August 31, 2013 | Permalink
Maulina steps cautiously into the Wagner zone.
There are few signs of progress in the Minnesota Orchestra crisis. Yesterday, the orchestra management announced what it described as a new offer; this proposal turned out to be more or less the same as one the players had rejected some weeks before. Drew McManus is skeptical of the latest management move. [Update: Michael Cooper has a nuanced report in the Times.]... Anne Midgette takes note of the prominence of women in Washington DC's classical-music scene; meanwhile, Vasily Petrenko has made repulsively sexist comments on the subject of female conductors. (He has since ventured a not very coherent apology.) ... The Banff International String Quartet Competition is moving into its final rounds — large quantities of streaming audio and video are available on the Banff website.... David Weininger previews the new-music season in Boston.... A starry array of new-music specialists — Steven Schick, the Calder Quartet, Claire Chase, Roomful of Teeth — will assemble for the Carlsbad Music Festival, Sept. 20-22.... Resonant Bodies, a new festival of contemporary vocal music, opens in Brooklyn on Sept. 5.... Trinity Wall Street's monumental Britten series begins on Sept. 5 with a lunchtime concert of the Sinfonietta, Nocturne, and Phaedra; Nicholas Phan and Virginia Warnken are the soloists. Here's a calendar of Trinity's Britten offerings — notice the special Phan event on Sept. 21. The tenor will also be singing Britten in Chicago, as part of the Collaborative Works Festival in mid-September.
August 30, 2013 | Permalink
Michiko Kakutani's front-page New York Times piece on "I have a dream," a survey of the sources and aims of King's great speech, makes no mention of Marian Anderson's role, while giving spurious credit to Woody Guthrie. King's image of freedom ringing from various mountainsides was borrowed not from Guthrie but from Archibald Carey's 1952 speech to the Republican Convention (go to 16:30 here). It should also be noted that back in 1893 the pioneering feminist and civil-rights crusader Ida B. Wells transformed the lyrics of "My Country, 'Tis of Thee" into a prophecy of future equality.
Previously: Voice of the Century.
August 26, 2013 | Permalink
As we mark the fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King's great speech, I hope that Marian Anderson does not go unmentioned. A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin had first envisaged a March on Washington in 1941, two years after Anderson performed her great act of musical defiance on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and the staging of the 1963 ceremony recalled Anderson's recital. In an acknowledgment of her status, she was scheduled to open the 1963 program with the National Anthem, but surging crowds prevented her from reaching the podium in time. She later sang "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands." As I pointed out in a 2009 article, it is surely no accident that King ended "I Have a Dream" with a recitation of the lyrics of "My Country, 'Tis of Thee"; Anderson's imperturbable, subtly reproachful delivery of that song in 1939 was a pivotal moment in American civil-rights history, and King had remarked upon it in a speech he gave when he was fifteen years old. He was a keen opera listener, inclined more toward Italian repertory than toward W. E. B. Du Bois's beloved Wagner. In 1954, while driving to Montgomery, Alabama, to deliver his first sermon at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, King listened to Lucia di Lammermoor.
I took this picture at the Lincoln Memorial today. My father was at the March on Washington fifty years ago.
August 24, 2013 | Permalink
“The opera-glass will never betray any of Mme. Fremstad’s secrets,” Willa Cather once wrote of the Norwegian-American soprano Olive Fremstad, who worked her way from a little Minnesota town to the most illustrious opera stages. The phonograph betrays little more, but this inadequate souvenir of Fremstad's Isolde is still a precious thing to have.
August 24, 2013 | Permalink
Four New York Times critics have published lists of their favorite Wagner recordings. I concur with several of the choices and understand the rationale for others. I thought I'd list a few Wagnerian touchstones of my own — purely personal selections, of course, although the first two are presented with near-dogmatic conviction. If a universal deluge were consuming my record collection and all recordings on earth, I would probably reach first for the Furtwängler Tristan.
