Thursday, April 30, 2015

Orchestral Auditions

That photo of Mark Inouye playing in London with the NYPO doesn't mean he is out the door at SFS. Here's how the orchestral audition process works:
  1. Open call for musicians to send tapes.
  2. The tapes are used to cull the field down to those who will audition in person.
  3. Live auditions take place.
  4. If the audition committee and MD don't like any candidates enough, another round is scheduled. (This is currently SFS's situation for timpani and associate principal trumpet)
  5.  If any candidates were good enough, they're offered trial weeks. (This is what Inouye is currently doing with NY. We had Eugene Izotov and a couple of other oboe players sitting in last fall.)
  6. After the trial weeks, the orchestra might make someone an offer. (But not always: Erin Keefe, concertmaster of the Minnesota Orchestra, did trial weeks at the NYPO last year, but was not ultimate offered the job.)
  7. If the player accepts the offer and has a job elsewhere, such as Inouye or Izotov, the player usually goes on leave for a year. Izotov will be on leave from the CSO next season. David Herbert, though, is not on leave from SFS. He resigned outright to go to the CSO, and that's why SFS has held timpani auditions this season.
  8. At the end of the year, the player has to either stay with the new orchestra or go back to the old one. Jonathan Fischer is still on the SFS roster (weirdly, on the web site, he is still listed as acting principal even though Mingjia Liu has played most of this season). This is because of the disarray in the oboes, with Fischer in a trial year at Houston when Bill Bennett died. With Izotov's appointment, Fischer has to decide whether he is staying as Houston's principal or coming back as associate principal. I bet he stays in Houston. He has no chance of becoming principal here unless Izotov doesn't work out. Even then, he may well have auditioned for principal and not gotten tapped.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

More on the Pulitzers

I tweeted my last post, the one about the Pulitzer Prize and the graphs that someone anonymous posted elsewhere on the web. Joshua Kosman was politely skeptical about the value of the data, noting the small data set of 20. Well, there's only one winner annually, so....

So I dug up a file sent to me a few years ago, a file containing the jurors from 1943 to 2007, and I started making up a spreadsheet. It isn't quite complete, but as of today, the spreadsheet shows the winning work and composer and the jurors for each year. I've also indicated which composers serving on a jury are also Pulitzer winners.

A few things stand out, assuming I've gotten everything right.
  • Chalmers Clifton served on every jury from 1943 to 1960. The Word doc I have claims that he was the only juror in 1947. I hope that is a mistake in the Word file, even though the Pulitzer went to Ives's third symphony. (Who was Clifton? A composer. Has anyone reading this heard any of his music? If so, what is it like?)
  • Robert Ward served on 16 (!) juries between 1954 and 2004 (!).
  • Because there are so many repeat jurors, only 106 jurors have served in the 73 years since music was added to the Pulitzers.
  • The first woman to serve was Miriam Gideon in 1975. Since then, Ellen Taafe Zwilich, Vivan Fine, Joan Tower, Melinda Wagner, Shulamit Ran, Ingrid Monson, Maria Schneider, Anne Midgette, Jennifer Higdon, Carol Oja, Caroline Shaw, and Julia Wolfe have served. That's 13 of 106 jurors.
  • I haven't put in affiliations yet, but it sure does look as thought a large majority of the jurors have been based on the East the extent that West Coasters such as Martin Bernheimer, Mark Swed, and Olly Wilson stand out.
  • You could say that a few composers didn't get the award for their best works. John (Coolidge) Adams for On the Transmigration of Souls? Well, would you expect him to have won for Nixon in China, given the amount of derision when it was new?
  • It'd be mighty interesting to do a reception history of each of these works. Which had legs? When did you last hear a symphonic work by Hanson or Piston programmed? (Not that I wouldn't like to hear them, but...)
  • And of course it's rather interesting who isn't on the list at all, though again, I would not have expected Einstein on the Beach, one of the greatest theatrical works of the postwar era, to have received the Pulitzer in the year it was eligible. 
  • No prize was awarded in three different years. I will note that Satyagraha debuted in one of those years. Hindsight, I know, but I do have to wonder how much the jurors got out in those three years.
  • A few composers won more than one Pulitzer, if I'm remembering this correctly: Walter Piston, Elliott Carter, Gian-Carlo Menotti, and Samuel Barber. Anyone else?
Oh, yeah, the spreadsheet is here, and it's world-readable. Have fun - I'm sure this stuff would be even more interesting presented graphically.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Concerned About the Music Pulitzers? You Should Be.

