Thursday, June 03, 2010

Bruckner In Cleveland

There are four extant versions of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8.

The earliest version—but the one published last—was the composer’s 1887 version (often referred to as the “original” version). Bruckner’s 1887 score was known only by a handful of Bruckner scholars until 1972, when Leopold Nowak published his edition of the 1887 score. The Nowak edition of the 1887 score has never made much headway with performers or audiences. Indeed, no Bruckner conductor of note had taken up the 1887 Nowak edition until Franz Welser-Most added it to his repertory in recent years.

[A reworking of the 1887 Adagio was composed in 1888. It was not published, and it is very, very seldom performed, even as a curiosity or as a stand-alone composition (although it has been recorded).]

The second version of the Bruckner Eighth—but the one published third—was the composer’s first revision, completed in 1890. Bruckner altered the conclusion of the first movement, changed tonalities in parts of the Adagio, altered orchestration (primarily by going from double to triple winds), and imposed numerous cuts upon the score. Nowak published his edition of the 1890 score in 1955. The Nowak edition of the 1890 score, upon release, caused an immediate sensation. The edition was picked up at once by numerous Bruckner conductors (most prominent of which was Eugen Jochum) and was to become one of two versions of the Eighth accepted as authoritative and heard with some frequency.

The third version of the Symphony No. 8—but the one published first—represented the composer’s final thoughts on the score. Completed (and published) in 1892, the third version imposed new and additional cuts upon the 1890 score. The 1892 version was the only version of the Symphony No. 8 to be performed during the composer’s lifetime—as well as the only version to be heard for the next 47 years. Conductors whose careers were in full swing before 1939—Wilhelm Furtwangler, Hans Knappertsbusch and Bruno Walter, among others—learned the 1892 version of the score and continued to perform it with some frequency until their deaths. The 1892 score, considered superseded after 1939, has disappeared from today’s concert halls. According to The Bruckner Society, the 1892 score was last heard in 1971, when an aging William Steinberg conducted it with the Boston Symphony.

The fourth and final version of the Eighth—but the one published second—appeared in 1939. In that year, Robert Haas published an edition that combined the 1887 and 1890 versions of the score, always retaining the triple winds from the 1890 version. The most important element of Haas’s work was the restoration of cuts the composer had made in 1890 and 1892. Haas believed—rightly, in my opinion—that the cuts destroyed the structural perfection of the work. The Haas 1939 edition, too, caused an immediate sensation, virtually replacing the composer-sanctioned 1892 edition overnight. An entire generation of then-young conductors eagerly took up the Haas edition—most conspicuously, Herbert Von Karajan—and the Haas edition quickly became standard, holding sway until 1955. It was only with publication of the first Nowak edition that many (but not all) scholars began to note a preference for the 1955 Nowak. The Haas edition nevertheless continues to attract numerous performers and performances, and this is so despite the fact that Haas’s work has been criticized in some quarters for its “creative” solutions in melding together the best of the 1887 and 1890 versions, both of which were sanctioned by the composer. Among other things, Haas has been criticized for composing eight bars of music that do not appear in any of Bruckner’s completed versions (although Haas always noted that the eight bars in question appeared in Bruckner’s sketches while the score was undergoing one of its many transformations).

I have always favored the Haas edition of the Eighth. It preserves more of Bruckner’s original 1887 thoughts than any other version, while retaining the more grandiloquent orchestration of the 1890 revision. It is a miraculous melding of the two surviving autograph scores, and provides a more satisfying—and more glorious—listening experience than either the pure 1887 score or the pure 1890 score (the 1892 score has entirely dropped from view, and has no living advocates, either among scholars or performers). Active conductors who perform the “corrupt” Haas edition in preference to either of the Nowak editions include Daniel Barenboim, Herbert Blomstedt, Pierre Boulez, Christoph Dohnanyi, Bernard Haitink and Christian Thielemann.

Last weekend, while we were in Cleveland, Joshua and I heard Welser-Most lead the Cleveland Orchestra in Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8—and Welser-Most conducted the 1887 version published by Nowak in 1972. I believe it was the first time I had heard the Nowak edition of the 1887 version in concert.

Hearing the 1887 version live, I found it immediately apparent that the 1887 version was less upholstered than the Haas reworking, no doubt the result of leaner orchestration. Otherwise, I thought the 1887 version preserved Bruckner’s original structure and was much superior to the 1890 reworking, which I have never found to be convincing, even in the hands of a Jochum or a Riccardo Chailly, another distinguished Bruckner conductor that prefers the Nowak edition of the 1890 version. However, the Haas still strikes me as the preferred version of this most noble of all symphonic works.

The Cleveland Orchestra performance of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8, alone, made our trip to Cleveland worthwhile.

The Cleveland Orchestra remains the glory of the world. Its level of ensemble is unmatched by any other orchestra. Its transparency of sound is phenomenal. The orchestra’s intonation is so pure, and the orchestral balance so perfect, that Cleveland makes the Berlin Philharmonic and the Concertgebouw Orchestra sound pitch-challenged and in need of balance adjustment. Merely to hear the subtlety of the Cleveland Orchestra’s voicings is one of the greatest pleasures to be had anywhere.

