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

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)

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

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

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

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...]

Management to Orchestra: Drop Dead (and it probably will)

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...]

Eschenbach in Salzburg: How was booing possible?

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...]

David Lang’s anti-opera: Where secrets become art

By his very nature, David Lang rethinks everything we think we know about any given avenue of music. And with the whisper opera, which was performed over the weekend of Aug. 10 at Lincoln Center's Mostly Mozart Festival, he did so by going to the polar opposites of what theater audiences are used to: Quietude, revelations of the most intimate sort and a level of fragmentation that was barely imaginable in a stage work so cogently conceived. The libretto was culled from social media, taking sentences (or fragments of them) from anonymous … [Read more...]

Britten’s Curlew River: Tanglewood’s Madwoman makes sense through the art of subtraction

Benjamin Britten could be so comforting when at his most dictatorial. His advice to performers was simple: Do exactly what he wrote, no more and no less, and all will be well. Certainly that seems true in his instrumental works, performances of which have acquired a uniformity (or quality control, in the composer's mind). But what about theatrical matters? Does his word carry as much weight? His credibility isn't helped any by his famous dislike of Jon Vickers's revisionist portrayal of the title character of Peter Grimes, an … [Read more...]

What Stockhausen left for us Earthlings

Karlheinz Stockhausen made it his business to be enigmatic - which is the core cause of his being modern music's greatest public relations disaster. Long before he made his 9/11 gaffe ("And that is the greatest work of art that exists for the whole Cosmos"), long before he revealed that he had extra-terrestrial origins (he claimed to be from a planet orbiting the star Sirius), Stockhausen retreated from the public, all but posting no-trespassing signs on his work by withdrawing his extensive discography from conventional circulation and making … [Read more...]

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