Monday, April 29, 2013


At the beginning of the season, Joshua and I had penciled into our calendars a Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra concert for Sunday, May 5, at Ted Mann Concert Hall.  (The Sunday performance was to be the only performance that weekend at a traditional concert venue—and we prefer traditional concert venues to church venues, where acoustics are variable and unpredictable.)

The original program:  Schoenberg’s Ten Early Dances; Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 2; Webern’s Langsamer Satz (from the composer’s String Quartet); and Mozart’s Symphony No. 28.  The conductor/soloist was to be Thomas Zehetmair.

Somewhere along the line, the program was quietly changed to:  Schoenberg’s Ten Early Dances; Mozart’s Symphony No. 28; Heinz Holliger’s Sketches For Violin And Viola; and Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante, K. 364.  In the revised program, Zehetmair’s wife was to have joined the orchestra as viola soloist in the final two works.

Performances for the first weekend in May have been shelved.


For the second weekend in May, the SPCO was scheduled to play solely in church venues—but the program had been so interesting that Josh and I had penciled it into our calendars as a prospective concert of interest.

The original program:  Andrew Norman’s Gran Turismo; Schumann’s Cello Concerto; and Hartmann’s Symphony No. 4.  Zehetmair was again scheduled to conduct; the announced cellist was Steven Isserlis.

SPCO concerts will resume that weekend, and Zehetmair and Isserlis will honor their contracts.  However, the program has changed.

The new program:  Mozart’s “The Marriage Of Figaro” Overture; Schumann’s Cello Concerto; Schoenberg’s Ten Early Dances (saved from the discarded program of the previous week); and Mozart’s Symphony No. 39.

We shall not go.  The Hartmann was what we had most wanted to hear.


We had penciled into our calendars another SPCO concert for Sunday, May 19, at Ted Mann Concert Hall (it was, again, to be the sole performance of the weekend at a traditional concert hall).

Zehetmair was once again scheduled to be on the podium.

The original program:  J. Strauss, Jr.’s “Roses From The South” in the Schoenberg arrangement; J. Strauss, Jr.’s “Emperor” Waltz in the composer’s own arrangement for small orchestra; Charles Wuorinen’s Spin 5 For Violin And 18 Players; and Mozart’s Symphony No. 39 (now moved up to the previous week).

The amended program:  Honegger’s Pastorale d'été; Saint-Saëns’s Symphony No. 2; Holliger’s Three Sketches For Violin And Viola (rescued from the amended program for the first week of May); and Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante (also rescued from the amended program for the first week of May).  Both Mr. and Mrs. Zehetmair will participate in the program.

We shall not be in attendance.  We shall be in Dallas that weekend, attending Josh’s brother’s commencement at S.M.U. (and hearing the Dallas Symphony in Act I of “Die Walküre”).


We had penciled into our calendars another SPCO concert for the first weekend in June, to be played in the Ordway.

The original program:  Berlioz’s Les nuits d'été; and Erwin Stein’s chamber arrangement of Mahler’s Symphony No. 4.  Edo de Waart was the scheduled conductor, Isabel Leonard the scheduled soloist.

The program has been amended:  Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2 will now replace the Mahler.  Conductor and soloist remain unchanged.

It is very unlikely we shall attend.  If we go, it will be because of Leonard, and not because of de Waart.


In January of this year, the SPCO had offered each SPCO player a $10,000 signing bonus to be paid at the time a new deal was reached.

The final terms of the agreement provide only for a $3,000 signing bonus.

Everyone in town knows the circumstances of the reduction, but I doubt news outlets will address the matter.

Along Suffolk Lanes

[Benjamin Britten] adored the company of boys. As John Bridcut revealed in his groundbreaking “Britten’s Children” in 2006, the composer had intense crushes on a string of 13-year-olds, during which the recipients were invited to Aldeburgh and treated like Greek gods. The pattern was always the same. Britten would dazzle each with his charisma, write letters couched in what now seems like creepy, infatuated language, ply them with treats, swim and play tennis with them, whizz them along Suffolk lanes in his sports car, hug them—and sometimes (as with the screen actor David Hemmings, who as a boy had been the original Miles in “The Turn of the Screw”) share a bed.

