Monday, April 05, 2021

Museum Mondays


Virgin and Child
Relief in limestone ("Verona marble")
Italian, c. 1160-80
Victoria & Albert Museum
London, November, 2019

 

Friday, April 02, 2021

Friday Photo


Eggs from Full Belly Farm
Each one is a different color.
March, 2021
Oakland, CA

 

Thursday, April 01, 2021

Spring at OTSL

Opera Theatre of St. Louis has a very nice spring season on offer, all performed outdoors:

  • Gianni Schicchi, Puccini
  • Highway 1, U.S.A., William Grant Still
  • La Voix Humaine, Poulenc
  • New Works, Bold Voices (three new short works)
  • I Dream a World, a Celebration of Juneteenth
Patricia Racette is singing Elle and directing the Poulenc; the wonderful baritone Will Liverman is in Highway 1, as is soprano Nicole Cabell. The new short works look great, as well; they're by Damien Sneed, Laura Karpman, and Steven Mackey. Leonard Slatkin conducts the Puccini and Still works.

 

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Musical Chairs Update

Well, didn't take long for Sir Antonio Pappano to be appointed to the post Sir Simon Rattle is vacating. Pappano becomes Chief Conductor Designate of the LSO in September, 2023, leaving his job at the Royal Opera vacant the following year.

Open positions:

  • Royal Opera, when Sir Antonio Pappano leaves for the LSO in September, 2024.
  • Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, when Robert Spano leaves at the end of 2021-22. 
  • City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, when MGT leaves at the end of 2021-22
  • Baltimore Symphony, because Marin Alsop did not renew her contract there
  • Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra following the firing of Daniele Gatti
  • Opera Theatre of Saint Louis: Stephen Lord resigned following accusations of sexual harassment. OTSL has not named a new music director.
  • Michigan Opera Theater: Stephen Lord resigned following accusations of sexual harassment. MOT has not named a new music director.
  • Teatro Regio Turin: Open now with departure of Gianandrea Noseda. the Teatro Regional's has not named a new music director.
  • Minnesota Opera: Michael Christie has left. MO has not named a new music director. 
  • Sarasota Orchestra after Anu Tali  leaves at the end of 2018-2019. Jeffrey Kahane is "artistic advisor" but whether that means he is conducting the orchestra....I do not know.
  • Melbourne Symphony: Sir Andrew Davis leaves at the end of 2019. No new music director has been named.
  • Opera de Paris, when Philippe Jordan leaves in 2020. No successor has been named.
  • Virginia Symphony: JoAnn Falletta is now laureate, but nsuccessor has been named.
  • Shanghai Symphony Orchestra
  • Minnesota Orchestra, when Osmo Vänskä leaves in 2022.
Conductors looking for jobs (that is, as of the near future, or now, they do not have a posting):
  • Miguel Harth-Bedoya
  • Lionel Bringuier
  • Juanjo Mena
  • Ludovic Morlot
  • Sian Edwards
  • Jun Markl
  • Ingo Metzmacher
  • Jac van Steen
  • Mark Wigglesworth
  • David Robertson
  • Peter Oundjian
  • Philippe Auguin
  • Kwame Ryan
  • Ilan Volkov
  • Aleksandr Markovic
  • Lothar Koenigs
  • Henrik Nanasi
  • Carlos Kalmar
And closed:
  • London Symphony Orchestra: Sir Antonio Pappano becomes Chief Conductor Designate in September, 2023, Chief Conductor the following year.
  • Fort Worth Symphony: Robert Spano to succeed Miguel Harth-Bedoya.
  • Oregon Symphony: David Danzmayr succeeds Carlos Kalmar at the beginning of the 2021-22 season.
  • Scottish Chamber Orchestra: Maxim Emelyanychev has succeeded Robin Ticciati
  • Orchestre de Paris, Klaus Mäkelä to succeed Daniel Harding
  • Montreal Symphony Orchestra: Raphael Payare has succeeded Kent Nagano.
  • Richmond Symphony: Valentina Peleggi succeeds Steven Smith.
  • Singapore Symphony: Han Graf succeeded Lan Shui.
  • BBC National Orchestra of Wales: Ryan Bancroft succeeded Thomas Søndergård
  • BRSO hires Sir Simon Rattle to succeed the late Mariss Jansons, effective 2023.
  • Jader Bignamini is now Music Director of the Detroit SO, succeeding Leonard Slatkin.
  • Opera North: Garry Walker is music director designate
  • Sydney Symphony Orchestra names Simone Young their chief conductor; she takes over in two years, succeeding David Roberts.
  • San Francisco Opera appoints Eun Sun Kim its music director, starting August 1, 2021. She succeeds Nicola Luisotti.
  • Philharmonia Orchestra names Santtu-Matias Rouvali as its next Principal Conductor, starting in 2021-22.

