvest). Click the link Find a Foodbank to locate your community's food bank. In my neck of the woods, it's the Alameda County Community Foodbank. In yours?
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Post here in the comments, or on your own blog; if the latter, post a link here!
[If you're behind on this, read Dan Wakin's story in the Times and the blog posting that gave rise to the fuss. Me, I'll have some thoughts on the matter and the larger questions it involves in a day or so, I hope.]
Monday, December 15, 2008
- Sibelius, Kullervo; Spano; Gunn, Hellekant/Atlanta Symphony, Telarc. Yes, I have two different Kullervos. Kullervi? How do you make a plural in Finnish, anyway? An excellent recording of this early Sibelius symphonic work, a retelling of the story of the antihero Kullervo.
- Evans, Sad Pig Dance, Kicking Mule. Out of print, and I am so glad I picked up a copy before it disappeared. Dave Evans is a stupendous guitarist and songwriter, and this is apparently his only recording. (No, he's not the other Dave Evans who is out there.)
- Rimsky-Korsakov, The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitzeh and the Maiden Fevronia. A 1950s Soviet recording, now available on Preiser. I got 20 minutes into it and took it off, because the soprano who sings Fevronia has one of those squeezed Slavic voices that always sounds faintly out of tune - and the role isn't written in her best register, either. The music is charming, so some day I will gird my loins and listen to the whole thing.
- Dir Ha Tan, Traditional Songs from the Vann Region [of Brittany], Arion. When you order from Berkshire Record Outlet, you win some, you lose some. Mostly I win, but this one was so deadly dull that I took it off after five tracks.
Sunday, December 14, 2008
The basic issue with this performance of "Tristan und Isolde" was pretty elementary: Mr. Seiffert, it seemed, did not know the role well enough to sing it. Neither an old-fashioned prompter nor a newfangled earpiece can compensate for that."Tommasini musters essentially no evidence in support of this conclusion, expressed in the closing sentences of the story. He writes endlessly about the role of assistant conductors (he must surely know that they're responsible for quite a lot of musical preparation with soloists, as well as sitting in the prompter's box), about the earpiece, about prompting at other theaters, and about what a solo vocal recital would be like if the singer had a prompter. He says that Seiffert looked at the prompter's box a lot anyway and said this in his review of Tristan as well. Nowhere does he say that Seiffert got lost or sang incorrect phrases or trampled the soprano or...well, he offers no direct evidence that Seiffert was insufficiently prepared, only the indirect evidence of the tenor's reliance on his own prompter and the earpiece.
- He doesn't say how much rehearsal time was allotted; this was the fourth go-round of the production since 1999, and Met revivals don't always get a lot of stage time.
- The cast was largely new, as well, which presumably complicated the rehearsal period.
- Seiffert has been ill or on the verge of it since the start of the run. Goodness knows, I get foggy-headed when I have a cold. I have never had to sing a Wagnerian role in that condition, for which I'm thankful. I can't guarantee I'd sing every note correctly.
- Lastly, how available was conductor Daniel Barenboim during the rehearsal period? As the Times has reported, he must have spent some time in Boston over the last few weeks rehearsing and performing Elliott Carter's Interventions.
- Ricky Ian Gordon's Orpheus and Eurydice, January 29 to February 8, 2009
- Mark Anthony Turnage's Greek, May 28 to June 7
Friday, December 12, 2008
“It’s a funny grievance coming from a lifetime reporter, that the people that he writes about have an obligation to stay silent,” said Robert Duvin, a lawyer for the orchestra. “We don’t have the same platform, so what we have to do is write letters or have meetings. You guys get to publish every day, and bring the hammer down as often as you want to on anybody you want to.”
Mr. Duvin said he could not address the specifics of Mr. Rosenberg’s lawsuit. But assuming it were true that orchestra officials had urged his dismissal, he said, “So what?”
“I consider what he wrote to be the equivalent of urging the removal of the music director of the Cleveland Orchestra,” Mr. Duvin said. “There are many people who considered his relentless negative assessment, when contrasted with worldwide praise, to be personal, petty and vindictive.”
The lawyer said it was natural for orchestra management to react strongly to such an assessment from its hometown paper. “He doesn’t like what happened,” Mr. Duvin said. “That’s too bad. We didn’t like it either, for years.”
