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On Rescuing a “Dead Art Form” — Take Two

  It seems to me pretty obvious that nowadays it’s far easier to stage a successful Hamlet or Three Sisters than a successful Aida or Siegfried. And one reason is equally obvious: finding an actor to play Hamlet or Masha is no problem; finding a dramatic soprano for Aida or a Heldentenor for Siegfried is difficult to impossible. At the heart of Conrad L. Osborne’s Opera as Opera – the new, self-published mega-book that (as I wrote in The Wall Street Journal) surpasses all previous English-language treatments of opera in performance – … [Read more...]

On Rescuing a “Dead Art Form” — A Landmark Book on Opera in Performance

This weekend's "Wall Street Journal" includes my review of Conrad L. Osborne's new mega-book "Opera as Opera" -- the most important English-language treatment of opera in performance ever written: During the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, when classical music was a lot more ­robust than nowadays, High Fidelity was the American magazine of choice for lay connoisseurs and not a few profes­sionals. Its opera expert, Conrad L. ­Osborne, stood apart. “C.L.O.” was self-evidently a polymath. His knowledge of singing was encyclopedic. He wrote about operas … [Read more...]

Bernstein at Brevard — Take Two: The Artist and Politics

The Bernstein Centenary celebration at the Brevard Music Festival last month was multi-faceted. I was invited to explore the Bernstein story for a week with Brevard’s exceptional high school orchestra (the festival also hosts college and professional ensembles). The result was  the multi-media “Bernstein the Educator” program that I described in my previous blog. I was also asked to lecture on “Bernstein and Social Justice.” This proved a lot more interesting (and timely) than I had anticipated. After a few hours’ homework I realized that … [Read more...]

Bernstein the Educator

Museums curate the past. They help us to shape and populate our impressions of history. Orchestras do not curate the past. A typical symphonic program (alas) begins with the selection of a soloist. The resulting programs are eclectic: a potpourri. During his historic music directorship of the New York Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein was the rare conductor for whom curating the past was an urgent priority. During his first season – 1957-58 – he undertook a survey of American music “from its earliest generations to the present.” The … [Read more...]

Furtwangler and the Nazis — Take Two

I am returning to the topic of Furtwangler because my previous blog produced a minor miracle – a thread of responses that yielded heightened understanding of a complex topic. I wrote to William Osborne and Stephen Stockwell: “Thanks so much for this engrossing feedback. Maybe we could summarize that the truth about Furtwangler falls within these two polarities: “1.He stressed the communal experience of music, felt he couldnt access that outside Germanic lands (I find this credible), so he accommodated the Third Reich insofar as he had … [Read more...]

Furtwangler and the Nazis

This weekend’s Wall Street Journal includes my review of Roger Allen’s “Wilhelm Furtwangler: Art and the Politics of the Unpolitical.” As some readers of this blog may remember, my most controversial and notorious book – “Understanding Toscanini” (1987) – deals rather extensively with the American career of Furtwangler. I also use Wagner’s "Lohengrin" Prelude to illustrate fundamental differences between Furtwangler and Toscanini, showing how Furtwangler uses harmonic structure to shape an “inward” interpretation. Here’s my review: One of … [Read more...]

The Gershwin Moment — Part Five: Klemperer, Tibbett, Gerstein

              As I’ve had occasion to observe in my various George Gershwin blogs, Gershwin and J. S. Bach are the two composers most malleable in performance. There is no Gershwin style. And if there is, there’s full license to ignore it. The most recent “PostClassical” broadcast on WWFM includes two little-known but essential Gershwin performances that break the mold. One is Otto Klemperer conducting his transcription of the Second Prelude as a dirge.  The other, from the same … [Read more...]

El Paso, Kurt Weill, and Tornillo’s Tent City

Readers of this blog may remember my last filing from El Paso – a “Kurt Weill’s America” festival, part of the NEH-supported “Music Unwound” consortium I direct, that ignited a week of discussion and debate about immigration past and present. My most memorable experience that week was visiting Eastlake High School, in a semi-rural colonia, and telling 3,000 students about Weill, Walt Whitman, and Pearl Harbor. Weill’s immigrant’s response to FDR’s declaration of war on Japan, setting three Whitman Civil War poems, transfixed these remarkable … [Read more...]

VISCONTI’S FOUR-HOUR “LUDWIG” — A Momentous Wagnerian Film

Today's "Wall Street Journal" includes my mini-review of a remarkable film. It's appended, along with a chunk of my book-in-progress about Wagner the man.      The Film Society of Lincoln Center’s current Luchino Visconti retrospective climaxes with more than a week of screenings (June 16 and 22-28) featuring the restored, four-hour version of Ludwig (1973)—a rare opportunity to properly encounter a magnificent Wagnerian film.      The story is familiar as a cartoon. Insane King Ludwig II of Bavaria built expensive fairy-tale … [Read more...]

Shostakovich and the Cold War

“It is difficult to detect any significant difference between one piece and another. Nor is there any relief from the dominant tone of ‘uplift.’ The musical products of different parts of the Socialist Fatherland all sound as though they had been turned out by Ford or General Motors.” This October 1953 assessment of contemporary Soviet music, by Nicolas Nabokov in the premiere issue of Encounter Magazine, is fascinating for three reasons. The first is that Encounter, which became a prestigious organ of the Anglo-American left, was covertly … [Read more...]

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