Séance. The New Yorker, April 14, 2014.
The Solti Foundation U.S. states that its mission is "to assist talented young American musicians at the start of their professional careers." Since 2004, it has handed out thirty-nine conducting awards; all but one of these have gone to men. (The exception is Sara Jobin, in 2006.) The latest awardees, announced this week, are another all-male lineup.
Last month, at the request of El País, Peter Sellars wrote a tribute to the late Gerard Mortier. Here, courtesy of the author, is the English text.
Gerard Mortier was a mercurial operatic visionary who transformed the art form—not with a particular production or body of work, but with an attitude. Wherever Gerard was and whatever he was doing, you knew it would be exciting. His imprimatur guaranteed challenge, engagement, pleasure, and the kind of adventure informed and made possible by profound conviction and deep connoisseurship.
None of us who knew and worked with Gerard will ever be the same. His visionary, always practical, and constantly generous presence enlivened each conversation, each rehearsal, each project. Perhaps more amazingly, many of Gerard’s rivals, critics, and adversaries will never be the same either. They also did what they did and are doing what they are doing in response to Gerard’s vision, leadership, and permanent challenge. Gerard’s particular brilliance is to be equally vital and ultimately influential to his friends and to his enemies.
April 05, 2014 | Permalink
Kyle Gann, at work on a book about Ives's awesome Concord, has been blogging vigorously about the piece. Each post is worth reading and pondering. He's strongly in favor of the 1947 edition of the score, and very strongly opposed to the idea, first propagated by Elliott Carter, that Ives added dissonances in later years in order to cement his position as an innovator. "That Carter could concoct such a charge, I’ve always thought, says infinitely more about him than it does about Ives."
April 03, 2014 | Permalink
On April 12, at the Library of Congress, the "President's Own" United States Marine Band will present a program of Stravinsky, Peter Lieberson, Gunther Schuller, and Elliott Carter, with Sibelius and Mozart added as a concession to more traditional tastes. None other than Oliver Knussen curated the concert, which is part of an LoC Knussen residency. The President's Own, which dates back to 1801 and experienced a golden age under John Philip Sousa, often plays modern fare; the repertory for its 2014 season is quite a bit more diverse than that of most conventional orchestras. Here's a video of the Marine String Quartet performing the Grosse Fuge.
Previously: Star-Spangled Wagner.
April 01, 2014 | Permalink
Provisionally good news out of San Diego: the board of the opera has voted to postpone closure while it considers various options and reviews the company's perplexing financial history. They say they need $10 million to mount a 2015 season. Strangely, they don't believe that new management is necessary. Meanwhile, the ever-inscrutable board of the Minnesota Orchestra is pondering whether Osmo Vänskä should be reinstated as the orchestra's music director. While Vänskä drew a volcanic reaction from Minnesota audiences last weekend, as Jim Oestreich reports in the Times, a "die-hard faction of directors" is resisting efforts to bring the conductor back, apparently because they feel miffed by his forceful remarks about the orchestra that he has done so much to elevate. Perhaps it is time for this group to set aside petty resentments and, finally, serve the music. Evidence of what Vänskä achieved can be heard in a new BIS disc of the Mozart and Beethoven C-minor Concertos, with Yevgeny Sudbin as soloist. The orchestra plays brilliantly from the first bar to the last.
Lolita Chakrabarti's play Red Velvet, now playing at St. Ann's Warehouse, is drawing new attention to the great nineteenth-century actor Ira Aldridge, whom I wrote about last year. One historical point should be emphasized: Aldridge was not the first black actor to play Othello. That honor would seem to belong to James Hewlett, who played the role at the African Theatre, in New York, in the early 1820s. Chakrabarti mentions Hewlett in the play, but viewers may miss his import. Shane White tells much more of Hewlett in Stories of Freedom in Black New York. Above, an image of Hewlett as Richard III.
There's an important concert at Miller Theatre on April 10: ICE will dedicate a Composer Portrait to Liza Lim, whose extraordinary piece Tongue of the Invisible made my list of the best recordings of 2013. The composer writes about the program and other upcoming events on her blog. Also new on CD, a Hat Art disc of Lim's orchestral works.
Reading Mark Harris's masterly film history Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War — a counterpart to Annegret Fauser's Sounds of War — led me to watch various of the wartime documentaries (or pseudo-documentaries) that are described in the book. One thing that struck me is that the music of the films is not as simplistic as one might expect. Gail Kubik's score for William Wyler's Memphis Belle has some surprisingly acerbic moments: listen for the angular bomber theme at 3:33. Kubik wrote in a similar style for the 1942 Office of War Information documentary The World at War.
Five Came Back left me with a deepened regard for Wyler, George Stevens, and John Huston, each of whom managed to transcend the limitations of propaganda. Yet I also felt sharp unease about the cumulative effect of these paeans to American might, which were conjoined to a relentless demonization of the Germans and the Japanese. Consider this script that Frank Capra concocted for FDR, as a welcome to new inductees: "Go to it, men! Show these self-appointed supermen that free men are not only the happiest and most prosperous, but also that we are the strongest." While Harris found no evidence that Roosevelt actually delivered the speech, it is evidence of an ominous mentality. The self-appointing of supermen did not end in 1945.
March 30, 2014 | Permalink
The distinguished American composer and organist was employed for a time at St. Ann's Episcopal Church, in Brooklyn Heights — a building that now serves as the chapel of the Packer Collegiate Institute. The St. Ann's congregation later moved to the Church of the Holy Trinity, on Montague Street, where Buck also played for a number of years. The latter is now known as St. Ann's and the Holy Trinity. Buck wrote any number of weighty works, including the Centennial Meditation of Columbia (with a text by Sidney Lanier), but he is best remembered today for his slightly zany variations on the "Star-Spangled Banner."
March 29, 2014 | Permalink
On Friday, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I will give a lecture entitled "'Big Ballads of the Modern Heart': Sidney Lanier and Early American Wagnerism." This talk is related to the third chapter of my book-in-progress, Wagnerism: Art in the Shadow of Music. The following Monday, I'll be in Macon, Georgia — coincidentally, Lanier's hometown — to join a panel on classical-music criticism at the Macon Arts Alliance.
March 29, 2014 | Permalink
My colleague Steve Smith has announced on his Facebook page that he is leaving Time Out New York next month. In the thirteen years he's been editing classical-music listings at the magazine — much of the time he has edited the pop listings as well — he has documented better than any other writer the teeming energies of New York's new-music scene. He has also searched out the huge expanse of activity that lies beyond the city's best-known, highest-priced venues. I've learned so much from his work: he's changed and broadened my view of New York musical life. Steve is something of a hero in our world, and whatever publication or institution might sign him up in the future will have made, I believe, a very wise choice.
March 28, 2014 | Permalink