Thursday, December 11, 2008
The Paul Sacher Foundation holds a remarkable collection of composer archives, including those of Bartok, Berio, Sorabji, Webern, Varese, Ligeti, Birtwhistle, Kurtag, Ferneyhough....is your jaw on the floor yet? Read the whole list, which includes some prominent performers as well as composers, here.
The Paul Sacher Foundation has entered into an agreement with the American composer Steve Reich (b. 1936) to take over his musical archive. The working papers of this internationally renowned artist will shortly be made accessible to scholars at the Foundation's premises in Basel.
The Steve Reich Collection at the Paul Sacher Foundation covers the composer's entire oeuvre, from his dodecaphonic early works to his very latest creations, such as Daniel Variations (2006) and Double Sextet (2007). In addition to letters, sound recordings, manuscripts from various stages in the creative process, and other documents, special importance attaches to his many audio and program files, which capture various working layers in the music of a composer to whom computers, synthesizers, and samplers have long been standard compositional tools.
I feel the slightest bit sad about Reich's papers going overseas, as I also feel a bit sad to see Elliott Carter's name on the list. They are New York composers and American composers, and I can't help but wish that there were a place for their papers in the U.S., at the Morgan or NYPL, or the Smithsonian, or the Library of Congress. Very likely there isn't the money to fund the acquisition - I assume the Sacher pays, rather than simply accepting donations. I am grateful that the papers will be preserved in a proper archive, and kept together for study, of course, especially given the possible alternatives.
Reading Anthony Tommasini's review of the Met production of a particular Massenet opera, I was astonished to find an accent aigue on "Meditation" and umlauts in the correct places in the soprano and baritone characters' names.
Out of sheer laziness, this blog eschews accents and diacriticals, and, in most circumstances, so does the Times. Look up Janacek in their archive, for example: no diacriticals. So what gives with Tommasini's review? Did he submit his copy with the diacriticals hand-inserted? Or did the Times upgrade its content-management or publishing system? Inquiring minds want to know!
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
In any event, a day or so ago, I received email with a link to their favorite recordings of the past year. Not the best, mind you; their favorites. Because it would be a problem if they recommended anything dissonant or anything written before 1710 or anything with a singer in it.
At least they've posted their list at ArkivMusic, so if their listeners buy directly, the money goes to a good classical music source. And if they navigate from that page, they might find Arkiv's much more interesting recommendations. If the list were at Amazon, you never know what a listener might buy instead: luggage, a stand mixer, a personal lubricant. Or a book!
The KDFC list contains about what you'd expect: some guitar music, a little Lang Lang, the required Vivaldi Four Seasons, other violin light classics played by a second-tier violinist, some Tchaikowsky, an Einaudi disk. Nothing too challenging - say, the Brahms piano quintet - or atonal - say, the Carter quartets.
There are a couple of surprises in there. Since they like Hilary Hahn's Sibelius violin concerto, they have to mention
Playlist for a centenary:
- Vingt Regards, Yvonne Loriod
- Harawi, Rachel Yakar & Yvonne Loriod
- Turangalila-symphonie, Nagao/Berlin Philharmonic
- Des Canyon aux Etoiles, Chung
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
Me, I'm just wondering when Trebs will withdraw from performances one through five. Remember, you read it here first.
The New York Philharmonic will have a Day of Carter on Saturday, Dec. 13; the day includes a talk with the composer and the world premiere of a new work, Poems of Louise Zukovfky, for soprano (Lucy Shelton) and clarinet (Stanley Drucker, in his valedictory season at the NYPO). It's at the tiny Kaplan Penthouse space, which seats many fewer people than the Yerba Buena Center's Forum space. If you don't have tickets...
Possibly best of all, the Boston Symphony plays Carnegie Hall on the composer's birthday, under adopted New Yorker James Levine. The program features the local premier of yet another new Carter work, Interventions for solo piano and orchestra and includes the work that convinced Carter he wanted to be a composer, Le Sacre du printemps, which I presume needs no introduction. See the BSO web site for more Carter goodies.
