Slipped disc: December 2008 Archives
Anybody notice that today is the 200th anniversary of the first performance of Beethoven's fifth symphony? It was 22 December 1808 at the Theater an der Wien, if Thayer is not mistaken.
The orchestra played badly, the hall was cold and audience tolerance was exhausted by an overlong programme.
But this was the night that the symphony shed its courtly deference and became a universal art form - a work that represented fate and the individual, and indicating that a free person can take control of his or her own destiny.
Beethoven Fifth is the beginning of liberation.
Since last week's sordid events, there have been three developments:
- The Philharmonic's chief executive is apparently unwell.
- The critic who praised Gilbert Kaplan's performance of Mahler's second symphony has admitted he did not acknowledge the conductor's full authority in his review.
- And two more players have reiterated the trombonist's attack on the guest conductor in language so similar to one another as to suggest a football huddle.
On the first matter, there is nothing to add except to wish Zarin Mehta a speedy recovery.
Steve Smith, the critic (who is also music editor for Time Out New York), deserves much credit for disclosing on his blog that he regrets having omitted a phrase in which he described Kaplan as co-editor of the critical edition of the score - in other words, as the man who helped produce the text that is truest to the composer's final intentions.
The two new grumblers deserve no credit at all, not even name credit.
They were playing for the first time an authentic version of the symphony and all they could do was whinge about aspects of the conductor's technique. Have these people lost all interest in music? Don't they want to know more about the stuff they play? Can't they see beyond a physical rehearsal-room limitation to the possibility of actual enlightenment?
The New York Philharmonic has come out of this seedy episode looking like a rabble without a cause. When its music director invites a man to conduct a concert for the benefit of the orchestra's pension fund, it is worse than just bad manners for the players to insult him to their heart's content. It is a symptom of exceedingly bad management, of an organisation that has run out of control. Somebody needs to get a grip, to state a position, to invoke a principle of collective responsibility.
It is no surprise that Riccardo Muti turned down the offer to become music director in favour of Chicago, that Simon Rattle won't go near the band with a bargepole and that the only person with enough insurance to succeed Lorin Maazel is the son of two members of the orchestra who think they can keep the hyenas from his door. What a shambles.
- Hold the front page, hot story coming in.
- What is it?
- There's a player in the orchestra who didn't like last week's conductor.
- Come again? Yeah, that's right. There's a trombone in the New York Phil beefing on his blog about the guy who did Mahler 2. Get some pictures in.
Is this some kind of mistimed joke, or the end of journalism on the New York Times? For reasons better left uninvestigated, the Times has made a C1 splash today of comments made by a trombonist - the third trombone, I believe - about the amateur conductor Gilbert E Kaplan who led Mahler Second last week.
According to the player, Kaplan ignored 'a blizzard' of Mahler's instructions and had a beat the band could not follow. Any good that came out of the performance was entirely to the credit of the players, working against impossible odds.
Well, let's get a couple of things straight. There isn't an orchestra in the world that does not represent a diversity of views. Every time Simon Rattle steps onto the podium in Berlin, a dozen players grunt and grumble. When Abbado rehearsed the LSO, they complained of boredom. When Dudamel does his hightail tricks, they accuse him of showmanship. Musicians complaining about conductors is not news. It's part of their job description.
The difference here is that a player decided to blog his dissent and the local fish-rag picked it up. Before we consider the facts of the matter - and I attended the performance, as the Times reporter evidently did not - let's just consider whose failure that is. Is it Kaplan's, or is it the New York Philharmonic's for failing to impose appropriate corporate discretion on its musicians?
Every self-respecting orchestra in the world maintains certain public courtesies in the interest of self-preservation and maintaining audience mystique. What we have just seen at the NY Phil is a failure of management procedures. If I were chairman, I'd have the chief executive and the PR on my carpet before the morning's coffee break.
And while we're in the blame game, let's just ask ourselves if the trombonist would have slagged off a professional conductor, whom he might have to face again next season? I think we know the answer to that.
Now to the performance. I make no secret of being a long-standing friend and admirer of Gilbert Kaplan's. I have published that disclaimer several times and have no reason whatsoever to be ashamed of it. Having watched him master the work over almost 25 years, I am convinced - and so are many musicians - that no-one alive has such detailed knowledge of the score. My own credentials on the subject are as the author of one published book on Mahler and another in progress.
But don't take my word for it. Players in the London Symphony Orchestra, the Vienna Philharmonic and the Stockholm Phil will testify to his grasp of minutiae - not just the annotations that Maher made on 14 different scores but the reasons for those annotations. If the trombonist is feeling frisky, perhaps we should put him on a platform with Kaplan to see which of them knows more of the notes.
There is certainly criticism to be made of Kaplan's technique - he is an amateur, after all - and he does not bring to the rostrum the encyclopaedic knowledge of repertoire and orchestral psychology that one can expect from a Jansons or a Maazel. But he can deliver a memorable performance and he seldom fails, in my experience, to illuminate something new in the score.