Read more at Musical Chairs of the Past

News from London


Something not-quite-old, something very new.

The news came out a few weeks ago that no, London will not be getting a new concert hall after all. This plan, to build a new Centre for Music at the current site of the Museum of London, dates from 2019.

What changed? Brexit and the announcement that Sir Simon Rattle was returning to Germany after a sadly short tenure at the London Symphony Orchestra. 

Closely related is today's news: Sir Antonio Pappano will take the helm of the LSO following Rattle's departure. He becomes Chief Conductor Designate in September, 2023, and steps down from Covent Garden at the end of the 2023-24 season. This opens up the top job at the ROH, of course.



Monday, March 29, 2021

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Levine Coverage


Lincoln Center Fountain
Photo by Lisa Hirsch


The coverage of James Levine's demise is....interesting. There are a few people trying to be "fair", meaning they are trying to be "balanced" despite Levine's alleged crimes (and everything noncriminal involved with brushing his health problems under the nearest rug). 

I realize that an obituary written by a journalist as news, running in a newspaper, is supposed to assess the whole of its subject's life, but there is such a thing as soft-pedaling and there is definitely quite a bit of that around. There is lots of room for arts-related opinion pieces that really dissect Levine's career and that work to understand how he managed to stay in one of the most powerful positions in the U.S. classical music world for decades despite the rumors that swirled around him. (And why the BSO hired him to be their music director despite the rumors and his health problems.) That's the kind of thing I'd like to see more of. 

I want to note a couple of factual items that came out after the announcement of his death:

1. Levine died of natural causes. The exact cause hasn't been released, but in addition to wondering whether he'd died as the result of injuries suffered in a fall, I also wondered whether suicide was the cause.

2. In December, 2019, he married his friend? companion? life partner? Suzanne Thompson, the oboist, with whom he lived for many years. The question marks should be read in the context of his alleged fondness for underage males.

Here's a round-of of coverage of Levine's death. Note that I have not yet read all of this, so there isn't commentary on every link yet. There will be, but not until this weekend.

  • Composer, teacher, and performer Elaine Fine discusses the evolution of her thinking about musicians, in a compassionate and thoughtful way. 
  • Conductor and cellist Kenneth Woods has a scorching blog post  that tells you a lot about what kind of a person that Levine was. Unusually, I suggest reading the comments, which are informative and include an extensive comment by a long-time Met orchestra member. I have elsewhere read a report to the effect that Levine would talk to singers through an intermediary, which is weird for someone whose job it is to work with singers.
  • Joshua Kosman (SF Chron) tells you about what the reactions to Levine's death tell you about the people making the pronouncements.
  • AZ Madonna (Boston Globe) calls for the end of genius-worship. Here is Madonna's earlier call for Peter Gelb's resignation
  • Jeremy Eichler, Globe, obituary 
  • Anthony Tommasini, NY Times: obituary
  • Anthony Tommasini, NY Times: appraisal
  • NY Times: timeline of Levine's career
  • Boston Symphony, notice of Levine's passing. It is very short, and finishes with two sentences that tell the heart of the story: "The last period of his tenure as BSO music director was plagued by ill health, which resulted in his resignation in 2011. Subsequently, there emerged allegations of sexual improprieties which virtually ended his career as many musical institutions severed ties with him, including the Boston Symphony Orchestra."
  • William R. Braun, Opera News, obituary
  • Justin Davidson, vulture.com, obituary
  • Tim Page, Washington Post, obituary
  • Michael Andor Brodeur, Washington Post, appraisal
  • Guardian, obituary
  • Tom Jacobs, SFCV, appraisal, worse than soft-pedaling. He seems to be trying to excuse Levine somehow. Note the outraged comment from composer and violist Kurt Rohde.