I have no idea who put together this set of graphs, but holy cow, it raises more than a few questions about the Pulitzer Prizes in music. Just so you don't have to click through, here are the graphs:

If you've been paying attention, you're probably not too surprised by the gender and race composition of those receiving awards. There's plenty more to worry about in the following:

  • The geographic location of the jurors. Fifty-three jurors, 41 from the east coast. Hello! I know that many of us have The New Yorker's View of the World, and I know that the Pulitzers have their home at Columbia, but there are composers, lots of them, who don't live on the east coast and would make good potential jurors. Try for a little geographic diversity here.
  • The geographic location of schools attended by Pulitzer winners. Eighteen of twenty (90%) attended Columbia, Juilliard, Harvard, or Yale. Anyone with a degree from Chicago or Rice or UC Berkeley can just give up! They weren't educated within the correct 250 mile radius.
  • Symphonic works are getting the largest percentage of awards. This preference naturally restricts the award to those few who get orchestral commissions.
  • Minimalism wins, so I hope not to ever hear another complaint about the hegemony of those awful serialists, considering that serialism is nowhere to be found in the last 20 years.

Friday, April 24, 2015

London Friday Photo

St. Bride's, London, May, 2014

Found in the NYPO's Tour Photos

From a photo by Chris Lee 

Photo taken at the Barbican, London. 'Nuff said.

The Heinrich Schütz of English Literature

Anthony Trollope is 200 today. Celebrate by reading The Way We Live Now, Can You Forgive Her?, He Knew He Was Right, or one of his other 43 novels.

H/T Joshua Kosman for the title. Read his blog posting about Trollope, buy a book, then listen to some Schütz. For example:

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

"Gloire, gloire à Didon!"

Listening to Davis II and concluding that Les Troyes is, in fact, the greatest opera ever, a belief I will hold until my visit to Bayreuth, come the summer.

That said, Davis I vs. Davis II: discuss.


Here's a great posting at Song of the Lark, a blog that I have read sporadically and need to be reading all the time.

It is a thorough takedown of a particularly egregious blog post by Greg Sandow. He starts from the straw man premise that audiences read press releases. No, they don't! Press releases are...wait for it...directed to the press. If he were seriously writing about new audience development, he'd look at orchestral marketing materials, not their season announcements.

Also, starting out with "I don't mean to beat up on X" means that you are about to beat up on X.

The rest of the carnage I leave to Emily Hogstad. Somebody please hire her to write about music. She's that good.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Berkeley Symphony 2015-16

Berkeley Symphony has a great season coming up too. Their schedule includes about 33% new or recent music, continuing their long commitment to the music of our time. I am lazy and will copy/paste, but I am happy to see that the first program is on a Wednesday, though whether I want to attend concerts Monday and Wednesday that week and teach classes on Tuesday and Thursday remains to be seen. Pavel Haas Quartet or Berkeley Sympony: perhaps I have to flip a coin...or take a day off that week.

From the press release:

Zellerbach Hall Concert Series
Program I: Magical
Wednesday, October 14, 2015 at 7 p.m.
Tickets: $15-$74
Joana Carneiro, conductor
Simone Osborne, soprano
BerliozLes nuits d'été
Kaija SaariahoLaterna magica (West Coast Premiere)
RavelLa Valse
Program II: Mystical
Thursday, December 3, 2015 at 8 p.m.
Tickets: $15-$74
Joana Carneiro, conductor
Geir Draugsvoll, bayan
GabrieliCanzon septimi et octavi toni
GabrieliSonata pian e forte
GubaidulinaFachwerk (U.S. Premiere)
MussorgskyPictures at an Exhibition
Program III: Majestic
Thursday, February 4, 2016 at 8 p.m.
Tickets: $15-$74
Joana Carneiro, conductor
Conrad Tao, piano
Lutosławski: Concerto for Orchestra
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat major, Op. 73, “Emperor”
Program IV: Monstrous
Thursday, May 5, 2016 at 8 p.m.
Tickets: $15-$74
Joana Carneiro, conductor
Simone Porter, violin
Beethoven: Overture to The Creatures of Prometheus
Mark Grey: Frankenstein Symphony (West Coast Premiere, co-commission with Atlanta Symphony)
Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35
Berkeley Symphony & Friends Chamber Music Series
Artists and repertoire to be announced at a later date.
Program I
Sunday, September 20, 2015 at 5 p.m.
Piedmont Center for the Arts, Piedmont
Tickets: $25
Program II
Sunday, November 15, 2015 at 5 p.m.
Piedmont Center for the Arts, Piedmont
Tickets: $25
Program III
Sunday, February 21, 2016 at 5 p.m.
Piedmont Center for the Arts, Piedmont
Tickets: $25
Program IV
Sunday, April 10, 2016 at 5 p.m.
Piedmont Center for the Arts, Piedmont
Tickets: $25
Under Construction New Music Program
Saturday, February 6, 2016 at 3 p.m.
Sunday, February 7, 2016 at 3 p.m.
Osher Studio, Berkeley
Tickets: $10
“Meet the Symphony” Family Concerts
Saturday, November 14, 2015, 10 a.m. & 11 a.m.
Malcolm X Elementary School, Berkeley
Tickets: Free (Suggested donation: $10)
“I’m a Performer” Family Concerts
Saturday, April 23, 2016, 10 a.m. & 11 a.m.
Malcolm X Elementary School, Berkeley
Tickets: Free (Suggested donation: $10)

San Francisco Performances Season Announcement

San Francisco Performances has a dynamite season of recitals, chamber music, and other performances coming up in 2015-16. (Full season at the link in the previous sentence.)

