Friday, March 30, 2007

Reactions to the Record: Perspectives on Historical Performance

Stanford University has a fascinating symposium coming up; I'll just quote from their Web site:
The Stanford Department of Music is hosting a three-day symposium to explore the vivid styles of performance heard on the earliest acoustic recordings and player piano rolls, styles that began to vanish with the First World War and were considered almost scandalous after the Second. This will be a forum for experiment and dialogue, and the focus will be practical: what might these traces of vintage styles mean to performers, composers and listeners today?
The symposium will be held from April 19 to April 21 at Stanford, in Palo Alto, CA. The cost is a quite reasonable $120 for non-students ($90 if you paid before February 15...). Presenters include Will Crutchfield, Malcolm Bilson, Robert Philip, and the St. Lawrence String Quartet.

The schedule is juicy. I wish there were some heavyweights from the record-collecting world on the program, and sadly no women are among the presenters other than Lesley Robertson, violist of the St. Lawrence String Quartet. (Okay. I admit that what I'm thinking is more strongly worded than "sadly." It's 2007, for crying out loud. I understand there may have been scheduling issues and that women may have been invited to present, doesn't look so good.)

I plan to be there and expect to blog extensively about the symposium.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


When I saw the photo posted by Justin Davidson, who is guest-blogging at The Rest is Noise, I thought the concert hall was being towed into port by a tug.

You think I'm nuts? Some very large objects can be towed, such as the Troll A submersible platform, for example.

Herzog & De Meuron are also responsible for the new De Young Museum in San Francisco, a building whose exterior I love and whose interior I consider a partial success. Some of the galleries are lovely. But the layout is confusing and I genuinely hate both the area where you pay the admission fee - it's no better than a movie-theater entrance, and a rather mean one at that - and the main lobby, a huge, cold, almost featureless space dominated by a huge and impersonal painting by Gerhard Richter. There's not much else to look at there, and I invariably find myself wanting to flee the space for the more hospitable side and upstairs galleries.

I think that would be the reaction of almost anyone who'd grown up with the great museums of New York City: I have been imprinted since childhood on the Beaux Arts splendor of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Museum of Natural History, with their glorious, well-proportioned, and welcoming lobbies.

That's probably why I adored a different Herzog & De Meuron project, the Tate Modern, about which Justin expresses some queasiness. I understand why, and yet I'm glad the disused power station wasn't demolished. The turbine room at the Tate Modern is surely the biggest and grandest display space I'll ever be in. Not even the richest of the rich could build something that large; the turbine room enables the creation of art on a such a big scale it can't be exhibited anywhere else. I wish the good people of London would put the other abandoned power station to equally good use. (Hmm, maybe they are.)

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Getting Rid of the Underline

So, you may have noticed (or maybe not) that the ugly underline is gone from the posting titles. Here's how I did it.

1. Go to Template->Edit HTML
2. Locate text that is something like this: a, a:visited {
color: #000000;

3. Change it to this: a, a:visited {
color: #000000;
text-decoration: none;

The critical bit is
text-decoration: none;, which overrides what's in the template's CSS (I think).

3. Save the template.

When He's Right...

ACD reposts and responds to a thoroughly ignorant posting at a blog I've heard of but never read. I think I won't bother! 

 The historic preservation movement in the United States originated with the demolition of Pennsylvania Station, a grand and glorious building, to make way for the current Madison Square Garden, a building that could most charitably be described as undistinguished. If I were in an uncharitable mood...well, anyway. Important Modernist architects such as Philip Johnson marched for preserving Penn Station. In general, unlike the 2blowhards, Modernist architects know something about where they came from and mostly recognize the great work of the past. 

 Is there bad or damaging Modernist architecture? OF COURSE THERE IS. I've seen the Barbican in London*; I've shuddered at those Le Corbu towers, so separate from each other and the cities around them, and seen how well badly that works as urban design. 

But, you know, there's crap in every architectural style. And plenty of Modernist architects in the U.S. live in Modernist houses. (For that matter, as I look over the comments at 2blowhards, I have to wonder if any of these people are aware of Joseph Eichler, a California developer of modest modernist houses derived from FLW that were built for and purchased by middle-class people of modest means. We're talking about houses that sold for $20K-$25K in the 50s and 60s. Eichler, a social as well as architectural progressive, integrated his developments at a time when that could get you picketed, boycotted, etc.) 