Feast of the Annunciation


Annunciation
Bernardo Daddi, ~1335
Louvre, Paris
October, 2018

 

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

San Francisco Opera Streams

 


War Memorial Opera House
Photo by Lisa Hirsch

It's the next batch of streaming performances from San Francisco Opera:
  • Donizetti’s Don Pasquale April 3–4
  • Getty and Debussy Double Bill of The Fall of the House of Usher April 10–11
  • Verdi’s Don Carlo April 17–18

My view of these works? Don Pasquale is very very thin and meets the definition of lightweight and dumb. The cast was good. Regarding the Poe double bill, oy vey. The Debussy is an interesting completion of a fragment. The Getty....uh...well, I'm going to let Joshua Kosman's review of the double bill do the heavy lifting here.

Don Carlo, though: this is a masterwork, one of Verdi's greatest accomplishments. The production is terrible (and on its way to the junkyard if it's not there yet), and the direction was terrible, but the cast was (mostly) tremendous and the conducting just fine. Watch this one; for one thing, baritone Mariusz Kwiecien has retired from opera owing to back problems, so we will sadly not be seeing him here again.


Tuesday, March 23, 2021

You Don't Say.

Received from the Google Search Console; formerly Webmaster Tools:

Here is how some of your top queries performed in the week of Mar 15, 2021 to Mar 21, 2021:

  • Query: james levine metropolitan opera
    • #1 query on your site
    • 2,611 impressions
    • 34.39% of total site impressions, more than the 0% it got in the previous weeks.
  • Query: james levine
    • #2 query on your site
    • 668 impressions
    • 8.8% of total site impressions, more than the 0% it got in the previous weeks.

 Not only is this unsurprising for a classical music blog in the week that James Levine's death was announced, Blogger helpfully includes a panel that's basically Google Analytics Lite, with inflated statistics because it doesn't even try to screen out likely spam, as Analytics does. I happened to check that panel last week.

Monday, March 22, 2021

It's Not Over Yet.

The COVID-19 pandemic and associated quarantine, that is. San Francisco Performances has just canceled or postponed the following performances, some of which I would have loved to see

CANCELLATIONS
April
Natasha Paremski, piano | Sat, April 10, 2021, 7:30pm
Herbst Theatre

Sean Jones, “Dizzy Spellz,” trumpet | Fri, April 16, 2021, 7:30pm
Herbst Theatre

Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain | Sat, April 17, 2021, 7:30pm
Herbst Theatre

Aaron Diehl, piano | Wed, April 21, 2021, 7:30pm
Herbst Theatre

Dreamers’ Circus | Fri, April 23, 2021, 7:30pm
Herbst Theatre

Anthony Roth Costanzo, countertenor, Attaca Quartet and Timo Andres, piano | Thurs, April 29, 2021, 7:30pm
Herbst Theatre

May
Chiaroscuro Quartet | Sat, May 1, 2021, 7:30pm
Herbst Theatre

Golda Schultz, soprano and Jonathan Ware, piano | Tues, May 4, 2021, 7:30pm
Herbst Theatre

Thibault Cauvin, guitar | Sat, May 8, 2021, 7:30pm
Herbst Theatre
Presented in association with OMNI Foundation for the Performing Arts