There is, one should say, no evidence that he went farther. “Am I a lecher just because I enjoy the company of children?” he once spat at the conductor Sir Charles Mackerras, who had quipped that Britten’s “Noye’s Fludde”, with its big children’s chorus, was “Ben’s paradise”.

But then, soon after they reached puberty, the boys were inevitably discarded in favour of next year’s model, often with peremptory callousness (Britten had a notoriously fickle attitude to people who were no longer useful).

Richard Morrison, writing in The Times on 19 January 2013


We did not have the stomachs to sit through two recent presentations of Britten operas in the Twin Cities.

The weekend before last, University Of Minnesota Opera Theatre presented four performances of Britten’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. I dislike the work intensely—the music is weak-as-water—and it would have been a chore for us to endure one of the performances. In any event, the University Of Minnesota has a dismayingly mediocre Music Department—not the case half a century ago—and has not been able to attract a satisfactory level of faculty talent or student talent for twenty or thirty years.

The weekend just ended featured two performances of Britten’s “Paul Bunyan” by VocalEssence, a local organization that—in its former incarnation, Plymouth Music Series—made a famous recording of “Paul Bunyan” more than twenty years ago. Opportunities to hear “Paul Bunyan” are exceedingly rare, but we did not avail ourselves of the chance.

I more or less share the thoughts of Igor Stravinsky, Herbert Von Karajan and Pierre Boulez when it comes to the music of Britten: the music is so second-rate, why does anyone bother?

Saturday, April 27, 2013

MOMIX In “Botanica”

A scene from Moses Pendleton’s “Botanica”, as performed by MOMIX.

Joshua's reaction: "I think I've seen this before, about a hundred times."

Rooted In Vaudeville

On Sunday evening, my parents, my sister-in-law, and Joshua and I went downtown to The Cowles Center to see MOMIX.

It was our first visit to The Cowles Center, which opened in September 2011. The Cowles Center is a venue primarily devoted to modern dance, and is comprised of three buildings: the former Schubert Theatre, completed in 1910, and moved from its previous location a few blocks away; the former eight-story Masonic Temple, completed in 1888; and a new connecting structure that features an atrium.

The restoration of the Schubert Theatre was not a success. The original Beaux Arts design was not respected, inside or out, and the auditorium was reconfigured, with seating reduced from 1500 to 500. I have never seen a more dismal or cheap-looking renovation result—and the auditorium is an out-and-out aesthetic disaster.

The new connecting structure is merely bad 1960s architecture, something already half-a-century out-of-date by the time it was designed. I predict the wrecking ball will be called in within twenty or thirty years.

It is somehow fitting that the name Cowles is attached to this less-than-pleasing array of buildings. Over the years, I have observed, as a general rule, that people begin to snort and roll their eyes whenever the name John Cowles, Jr., is mentioned. Cowles, not a man of impeccable reputation, was a bit of a gadfly and a bit of a scoundrel and a bit of a loon. He came perilously close to destroying the Minneapolis Star-Tribune before a reluctant Board Of Directors intervened and discharged him. Even though his views, on any subject, were considered by no one to be penetrating or thoughtful, Cowles interjected himself for decades into virtually every public activity and public controversy in the State Of Minnesota. The man was incapable of embarrassment: late in life, Cowles joined a modern dance troupe and began doing nude scenes—which I am very much pleased I missed. When Cowles died, local obituary writers had a field day, there being so much delicious material from which to draw.

MOMIX’s current piece is “Botanica”, unveiled in January 2009. It is an examination of nature, plant life and changing seasons, and has not enjoyed the success of MOMIX’s “Opus Cactus” (which I have seen, and rather liked) and MOMIX’s “Baseball” (which I have not seen, and would like to).