Tristan und Isolde; Kirsten Flagstad, Ludwig Suthaus, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Blanche Thebom, Josef Greindl, Wilhelm Furtwängler conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra and Royal Opera House Chorus (EMI)
Der Ring des Nibelungen; Astrid Varnay, Hans Hotter, Ramón Vinay, Wolfgang Windgassen, Joseph Keilberth conducting the Bayreuth Festival Orchestra and Chorus, 1955 (Testament)
Parsifal; Jess Thomas, Hans Hotter, Irene Dalis, George London, Hans Knappertsbusch conducting the Bayreuth Festival Orchestra and Chorus, 1962 (Decca)
[Hotter was no longer in his prime when this recording was made — the 1951 live version from Bayreuth finds him at his peak — but something about the atmosphere of it is incomparable.]
Der fliegende Holländer; Hans Hotter, Viorica Ursuleac, Clemens Krauss conducting the Bavarian State Orchestra and Opera Chorus, 1944 (Preiser)
Tannhäuser (Paris version); René Kollo, Helga Dernesch, Christa Ludwig, Victor Braun, Georg Solti conducting the Vienna Philharmonic and Vienna State Opera Chorus (Decca)
Lohengrin; Jess Thomas, Elisabeth Grümmer, Christa Ludwig, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Rudolf Kempe conducting the Vienna Philharmonic and Vienna State Opera Chorus (EMI)
Die Meistersinger; Thomas Stewart, Sándor Konya, Gundula Janowitz, Thomas Hemsley, Rafael Kubelik conducting the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and Chorus (Arts Music)
Der Ring des Nibelungen; Gwyneth Jones, Donald McIntyre, Peter Hofmann, Jeannine Altmeyer, Pierre Boulez conducting the Bayreuth Festival Orchestra and Chorus, Patrice Chéreau directing (DG DVD)
Les Introuvables du Chant Wagnérien (EMI)
Tristan und Isolde; Nina Stemme, Stephen Gould, Kwangchul Youn, Michelle Breedt, Johan Reuter, Marek Janowski conducting the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra (PentaTone)
I append this last as evidence that first-rate Wagner recordings are not extinct, although they are undeniably fewer and farther between than in the nineteen-fifties and sixties.
A disclosure from the blog Song of the Lark: months before the lockout began, the Minnesota Orchestra Association bought up domain names that could be used by the musicians and their supporters. The registrations were for two-year terms. Drew McManus concludes: "Simply put, it is a clear indication that the employer had little to no intention for negotiating in good faith." The failure to mark these purchases as private seems indicative of the general level of competence in the current management.
Update: The MOA offers a response to Anastasia Tsioulcas, saying that the buying up of domain names is "common business protocol in any organization."
August 22, 2013 | Permalink
From his eminently rational speech last night to the group Orchestrate Excellence: “I will go so far as to be definite about one thing I believe, and that is that the current lockout of musicians should end, and it should end unconditionally. I have recently read the point of view that the lockout can only end as part of a larger bargain, because the [Minnesota Orchestral] Association must have the leverage of this tactic. And even the word ‘leverage’ in this context signals that the plan has failed. That plan should now be abandoned ... The lockout ... is not symmetrical. Only the musicians are living without salaries, without a means of supporting their families, without access to the hall that is their home ... But then, the musicians must also come to the table in earnest, and deal with who is at the table. Another side to much poisonous rhetoric we’ve experienced is the view that the management, or the board leadership, or both, must go, before discussions can begin for real. A rhetoric of exclusion is a rhetoric of failure.”
The speech begins at 28:00 in the video linked above. It's a subtle, nuanced argument, resistant to soundbite-style thinking, and I'd encourage readers to listen to the entire thing. While Fletcher criticizes several of the musicians' talking points, he places more pressure on the board and management. I hope they listen. I cannot bring myself to believe — despite mounting evidence — that they actually want a drastically reduced orchestra, its assets stripped, its ambitions narrowed, its activities no longer relevant to the outside world.