Suffocating Berio

At a concert by the Theatre of Voices Friday night, I loved a Berio piece, A-Ronne. Twitters, muttering, all kinds of entertaining vocal sounds, and also some compelling singing, all structured in a way that captivated me. But when I said I liked the piece, at intermission, two composers (one quite well known) objected. To them the piece felt suffocating. I knew why, of course. They'd studied composition in the 1970s, when modernism ruled in academia, and when -- as I know from my own composition studies then -- you had to like and write atonal … [Read more...]

Final word on North Korea?

We Americans can theorize all we like, but there's something most of us don't have -- the ghastly experience of living under a totalitarian regime. James Zhu, who had that experience, posted the following as a comment to my North Korea posts. He fully supports the Philharmonic's visit, and wrote what follows as a response to my fellow blogger Terry Teachout's piece in the Wall Street Journal. Terry opposed the Philharmonic's visit, which of course he has every right to do. I thought I'd promote James Zhu's thoughts from a comment to a full … [Read more...]


There's been a small explosion over Richard Taruskin's long piece in the New Republic, about, yes, the future of classical music. Or, more precisely, about three books that try to make classical music's case. Taruskin, as anyone who's read him might expect, goes after these books with savage virtuosity, or maybe it's virtuoso savagery. I loved every word, and agreed. This is a very long piece, but ought to be required reading. Sample excerpts: I had a grim laugh when I read an interview in The New York Times this past July with George … [Read more...]

More on North Korea

I was privately asked two very good questions, and thought I'd share the answers. Can the New York Philharmonic have any contact with the North Korean people? Not likely. Attendance at the Philharmonic's concerts will be carefully controlled. And of course any concert in Pyongyang can't possiblyreach the North Korean people, because only the elite, for the most part, are allowed into Pyongyang. North Korea, as far as I know, doesn't have the kind of artistic life that other countries have. Even in most repressive countries, there will … [Read more...]

The aquariums of Pyongyang

I was queasy when I first heard that the New York Philharmonic might go to North Korea. This is the sickest country on earth, the place with the most repressive, most deranged, and most cynical government.  If you offend the regime, and get sent to a labor camp, they'll send your entire family, including little kids. There's brutality in these camps, of course, and not enough food. And in the midst of all that, the kids are forced to go to schools -- or, rather, sick parodies of schools -- where they do nothing but recite praise of the … [Read more...]

“You just drank poison!”

I've raved recently --  here and here -- about the cabalettas in 19th century Italian operas, the rousing pieces that bring each scene to a crashing close. I talked especially (in the second link above) about the cabaletta from a duet in Donizetti's Lucrezia Borgia, where the music just sweeps along, mostly ignoring the drama playing out on stage. Listen, and see what you think. Doesn't physical verve trump everything else? And if it does -- and if these pieces crop up over and over again in every opera from this period -- what does that say … [Read more...]

Reactions to the shock

Well, I'm joking a little. I mean reactions to my  "shocking proposal," which really wasn't so shocking. The real shock may come in something else I'll post today or tomorrow. There's a bad moon rising about tax deductions for donors to the arts -- a lot of people, some quite distinguished, are starting to believe that these tax deductions aren't warranted. What would that do to classical music? But more on this later. My shocking proposal was that classical music institutions be written about, in newspapers, the way real journalists … [Read more...]

Delicious scandal (and we have a winner)

My quiz question has been answered, and I'm delighted to welcome La Cieca, the divine creatrix of the Parterre Box queer opera zine to my humble blog. She knew the answer, as of course she would. But first! Parterre Box has reported the most delicious scandal. A top conductor -- a name known, I'm sure, to almost everyone who reads this blog -- was conducting in Beijing just now, and arranged a little tryst. "I WANT TO FIND YOU NAKED when I arrive," he e-mailed to his paramourlette, adding instructions for retrieving the key to his hotel … [Read more...]

How to do it

I've gotten some very vivid e-mail encouragement for what I proposed in my last post, my shocking proposal that newspapers (and of course other media outlets) cover classical music the way they'd cover anything else, with probing questions and all the factual data they can get. I'm even encouraged to think that some people who write about classical music are going to do at least some of what I suggested. So I want to append a little how-to guide, about things to look out for when you ask orchestras (or of course other classical … [Read more...]

A shocking proposal?

Recently I heard that the culture editor of a newspaper somewhere in the US had been told about me, as someone who could give him ideas about improving newspaper coverage of classical music. I don't know if this person will ever contact me, but I started thinking of what I'd say, if he ever did. And here's what I came up with. Everyone talks about covering classical music in a livelier, more accessible way. But while I think that's certainly a good thing to do, I don't think it's the main problem. I think the main problem is that -- from any … [Read more...]


Let me quickly -- well, maybe not; I tend to write long -- summarize my thoughts about the Met Opera season opening. Old news by now, maybe.But... Conducting/orchestra: I read reviews full of comments on James Levine's energy, his thoughtful, savvy approach to a score he hadn't conducted before, in a style he doesn't like. It would be fascinating to get a recording of the performance, and go over it with some of the people who wrote those reviews. As I said earlier, I heard an orchestra that for most of the first two acts seemed to be … [Read more...]