Some of the high points are bullet lists in the press release:

  • JAMIE BARTON(SF recital debut)
  • DUO PARNAS (SF recital debut)
  • IGOR LEVIT(SF recital debut)
  • TETZLAFF TRIO (SF debut)
  • Jake HeggieThe Work at Hand (West Coast premiere) performed by Jamie Barton, WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 16, 2015, 7:30pm, San Francisco Conservatory of Music Concert Hall
  • Shulamit RanGlitter, Shards, Doom, Memory (West Coast premiere) - performed by Pacifica Quartet, FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 12, 2016, 7:30PM, Herbst Theatre
  • Lera AuerbachNew work for solo cello (West Coast premiere) performed by Amit Peled, TUESDAY, MARCH 22, 2016, 7:30PM, Herbst Theatre
  • Vijay IyerBridgetower Fantasy – in conversation with Beethoven’s Kretuzer Sonata (Bay Area premiere) - performed by Jennifer Koh and Shai Wosner,WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 4, 2015, 7:30pm, Herbst Theatre
  • Andrew NormanNew work for violin and piano - performed by Jennifer Koh and Shai Wosner, WEDNESDAY, MARCH 30, 2016, 7:30pm, Herbst Theatre
  • Anthony CheungNew work for violin and piano - performed by Jennifer Koh and Shai Wosner, SATURDAY, APRIL 2, 2016, 7:30pm, Herbst Theatre
New music composed by women! Anna Caterina Antonacci! (San Francisco, in general, is extremely lucky that this great artist performs here at all.) The Tetzlaff Trio is the great violinist Christian Tetzlaff, Tanja Tetzlaff, his cellist sister, and pianist Lars Vogt. Not too shabby, eh (although their program is nothing unusual)?

And some of the others, in my opinion:
  • Pavel Haas Quartet, Beethoven, Bartok, Prokofief (October 12)
  • Thomas Ades & Gloria Chen, piano, Nancarrow, Ades, Barry, Messiaen (October 30)
  • Jennifer Koh, violin, and Shai Wosner, piano, in a four-concert series called Bridge to Beethoven, pairing Beethoven and recent works
  • Alexander Quartet and Joyce Yang, piano, play piano quintets by Schumann, Schnittke, and Brahms (November 10 - this might be my Tuesday program for the season)
  • Anonymous 4, two programs (October 18 and November 15)
  • Fredericka von Stade (supposedly retired) and Jake Heggie (May 13)
  • Roger Woodward, piano, and Robert Greenberg explore the late Beethoven piano sonatas (various dates). (Well, depends on your enjoyment of Greenberg's lecture style.)
  • Duo Parnas plays piano & cello works by Tcherepnin, Honneger, Ravel, and Cassado (April 10)
  • Mark Padmore, tenor, and Paul Lewis, piano; songs by Schumann, Brahms, Schubert, and Wolf (April 14)
  • Quartetto di Cremona plays works of Boccherini, Resphighi, and Beethoven (April 16)
 Some of you will want to see Ian Bostridge's May 21 Schubert recital, with the wonderful Wenwen Du, but I do not expect to be there.

Personal to "Girona Balie"

1. I'm not publishing your comment.

2. The first reason is that it's off-topic. A post noting that Julia Wolfe won the Pulitzer in the here and now is just that.

3. The second reason is I'm not debating someone's bullshit view of feminist scholarship on this blog. If you want to discuss, or, rather, diss, feminist scholarship, start your blog.

4. The third reason is that you have no web footprint at all, and therefore I conclude that you're someone else's pseudonym.

Another Publicity No-No

Email from a prominent opera company dropped into my inbox yesterday, among other things announcing their next season announcement and changes and additions to this season's casts.

The problem is that the document containing changes and additions is an updated version of last year's season announcement PDF....without any indication of what the changes and additions are. I see that there are no apparent changes to the higher-profile leads, but the only reason I know this is that I looked over the company's web site last week. Which means that I have no idea what might have changed, if they've been updating the web site regularly.

