an blog | AJBlog Central | Contact me | Advertise | Follow me:


                                                                      -- I -- I recently spent the three consecutive weekends speaking at conferences pertinent to the fate of America’s orchestras. The first, at Grinnell College, was sponsored by the American Association of Liberal Arts Colleges. The topic was reforming music curricula. The second, at the University of South Carolina, was a “summit” sponsored by the College Music Society. The topic was the same. The third, in Baltimore, was the annual conference of the League of American … [Read more...]

Musical Films

                  With our newly released Redes DVD, PostClassical Ensemble completes its Naxos quartet of classic 1930s films with freshly recorded soundtracks. The scores for these four films – the others are The Plow that Broke the Plains, The River, and The City – are among the most distinguished ever composed for film. The composers are Virgil Thomson, Aaron Copland, and Silvestre Revueltas. What is more remarkable, all four films are music-driven to a degree rarely … [Read more...]

Bach on the Piano

I have a good friend who’s a magnificent pianist, maybe sixty years old. Some years ago, my friend remarked: “You know, when we were young, there were a lot of major pianists. Everyone knew who they were: Horowitz, Serkin, Arrau, Michelangeli, Richter, Gilels, Pollini, Kempff, Rubinstein [I cannot replicate his full list]. They were all different, of course. But in every case you could understand why they were major pianists.” “Except for Pollini,” I said. “Except for Pollini,” he agreed. “Nowadays,” my friend continued, “anyone … [Read more...]

Instead of Alexander Nevsky

For every screening with live orchestra of Sergei Eisenstein’s Alexander Nevsky (music by Prokofiev), there should be at least a dozen screenings with live orchestra of Paul Strand’s Redes (music by Silvestre Revueltas). I supply three reasons: 1.Revueltas’s score is as great an achievement as Prokofiev’s, yet remains virtually unknown. 2.Unlike Nevsky, which Prokofiev turned into a terrific cantata, Redes does not readily yield a concert work; it requires pictures to make sense. 3.Alexander Nevsky is a galvanizing cinematic … [Read more...]

Kurt Weill’s “Note Concerning Jazz”

  In Berlin 1929 Kurt Weil wrote a “Note Concerning Jazz” which today reads as both a prediction and a warning. Weill wrote in part: “Today it appears to me that the manner of performance of jazz is finally breaking through the rigid system of musical practice in our concerts and theaters and that this is more important than its influence on musical composition. Anyone who has ever worked with a good jazz band has been pleasantly surprised by an eagerness, a devotion, a desire for work that one seeks in vain in many concert … [Read more...]

The Most Under-Rated Composer?

  Who is the most under-rated 20th century American composer? In the wake of the month-long Bernard Herrmann festival curated by DC’s PostClassical Ensemble, I have to believe Herrmann is the most likely candidate. The festival, in collaboration with the National Gallery of Art, Georgetown University, and the AFI Silver Theatre, featured three world premieres and a DC premiere. A special focus was a genre now forgotten: the radio dramas of the thirties and forties, which during World War II were a bulwark for home-front morale. The … [Read more...]

$1 for Music Unwound

The NEH Music Unwound consortium, which most recently brought Dvorak’s New World Symphony to an Indian reservation, has been re-funded by the Endowment with a $400,000 grant, bringing the total NEH investment to $1 million since the inception of Music Unwound in 2010. The consortium has quickly evolved into a major opportunity and challenge for American orchestras to rethink themselves as “humanities institutions.” It funds thematic, cross-disciplinary concerts linked to high schools, colleges and universities, and museums. The premise is … [Read more...]

Dvorak on the Reservation

  Sisseton, in the northeastern corner of South Dakota, sits within a Dakota Indian reservation called Sisseton Wahpeton. The population – 2,500 – is half Native American, half non-Native. Last Monday night, Sisseton hosted the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra in a program, “Dvorak and America,” at the local high school auditorium. This multi-media production, which includes a “visual presentation” extrapolating the American accent of the New World Symphony, has been seen throughout the United States for a decade. Unique to South … [Read more...]

Gergiev and the Vienna Philharmonic

Last Sunday afternoon’s Vienna Philharmonic concert at Carnegie Hall began with a Valery Gergiev moment. Mounting the podium, he turned to the concertmaster and shrugged his shoulders to acknowledge that (as sometimes happens to Gergiev in particular) he had arrived a little late and kept the musicians waiting. He then took a deep breath and launched an unforgettable reading of the Prelude and Good Friday Spell from Wagner’s Parsifal. The second half of the concert, with Tchaikovsky’s Manfred Symphony, was incendiary – a rare musical … [Read more...]

What Texas City is a National Cultural Showcase?

For the past decade I have enjoyed the privilege of regularly collaborating in “Dvorak and America” festivals with Kevin Deas, one of the supreme African-American concert artists of our day. His performances of “Goin’ Home” and the “Hiawatha Melodrama” invariably make a great impression. Kevin’s self-evident generosity of spirit is as vital to his appeal as his luscious bass-baritone. But he has his foibles, one of which is a chronic reluctance to sign CDs. For the recent El Paso “Dvorak and America” festival, I instructed both the El … [Read more...]

an ArtsJournal blog