“Botanica” received withering notices when first performed—both reviews in The New York Times were notably cruel—and creator Moses Pendleton has since cut more than a quarter of the work. “Botanica”, once two hours in length, now comes in at ninety minutes—but one cannot help but notice, even for the truncated version of the work, that the words “pablum” and “shtick” keep cropping up in critical notices all over the country.

Pendleton’s work is sometimes cute and sometimes clever, but an entire evening of his work is not fulfilling. Pendleton’s work is rooted, not in modern dance, but in Vaudeville. Pendleton is a creator of illusionist skits in which costumes and props—and plots and gimmicks—are of far greater importance than dance. What Pendleton does is no different than the work of skit-writers from early television: the creation of jokey five-minute interludes. Seeing fifteen jokey five-minute interludes in succession quickly becomes tiresome.

Pendleton uses music in his work, but Pendleton’s use of music is mood-setting, like television background music, and not connected to dance. Pendleton most often uses New Age Music—and most of “Botanica” was performed to New Age Music (with nature sounds thrown in). The selections were gruesome.

Minneapolis has a very weird audience for dance. The local audience ate up “Botanica”. There were three well-sold and well-received performances. Local audiences, chilly to George Balanchine ballets, go wild for pig slop.

In another week, Pilobolus (Pendleton’s former company) will appear in Saint Paul.

I don’t think we can take a second Vaudeville presentation in such quick succession to the first.

The Cowles Center

The Cowles Center in downtown Minneapolis, used primarily by modern dance companies.

Despite the fact that The Cowles Center opened almost two years ago, we attended our very first performance there only last weekend.

Either we don’t get out much—or The Cowles Center has very poor programming.

I was the party responsible for our visit to The Cowles Center. Several years ago, I had seen MOMIX’s presentation of “Opus Cactus” and had largely enjoyed the experience. I managed to convince my parents, my sister-in-law and Joshua that they would find a MOMIX performance worthwhile.

I doubt any of them will ever again speak to me.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Callas And Schwarzkopf

Maria Callas and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf in Milan in July 1957.

The two sopranos were in Milan in July 1957 in order to record Puccini’s “Turandot” for EMI with the forces of Teatro alla Scala.

August 1972: Recording “Turandot” In Kingsway Hall

Nicolai Ghiaurov, Luciano Pavarotti, Montserrat Caballé and Joan Sutherland before the microphones in Kingsway Hall in August 1972, recording Puccini’s “Turandot” for Decca under the leadership of Zubin Mehta.

“Perfect For Erfurt”

Coincident with the first American release of his Deutsche Grammophon recording of Puccini’s “Turandot” in 1982, Herbert Von Karajan gave an interview to an American newspaper reporter.

The newspaper reporter wanted to spend the time discussing Placido Domingo’s performance of Calaf (the newspaper reporter must have been a big Domingo fan) and Karajan played along with the reporter for a while—until Karajan had had enough and stopped the reporter and announced that Barbara Hendricks (in the role of Liu) was the sole satisfactory singer that had participated in his “Turandot” recording.

That amusing anecdote aside, the telling part of the interview was Karajan’s pronouncement that “Turandot” was not a successful opera. According to Karajan, the first act of “Turandot” was as fine as anything Puccini wrote, but everything after Act I went steadily downhill. During the interview, Karajan revealed that he had become bored by the project after Act I of the recording had been completed—Karajan’s “Turandot” was recorded in sequence—and the great conductor went on to admit that Acts II and III of his recording might with justification be disregarded if not for the contribution of Hendricks.

I fully understand Karajan’s position. Act I of “Turandot” is through-composed (and beautifully so), and stands alone as a satisfying musical and dramatic entity. Acts II and III, on the other hand, feature a couple of nice set pieces, but the musical and dramatic arcs of the latter acts are problematic—if not outright failures.