I was, once again, in awe of this most exalted of ensembles.

The performance of Bruckner’s Eighth was at the highest possible level. It was, I believe, a near-great performance.

The first movement did not get off to a particularly promising start, but such did not surprise me. The first movement of the Eighth is the least successful and least interesting movement of the symphony. Many, perhaps most, Bruckner scholars contend that the first movement of the Eighth is the greatest of all Bruckner first movements, but I have never accepted such claim. The first movement is, for me, the one movement of the symphony that is not inspired, certainly in comparison to the three sublime movements that follow. The first movement of the Symphony No. 8 is, for me, just another Bruckner first movement, complete with The Bruckner Rhythm that I have always found to be an irritating tic. I admire the movement’s complexity, I admire how the movement is built, I admire the many subtle intricacies the composer uses as he plays with sonata form in his very personal and very unique way—yet the first movement does not, for me, provide the many rewards on offer in the following three movements. The movement, in my view, is no better than the first movement of the composer’s Symphony No. 5.

I did not think that Welser-Most did anything special with the first movement—but at least he kept things moving, which probably was his primary intent.

In this symphony, things begin to get interesting in the second movement, the Scherzo, intended to be placed after the Adagio in the composer’s first thoughts. From the opening bars, I am invariably swept away by what I believe to be Bruckner’s greatest Scherzo movement—and I generally remain in the Symphony’s grip until the conclusion of the final movement.

In Cleveland, I thought Welser-Most did not bring enough character or personality (or menace, for that matter) to this great movement. I wanted more power, more sweep, more drama than Welser-Most supplied—yet I wondered, throughout the movement, whether Welser-Most was holding power in check in preparation for a resplendent conclusion in the final movement. I also wondered whether I simply missed the more opulent orchestration of the Haas edition.

The Adagio, for me, contains Bruckner’s greatest writing. Twenty-five minutes of sheer genius, the Adagio is one of the most miraculous statements in all of Western music. The movement is so inspired, and so profound, that I have never encountered a satisfactory analysis of it.

After two slightly disappointing movements, Welser-Most came into his own in the great Adagio, giving as fine an account as any living conductor might muster. His music-making was controlled but not clinical. There was spirituality, but no fake emotion. The Adagio had the necessary solemnity and gravitas, but Welser-Most nowise attempted to make a meal of it.

The final movement of the Bruckner Eighth is, for me, thrilling. It is one of the great concluding movements in the symphonic literature, a genuinely epic culmination, containing the widest possible range of emotion and the most skillful handling of complex thematic manipulation.

Welser-Most gave a commanding account of the final movement. If anything, I thought he was better in the final movement than in the great Adagio. The final movement can fall apart in lesser hands, yet Welser-Most maintained focus and concentration (and forward momentum) without imposing rigidity upon the music. He never lost control for a moment, in itself a great achievement, and yet the music blossomed as it must.

Josh and I witnessed last weekend the kind of performance we all-too-seldom hear: a special performance by a special orchestra under a special conductor. Last weekend’s concert joins a couple of Chailly Leipzig Gewandhaus concerts—one in London and one in Boston—as the finest evenings in the concert hall Josh and I have experienced in the last four years.

We were fortunate to be able to spend an evening in Severance Hall.

And Cleveland is a very lucky town.


  1. I wish I had known you were coming to Cleveland. We could have met up. I would have contacted you in advance, but I only read a few blogs every month or so, and I did not know about your Cleveland trip until tonight.

    I thought the Bruckner 8 that ended the season was the highlight of the year. Welser-Most is the greatest living Bruckner conductor in my book. His Bruckner has never disappointed me.

    Yes, the art museum here is special. More of it reopens later this month. Its too bad you couldn't have waited another month before coming.

    You stopped writing about compact discs. Why? I always enjoy reading your writing about music.

    Best wishes,


  2. What a fine, fine review! You are a finer and more learned critic than any around Chicago (probably Cleveland too).

    I think the best first movement of a Bruckner symphony is in the Ninth. The way the composer dangerously pushed the sonata allegro form into something almost unrecognizable. I sometimes think that Bruckner was more formally progressive than Mahler, even while the latter moved beyond the classical four-movement structure.

    It's too bad that we will never know how the finale of the Ninth might have turned out. Too bad that maestro Levy hated the 1887 version of the Eighth. I've never heard this original (I LOVE the Eighth - particularly the Haas, with that heavenly (and unexpected) ten-bar addition to the Adagio).

    I teach public school in a Chicago suburb and can travel in the suimmer. Your review of that concert in Cleveland wanted me to go to Lucerne in August just to hear these incredible artists perform the work again. But those concerts are already sold out,I'm told. My loss.

    A lot of us here are looking forward to hearing the Cleveland Orchestra and FWM next February. They haven't played here since 2002.

    You were very lucky to sit in Severance Hall!

