Sunday, November 23, 2008

Two Concerts

Joshua and I attended two concerts this week.

On Wednesday night, on Joshua’s birthday, we attended a performance of the Dresden Staatskapelle, which appeared in Boston as part of its current American tour.

The Dresden Staatskapelle is my favorite European orchestra. It has a sound of the most extraordinary beauty and refinement, and its music-making personifies “Old World” traditions of warmth, understatement and urbaneness. Many knowledgeable persons consider the Dresden Staatskapelle to be Europe’s very finest orchestra. I have always preferred Dresden to Amsterdam, Berlin or Vienna (although the Viennese can be extraordinary when they want to be—which is not all that frequent).

I have never heard the Staatskapelle play in its own hall in Dresden, but prior to Wednesday night I had heard the orchestra play on tour on five previous occasions. I had heard the orchestra perform in Vienna, Munich, Paris, London and New York, and four of those five earlier concerts were red-letter events in my life (the New York concert was the sole disappointment).

The sound of the Dresden players is unique.

The strings carry a dark coloration, perhaps the darkest coloration among major orchestras anywhere. This specific coloration has been handed down through generations of Dresden players—it is inherently in the ears and minds of the Dresden musicians—and it may be heard on the orchestra’s recordings going back as far as the 1930’s. This highly-individual sound has never been successfully reproduced elsewhere. It may be heard in Dresden, and nowhere else.

One key to the Dresden sound is the prominence of the violas and cellos, which form the foundation of the orchestra’s string sound.

In U.S. orchestras, the sound is generally built from the first violins down through the rest of the string section. In the case of the Berlin Philharmonic, the sound is built from the basses up. In the case of the Vienna Philharmonic, the sound is built around Vienna’s golden-toned cellos.

Building Dresden’s string sound from the warmth and deep overtones of the viola and cello sections tempers any potential stridency or wiriness or glassiness from the violin section and obviates any heaviness that can result from bass-heavy orchestras such as Berlin (especially under conductors unversed in knowing how to handle that orchestra’s remarkable bass section).

Another key to the Dresden sound is that the string section produces a firm, rich sound without using the amount of vibrato common in American orchestras and in many European orchestras. Of the world’s great orchestras, Dresden uses the least amount of string vibrato, and this apparently has always been so. While other orchestras obtain a firm, rich string sound through the application of string pressure and the use of vibrato, Dresden obtains the same, if not more, firmness and richness with less string pressure and less vibrato. The result is a clean, transparent sound that never descends into thickness or gooiness, two hazards of orchestras in which string players are encouraged to lean on their strings. Indeed, the incredible transparency of the Dresden string sound, coupled with its incredible darkness, is one of the world’s most miraculous sounds, a sound that every lover of orchestras should experience at least once.

Another key to the Dresden sound is the lightness and subtlety of the orchestra’s attacks. The current international style of playing calls for orchestras to make sharp, pointed attacks. Anything less than sharp and pointed is deemed to be a demonstration of inferior ensemble. Dresden attacks demonstrate great unanimity of ensemble, to be sure, but Dresden attacks are soft, gently-articulated attacks. Such attacks always startle the listener in the early minutes of a Dresden concert, since listeners seldom hear anything so miraculous from other orchestras.

The woodwinds of the Dresden Staatskapelle also carry a dark coloration. This is especially true of the orchestra’s clarinets and oboes. The Dresden woodwind players maintain their dark colorations despite the fact that they, too, use far less vibrato than their American counterparts. That vibrato is shunned does not signify that the Dresden woodwinds lack richness of sound or insufficient color. To the contrary, Dresden has one of the world’s finest arrays of woodwinds, offering playing of great individuality and character, to which the players add bewitching timbres. No American orchestra currently maintains as fine a collection of woodwind players as Dresden.

The Dresden brass sound was surely created with the music of Anton Bruckner in mind. The Dresden brass lacks the bite and brightness cultivated among American brass players. Instead, the Dresden brass players offer a more rounded, warmer sound, a sound that almost glows with mellowness, richness and depth.

This is a glorious orchestra, with a glorious sound, and it was the sound itself that offered the chief pleasure Wednesday night.

The orchestra was not on peak form Wednesday night—grueling foreign tours surely extract a heavy toll on players—but the inherent sound of the orchestra was on display at all times even if the performance was not one for the ages.

There were two works on the program: Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 and Brahms’s Symphony No. 4.

The Beethoven was completely unremarkable.

The soloist, Rudolf Buchbinder, has a heavy keyboard touch, too heavy for my taste, and he is a serious pianist more than an inspired one. I have heard Buchbinder in performance many times, in recital and in concert, always in Central European repertoire, and I have never found him to be an especially interesting artist. His playing—and especially his phrasing—has always struck me as foursquare.

The conductor, Fabio Luisi, was a disappointment. Luisi is not a classicist, and he brought no insight whatsoever to Beethoven’s first great concerto (misnumbered, since Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 was actually written after the concerto labeled as No. 2). Luisi brought no style, no command of structure, and no sense of energy to the Beethoven. He supported Buchbinder, capably, but he gave Buchbinder absolutely nothing to play off or play against.

The Dresden wind players made the concerto worthwhile. It was a privilege to hear the Dresden winds play off each other in Beethoven’s wind passages, injecting a touch of life into the performance.

The Brahms was much better, which came as no surprise, since Brahms’s Symphony No. 4 has long been one of the orchestra’s prime touring pieces. For the last thirty years, the Dresden Staatskapelle has played the Brahms Fourth on tour more often than any other composition. The work shows off the blended, mellow Dresden sound to splendid effect, which may be why the orchestra uses the work as its calling card. (The kindly couple sitting next to Josh and me told us that, on its previous visit to Boston, in 2005, the Staatskapelle had also programmed the Brahms Fourth.)

Wednesday’s performance was perfectly acceptable—any music-lover would be immensely pleased to hear such a natural, instinctive performance from an American orchestra—but it was not a great performance. The sound of the orchestra again offered the chief pleasure.

Luisi is a competent Brahms conductor, but he is hardly a special one, let alone a great one. The music of Brahms was more natural to him than the music of Beethoven, but Luisi’s Brahms is not worthy to be set alongside the Brahms of Wilhelm Furtwangler, Bruno Walter, Otto Klemperer or Herbert Von Karajan. Indeed, I am not sure that Luisi’s Brahms measures up even to present-day conductors of Brahms such as Herbert Blomstedt, Christoph Dohnanyi, Bernard Haitink, or Kurt Masur, none of whom has ever revealed himself to be an especially notable or imaginative Brahms conductor.

The first movement was the low point of the Brahms.

Luisi mishandled the great climax of the first movement: Brahms’s grand restatement, in the coda, of the first main theme, with its powerful, organ-like sonority, achieved through immediate thematic restatement and resplendent orchestration, intended to mimic the echo effects produced by great organs in Gothic Cathedrals (Brahms had been studying, yet again, Bach scores at the time he composed this symphony). In Luisi’s hands, this powerful moment emerged as limp.

Luisi also mishandled the most magical moment of the first movement: the beginning of the recapitulation, when the strings steal in, almost imperceptibly, playing only the final four bars of the eight-bar main theme in triple pianissimo. This is one of the most inspired moments in all of Brahms, and it generally gives me chills—but this moment came and went on Wednesday night with no attendant frisson.

The Andante lacked focus, and meandered. The Scherzo always comes off, and it did on Wednesday night.

The Passacaglia was the finest moment for both conductor and players, and provided a fitting summation for the great work. The musicians built the tension and drama inherent in Brahms’s series of 30 variations (plus extended coda) in subtle but exquisite fashion, achieving a satisfying, even tragic, culmination before the music drew to its unsettling conclusion. For the first time all night, Luisi got the climax of the fourth movement right.

How much of this was due to the conductor and how much was due to the musicians I cannot say, having heard the Dresdeners offer an even finer account of the Passacaglia in the past. Nonetheless, the great Passacaglia, by itself, made the evening worthwhile.

After the conclusion of the Brahms, the orchestra added a substantial bonus: Weber’s greatest overture, “Oberon”, in which the orchestra offered its most splendid, joyous playing of the evening.

Until Wednesday night, Josh had never heard the Dresden Staatskapelle. Josh immediately appreciated the quality of the orchestra’s sound. Josh said that he preferred the sound of the Dresden Staatskapelle to the sound of the Vienna Philharmonic.

Josh also appreciated the orchestra’s great subtlety. Of American orchestras, only the Cleveland Orchestra can play with the subtlety of the Dresden musicians.

Last night, on my birthday, we attended a performance of the Boston Symphony.

The only reason we had purchased tickets for the concert was to hear the finest of this year’s Boston Symphony guest conductors, Gennady Rozhdestvensky. However, on Friday, we learned that Rozhdestvensky had cancelled this week’s Boston appearances, and that the basis of his cancellation was the fact that he was offended by the orchestra’s promotional materials.

According to the Boston Globe, Rozhdestvensky rehearsed the orchestra without incident for the first three rehearsals of the week. However, on Wednesday, Rozhdestvensky apparently became incensed when he observed two of the orchestra’s marketing tools.

First, Rozhdestvensky saw a poster advertising this week’s concerts, a poster that featured a photograph only of the guest soloist, cellist Lynn Harrell, and not the guest conductor. The poster also featured Harrell’s name in large print at the top of the poster and Rozhdestvensky’s name in small print at the bottom of the poster.

Second, Rozhdestvensky came across a copy of the Boston Symphony’s season brochure, which gave great prominence to other conductors, including little-known and entirely marginal figures, but which made a single, inconspicuous reference to Rozhdestvensky, the most distinguished of all guests on this year’s roster.

Apparently this latter was the last straw, and Rozhdestvensky walked out.

This may all seem rather minor, if not rather silly, but I can see Rozhdestvensky’s point: he is an international conductor of the greatest stature, with a long and distinguished career, and the Boston Symphony’s marketing materials gave him all the attention and prominence of an unknown novice. I can’t fault Rozhdestvensky. He surely felt insulted—and he was insulted.

The Boston Globe’s story about Rozhdestvensky’s walkout was accorded front-page treatment here. The newspaper’s story about Rozhdestvensky’s departure also attracted an amazing number of reader comments, the bulk of which were anti-Rozhdestvensky.

The comments I thought were the funniest—largely because they displayed unbounded ignorance—appear below.

“Send the old goat home.”

“What an egomaniac. Do your job, you pinko.”

“Most of us could care less if Rozhdestvensky conducts the BSO for four concerts or not.”

“The future of the BSO is not with the over-70 crowd—it’s with young audiences who want to hear wonderful music. They will NOT pay, however, for a self-centered, entitled, high-strung, easily-bruised ego standing in front of an orchestra. Mr. Rozhdestvensky’s time is over.”

“It is Mr. Rozhdestvensky’s great loss that he will not be conducting what is arguably the best symphony [orchestra] in the Western Hemisphere.”