Had Puccini been in good health the final two years of his life, or had Puccini lived longer, I suspect he would have substantially revised Acts II and III (the latter remained unfinished at the composer’s death). As it is, music-lovers tolerate “Turandot” because of a great Act I and because of a handful of beautiful arias elsewhere. Nothing else about the opera is worth enduring; no one attends a performance of “Turandot” expecting genuine drama or a satisfying theatrical experience.

During a career lasting six decades, Karajan never conducted “Turandot” in the theater. Aside from the Deutsche Grammophon recording sessions, Karajan never went near the score. (In the opera house, Karajan, probably the finest Puccini conductor who ever lived, seldom conducted Puccini operas. Karajan gave a handful of performances of “La Boheme”, “Tosca” and “Madama Butterfly”—and touched nothing else from Puccini’s pen.)

I suspect what attracted Karajan to the prospect of recording “Turandot” was Puccini’s glorious and exotic instrumentation, the composer’s masterful harmonic scheme, and the modernistic elements Puccini had borrowed from Strauss, Debussy and Bartók. No matter what one thinks of Karajan’s “Turandot” recording (and the recording may be criticized on grounds other than casting), Karajan’s orchestral presentation of the score is a marvel. The conductor’s orchestral wizardry is on full and resplendent display, and that alone puts Karajan’s “Turandot” in a higher class than all other “Turandot” recordings.

Minnesota Opera offered eight performances of “Turandot” this month. My parents, my sister-in-law, and Joshua and I caught last Saturday night’s performance, the seventh performance of the run—and it was the orchestral presentation of Puccini’s score that rendered the performance out-of-court.

Minnesota Opera uses what is in effect a pickup orchestra—and a pickup orchestra cannot begin to do justice to the score of “Turandot”. Opulence and radiance of sound were absent; balancing was odd; everything was played at a louder-than-necessary volume; and the level of ensemble was not what it should have been.

The conductor, Michael Christie, did not exhibit a commanding grasp of the score. There was a start-and-stop quality to the whole proceeding. Nothing flowed naturally. There was no sense of musical progression, no sense of a destination. Most Christie tempi were a nudge too fast. Rhythms were stiff. The conductor displayed lots of energy, but little understanding of the Puccini idiom, which requires unending tension and relaxation.

I was disappointed. For some reason, I had believed “Turandot” might be right up Christie’s alley—and it was not.

The singers could not always be heard, which mattered not at all to me, as they were not pleasing.

Turandot was sung by a Russian soprano who has lived in the U.S. for the last sixteen years and who sings at insignificant houses in North America, Latin America and Europe. I found her to be not much of a singer and not much of an actress. (“Perfect for Erfurt” was my father’s summation of her skill level.)

Calaf was sung by a young American heldentenor whose career is just beginning. As singer and as stage animal, he was extremely rough around the edges, even ungainly.

Liu was sung by a Minnesota native who is engaged by Minnesota Opera over and over. In possession of a garden-variety voice of limited color and beauty, she offered a touching physical portrayal of the only sympathetic character in “Turandot”. (Liu was a pure invention of Puccini—there is no Liu in any of the source material on which Puccini’s “Turandot” is based; Puccini instructed his librettists to write Liu into the story—and Liu is given the best music in the score. In creating Liu, Puccini knew exactly what he was doing.)

Minnesota Opera’s physical production of “Turandot” was a triumph. The stage décor and costuming were extravagant for a small regional company; they impressed on a pure visceral level. The stage direction was extremely detailed and extremely lucid. A newcomer to “Turandot” might have followed the action with ease, and had no need to consult surtitles.

“Turandot” is an opera that today cannot adequately be cast. Only a handful of living conductors can do justice to the score. Only a dozen ensembles, if that, are capable of playing the score at a high level.

Given the impossible demands of “Turandot”, an extravagant and detailed physical production is not nothing.

The Franco Alfano ending, as edited (i.e., shortened) by Arturo Toscanini, was used.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

King’s College Chapel, Cambridge

King’s College Chapel, Cambridge, from Saint John’s College Chapel, in 1997.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

“Wenn Etwas Zu Lang Ist—Mach Es Länger”

Eero Saarinen’s Dulles Airport Terminal in 1962, the year Dulles opened.