    Anton the Anton Lover

  3. Robert, we would have been pleased to make your acquaintance in person. If, in the next year, you travel to Boston, please let us know. It is very, very unlikely that Josh and I will travel again to Cleveland anytime soon.

    We were at the Friday evening performance in Severance Hall. Was that the night you heard the program? We were seated in the rear Orchestra section, on the left side. Josh and I were wearing button-down collar shirts, blazers and dress trousers, but no ties. In hindsight, I believe we were underdressed, given the excellent quality of the Cleveland audience.

    Cleveland is a nice town, but we found something to occupy ourselves only that one evening. None of the theater performances in Cleveland that weekend held any interest for us, and nothing else appeared to be going on.

    Your art museum is first-class. There are at least thirty-five top-tier masterpieces in the collection, an amazing number for a museum of any size. Josh and I went through the entire museum twice, and we were captivated for two full days.

    We found your World War II submarine to be very interesting. We spent an entire morning exploring it. We practically had it to ourselves, and we had a ball.

    We visited the Great Lakes freighter, too, but the freighter was far less interesting to us.

    Josh and I have not been listening to much music lately—both of us have been far too busy—and I have had no occasion to write about compact discs for a while.

  4. Tony, did you used to enter comments on my blog under a different name?

    The reason I ask is because someone from your location, as revealed by sitemeter—and someone who also greatly admired the music of Anton Bruckner—used to comment frequently on my blog, from January 2008 until June 2009, and then suddenly stopped.

    I am simply curious.

    If you would prefer to use email, my address is

  5. Well, Rosenberg vs The Plain Dealer is finally underway in court.

    I'm no lawyer myself, but I think it will be especially challenging for the plaintiff's legal team to prove to any jury that their client has suffered any real "damage" on account of his employer. Are they actually going to cite his younger successor on the Cleveland Orchestra beat as "proof" of "age discrimination"? Post hoc, ergo propter hoc?

    Franz, I'm sure is not giving the matter any thought. He is right now probably hiking in Liechtenstein.

    Anton the Anton Lover

  6. I have not been keeping up with Super-Don and his personal grudge against Franz Welser-Most.

    I remember reading online the complaint when Super-Don first filed suit, but I have not been paying much attention since.

    The suit would not have survived the pleading stage in Federal Court, and it would have been dismissed in most state courts under prevailing employment laws in the majority of jurisdictions.

    Since Super-Don suffered no reduction in salary, I’m not sure what he’s trying to get out of an Ohio state court jury. However, Ohio has some very unique—and very peculiar—laws, and no doubt Super-Don is looking for a jury unduly sympathetic to “the little guy”.

    Any thoughts about Nagano’s dismissal from the Bavarian State Opera?

  7. Yeah, "good ridance."

    Now that I think about it, the Volkopern, Kehl, Germany is looking for a new chief conductor to work with visiting stage director, Scottsman John Doyle, who plans to mount the new Matthew Bourne "Spartica," by Aram Khachaturian. All the Roman slave and shepherd roles will be danced in drag by the full male corps, who will double, of course, as the 100-piece orchestra!

    (Can you imagine the auditioning process for the corps?)

    Can you even imagine Act II, scene I, when the entire corps encircles the hero, kicking synchronized footsies?

    Oh, my, those twenty celi and double basses!

    Despite such a thrilling spectacle, I prophesy that the ensemble work of the orchestra will be disappointing to some hearers.

    This venue, therefore, should be especially attractive to Nagano: His conducting would be immune to criticism.

  8. That's "rid-dance," of course, a new kind of modern dance technique peculiar to celli and double base player-dancers.

  9. But won't those Kehl dates conflict with Nagano's scheduled appearances as the elderly Chinese lady in the upcoming "Flower Drum Song" at the Sheboygan Dinner Theater?

  10. Oh, yes, Andrew, Nagano had originally rehearsed the role of Madame Liang for that production, if I recall from reading "The Amphisbaena Whisperer," but the director switched him to the part of Helen Chao during dress rehearsal after finding out that Nagano was actually Japanese-American, not Chinese-American.

    Helen Chao's character commits suicide in Act II, and that bit of last-minute providence allowed the conductor to devote himself to his would-be duties in Kehl.

    Incidentally, Nagano is now suing the Sheboygan Dinner Theatre for switching his "Flower Drum Song" role, citing the fact that Juanita Hall, the original Broadway (and film) Madame Liange, wasn't Chinese-American, either, but African-American. His legal theory proposes that the switch to the younger Helen Chao part was based upon age discrimination, causing him humiliation for the rest of his life, especially since Helen Chao is a Chinese-American character, not a Japanese-American one.


  11. Doggone!

    I wish the Sheboygan Dinner Theater had mentioned that change of cast on its website before we bought tickets!

    Is Nagano using the same attorney as Donald Rosenberg?

    These performing-arts people are getting carried away with their lawsuits!

    I saw an interesting article online about the testimony of the editor of the Cleveland newspaper in the Rosenberg suit. If the article was accurate, the editor said everything she needed to say to undercut the claims of Super-Don.

