Slipped disc: October 2007 Archives
I was having morning tea on Friday with Anne-Sofie von Otter and her accompanist Bengt Forsberg across the road from the BBC when Bengt's mobile bleeped with a text and his face lost most of its colour. As soon as Anne-Sofie was out of earshot he said to me, 'what do you do if you're giving a recital in 24 hours and someone has left your music on a plane?'
The music was fairly rare - some songs by Erich Wolfgang Korngold - and a call to the original publisher's London shop confirmed that it was not in stock.
Thinking cap to the ready, I gave Bengt a couple of names who might help, followed by a screed of antiquarians who might have a score in some bottom drawer. Then his phone bleeped again. A copy had been located in Kengsington Music Shop. All was well.
As we parted, the thought occurred: what if this had not been London but somewhere less diversely endowed with musical esoterica - Sydney, say, or Chicago, or Athens? What does an artist say and do when the music disappears?
All experiences and outcomes warmly received.
Why is it that amateur and community orchestras can be so much more adventurous in their programming than the heavily-funded behemoths who occupy Carnegie and other great halls?
After writing on Nigel Kennedy's current advocacy for the Mieczyslaw Karlowicz concerto, I heard from two players who had been involved in performances in the past year.
Francis Norton of London, a member of the (amateur) Royal Orchestral Society, reported his delight at a concert he played in at St John's, Smith Square, with Florence Cooke as soloist. 'I thought the concerto was at least as good as the Bruch,' he wrote. 'She played it brilliantly, and it has become one of my favourite violin concerti, (together with Dohnanyi's No.2).
Next up was Odette Burgess, librarian and back row cello player in the Peterborough Symphony Orchestra of Ontario, Canada, a country town of 70,000, some 80 miles from Toronto.
She writes: 'Our conductor, Michael Newnham, studied in Poland and married a Polish girl who is now our principal cellist. We had done Karlowicz's Eternal Songs last year and Michael thought we would enjoy the violin concerto. And we certainly did! The soloist, Erica Dobosowiecz, who is based in Mexico City, learned it especially to play it with us. And she was wonderful! And it was a lovely piece to accompany - our horns which were featured prominently in many places were top notch! The audience loved it!'
So there you have it - a fine piece, with both audience and musician appeal, yet you will search in vain for a professional performance anywhere outside of Poland. Why is that? I wonder.
I was saddened and suprised to learn of Maggie Carson's death. Saddened because I liked the old girl, and suprised because I thought she'd gone years ago. That's the thing with musical PRs: you don't hear from them for a month or two and you assume they have either died or married a conductor.
When I started out at this game, there were two tough ladies in New York who could lunch you to death. One was Dorle Soria who, with her husband Dario, ran Angel Records, and the other was Margaret Carson who was gatekeeper to Leonard Bernstein and one of three living souls who could control him. I liked her on sight when she asked if I could slip a few pairs of tights into my suitcase for a colleague in London who was apparently having trouble keeping hers up (don't ask - I certainly didn't).
Every so often thereafter, I'd get a call, a chat, maybe a concert. Once, at a Mahler 9th conducted by one of her artists, she decided at the deathly opening of the adagio to open her portmanteau of a purse and unwrap the loudest boiled sweet I had ever experienced. While others around us shushed and glared, she sucked away with an angelic smile and fell sweetly asleep. They don't make them like that no more.
Here's a reality check from a western musician now living in the Slovak capital, Bratislava:
The decline in state contributions (sponsors do exist, but not fully interested in performing arts) musicians have perhaps grim prospects. An orchestra member of the national no.1 orchestra the Slovak Philharmonic earns only one third of the average income. Just above the minimum wage (of course he still teaches in the afternoon, etc). But they compare themselves to their colleagues in Vienna, half an hour's drive away. It can be understood this can lead to losing motivation.
Yes, real good musicians are still here, but suffering financial cuts (especially the excellent chamber orchestra Musica Aeterna). At the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra a Damocles' sword is hanging - a wild plan proclaimed that 30% of the orchestra is to be fired. A plan, which till now is on the verge of being effectuated. In the meantime, the manager skips ship to the National Opera, leaving behind a managerial chaos and uncertainty.
Old professors control ... a fairly elitist circle. Young 2nd year college conductors, who have absolutely nothing to offer, are getting plenty chances to lead operas and ballets, while the good (already graduated) ones lose patience and leave the country.
Concurrently, the music fund owns some interesting and unique instruments. None of the gifted musicians (or students) has the opportunity to play them. They are simply kept in a safe to accumulate dust, and lose their quality. Meanwhile, gifted students cannot afford real grand instruments for obvious financial reasons.
Yet I feel, that somehow this stagnation is soon coming to move. Almost like an Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Music Culture.
Your comments, please.
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