Folks, don't do this. If you're announcing changes and additions, add a paragraph to your press release about it, or boldface the changes.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Cal Performances Season Announcement

Cal Performances announced the 2015-16 season today. I wasn't there and the press release hasn't arrived yet - which has led me to wonder whether I have dropped off their press list - but their web site has performance list posted.

Some highlights include:

  • A residency by the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, David Robertson conducting (of course). They're doing a pair of programs; the first is the new John Adams Sax Concerto with Mahler 5, the second is Des Canyons aux Etoiles. No mention of who will play the virtuoso piano part for the Messiaen, but I will be there regardless.
  • Another residency by the Simon Bolivar Orchestra, Gustavo Dudamel conducting (of course).
  • A concert by the Ensemble Intercontemporaine, which will include the sublime sur Incises. And some other interesting music.
  • Takacs Quartet, two concerts of old and new music
  • Danish Quartet, two concerts of old and new music
  • Yefim Bronfman plays a lot of Prokofiev
  • Mark Morris / Phil Baroque, L'Allegro, etc.
  • Mariinsky Ballet, Cinderella
  • Twyla Tharp Dance Company
  • Tallis Scholars
  • Brentano Quartet, Bach & Shostakovich
  • Kronos Quartet, Terry Riley's Sun Rings
  • Matthias Goerne singing Die Schoene Muellerin
And more! But very little of it is music by women.

Updated: Because how could I forgot Matthias Goerne?

Julia Wolfe Wins Pulitzer

For her work Anthracite Fields. Congratulations!

David Brooks Gets Something Right, For Once.

Pico Iyer writes, in reviewing Brooks's new book in the Times:
David Brooks’s gift — as he might put it in his swift, engaging way — is for making obscure but potent social studies research accessible and even startling, for seeing consistency as the hobgoblin of little minds and for ranging as widely across the private domain as the public. There aren’t many writers on politics who will study “emotional intelligence” as closely as they do polls, and fewer still extol failure as enthusiastically as they do success. Brooks’s flaws, as he tells us with typical cheerfulness and ease at the beginning of his new book, are that “I was born with a natural disposition toward shallowness” and “I’m paid to be a narcissistic blowhard” (the admission itself, of course, taking some of the edge off that “narcissistic”). He is, in short, a near-ideal public commentator (for this paper and for many other media outlets) because he is happy to sacrifice complexity and nuance in order to spin a hyper-readable, lucid, often richly detailed human story that sounds far less shrill and ad hominem than most of the polarizing rants of the day.
I have to agree, natural inclination to shallowness, which at 53 he has not yet overcome.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

I Do Not Think That Word Means What You Think It Means.

Up in Seattle, a business owner named Dan Price decided he was going to raise the wages of all of his employees, over a several-years period, to $70,000 per year.

You can guess what has happened. Some economists and business leaders are showing considerable skepticism about this, which seems reasonable to me; certainly there's plenty of theory and data out there about using wages not only to pay employees fairly and keep them happy, but as an incentive.

On the other hand, I think it is a noble experiment in not privileging certain types of work over others. That administrative assistant is also keeping your company together.

But then there are screamers screaming "Socialism! It never works!"

People, get your definitions straight. Here's the brief Wikipedia definition of Socialism:
  1. Socialism is a social and economic system characterised by social ownership of the means of production and co-operative management of the economy, as well as a political theory and movement that aims at the establishment of such a system.
Note: Dan Price voluntarily decided to give his employees this wage increase. He still owns his company. No government or government regulation forced him to do this. It is not by any stretch of the imagination a Socialist move for a business owner to set wages at a rate he deems fair, rather than paying minimum wage or letting the "market" set the wages.

Friday, April 17, 2015


Nothing like slagging a popular recitalist/opera singer and a famous music festival to boost your page views for the week!

This week's minor obsession is Schubert's D. 343, "Litanei auf das Fest Aller Seelen" (Litany for the Feast of All Souls). After listening to a half-dozen or so performances, I'll own that Ian Bostridge is very good in this; the song's demand for a perfect line brings out the best in him, a kind of concentrated, hushed singing that suits the song well. (Text and translation are here; score is here.)

Consider, also, that Schubert was 19 when he wrote this one. Such is the nature of genius.

Coming Up: West Edge Opera's I Due Foscari

After the great success of Poliuto, I am looking forward to hearing WEO's I Due Foscari, an early Verdi work that's been revived here and there recently....because Placido Domingo wanted to sing the baritone role. I know enough early Verdi to want to hear all of it, so this is a great opportunity.