  12. Andrew,

    Yesterday afternoon I heard online a broadcast from WCLV of the Bruckner 8th concert that you and Josh attended (or at least one of those three from last May).

    I had never heard the 1887 version before.

    I was astonished at this original's, well, originality. Yes, the score is perhaps not as "pretty" sounding as the Haas, which, like yourself, I have always preferred to the popular Nowak version - or even the 1892 version, which I have also heard live.

    I was happy nonetheless to hear so many of Haas' restorations to the 1890 revision in this original, like, for instance, a filigree bassoon solo in the first movement which is played by the horn in the Nowak edition.

    But the work's "roughness," together with unexpected dynamic shifts and those sudden tonal transitions which Bruckner was so fond of - I found all these things most appealing.

    Being the fanatic about form that I am, I can honestly say that I now prefer the 1887 edition over the Haas. I think this could grow on you.

    I marveled at the conducting of Franz Welser-Moest (Sorry, Andrew, can't ignore those umlauts, even in a proper noun). You are right about the scherzo, though. I think a little more "umph" was needed here. Perhaps that will come next month in Lucerne. I know what the maestro was doing: he was deliberately restraining the Orchestra with a view to that glorious Adagio and Finale. Despite such minor reservations, I just fell in love with the trio section of that original scherzo.

    I fell in love all over again with the Adagio.

    Some time ago, I joked that I would pay for a ticket to hear the Cleveland Orchestra play the C- major scale, if you remember. I'm sure you - and now certainly Josh, as well - can fully appreciate that joke. Every time I hear them, whether live or recorded, I am transported in a way which is beyond the powers of even the great Chicago Symphony. The only other orchestra that had such a deep impact on me was Karajan's Berlin Philharmonic, before 1982. (To my ears the Philharmonic was never the same again after the Sabine Meyer affair.)

    Anton the Anton Lover

  13. If you heard the 1892 version, you must have heard the 1971 Steinberg performance in Boston.

    I, too, wondered whether Welser-Most was holding power in check throughout the first two movements, awaiting release in the final two movements.

    I am amazed to find you heaping praise on the Chicago Symphony and Cleveland Orchestra, when everyone knows—at least everyone who reads our American music critics—that the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the San Francisco Symphony are our two most important orchestras.

    Please try to keep up!

    You may use the following as a reliable general guide for identifying conductors and orchestras entitled to praise—and those deserving opprobrium:

    Marin Alsop = good/Riccardo Muti = bad
    Alan Gilbert = good/Christian Thielemann = bad
    David Robertson = good/Daniele Gatti = bad
    Gustavo Dudamel = good/Franz Welser-Most = bad
    Los Angeles Philharmonic = good/Vienna Philharmonic = bad
    San Francisco Symphony = good/Cleveland Orchestra = bad
    Atlanta Symphony = good/Philadelphia Orchestra = bad
    Saint Louis Symphony = good/Pittsburgh Symphony = bad

    Also, please try to keep in mind that the Berlin Philharmonic was never any good under that great dud of a conductor, Claudio Abbado, and that the Berlin Philharmonic only became important once Simon Rattle was appointed (or so Tim Page—a character witness for Donald Rosenberg—once wrote).

  14. I am curious to learn your thoughts about the discography for Bruckner’s Eighth.

    For me, Karajan owned this symphony.

    His 1988 Vienna recording for DGG is one of my favorite recordings of any work. It is worth far more than the entire recorded output of Leonard Bernstein.

    I think the runners-up are Karajan’s 1976 Berlin DGG recording and his 1958 Berlin EMI recording.

    Fourth place is Karajan’s 1944 Berlin recording of the final three movements (the tape of the first movement was lost or destroyed).

    Every other recording of the Eighth is, I think, an asterisk, including those of Chailly, Haitink, Jochum and Wand. (I have never heard the Szell.)

  15. For me the Bruckner Eighth belongs only to Karajan on CD. His last recording is, of course, THE standard.

    I wish I had been able to attend Karajan's February, 1989 performance with the WP at Carnegie.

    The Bruckner 8 was Karajan's favorite symphony of all time, and it seemed that only he completely understood it. The DG recording is SO great, however, that I cannot listen to his earlier documents (I haven't even heard the EMI).

    I have heard the Szell, and it pains me to say that I find it soporific, despite the fact that the work is not played better in any other recording, including Karajan's. Part of the problem here is that Szell uses the Nowak - and a personally edited version of that. I have tried to listen many times to the Szell and just can't get into it.

    (Happily, Szell's Bruckner Third is coupled to it on the same 2-CD box. Szell's third is perhaps the finest ever committed to disc.)

    I would put the Karajan DGG Eighth up there with one of the few truely great recordings ever made, including de Sabata's "Tosca" and also - not because I've dissed his Bruckner effort above - another Sony release on Sony Essential Classics featuring Szell's Hindemith's Weber "Metamorphosis" and Walton's Hindemith Variations, together with Ormandy's "Mathis der Maler."

