Richard Dyer bids farewell after thirty-some years as critic of the Boston Globe with an eloquent, hopeful essay on music's future: "The whole history of Western music is all there as a resource and an inspiration for the person who wants to discover it and for the composer who wants to use it. But the paramount issue remains: how to make a person want to discover it. In the final analysis that's not a question for the music business or the educator or the media, although they can help or hinder. This remains, as it has always been, the primary challenge for the creator or the interpreter, the composer who creates the message and the performer who delivers it. If the message and the performance are human, compelling, craftsmanlike, and honest, they will reach the public. `From the heart,' Beethoven wrote on the score of the Missa Solemnis, 'may it go to the heart.'"
September 25, 2006 | Permalink
You may not have heard, but some new things are happening at the Metropolitan Opera. On Monday, the company opens its season with Anthony Minghella's production of Madama Butterfly. There will also be live broadcasts out on Lincoln Center Plaza and in Times Square, and Sirius Radio will kick off the Met opera channel. The Met website is bursting with fresh material, including an advice column called Ask Figaro. (Q: "Do I have to go out and find one of those glasses on a stick that Mrs. Howell used to use on Gilligan’s Island? Please help! A: They’re called 'lorgnettes,' and they haven’t been spotted at the Met in about 80 years. But, hey, don’t let that stop you. If you feel like making lorgnettes hip again, wielding a set on the Grand Tier would be a great place to start.") More on these lively initiatives in the New Yorker soon. The critics were asked not to comment on the Butterfly dress rehearsal, which was opened to the public at an unprecedented "open house" on Friday, but I will say this: If you are interested in attending a performance, you might want to get tickets now, because once people see what Minghella has done with the opera the run is going to sell out very quickly.
September 23, 2006 | Permalink
Fervor. The New Yorker, Sept. 26, 2006.
WGBH will broadcast a live recording of Peter Lieberson's astoundingly beautiful Neruda Songs, with Lorraine singing, this Sunday at 2PM. You can listen to a web simulcast here. I am told that a recording will be available before too long, although details are yet to be announced. The three great recordings are the Bach Cantatas, the Handel Arias, and the DVD of Theodora; also fairly essential are Adams's El Niño, the Idomeneo, and the Bridge Lieberson CD with Rilke Songs. About to be released on Naxos is an excellent John Harbison CD, with the singer lavishing her blues style on the song cycle North and South. A fairly complete discography is available below. For the New Yorker's fast-growing website I did a podcast, in which you can hear part of "Deep River." Thanks to Steve Smith and The Standing Room for their help.
Photo: Avie Records.
When Peter Schledorn mentioned my recent post on a Mahler discussion list, he drew a reply from none other than Henry-Louis de La Grange, author of the monumental, four-volume Mahler biography, who asserted that the figure of $90,000 quoted in the English edition of Mahler's letters to his wife is a misprint, and that it should have read $30,000. This correction is happily entered in the record. The average salary in America in 1910 was, incidentally, $750 a year.
Mitchell Agoos recalls the time he protested one of Herbert von Karajan's first American appearances by releasing pigeons from the balcony of Carnegie Hall. (Via Matthew Guerrieri.) Richard Osborne, describing the episode in his Karajan biography, said that only three pigeons took flight, and that two others were found suffocated in a briefcase. The two-time Nazi surely deserved some kind of protest, but was it necessary to kill pigeons in the process? Those were the days, in any case.
September 13, 2006 | Permalink
Eyebrows have been raised over recent reports that James Levine receives a salary of $1.6 from the Boston Symphony and $1.9 million from the Met, and that Lorin Maazel gets $2.6 million from the New York Philharmonic. Excessive or no, salaries on this scale are nothing new. Not long ago Cornell University Press published Gustav Mahler: Letters to His Wife, in Antony Beaumont's meticulous translation, and I found there a detail that I hadn't noticed in previous Mahler tomes: in March 1911, even as his health went in fatal decline, GM signed a new contract at the New York Philharmonic for ninety concerts at a fee of $90,000. I ran that through the inflation calculator and came up with the figure of $1.8 million in today's money. Not bad for a man who thought his time had not yet come.
Update: Kenneth Woods runs more figures and finds that Mahler was paid $20,000 per concert, as opposed to $58,000 for Maazel. "Mr. Maazel deserves everything he makes and more," he proposes, adding that Peyton Manning gets $1 million for every football game he plays. Indeed, classical music is very small potatoes compared to the remainder of the American military-industrial-cultural complex. By the way, the person in charge of the Philharmonic in 1911 was Mary R. Sheldon, the wife of the treasurer of the Republican National Committee.