“Of the nearly 300 million people in this country, I bet there are less than 50 who could actually tell a difference between this arrogant buffoon conducting the orchestra and his replacement doing so. Please tell this pompous nutcase that he should feel honored to lead the team of fine musicians at the BSO and to have his name, even in small print, associated with them.”

Well, it cannot be said that Boston has a sophisticated musical audience!

Indeed, a few of the persons sharing their wisdom suffered under the misapprehension that Lynn Harrell is a woman—and such fact, to them, explained why Harrell and not Rozhdestvensky received the lavish photo promotion.

Josh and I had a lot of fun wading through the extraordinary number of idiotic comments on the Boston Globe’s website.

Once we learned of Rozhdestvensky’s departure, Josh and I contemplated not going to the concert, but we decided to go after all, largely because we had already spent money on the tickets.

It was the prospect of hearing Rozhdestvensky that had prompted Josh and me to buy tickets in the first place. Rozhdestvensky is probably the greatest Russian conductor who ever lived—Yevgeny Mravinsky is his only competition—and Rozhdestvensky is just about unparalleled among today’s Tchaikovsky conductors. Rozhdestvensky also happens to be a very fine Elgar conductor, having conducted Elgar in the Soviet Union long before he began making appearances in the West.

There were three works on the scheduled program: Edmund Rubbra’s orchestration of Brahms’s Variations On A Theme Of Handel, Elgar’s Cello Concerto and Tchaikovsky’s Manfred Symphony.

The replacement conductor was Canadian Julian Kuerti, son of pianist Anton Kuerti. He made no substitutions in the program. He conducted the scheduled works.

The concert was about what one would have expected under the circumstances: the musicians got through the program without incident, but also without anything interesting happening. The performance was certainly not an outrage, but it was also certainly not worth attending.

Rubbra’s orchestration of Brahms’s early piano composition is clumsy and does not “sound”. I can understand why this piece is very seldom programmed.

Harrell carried the Elgar all by himself, offering an “objective” interpretation little different from the somewhat bland interpretation he provided on his old Decca recording.

The Tchaikovsky did not come off at all, but I did not expect it to. Even though Rozhdestvensky himself had been in charge of three of the four rehearsals, it was most unlikely that another conductor would be able to step in and complete Rozhdestvensky’s work. In any case, the Manfred Symphony is a very difficult work to bring off. Only old masters such as Rozhdestvensky generally have success with the score. The musicians held Kuerti together during the symphony’s hour-long duration—the playing would have been no better, and no worse, had there been no one on the podium—but this surely must have been the most boring performance of the Manfred Symphony ever offered.

As Josh likes to say, “you pay your money and you take your chances”. Well, we had paid our money, so we took our chances—and the concert turned out to be a complete waste of our time.

These things happen.

The Boston Symphony continues to have very serious attendance problems, a situation I mentioned in October. This week, the orchestra announced yet another in an ongoing series of ticket initiatives: all seats, for the remainder of the season, will cost only $20.00 for anyone under the age of forty. Josh and I would take advantage of this bargain if the orchestra’s programs were more interesting and the guest conductors of better quality.

As things stand now, the Boston Symphony is not an orchestra worth going out of one’s way to hear. The orchestra is no better—but no worse—than the Minnesota Orchestra or the Dallas Symphony. Like those ensembles, it is a fine regional orchestra, but nothing more.

The Boston Symphony has long reminded me of the five London orchestras, all of which are more or less capable but none of which is anything special and none of which remotely offers anything to write home about.

Josh and I will be going home soon. We will be spending Thanksgiving in Minneapolis, and we are very much looking forward to it.

Josh has no classes on Wednesday, and I only have to work half a day on Wednesday, but we discovered, several weeks ago, that it would be much easier (and much cheaper) for us to fly home early Thanksgiving morning rather than on Wednesday afternoon or Wednesday evening. Consequently, we will spend Wednesday afternoon and evening getting our things ready.

On Thanksgiving morning, we will rise at 3:00 a.m. in order to catch the first nonstop flight of the day from Logan to MSP. That will get us home in time for my mother’s grand Thanksgiving breakfast. My middle brother will meet our flight at the airport and take us home.

We shall have a lot to celebrate on Thanksgiving Day. We shall celebrate, on a belated basis, Josh’s birthday, my birthday, and my parents’ wedding anniversary (which falls on the day before Thanksgiving this year). I think we all have agreed to forego cakes to mark these occasions, given that we will have four different kinds of homemade pies from which to choose for dessert on Thanksgiving night: pumpkin, pumpkin-custard, Dutch apple, and sour cream-raisin. What with all the Thanksgiving desserts, it seems silly to throw cake into the proceedings, too.

It will be good to be home again, even if only for four days. We are eager to see how everyone is doing. We are eager to see how my older brother and his family are settling into Minneapolis. We are all exceedingly anxious about the baby’s arrival (it is expected in another eight-to-ten days, but it could come at any time). We want to see how the dog is doing, and we want to see how he is responding to his arthritis palliatives.

Over Thanksgiving weekend, we have some business matters to attend to, and Josh and I will have to decide how we will apportion our Christmas holidays between Oklahoma and Minnesota, and make plans (and flight arrangements) accordingly. Otherwise, we plan to kick back and enjoy lots of good food and enjoy everyone’s company.

The holiday weekend will be over before we know it.


  1. A chum in Boston tells me attendance has been dropping since Levine’s first season. Boston has to advertise heavily just to get people to the Levine concerts. Boston has the biggest advertising budget of all and spends it all on Levine and still people won’t come. He says the orchestra sounds like the Met orchestra: big, blowsy, unsophisticated, no phrasing, no texture, no nuance, no tension, no specificity, no style, the very opposite of Cleveland. Everything is big, loud, ugly and obvious, just like at the Met. Is he right?

    Minnesota got walloped yesterday. I thought they turned that program around?

    A chum in St. Louis says attendance there has collapsed. The hall is rarely one quarter full. Standards have fallen and the public believes they were sold a bill of goods with Robertson. Management won’t do anything. Management likes that New York critics like Robertson. Are you hearing anything?

    Have a great Thanksgiving.


  2. It is interesting, Robert, that you ask about the Minnesota game.

    Minnesota started the season well, at 7-1, and then lost its final four games.

    My father and my brothers went to the game last night. It was Minnesota’s final game in the Metro Dome. Next season, the team moves to a new stadium on campus.

    Minnesota played in the Metro Dome for 28 seasons, and many university sports officials believe the Metro Dome was inhibiting the success of the program. It was far away from campus, it was a heated indoor stadium that rewarded visiting teams with good passing attacks, and Minnesota never enjoyed much success there ever since the team moved into the facility.

    It is hoped, with a new outdoor stadium on campus, that students will attend the games and that Minnesota, with its running attack, will be able to dominate visiting teams—especially passing teams—out in the frigid temperatures.

    Last night’s game was apparently a debacle. The Minnesota running game gained –7 yards for the night.

    Minnesota always ends its home season against Iowa or Wisconsin. Minnesota generally plays Wisconsin tough at home, but Iowa seems to have Minnesota’s number at the Metro Dome. Last year, Minnesota’s worst season ever in football, Minnesota almost beat Wisconsin at home. This year, Minnesota’s best season in several years, Minnesota was blown out by Iowa at home.

    Minnesota fans began leaving last night’s game in droves early in the third quarter. Halfway through the third quarter, the stadium was only half full, with mostly Iowa fans remaining. My father and my brothers stayed for the entire game, but not because they were expecting an exciting finish!

    It is interesting that you ask about the Saint Louis Symphony. Stanislaw Skrowaczewski conducted the Saint Louis Symphony last month, and he told my father that there were so few patrons in attendance that he could have fired a shotgun into the auditorium without risk of hitting anyone. He also mentioned to my father that the musicians were desperate for nourishment, and dug into Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8 like they had been starving for months.

    I would agree with your friend that the Boston Symphony now sounds like the orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera.

  3. I had the great pleasure of attending the Minnesota/Iowa game last night. The Gophers demonstrated mastery of football incompetence, including a couple of plays that were so bad that they made me laugh even though I'm a Gophers fan. My wife and stepson are Iowa fans and I was forced to wait until Floyd of Rosedale came out before we could leave.

  4. I thought of you when reading this article earlier this evening. I'd enjoy hearing your reaction (at length). At least the Dresden made number ten.

    I'm the former "David in KC." Someone else has been using that name on-line, so I've adopted another one.

  5. Believe me, I heard all about the game. Apparently it was gruesome.

    My father is from Iowa, and he is still an avid Iowa fan. After almost four decades of living in Minnesota, he cannot decide whether he is primarily an Iowa fan or a Minnesota fan.

    He was not displeased with the outcome, but he was disgusted that Minnesota looked so hapless. He said that, by the third quarter, the game looked like a comedy.

    He and my brothers stayed to the bitter end, and witnessed the presentation of Floyd Of Rosedale.

    You know, last year we all went to the Minnesota/Wisconsin game, and were pleasantly surprised that Minnesota was ahead at halftime and that the game was tied going into the fourth quarter.

    We all got our money's worth last year.

    I think only the Iowa fans got their money's worth last night.

    At least Iowa fans surely spent lots of money in the Twin Cities over the weekend.

    It will help the local economy!

  6. Drew,

    I think you read my reaction to the NYT review of a Pollini recital. I would be interested in your reaction to the reviewer's comment that Pollini's performance was impetuous and hard driven and including the "Revolutionary Etude" as an example of this. What could he be thinking? I should tell you I'm a huge Pollini fan--even though he stood us up in Minnesota once by refusing to come to a concert that he had booked (about 1986?).

  7. I did read your reaction, Vercingetorix, and I did read the Times review in question.

    I thought the review was bizarre. I think the reviewer had a problem with Pollini's technical brilliance and, between the lines, was trying to portray Pollini as an unfeeling, insensitive technician, and little more.

    Of course, I did not hear the recital in question, but a reader unfamiliar with Pollini and the piano literature might come away from that review with the odd notion that Pollini is an unimportant pianist and musician, little more than a minor keyboard player. Nothing could be further from the truth.

    I, too, admire Pollini enormously. I cannot think of another living pianist I prefer to hear.

    God forbid that a pianist's Chopin be impetuous!

  8. Andrew,

    Do you have thoughts on a recommended recording of the Mozart Requiem?

    I do not own a copy. I have gone to the music store several times with the intention of buying one, but I have a problem that always holds me back.

    My understanding is that Sussmayr, Mozart's student and close associate completed the score upon Mozart's death. So, I struggle with wanting the best possible coherent finished work vs. having a production that is really Mozart. Kind of like the kid who wants to go into the water, but doesn't want to get wet.

    Do you have any recommendations as to recordings of versions of this work that I might find acceptable?