Saarinen’s Dulles Terminal is, I believe, the greatest of all Twentieth-Century buildings.

My father refers to Dulles as “The King’s College Chapel, Cambridge, of our day”—which is intended to be the highest praise. (My father is of the opinion that King’s College Chapel, Cambridge, is the greatest building on the planet. I offer no disagreement.)

Dulles gives me chills every time I see it. One of the great drives in all the world is a traversal of the Dulles Access Road, the winding route through the low hills of the Virginia countryside that ends at Dulles. For the final two miles of the drive, one gets glimpse after glimpse of Saarinen’s inspired structure from afar, from several different angles, as one approaches the airport—until at last one clears the final sweeping turn of the roadway, and for the first time encounters the great structure straight on. It is always a breathtaking moment, no matter how many times one has already experienced the drive.

Dulles has been extended, significantly, at both ends, subsequent to the completion of the original structure. The expanded Dulles is even more beautiful than the original—and bears out Saarinen’s maxim quoted in my header.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Minnesota Opera’s “Turandot”

This weekend we shall hear Puccini’s “Turandot” at Minnesota Opera.

The Minnesota Opera “Turandot” is a new production, co-produced with Cincinnati Opera, Pittsburgh Opera, Seattle Opera and Utah Opera.

Although the physical production was constructed here in Minneapolis, Minneapolis does not have the honor of its first presentation. The production has already been seen elsewhere: Pittsburgh in 2011 and Seattle in 2012. Minneapolis will be the third city to see its very own production.

The production is scheduled for Salt Lake City in 2014 and Cincinnati in 2015.

A Chain Composer Objects To A Chain Restaurant

There is an exquisitely retro steakhouse [in Indianapolis] (retro in the sense of it having been around for 100 years) and a funny wine bar and a hipster cocktail boîte and all that, and then there are the cancerous and ubiquitous chains. There is something grotesque to me about there being this wonderful steakhouse St Elmó, and then just up the street the linguistically repellant chain steakhouse “Ruth’s Chris,” whatever that means, opens up shop. I feel like the people should take to the streets with pitchforks to protest that ****.

Nico Muhly, 9 February 2013

Apparently abject lack of originality in music composition is perfectly acceptable—rewriting someone else’s music, over and over, is to be admired if not celebrated—but every steakhouse on every corner in every city must be different from all others.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

More Minutiae

In January 1901, my maternal great-great-grandmother—who died long before my mother was born—extended a dinner invitation to Winston Churchill, who at the time was visiting Minneapolis while on a North American lecture tour.

Churchill did not respond to the invitation in a prompt manner, which angered my great-great-grandmother no end. An invitation from my great-great-grandmother was to be regarded as a summons.

Churchill’s faux pas caused a minor scandal in Minneapolis. Everyone thought Churchill, twenty-six years old at the time, to be a most rude young man, lacking the most basic of social graces.

The scandal made the local newspapers.

Winston Churchill, newly-elected Member of Parliament, in December 1900. The photograph was taken in Boston, at the beginning of Churchill’s first American lecture tour.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Timely Minutiae

Colin Davis made his first North American appearance in Minnesota, conducting the Minneapolis Symphony in December 1960.

It is likely that Davis’s Minneapolis engagement had been arranged by Antal Dorati, whose tenure as Music Director of the Minneapolis Symphony had concluded a few months earlier.

The 1960-1961 Minneapolis Symphony season was the first with Stanislaw Skrowaczewski at the helm of the orchestra—and it is doubtful that Skrowaczewski had had any input into the selection of that season’s guest conductors. Skrowaczewski had never conducted the Minneapolis Symphony—or even visited Minnesota—prior to his appointment as Music Director. Skrowaczewski first set foot in Minneapolis, sight unseen, shortly before the 1960-1961 season began.