Updated with Eichler info, Tuesday.

* August, 2020: I've changed my mind, mostly, about the Barbican.

That Quiz

Okay, I'll play too.

1. Name an opera you love for the libretto, even though you don't particularly like the music.

The Barber of Seville. (So shoot me, but I am not a Rossini fan.)

2. Name a piece you wish Glenn Gould had played.

Something by Sorabji.

3. If you had to choose: Charles Ives or Carl Ruggles?

Are you kidding? Ives.

4. Name a piece you're glad Glenn Gould never played.

Piano part in one of the Schubert song cycles.

5. What's your favorite unlikely solo passage in the repertoire?

Either the piccolo/tuba passage in the Britten violin concerto or the accordian/strings passage at the end of Ades's Chamber Symphony. Okay, not quite solos.

6. What's a Euro-trash high-concept opera production you'd love to see? (No Mortier-haters get to duck this one, either—be creative.)

The reverse of Alex's nomination: an all-woman Billy Budd, with the sailors all dressed as Catholic schoolgirls, and let's see if we can work some sex into it.

7. Name an instance of non-standard concert dress you wish you hadn't seen.

Either the orange paisley Anne-Sofie von Otter turned up in a couple of years back or that monstrous quilt Jane Eaglen wore at the Levine Gala in 1996.

8. What aging rock-and-roll star do you wish had tried composing large-scale chorus and orchestra works instead of Paul McCartney?

Yes. Or maybe Al Kooper.

9. If you had to choose: Carl Nielsen or Jean Sibelius?


10. If it was scientifically proven that Beethoven's 9th Symphony caused irreversible brain damage, would you still listen to it?

Maybe I'm already brain-damaged, because I can't remember the last time I heard it.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Christopher Rouse's Requiem

Keith Chaffee blogs on the first performance of Christopher Rouse's Requiem.

It sounds like a great piece - and there must have been some fundraising happening to put it on, with that orchestra. I wonder if it would scare Ragnar Bohlin?

Friday, March 23, 2007

Misuse of Copyright

Matthew Guerrieri reports on attempts by the Rachmaninov family to extend copyright on the composer's works even further.

This is bad in so many ways. Matthew discusses some of the reasons. See the work of Lawrence Lessig for more reasons why perpetual copyright is not a good idea.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Chora Nova - This Sunday!

Works by Brahms (Neue Liebeslieder Waltzes), Vaughan Williams (Serenade to Music), Badings (Three Breton Songs), Elgar, and a smattering of other composers. I think it will be great.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

7:30 p.m.

First Congregational Church, Berkeley, Channing & Dana



Vom Gebirge Well auf Well
kommen Regengüsse,
und ich gäbe dir so gern
hunderttausend Küsse.

American Liszt Society Annual Festival

Bet you didn't know that the American Liszt Society's annual festival will be in San Francisco this year - but it is, sponsored by the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and held at the Conservatory's beautiful new quarters in Civic Center.

The festival, called "Liszt in Paris: Virtuousity, Philosophy, and Romance" is next week, from Thursday, March 29 through Saturday, March 31. The program and application are here. The cost to attend is $100, with various discounts for Liszt Society members and so on. William Welborn coordinated the festival.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Eight in Twelve

We interrupt the Bernard Holland discussion with late-breaking news: Madama Butterfly comes to San Francisco Opera yet again. Here's the record:

October, 1995 - 8 performances
December, 1995 - 4 performances
June, 1997 - 20 performances (with several rotating casts)
January, 1999 - 8 performances
June, 2002 - 9 performances
January, 2003 - 5 performances
May/June, 2006 - [some number of performances I don't have handy]
December, 2007 - 5 performances

Perhaps this clarifies why I think it's a good idea to give the classics a rest once in a while. I would actually like to see Patricia Racette in this role, but, you know, it'll only encourage them if I buy a ticket.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Fish, Barrel

Bernard Holland on Nico Muhly's concert:
Explaining why Elizabethan church music and pieces by the young American Nico Muhly were found together onstage at Zankel Hall on Friday requires intellectual gymnastics beyond my competence.
Read the whole stupid thing here. I'm betting that Alex or Steve will have something a little more cogent to say.

