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Rachmaninoff Uncorked

Today's "Wall Street Journal" includes my review of "one of the most searing listening experiences in the history of recorded sound" -- the new Marston Records 3-CD set: "Rachmaninoff Plays Symphonic Dances" -- which you can sample here. My review reads: One of the saddest and most paradoxical artistic exiles of the 20th century was Sergei Rachmaninoff, who fled the Russian Revolution and wound up in New York and Los Angeles, in equal measure celebrated and obscure.  Rachmaninoff (1873-1943) left Moscow a composer and conductor of high … [Read more...]

What Are Orchestral Musicians For?

Years ago, before I was shown the door, I briefly taught at the Manhattan School of Music within their graduate program for aspirant orchestral musicians. My intention was to impart some knowledge about the history of the orchestra in order to shed light on the decline of orchestras and of orchestral performance – and to suggest that young musicians might be able contribute constructively. I boldly inflicted both reading and writing assignments. The class was large (it was in fact required) – more than 50 instrumentalists. The majority … [Read more...]

THE FUTURE OF ORCHESTRAS — Part Six: What’s an Orchestra For?

Back in the 1990s, Harvey Lichtenstein – who recreated the Brooklyn Academy of Music – invited me to lunch and asked me if I wanted to run an orchestra. Harvey had just read my notorious Jeremiad Understanding Toscanini: How He Became an American Culture-God and Helped Create a New Audience for Old Music. That was published by Knopf when a book about classical music might generate four or five dozen major reviews, including Newsweek and Time. Understanding Toscanini ends with a diatribe about Lincoln Center. I speculate that if an … [Read more...]

On Rescuing a “Dead Art Form” — Take Two

  It seems to me pretty obvious that nowadays it’s far easier to stage a successful Hamlet or Three Sisters than a successful Aida or Siegfried. And one reason is equally obvious: finding an actor to play Hamlet or Masha is no problem; finding a dramatic soprano for Aida or a Heldentenor for Siegfried is difficult to impossible. At the heart of Conrad L. Osborne’s Opera as Opera – the new, self-published mega-book that (as I wrote in The Wall Street Journal) surpasses all previous English-language treatments of opera in performance – … [Read more...]

On Rescuing a “Dead Art Form” — A Landmark Book on Opera in Performance

This weekend's "Wall Street Journal" includes my review of Conrad L. Osborne's new mega-book "Opera as Opera" -- the most important English-language treatment of opera in performance ever written: During the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, when classical music was a lot more ­robust than nowadays, High Fidelity was the American magazine of choice for lay connoisseurs and not a few profes­sionals. Its opera expert, Conrad L. ­Osborne, stood apart. “C.L.O.” was self-evidently a polymath. His knowledge of singing was encyclopedic. He wrote about operas … [Read more...]

Bernstein at Brevard — Take Two: The Artist and Politics

The Bernstein Centenary celebration at the Brevard Music Festival last month was multi-faceted. I was invited to explore the Bernstein story for a week with Brevard’s exceptional high school orchestra (the festival also hosts college and professional ensembles). The result was  the multi-media “Bernstein the Educator” program that I described in my previous blog. I was also asked to lecture on “Bernstein and Social Justice.” This proved a lot more interesting (and timely) than I had anticipated. After a few hours’ homework I realized that … [Read more...]

Bernstein the Educator

Museums curate the past. They help us to shape and populate our impressions of history. Orchestras do not curate the past. A typical symphonic program (alas) begins with the selection of a soloist. The resulting programs are eclectic: a potpourri. During his historic music directorship of the New York Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein was the rare conductor for whom curating the past was an urgent priority. During his first season – 1957-58 – he undertook a survey of American music “from its earliest generations to the present.” The … [Read more...]

Furtwangler and the Nazis — Take Two

I am returning to the topic of Furtwangler because my previous blog produced a minor miracle – a thread of responses that yielded heightened understanding of a complex topic. I wrote to William Osborne and Stephen Stockwell: “Thanks so much for this engrossing feedback. Maybe we could summarize that the truth about Furtwangler falls within these two polarities: “1.He stressed the communal experience of music, felt he couldnt access that outside Germanic lands (I find this credible), so he accommodated the Third Reich insofar as he had … [Read more...]

Furtwangler and the Nazis

This weekend’s Wall Street Journal includes my review of Roger Allen’s “Wilhelm Furtwangler: Art and the Politics of the Unpolitical.” As some readers of this blog may remember, my most controversial and notorious book – “Understanding Toscanini” (1987) – deals rather extensively with the American career of Furtwangler. I also use Wagner’s "Lohengrin" Prelude to illustrate fundamental differences between Furtwangler and Toscanini, showing how Furtwangler uses harmonic structure to shape an “inward” interpretation. Here’s my review: One of … [Read more...]

The Gershwin Moment — Part Five: Klemperer, Tibbett, Gerstein

              As I’ve had occasion to observe in my various George Gershwin blogs, Gershwin and J. S. Bach are the two composers most malleable in performance. There is no Gershwin style. And if there is, there’s full license to ignore it. The most recent “PostClassical” broadcast on WWFM includes two little-known but essential Gershwin performances that break the mold. One is Otto Klemperer conducting his transcription of the Second Prelude as a dirge.  The other, from the same … [Read more...]

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