  9. I will get back to you on the Mozart Requiem issue when I have some time.

  10. To make a long story short, no, I really do not have a recommendation for the Mozart Requiem.

    If you are looking for the Franz Sussmayr edition, one safe (and exceptionally cheap) option is the Helmuth Rilling recording on Sony. A modern orchestra practiced in Baroque and Classical performance is used (Stuttgart Bach Collegium), and a chorus with similar capabilities is on hand (the Gachinger Kantorei Stuttgart). The soloists are excellent (Arleen Auger, Carolyn Watkinson, Siegmund Jerusalem and Siegmund Nimsgern). The soloists probably are the chief attraction of the disc.

    The sound engineering is quite fine—excellent analog sound from 1979.

    I see that the disc is still in print, and can be purchased for under $5.00 from the Tower website. The current edition of the recording features a filler: the Exsultate Jubilate, sung by Judith Blegen.

    My belief is that you cannot go wrong with this disc, if for no other reason than the remarkably low price. If you do not like the performance, you have only thrown away $5.00.

  11. Siegfried Jerusalem, not Siegmund.

  12. If there are lots of empty seats, the BSO should try to fill them, by selling tickets at a reduced price if that's what will work, but the idea that people under 40 are so much more desirable than people over 40 is ridiculous. Treating older people as undesirables isn't going to attract younger people. The orchestra should be grateful for the sort of audience that it attracts, however old the people may be. If they really want to attract an audience, they might try interesting programming instead of the same old same old.

  13. If there are lots of empty seats, the BSO should try to fill them, by selling tickets at a reduced price if that's what will work, but the idea that people under 40 are so much more desirable than people over 40 is ridiculous. Treating older people as undesirables isn't going to attract younger people. The orchestra should be grateful for the sort of audience that it attracts, however old the people may be. If they really want to attract an audience, they might try interesting programming instead of the same old same old.

  14. I totally agree with you. $20.00 seats should be made available to all, irrespective of age.

    I remember that the Minnesota Orchestra, two seasons ago, midway through the season, offered all remaining seats for the rest of the season to ANYONE, not just students, for $35.00. It is my understanding that the ticket sale was a great success.

    Boston's programming is very, very unimaginative. I was startled the first time I saw this year's season brochure (and not because Rozhdestvenky's name was hidden).

  15. Andrew,

    Thanks for the Mozart Requiem recommendation. I will check it out.

  16. Hello, Andrew.

    Rozhdesvensky was also a peerless conductor of Borodin. Even Ansermet couldn’t touch him here. Has there ever been a finer recording of Borodin’s First Symphony than Rozhedesvensky’s from the 1970’s? A chill goes down my back when I remember the sound he was able to extract from an otherwise abrasive Soviet orchestra.

    Your reports, past and present, regarding the dismal state of the Boston Symphony and its audience make me very unhappy. They make me angry at the same time. What an outrage that the BSO management allowed such unimaginable disuetude to wax over time.

    I say this because I have had a sentimental attachment to the Orchestra for a long time. Between 1969 and 1973 I was a subscriber to the Winter Season: It was my utter joy to take the weekly hop-skip down Mass Avenue – though never by cab: Boston taxi drivers in those days hated Cambridge because Cambridge had “too many one-way streets” – and across the river, to “the shrine,” as some of my chums called Symphony Hall. At the time William Steinberg was in charge; and I can readily remember in my mind’s ear the sound of the Orchestra at that time. The sound was “aristocratic,” indeed.

    (I remember also some longtime patrons at that time, however, bemoaning the loss of Koussevitzsky’s indescribable string sound under the baton of Munch.)

    I invoke such memories in the spirit of Thanksgiving this week. They make me want to cry under the present circumstances, but I am thankful that I had the opportunity to see this especial slice of America while it was still great.

    I myself am in Florida this week with family. I wish you and your family a fulfilling weekend.

    Rex will be beside himself with leaping joy, too, I am sure.


  17. Dane, I wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving as well!

    You are lucky, because you heard Boston during its glory years, the Steinberg interregnum, when the orchestra was recovering from the unfulfilling Leinsdorf years. Abbado was a frequent guest conductor during those years, was he not? You must have heard Abbado lead the BSO several times. It is a pity that the BSO passed over Abbado in favor of Ozawa. Have you heard the handful of Deutsche Grammophon recordings Abbado made with the BSO during those years? I believe they are no longer in print, but they are superb. Jochum was also a frequent guest conductor during those years, was he not? I have always greatly liked Jochum’s work on disc. I wish I could have heard him live. Jochum also made a few Deutsche Grammophon recordings with the BSO during that period.

    One thing I dislike about the Boston Symphony is that the orchestra’s number of subscription concerts is so small. The orchestra will present only 23 weeks of subscription concerts this season. The rest of the time, the orchestra will devote its work to Boston Pops activities. I think this is a crime.

    The weird thing about the Boston Symphony, in its current state, is that so many of the locals still think of the orchestra as one the world’s elite ensembles. Literally, I encounter people here who claim that Boston is better than Vienna or Berlin, based upon no foundation whatsoever. These people have never even heard Vienna or Berlin. They rate Boston so highly simply because of what they read in the local newspapers every week.

    However, some of the locals know how low the orchestra’s fortunes have fallen. Josh and I sat next to an elderly couple at the Dresden concert. They told us they stopped going to the Boston Symphony about twenty years ago, having become totally disheartened and depressed about the orchestra’s deteriorating condition under Ozawa. They kept their subscriptions through the first fifteen or so Ozawa years, but then stopped subscribing. They said it was simply too depressing to keep subscribing.

    I do not know any Rozhdestvensky Borodin discs. I think the only version of the Borodin Symphony No. 1 in my collection is an Ashkenazy recording on Decca. My recollection is that the Ashkenazy recording is pretty bland. I seldom listen to Borodin.

    I think Rex will have a pretty splendid Thanksgiving.

    And I hope you do, too!


  18. Andrew,

    Yes, the BSO season was shorter in my day as well. The Pops played during September and December. I actually enjoyed attending the Christmas Pops concerts if for no other reason than to watch the unduly praised Arthur Fiedler go through the motions. Many people do not know that almost without exception Fiedler was drunk out of his mind whenever he stood on the podium during Pops performances. The musicians utterly ignored him. I don't believe anyone in the audience ever noticed because they seemed always busy getting drunk themselves; and I hardly saw anyone actually sitting still to listen to the music.

    The Pops audience was completely different from the regular subscribers, at least at the time. Symphony subscribers were sophistocated - true music lovers; and many of them were friendly enough to answer, without (perceptible) condescension, questions about the music from an ignorant but serious teenager.

    I am greatly thankful for those nurturing souls. I pity any ignorant but serious teenager attending Symphony Hall today, however, based upon those quotes from the Globe.

    Being the impecunious nerd that I was at the time, I couldn't buy any records, Andrew. In fact, I didn't have my own record player until I graduated from college in 1973. For my high school graduation present I received a spanking new slide-rule and a Harmon Kardon Receiver. With the receiver and a pair of Sennheiser headphones I had access to WCRB, my primary listening source in Boston.

    (Before college I had to scrape for any morsel of "classical music" that I could find. My parents did not warm to it [they still do not]. I listened to a small GE radio in my bedroom, often while my family was absorbed in "Gilligan's Island" or "Lawrence Welk" on TV; but I made sure that I was in the living room every weekday night when the "Huntley-Brunkley Report" closed: The end-credits were accompanied by the Scherzo from Beethoven's Ninth. To be fair though, my parents appreciated my "elitist" taste rather early. They discovered that at the age of eleven months I could be left unattended as long as I was parked in my Safety Server in front of the "Liberace Show." I was always transfixed, they tell me [over and over]. By the time I left for college at age 16, however, my parents would not have been able to PAY me to attend a Liberace concert.)

    In Boston I remember Abbado, whom Bernstein recommended as guest conductor there (Abbado was Bernstein's assistant during the sixties, wasn't he?). I have warmer memories, however, of Eugen Jochum, who was the maestro who intruduced me to Anton Bruckner: Symphony No. 6. The performance pulverized me; and the coda to the slow movement, with that emphemerally floating oboe, was just devastating! Later, in Germany, I acquired both box sets of Jochum's Bruckner.

    I don't remember ever owning any of Abbado's BSO recordings though. I DID eventually fall in love with his later DG releases, the Mozart K 503 (with Gulda in Vienna) being among the most rewarding.

    The string of high-profile artists and conductors in those Boston days was fabulous, of course: Rubinstein, Stern, Horowitz, Casals, Haitink, Karajan (just kidding!) . . . Of course, there were also Ozawa and Bernstein.

    I remember worshipping Steinberg. I think he remains a terribly underappreciated conductor.

    Many people would be surprised, Andrew, that Steinberg was as good a Bruckner conductor as Jochum. But Steinberg never recorded Bruckner, to my knowledge. In my junior year I heard Steinberg conduct the Bruckner Eighth. I have never heard anyone, live or on record, to remotely approach the level of music making that I heard on that otherwise frigid evening. I remember thinking that the Bruckner Eighth was the greatest symphony in the entire repertoire. I became a "Brucknerite" on that night.

    Well, Andrew, I have certainly chatted aimlessly long enough. Just one more half-day at work and you are free!


  19. No, Dane, I had no idea Arthur Fiedler was a drunk! I’ve never paid much attention to the Boston Pops—or to Arthur Fiedler, for that matter—but somehow this news does not surprise me.

    I cannot tell you what the Boston Pops has programmed for this season. I have not even bothered to pick up one of the Boston Pops brochures. For all I know, the entire Pops season may be devoted to Pierre Boulez conducting Anton Webern—but I rather doubt it.

    May I ask you: do you remember whether Jascha Horenstein conducted the Boston Symphony when you were in Boston? My parents remember Jascha Horenstein conducting the Minnesota Orchestra during their dating years in the early 1970’s, and Horenstein made an impression upon them. A member of the Minnesota Orchestra once mentioned to me that Horenstein’s final concerts were in Minneapolis, and that Horenstein died shortly after returning to Europe from Minneapolis.

    I would be curious to learn your thoughts of Bernstein from those Boston concerts. I missed Bernstein, and his recordings do not stand the test of time, so Bernstein carries no resonance for me. Of course, I missed Liberace, too—but I do recognize the parallels between these two figures.

    I would also be curious to learn your thoughts of Ozawa from those years. Those were also the short-lived Tilson Thomas years in Boston (Tilson Thomas was banished after Ozawa was named Music Director).

    In the early 1960’s (the 1963-1964 season or the 1964-1965 season, I think), Abbado was one of two Assistant Conductors at the New York Philharmonic. Abbado was not given a single opportunity to conduct the Philharmonic that season, not even at school concerts. His job was to hang around in the event a scheduled conductor could not go on. Abbado had no other association with Bernstein other than that single year in New York. Abbado hated his year in New York, and he detested Bernstein, both as a man and as a musician. He likened Bernstein to P. T. Barnum.

    Many persons acclaim Steinberg as a great Bruckner conductor. In fact, he was criticized for conducting too much Bruckner during his final years in Pittsburgh. To my knowledge, Steinberg made no Bruckner recordings. Not only is Steinberg under-appreciated, he is under-recorded.

    You are a genius if you entered college at age sixteen! That must have been a difficult time for you, because your classmates would have been two years older than you.

