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How Orchestras Can “Plug a Hole in the Curriculum”

“Music Unwound,” the $300,000 NEH initiative funding a consortium of adventurous orchestras, has two basic components. The first is contextualized thematic programming -- it supports concerts that explore music from a variety of vantage points, including visual art and literature. The second is linkage -- it supports connecting such programming with art museums, schools (grades 3 to 12), colleges, and universities. The latest “Music Unwound” project was “Dvorak and America,” presented by the Pacific Symphony Youth Orchestra -- a gifted … [Read more...]

Horowitz on Horowitz on Horowitz (continued)

Readers of this blog will be aware of an ongoing state of war with my son, Bernie, whose adoration of Vladimir Horowitz I do not share. But Bernie is relentless, and in order to get him off my back I occasionally concede that his icon is a more remarkable pianist than his recordings disclose. Bernie has now contributed a detailed interview on the topic of Horowitz’s concert performances and their superiority to manicured studio jobs and edited concert recordings. I confess that it is worth reading. For one thing, it reiterates a point that … [Read more...]

North Carolina’s State-Wide Symphony

Having just spent a week taking part in a “Dvorak and America” festival presented by the North Carolina Symphony Orchestra, I think I’ve learned a thing or two about how an orchestra can serve an entire state. The NCSO travels the length and breadth of North Carolina – more than 12,000 miles annually, offering more than 150 concerts. And it’s done that for a long time. In all four cities that hosted festival concerts, audiences strikingly evinced pride in the orchestra and an intimate sense of ownership. No one in Chicago would speak of “our … [Read more...]

Porgy and Bess Writ Small

The current Times Literary Supplement (UK) publishes my review of Broadway's new Porgy and Bess -- informed by a book I'm writing (for W. W. Norton) about Rouben Mamoulian and Porgy and Bess. This is what it says: By far the most controversial show on Broadway this season is a refurbished Porgy and Bess that originated last August at the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Even before the premiere, Stephen Sondheim denounced its creators – Diane Paulus, who directs, Suzan-Lori Parks, who adapted the book, and Diedre L. … [Read more...]

Restoring the drama to El Amor Brujo

The two best-known scores by Manuel de Falla - El Amor Brujo and The Three-Cornered Hat - began as stage works. Today, however, we know them as symphonic suites. In the case of Amor Brujo, the loss is formidable: an austere drama turned into a picturesque entertainment. The original 1915 El Amor Brujo, a gitaneria with dialogue, song, and dance, is unwieldy. The subsequent orchestral suite is fluent, but squanders the work's gypsy soul. PostClassical Ensemble's new staging of El Amor Brujo last weekend in DC was an attempt to restore the … [Read more...]

Siegfried at the Met

The current Times Literary Supplement (UK) includes my review of Fabio Luisi conducting SIegfried and Don Giovanni at the Met, as follows: Notwithstanding its importance as a showplace for rich boxholders -- Mrs. Caroline Astor, who regularly came late and left early, was called a "walking chandelier" -- the early Metropolitan Opera was a conductor's house. During its "German seasons" (1884-1891), the dominant composer was Wagner and the dominant performer was Wagner's protégé Anton Seidl, presiding in the pit. Not so long after, Mahler and … [Read more...]

Presenting Mahler’s Marriage

The most vivid writings about composers' lives, I find, are the ones they produce themselves: letters, articles, books. A case in point is Gustav Mahler -- a copious and gifted correspondent. I have yet to find a Mahler biography that as vividly or poignantly limns the man as Gustav Mahler: Letters of his Wife, as edited by Henry-Louis de La Grange and Gunther Weiss in collaboration with Knud Martner. In fact, this decade-long series of exchanges between Gustav and Alma, cannily interspersed with Alma's diary entries, reads like a play. For … [Read more...]

Ives the Man

The central premise of Post-Classical Ensemble's three-day "Ives Project" at the Strathmore Music Center last week was that Charles Ives the composer was not a curmudgeonly modernist, but a wholesome and uplifting product of fin-de-siecle America. The central presentation, "Charles Ives: A Life in Music," applied letters and other writings to an array of Ives songs (peerlessly enacted by William Sharp) and chamber-orchestra works, plus "The Alcotts" from the Concord Piano Sonata (an exalted performance by Jeremy Denk). The central … [Read more...]

Gershwin Impurities

The American Repertory Theatre's new Porgy and Bess, with its claims that Gershwin's is a crippled opera that needs fixing, is controversially in the news. I read that "Gershwin purists" are expected to thunder their objections. While I cannot agree that Porgy and Bess is any more crippled than, say, Fidelio or Der Rosenkavalier (very uneven works, it seems to me), I would like to know what a Gershwin purist looks like or might have to say. With the possible exception of Johann Sebastian Bach, I cannot think of another composer so inherently … [Read more...]

The Ives Project

In 1942, Edith Ives, age 28, wrote her father a 1,700-word letter for his 68th birthday -- decades after Charles Ives had ceased composing. It read in part: "Dear Daddy, "You are so very modest and sweet Daddy, that I don't think you realize the full import of the words people use about you, 'A great man.' "Daddy, I have had a chance to see so many men lately -- fine fellows, and no doubt the cream of our generation. But I have never in all my life come across one who could measure up to the fine standard of life and living and you believe … [Read more...]

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