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THE FUTURE OF ORCHESTRAS — Part Five: Kurt Weill, El Paso, and the National Mood

“Wherever I found decency and humanity in the world, it reminded me of America.” Kurt Weill wrote those words after returning from a visit to Germany in 1947. I read them aloud at least a dozen times during the Kurt Weill festival in El Paso last week. Every time I invited my listeners to consider whether or not they still apply. Because Weill was an exemplary immigrant, he furnishes a singularly timely topic for the NEH-funded Music Unwound consortium I am fortunate to direct. “Kurt Weill’s America” has so far been produced at DePauw … [Read more...]

“The Art and Alchemy of Conducting” — and Mahler’s Fourth

As all Mahlerites know, the opening of the Fourth Symphony is both magical and mutable. A preamble of chiming sleigh bells and flutes dissipates to a cheerful violin ditty that coyly retards as it ascends to the tonic G. Mahler writes “etwas zuruckhaltend” (“somewhat held back”). But really anything goes. The champion retarder is Willem Mengelberg, in a famous 1939 recording with his Concertgebouw Orchestra. It sounds like this. Since this passage is inherently playful, conductors can get away with that and we gratefully smile. Since … [Read more...]

Can Orchestras Be Re-Invented?

David Skinner, in his article in the current Humanities Magazine about the NEH-funded Music Unwound consortium that I direct, describes Delta David Gier, the exemplary music director of the South Dakota Symphony, addressing a room of university students and faculty: “He starts by asking everyone to reimagine an orchestra as a humanities institution – one that brings together symphonic music and the immersive intellectual context you get from a museum. That, he says, is what is going on here, in this room, and tomorrow on stage in the program … [Read more...]

Shostakovich and Film — Take Two

I spent the last two days repeatedly viewing – and (as the orchestra’s pianist) participating in – screenings of the 1929 Soviet silent film The New Babylon, with Dmitri Shostakovich’s score performed by PostClassical Ensemble led by Angel Gil-Ordóñez. Every aspect of this astonishing movie has surged in my comprehension and estimation – to the point, for instance, that I have no doubt that Shostakovich’s score, however little known (there is no suite by the composer), is one of the most formidable ever composed for film. Anton Fedyashin, … [Read more...]

Shostakovich and the Fool: Boris Godunov and King Lear

The most galvanizing Shakespeare experience I know is the 1971 Soviet film version of King Lear directed by Grigory Kozintsev with music by Dmitri Shostakovich. Its dimensions are such that it fails on a home screen; it demands a big theater and big sound. The profound Russianness of the Kozintsev/Shostakovich Lear transcends language. Re-encountering this great film in the context of PostClassical Ensemble’s ongoing two-season Russian Revolution immersion experience, I realized its Russian lineage connects to the most famous of all Russian … [Read more...]

Mieczyslaw Weinberg on Film

Is Mieczysław Weinberg (1919-1996) a third Soviet composer to set beside Shostakovich and Prokofiev? An increasing number of musicians seem to think so, including the peerless Latvian-born violinist Gidon Kremer, himself a product of Soviet training. My own impressions of Weinberg’s music have been spotty and confused, the peak experience having been Ben Capps performing Weinberg’s 1968 cycle of 24 Preludes for solo cello at Washington National Cathedral earlier this season – a program presented by PostClassical Ensemble (of which Capps is … [Read more...]

It’s Not Over Yet: Babayan, Trifonov, Yuja Wang

          At my age – I somehow just turned seventy – it’s considered normal to wax “sentimental” and yearn for better times. Nostalgia: a cliché. But in the case of the world of classical music that I have long inhabited, there’s nothing sentimental about fond retrospection. It’s an art genre in decline. Orchestras are in decline, Singing is in decline. The piano is in decline. And – the most certain evidence of all – the repertoire is no longer being much replenished. (For some pertinent blogs in this … [Read more...]

The Gershwin Moment

Some months ago I received an email from an exemplar of inquisitive musicianship: the pianist Kirill Gerstein, whom I had never met. (We mutually know a peerless Hungarian musical pedagogue: Ferenc Rados.) Gerstein had recorded a Gershwin album and wanted to know if I were interested in writing a note for it. I was more than interested. Not only do I believe in George Gershwin; I believe we are embarking on a Gershwin Moment. That is: modernism has departed, and so (sooner or later) will the Standard Narrative for American classical … [Read more...]

Yannick’s Hollow Parsifal

The highwater mark for Wagner at the Metropolitan Opera in recent decades was the 2013 Parsifal, handsomely directed and strongly cast. The crucial ingredient, however, was Daniele Gatti’s leadership in the pit. The Francois Girard’s production has now returned, led by Yannick Nezet-Seguin. As he is the company’s new music director, comparisons to Gatti are inescapable. The Nezet-Seguin Parsifal, alas, is slack and shapeless during the opera’s long outer acts. All the virtues of Gatti’s reading – the tensile line, the depth of tone, the … [Read more...]

Rethinking “Classical Radio” — Part Two

Sudip Bose, the superb music critic for The American Scholar (he is also Managing Editor), writes about PostClassical Ensemble’s radio showcase “PostClassical”: “When I find time to listen to the radio these days, I rarely encounter a program that gives me the same sense of excitement and discovery that I felt as a child. But a few weeks ago I did, while listening to . . . PostClassical . . . Not in my wildest imaginings could I have envisioned such a revelatory and shocking interpretations.” As mentioned previously in this space, in … [Read more...]

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