Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Deficiencies In Hearing And Judgment: A Kirshnit Follow-Up

The December 5 "New York Sun" article about America's orchestras attracted a great deal of negative comment from "Sun" readers, as may be seen on the "Sun" website. No one defended the author, Fred Kirshnit, and readers noted many of the same points I addressed.

The extracts below, taken from reader comments on the "Sun" website, are verbatim, except that I have corrected spelling errors.

Forgive me when I long for Cleveland, Chicago or Philadelphia when the San Francisco Symphony's sound cannot fill up Carnegie Hall or there are several cracks in the horn after the Adagietto in the Mahler Symphony No. 5.

Despite being able to secure Martin Chailfour as its concertmaster--formerly the assistant concertmaster in Cleveland--Los Angeles still has an undistinctive string sound, often a rough edge and an overwhelming brassy sound that might otherwise work in Chicago or Philadelphia.

On and off again in terms of being a commanding conductor, Welser-Most has had many successes and the Cleveland sounds fabulous still. Clearly, Cleveland selected wisely over Eschenbach, as Welser-Most was apparently courted by Philadelphia as well. However, Philadelphia will recover from its current problems when Eschenbach leaves and will be as great as ever again.

I found this article completely unnecessary and frankly a bit off-base. If the point is to tell readers that the other orchestras have caught up to New York, Boston, etc. . .Most serious listeners have known that for years, so we don't need one of the worst commentators on the subject telling us this.

This article is not particularly insightful, and mentioning the long-ago departure of Mariss Jansons from Pittsburgh as though it were a recent event doesn't inspire confidence in the author's work.

And with Kent Nagano now in charge in Montreal for only three months, it's hard to imagine that the possibility of him leaving for Chicago is anything but uninformed speculation.

Los Angeles presents interesting programming and a lively sound, but has nowhere near the depth of Cleveland (string sound, ensemble) in the standard repertoire.

By admitting at the outset that he has given more credence to ensembles who come to him in New York, Kirshnit immediately identifies his ignorance--not all great American orchestras visit New York. And even when they do, these orchestras have a different sound from what they do in their own halls. A real critic would go hear the orchestras on their own turf.

Franz Welser-Most may never be the critics' favorite but he is a musicians' musician and has kept the fabled Cleveland precision while adding some warmth and flexibility to the mix.

One response to the article came from a conductor, whose name the "Sun" withheld.

If your ears are this bad that you think Los Angeles sounds that good--you're crazy. I've conducted Los Angeles and they have nothing on Cleveland. Also--you're so off base with Vienna State Opera liking Ozawa it's not even funny. It is not very responsible reporting to make a mistake that is well known amongst all professional musicians in the world. Mr. Ozawa had a falling out with Vienna while performing some Mozart operas last year. I hate to tell you what everyone else already knows but they hate him now.

Reading the sheaves of comments on the "Sun" website, I thought it was interesting that so many persons stepped forward to point out one bleedingly obvious fact: that the West Coast orchestras are simply not very good.

I have never understood why so many New York-based journalists praise the orchestras on the West Coast, and hold them up as torch-bearers for the American orchestra. The West Coast orchestras are noted for their poor ensemble, poor quality of sound and poor musicianship (as well as for the amazing ignorance of their audiences). Musicians everywhere know this. And this is somehow considered to be the standard to which other orchestras should aspire?

For anyone to claim that the West Coast orchestras are "leading the way" demonstrates nothing more than profound deficiencies in hearing and judgment.

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