Here are the details from the press release:

Verdi's I Due Foscari
Sunday, May 3, 1 pm
Rossmoor Event Center, 1010 Stanley Dollar Drive, Rossmoor, Walnut Creek

Monday, May 4, 8 pm
Freight and Salvage 2020 Addison Street, Berkeley

Roy Stevens, baritone
Michael-Paul Krubitzer, tenor
Melody King, soprano
Ellen Presley, mezzo soprano
Paul Cheak, bass
Jonathan Khuner, conductor & pianist
Tickets online: www.westedgeopera,org
Tickets by phone:
Rossmoor: 510-841-1903
Freight and Salvage: 510-644-2020 extension120.

Information: 510-841-1903

The Rossmoor venue happens to be quite nice: it's a multi-function room with a stage, comfortable chairs, and excellent acoustics. The restaurant across the street is perfectly fine, with good sandwiches and other dishes too.

London Friday Photo


Spitalfields, left; Fleet Street, right.
May, 2014

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

April 15, 1865

When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d,
And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,
I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.

Ever-returning spring, trinity sure to me you bring,
Lilac blooming perennial and drooping star in the west,
And thought of him I love.

O powerful western fallen star!
O shades of night—O moody, tearful night!
O great star disappear’d—O the black murk that hides the star!
O cruel hands that hold me powerless—O helpless soul of me!
O harsh surrounding cloud that will not free my soul.

In the dooryard fronting an old farm-house near the white-wash’d palings,
Stands the lilac-bush tall-growing with heart-shaped leaves of rich green,
With many a pointed blossom rising delicate, with the perfume strong I love,
With every leaf a miracle—and from this bush in the dooryard,
With delicate-color’d blossoms and heart-shaped leaves of rich green,
A sprig with its flower I break.

In the swamp in secluded recesses,
A shy and hidden bird is warbling a song.

Solitary the thrush,
The hermit withdrawn to himself, avoiding the settlements,
Sings by himself a song.

Song of the bleeding throat,
Death’s outlet song of life, (for well dear brother I know,
If thou wast not granted to sing thou would’st surely die.)


Walt Whitman, 1865

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Ojai Music Festival, You Should Be Embarrassed.

I've just gotten a press release from the Ojai Music Festival, trumpeting the next three music directors, who are:
  • Peter Sellars, 2016
  • Vijay Iyer, 2017
  • Esa-Pekka Salonen, 2018
If you take a look at a complete chronological listing of Ojai music directors, you'll find that in 1988, Diane Wittry was co-director, with Nicholas McGegan and Peter Maxwell Davies, in 1998 Mitsuko Uchida was co-director with David Zinman, and in 2011, Dawn Upshaw was music director. Many of the men who've been music directors are repeats, including Lukas Foss, Pierre Boulez, Salonen himself, Kent Nagano, MTT, and others.

As I've noted in the past, Ojai, a festival of new and unusual music, has played hardly any music by women in the last few years. Upshaw commissioned a piece from Maria Schneider; there were a couple of pieces by Ruth Crawford Seeger recently, and this year, Steven Schick, bless his heart, has programmed a number of works by women.

It's 2015, people. I can, off the top of my head, name 20 or more women who'd make great music directors of this festival. In fact, I'll do so right here:
  • Unsuk Chin
  • Chen Yi
  • Pauline Oliveros
  • Gloria Cheng
  • Leila Josefowicz
  • Kaija Saariaho
  • Jennifer Koh
  • Marilyn Nonken
  • Hilary Hahn
  • Susanna Malkki
  • Nicole Paiement
  • Barbara Hannigan
  • Jennifer Higdon
  • Joan Tower
  • Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla
  • Claire Chase
  • Tamara Stefanovich
  • Sarah Cahill
  • Augusta Read Thomas
  • Olga Neuwirth
  • Lera Auerbach
  • Roxanna Panufnik
  • Pamela Z
  • Carla Rees
  • Francesca Zambello
  • Joan Jeanrenaud
  • Alicia Weilerstein
C'mon, I just know that you can do it if you try.

Updated: April 16, because I missed Mitsuko Uchida the other day. I'm also occasionally adding to my 
bullet list of possible MDs.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Now That I Have THAT Off My Chest

I got a ticket to this afternoon's recital for two reasons: I'd been impressed with Ian Bostridge in last fall's production of Curlew River, and the program looked really good.

I'll stand by the program, which was beautifully chosen: three Mahler songs from Das Knaben Wunderhorn, the German composer Rudi Stephan's short song cycle "Ich will dir singen ein Hohelied," written 1913-14, George Butterworth's A Shropshire Lad of 1909-11, Weill's Four Walt Whitman Songs, and four songs from Britten's Who Are These Children?

A nicely varied program, from the familiar Mahler to the virtually unknown Stephan. Both Stephan and Butterworth died in the carnage of World War I, and while I liked the Butterworth very much, the Stephan cycle was simply exquisite, and left me wanting more. There is more, according to the program notes, and I will be looking into it. The Weill settings struck me as rather stylistically apart from the poetry. Not that I think Whitman unsettable, but these lightly-bluesey-Broadway-ish settings did not seem right. I'd never heard the Britten before, and now I'll be looking for something that must be out there, a recording with Britten and Pears.