    Did you grow to love Boston? Boston seems to be one of those places people either love or hate.

    Again, best Thanksgiving wishes.


  20. Hey,Andrew.

    Bernstein and Ozawa, 1969-1973: I must confess that I was enamored with both of them. In the case of Bernstein I was just naïve. Bernstein had the inimitable talent for generating an almost visceral excitement during a concert. At the time he was at the pinnacle of his Mahler-down-the-throat-at-all-cost campaign, and I’m embarrassed to say today that I fell for it. During the first two years of college Mahler became my favorite composer, due in large part to Bernstein. But I soon realized that my response to this music had not been very different from the way many classmen reacted to the rackets of rock and roll. I began to question myself. About that time Jochum and Steinberg led the way unto my sobering awakening to Bruckner.

    As for Ozawa, he was fantastic in big, colorful works like Ravel’s ”Daphnis et Chloe”. To hear the BSO play Ravel in the acoustic of Symphony Hall was a revelation. BSO violinist Cecylia Arzewski began her tenure during my sophomore year. She defected to the Cleveland Orchestra in 1987. She said that EVERYONE in the BSO liked Ozawa in the beginning. Sometime after his appointment as Music Director he began, apparently, to live some kind of dissolute life which quickly affected his art. Arzewski was one of the last first-class musicians to leave the musically moribund organization. She said Ozawa's inspiration and his rehearsal efficiency soon vaporized. Sometimes he would waste time by having the section or the orchestra play through some pages just so that he could find out if he “got it right.” When Arzewski mentioned this I didn’t feel so bad for admiring him when I did, even though I thought he looked odd on the podium (I called him “the orangutan”).

    You know, I only had one reason to go farther east into Boston than Symphony Hall. During my senior year the US Army tried aggressively to sign me up in the Foreign Area Officers program (they ultimately succeeded). At one point I had to go downtown to the government office. The cab driver, for some reason, let me out at the Greyhound station, which was two blocks away from the office. That short walk was scary. It was also an expensive walk, as I was an overly generous person at the time: The span cost me ten dollars. The ordeal was more uncomfortable for me than the time I got lost in the environs of the Frankfurt, Germany (main) train station. (My orientation skills were always poor. My father claimed I could get lost in the bathroom.)

    I am certainly NOT a genius, Andrew. I was skipped one grade (6th) and should have graduated in 1970 at age seventeen. I have strong talents for mathematics and physical science but for little else. My memory, though “grossly normal”, as my doctor describes, is by no means “photographic.”


  21. That's "orienteering" skills. Call me CPT Sorbel.

    Oh, yes, Horenstein. I love Horenstein! Now THERE was a Mahler conductor. I don't remember hearing him in Boston. He died two months before I graduated.


  22. I had no idea Seiji Ozawa lead a dissolute life, Dane. I always thought he was merely vacant.

    In Ozawa’s first five years in Boston, he made some excellent recordings for Deutsche Grammophon, and the orchestra still sounded marvelous. His Ravel cycle is magnificent, undervalued by most observers. It is, for instance, far superior to the more renowned Dutoit cycle on Decca.

    Ozawa also recorded a superb De Falla disc, a couple of truly excellent Respighi discs, and a very good Scheherezade for Deutsche Grammophon. He tried his hand at serious repertory for DGG, too. He recorded excellent versions of the Brahms First and the Mahler First, both of which, I believe, have long been out of the catalog. Those two discs are notable more for the quality of the playing than for the quality of Ozawa’s interpretations.

    I have never listened to Ozawa’s early Berlioz discs for Deutsche Grammophon, part of a planned cycle that Deutsche Grammophon cut short when it dumped Ozawa as an exclusive artist in 1979 or 1980.

    Philips signed him for a period, and his Philips recordings—excepting the Gurrelieder—never made much of a mark. Then Philips, too, dumped him as an exclusive artist, and from that point forward Ozawa made individual issues for just about every company—DGG, Philips, RCA, Sony, Telarc and New World—for ten years or so, at which time his recording career came to a total end (about five-to-ten years prior to the industry’s collapse). Ozawa last recording—and the Boston Symphony’s last recording—was made in 1994.

    Have you heard Ozawa’s Mahler cycle on Philips? I never bothered to listen to it.

    Some time back, in some anthology, I read an extended essay about Arzewski’s unhappy career in Boston. If that essay accurately represented Arzewski’s feelings about Ozawa, she genuinely loathed him. I wonder what Arzewski made of Robert Spano during her time as concertmistress in Atlanta. She retired from the Atlanta Symphony early, and there must be a story there.

    Dane, since I believe you celebrate your birthday on Monday, please permit me to extend Happy Birthday wishes!


  23. Andrew,

    I had the complete Ravel on DG, and I agree that it is the best Ravel compilation ever made. The recorded sound was excellent. I also had the Mahler 1 on DG: the playing and the recording were both awesome. I never acquired Ozawa's Brahms First, but I DID hear an aircheck in 1976 of his Brahms First, in a concert that also featured the Rochberg Violin Concerto. I remember that the entire concert was superb. And I LOVED the Rochberg!

    One other talent I DO have is for misspelling proper names: CPT SOBEL was famous during WWII for being unable to properly read a tactical map.

    Andrew, thank you so much for the happy birthday wish!

    May you, Joshua, and your entire family - and Rex, too - have a wonderful holiday!


  24. Thank you, Dane. And Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours as well. We will be dining on crackers and water while listening to Rex practice his bassoon scales.

  25. Andrew,

    I checked the Boston Symphony Transcription Trust records this weekend and saw, to my dismay, that the Bruckner 6th that I heard was actually conducted by Steinberg, not Jochum. Then I realized that I had confused that live performance with the very first phonograph record that I bought after graduating in 1973: Bruckner 6 on DG with Jochum.

    Steinberg's legendary Bruckner Eighth, which I heard in my junior year, took place in February 1972.

    I was equally dismayed at the number of concerts that Tilson Thomas conducted because I only remember ONE of them, which included the Brahms 2nd. But I DO recall now how TT irritated me back then by cramming so many short pieces into one evening.

    It really worries me that I cannot remember ANY of those programs except the Brahms concert. Any such realization is unwelcome on the eve of my 56th birthday!

    I hope Rex didn't chew up many reeds this week!


  26. Dane, you made me curious, so I searched out and read through the orchestra’s programs during your years in Boston (I ignored the Tanglewood concerts).

    Several things jumped out at me:

    ONE, the orchestra played mountains of Stravinsky, including works very seldom performed now. Stravinsky’s music has largely dropped from the repertory today, a very sad thing.

    TWO, there was no Shostakovich performed during your Boston years. Today, Shostakovich is given the prominence formerly given to Stravinsky.

    THREE, the orchestra played an enormous number of Elgar works: both symphonies, both concertos, Enigma, Falstaff, and a few other pieces. That surprised me.

    FOUR, the orchestra gave great prominence to new works by Gunther Schuller and Robert Starer, both of whom were almost house composers, or so it seemed. The music of both composers has since disappeared.

    FIVE, the orchestra played far too much Mahler and Tchaikovsky back then, just as it does today.

    SIX, the orchestra gave Arthur Fiedler a week of subscription concerts. That surprised me very much. I also see that James Levine was given a subscription week, as was David Zinman.

    SEVEN, yes, those Tilson Thomas programs were horrid, filled with short pieces, inartfully organized to boot. They were just about the worst programs I have ever seen.

    EIGHT, the orchestra played an amazing number of Haydn symphonies. One never sees that amount of Haydn performed today by modern-instrument ensembles.

    NINE, Colin Davis conducted the Berlioz Te Deum. This year, 35 years later, he will be back in Boston to conduct the same work.

    TEN, you must have heard the legendary Kubelik Ma Vlast performances.

    ELEVEN, I recognized lots of concerts that resulted in famous recordings: the Steinberg Planets, Also Sprach Zarathustra and Hindemith recordings; the Kubelik Ma Vlast; the Tilson Thomas Tchaikovsky First, Debussy Images, Piston Second and Schuman Violin Concerto; the Ozawa RCA Carmina Burana; and the Abbado Debussy/Ravel disc.

    TWELVE, in general, today’s programs are far more populist (audience-friendly) than the programs from the early 1970’s.

    Happy Birthday!

  27. Andrew,

    I completely forgot to wish YOU a Happy Birthday, as well (I had wished Happy Birthday to Joshua on his blog).

    It is very sad that even with populist programming these days in Boston, they STILL cannot lure an adequate number of subscribers! Though I sometimes saw a few empty seats, I cannot remember EVER seeing the Orchestra poorly attended during those Stravinsky-heavy years, even when Tilson Thomas was serving.

    I personally enjoyed all the Stravinsky programs, the one exception being Tilson Thomas's "Les Noces", which I have utterly forgotten. I wish Abbado had conducted "Jeu de Cartes" (if he DID I missed it). I LOVED Abbado's LSO recording of that particular work on DG from the late seventies. For some reason "Jeu" isn't scheduled often. If fact, I don't think I EVER saw it programmed in Europe.

    Again, Happy 28!


  28. Drew's fine detailed post seems to have raised a significant amount of discussion regarding the nature of sonic textures created on both sides of the Atlantic. I have very much enjoyed reading his position, and while I do not in substance disagree with most of his observations, in some instances one might reconsider some of the fundamental differences which create flavour and sonority within the tonal palettes created by these ensembles and their North American counterparts.

    I have greatly admired the Saechsische Staatskappelle/Staatsoper for over two decades, and in their core repetoire are likely peerless when directed by a conductor that has more than two neurons at his/her disposal. Unfortunately that distinctive tonal palette, while a spledid vehicle for Austro-German and Russian repetoire, is significantly less appealing when trying evoke the sunshine of Rossini or Puccini ( I have been in attendance at an absolutely dreadful Puccini production some years back at the Semper Oper, where the audience trumpeted it's displeasure from the gallery down to the orchestra seats. Not that the orchestra was anything less than professional, it's just not an idiomatic sound world for them, and it certainly wasn't helped by entirely miscast singers, and a production that should have been buried somewhere in a rubbish heap).

    I agree that the proto-germanic string sound benefits greatly from the differences in voicing of the string sections, but the concept of the palette being "built" or created from the violas and cellos seems somewhat inconguent with harmonic norms. One might say that the Berlin basses possess a bite/precision and sharpness of articulation that firmly anchors the string section, but that is really true of all the great northern orchestras as well as Vienna. Dresden, Amsterdam, Berlin and Vienna all possess unique string sections, which emphasize internal voicing to augment and support their particular interpretation in relation to the composition that they are playing. As you have mentioned, local traditions including education, instrument construction (especially winds and brass) and the music directors which have shaped their sounds all contribute to the formation of these boutique sonics, but also one might want to consider the relationship of the muscians to each other, and the acoustic environment that they are accustomed to playing in. These traditions are not so unlike dialectual "accents". The German spoken in Dresden, Berlin, and Vienna is very different in sound production, humour, voicing and timbre from each other, and I would propose that what we may hear, at least for some composers, (eg. Strauss in Dresden, Bruckner and Mahler in Vienna, and shall we say Brahms and Shostokovitch in Berlin), is perhaps a subconcious way of expressing the most "idiomatic" sound for these composers, that we as listeners and/or perfomers find more substantially "authentic" to our aural cortices.