After Dorati stepped down from the Minneapolis Symphony, he moved to London and became Music Director of the BBC Symphony, a post he held until 1966.

Dorati’s successor at the BBC Symphony: Davis.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

“A Familiar Tune”

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

The following news article, headlined “A Familiar Tune”, appeared in the Milwaukee Business Journal on May 20, 1995.

With the alteration of a handful of names, figures and dates, the news article might appear in one of the local newspapers tomorrow—and be entirely accurate and up-to-date, despite the passage of eighteen years.


When the Minnesota Orchestra's musicians went on strike in October 1994, one of them produced a facetious "Top 10" list of reasons for the strike.

Steven Ovitsky, the Orchestra's Vice President and General Manager, made the list for his decision to shave off his beard earlier that year.

The "Top 10" list was a light moment in an otherwise tense situation. Ovitsky's inclusion on the list was a sign of the high regard in which the musicians held him—they never believed he was the source of the symphony's hard-line position—and a sign that they liked him.

Seven months later, Ovitsky moved from the No. 2 job with the Minnesota Orchestral Association to the top job with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra (MSO).

His positive relations with musicians were a key reason for his hiring as Executive Director of the Milwaukee Symphony, which had its own serious labor issues from late 1993 to early 1994.

"He understands union contracts and the legitimate concerns of musicians," said Milwaukee attorney Allen Rieselbach, an MSO board member who headed the search committee for a new Executive Director. "And with that understanding, he's able to assist in reaching a mutually-satisfactory agreement."

The Symphony's hiring of Ovitsky marked the first time the musicians had played a role in the process. Three musicians served on the Search Committee, one of the provisions of the Symphony's March 1994 contract with its musicians.

The MSO dispute boiled over in January 1994, when the musicians canceled one weekend's concerts. The musicians finally agreed to pay cuts in a contract they signed in March 1994.

In addition to the committee of musicians and board members, outgoing Music Director Zdenek Macal also recommended Ovitsky.

He replaced Joan Squires, who resigned effective December 1994 to become President and Chief Executive Officer of the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra.

So far, the musicians are pleased with the choice. Ovitsky, who started his job in Milwaukee May 1, arrived here with strong recommendations from Minneapolis [musicians].

"The Board was genuinely serious about making this thing work," said Robert Levine, MSO Principal Violinist and one of the most outspoken musicians during the MSO's labor dispute. "I sense a level of commitment on the Board to make the MSO thrive and succeed."

Making the MSO thrive will be the overarching goal for Ovitsky.

Improving relations between MSO management and the musicians is part of that goal.

Additional priorities include boosting ticket sales, building the MSO's endowment fund and recruiting a new music director to replace Macal.

Ovitsky, 47, seems eager to tackle the whole thing.

"You have to believe in the product," Ovitsky said during an interview at the Symphony's offices in downtown Milwaukee. "This is a wonderful orchestra, and I felt it would be a real honor to work for this organization."

Ovitsky is familiar with the MSO from his 12 years as Artistic Director and General Manager of the Grant Park Music Festival in Chicago. He worked at the Minnesota Orchestra for 4 1/2 years.

Prior jobs included stints in public radio and a hitch as a French horn player in the U.S. Army Band.

Ovitsky has moved from one of the 10 largest orchestras in the country to an orchestra in the next tier. The Minnesota Orchestra has more than twice the budget of Milwaukee's—about $23 million vs. MSO's $11.2 million—and a full, 52-week season to Milwaukee's 42 weeks.

Milwaukee offered Ovitsky the opportunity for an Executive Director's job. He offers experience, not only in labor negotiations but also in searching for a new Music Director and raising an endowment fund.

"One of the things that was very appealing (about the MSO job) was that the players and board and staff are working together on committees, in meetings, in planning the orchestra's future," Ovitsky said. "To me, this is an important breakthrough, and the leadership of this orchestra is the wave of the future for orchestras."

In Minneapolis, Ovitsky was the primary labor negotiator for the symphony's management, handling contract talks in 1991 and 1994.