Danish String Quartet | Thurs, May 13, 2021, 7:30pm
Herbst Theatre

---------------------
 
POSTPONEMENTS
 April
The Romeros with Isabel Leonard, soprano | Thurs, April 8, 2021, 7:30pm
Herbst Theatre

Alexander String Quartet/Robert Greenberg | Sat, April 10, 2021, 10:00am 
Herbst Theatre

May
Alexander String Quartet/Robert Greenberg | 
Sat, May 1, 2021, 10:00am 
Herbst Theatre

Museum Mondays


Medieval Window
Victoria & Albert Museum
London, November, 2019

 

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Levine's Reputation


Lincoln Center Fountain
Photo by Lisa Hirsch



The various obituaries for the late James Levine are heaping praise on him, and honestly, you should be asking yourself how much of this is even deserved.

The over-inflation of James Levine's reputation comes from various sources. Back when he stepped down as Music Director, Anthony Tommasini praised his interest in modern music and expansion of the repertory, citing Pelleas et Melisande (1902) and Berg's operas (1922; 1937) as evidence. Come ON.

The Met continues this on their home page, where they state the following:
Celebrated for shaping the Met Orchestra and Chorus into the finest in the world, he was also responsible for considerably expanding the Met repertoire. Levine conducted the first-ever Met performances of Mozart’s Idomeneo and La Clemenza di Tito, Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex, Verdi’s I Vespri SicilianiI Lombardi and Stiffelio, Weill’s Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, Schoenberg’s Erwartung and Moses und Aron, Berg’s Lulu, Rossini’s La Cenerentola, and Berlioz’s Benvenuto Cellini, as well as the world premieres of John Corigliano’s The Ghosts of Versailles and John Harbison’s The Great Gatsby.

There's plenty of bullshit in that quotation. The Met Orchestra is a terrific group, for sure, the equal of the best American and European orchestras. Saying it's the "first in the world" seems to me to be stretching things, owing to the many, many superb ensembles performing today.

The Chorus is an excellent group, though maybe not as great as, say, the amazing Bayreuth Festival chorus, not to mention this key point: the Met's chorus masters train the chorus, not the music director. The current chorus master is Donald Palumbo; his immediate predecessor was Raymond Hughes; before that was the legendary David Stivender. My recollection is that Stivender should get a lot of credit for the group's excellence and I know that Palumbo is considered to be a terrific musician and chorus master.

If those are all the Met premieres that Levine conducted, I would call that pathetic for his 45-year tenure. I count fifteen (15) operas. They weren't the only Met / world premieres between 1972 and 2017 by any means, and presumably Levine gets some credit for changes to the rep. With a schedule of 20-25 operas annually, though, a conductor who was truly dedicated to expanding the repertory would have found more works new to the Met to lead. 

It's also important to remember that Levine stated publicly and has been widely quoted as saying that there just weren't enough new operas that were good enough for the Met. This is also total bullshit, to which the only proper response was "maybe you should get out a little more, Jimmy." Under Levine, the Met managed to perform its second opera composed by a woman, more than a century since the first, and managed to not perform any operas composed by Black people, although the company did manage to commission and perform Tan Dun's The First Emperor.

But the Met was late to an awful lot: the company commissioned Philip Glass's The Voyage, then waited until 2008 for Satyagraha (premiered in 1979) and 2019 for Akhnaten (premiered in 1984). They were decades behind other groups, both production originated at the ENO, and both have been extremely popular. John Adams's Nixon in China and The Death of Klinghofer had long waits, though Doctor Atomic made it to the Met stage only three years after its first performances in San Francisco.

Their Janacek record is also terrible! Except for the two 1925 performances of Jenufa, San Francisco was ahead of the Met in performing The Makropulos Case, Kat'a Kabanova, and modern performances of Jenufa. We've had The Cunning Little Vixen, but (alas) not From the House of the Dead, where the Met did perform it in 2009.