    In creating these palettes, the Dresden transparency and mastery of inner harmonic voicing, particularly of divided upper strings (I remember fondly a performance of Dresden playing in the Concertgebouw under Haitink of Also Sprach Zarathustra-not one of my favorite pieces) can create aural orgasm, but I would never discard the shear mass of string sound that the Berliners can still summon when motivated, or the earthy sumptuously raw sounds of het Concertgebouworkest playing Stravinsky. But in these orchestras, the overarching difference between them and their transatlantic couterparts, is that they are closer to a true community of practice, rather than a collection of soloists put on stage. European concepts of music making emphasize communication, collective thinking and community. Our own Boston orchestra is home to many extremetly fine soloists, but it is just as much an American tradition to be individual, independant, and insular, that prevents the current incarnation of most American ensembles to truely function as a community of practice. I would offer that as an explanation for much of the lackluster playing that we are subjected to at Symphony hall. Next time you have the opportunity to see Berlin/AMS/Dresden/ their eyes...because they are in constant communication with each other, a real multicellular organism in collective thought for the benefit of the whole, and not the other way around.

    Enough rambling from me, I will look forward to your continuing observatins and analysis.

  29. Dane, do you want to know another excellent recording of “Jeu De Cartes”? And one from an unexpected source?

    It is Karajan’s EMI 1953 or 1954 recording with the Philharmonia Orchestra. Karajan gives a stupendous performance, the most marvelous I have ever heard. He has an enormous amount of fun with the piece, and lends it a color and robustness to be heard nowhere else. I was shocked the first time I heard it.

    It is, however, a touch romantic. I’m sure Stravinsky himself would have objected to all the color and expression.

    The work, however, can take Karajan’s approach. In fact, it thrives on it. Karajan actually makes the work INTERESTING.

    If you want to hear a performance of the utmost dryness and desiccation, try the Solti. It may be his very worst recorded performance.

    I recall the Abbado performance as having great elegance. Am I remembering it correctly?

  30. IJSBeer, thank you for your comments.

    I do not take issue with anything you write.

    Dresden’s sound and style of play would not carry over well to repertory that does not emanate from Central Europe. I doubt that Dresden would be satisfactory, let alone ideal, in the music of Copland or Gershwin, for example. I also think the orchestra would be all wrong in the music of Ravel, although I would love to hear what the orchestra night do in Debussy (primarily because it might be interesting, not because it might be idiomatic).

    I agree that native speech idiosyncrasies contribute to the unique sound of local ensembles. I say this primarily because of the Viennese, with their sing-song, melodic, almost pitched way of speaking German. Viennese German may be heard in the sound and phrasing of the Vienna Philharmonic, I have always believed.

    I also heartily acknowledge that unique sound qualities may be traced to local music academies and the use of local instruments, such as the unique Viennese wind and brass instruments.

    I also readily endorse what you say about a handful of European orchestras playing as one collective individual. This collective sensibility may be heard in the leading orchestras in Amsterdam, Berlin, Dresden, and Vienna, but I have never heard it elsewhere among European ensembles. The orchestras of Great Britain, France and Scandinavia play as a group of talented individuals, not as one collective individual. Moreover, most Central European ensembles, including the orchestras in Hamburg and Munich, play as a group of talented individuals, not as one collective individual. For instance, I have heard the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra many, many times, and the orchestra’s playing is no better—and no more individual—than the playing of the Cincinnati Symphony.

    I hear uniqueness in three American orchestras: Chicago, Cleveland and Philadelphia. All three orchestras have a unique sound and a unique style of playing. Further, I have experienced, at least once, with all three orchestras, the musicians taking off, inexplicably, like a flight of birds, flying in unison, magically, to some unknown destination, a destination understood only by the musicians themselves. When that magic happens, it is a remarkable thing—and I have heard such magic from no other American ensemble other than those three orchestras. That magic is heard most frequently from Cleveland, where the musicians still play as a chamber ensemble, and that magic is heard least frequently from Philadelphia. That is why Philadelphia’s choice of conductor to follow Eschenbach is very, very crucial. The magic in Philadelphia is happening less and less often and is in danger of disappearing altogether, just as Boston’s greatness disappeared in the 1980’s.

    One thing I have learned is that a group of talented musicians does not an orchestra make. I am told by knowledgeable persons that, player for player, no orchestra anywhere enjoys a higher level of talent than the New York Philharmonic. Nonetheless, the New York Philharmonic does not have a unique sound and the New York Philharmonic does not have a unique style of play. Further, the level of ensemble of the New York Philharmonic is often not what it should be given the talents of the musicians.

    Will the Boston Symphony ever get its act together? I would like to know.

    Personally, I doubt it. Only if the orchestra turns itself over to a great conductor will the Boston Symphony return to glory. Is there any possible figure out there that can restore the orchestra to greatness? Not among the living or the healthy, I fear.

    I am told that the genesis of the orchestra’s former greatness lies in the work of Karl Muck, the first Music Director who cultivated a unique and sophisticated sound in Boston. Koussevitsky and Munch, two rather oddball figures, somehow maintained that amazing sound for another half century. The sound became dull under Leinsdorf, but his tenure was cut short, and the sound blossomed again under Steinberg’s brief time with the orchestra. Ozawa benefited for a few years from the orchestra Steinberg left behind, but five to seven years under Ozawa and the rot set in. Truly, genuinely, the Boston Symphony of today is no better than the Minnesota Orchestra.

    I would like to ask you a question about the Concertgebouw Orchestra.

    Whenever I have heard the Concertgebouw, the violins sounded wiry and the entire string ensemble lacked the depth of sound and the transparency of Berlin, Dresden and Vienna. Is that orchestra going through a bad stretch?

    My father tells me that Amsterdam has been deteriorating since the late 1970’s. He claims that the deterioration set in during Haitink’s final years with the orchestra and that Chailly halted that deterioration for a few years, but for a few years only. My father tells me that the Concertgebouw peaked in 1977 or 1978, and that it deteriorated noticeably, and almost shockingly so, during Haitink’s last eight years or so in Amsterdam. He tells me that I will never hear an orchestra as fine as the Concertgebouw of the 1973-1978 period.

    Is my father correct?

    Thanks for your comments.

  31. Andrew,

    The Abbado was the only recording I heard of "Jeu de Cartes", and it WAS elegant. I see that the Karajan is listed on I'm going to get it. I was surprised, in fact, to see so MANY recordings of it; there is even one conducted by Dohnanyi, if I mistake not.

    I have never heard the piece as conducted by Stravinsky himself. I have heard good and bad comments about his Cleveland / Columbia (Sony) disc. Are you familiar with this, Andrew?


  32. Dane, I have not heard ANY of the recordings Stravinsky made in Cleveland in the early 1950's.

    If you going to buy the Karajan EMI recording on Amazon, I hope you buy the one offered for $0.99, because you may not like it. Karajan's Stravinsky is different from the Stravinsky of everyone else. I find it fascinating, but others may object to it.

    The disc also includes the best recording I have ever encountered of Britten's Variations On A Theme Of Frank Bridge. It is Karajan's only Britten recording.

    Vaughan Williams's Tallis Fantasia is also on the disc. That is the one performance that does not come off. It lacks "Englishness", and Karajan conducts the piece as if it were a Bruckner Adagio. It is perverse--and not even interesting.

  33. Thanks, Andrew.

    Actually, Stravinsky recorded "Jeu" and a few other works in Cleveland in 1964, if I recall, having replaced Fritz Reiner, who had died in late 1963. Robert Craft accompanied the composer, and I believe that was Stravinsky's last visit to Cleveland (with Robert Craft).


  34. Speaking of the Concertgebouw, Andrew, I heard the Orchestra on tour during the mid-seventies. To your father's point, the Orchestra was certainly glorious then; but I haven't heard them since, so I can't make comparisons to this ensemble's current, "Royal" incarnation.

    Sometime around 1962 George Szell discontinued his close relationship with the Concertgebouw saying to someone that "the Orchestra [was] no longer what it used to be". I wonder what Amsterdam sound like back in the fifties?

    Another question, Andrew: What on earth had Haitink done or not done to allow standards to slip during his watch?


  35. Dane, please excuse my vast ignorance.

    I was under the impression that Stravinsky's only recordings with the Cleveland Orchestra were those now published as "Stravinsky Conducts Stravinsky: The Mono Years 1952-1955".

    I was completely unaware until now that Stravinsky's made further recordings in Cleveland in 1964.

  36. Haitink was going through marital and women problems in the very late 1970's and the first half of the 1980's, and apparently these problems greatly impacted his work. The musicians noticed it, and the administrators of the Concertgebouw noticed it. Things came to a head, and Haitink finally was shoved aside in a rather ugly series of confrontations with the orchestra's administration.

    John Culshaw, in his book about his life as a recording producer, wrote about the Concertgebouw at some length. He said that the Concertgebouw of 1951 was an orchestra of unimaginable brilliance and musicality, unlike anything he had ever heard, but that the orchestra had lost much of its incomparable sound and musicality by the time that stereo recordings rolled around. However, Haitink reversed much of the damage in the 1960's and 1970's, especially in the years 1967-1973, when the orchestra made great strides.

    My father says that the Concertgebouw of 1981 was no longer the Concertgebouw of 1978, a period that perfectly coincided with the time Haitink's love life was a total shambles. The orchestra never recovered in the last five or six years that Haitink remained in Amsterdam before he was elbowed aside.

    Nonetheless, beginning in 1991 or 1992, Haitink was welcomed back in Amsterdam as an honored and fairly frequent guest.

  37. Andrew,

    "Vast ignorance"? Give me and yourself a break, my friend!

    Just for your information, Stravinsky's 1964 Cleveland "Jeu de Cartes" is available on the 2-disc album, "The Essential Stravinsky."


  38. Hi Drew,

    Thank you again for your nuanced and thoughtful comments, they force me to think about much of what I have forgotten (and please forgive my disasterous spelling, I typically comunicate at work in a natural language acronym system that is perfectly understood by my staff, but leaves me wanting when spell check isn't an option).

    I am in Paris this week for a little work and a lot of listening..."L'Orchestre Philharmonique de Saint-Peterbourg" is in town for their annual residency, and later in the week, I am hoping for a very dramatic and dynamic dose of Vivaldi from the adorable, but not everyone's cup of tea, Philippe Jaroussky on Saturday.