As to the performance - well, this was the first and last time I'll be seeing Ian Bostridge in recital. Briefly, he has no upper register, he has no lower register, and in between all he has is a few tricks and mannerisms. He can hit a note and swell; he can sing softly.

But he can't put across a song. There's no line, just some notes. His phrasing did not illuminate the text.

I was toward the rear of Hertz, which is not a huge venue, and I could understand maybe one in ten words....when he was singing in English. It's as if all of his consonants were lost someplace in the back of his throat. He also has distracting mannerisms; he looks at the floor, he tilts his body, he leans on the piano and looks at the pianist...and his face scrunches up in all sorts of odd ways. He might think he is somehow dramatizing the text, or maybe he's just very nervy on stage.

You might be wondering why I stayed! Well, the pianist, Wenwen Du, was fantastic; most of the music in the hall was coming from her, whether her ferocity in Mahler's "Revelge" or the extreme delicacy in Britten's "Nightmare." I would love to hear her again, in chamber music, paired with a different singer, or in solo recital.


A Friend Earns an "I Told You So"

Email sent at the intermission of today's Ian Bostridge recital:
Beautiful music, great pianist, and you were so right about Bostridge. He is a joke.

Friday, April 10, 2015

"Unexpected Schedule Conflict"

Alice Coote's May 28 performance at San Francisco Performances has been canceled. The press release says this:

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – San Francisco Performances announces that the Thursday, May 28, 7:30 p.m. recital with mezzo-soprano Alice Coote and pianist Graham Johnson has been cancelled. 
The cancellation comes by request from the artists as the result of an unexpected scheduling conflict.
Unexpected, indeed. Here's what OperaBase has for Coote this year:

I hope it's a command performance for Her Majesty or similar occasion.

London Friday Photo

No Way In, Peterborough Court, Fleet St., London, May 2014

Thursday, April 09, 2015


Ulysses S. Grant wrote of the events of April 9, 1865:

I had known General Lee in the old army, and had served with him in the Mexican War; but did not suppose, owing to the difference in our age and rank, that he would remember me, while I would more naturally remember him distinctly, because he was the chief of staff of General Scott in the Mexican War.When I had left camp that morning I had not expected so soon the result that was then taking place, and consequently was in rough garb. I was without a sword, as I usually was when on horseback on the field, and wore a soldier's blouse for a coat, with the shoulder straps of my rank to indicate to the army who I was. When I went into the house I found General Lee. We greeted each other, and after shaking hands took our seats. I had my staff with me, a good portion of whom were in the room during the whole of the interview. 
What General Lee's feelings were I do not know. As he was a man of much dignity, with an impassible face, it was impossible to say whether he felt inwardly glad that the end had finally come, or felt sad over the result, and was too manly to show it. Whatever his feelings, they were entirely concealed from my observation; but my own feelings, which had been quite jubilant on the receipt of his letter, were sad and depressed. I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse. I do not question, however, the sincerity of the great mass of those who were opposed to us.
Read more about the surrender here. 

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Frank Huang Appointed to NYPO Concertmaster's Chair

Frank Huang
Houston Symphony web site

The New York Philharmonic has announced the appointment of violinist Frank Huang, currently concertmaster at the Houston Symphony, to the same position, commencing with the start of the 2015-16 season. He replaces Glenn Dicterow, who retired at the end of the 2013-14 season after a legendary tenure of more than 30 years.

Apologies to Dr. B

For some reason, Blogger is not consistently sending me notifications of your comments. I just found several under "Awaiting Moderation" and have published them. I apologize for the delay and wish I knew how to fix this.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

He's Out! He's In!

After withdrawing from tonight's Lucia, Joseph Calleja has decided to sing Edgardo after all. No word from the Met as to whether the cure was Jewish chicken soup, Chinese hot and sour soup, or the Maltese equivalent.

The Spouse of Lammermoor

Salvatore Cordella, who stood in for Joseph Calleja in Acts 2 and 3 of Lucia the other day at the Met, will sing Edgardo again in tonight's performance. Says the Met:
Tonight's performance of Lucia di Lammermoor, conducted by Maurizio Benini, also stars Albina Shagimuratova in the title role, Luca Salsi as Enrico, and Alastair Miles as Raimondo.
But see this afternoon's update!

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Gelb at the Met, Redux

A few weeks ago, The New Yorker ran a long article, around 9,000 words, about Peter Gelb, the Met's finances, and last year's labor-relations drama. James B. Stewart, a business reporter at the NY Times, is the author. You may be wondering why this didn't run in the Times itself, especially considering Anthony Tommasini's statement in his Rubin Institute address about wishing that the business section would cover the Met's finances and labor relations.* My best guess about this is simply the length of Stewart's piece: it's way over the length of articles that run in Arts & Leisure or the business section, and it's perhaps too specialist for the Magazine.