    Yes, Andrew, I have to keep up with the times. Forgive me for having an opinion different from the gods of American journalism today. How could I have forgotten to pay lip service to the "important" Los Angeles Philharmonic, surely the most boring, uninteresting, colorless, musically unsubtle ensemble in the world that has a whole lot of money? Oh, yes, it's the most "important" orchestra today because it's the loudest, right?

    How dare I prefer Welser Moest to Alsop, the backward yokel that I am!

  16. From TAW (August)


    April 11, 2010

    Havargard Ra’ s “'Mornin’, Mum'” opened at the Kansas City Opera on Tuesday, March 3. The current venue was supposed to be the play’s last pre-show tour stop before opening on Broadway on April 1; it was originally scheduled to run here for only ten days.

    This three-hour rap show has been playing here, notoriously, for 39 days now, on account of a slew of lawsuits filed on behalf of at least a dozen notable playwrights bent upon preventing the play from ever getting to New York. Harold Pinter and the estates of both Samuel Becket and Eugene O’Neil were among the first to voice outrage, heard around the world.

    Ra sets his retelling of the myth in modern day Harlem, in the crack house of (the former)“Lilian Klyt,” now known by her clients as simply “The Klyt,” who has murdered her husband, Aggy Memnonic , after his return from the war and a quickly improvised gender reassignment operation. Lilian has declared her vengeful daughter, Elect Ra, to be insane and has banished the poor black girl to “Argos,” the used car lot across the street from the house. Only Elect Ra’s sister, Chrystal Methopoles, visits her in “Argos” whenever the opportunity arises for her to conceive her first child. Elect Ra tells her sister that she has found and contacted their lost macho brother, Oreo Testes, who, as it turns out, has been raised by a rich white racist family living in the upper East Side. Oreo Testes has agreed with his sister to pay Mum a visit – with ax in hand, naturally – and bid to her his titular farewell.

    This Oreo Testes does at the welcome end of the play, but the audience is deprived of actually seeing this climax: At the moment the angry avenger leaves the car lot to carry out his racist vendetta, Samuel Becket’s “Breathe” is jarringly and artlessly dovetailed into the midst of Ra’s play, and Becket’s “recorded instance of vagitus” is heard as The Klyt is being hacked yet again (she, you see, has had gender reassignment surgery as well), only this time by the fruit of her own womb.

    The heated exchange between Mum and daughter serves as the real climax of the “drama.”

    This protracted scene constitutes the “high point” of Ra’s art as a playwright and contains the only original dialogue to be found in the whole script. This scene includes the following, staggeringly brilliant lines, transcribed below with the permission of the playwright and WWWW, Kansas City, which recorded the play for broadcast:


    He comes!
    You low-life pest!
    He comes now from yonder
    Foreign land
    Dream you that through the incipience
    Of your hairy chest
    He’ll check any thrust of
    The hand?


    [hysterical] The hand, the hand, the hand,
    The hand, the hand, the hand, the hand,
    The hand, the hand, the hand, the hand,
    The hand, the hand, the hand, the hand,
    The hand, the hand, the hand, the –


    You LIE!!!!!

    Update: June 20, 2010

    In the three months since Havargard Ra’s play opened in Kansas City, the list of litigants filing against “'Mornin’ Mum'” has grown to 21.

    The most recent lawsuit was submitted by the estate of Lillian Hellman, after a copy of the actual script was published online only two weeks ago.

    The Hellman estate is seeking compensation for “defamation,” based upon, it seems, the following excerpt:


    (hysterical) The, and, the, and, the, and,
    The, and, the, and, the , and, the, and,
    The, and, the, and, the, and, the, and,
    The, and, the, and, the, and, the, and,
    The, and, the, and, the, and, the ---


    You LIE!!!!

  17. Does the offstage murder occur in the apartment of Mice And Ian?

    It seems that every playwright today has to contend with a lawsuit from the Hellman estate. The only way to avoid such litigation is to remove every single “and” and “the” from the text—which is probably why so few new plays make any sense.

    I’d love to attend this particular production, but I am so distraught over Kent Nagano’s cancellation of “Flower Drum Song” in Sheboygan that I have put all theater-going on hold while I undergo a rest cure.

  18. I'd like to attend the DVD recording concert in Severance Hall next Wednesday or Thursday. Tickets are free. It will be cheeper than going to Lucerne.

    Having heard the air check from May, I simply MUST hear that 1887 version live.

    Doesn't look good for Super-Don, does it?

  19. I must confess that I did not even know that the Cleveland Orchestra was planning to record the Bruckner Eighth. I am glad you brought this to my attention.

    I also must confess that I have not had much time to keep up with Super-Don and his antics.

    The last I read, one of Super-Don’s causes of action had been dismissed by the presiding judge at the conclusion of the presentation of Plaintiff’s case.

    You should read the idiot Tim Smith’s blog at the Baltimore Sun. Smith has a bug in his bonnet over this case, and has been writing about it, incessantly, since the day Rosenberg was reassigned.

    The guy should stick to writing about something he understands and appreciates, such as Edna Everedge or the ancient television series, “The Golden Girls”, both of which are far more up his alley than art music.

