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Bruckner and Religion

For the second time in two weeks, I've heard an unforgettable symphonic performance fortified by intense religious conviction. In Pittsburgh, Manfred Honeck delivered Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony as a profession of faith in God and mankind (see my blog of Feb. 13). Never before had I heard this work's problematic finale so infused with liturgical resonance, so distant from trumpets and drums. Last weekend, Carl St. Clair - like Honeck, a devout Roman Catholic - led his Pacific Symphony in performances of Bruckner's Ninth Symphony buoyed by a … [Read more...]

Nixon in China at the Met

I first saw John Adams' Nixon in China at BAM in 1987, weeks after my son was born. The opera was as brand-new as Bernie. I connected with its breathless exhilaration - the Nixons' discovery of a new world, of new realms of feeling, of new purpose and possibility. I was not alone. At that New York premiere, you didn't have to be a first-time father to know that something important was happening: of all things, an American opera that gripped and held. I really didn't know what to expect, re-encountering Nixon at the Metropolitan Opera this … [Read more...]

What the embattled NEH does for education: a case in point

The National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities are endangered by impending Congressional budget cuts. Few people know what these agencies do - which is to say, it's little appreciated how vitally they contribute to American lives, and how disproportionate their contributions are in relation to their very modest budgets. A pair of events in eastern Pennsylvania earlier this week are a case in point. For Black History Month, two elementary schools in semi-rural communities not far from Philadelphia - North … [Read more...]

Pittsburgh and Tchaikovsky

For American orchestras, these are changing and bewildering times - and will become moreso if Congress sees fit to de-fund the nation's invaluable arts endowments (whose functions are little known or understood by the public at large). A lingering conventional wisdom prioritizes a "big five" symphonic constellation: the orchestras of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Cleveland, and Chicago. This hoary rubric has never been more misleading. To glean the stature of the Pittsburgh Symphony, one would have to glean its reputation in Europe, where … [Read more...]

Eavesdropping on Tchaikovsky’s Russia

The American businessman Julius Block, who introduced the phonograph to Russia in 1889, proceeded to record many hours of music performed by the leading instrumentalists, composers, and singers of Moscow. The astounding "Block cylinders," thought lost, were discovered in 2002 -- and subsequently turned into listenable CDs by Ward Marston. For the recent Pittsburgh Symphony Tchaikovsky festival (19 events in 11 days), listening to and discussing these historic performances (and also to Tchaikovsky speaking) was a featured event. Though already … [Read more...]

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