    Back to 't Concertgebouworkest...I find it sometimes difficult to divorce an orchestra from their home acoustical base. The Concertgebouw is, as a building, capable of making many ensembles sound better than one might expect. In Amsterdam, the RCO under both Marriss Jansons, and Haitink can certainly rise to the occasion. I have heard some glorious Stravinsky in recent visits over the last while, but that often "shows" a bit of wire, and woodwind rambunctiousness so that may not be a fair comparison. In their most recent Boston appearance (last year) I was frankly fairly disappointed, as it was not the RCO that I know in AMS. The strings are somewhat "thinner" than Berlin/Vienna, but are capable of cutting through above the stave when called upon, and seem to have much greater body and character when "at home". From my experience playing in ensembles, the hall dictates in many cases whether or not the orchestra can balance its sound...if there is little aural feed back, the musicians really rely upon the conductor to give them sonic accountability (although this shouldn't be a problem in Boston). I have always been amazed at Chicago and Cleveland, that they are able to perform at the level they do, considering the halls they play in...but I digress, and could type for hours on their merits.

    All in all, live music is best, however there are so many variables in a live concert that can go very wrong, that I continue to go, in anticipation of that occassional transcendent endorphin/dopamine fix that leaves one either euphoric or at least "changed". Rot and complaicence regularly set in, even in the finest ensembles, and perhaps this is why I often like hearing great ensembles with guests...a few cases in point...

    Mr. Ozawa and I, while in Boston seldom saw ear to ear on what was being performed...I often snoozed through Mahler, and was continuously bored to somnolence through much of his later Vienna, I have heard him conduct in the pit, a Dutchman that was full of frission, and the Karajan anniversery concert in Salzburg this past Easter, featured a Shostokovitch 10 that he performed with Berlin that was one of the most astonishingly terrifying performances (in the very best way!) I have heard in was the old Karajan BPO reincarnated for an hour. In contrast there was a performance by Haitink of Beethoven Missa Solemnis in Salzburg in 2007 that was so undervoltage and hum-drum that it was very tempting to depart for the Bar the owner of "Red Bull" is based in Salzburg, I thought everyone should have been given a can or two before the concert, to get us all through...Red Bull and Veuve anyone?

    One last musing for now...some of the most memorable spine chiling moments I have ever heard, either as a performer, or listener have been at rehearsals, where by happenstance, the phase of the moon, the scent of the air, the right humidity, and maybe, just getting out of the right side of the bed that morning have contributed to music that was something a little less ordinary, and totally spot on...for that reason...let's all give credit to the work that does go on, and perhaps realize that without sufficient rehearsal, management battles, finacial worries, and generally stressful work environments, musicians are still willing to share their talents with a public that is more often than not, oblivious to their efforts.

    PS the other Philippe...Herr Jordan gave a short and always amusing interview in NYC at Barnes and Noble last year on working with can catch it on YouTube...I would love to snag him for Boston...but alas..he will be chained his new Post at the Paris Opera :-(.

    Greetings from Paris


  39. If you like art, the first Van Dyck exhibition ever to be held in France is currently at Musee JacqueMart-Andre.

    If you visit the Louvre, please say "Hello" to my best friend in Paris, "The Club-Footed Boy".

    Is Philippe Jordan ready for Boston? His Chicago Symphony debut not long ago was an absolute train wreck, an utter disaster, and no one in Chicago thought he was anywhere near ready for the big time.

    Ozawa is the perfect guest conductor: he has a handful of display pieces, he's sort of flashy, and he always knows how to rev up energy for the conclusion of a work. All this pleases audiences who must sit through his concerts only at rare intervals. Ozawa missed his calling in not becoming a full-time guest conductor. He was not cut out to be a full-time Music Director.

    Haitink can be awfully dull, can't he? Frankly, one never knows which Haitink will show up from night to night. I know knowledgeable persons who have never managed to catch Haitink on a good night, and they are completely flummoxed about Haitink's exalted reputation. Their views on Haitink are no different than someone whose only exposure to Haitink on disc is his Boston Brahms symphony cycle on Philips: "Would someone please wake this man up?"

    Enjoy Paris. I wish I were there right now.

  40. I have never been in Orchestra Hall, Chicago. However, I have heard the Cleveland Orchestra in Severance Hall, in Symphony Hall, Boston, in the Grosser Musikvereinsaal, and in the Salzburger Festspielhaus - not to mention other, lesser venues.

    The acoustic of Severance Hall, though perhaps lacking the "full bloom" of Symphony Hall, is nonetheless resplendent in every way: crystal clear, "intimate". (Severance Hall is also gorgeous, within and without, to the eye.) In fact, I don't believe there is a finer space anywhere in the world beyond the walls of the Musikverein for listening to Classical music. If there IS, I've never been there.


  41. Dane, have you been to that famous concert hall in Troy, New York? The one that is in the Troy Savings Bank building?

    It is supposed to have perhaps the finest acoustics in the world.

    I've never visited Troy, but--the last I knew--the hall is still occasionally used for concerts. I think a visiting orchestra plays in the hall once a year or so.

  42. Andrew,

    I AM familiar with the bank in Troy, New York, but I have never been there, even though I had opportunity to go during the nineties. The Albany Symphony recorded some George Lloyd works there, including the composer’s Eleventh Symphony, which the Albany Symphony commissioned, I believe, during the eighties. I ALSO have heard that the sound is stupendous. I wonder why more major ensembles and soloists haven’t traveled there?

    Earlier I was puzzled, Andrew, after you were so hard on yourself simply for not knowing about the 1964 Severance Hall Stravinsky recording. Yesterday evening I finally got the joke because, low and behold, there in my mailbox was the December issue of “The Amphisbaena Whisperer”. You had obviously gotten yours a few days earlier. I'm pleased that TAW has caught up with your change of address.

    I thought the article in mind should be shared with your readers, even though it isn't one of the best I've read; so I took the liberty of transcribing it below. I hope you don’t mind. Once again, pardon the typos.

    (Side note: Veteran journalist Leopold Mowedsartre died on October 31 of an undisclosed illness [TAW].)

    1 October 2008

    BOOK REVIEW : “Vast Ignorance”, by Dr. Harry Dean Lipton
    Vantage Press, New York, 119 pages.

    “Timeo homonem unius libris” – Erasmus

    Neonatal Psychiatrist Harry Dean Lipton is unlikely to write another book in his entire life, but if there will ever be any writer on the planet capable of stretching fifteen minutes of fame into a hundred years, he is a most worthy candidate to succeed. I would wager in fact, that “Vast Ignorance” will ultimately surpass “Finnegans Wake” as the most unread famous book in the English language.

    In 2006 the US government selected Dr. Lipton as head of an ultra-secret, anti-suicide bomber team composed of three extraordinary gentlemen, each in possession of a unique, yet innately useless power, which, when put to use in tandem with the unique but innately useless powers of the other two, becomes a vital part of one extraordinary weapon for “peace”.

    Dr. Lipton did not explicitly reveal in his book the nature of that weapon, whose power “vastly surpassed the efficacy of the sum of its parts. As it turns out, the reader must discover the weapon for himself, as I did about two-thirds of the way through.

    The small book is divided into three parts: Part One, “The Man who Knew Nothing about Everything,” concerns one Dallas Truett of Decatur, Alabama, a family-practice physician, whose power is his knowledge of the precise, finite number of hydrogen atoms in the entire universe. Though the knowledge itself proves useful – and exciting – to scientists initially, it becomes obvious sometime later how impractical it is for Dr. Truett to communicate the number to anyone, as government statisticians working at Los Alamos Laboratories, after protracted study, opine that there would not be enough trees growing on the earth over the span of a million years that could provide the paper necessary for Truett to write the number down.

    Part Two, “The Man who Knew Everything about Nothing,” is Lipton’s own story. From a young age Lipton is seen to have the strange, Slothropian talent of responding in a “tumescent manner” whenever a “tabula rasa” – in his words, anyone with “nothing in particular ever on his or her mind” – walks into the room. Federal stakes in Lipton’s own potential within the team rise dramatically after two years in this maddeningly tedious tale, covering just 45 pages, when it becomes apparent in August, 2008 that those “targets” falling, randomly or not, into the range of Lipton’s unique discernment include anyone walking into the room who plans to vote for Barrack Obama in the general election. (It was at the close of this Part that Lipton disclosed how he wrote “Vast Ignorance”, in agony, in the short space of eleven days last September, while he was being treated with anticoagulants at Boston Hospital.)

    Part III is about Henry “Sweaty” Feiffer, a forty-year-old brewery technician born without kidneys, who discontinued his own dialysis at the age of nineteen. A host of diverse medical specialists discovered that Feiffer‘s liver produced an extraordinary enzyme which totally destroyed any amino group delivered in his cells via the normal, biochemical deconstruction of protein. The phenomenon regarding this enzyme, combined with many other physiological anomalies in Feiffer’s body, made it possible for Feiffer to avoid voiding for the rest of his life. What an extraordinary gift!

    Part III is just one insanity-provoking, stream-of-babbling-consciousness designed for “the kill”:

    And so, to the caveat emptor: The frontispiece of “Vast Ignorance” features a repro of “Apollo Devouring His Own Head,” one of Spanish artist Goya’s etchings from the “Caprichos” series. The choice of art here certainly bodes well, dear reader: In my case it was during this last section that I began to realize the nature of the anti-terrorist weapon which the government had gone to such unbelievable lengths to put together.

    The weapon was Lipton’s published manuscript ITSELF.

    Before I arrived at the middle of Part III, having realized that Lipton hadn’t a clue what he was talking about, I began to suffer symptoms not unlike those experienced by victims poisoned by Polonium. This suspicion was strengthened as I approached the end of the book. On page 117 Lipton quotes an official’s explanation of the most moronic government theory imaginable: “Only a suicide bomber would purchase and read ANY book issued by a vanity press”. Really! (The idea had actually been based upon a long-term study.)

    Lipton goes on to write that, yes, the government knew that there would be sizeable collateral damage associated with this weapon, noting that there was (1) a near 97.3 per cent probability that more than half of the casualties engendered by a reading of “Vast Ignorance” would surely include many Baby Boomers who had willfully purchased a Pet Rock in 1973 – and that (2) the risk was very high that any self-described “classical music” lover, regardless of age, who ever wrongly identified the first movement of Karl Jenkin’s suite for string orchestra, “Palladio,” as a work by Vivaldi, would certainly perish, as well.

    But my suspicion was confirmed, absolutely, when, having completed the book, I discovered that “Vast Ignorance” had been wholly subsidized by the US government . . . .

    Excuse me, now. I feel very sick.

    "Vast Ignorance"
    - Part I: "The Man Who Knew Nothing About Everything"
    - Part II: "The Man Who Knew Everything About Nothing"
    - Part III: "There's No 'P' in 'Feiffer'"

    -- Leopold Mowedsarte

  43. I know George Lloyd’s Symphony No. 11. It is scored for brass, right? Its subtitle, “November Journeys”, tells the tale of a series of visits to historic churches Lloyd and his wife made one November, using funds Lloyd had received from some British Arts Council grant. Each movement of the symphony is a musical depiction of one of the churches the Lloyds visited, if I recall correctly. I believe one of the churches in question was Chester Cathedral, right?

