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...]
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."
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...]
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...]
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...]
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...]
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...]
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 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...]
Two in one day. First came the email from George Steel stating that the New York City Opera was descending into Chapter 11 - and will probably liquidate its assets. The company had sent out an emergency appeal in recent weeks for a $7 million bridge fund. At last report, it wasn't even close: $2 million. Then, Osmo Vänskä resigned from the Minnesota Orchestra after a year's lockout, the occasion being the cancellation of upcoming Carnegie Hall concerts. After a history of excellent conductors (from Eugene Ormandy to Dmitri Mitropoulos … [Read more...]
Only weeks ago, Christoph Eschenbach's new recording of Paul Hindemith orchestral works came bubbling through my speakers with a kind of sparkling animation and buoyant rhythms one rarely hears in typically machine-tooled performances of this ultra-contrapuntal composer. "Eschenbach got his groove back," I thought. The orchestra was NDR Orchestra, which he has been returning to, having been its chief conductor 1998–2004. Of all the orchestras he has led since the Houston Symphony Orchestra (1988-1999), NDR seemed to understand him best, … [Read more...]