    You should read what Smith had to say about Kent Nagano’s “resignation” in Munich, not a word of which contained a single grain of truth. Generally, I restrain myself from commenting on moronic articles, but I could not help myself in this case and I had to correct the record.

    Any thoughts on Franz Schreker’s “Der Ferne Klang”? Joshua and I will not go down to Annandale-On-Hudson to hear it—Josh said he would go only if I “really, really, really hated to miss it”—and I am not disappointed, if only because I never anticipated that the musical or stage presentation would be at a high standard.

    In any case, I suspect that The Royal Edina Opera Company will be mounting a lavish production, with an international-level cast, once we return to the Twin Cities. The company’s venue is a local Jiffy Lube franchise, whose premises the company rents during off-hours.

  20. I have never heard "Der Ferne Klang" live, though I had opportunites in the past to see it in Europe. I DID hear one older recording that's not in print.

    My favorite Schreker opera is "Irrelohe," from 1924. It was the composer's last success before the Nazi's put him out of business a decade later. This opera is more musically interesting to me than "Der Ferne Klang." (I haven't heard any of the others.)

    I admit though that Schreker presents problems for me because of his libretti. I don't object to his wildly fantastic plots: they are no more stupid than anything one might read in "TAW." I have a problem with his pathologic obsession with sex. It's one thing to lampoon such catholic attitudes (as I myself frequently do, you know), but it's another to glorify it on an altar like Schreker does - and actually mean it.

    The expressionistic "Irrelohe" makes for beautiful listening, though. Schreker sounds like a composite of early (good) Strauss and the Korngold of "Die Kathrin" (with a little Zemlinsky's "Der Zwerg" thrown in). Indeed, "Irrelohe" is much finer than Strauss at his worst. More importantly, the opera is tautly structured, unlike "Der Ferne Klang."

    The recording I have is available on, on Sony; I recommend it.

    I'm sure the Annandale-on-the-Hudson production isn't worth attending, Andrew. Josh was right.

    By the way, I just came across Furtwaengler's October, 1944 Musikverein recording of the Bruckner 8 on the Music and Arts label. I was very happy to hear this legendary performance in such a good sound transfer (his 1949 recordings are unlistenable, in my opinion).

    I would now list this performance as "Nr. 2" on the list of great recordings of Bruckner's 8th. Were the sound as good as Karajan's DGG, I would place it "Nr 1" without hesitation, even though Furtwaengler uses the modified Haas. Furtwaengler understood this score even more than Karajan, it seems, only the older maestro never had the advantage of modern recording technology.

    Hightly recommended! This is also available at

    I have been following Tim Smith's coverage of the Super-Don travesty. Your father is right, Andrew: We live in a world of morons.

  21. I’m not all that keen on Schreker, and I truly am not disappointed that we are missing “Der Ferne Klang”, which—if we had attended—would have been this very weekend. Leon Botstein is an amateur, and the Bard theatrical presentations, I am told, have been pretty lame.

    Schreker’s music is interesting for about fifteen minutes, after which the allure wears off. He piles harmony upon harmony and plays with orchestration and timbre, but ultimately it all goes nowhere. It sounds pleasingly exotic for a quarter of an hour or so, after which it starts to sound like treacle.

    I think Schreker’s masterpiece is the ballet, “The Birthday Of The Infanta”, a very beautiful—and very short—score. I also admire the Chamber Symphony.

    I’ve not heard that particular Furtwangler recording. I do not plan to purchase another Bruckner Eighth until Marin Alsop records her version for posterity.

  22. And so, Super-Don loses. I'm so broken up, Andrew!

    For your weekend enjoyment:


    From THE AMPHISBAENA WHISPERER (August, 2010), Part I



    New York

    For the seventh anniversary of the New York City chapter of the GWMLS, the Geriatric Women's Music Lover Society, the administrators chose to honor simultaneously the 88th birthday of film star Judy Garland by inviting the young, twenty-something English piano virtuoso and Garland impersonator with the utterly preposterous name, Iggypou Zhukovareansohn, to perform the New York premiere of Zuerich-based minimalist composer Mal Blogge's "Little 'Lulli' Variations for Piano and Orchesta," a gala event that began to take place on June 10, in Carnegie Hall.

    The concert, which also featured the Cleveland Women's Orchestra under the baton of Carl Topilow, included works by Phillip Glass, Doris Bellpepperhoeffer, Alexandre Desplat, and Oliver Knussen.

    The auspicious, (intended) three-hour gala had been preceded by a great deal of media fanfare from the pens of critics everywhere in the country, driven mostly by the new Blogge commission, together with the recent piece by Glass, but also by the heavy marketing of Zhukovareansohn himself, billed these days as the "fingerless pianist."

    Critic Donald Rosenberg, for instance, wrote in The Plain Dealer a month earlier, before the US premiere in Cleveland, "A phenomenal chance to hear Blogge's take on Giovanni Battista di Lulli's "Armide" . . . the busybody managers of "The" would finally do something right by scheduling this striking new masterpiece pronto, so long as a competent GUEST conductor were engaged."

