Friday, December 08, 2006

Boring, Overexposed, Unimaginative

This evening at dinner, my mother and my father asked Josh and me to look at the remainder of the Minnesota Orchestra's season schedule and the remainder of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra's season schedule, and to let them know which concerts interested us and, further, to let them know if we wanted to attend any of those concerts with them.

Joshua and I told my mother and father that we had already looked at both orchestra's concert schedules, and that there were only two concerts that we knew, as of today, that we definitely wanted to attend. Both of those concerts are Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra concerts: a concert featuring Schoenberg's Chamber Symphony No. 2, Ligeti's Ramifications, and a Haydn symphony; and a concert featuring Schoenberg's Chamber Symphony No. 1 and Mahler's Das Lied Von Der Erde in its seldom-performed arrangement for chamber forces.

My parents asked us why no Minnesota Orchestra concerts appealed to us, and we told them that most of the Minnesota Orchestra concert programs this season seemed to us to be stale (or, in a couple of instances, perverse)--either we did not want to hear the programs, or we did not want to hear the conductors, or both.

And the programs, and the conductors, ARE stale--just about the most boring, overexposed, unimaginative musical programs and conductors any orchestra has ever offered, at any time, at any place.

Aside from the children's concerts and the young persons' concerts and the Broadway concerts and the Doc Severinson concerts and the holiday concerts and "The Lord Of The Rings" concerts and the endless "pops" concerts on which the orchestra, in total, spends about half of its time, this season's Minnesota Orchestra repertory is frighteningly over-familiar and the guest conductors definitely uninspiring.

The entire 2006-2007 Minnesota Orchestra repertory, for the annual subscription concerts, appears below.

Music For Brass [Vanska]

Piano Concerto In D Minor [De Waart]
Toccata And Fugue In D Minor (Arranged By Skrowaczewski) [Skrowaczewski]

Symphony No. 1 [Wigglesworth]
Symphony No. 49 [Norrington]

Sinfonia Concertante For Violin, Viola And Orchestra [Wigglesworth]
Wind Serenade (The season brochure does not specify which one) [Vanska]

Symphony No. 1 [Vanska]
Symphony No. 3 [Vanska]
Symphony No. 4 [Vanska]
Symphony No. 5 [Vanska]
Symphony No. 6 [Vanska]
Triple Concerto [Litton]

Invitation To The Dance [Vanska]

Symphony No. 9 [Wigglesworth]

Symphonie Fantastique [De Waart]
Queen Mab Scherzo From "Romeo And Juliet" [Vanska]
"Beatrice And Benedict" Overture [De Waart]

Concerto For Violin And Piano [Vanska]

Symphony No. 3 [Skrowaczewski]

Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 [Vanska]

"Rienzi" Overture [Vanska]
Good Friday Music From "Parsifal" [Vanska]

Symphony No. 0 [Vanska]

German Requiem [Norrington]
Piano Concerto No. 1 [Skrowaczewski]
Piano Concerto No. 2 [Vanska]
Hungarian Dances (Selections) [Vanska]

Violin Concerto [Kreizberg]
1812 Overture [Vanska]
"Nutcracker" Suite [Vanska]
"Swan Lake" Suite [Vanska]

"Peer Gynt"--The Complete Incidental Music [Vanska]

Symphony No. 6 [Kreizberg]
Symphony No. 7 [Mischa Santoro]
Carnival Overture [Kreizberg]

Symphony In D Minor [Vanska]

Symphony No. 2 [Vanska]
Symphony No. 6 [Conlon]

Symphony No. 2 [Vanska]
Symphony No. 4 [Vanska]
Symphony No. 5 [Vanska]
Violin Concerto [Vanska]
Nightride And Sunrise [Vanska]
In Memoriam [Vanska]

Fosboy Tower Washington Memorial March [Vanska]

Symphony No. 3 [Mischa Santoro]
The Unanswered Question [Vanska]

The Rite Of Spring [Vanska]
"Pulcinella" Suite [Vanska]

Piano Concerto No. 3 [Vanska]

Music For Strings, Percussion And Celesta [Vanska]
Piano Concerto No. 3 [Vanska]

Memorial To Lidice [Vanska]

Violin Concerto [De Waart]
"Threepenny Opera" Suite [De Waart]

Clarinet Concerto [Mischa Santoro]

Symphony No. 8 [Litton]
Symphony No. 9 [Vanska]

Cello Concerto [Vanska]

Symphony No. 1 [Vanska]

Oiseaux Exotiques [De Waart]

Symphonic Dances From "West Side Story" [De Waart]