One criticism I've heard is that he's burned out, and this I really do not get. His reviews are consistently enthusiastic, perceptive, and often very funny, regardless of whether he loved or hated the music and performances. I read a Kosman review, I wish I'd been there.
Take, for example, his review of this past weekend's Elliott Carter Centenary Celebration concerts, which I'd consider a model: there's enthusiasm for the performers and respect for the composer and what he inspires, even as Joshua ruefully admits that the music itself leaves him in "a state of bewildered incomprehension." (I, a Carter fan, must admit that if you've been grappling with the music for a couple of decades and still don't get it, you probably won't.)
I wish critics' jobs gave them more opportunities to write about music beyond concert reviews. Joshua's extremely good at this, at taking a moment of music and explicating its meanings. See, for example, his remarks on Mahler in the comments section of this Detritus Review posting. Or the series of postings he calls This Magic Moment on his own blog. Give us more!!
Monday, December 08, 2008
- Francesconi, A fuoco
- Saariaho, Sept Papillons
- Zhou Long, Wild Grass
- Boulez, Le Marteau sans maitre
I, for one, would have simply donated back my ticket to Elisir. I only bought it to see Ramon Vargas, who hadn't sung in San Francisco in a few years and who is a perfectly lovely singer. Oh, okay, the half-price ticket offer helped too.
As all the reviewers said, the singing was very good all around, with special honors to Alessandro Corbelli as Dulcamara (the Belcore huffed his way through the fioriture, yeesh, but has a good voice), and production was adorable, though I dispute the plausibility of the girl in overalls considering that it's 1915 or so. That ice cream truck made me want to pick up a pint on the way home. Too bad about Bruno Campanella's sleepy conducting.
As it turns out, my original impulse ("nothing could drag me into the house for another Elisir") turned out to be right, because I left at half-time, making a lone standee very happy when I gave him my 10th-row ticket.
Friday, December 05, 2008
And at Soho the Dog, Matthew Guerrieri has posted a link to his Boston Globe interview with Carter and material that didn't make it into the Globe.
My unasked question for Carter: what did the Harvard campus look like in the 1920s that brought up the worry that building dormitories would ruin it? And get that story about Carter's visit to the White House and his little exchange with Leontyne Price.
I will have something to say, I hope, at the end of the Carter Centenary Celebration here in San Francisco.
1. The composer Tan Dun has written a new work, his Symphony No. 1, "Eroica." (Yes, you're reading that correctly. More below.)
2. The parts are available as PDFs. You can find them on the YouTube Symphony site.
3. There is video of Tan conducting.
4. You download the part you'd like to play; you practice and then record a video of yourself playing the part. You're supposed to watch the conductor video so that you're keeping the proper tempos.
5. You submit the video to YouTube.
6. From these videos, a panel of experts will select the best and create a mashup to post on YouTube.
7. You can also submit a video of yourself playing a solo work for your instrument. You can find suggested works here (link to follow).
8. A panel of experts will select finalists. (London Symphony Orchestra, Berlin Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, Sydney Symphony Orchestra, New York Philharmonic and other leading orchestras around the world will narrow the field of entries down to the semifinalists.)
9. The "YouTube comunity" will then decide who will be part of an orchestra that will perform at Carnegie Hall next year, with Michael Tilson Thomas conducting. Google/YouTube will pay the winners' ways to New York City. The concert is part of a three-day workshop with Thomas.
It's a novel way to get to Carnegie Hall. I am not a big fan of Tan Dun's, based on the mess that was The First Emperor, but was curious about the new piece, especially since he had the nerve to call it "Eroica." So I downloaded and examined the first flute part. It's not especially difficult; even my decades-out-of-practice flute chops are sufficient to play it. And, yes, it incorporates themes from Beethoven's huge, genre-changing Symphony No. 3, subtitled "Eroica." With a couple of weeks' practice...well, as I contemplated the logistics of creating and submitting the video, it dawned on me that I'd better look at the contest rules. Sure enough, if you work for one of the Competition Entities or its parent or subsidiary company, you are ineligible to enter. So I'm out as a possible participant. Whew! I don't have to get the Hindemith flute sonata, which I learned in the 10th grade, back in shape after all.
A couple of bloggers have already written about this thing:
- Matthew Guerrieri is amused.
