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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...]

Celebrating Bernard Herrmann

  A towering figure in twentieth century American music, Bernard Herrmann (1911-1975) has long been pigeon-holed as a “Hollywood composer.” Though he is widely acknowledged the supreme American composer for film (Citizen Kane, Vertigo, North by Northwest, etc.), his concert output remains virtually unknown. Working with the young Orson Welles and later with the legendary radio and screenwriter Norman Corwin, he was also America’s foremost radio composer, and conductor of a radio orchestra – William Paley’s visionary CBS Symphony – … [Read more...]

American Music — An Alternative Narrative

Bernard Herrmann, whose film credits include Psycho, Citizen Kane, Vertigo, and (his most Romantically charged score) The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, is one of eight featured composers on PostClassical Ensemble’s all-American 2015-16 season. The others are Harry Burleigh, Charles Ives, George Gershwin, Kurt Weill, Lou Harrison, and Daniel Schnyder. The season begins this Saturday night in DC with “Deep River – The Art of the Spiritual” – a multi-media exploration of how Harry Burleigh transferred spirituals into the concert hall. (To see the entire … [Read more...]

The Real Vladimir Horowitz

Sony’s new 50-CD compilation, “Vladimir Horowitz: The Unreleased Live Recordings 1966-1983,” is a startling exercise in candor three times over. 1.It argues that a series of “live” Horowitz recitals, released on RCA between 1975 and 1983 and edited by RCA’s Jack Pfeiffer, misrepresent and diminish those concerts by fixing wrong notes. 2.It frankly documents Horowitz’s artistic nadir: the disastrous 1983 concerts he played while heavily medicated. 3.It blames this debacle on the publication of Glenn Plaskin’s unnervingly unsympathetic … [Read more...]

“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...]

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