Both negotiations were difficult: The musicians played for eight months with contract extensions in 1991 and struck for 2 1/2 weeks in 1994.

"He was very valuable, because he brings the experience of having been a very good player himself and having been in management," said David Hyslop, President of the Minnesota Orchestral Association.

Kudos for Ovitsky come from the Minnesota Orchestra's musicians as well.

The musicians have "poor" relations with the Minnesota Orchestra's management, but "that is no reflection on Steve," said Jim Clute, Assistant Principal Double Bassist and an active union member. Ovitsky negotiated non-economic contract language, but Hyslop handled financial matters, Clute said.

According to Clute, Ovitsky is "into musician advocacy," and is an insightful negotiator.

"I'm not saying I agree with every decision Steve ever made, but he was more concerned about the musicians than any other person in that position," Clute said.

Musicians saw Hyslop or the Board as the bad guys, and Ovitsky as being "handcuffed" by his bosses, said Brad Eggen, President of American Federation of Musicians Local 30-73.

The Minnesota Orchestra and the union reached a four-year agreement in October [1994]. The contract includes a salary freeze the first year, 3 percent wage increases in the second and third years and a 5 percent raise the fourth year.

Ovitsky declined to comment on the specifics of the negotiations, other than to say the experience was "not pleasant."

"A settlement is a settlement—you go on from there," he said.

Negotiations on the next Milwaukee Symphony musicians contract are to begin in spring 1996. The contract expires in September 1996.

Labor isn't the only tune Ovitsky played in Minnesota. He also worked closely on the orchestra's search for a new Music Director.

Hyslop credits Ovitsky with "discovering" the orchestra's eventual choice, Eiji Oue, a Japanese native who was conducting the Erie (Pa.) Symphony. Oue starts as Minneapolis' music director in September.

"(Ovitsky) was very involved because he's got an encyclopedic knowledge of symphonies, composers—who's on the circuit," Hyslop said.

The Minnesota Orchestra worked with Oue as a guest conductor before choosing him as a "long-shot" candidate, Hyslop said.

Hyslop described Oue as a "very young" conductor who "relates to the audience."

Ovitsky called the Milwaukee Symphony's search for a new Music Director a top priority. He's just begun to work with the search committee, which has worked since early 1994 on seeking a replacement for Macal.

The ideal candidate?

"Someone who will make great music with the orchestra, but will also excite the public and create fantastic performances," Ovitsky said.

The high-priority area where Ovitsky has the least experience is in raising an endowment fund.

The Minnesota Orchestra is near completing a $50 million endowment and capital campaign. Ovitsky was not a central player in that effort, Hyslop said.

Ovitsky sees the MSO's endowment as a key to solidifying the symphony's financial condition. The fund stands at about $12 million, and the MSO board has set a goal of $35 million.

Another financial need for the MSO is improving ticket sales. Concert series revenue dropped from $3.4 million in fiscal 1993 to $3.2 million in fiscal 1994.

Ovitsky plans to emphasize promoting the symphony in the Milwaukee area with everything from concert sound bites on local television newscasts to releasing studies on the arts' economic impact.

Behind it all, he said, is the music.

"It all gets down to making great music," Ovitsky said. "Presenting concerts the people want to hear and are excited (about) and want to come back . . . We need to have people wanting to come and hear the orchestra."


Ovitsky achieved none of his stated objectives in Milwaukee. Losses mounted; the number of concerts had to be reduced, significantly, due to declining attendance; musician pay had to be cut, repeatedly, for fifteen years; and the endowment went nowhere (in January 2013, the Milwaukee Symphony’s endowment was $18 million, only $6 million more than the figure from May 1995).

Ovitsky was to saddle Milwaukee with Andreas Delfs as Music Director, an inexplicable if not disastrous appointment. Delfs’s tenure in Milwaukee was so unsuccessful that it ended, permanently, Delfs’s American conducting career.