I have heard him do the Mahler 2 several times, on occasion with greater impact than he made at Avery Fisher last week. The original NY Times review was very positive and there were rhythms in the second and third movements that he delivered more idiomatically and true to score than I have heard from most professionals. The performance as a whole achieved its intended catharsis - and if the New York Philharmonic think they can do that without a conductor, as the trombonist suggests, well, let's see them try. Go on, book a date.
I had the impression, watching the orchestra's body language, that they were not comfortable on the night. They are a bunch of very fine players. They also have a reputation for very bad attitude. There is a reason why many of the world's best will not conduct the NY Phil. And that may be the same reason why the next music director barely ranks in the top league.
If there was a story to cover here, it was about the New York Philharmonic behaving badly. But are we going to read that in the New York Times? When pigs can fly, perhaps.
Checking out the Condoleeza Rice Brahms recital clip at Buckingham Palace, one had to cast the mind back an awful long time to fathom when a serving officer of the US government last performed a piece of music before a reigning British monarch.
I guess President Truman, a decent piano player, might have done had he ever been given the royal command, but other than Harry - and his daughter, Margaret, who played professionally (but not very capably) before taking to writing crime fiction - I can't think of any Washington insider who could have given as good account of themselves in music as Condi did this week.
So let's hear it one last time for Ms Rice, and let's remember that whatever her successor achieves at the State Department, there is no way Hillary is going to beat this feat.
What did Her Maj make of it? Impossible to tell. But the little bit of the Brahms quintet that has been released for public viewing is stiff and over-cautious, perhaps because Condi is glued to the page and making no eye contact with the string quartet, comprising London Symphony Orchestra members, led by Luise Shackleton, who is married to the British Foreign Secretary, David Milliband.
As a diplomatic event, it was in a class of its own. As a musical experience, a little more rehearsal might have helped. With time on her hands after January 09, Condi would certainly be welcome on the chamber circuit. Next stop, Wigmore Hall?
Life has its little ups and downs, but seldom so extreme as the ones that have just hit the composer Brett Dean.
Last month, the Australian government announced it was closing down the National Academy of Music, of which Dean is director. Dean, 47, had given up playing viola in Simon Rattle's Berlin Philharmonic to help raise the next generation of Australian musicians in a so-called 'centre of excellence'. But a new Labour government, suspicious of elitism, abolished ANAM by order of the arts minister, Peter Garrett, a retired rock singer, for a puny saving of less than US $2 million.
Dean was about to fly to Canberra to lead a string quartet protest at Parliament when a call came through this weekend from Louisville, Kentucky, telling him he had been chosen for the 2008 Grawemeyer Award, the richest prize for a contemporary composition, worth more than a year's salary and a torrent of performances.
Dean is a modest sort of bloke. When I gave a talk at ANAM last year he seemed quietly in control and full of good ideas for fast-tracking young Aussies onto the world circuit. He loved the job, not least because it gave him time to compose without having to flog himself to death giving concerts all over the place.
The piece that won him the prize is called The Lost Art of Letter Writing, and it looks like turning into a very effective piece of political lobbying. Is the austere government of Kevin Rudd going to sack a man who has just put Australia onto the avant-garde map? Stand by for a smart u-turn.
AJ BlogsAJBlogCentral | rss
Terry Teachout on the arts in New York City
Andrew Taylor on the business of arts & culture
rock culture approximately
Laura Collins-Hughes on arts, culture and coverage
Richard Kessler on arts education
Douglas McLennan's blog
Dalouge Smith advocates for the Arts
Art from the American Outback
For immediate release: the arts are marketable
No genre is the new genre
David Jays on theatre and dance
Paul Levy measures the Angles
Judith H. Dobrzynski on Culture
John Rockwell on the arts
innovations and impediments in not-for-profit arts
Jan Herman - arts, media & culture with 'tude
Apollinaire Scherr talks about dance
Tobi Tobias on dance et al...
Howard Mandel's freelance Urban Improvisation
Focus on New Orleans. Jazz and Other Sounds
Doug Ramsey on Jazz and other matters...
Jeff Weinstein's Cultural Mixology
Martha Bayles on Film...
Fresh ideas on building arts communities
Greg Sandow performs a book-in-progress
Harvey Sachs on music, and various digressions
Bruce Brubaker on all things Piano
Kyle Gann on music after the fact
Greg Sandow on the future of Classical Music
Norman Lebrecht on Shifting Sound Worlds
Joe Horowitz on music
Jerome Weeks on Books
Scott McLemee on books, ideas & trash-culture ephemera
Wendy Rosenfield: covering drama, onstage and off
Chloe Veltman on how culture will save the world
Public Art, Public Space
Regina Hackett takes her Art To Go
John Perreault's art diary
Lee Rosenbaum's Cultural Commentary
Tyler Green's modern & contemporary art blog