    Following suit, Tim Smith of the Baltimore Sun voiced similar sentiment on the Sunday, June 6 entry of his blog, "I have seen this glorious, glorious score firsthand . . . Blogge has took [sic] five short themes, each from the five movements of Luciano Berio's arrangement of Puccini's transcriptions of five themes from Lully's "Armide," and spun from these a web of bewitchingly polyluminescent, polytonal polyphony of staggering richness, depth, complexity, achingly acrid beauty, and unctious [?] elegance."

    In the wake of such scary, advanced publicity, this reviewer had expected a mass exit of frightened blue hair during second intermission, prior to the Blogge premiere, the final piece on the program; but these patrons, judging from overheard intermission palaver, were mistakenly anticipating something related more to the popular "Little Lulu" series of cartoons that had appeared in the Saturday Evening Post during the thirties and forties.

    In all fairness, it was reasonable for these little old ladies to expect such. The entire gala concert, after all, had been concocted around the theme of "returning to one's roots," as it were, juxtaposing themes of "old age" and "childhood."

  23. (Part II)

    The first piece on the progam was Alexandre Desplat's orchestral suit from his score to the David Fincher film "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," about a man born from his mother's womb as an old man, ageing "backward," and then dying at the end as a baby in his wife's arms. The next piece by Oliver Knussen, a captivating suite taken from his new opera, "Kick the Can," had been inspired by an ancient TV episode of the classic "The Twilight Zone" series in which a group of elderly men and women in a rest home magically transform into children after deciding, on a whim, to go outside in the middle of the night to play a child's game. Then came yawn-provoking "Varreiasions on 'Dis Ol Man'" by Doris Bellpepperhoeffer, freshman English teacher and composer-in-residence at the University of Iowa.

    After the first intermission came a single, fifty-minute work by Phillip Glass, his "Einsteinian Projections on 'Geometric Circles" (2008), based upon short motives that the composer had written for the children's TV show, "Sesame Street," in 1976. The "Einstein reference in the title was intended to evoke the composer's first opera, "Einstein on the Beach," written a year after "Geometric Circles."

    Glass had certainly "returned to his roots" of minimalism in this excrutiatingly tedious music.

    During the somnolant Glass I couldn't help but remember that 1977 premiere of "Einstein on the Beach" at the Met. I remember how the composer encouraged the audience in the program booklet to "come and go" as they pleased during the five and one-half hour performance. I recall that the Met audience did exactly that - particularly the "going" part.

    That's one reason I expected this audience to do the same after the Glass, but I was wrong. The audience didn't leave in mass after second intermission. They had all been snoozing through the first four offerings. No, the wide-awake audience left in concert five minutes into the final piece, Mal Blogge's "Little 'Lulli' Variations for Piano and Orchestra."

    To the sound of both applause and laughter, the diminuative "soloist" for the Blogge came onstage sporting the same pant suit that Judy Garland had worn at the Palace in 1967, his long, shoulder-lenghth hair tied into pigtales and bows. From my seat in the uppermost tier, I at first couldn't tell whether he was supposed to be pitching "Dorothy" from "The Wizard of Oz" or Wendy's hamburgers.

    Zhukovareansohn made his public debut last year in Berlin "spitting" his uncle Nicholas Maw's "Piano Cracks," a work that was subsequently recorded, incredulously, by the "Sine Qua Non Faex" label. Since that less than successful first outing, where his "piano interface apparatus" had been in its most clumsey, not to mention destructive, form, the pianist has acquired a custom-designed pair of mittens to wear over his fingerless hands. Each mitten now comes attached to a wooden wand about six inches long, extending down from the hand and tapered at the end with a small, flat rubber knob (like on the bottom of a chair leg) which strikes the keys of the piano, harmlessly at last.

  24. (Part III)

    This reviewer was the last one to go last night. I remained for about three quarters of the work until I just couldn't take it anymore. And I lost the chance to see Zhukovareonsohn's no-doubt stunning encore, a vocal rendition of "The Man that Got Away"!

    This reviewer therefore is unqualified to review the performance. After the first couple of astonishing bars of music were sounded I looked down at my program booklet and realized that this piece had nothing to do with the French composer Jean-Baptista Lully. Rather, the "theme" had been compose by one Arthur de Lulli, alias Euphemia Allen - you guessed it! This was music based on "Chopsticks"!

    And not even the WHOLE "theme," at that, just the first nine or ten bars! Talk about "minimalism."

    Then, a veritable cascade of surprises happened: After another twenty bars or so, I realized that the adjective "Little" in the title of this piece did not modify "Lulli" but "Variations."

    And I really, REALLY mean those quotation marks around the word "Variations"!

    So, without reviewing the piece, allow me to describe this reviewer's experience in the most "minimal" way I can: Mal Blogge is the ULTIMATE conservative minimalist, you see. Carnegie management should have printed the same disclaimer that appeared in the program booklet of Glass's opera in 1977. Anyone hearing only five minutes of this piece would have heard everything there was to hear.