Compare and Contrast 3

Die Aegyptische Helene is performed at the Met for the first time since the heyday of Maria Jeritza, and there's some disagreement about what's on stage:
  • Anthony Tommasini in the Times (it may go into the paid archive at the end of this week)

  • Sieglinde's first, second, and third postings (okay, Sieglinde has also posted about Voigt, her size change, etc., but I don't want this getting too cluttered)

  • Justin Davidson is here

  • Wellsung has a few things to say too

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Die Meistersinger

I'm joining Steve in giving ACD just a bit of the vapors, or maybe not.

No argument here about the Kna magic in all things Wagner; I have a few of his recordings and there are no better conductors of the canon. He has some equals in particular recordings and performances, but a Kna performance is always special in its blend of detail, mass, and sweep. He's capable of making miserably-sung performances, like that live Tristan, come together and work as convincing music-drama despite the quality of the singing.

My argument is with "the rich, seemingly effortless baritonal heldentenor of [Hans] Hopf." I've got a Hopf performance that is roughly contemporaneous with the Meistersinger ACD has in hand, a Tristan from La Scala that I bought for de Sabata's conducting (surprisingly bad!) and Grob-Prandl's Isolde (stunning, bringing together the femininity and tonal beauty of Flagstad with the high notes, volume, and dramatic involvement of Nilsson). Hopf is an embarrassment after Act I, where he's acceptable. Act II...shudder. I'm afraid to put on Act III. Maybe Tristan is just too much for him, maybe he's lots better in that Meistersinger, but it's awfully hard to imagine Hopf's singing as "effortless."

Monday, March 12, 2007

Changing His Tune

For years, we've heard KDFC's Director of Operations, Bill Leuth, telling us that KDFC has eliminated vocal music (except for that slot rather early on Sunday mornings) because the audience doesn't want to hear it - it interrupts the consistency of their experience.

I guess David Gockley made him an offer he couldn't refuse, because today KDFC and the San Francisco Opera announced an agreement to broadcast pre-recorded performances from the Opera:
KDFC will broadcast full-length productions, digitally recorded live at the War Memorial Opera House and presented commercial-free, on the first Sunday night of every month at 8 p.m. The series begins April 1 with Puccini's Manon Lescaut, with yours truly as program host.

It will be a thrill welcoming one of the world's finest opera companies to KDFC, and bringing opera back to Bay Area radio. Enjoy!
That's great news. For his next act, maybe he'll bring back the Met broadcasts.

Updates: The broadcast schedule is on the SFO Web site. Joshua Kosman reports on the broadcasts.


To the Symphony Saturday night, for the last performance in Alan Gilbert's current run, a program of Thomas Adès's Chamber Symphony, Beethoven's Triple Concerto, and Mozart's 41st Symphony ("Jupiter"). My companion, The Standing Room, took off after intermission, and he had the right idea: the Mozart was somewhere between eh and zzzzz. Gilbert's a perfectly decent conductor, but I want to hear him in new music, and, really, how much is left to say about that piece in 2007? I wish it could be given a rest for about 25 years.

The first half of the program was a different story, though. I'd never heard the Beethoven live, and I think I've heard it on record at most a few times. Lovely piece, well-performed: S.F. Mike has pictures, and let me add that the cellist is buff. The Eroica had an encore, Piazzola's Oblivion, played with no jagged edges, all homogenized, moody, prettiness, leaving TSR unhappy.

Best of all was the Adès. For one thing, you had to wonder what Robin Sutherland was going to do with that accordian; when he finally picked it up, you remembered that the accordian is a reed instrument. Accordian plus string harmonics: magic, one of the last gestures in a hugely eventful, dense, and fascinating 14 minutes of music. I loved it, would have loved to hear it again, and then I noticed that Adès was wrote it at 19. It's his Opus 2, written with the self-assurance, distinctiveness, and musical conviction of a master.