We need also to take a look at Levine's record as music director of the Boston Symphony. I did, the other day, and while his record of performing new music there was better than I thought, it was also narrowly focused. He performed works by Bolcolm, Carter, Ligeti, Wuorinen, Sessions, Harbison, Lutoslawski, Messiaen, Babbitt, Perle, Schuller, Foss, Lieberson, Dawe, Duttileux, Barber, Poulenc, Milhaud among post-war and living composers, plus a fair bit of Berg and Schoenberg.

I would have gone to most of the concerts featuring those composers, but he missed an awful lot of good composers. (You can check this yourself at the BSO's performance archive.)

Lastly, here's Peter Gelb:

“No artist in the 137-year history of the Met had as profound an impact as James Levine,” Peter Gelb, the company’s general manager, said in a statement. “He raised the Met’s musical standards to new and greater heights during a tenure that spanned five decades.”

It's difficult to compare the impact and influence of artists working in very different periods, and clearly Gelb means "on the Met", but I must note that the Met's chief conductors included Arturo Toscanini, who had a profound impact on orchestral quality and was a champion of new music in the 19th and early 20th centuries, however seemingly conservative he became as he aged. And you can currently find plenty of criticism of Levine's actual conducting, from interpretive blandness to technical deterioration starting in the 1990s, to the point that for at least part of this century, the orchestra was following the concertmaster rather than Levine. Why would a big institution like the Met keep a music director who was losing the ability to conduct? (Toscanini retired from the NBC Symphony after one memory lapse that we know of.) Well, that's an interesting question, now, isn't it.

Friday, March 19, 2021

Friday Photo


Golden Eagle or Juvenile Bald Eagle in Flight
Seen From Below Against a Cloudy Sky
Neha Bay, Olympic Peninsula
July, 2007

 

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Secrets, Lies, and Levine




James Levine, serial child rapist and longtime conductor / music director / artistic director at the Metropolitan Opera and Boston Symphony Orchestra, died on March 9, 2021, in Palm Springs, CA, at 77. The cause of death has not (yet) been announced. It could have been Parkinson's Disease, which Levine had for an unknown number of years, or it could have been from complications of a fall (he was injured at least twice in bad falls), or it could have been some completely unrelated issue, such as a stroke or heart attack or cancer.

You can read obituaries in the NY Times, Washington Post, and elsewhere about Levine's musical career, or you can peruse the Met annals or read reviews. I have a few, mostly non-musical, things to say.

1. He lied to the public over a very long time about his health.
2. He might have lied to the Metropolitan Opera about his health.
3. If the Met knew about his health problems, they covered for him.
4. He lied to the public about his long history of sexual abuse.
5. He presumably lied to the Met about the abuse.
6. The Met covered for him.
7. He bamboozled a lot of people, including reasonably smart journalists, into thinking that he had  been a major expander of the Met's repertory. He was not. Check the label Levine on this blog; there's a  post where I debunked this ludicrous claim. 

See the pattern? A powerful man who was financially important to a cultural institution,  and an institution ready to lie to protect him.*

If you think that the Met didn't know about the abuse, or at the very least the forty-plus years of rumors of abuse, there is a bridge I would like to sell you, and I will give you your choice of bridges, even. 

I knew about the rumors as a grad student at Stony Brook. Terry Teachout, who then lived in his home state of Missouri, knew the rumors in the 1970s. A fellow posting on Twitter a few years back said "I was a 17-year-old in LA and I knew the rumors." The parents of children in the kids' chorus at the BSO (or maybe it was Tanglewood) told their kids not to ever be alone with him. The late composer Matt Marks noted that "I knew when I was 15, and if I knew, the Met knew."

The Met knew; they covered for his health problems and they covered for the abuse. There's a lot of criminal behavior to around. With Levine gone, maybe more of the facts around Levine and the cover-ups will come out.