    This audience, alas, had no intention to stay past those first five minutes, as my sore feet even now sorely testify. In forty years of covering concerts and recitals I have never felt (or seen) such a formidable stampede of eggressive (you read right!) septagenerians since 1980, when Liberace emptied Radio City Music Hall "playing" Kaikhosra Shapurji Sorobji's "Opus Clavicembolisticum." And I dare say that Liberace would surely have remained the champ for affecting the fastest hall evacuation in history had he not been on that occasion so hinderingly festooned with magenta ostrich feathers.

    I believe the mass exit last evening at Carnegie Hall was precipitated in part by the subtitle to Blogge's new work, curiously "4096," which, presumably, indicates the total number of "variations," both on the piano part and in the inner "voices" of the orchestra.

    Coincidentally, 4096 just happens to be also the maximum number of characters that anyone can type, exasperatingly, into any comment on Blogge

    Alisonianna Kraudpissyi

  25. I thnk the writer of that TAW article meant to write "septuagenarian," not "septagenerian."

  26. You have a great gift for satire.

    Doris Bellpepperhoeffer; Berio's arrangement of Puccini's transcriptions of five themes from Lully's "Armide"; polyluminescent, polytonal polyphony; achingly acrid; Einsteinian Projections on “Geometric Circles"; Liberace playing Sorobji's "Opus Clavicembolisticum".

    All are classic.

    Please beware: Alex Ross will soon begin to steal from you!


    Thank you for the Donald Rosenberg news.

    I shall have to do my utmost to try to contain my deep personal sorrow over the outcome of the lawsuit.

    Quite naturally, my first reaction upon receiving your news was to search out an old blog entry by some ancient, unrepentant Leftist from Ohio who calls himself Grumpy Abe. Grumpy Abe had authored a moronic article almost two years ago expressing outrage over Super-Don’s reassignment. The old Leftist, demonstrating vast ignorance, had predicted victory for Super-Don in court.

    As a public service, I had found it necessary back in 2008 to correct Grumpy Abe’s faulty legal analysis.

    As a continued public service, I found it necessary, a short while ago, to enter a slightly smarmy, three-sentence update on the ancient Leftist’s original blog entry, pointing out that I had predicted the ultimate outcome of the case more than 22 months ago. I also found it helpful to note that Super-Don might have avoided unnecessary grief and expense if he had heeded my legal advice.

    Never let it be said that I’m afraid to say, “I told you so!”

  27. From the LA Times, 6 August:

    Since he was pulled from his beat, Rosenberg said he has only been to see the Cleveland Orchestra twice on his own expense. "I've stayed away. It's just too painful to go," he said.

    He added: "It's been a great orchestra and I wish it all the best."

  28. The guy is obviously a nut.

    I am told that Super-Don was instructed, a few years back, to tone down his criticism of Welser-Most, and that Super-Don did so for about eighteen months before renewing his campaign of vilification.

    At trial, Super-Don testified that it was his belief that Welser-Most did not possess and was incapable of developing the qualities necessary to lead the Cleveland Orchestra. That testimony must have set the jurors’ ears ajar. Even if Rosenberg believed such nonsense, that was a very, very foolish thing to utter while on the stand. Rosenberg’s attorneys must have vomited when their client let that particular nugget escape his lips. What a moron Rosenberg must be!

    According to newspaper reports of the trial, four different current and past editors at the Plain Dealer testified that they had contemplated, over the years, removing Super-Don from the Cleveland Orchestra beat because of his obvious bias. That particular bit of information, more than anything else, probably killed Rosenberg’s case.

    I’d love to know whether Rosenberg bore his own attorney fees or engaged counsel on a contingent-fee basis. The answer, I suspect, lies in some combination of the two fee arrangements—something along the lines of Rosenberg coughing up $50,000 up front, fixed, in order that the attorneys be paid something, win or lose, with that $50,000 sum to be credited against the contingent-fee portion of any judgment to be awarded.

    I am amazed that former critic Tim Page was allowed by the court to serve as an expert witness in the case. Back in 2008, Page wrote an article, still available online, criticizing the Plain Dealer and the Cleveland Orchestra for conspiring to remove Super-Don. That article should have disqualified Page from testifying at trial (although I am certain that defense counsel made a meal of it, which would have destroyed Page’s credibility before the jury). Page, too, must be an utter moron.

    The Rosenberg case, and the music press’s reportage on the matter, establishes beyond doubt that America’s music press is drawn from the very dumbest class of person.

  29. You are right, Andrew, that the music critics of America are drawn from the very dummest class of person. Continental European critcs have been complaining about that fact for years.

    I used to respect Tim Page. I completely lost that respect when reading about his blind support of Super-Don over the last couple of years.

    Just reading the report of the trial results in the LA Times and the NY Times, both from August 6, is all one needs to see this truth. Both papers said that the lawsuit resulted in Rosenberg writing "a number" of bad reviews. A NUMBER?!

    One of the paragraphs in the NY Times looked like it was written by a junior high school journalism student (or maybe someone in Iowa City).

    Journalism as a whole in America is undergoing an unnoble rot, with the exception of the Wall Street Journal. For now, anyway.