The last time TSR and I saw Gilbert, the programming was similar: Adams's Naive and Sentimental Music plus Midori in a lax performance of the Beethoven violin concerto. It's a waste of Gilbert's talents. As I said, he is perfectly competent but not revelatory in Classical-era music, and a fine accompanist, but it's in contemporary and 20th century music that he shines. As TSR said, neither contemporary music nor the audience are well served by tossing a new piece onto a program with no context. More Adès, or music by one of his contemporaries, or a British composer of a slightly earlier generation, would have made a much more interesting and exciting program.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Compare and Contrast 2

A young violinist, Margot Schwartz, who grew up in Oakland, just played the Sibelius Violin Concerto with the Berkeley Symphony and the Oakland East Bay Symphony. She got three reviews by three critics:

I covered her appearance with the Berkeley Symphony.

Joshua Kosman wrote up her performance at the OEBS. So did Robert Commanday.

Compare and Contrast 1

Start with an essay by a student of Greg Sandow's.

Continue to the predictable response from ACD.

Finish up with a thoughtful posting from Matthew Guerrieri.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Music is Hard 2

Elaborating just a bit on my last posting:

You don't need to read too far back in music history to find out that up until some time in 19th or 20th century, what we now called classical music was popular music. By that, I mean that you didn't have to be an educated musician or a member of a particular economic stratum to have an active interest in notational music. Middle-class people had pianos, played them, and looked forward to receiving the piano arrangement of a symphony or opera aria, because otherwise, especially if they lived far from a big city, they might never hear that work in its original form. (If you don't believe me, find any piece of early 20th century sheet music by Ricordi and look at the number of arrangements that were available of, say, arias from La boheme, for all sorts of unlikely combinations of instruments.) Amateur choruses thrived (and still do; perhaps this is the last outpost of what "classical" music once looked like). All those secular part songs, from madrigals to the Haydn part-songs to the Liebeslieder Waltzes, were written to be performed at home, not in a concert setting. Mozart was a popular composer, writing in popular genres such as the Singspiel. Up until comparatively recently in the history of the Roman Catholic Church, Catholics could hear a rather complicated repertory of liturgical music written for performance as part of services. Ordinary people went to the opera and considered it entertainment. Classical music was part of a continuum of just plain music.

How notational music became confined to big professional institutions and came to be viewed as an "elite art form" is a complicated story, affected by such diverse factors as social and musical developments in the U.S., the professionalization of musicology and theory the history of recorded music, music's change from something performed by all to something consumed by all (the shift from playing to buying recordings of others playing), the development of amplification and electric instruments of various kinds, changes in the school systems, etc., etc., etc.

But it's ahistorical to the point of ignorance to insist that classical music is inherently an "elite" form or that attempts to make classical music more accessible to more people (economically, socially, culturally) are in any way wrong-headed. They're just returning classical music to the social position it used to occupy.

Minor Update, 3/9/07: Corrected the posting title.

Music is Hard 1

Just to put this concept as simply as possible:
  • Once upon a time, "classical music" was popular music.

  • Classical music can be popular again.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Carlo Grante

The excellent Music & Arts label publishes both work by living performers and important historic reissues. I'm on their mailing list, and today I got email that includes blurbs for a couple of discs by Carlo Grante. I was amused to read this at the end of a description of one of the CDs:
And he has been in the news lately as one of the pianists whose work was appropriated by the late Joyce Hatto.
I'm glad for the attention now being paid to some excellent pianists who aren't exactly household names. It's one positive result of the Hatto sideshow.

(Oh, and grain of salt time: read what William Barrington-Coupe now has to say about Hatto.)

Monday, March 05, 2007

Chora Nova

Chora Nova, with which I sing, has a concert in Berkeley on Sunday, March 25. It'll be great, I think.

Here's what our email announcement says:

Chora Nova, under the direction of Artistic Director Paul Flight, performs part songs for chorus from the Romantic masters and more….Join us for

Romance and the Part Song: from dashed hopes to the triumph of love

featuring Brahms' Neue Liebeslieder, Op. 65

Serenade to Music — Vaughan Williams

Trois Chansons Bretonnes — Henk Badings

and works by Elgar, Rheinberger, Jenner, Schubert

Sunday, March 25, 2007 at 7:30 p.m.

First Congregational Church of Berkeley , Dana & Durant

Tickets $15/$10 student at the door or online

More information at

Join us in our inaugural season!

Theater Tech

If you donate enough money to San Francisco Opera, you get invited to various events. I've been to rehearsals of various types and to several technical discussions.

The English National Opera now has a special Web site, Inside Out, that is all about what goes on back stage, from the flies to the makeup room. Take a look!