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The Detroit Symphony, Service Exchange, and “Full-Time” Jobs

About a week ago I received a phone call from a reporter from Detroit Public Radio inviting me to comment on the Detroit Symphony strike. I told him I had no special knowledge of the Detroit situation, but was amenable to commenting on some of the general issues at hand. "Service conversion" is something I have long thought, spoken, and written about - e.g., in my blog of Jan. 29, 2010, on how the Memphis Symphony has succeeded in prioritizing musician "services" beyond rehearsing and performing. This seems to me an idea long overdue. It … [Read more...]

Re-Inventing Bernstein; Re-Inventing City Opera

Can re-interpretation improve a symphony or concerto? Can an ingenious staging fundamentally enhance an opera? My friend Alexander Toradze has long made a specialty of Prokofiev's Second Piano Concerto. He reads it as a memorial to the composer's soulmate Maximilian Shmitgoff, who had committed suicide. Personally, I doubt that the detailed scenario Lexo extrapolates corresponds comprehensively to what was in Prokofiev's head and heart. It doesn't matter. The result is an interpretation in "Toradze style," more extreme in nuance and tempo than … [Read more...]

Rheingold, Boris, and Artistic Miscalculation at the Met

The current issue of The Times Literary Supplement (UK) includes my review of Das Rheingold and Boris Godunov at the Met, as follows: The two most eagerly awaited Metropolitan Opera productions this fall autumn were Wagner's Das Rheingold directed by Robert Lepage, and Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov directed by Peter Stein, with RenĂ© Pape singing his first New York Boris and Valery Gergiev conducting. Boris worked as a whole, and Das Rheingold did not, but both were disappointments arising from artistic miscalculation. As every local Wagnerite … [Read more...]

The Singularity of Gershwin

The singularity of George Gershwin is an inexhaustible topic. One thing that sets Gershwin apart is what I'd call his "cultural fluidity." He is Russian, he is Jewish, he is American. He composes for Tin Pan Alley, Broadway, Hollywood, Carnegie Hall. He is an American in Paris. In Vienna, he is the rare American composer for whom Alban Berg greatly matters. This fluidity of personal identity and musical style promotes a singular fluidity of interpretation. Rhapsody in Blue is equally Gershwin playing with Paul Whiteman's band and Leonard … [Read more...]

Santa Fe Opera Update

The current issue of the Times Literary Supplement (UK) includes my review of this summer's Santa Fe Opera season, featuring a terrific Tales of Hoffmann and further evidence of artistic health. It reads: John Crosby founded the Santa Fe Opera in 1956. He situated his open-air opera house seven miles north of Santa Fe, New Mexico, in a vast polychrome landscape fringed by the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. And he married this exceptional site to an exceptional artistic vision. The first three Santa Fe summers included new productions of … [Read more...]

Did Dvorak Compose “Deep River”?

Though there are some historians of American music who dispute the crucial importance of Dvorak, and many more who simply ignore him, that the impact of his short American sojourn (1892-1895) remains incalculable was driven home afresh during the recent "Dvorak and America" NEH teacher-training institute in Pittsburgh. After World War I, the iconic American spiritual was "Deep River." The person mainly responsible for that was Dvorak's one-time African-American assistant Harry Burleigh. Burleigh's version of "Deep River" was in fact … [Read more...]

Swapping Horowitz for Arrau

SWAPPING HOROWITZ FOR ARRAU As readers of this blog may be aware, my son Bernie is a diehard Vladimir Horowitz enthusiast who has forced me to my knees ("Horowitz on Horowitz on Horowitz on Horowitz: A Recantation") - more or less. Bernie recently restored the "Vladimir Horowitz Website," which had been taken offline. He continues to collect obscure concert and studio recordings in pursuit of a comprehensive library of Horowitz performances spanning six decades. He regularly assaults me with putative new evidence of Horowitz's genius. "Not … [Read more...]

Reinventing the Orchestra: The Role of Education

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported the other day that, "facing chronic red ink and houses only two-thirds full," the Philadelphia Orchestra might be undertaking "profound change." Alison Vulgamore, the orchestra's president, was quoted saying, "We simply can't go on doing the same thing . . . we have to be able to experiment." Already, there are American orchestras in cities like Memphis and Louisville that seem intent on reinventing themselves. Elsewhere, symphonic reinvention is nascent, or merely handwriting on the wall. It has long seemed … [Read more...]

In the Ear of the Beholder

Readers of this blog might (or might not) be wondering what's become of me. There have been no postings in recent weeks because with the conclusion of the concert season I found it necessary to write half a dozen grant applications. This left little time for anything else other than complaining about it. I am now in Pittsburgh, where I'm directing an NEH teacher-training workshop on "Dvorak and America" through the end of the month. After that, in August, I'll be covering the Santa Fe Opera for the Times Literary Supplement (UK) -- and … [Read more...]

Gershwin, Stravinsky, Harrison festivals

During my tenure as Executive Director of the Brooklyn Philharmonic at BAM, I was handed an opportunity to refashion the orchestra's mission. In the course of two years, it had been abandoned by more than two-thirds of its subscribers: there was nothing left to lose. I proposed making all the programming thematic and inter-disciplinary. Harvey Lichtenstein, BAM's mastermind, said yes. One of the Brooklyn Phil festivals I concocted was "Flamenco," in 1997. It proved a personal watershed. For one thing, I discovered that Manuel de Falla's El amor … [Read more...]

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