Commedia [De Waart]

Symphony No. 3 [Vanska]

My Father Knew Charles Ives [Vanska]

Symphony No. 9 For Trombone And Orchestra [Vanska]

Here! . . .Beyond? [Vanska]

Cello Concerto [Vanska]

Newly Drawn Sky [Vanska]

For me, problem number one with this programming is the guest conductors. I have heard De Waart, Kreizberg, Litton, Norrington and Wigglesworth many times, and not one of them has overly impressed me. In fact, I loathe Roger Norrington's work, and Edo De Waart is not far behind Norrington in my lack of esteem for his work. I would be willing to give Kreizberg and Litton and Wigglesworth another listen if their programs appealed to me, but their individual Minnesota Orchestra programs are awfully stale (and Litton's appearance, in any case, has already occurred).

Problem number two for me is Osmo Vanska's heavy reliance on Beethoven and Sibelius for his own concerts. I like the music of Beethoven and Sibelius very much, to be sure, but this season's emphasis on Beethoven and Sibelius is far too heavy. Furthermore, Vanksa has already conducted these works in Minneapolis (and he has already recorded the Beethoven in Minneapolis). How many times is he going to drag out these same works? He is already repeating himself endlessly, and this is only his fourth season at the helm of our orchestra. I suspect that his repertory must be very small, or that he knows that his non-Scandinavian repertory is not up to international standard.

Problem number three for me is the arrangment of the works on this season's programs. The programs are clumsy and inartful. What is the point of programming Bach and Messiaen side-by-side? There is no interesting connection between these two composers, waiting to be discovered--it is just a case of serving spare ribs with chocolate ice cream. It would be far better to "place" Messiaen for the listener by preceding Messiaen with French music from which his own music evolved. Tchaikovsky does not belong sandwiched between two pieces of Dvorak; this serves neither composer. A Weill-Bolcom-Bernstein program is an inherently bad idea--it does not look good on paper and it will not prove to be satisfying in the concert hall (and I think listeners are more than willing to give the "West Side Story" dances a prolonged and well-deserved rest; in any case, this piece belongs in "pops" concerts and there is far too much Arthur Fiedler repertory on this season's programs already). Leonard Bernstein and William Bolcom are NOT outgrowths of Kurt Weill, and arguing so in program notes will not make it so.

Problem number four for me is that this season's repertory is extremely unbalanced. There is very little Haydn or Mozart. There is very little Schubert or Mendelssohn or Schumann. There is no Richard Strauss. There is no Hindemith. There is no music of the Second Viennese School. There is no Debussy or Ravel or Poulenc or Dutilleux. There is no Elgar or Vaughan Williams or Walton or Britten or Tippett. There is no music from Spain and no music from Italy. There is no Szymanowski or Lutoslawski or Penderecki or Panufnik. There is no Elliott Carter and no George Gershwin. Why is there not at least one symphony by either Hanson or Harris or Menin or Piston or Creston or Schuman or Rorem or Rochberg? And, among modern Finnish composers, why are we not hearing Kokkonen and Sallinen and Rautavaara and Lindberg, all of whom are superior to Aho?

I pointed out all of this to my Dad, and I told him that the remaining program that most appealed to me was Skrowaczewski's, the program with Schumann's Third Symphony and Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1. However, we just heard the Schumann Symphony No. 3 in Hamburg, and I have already heard Rudolf Buchbinder, the scheduled soloist, perform the Brahms concerto, to strikingly dull effect. Consequently, even this program will have only modest enticement for me.

My father told me that I was difficult to please, and I told him that he was probably right. However, I pointed out to him that he already knew almost every single piece of music on this year's programs, including even the obscure ones like Bolcom's Commedia (premiered and recorded by the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, a performance he has on an old LP) and MacMillan's Cello Concerto (which he and I have listened to together on compact disc), and that the only pieces new to him would be the Kernis and the Vanska and, perhaps, the Dorati. I told my Dad that he, of all people, should be disappointed about the unimaginative programming of this year's concerts.

My father's response was "You just don't like Vanska, do you?" and I told my Dad that I had yet to hear anything from Vanska that made me believe he was anything special. However, just to please him, I agreed to go to one of Vanska's Beethoven/Sibelius concerts if Josh wanted to go.

The final result: my Mom and Dad will come with Josh and me to the Schoenberg/Mahler concert in Saint Paul; and Josh and I will go with my Mom and Dad to the Beethoven Symphony No. 4/Sibelius Symphony No. 5 concert in Minneapolis.

I will deeply regret having to miss that Weill-Bolcom-Bernstein affair.

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