The ever-alert Drew McManus solicited opinions, and after I read it, I posted a few. Here's an expanded version of what I wrote in comments at Adaptistration.

Stewart goes into quite a bit of detail about the structure and membership of the Met Board of Directors. There are two tiers of members, with different rights and responsibilities. This material dismayed me. Many board members are deeply engaged, but others pay essentially no attention to the company's finances. And that is a bad thing, because fiduciary responsibility to the institution comes with board membership.

Some of the board members are also so artistically conservative that I question whether they belong on the board at all. Okay, some of them have donated millions to the company. Still, some of what Stewart says makes it clear that Gelb has not succeeded in persuading the entire board to support his artistic vision, which includes moving away from overstuffed traditionalist productions.

For example, one older, and extremely wealthy, board member asked him whether she would see the Zefirelli Tosca, retired and in storage in favor of Luc Bondy's more modernist take on the opera, during her lifetime. Gelb was forthright in replying that the Zef production is not the Met's artistic direction, and I admire him for that. But a more canny response might have been "For you, dear lady, next season" (or 2017 or whatever), simply to court a donation from the board member.**

In my opinion, the article provides good reasons to get smart people who are knowledgable but not rich onto arts organization boards. Boards don’t exist just to raise money and rubber-stamp or oppose what management says.

Stewart's article also discusses the role of Eugene Keilin and his findings in the eventual settlement of the labor dispute that Gelb started with his threats to lock out the union workers. I wish there were even more details about this, especially about the findings.

I wanted to take a nice red pencil to some of the article, though:

1. Stewart uses the terms “average salary” and “base salary” without bothering to define either. I know what those things mean and people who follow the arts business know what they mean, but most NYer readers do not.

"Average salary" is what it sounds like: you take everyone's salaries, add them up, divide by the number of salaries. But "base salary" is the amount a musician gets paid as a new orchestra or chorus member who isn't a soloist. In the Met orchestra, this would mean, for example, a newly-appointed section violinist. The base doesn't apply to the concertmaster's salary (separately negotiated), to members who've gotten annual increases as a result of their tenure, and soloists, who get paid more than section players (for example, the principal horn). Base salary doesn't include overtime either.

2. He never provides hard numbers about what the orchestra and chorus cost beyond the disagreements about the chorister salaries.

3. There’s a paragraph where you might think that Gelb designed the Ring set, not Robert Lepage. That’s terrible editing, not worthy of the NYer, and something that ought to have been caught.

4. The references to Wendy White are out of place in a discussion of the artistic direction of the Met. The mezzo, a long-time soloist, was badly injured when a set collapsed under her. She has not sung since.

The article and people quoted seem to blame the production itself for what happened to her, but that kind of incident is better viewed as an occupational health and safety issue. Somebody didn't properly secure the set, and if the design made this more likely, that problem should have been caught at the initial construction of the set or when the Met performed a safety inspection.

I wish the article, overall, had been even longer and deeper than it was; I'm extremely curious about what might have been left out or cut to avoid legal issues or endangering inside sources.

In any event, this week's NYer has responses from the Board and from Alan Gordon of AGMA, and they are entirely predictable:
  • Kevin Kenndy, Ann Ziff, William Morris, and Judith-Anne Corrente are "disheartened" and defend the Met with all the best buzzwords without addressing any substantive points made by Stewart. Please tell us, in detail, about the Met's finances and how you're going to work with Gelb to get the company back on a decent financial footing, instead of spouting the kind of garbage any PR person, and I include amateurs such as myself, can put together.
  • Alan Gordon is "disappointed" and rails against the board and Gelb's "out of control" spending.
The third letter, from an audience member, is on the money in expressing his dismay about the Met's finances, although I think that his comments about "controversial" productions is a vast oversimplification about what's been going on at the Met.

* A total aside: I asked both Tommasini and the Rubin Institute for a copy of this speech, and neither provided it to me. I was not there and I hesitate to say too much about a speech I have not heard or read.

** David Gockley, for example, is a proven master at working with wealthy donors, which has resulted in a much larger SFO endowment and funding for a long string of new works. SFO has also had labor peace during his tenure. Operatic general directors everywhere could learn a lot from him.

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Consider Yourself Banned, "Aleksei"

Occasional commenter Aleksei sent another comment that makes it clear that he's another avatar of Eric/Pelleastrian/GCR/etc.

By the way, musical institutions like and need reviewers and critics. I leave it to you to figure out why.

You're out and might as well stop trying.