    The reason the Troy hall is so seldom used, I understand, is because seating capacity is limited and because the area does not have a large music audience. There is some charitable foundation that supports a small number of concerts in the hall each year, including an annual orchestral concert. I seem to recall that Temirkanov and Baltimore appeared in Troy during Temirkanov’s tenure in Baltimore.

    I am furious with those people at the Whisperer! I STILL have not received my copy of the issue from which you quote.

    I shall have to send off sternly-worded correspondence to the Circulation Department first thing tomorrow!

    This review of “Vast Ignorance” is very disturbing. Until now, I had no idea our government was so diabolical—or capable of such farsighted planning.

    Nonetheless, I sense that Bernadette Peters may somehow be behind this very complicated scheme. Does not Miss Peters have an elderly aunt in Decatur, Alabama? And has not Miss Peters appeared in Dallas? And was not Miss Peter’s mother’s maiden name Dean? And is not Miss Peters a major shareholder in Nestle (which owns Lipton)? And is not the doorman of her building named Henry? Piece it together, Dane. It all adds up. The woman is guilty as sin!

    Nonetheless, I have an idea. I think I want to take advantage of this most remarkable publication.

    I have decided tonight to expand my Christmas list exponentially. I want to add numerous persons I had not previously intended to favor with Christmas gifts. I would like to present copies of “Vast Ignorance” to these individuals. Are copies available through the Government Printing Office?

    I have already compiled a fairly lengthy list of names, all of which will be worthy recipients of this most unusual book.

    The most tragic part of all this is the fate of Mr. Mowedsarte. I hope he had time to complete another Toy Symphony before he said “tah-tah” to TAW (and the world). What a great sacrifice this noble man made in reviewing the book. He will not be forgotten!

  44. George Lloyd's TENTH Symphony is scored for concert band, Andrew. The Eleventh is a big piece for full orchestra. So far, I haven't been able to involve myself in the Eleventh. (Now, please don't think of yourself as "vastly ignorant" again.)

    Andrew Porter hated George Lloyd. He thought of him as a "utility composer".

    I admit that George Lloyd frustrates me. My favorite Lloyd is Symphony Nr 6. This seems to be more consistently inspired than, for instance, Symphony Nr 5, the "Rondo" of which I have admired for a long time. Lloyd seems often to run out of ideas before he reaches the end of his compositions. I don't think I would agree with David Hurwitz's take on the Fifth as a "flaming masterpiece." I would be more pursuaded perhaps if Lloyd had stopped composing after the fourth movement. (Maybe Lloyd should have abandoned the finale and attached the delightful, closing movement to his Ninth Symphony.)

    On the other hand, is it possible that Lloyd's music is very conductor-dependent? So far, there has not been any recording by a great conductor.

    I also have been fond of Lloyd's overture to "John Socman" for a long time. People have told me that this opera is Lloyd's masterpiece, but I have never heard the whole work. (I understand that the opera has been staged in Britain.) Others have told me that "Symphonic Mass" is Lloyd's masterpiece. I haven't heard that either, though it has been available on Albany Records.

    I don't know which of Lloyd's symphonies was writtn to evoke certain English churches, Andrew. Maybe it was the Tenth. That IS an interesting idea, though.

    Regarding the TAW review, my head still spins while I try to figure out how the government planned to harness the three "talents" of those "extraordinary" gentlemen.

    It all seems to redefine the cliche, "What were you thinking?".

    I feel very sorry for Mr. Mowedsartre, though I am very grateful for his sacrifice. I myself would have gone mad before finishing Part I.


  45. I should have looked up the information on Lloyd before I responded to your comment, but it was late.

    Yes, the Lloyd work I heard live was whichever symphony he composed for brass or wind ensemble. I heard a university performance five, six or seven years ago. The subtitle WAS "November Journeys" and it marked visits to various British churches and cathedrals.

    Otherwise, I know virtually nothing about Lloyd. I have read about him, but have not yet bothered to begin to explore his work.

    Dane, I am frantically busy with my Christmas shopping this very minute, ordering copies of "Vast Ignorance" left and right, from whatever sources I can obtain copies. I fear my purchases may move the book onto the best-seller lists.

    Do you have Bill and Hillary Clinton's mailing address? I need to know where to mail their gifts.

  46. There is a grave danger, indeed, if "Vast Ignorance" becomes a best seller, Andrew. In particular, such a thing would present a most serious threat to my own generation, whose junk closets conceal a veritable Mississippi Riverbed's worth of Pet Rocks.

    I don't have the Clinton's address, Andrew, sorry; but Monica Lewinsky may already be one step ahead of you, anyway.


  47. You remember “Sweaty” Feiffer, don’t you, Andrew? (“There’s No ‘P’ in ‘Feiffer’”). Well, word has it that he’s gotten wind of the excellent early sales of “Vast Ignorance”, and he has decided to capitalize on the phenomenon by self-publishing his own memoir. I fear THIS book may prove even more potentially devastating. Word has it, the title will be “NOT Looking Out for Number One”.

    I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist.


  48. Presumably, Mr. Feiffer's publication will be titled "Void".

    I had time today to look up, briefly, the Lloyd symphony in question. It indeed was written for brass, is numbered 10, is titled "November Journeys"--and lasts half an hour! The brass must be exhausted by the time the work comes to a conclusion.

    I could not find anything, via a quick search, regarding which particular churches and cathedrals inspired the piece. I suspect, however, that there must be something online, somewhere, that addresses this matter. It had been addressed in the program notes for the performance I heard a while back.

    I have read good things about Lloyd's Fourth Symphony, but I have never seen it announced--not even in Britain. Lloyd's music seems to get performances nowhere.

    Is there a reason for this?

  49. I don't have an explanation as to why the music of George Lloyd isn't performed anymore, Andrew. Edward Downes championed his work in the eighties, but the conductor's dream of making the composer a hot item in the concert halls of London went unfulfilled.

    Some twenty years ago there was also an honest effort by the Chicago Symphony to spark National interest by performing and broadcasting Lloyd's Seventh Symphony. Apparently there was a lot of hype surrounding that concert. A reprint of the CSO program book is available on the internet. The noble effort also failed: I have not heard of ANY major American orchestra programming Lloyd ever since.

    Musicologists and high-brow critics don't like Lloyd because his works do not conform to the "in-crowd" school of composition. They consider him to be a naive, kind of country yokel, just as the Viennese thought of Anton Bruckner in 1880. In truth I suppose Lloyd isn't vapid enough for them. Now, while it is true that Lloyd CAN be a naive musician sometimes, and while it is true that he is not a "great" composer worthy of comparison to Bruckner, his music shouldn't be utterly ignored, either.

    You and Joshua have a fun and restful weekend.


  50. I shall have to explore Lloyd someday, but it will not be anytime soon.

    Dane, have you ever heard of Gene Gutche? My father says Gene Gutche is the great unknown composer of the 20th Century. Gutche was born in Berlin in 1907, obtained two doctorates in Europe by age 18 (neither doctorate was in music) and immediately thereafter embarked for the U.S., where he eventually obtained a third and final doctorate, the last in music.

    He lived the second half of his life in Minnesota, out in the middle of nowhere, in very primitive circumstances. He worked fulltime as a composer, and only as a composer, for the last fifty years of his life. He died in 2000. I have no idea whether Gutche’s wife is still living, but someone devotedly maintains a fairly comprehensive website about his life and work (I have no idea whether Mr. and Mrs. Gutche had offspring).

    Apparently Gutche’s music was performed fairly frequently in the 1960’s and 1970’s. For instance, Lorin Maazel used to program Gutche when Maazel was in Cleveland. If you listened to Cleveland Orchestra broadcasts back then, Dane, you very well may have heard a Gutche work or two. Of course, Gutche’s work was also performed in Minneapolis and Saint Paul.

    My parents saw Mr. and Mrs. Gutche at a Minnesota Orchestra concert in the late 1970’s. A Gutche work had been on the program that evening (my father thinks it may have been “Icarus”), and the composer stood at the conclusion of the work (which is why my parents were able to identify him). Mr. and Mrs. Gutche had been seated only two rows from my parents.

    According to my parents, Mr. and Mrs. Gutche were dressed like absolute hillbillies that night. Mr. Gutche had on a green leisure suit over a bright yellow Hawaii shirt and Mrs. Gutche looked like she was ready for a bit of gardening. My parents say their initial response, seeing Mr. and Mrs. Gutche, was to stifle laughter.

    However, at intermission, my parents observed Mr. and Mrs. Gutche walk out of Orchestra Hall, and my parents followed them, hoping to talk to them (my father had adored the Gutche piece that had been programmed that evening).

    As Mr. and Mrs. Gutche walked up the aisle toward the lobby, absolutely NO ONE stopped to shake Mr. Gutche’s hand or to utter a word to him or his wife. Mr. and Mrs. Gutche passed several Board members of the Minnesota Orchestra, and numerous major contributors, and NO ONE even acknowledged their presence. My parents were shocked at such rudeness.

    My parents were directly behind Mr. and Mrs. Gutche by the time the composer and his wife entered the lobby. Standing two feet away from Mr. and Mrs. Gutche, immediately inside the lobby, was the Chairman Of The Board of the Minnesota Orchestra and the orchestra’s top administrative officer. Neither so much as nodded to Mr. and Mrs. Gutche or even attempted to make eye contact. My parents were appalled.

    My parents stopped for fifteen seconds to exchange brief pleasantries with those two appallingly rude persons from the Minnesota Orchestra and, by the time my parents again saw Mr. and Mrs. Gutche, the composer and his wife were walking out the front doors of Orchestra Hall, not to return. My parents say they have never forgotten that night. It has stuck in their minds ever since.

    My parents mentioned this occurrence that weekend to other family members over Sunday dinner at a family gathering, and my grandmother was incensed. She called the Chairman Of The Board of the Minnesota Orchestra at his office first thing Monday morning and told him to have the Minnesota Orchestra offer another commission to Mr. Gutche forthwith and to send her and my grandfather the bill. She and my grandfather had their lawyers issue a letter to the Minnesota Orchestra that very day, confirming, in writing, the nature and purpose of their intended gift. The Minnesota Orchestra got back to my grandparents a few weeks later, informing them that Mr. Gutche had declined the Orchestra’s commission (no one knows whether or not the Orchestra was telling my grandparents the truth). The Orchestra suggested that a commission be offered to another Minnesota composer instead, such as Libby Larsen, who was just starting out at the time. My grandparents declined (after asking my father whether Libby Larsen was any good; Larsen was totally unknown at the time, and my father’s response was “I have no idea—I’ve never heard of her”).

    According to my father, that weekend was the final occasion on which the Minnesota Orchestra performed a work of Gutche. (Skrowaczewski was still the Music Director at the time; Marriner was to arrive in another year or two, and Marriner was not up to complex compositions). The orchestra has not performed a Gutche work since.

