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Archives for March 2010

Stravinsky, the New York Philharmonic, and Program Music

As Igor Stravinsky's impregnable twentieth century reputation fades with time, both the man and the composer seem ever more elusive. A recent visit to the New York Philharmonic Archives, preparing for the Philharmonic's upcoming Stravinsky festival with Valery Gergiev, reinforced the density of the Stravinsky conundrum. Stravinsky was born in St. Petersburg. His father was an important opera singer. His teacher Rimsky-Korsakov composed operas, not symphonies. That is: his musical upbringing was rooted in the stage: Russian opera and … [Read more...]

The Nose, The Trojans, and Issues of Popularity

Leaving aside the problem that William Kentridge's spectacular production of The Nose at the Metropolitan Opera overwhelms Shostakovich's 1928 chamber opera, leaving aside that one departs the house with the questionable sensation of having seen inspired stagecraft inflicted on a weak work, I merely wish to observe a series of paradoxes. The Nose at the Met, with six performances, is such a hot show you can't buy a ticket. An even greater surprise, alas, is that there were swaths of empty seats at Carnegie Hall earlier this month when Valery … [Read more...]

The Stokowski Conundrum

John Adams, on his blog "Hellmouth," has just posted a stirring piece in praise of Leopold Stokowski. These days Stokowski is by far the more fascinating phenomenon than his onetime rival Toscanini. John writes: "Anyone following [Stokowski's] career will be driven mad trying to cull the pearls from the swill." Consider his two recordings (live, studio) of Schoenberg's Gurrelieder (of which the gave the US premiere and made the first recording, both in 1932). No one but Stokowski could so fundamentally have misconstrued what the "Klaus-Narr" … [Read more...]

Rrecuperating from The Trojans

I'm still attempting to digest Berlioz's The Trojans, as performed by Valery Gergiev and his Kirov soloists, orchestra, and chorus at Carnegie Hall last week. The experience was humbling, overwhelming, enobling. A sentient listener can only shrink in the presence of Berlioz's masterpiece, an opera in two parts not wholly knowable. Its power, obviously, is archetypal (it sets Virgil). Its originality is pertinent. Defying genre, it surprises at every turn. Its unpredictability is existential. In all these respects, the experience of The Trojans … [Read more...]

The Greatest Present-Day Liszt Pianist

As readers of this blog may recall, I have twice (re: Vladimir Horowitz on Feb. 1; re: "Interpreting Liszt" on Feb. 18) written about Mykola Suk - in my experience, the most galvanizing present-day exponent of the piano music of Franz Liszt. My son Bernie, with whom I joust about such matters, has just apprised me that Suk's epic 2008 performance of the Liszt B minor Sonata at the Mannes International Keyboard Institute and Festival is now available on youtube ("Mykola Suk -- IKIF 2008"). There are two installments, totalling10 minutes of the … [Read more...]

Reconnecting with Spanish Modernism — and The Problem of de Larrocha

The incontrovertible premise of "Beyond Flamenco: Finding Spain in Music," recently presented at the University of Chicago, was that in the early twentieth century Spain produced formidably important music that is little known or understood. Few remember that Berg's Violin Concerto was premiered in Barcelona. Or that Schoenberg composed most of Moses und Aron there. Or that Albeniz's Iberia (1906-1908), the summit of the Spanish keyboard literature, was considered by Messiaen "the wonder of the piano, the masterpiece of Spanish music which … [Read more...]

“Copland and the Cold War” on Campus

Two months ago the Mellon Foundation awarded $1.9 million to three university-based arts presenters: the University Musical Society (University of Michigan/Ann Arbor), Cal Performances (University of California/Berkeley), and the Krannert Center (University of Illinois/Champaign-Urbana). To my knowledge, Mellon has in recent years been (alas) the only major American foundation to generously fund American orchestras nation-wide. Those orchestras need financial help more than ever. But the new Mellon initiative -- targeting innovative … [Read more...]

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