* See also, Domingo, Placido

Annals of Music Journalism

The NY Times, caught flat-footed without a pre-written obituary and somehow omitting Parkinson's disease, from which Levine suffered:



Here's the Washington Post, with an obit on file, publishing just a little too hastily:


DATETK = DATE TO COME
PLACETK = PLACE TO COME
XXX = person who made public the death

A friend points out privately that there are discrepancies between these two obits as to various date-related factors, including his age at his Met debut. Presumably these will be corrected at some point.



Monday, March 15, 2021

Museum Mondays


Bartolo di Fredi
LACMA
March, 2017


The LACMA web pages for these marvelous paintings says nothing about their known history. They are not currently on view; I was lucky to see them on that particular visit to LA. If you click through, you can see larger and clearer images of them.

 

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Friday, March 12, 2021

Coronaversary

It's a year today -- well, 52 weeks -- since my last approximately normal day before the shutdown. Here's what my last week looked like:

March 6-8 - American Judo & Jujitsu Federation annual convention. A few folks I know stayed away because of the impending pandemic, including one of my students. I went, but woke up in the morning with a sore foot and spend most of the weekend reading in my room.

March 8 - I taught the last session of my safe rolling & falling class. (I teach this periodically; if you're interested in learning how to protect yourself if you fall, which is potentially deadly, let me know. I hope to resume teaching some time this year.)

March 9. I went to my office. None of my office mates were there. My company had already said we could optionally work from home. 

March 10 - I worked from home for the first time in the pandemic. My company recommended that we work from home starting on the 11th. Nobody came to jujitsu class. I yakked with an instructor in another style for a half hour and then we both headed home.

March 12 - I taught my last jujitsu class and practiced throwing with one of my students.

March 13 - I got a haircut that included the application of some blue dye over somewhat blondish hair (I am not a blonde).

March 16. My company closed its offices.

A year later, I really wish I'd gone into the office once more between March 10 and 16. I have stuff that's been sitting there, including a favorite sweater, my preferred headphones, and other stuff, for a year now. Oh, well; the vaccination process will catch up with me eventually, and some day my office will be open again.




Friday Photo


Deer in a yard
Port Townsend, Washington
July, 2007

 

Thursday, March 11, 2021

The Pit Band


Phantom of the Opera, 1925


Last October, the great radio show This American Life had an episode called "Music of the Night After Night After Night." It's about the lives and attitudes of the folks who play in the pit orchestra for Phantom of the Opera, the longest-running show in Broadway history.

It turns out that some of the players have been in the orchestra for decades, playing eight shows a week, month in and month out, year in and year out.

Why? Well, it's a job! Jobs playing musical instruments are few and far between. This is good, steady work.

The episode is loving and hilarious, and if you know anything at all about the lives of musicians, I think you'll like this.

Monday, March 08, 2021

Museum Mondays



Monument of Marchese Spinetta Malaspina
Victoria & Albert Museum, London
November, 2019



 

Friday, March 05, 2021

San Francisco Opera Ring Festival


Ring Festival Trailer
Courtesy of San Francisco Opera

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, San Francisco Opera is streaming its 2018 Ring production on consecutive Saturdays this month, with each opera available until late the day after the stream starts. In addition, there is a fantastic lineup of interviews, panel discussions, and lectures. You can see the full schedule on the company's calendar.  The Festival kicks off at 1 p.m. today, with Ring director Francesca Zambello, conductor Donald Runnicles, bass-baritone Greer Grimsley and San Francisco Opera General Director Matthew Shilvock talking about the production; you can see Das Rheingold starting tomorrow.

The non-opera events are available live and on demand; you can see individual events for $15 or buy a Festival Pass ($99 for the general population; $69 for SFO donors at $75 or more). There are free passes for high school and college teachers and students as well. Details here.

I am generally opposed to music that starts as soon as you open a web page, but I do kinda wish I could have the Valhalla motive play when you view this post! Absent that, here's an excerpt from a 1951 Ring performance, which you can play or not. The video above is accompanied by....perhaps more generally familiar music from the Ring.