Further update: According to Mahler biographer Henry-Louis de La Grange, the new edition of Mahler's letters contains a misprint: the figure should be $30,000, not $90,000.
As of today, The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century is exactly 250,000 words long. I placed a mousie toy on top of the manuscript to keep the kitties from losing interest and wandering away. My editor and I are looking for a similar device that will work on human beings. It's a big day: I've met the goal I set for myself twenty months ago, when, having finished a rough draft, I ran it through Word Count and discovered to my horror that I had produced 390,000 words. As you can see in a picture taken on that dark night, Penelope was frightened as well:
September 10, 2006 | Permalink
The New York Times Magazine is publishing excerpts from Susan Sontag's diaries. Here is an entry for April 20, 1965:
another project: Webern, Boulez, Stockhausen. Buy records, read, do some work. I've been very lazy.
As all-devouring as Sontag's intellect was, this project apparently defeated her in the end.
With clear skies prevailing, downtown New Yorkers should check out a Sound Art concert in Washington Square Park today at 3PM. The impressive lineup includes sampling virtuoso Carl Stone, dissonant-chromatic rock band Jerseyband, the hypnotically inventive composer-vocalist Joan La Barbara, the crack young percussion ensemble So Percussion, electronic composers Luke DuBois and Daedelus, and Princeton professor Paul Lansky, one of the reigning geniuses of electronic music.
Update: Steve Smith has a report on the event, and Darcy James Argue has a photojournal. I caught an early portion of the proceedings, enjoying the combination of experimental sound and summer sun on a patch of grass nearby. Lansky's Ride, with speaking voices and nature murmurs bubbling up from a molten flow of electronic sound, was mesmerizing. Read to the end of Steve's post for news of another sound-art event — in a Starbucks, of all places. I also recommend an upcoming S.E.M. Ensemble concert at the Spiegeltent downtown, although I won't be able to attend, because it's opening night at the Met.
I've had this bee in my bonnet for a while, but why in God's name is it so difficult for orchestras to put complete season schedules on their websites? I am looking in every corner of the Montreal Symphony site for a chronological listing of what Kent Nagano is doing in his inaugural season, et je ne trouve rien. Contrast the fast-rising Nashville Symphony, which has a link on its front page to "entire 2006 / 07 season." Thank yew! ... Addendum: Paul Wells has a report on Nagano's opening concert in Montreal, for which bells were rung in churches across the city. Nagano likes the Ustvolskaya-Beethoven combination; I heard him do almost the same program with the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester in Berlin in 2002 (with Ligeti's Lux aeterna in place of The Unanswered Question).
September 08, 2006 | Permalink
On October 7, in the gently rocking confines of BargeMusic (not pictured), I will host Composers on the Edge, a New Yorker Festival event. The concept is to round up some inventive young artists who are airing out the definition of what it means to be a composer in this frazzled day and age. The panel includes Mason Bates, who divides his time between composing and DJing; Corey Dargel, whose work hovers on the border between art song and art rock; Nico Muhly, steeped in Renaissance polyphony, minimalism, and Björk; and Joanna Newsom, a harpist-songwriter who absorbed twentieth-century repertory at Mills College. I fear that Prof. Heebie McJeebie will have a heart attack if he ever hears about the manifest aesthetic impurity of these young people's efforts, but for most others it ought to be a lively evening — more like a concert with intermittent talk than a panel discussion. Tickets go on sale at noon today.
Update: As of 2:30PM, it's sold out.
September 07, 2006 | Permalink
1) In the Kooky Klassical department, a man on the David Letterman show plays Mozart's Symphony No. 40 by rollerblading past rows of wine bottles. (Courtesy of Pierre Ruhe.) [Update: John Burke plays the perfect-pitch card and points out that it's been transposed to C minor.] 2) Charles Downey at ionarts has put together an excellent fall opera preview, with emphasis on novel repertory and premieres. I'd suggest adding John Adams's A Flowering Tree in Vienna. 3) Steve Smith disintegrates Paul McCartney's new "classical" album in Time Out NY: "An hour of singing boys is something only Michael Jackson could love." 4) Various new blogs have been added to the Music Blogs list.
September 07, 2006 | Permalink