Criticism: Here We Go Again

My previous posting, about the death and work of the great musical polymath Andrew Porter, attracted a comment from occasional-commenter Aleksei, as follows:
Porter was a very learned man of course but this does not change the fact that the best critical writing is superfluous to its subject, and musical criticism is the most superfluous of all.
I've written about the value of criticism before, but I'm going to spell it out again with a couple of additional ideas.

Music criticism has a number of functions:
  • Advocate for the audience: evaluating performances on behalf of the audience
  • Journalistic: recording what happened and when and by which musicians
  • Opinion: recording a critic's opinion (we hope a highly informed opinion) of what happened
  • Contextual: placing what happened within some historical and musical context
  • Preservation: enabling people in the far future to get a look at what happened, why, and the impression it made
This is separate and distinct from the act of listening to the work and from the work itself, but it's of great value, and can change your perception of a work or performance, and enhance your knowledge of a work, by giving it context. This is why I seek out the opinions of pro reviewers and my knowledgable friends about what they heard and what they thought. 

Again, if you think criticism is worthless, don't read it. Enjoy the sensation without engaging yourself intellectually about what you are hearing and why.

Andrew Porter

I'm a day late in getting to this - hectic day yesterday - but I am grieved to read of the death of Andrew Porter, music critic extraordinaire, musicologist, translator, at 86.

He has a reasonable claim to be the greatest of postwar music critics (at least of those writing in English) No, let me just say it: he was the great postwar music critic, at least, the greatest I know.

He was widely read, especially during his long tenure as classical music critic of The New Yorker, and before that at the Manchester Guardian and Financial Times. Following his time at The New Yorker, he continued to review and write long-form criticism for other publications.

His achievements include the discovery, in the Paris Opera library, of the original parts to Verdi's Don Carlos, which, when examined, revealed music cut during the rehearsals for the premiere, and his beautiful and graceful English singing translation, for Sadler's Wells, of Wagner's Ring. The latter may be - and should be - heard on the live recording made of those performances, under Reginald Goodall and with a superb cast. That wasn't his only singing translation, but it is likely his most famous, and has been published by Norton in book form, along with a wry and erudite essay on the hazards of translating such a work into English. Anyone contemplating a translation or adaptation should read that essay; in fact, anyone who loves opera should read that essay.

More personally - I read Porter's reviews in The New Yorker and in his books, and they had a good deal of influence on me. First, there was the desire to grow up to be Porter, an unreasonable goal considering his sheer erudition and broad knowledge. Next, he got me interested in Elliott Carter. Next, I learned from his reviews that publishers would send you a study score of a new work if you asked them in advance of a concert; that's why I had the score of John Adams's Naive and Sentimental Music with me when I reviewed its first performance at SFS.

Porter also reviewed a concert that I sang in, sort of: I was in the chorus for the NY premiere, at Town Hall, of Verdi's Il Corsaro. The stars were the opera and the great Carlo Bergonzi as the tenor lead. Porter quite rightly characterized the Stony Brook chorus as vocally undernourished and unschooled in the proper style, but he loved Bergonzi.

Andrew Porter, RIP. You were the greatest of us.

  • Margalit Fox in the Times, whose lede says it all (but note the correction at the end!): "Andrew Porter, a music critic celebrated for his stylistic elegance, immense erudition and polymathic command not only of the work under review but also of everything else in creation conceivably connected with it, died either Thursday night or early Friday in London."
  • Tom Huizenga, NPR
  • William Braun, Opera News
  • Alex Ross, The New Yorker
(More links to come, as the British papers must have obits for him.)

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Happy Birthday to the Well! Join Us Cheap!

I've written about the Well before - and in honor of its 30th birthday, there's a special offer today and tomorrow only. The pitch was written by one of the many friends I've made through my Well membership.

Ever thought about joining The WELL, the oldest surviving and still one of the very best online virtual communities?

Real names only, no ads, no attention jacking videos (or even pictures!), just very high quality (mostly) online conversation. 

Sounds good, compared to the attention-jacking monstrosity that Facebook is, doesn't it?

In celebration of its 30th anniversary (!!) The WELL is offering a one time only super-deal: a one-year subscription for just $9.50. (normally $120).

Fabiano to the Rescue! (Again)

From the Met:

Michael Fabiano will make his Met role debut as Edgardo in this evening’s performance of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, replacing Joseph Calleja, who is ill. This will be Fabiano’s fifth role at the Met and his second time stepping in to replace a colleague on short notice this season; in December, he sang his first company performances of Rodolfo in La Bohème to critical acclaim. 
Tonight’s performance of Lucia di Lammermoor, conducted by Maurizio Benini, also stars Albina Shagimuratova in the title role, Luca Salsi as Enrico, and Oren Gradus as Raimondo.