- Amanda Ameer at Life's a Pitch says "it's not a bad thing" and tells you why.
- Greg Sandow thinks it's typical of the way bottom-up initiatives can change classical music. "This exists only because a couple of people at Google thought of it!" He calls it "auditioning for orchestra projects on line;" I note that this is one particular project. He also says "pitched it to the rest of the company." Really? I heard about this in the New York Times.
- Anybody could have thought up and executed the YouTube video mashup, with any piece they chose - or wrote.
- Tan Dun, Michael Tilson Thomas, and Carnegie Hall are involved only because of Google's enormous influence and, you know, money. The commission cost something (and from his position as an orchestral consultant, Greg can come closer to guessing how much than I can), bringing a couple of hundred people to New York City will cost something, renting Carnegie costs something, presumably MTT is getting a fee, etc., etc.
- Of course, Tan Dun and MTT's prestige was involved in getting the musical institutions involved. It's a long, long list, which I've taken from the press release and will put at the end of this posting.
- Every institution involved expects to get something out of it, at a minimum, publicity.
But what about aspiring pros? Are we going to get conservatory students entering? Freelancers? What would happen if you're a violinist, you win a spot in the Carnegie Hall program, and you find yourself auditioning for the BSO next year? Will your resume say "Member of the YouTube Symphony Carnegie Hall concert"?
And who will gain what from this venture? Well, there will be a lot of publicity for MTT and Tan Dun, for that long list of orchestras that's involved, for Carnegie Hall, and, of course, for Google and YouTube. Very likely a lot of curious people who are not classical music enthusiasts will be pulled in by the spectacle. I happen to like the spectacular aspects of classical music, in the form of gigantic messy works, especially stage works (Mahler's 8th, Wagner's Ring, Bantock's Omar Khayyam, to name a few), and in the form of crazy virtuoso performers. Really, the only thing missing from this piece seems to be Lang Lang. Maybe there's a piano part? On the other hand, will this apparent one-shot deal get people away from their computers and into the concert hall?
I would think not - so I'm going to suggest that the long list of participating musical organizations throw in a whole bunch of tickets to their concerts, and give 'em away at random to the entrants.
Selected list of program partners as of December 1, 2008, from the press release:
Amsterdam Music School
Arnhem Music School
Bangalore Music Association
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam
The Hague Music School
Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra
Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra
London Symphony Orchestra
National Music Conservatory
New World Symphony
New York Philharmonic
Orchesta de Galicia
Orchestre de Paris
San Francisco Symphony
Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra
Sydney Symphony Orchestra
Taipei Philharmonic Orchestra
Michael Tilson Thomas
William Joseph International Academy
Yale School of Music
Thursday, December 04, 2008
C'mon, folks: he's only going to turn 100 once. And you're not going to have too many opportunities to hear the Pacifica Quartet play all five string quartets (to date) and the great Ursula Oppens play all of the piano music (to date) on one weekend.
Personal to David Schiff: Wait a decade or so before issuing the third edition of your excellent book. Bet you thought you wouldn't need one, back in 1998 when the second edition was published.
Tuesday, December 02, 2008
About that price differential: what you pay depends on the format you choose. The recordings are available as 320 kbps MP3 and as HD Surround with PC Lossless encoding.
I haven't bought any of these and so can't report on either the sound or musical quality. I stopped looking at the site when I realized I'd have to click every album to find out what's on it, because the recordings index page doesn't display the track listings. Sure, it wouldn't take that long to go through the 15 or so albums now available, but this is an avoidable (and easily correctable!) design error. I've emailed the BSO about this because I'm not the only crank out here, and they will want to maximize sales while minimizing user frustration.
In addition to the recordings, I want to point out another fine feature of the BSO web site: the BSO Classical Companion, where you can find information about classical music. To my relief, it's not focussed on the 18th and 19th century warhorses, but primarily on music of our time and the recent past.
I listened to a chunk of the Elliott Carter Centenary episode, which features both talk and performances. I wasn't paying attention when the works and performers were introduced, but the first piece seems to be the Double Concerto, and isn't that Oliver Knussen conducting? There are also episodes about Berlioz & Messiaen (what a pairing!), John Harbison, William Bolcom, and Henri Dutilleux. Highly, highly recommended.