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The Most Under-Rated 20th Century American Composer — Take Two

Back in the thirties and forties, there were no American music historians to tell the story of American classical music. So the task fell to a couple of composers: Aaron Copland and Virgil Thomson. According to the official Copland/Thomson narrative, noting much of consequence was composed by Americans before World War I. Their focus was on themselves and kindred composers, many of them tutored – like Copland and Thomson – by Nadia Boulanger in France. This Oedipal view, appointing modernists the inventors of a distinctly American classical … [Read more...]

“The Difference Between Quality Art and Crap” Take Four

                          Processing my exchange with Vladimir Feltsman, I find myself distracted by something I have long more or less ignored: the art of the piano as manifest by the young artists who today dominate the scene -- what Feltsman calls "a new artform." I am sure my limited purview is unfair. But it's a sea-change; no previous piano pantheon has so recklessly privileged youth. So I've been binging on the recordings of … [Read more...]

“The Difference Between Quality Art and Crap” Take Three

  Though as usual most of the feedback to my recent blogs comes via private emails rather than public responses, a flurry of interesting posted responses here and via Facebook spurs me to rant some more. Re: “quality art” versus “crap,” Joe Patrych – someone who knows what pianism once was -- writes: “Part of the problem is the audience – in order for a sophisticated musician such as Moiseiwitsch to be fully understood requires that the audience is properly educated in what constitutes art – the importance of that in Soviet (and … [Read more...]

“The Difference Between Quality Art and Crap” Take Two

My exchange with Vladimir Feltsman about “quality art” versus “crap” was posted on youtube and elicited this response: “Two oldies bemoaning that they have had their day and are confined to the dust bin of history. It is always the no talents that wave their own banner of knowledge as to what is true art.” Feltsman referenced a performance of Rachmaninoff's transcription of "The Flight of the Bumblebee" with millions of hits on youtube. The Romantic piano transcription, as practiced by Rachmaninoff, is a refined art. Only a worldly … [Read more...]

“The Difference Between Quality Art and Crap”

I was chatting with Vladimir Feltsman last Spring about PostClassical Ensemble’s 2017-18 immersion experience, “The Russian Experiment,” when the conversation took an unexpected turn. I had broached the topic of “cultural community,” and invited Feltsman to compare musical life in the US with the policed Soviet musical milieu he fled in 1987. We agreed that Western musical life, whatever its virtues, embraced no musical community of culture comparable to what Soviet Russians enjoyed in adversity. “I’m trying to do what I can to help my … [Read more...]

The Arts in the Age of Trump (continued)

The Age of Trump has rapidly changed the American cultural landscape in many ways. In the silo of classical music, there is suddenly a felt need to ask: What’s it for? Why are we doing this? How can the arts affect social or political change? How can concerts help us understand who we are as a nation? What we’ve been or want to become? These questions are newer than they should be. So long as orchestras cling to traditional templates – the generic mixture of concerto and symphony; the mandatory soloist ; the deferent audience – they … [Read more...]

Copland and the Cold War

PostClassical Ensemble’s most recent WWFM “PostClassical” radio show is “Copland and the Cold War” – aired last Friday and now archived. Our two-hour program includes Aaron Copland’s prize-winning New Masses workers’ song “Into the Streets, May First” as well as a re-enactment of Copland’s 1953 grilling by Senator Joseph McCarthy starring myself and Bill McGlaughlin. And – sampling one of PostClassical Ensemble’s three Naxos DVDs presenting classic 1930s films with newly recorded soundtracks -- we audition and discuss Copland’s … [Read more...]

Milstein vs. Szigeti

My frustrations with a recent performance of Brahms’ Violin Concerto sent me to youtube in search of something different: an act of therapy. A foible to which violinists are prone (pianists are immune) is lingering upon or otherwise savoring a beautiful note. That’s OK in Bruch or Tchaikovsky but does no favors to Brahms or Beethoven. After half an hour of Menuhin, Heifetz, Milstein, of Furtwangler, Toscanini, and Klemperer, I discovered a Brahms concerto beyond any I’d ever encountered: Joseph Szigeti (the second of my photos) in live … [Read more...]

Kurt Weill in 2017

“Wherever I found decency and humanity in the world, it reminded me of America.” That this observation – recorded by Kurt Weill in 1947 – rings hollow in 2017 does not diminish the fascination and pertinence of Weill’s extraordinary creative saga, perhaps the most elusive charted by any major composer. In Berlin, Weill’s caustic signature was The Threepenny Opera, created with Bertolt Brecht in 1928. Seven years later he landed in the US, a Jewish refugee from Hitler’s Germany. During the fifteen years of his American career – he died of a … [Read more...]

New Musical Venues for a New National Moment

With classical music under siege, many are rethinking audiences and venues. Here in Manhattan, Geffen Hall – previously Fisher Hall, and before that Philharmonic Hall – has never been an inviting place in which to hear music. The acoustics are defective, the ambience is nothing special. One cannot blame the hall for the New York Philharmonic’s disengaged audience – but it’s a factor. At Carnegie Hall, ten blocks downtown, a community of listeners is joined on special occasions by distinguished ghosts seduced by echoes of a hallowed … [Read more...]

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