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Hans Werner Henze: The Last Interview?

Months before his death, he reached back 50 years in his mind to talk about his "odd, old Elegy."

Dmitri Shostakovich, Yuja Wang, Cultural Drift and Cher

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Cultural drift has been of particular concern with Dmitri Shostakovich. The world was still very much digesting his extensive output encompassing 147 opus numbers – like those acres of string quartets written near the end of his fraught life – when biographies began appearing, revealing that covert meaning was often more prominent than overt. Subtext eclipsed text, one reason why the Emerson Quartet, for one, observed how the music doesn’t look like much on paper but creates its own world when played. Bit what of the early works? The ones … [Read more...]

John Luther Adams’ outdoor music needs to come indoors

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Applause seemed inadequate and inappropriate, like some weird contrivance of civilized life at the end of John Luther Adams's Sila: The Breath of the World, performed by a dispersed collection of 80 singers and instrumentalists in its July 25 world premiere at Lincoln Center's Out of Doors festival. It was like applauding God for creating Magnetic North. Or tundra. Or glaciers The title refers to Inuit cosmology: Sila is the force behind the force, that which powers everything from life to wind to weather. That's not out of character from … [Read more...]

The Passenger: The reality behind the letdown

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  Long before I walked into the Park Avenue Armory for Mieczyslaw Weinberg's The Passenger in the much-acclaimed, much-traveled David Pountney production, the opera itself had left me puzzled and underwhelmed, namely in the DVD shot live in Bregenz that preceded the opera's many visits around the world. The final scenes of this opera about Auschwitz and its aftermath were all I hoped they would be in terms of dramatic power. But the rest was undermined by its own less-than-singable vocal lines that had little sense of … [Read more...]

Christopher Rouse: New music for existential terror

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For American composers, over-exposure is a rare and grand accomplishment, especially for someone like Christopher Rouse, whose music is neither pretty nor minimalist. So prolific was he during much of the 1990s that he suffered the typical suspicion: Can anybody write so much, so quickly and still be good? Luckily, there's a second act in this American life. How could there not be with a composer whose voice is so distinctive? Rouse has been Alan Gilbert's composer in residence at the New York Philharmonic, and the conclusion of that was … [Read more...]

Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos: A gentleman and an artist

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The tireless, ageless and ubiquitous conductor Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos is suddenly no longer with us. His death at age 80 from cancer was announced on June 11 - only a week or so after he cancelled all conducting engagements. At that time, one could hope that it was a false alarm, that he was doing the right thing by letting orchestras know that there's trouble, thus avoiding last-minute cancellations amid unrealistic recovery hopes. Fruhbeck was no stranger to illness in recent years, yet maintained the frequent-flyer miles of a man half … [Read more...]

Dudamel, Gergiev: Should they leave politics to the experts?

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Though I typically love Washington Post music critic Anne Midgette's reasoning and writing, her March 14 column on whether classical musicians should take political stands - forcefully argued and written - is deeply disturbing from the first sentence. Midgette thoughtfully examines the public roles of musicians, asking if they have a duty to speak up for human rights, particularly when the  countries that nurtured them are in significant turmoil. For Los Angeles Philharmonic music director Gustavo Dudamel, it's the uprising against the … [Read more...]

Gerard Mortier’s Last Day in Salzburg (when Viennese Opera found its place on the lunatic fringe)

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It promised to be a doozy. The provocative director of the Salzburg Festival - who died at age 70 on March 8 - was staring down his Austrian enemies for one last round. Politicians and critics had been lining up against him over his 11 years heading the festival that Herbert von Karajan so conservatively built. And by the summer of 2001 when the government was winging rightward, some were saying, point blank, that it was time to get rid of this Belgian and bring in an Austrian who knows his stuff. Two operas scheduled for that day were … [Read more...]

Jamming with Mozart from MTT to Perm

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The very idea raises an immediate "uh-oh." Mozart's music feels like such a complete sphere unto itself that  so-called re-loads, mashups and crossover re-arrangements have been minimal and often embarrassing.  Just in the past year, though, surprisingly interventionist performances have been coming my way from extremely high places: When the slow movement of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 25 arrived during a recent radio broadcast from Carnegie Hall, my ears immediately went into what-will-happen-next mode as Jeremy Denk began playing all … [Read more...]

Trinity Wall Street re-defines downtown

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What is it about the New York early music scene that it gravitates toward the north and south poles of Manhattan? Music Before 1800 and Miller Theater are around Columbia University's magnetic north while the increasingly important Trinity Wall Street is south of City Hall, its current Twelfth Night Festival filling the gap between Christmas and New Year's (Dec. 26-Jan. 6) at a level as high as anything I've encountered in the early music festivals of Antwerp and Utrecht. At least on Saturday ... I caught The Play of Daniel and the … [Read more...]

The abruptly changing Chinese landscape from Lepage to Antonioni

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The first thing you learn about China is its vast number of rules - big and small, sensible and trivial. The second thing is that maybe 10 percent of the rules are enforced - though at any given time, you never know what 10 percent that will be. Or when. Much later comes the more important realization: The people behind the rules have none at all. Books are edited and movies are banned with, apparently, no accountability. Inside China, one hears cynical resignation; if the Chinese masses were ever infantilized Maoists, they don't seem … [Read more...]

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