    My father says that Gutche is an equal of Lutoslawski, perhaps even finer. Gutche’s music apparently has indeterminate elements, like the music of Lutoslawski, but it also has greater color and brilliance, and a wider emotional range, and a much more sophisticated (and beautiful) surface. My father insists that Gutche had created his own individual sound world, unlike anyone else and beholden to no one, and that his music was like “good Scriabin, if there were any, crossed with Boulez—a merger of sensuous appeal and intellectual rigor”.

    I have never heard a note of Gutche. Apparently not a single decent recording of his work has ever been made. One Gutche disc is in print, on CRI, but I have not heard it. My father says that the performances on that disc, which come from a variety of sources, are pretty awful. (I suspect my father probably has the various original LP’s from which the CRI performances originate.) In fact, my father says that Gutche probably never got to hear a decent performance of his music in his entire life.

    Dane, if you look at the Gutche website, you will see that the University Of Minnesota has the composer’s papers. A partial list of Gutche’s correspondence is listed, with dates, and you will see that Gutche corresponded with EVERYONE, for DECADES, from Furtwangler to Karajan to Solti. I was dumbfounded.

    And yet virtually no one today has even heard of this man, who may or who may not be a great composer. Since my father says he was a great composer, I am inclined to rely upon my father’s judgment.

    I noticed tonight that The Schubert Club in Minneapolis is trying to make Gutche’s scores available, free, for anyone who cares to take a look. That is an important gesture, no doubt, but I wonder whether there will be any takers?

    Where is the conductor who can master Gutche’s scores and bring them to life?

  51. Hi Drew,

    I have been extensively distracted by all of the flora and fauna over the last several days...the theatre in the streets of Paris can keep one occupied for hours.

    The Louvre was mobbed today as it is "free Sunday", and all of your friends send you their warmest greetings. I'm sure there must be a story about the the boy with clubbed foot? I was able to see a wonderful Zen exhibit at the Petit Palais earlier in the week, and my namesake polar bear in the d'Orsay and Mr. Berlioz also send you their best wishes for a belated St. Nicholas's Day.

    Is Philippe Jordan ready for Boston? I have yet to here him perform myself, although, friends of mine in Europe have assured me that his appointment to the Paris Opera is well deserved. I know that his reception at the NYPO last December was somewhat mixed, and I was unaware of his Chicago debut. While he may or may not be a great fit for an American Orchestra, I rather wanted to bring up the concept that I wish the BSO would bring on board a resident music director who had the youth, energy, and growth potential to devote his or her time to building and developing the orchestra. I think Philippe has the temperment, skills, and energy to develope such an ensemble over time...he is afterall only age 34...Mr. Rattle and Mr. Jansons laboured for years in developing their regional orchestras into something much greater...but this type of relationship takes more time than a typical in/out appearance to form. I would much rather have an individual (whom ever that would be) that would commit themselves to the organization, rather than what really amounts to a series of guests...some of which are more welcome than others.

    Short summary of the concerts at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees this week:

    The St. Petersburg Philharmonic under not the Lenningrad Philharmonic of Old.

    Denis Matsuev gave a run through of the Prokofiev 3, which sadly was rather dull. I heard him last year during their residency here during a Tschaikovsky cycle (PC#1) which really knocked my socks off...a slow movement that contained such beautiful ppp playing and an almost transcendent finale that lifted the house! The Romeo and Juliette suites were fine, but without any particular insight.

    The second installment contained a Symphonie Classique that left one breathless in anticipation of a train speeds that the winds simply could not articulate in sync, it wasn't much of a prelude to the highlight of the concert, Julia Fischer's highly competent and musical performance of the first violin concerto...she rather seemed to take better command of the operation than the man on the podium. The second half was devoted to the fifth Symphony, a particular favorite mine, that had received significantly more rehersal time (or concentration) than the first symphony, but didn't efface memory of my personal gold standard of Karajan's classic recording with the BPO.

    Thursday was an all French programme with the ON de F with the young Montrealer Yannick Nezet-Seguin at the helm and Boris Berezovsky seated for the Ravel Concerto pour la main gauche.

    The Bizet Symphony in C has never really caught my attention, this was no exception. The Ravel was a pleasant diversion, and the finale, a completely unknown work to me, Florent Schmitt's Tragedy of Salome, was a Debussy/Ravel film music pastiche, that was a relaxing exercise in orchestration...think creme puff plus champagne...but not a lot of beef. Mr. Seguin was the first of this week's Canadian content ( I have to be supportive...we will see how he develops Rotterdam before I make any conclusions).

    Saturday was the pick of the week for me. I quite by accident discovered Philippe Jaroussky and the vocal music of Vivaldi, an entire literature that was unknown to me whatsoever while scanning YouTube one evening. Philippe, Marie-Nicole Lemieux (second installment of Canadian content this week...blame Canada) and Jean-Christophe Spinosi with his Ensemble Matheus delivered a truely enjoyable and FUN concert. The main body of the concert consisted of the Vivaldi Nisi Dominus and Stabat Mater, followed by three shorter extracts demanded by an overtly enthousiastic sold out audience. After a short warm up period Philippe's and Marie-Nicole's voices settled in and delivered their signature blazing coloratura. This literature is not for everyone, but to hear these fresh and engaging performances, with musicians that concentrate on communicating every note brings out my biggest Cheshire smile.

    For Dane...I unfortunately have never been in Severence Hall, although I have been a big fan of the Cleveland Orchestra since the "broadcast" years of my childhood...I just seem to remember the numerous comments about how difficult a venue it was to record in, in particular how much more "wirey" it made the strings sound than in real life. The Musikverein IS a special place...I'm not sure there is really a bad seat in the house...the sound just seems to wash over you...the soft touch of a chinchilla blanket...always warm and welcoming.

    Time to pack and get ready for the transition to reality.


  52. Hey, Tim. I am pleased you have been able to enjoy Paris.

    I am sorry to hear that the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic was disappointing. Temirkanov is a good conductor, I have always believed, but he is also somewhat odd (and somewhat variable). He is scheduled to appear this season in Boston, conducting the Beethoven Violin Concerto (with Fischer) and Mahler’s Fourth Symphony. When I was in law school, I heard Temirkanov several times in Baltimore, and I always found him to be interesting—and not just in Russian music. I thought he was an interesting conductor of Brahms, Elgar and Britten, among other composers, but I did not think he was much of a Mahler conductor, based upon what I heard in Baltimore.

    I think the pianist you heard play Prokofiev, Matsuev, is scheduled to appear this season in Boston with the London Symphony. I have never heard Matsuev.

    I have heard Berezovsky—in Mozart—and did not find Mozart to display him to advantage.

    I have never heard Nezet-Saguin. Not only the orchestra in Rotterdam has picked him up—the London Philharmonic has also developed an association with him, and the Metropolitan Opera has signed him to conduct several operas in coming seasons.

    The Vivaldi Stabat Mater is just about my favorite Vivaldi piece. However, I have only heard mezzo-sopranos sing it, not countertenors.

    The last time I heard Orchestre National De France was under Daniel Harding, and I thought both orchestra and conductor were abysmal. Berg’s Violin Concerto and Mahler’s Fourth Symphony were on the program, and I have never heard worse performances of either work. The Parisians clapped their hands off. At the time, I assumed they were simply trying to get their circulations going again.

    I don’t “get” the music of Forent Schmitt. I have heard, on disc, the composition you mention, and it struck me as a polyglot composition.

    Jusepe De Ribera’s “The Club-Footed Boy” is my favorite painting in any museum. Ribera painted it in 1642 while serving the Spanish Court in Naples. Ribera painted this poverty-stricken boy in the manner of Van Dyck, with the sitter gazing down upon the viewer, in the manner of a royal portrait. The boy is dressed in his Sunday best, carrying his crutch over his shoulder in a soldier-like pose. His clubfoot is thrust front and center, as if the boy is proud to display it. He holds a note, “Give alms, for the love of God”, which suggests he may have been deaf or a mute. There are clearly many things wrong with the boy in addition to his clubfoot, because he drools and has some features of a dwarf. The boy was probably ten years old at the time his portrait was painted, but he has the eyes of an old man who has experienced a lifetime of great suffering. And yet he seems to be enormously proud, even honored, to be painted by Naples’s great celebrity painter, who occupied a prominent position in Naples society similar to the stature of a Martin Scorcese in today’s world. The boy is given great dignity and great humanity by the artist, and yet the viewer understands, instinctively, that this poor boy’s time on earth will be very brief and filled with great pain and suffering. It is one of the most complex paintings ever painted from an emotional point of view. Ribera wants the viewer to recognize and honor the boy, but not to pity him. Ribera’s portrays him as a noble creature of God, but one with great flaws, flaws which must not be ignored but flaws which also must not be unduly emphasized. Medical papers have been written speculating about the boy’s many ailments, and the boy almost certainly died within a few years of being immortalized by the great artist. The painting makes me weep. I can hardly tear myself away from it.

    Have you been to Salle Pleyel since it reopened?


  53. Andrew,

    Like you I have never heard a note of the music of Gene Gutche. I am very intrigued, however, to find out.

    It blows my mind that such a figure would be (almost) completely unrecorded. The treatment of Gutche and his wife by the friends of Minneapolis Symphony on that evening discusts me. Such reports encourage me NOT to ever even go to to Minneapolis.

    Gutche's Swedish contemporary, Allan Pettersson, is also unknown among concert subscribers, but at least Pettersson had at least ONE high-profile champion in Antal Dorati; and at least Pettersson's music is accessible to music lovers by way of many recordings: All of this composer's symphonies and concerti are available on the CPO and BIS labels.


  54. The Minnesota Orchestra was plagued with arrogant management in the last half of the 1970's and the first half of the 1980's. Management acted like it was administering the affairs of the Berlin Philharmonic, and drove a lot of people out of town, from Charles Dutoit to Klaus Tennstedt to Neville Marriner to recording executives from Philips.

  55. Sorry. I guess I'm still living in 1903.


  56. Hi Andrew,

    I see a lot events have been keeping you occupied. Best wishes to you and your family on their newest arrival. I am enjoying the snow storm tonight "the soft and silent secret snow" which is both relaxing and invigorating, as well as making the city streets pristine in its embrace.

    I have been to the newest incarnation of the Salle Pleyel, two years ago, for a now forgotten programme by the O de P. It is a comfortable establishment, with a renewal of the clean French cartesian deco style that I so admire in the lithographic art of the day. It doesn't have the warmth of the Th de ChpsEly, but neither does it have the cold corporate bombast of the Opera Bastille...worth a visit if a programme catches your ears, but not for acoustic dazzle.

    Time to finish my Christmas Cards, and finalize my arrangements for Easter in Salzburg...I'm trudging through Rattle's Ring, and hopefully, Ben Heppner will rise to the occasion, and get me motivated to finish out the cycle with new hope (things have been a little uneven during the last two installments). With very best wishes for safe travels and a relaxing holiday season.


  57. Tim:

    And Merry Christmas to you as well!

    Thank you for the information about Salle Pleyel. I have not been to Paris since the hall reopened.