main: August 2008 Archives

I was listening recently to a new operatic recital disc of bel canto arias sung by the remarkable young tenor Juan Diego Florez. Some of the scenes were rarities, but there were some old chestnuts too. The most familiar of all was the famous aria "Una furtiva lagrima" from L'elisir d'amore. As Florez finished the first verse and began the second, my wife and I, already impressed by the beauty, ease, and intelligence of his singing, were totally taken aback. He added variation to the second verse, instead of repeating it exactly as it went the first time. Some singers will vary the dynamics in a second verse, singing softly a phrase that was loud the first time around. Or they may change the phrasing. But Florez added and changed notes -- varying the tune in a way that I would imagine Donizetti actually had in mind, and that singers in his day knew how to do. The effect of Florez's variations was captivating and engrossing, and it did not lose its impact on repeated hearings. 

August 29, 2008 10:54 AM |

In a recent discussion with members of the board and some musicians from one of America's orchestras, I was asked what I thought should be the role of musicians in shaping major policies and decisions of an orchestra.  In response, I referred to an article I had written for the April 2000 issue of Harmony, the publication of the Symphony Orchestra Institute (now morphed into - The Orchestra Musician Forum, a project of the Eastman School). My article was called "Are Three Legs Appropriate? Or Even Sufficient?"  It's far too long to reprint here, but is still available online by clicking here.

August 22, 2008 10:59 AM | | Comments (1)

A listener who wanted to go beyond what we call the standard repertoire recently asked me if I would make a list of a handful of recordings of "non-standard" symphonic works that I could recommend to someone whose taste was fairly broad, though on the conservative side. She said that she loved virtually everything from Bach to the more conservative 20th-century composers (Bartók, Stravinsky, etc.), but was not familiar with out-of-the-way repertoire.  Of course, different people will have different definitions for "out of the way" - to some listeners, Carl Nielsen's symphonies are fairly familiar territory, while to others they are totally unknown. A lot depends on the programming of your local orchestra, or on the availability of a classical music radio station (and its own approach to programming; some stations nowadays play only music from the Baroque period through perhaps early Beethoven, with an occasional single movement from a Brahms symphony, if it isn't too loud or distracting to the background listener).

August 15, 2008 3:39 PM | | Comments (9)

Recently a well-meaning citizen of a major American city with a major international orchestra asked me if I thought the orchestra in her city was "the best," or at least "one of the three best."  She never specified whether she meant best in the United States, the world, or the solar system, and I didn't press the point. I gave my usual politically correct answer, pointing out how difficult it is to numerically rank orchestras without hearing them week after week under different conductors in different repertoire, and I also pointed out that different people would use different criteria in their own rating systems. Her reaction seemed somewhere between annoyance and acceptance, leaning more toward acceptance when I assured her that "her" orchestra was certainly one of the great ones in the world.

August 8, 2008 1:24 PM | | Comments (2)

At a concert in Houston a few months ago, I heard a dramatic work for soloists, chorus, and orchestra called The Refuge, with music by Christopher Theofanidis and text by Leah Lax. While I found it absorbing in part because of its text, I realized the huge difference there is in a listener's experience when supertitles are used (as they were here) as opposed to a printed text.

August 1, 2008 3:53 PM | | Comments (6)


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