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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...]

Another Cheap Shot at Wagner

Was Richard Wagner a "monster"? No so far as I can tell. Here's my book review of Simon Callow's opportunistic "Being Wagner" in this weekend's "Wall Street Journal": In 1866, a Munich newspaper reported that Minna Wagner, the recently deceased wife of the composer Richard Wagner, had lived in “direst penury.” She was reduced to accepting poor relief notwithstanding “momentary” support “on the part of her [estranged] husband.” Never mind that a letter signed by Minna herself had stated that the voluntary annual allowance she received from … [Read more...]

Exalting Bruckner at Carnegie Hall

Bruckner’s symphonies are communal rites of spiritual passage. For maximum impact, they require a proper hall and appropriate congregants. In New York City, Lincoln Center’s Geffen Hall – formerly Fisher Hall, and Philharmonic Hall before that -- is too dry and plain for Bruckner, and the New York Philharmonic audience that habituates that troubled space is restless and irreverent. I’ve heard Lincoln Center Bruckner conducted by Leonard Bernstein, Christoph Eschenbach, Kurt Masur, Riccardo Muti, and Klaus Tennstedt. None of these experiences … [Read more...]

America’s Most Exceptional Orchestra

Setting aside PostClassical Ensemble, the guerilla DC chamber orchestra I co-founded fourteen years ago, the most exceptional American orchestra I know is the South Dakota Symphony. South Dakota’s “Copland and Mexico” festival, which concluded last Sunday afternoon, had many highlights. The performance of Silvestre Revueltas’s Sensemaya was lots better than the versions you can see on youtube conducted by Gustavo Dudamel. The crucial difference was a slightly slower tempo, maximizing the weight and momentum of this amazing Mexican … [Read more...]

The Case of James Levine: Taking Stock

When a pianist plays the piano, when a violinist plays the violin, when a conductor conducts an orchestra, the performer channels music through a network of personal traits. This should be self-evident. It has always seemed to me, for instance, that Artur Rubinstein was an exceptionally wholesome artist. Listen to Rubinstein’s recordings of Chopin waltzes and you will discover (however subliminally) a broad emotional vocabulary at play – and a conscious application of specific emotional states to specific waltzes. The entire exercise is one … [Read more...]

Schubert Uncorked

Every once in a while a master composer creates music so radically new that it seemingly falls wholly outside its time and place. Franz Schubert’s 1828 song cycle Winterreise (“Winter’s Journey”), charting an uncanny descent into madness, is such a work. Schubert’s contemporaries didn’t know what to make of it. Its chilly existential numbness is routinely likened in affect to Dostoyevsky. But Winterreise is sui generis. The timelessness of Winterreise, its limitless expressive parameters, tantalize singers to do something more. It has … [Read more...]

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