Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Lies, Damned Lies, and Marketing

It's season announcement season, meaning it's time for orchestras and opera companies to make extravagant and entirely unsupported claims. As the press releases hit my inbox, hoo boy, the eye-rolling that ensues. In early February, here's what got me pounding the table, er, keyboard.

I am not on the CSO's press list - must remedy that! - and so I didn't realize that they had announced the 2012-13 season until Patrick said something in email about a posting to opera-l that mentioned this series.  

"OMG! Muti is bringing the world's weirdest programs to SF next week, so maybe he's taking a look at the French Wagnerians! D'Indy! Magnard! Reyer!"

No such luck. The composers under consideration are....wait for it....

Liszt, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Dvorak, Mahler, Debussy, Berg, and Shostakovich.

Now, there's some good stuff included there: Mark Elder's programs include a couple of Dvorak tone poems, which are rarely heard in the States; Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts Act II of Tristan (be still, my heart!).

Debussy is represented by the Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, which I presume to be the most popular and played of his orchestral works. It's on an otherwise tasty program conducted by Le Maitre Boulez himself, and will surely be worth hearing, but buh? Clink that link and you'll see that it's likely this title was imposed as an afterthought, perhaps to take advantage of the Wagner bicentenary, rather than inspiring the programming.

The CSO has other big titles for groups of concerts, and, well, Rivers strikes me as just as artificial as The Wagner Effect.  Then there's the Solti Centenary. Take a look; what do you think?

Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra: Innovative

The LAPO has the nerve to call a concert or semi-staged Nozze di Figaro "part of an innovative series." No, there is nothing innovative about presenting opera in concert, especially when it's one of the most-performed works in the repertory. Get back to me, LAPO, when you're putting on Le Grand Macabre and The Cunning Little Vixen, or other genuine rarities.

Here I'm going to cheat a little and beat up on my local orchestra's current season. As you can hardly have missed, SFS is reviving the American Mavericks concept from a decade or so back. Locally, we'll be seeing five programs, three orchestral and two chamber; the orchestra then takes the Festival on tour to NYC, where the adjunct programming is even better than here.

They're truly interesting programs of music that was mostly on-the-edge at the time it was composed. Still, Copland, a maverick?

John Adams was a maverick, but with commissions coming hard and fast from institutions like SFS, LAPO, and SFO, he's now establishment. And Mason Bates? His music was being performed at Cabrillo when he was still a grad student. (Cabrillo used to have more experimental music than it does now.) With advocates like MTT and Riccardo Muti, and writing in an orchestral style somewhere between Harbison and Lindberg, he's also establishment. I wish both these composers well, don't get me wrong, and I consider Adams a great composer. But mavericks they are not.

One more point: at American Mavericks, the mavericks are mostly dead and mostly male. The exceptions are Riley, Adams, Bates, Monk, Reich, Del Tredici. This shouldn't be a surprise, as that's the case with most orchestral programming at SFS and elsewhere in the upper echelons of the orchestral world.  Hint: there's lots of experimental music being written by living composers and even by women.

[I see that Josh Kosman addresses similar issues this week in the Chron. He's right; I'll just note that I wrote most of this on February 7. I'll add a couple of names to his list of American mavericks, er, experimental composers: La Monte Young and Gordon Mumma.]


Henry Holland said...

One more point: at American Mavericks, the mavericks are mostly dead and mostly male


Having perused the SFO and CSO seasons (and a couple dozen orchestras and opera companies in the US and Europe too), it's clear to me that anything truly adventurous is right out.

There's a Szymanowski festival being done by Gergiev at the LSO. Nice....but they're all paired with Brahms pieces! Horrible programming, cynical almost.

I will give (small) credit to the CSO, they've announced their season AND have all the concerts listed on their calendar, something shockingly few orchestras seem to manage.

Henry Holland said...

More programming headscratchers:

Chicago Symphony:


Ginastera Suite from Panambi
Saint-Saëns Piano Concerto No. 5
Revueltas La Noche de los Mayas

What on earth does Saint-Saëns have to do with the other two? If they *must* do the hackneyed short piece > concerto > big piece thing, why not do one of the great Ginastera piano concertos?

Oh, that's right. They're not tonal, my bad.

Lisa Hirsch said...

The big problem with that program is that the Revueltas is crap. I thought it was great fun the first time I heard it.

Henry Holland said...

You hush! Dudamel likes it, so there!


Anonymous said...

Esa-Pekka likes it too, played it several times and recorded it on an all-Revueltas CD.