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“Music Unwound” — The NEH and the Music Education Crisis

        Processing a terrific performance of Sir Edward Elgar’s Piano Quintet at this summer’s Brevard Music Festival, I found myself pondering both musical and extra-musical paths of engagement. Elgar, born in 1857, became Britain’s most famous concert composer, an iconic embodiment of the fin-de-siecle Edwardian moment. From its retrospective relationship to Imperial England, his music derives its singular affect of majesty intermingled with anguished nostalgia. Added to that, the Great War shrouds the … [Read more...]

Charles Ives and Huck Finn

“Music Unwound” is an orchestral consortium supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities. It funds contextualized symphonic programs in collaboration with colleges and universities. To date, two topics have been in play. “Dvorak and America” explores the quest for American cultural identity ca. 1900; the central work is Dvorak’s New World Symphony, supplemented by a “visual presentation” aligning the music with Longfellow’s The Song of Hiawatha and the canvases of Frederick Church, George Catlin, and Frederic Remington. “Copland and … [Read more...]

Prokofiev’s Happy Ending, and Further Thoughts on Conducting Ballet

In 1936 Sergei Prokofiev decided to move with his family to Stalin’s Soviet Union. He had first returned to Russia in 1927 and had written in his diary: “It’s a shame to part from the USSR. The goal of the trip was obtained: I have certainly, definitely become stronger.” Subsequent visits were also fortifying. In Europe, he had felt his creative gift atrophy. He discovered that he needed to compose on Russian soil. Though the Soviets had coaxed him with prospective commissions and performances, and with promises that he could continue to … [Read more...]

What Are Ballet Conductors For?

What is the function of the conductor in ballet performance? Never in my (limited) experience has this question been more provocatively posed than during the Mariinsky Ballet’s recent residency at BAM. This is because two of ballet’s most stirring symphonic scores – Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake and Prokofiev’s Cinderella – were purveyed in the pit by a world-class orchestra under the leadership of a master conductor. The orchestra was the same great Mariinsky band that next performs Prokofiev and Shostakovich at Carnegie Hall. The conductor was … [Read more...]

Can a Music School Be Re-Invented?

There is a powerful consensus that music schools and conservatories have to rethink the education of 21st century musicians, but no one, so far as I know, has implemented a new template. This is what Mark McCoy is up to at the DePauw University School of Music. He calls it the “21st-Century Musician Initiative” and it isn’t window dressing. My own harangues on this topic have long focused on two necessary educational opportunities: 1.It is high time that Music History be reconfigured to include the history of musical institutions and of … [Read more...]

“The Chasm Between Doing Music and Thinking About It”

The most resonant sentence in Robert Freeman’s highly quotable new book The Crisis of Classical Music in America reads: “It is my own strong conviction that, in the years ahead, music will need all the help we can give her. To my way of thinking, that means the development of collegiate musicians who are dedicated at least as much to the future of music as they as are to the unfolding of their own careers.” Freeman’s own career – presiding over the Eastman School, the New England Conservatory, and the Butler School of Music at the University … [Read more...]

On the Future of the Metropolitan Opera (continued)

Reviewing a new history of the Metropolitan Opera in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, I write: “The Met has never enjoyed the services of a shrewd and practical visionary. There is no one in the company's annals to set beside Henry Higginson, who created the Boston Symphony in 1881; or Oscar Hammerstein, whose Manhattan Opera combined integrated musical theater, new repertoire and stellar artists before being bought out by the Met in 1910; or George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein, who invented the New York City Ballet in 1948; or Harvey … [Read more...]

The Elephant in the Room at the Met Opera Negotiations

According to my Op-Ed in today's Wall Street Journal, the Metropolitan Opera House -- physically and metaphorically -- signifies a notion of "grand opera" that is increasingly unsustainable. To read the rest: … [Read more...]

Dvorak’s America

The current Times Literary Supplement (UK) features my latest rant on Dvorak as an American composer, as follows: Earlier this summer, Ivan Fischer came to New York with his Budapest Festival Orchestra to offer two memorable concerts of music by Antonin Dvorak. The repertoire included Dvorak’s last two symphonies: no. 8 in G major, and no. 9 in E minor (“From the New World”). On the web, Fischer commented in a filmed English-language interview: “[Dvorak] came out of the nineteenth century patriotic emotional group of composers. And at that … [Read more...]

Remembering Artur Bodanzky

Sony's 25-CD set "Wagner at the Met: Legendary Performances" reminds us that when the Metropolitan Opera was a great Wagner house -- how times have changed! -- it was also a permanent home to great conductors. My "Remembering Artur Bodanzky," in the current issue of Barry Millington's excellent Wagner Journal, expounds: An abundance of evidence – written and recorded – suggests that from 1885 to 1939 the world’s foremost Wagner house, judged solely by the caliber of musical performance, was the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. In Europe, … [Read more...]

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