Ovitsky’s selection of Eiji Oue as Music Director of the Minnesota Orchestra always had been inexplicable, too—and Oue’s tenure in Minneapolis likewise was so unsuccessful that it ended, permanently, Oue’s American conducting career.

Persons from the Upper Midwest will already know that Ovitsky, back in 1995, had not departed from the Minnesota Orchestra voluntarily—he had been instructed that it was time for him to find another job. In Minneapolis, Ovitsky had proven himself unable to maintain professional distance between management and musicians.

Persons from the Upper Midwest will already know, too, that in February 2003 Ovitsky was to be dismissed—summarily, with immediate effect—by the Milwaukee Symphony. In Milwaukee, Ovitsky once again had proven himself unable to maintain professional distance between management and musicians.

After being discharged in Milwaukee, Ovitsky tried to get work with other orchestras, including the Pittsburgh Symphony. Given the trail of wreckage Ovitsky had left behind in Minneapolis and Milwaukee, no orchestra would touch him.

Forced to leave the orchestra field, Ovitsky ended up working for a small chamber music organization in Santa Fe, New Mexico.


Hyslop, portrayed as a villain by the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra during the 1994 Minnesota Orchestra strike, is today viewed as a saint-like figure within the orchestra field, acclaimed for his wisdom and sagacity. His advice is sought by everyone.


Clute is now deceased.


Levine remains Principal Violist (and not, as the news article claimed, Principal Violinist) of the Milwaukee Symphony. An aging, unrepentant Hard Leftist, Levine continues to peddle fact-challenged—if not lunatic—ravings about the orchestra world.

Levine’s pronouncements are couched in breathless, 1930s anti-capitalist imagery and rhetoric; the language of ancient Industrial Workers Of The World handbills is his vernacular.


And the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra remain clueless how to conduct a white-collar dispute. They continue to use beer-hall tactics borrowed from The Teamsters Union—and, inevitably, such tactics alienate the middle class, without whose support the orchestra cannot survive.

It is no wonder, here in town, that the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra are now referred to—simply—as “The Stinkies”.

Sunday, April 07, 2013


Elegance is refusal.

Coco Chanel

Saturday, April 06, 2013

22 November 1946: Mitropoulos Rehearses Krenek

22 November 1946: Dimitri Mitropoulos prepares the Minneapolis Symphony for the premiere of Ernst Krenek’s Piano Concerto No. 3.

Krenek, at the time a resident of the Twin Cities, composed his Piano Concerto No. 3 for Mitropoulos and the Minneapolis Symphony. Mitropoulos was both conductor and soloist for the work’s first performance.

Krenek’s Piano Concerto No. 3, a tonal composition, was well-received in Minneapolis—in stark contrast to a Minneapolis performance of Krenek’s atonal, hour-long Symphony No. 2, a performance that had received a very frosty reception from the local audience.

Krenek’s time in the Twin Cities was short. He taught at Hamline University for five years until he and the school had a parting of the ways, the sort of contretemps that marked, endlessly, Krenek’s personal life and professional career (an earlier blowup at Vassar College had sent Krenek fleeing to Minnesota).

Shortly before he left the Twin Cities, Krenek wrote a letter to one of the local newspapers, and offered a parting shot to the people of Minneapolis/Saint Paul:

“I wonder what desperation drove people to settle in this latitude.”

Thursday, April 04, 2013

“La Boheme”

Above: Act I of Puccini’s “La Boheme” in the 2006 Hamburg Staatsoper production.

Below: Act II of Puccini’s “La Boheme” in the 1996 San Francisco Opera production, presented this season at Lyric Opera Of Chicago.

Portions of the Hamburg production were unintentionally hilarious, at least to Americans. I do not believe the director of the Hamburg production, Guy Joosten, had affection or respect for the work.

The San Francisco production was simply low-budget and lame.

Two Operas

The second weekend of March, my parents, Joshua’s sister, and Joshua and I attended two opera performances at Lyric Opera Of Chicago.

On Saturday evening, March 9, we attended a performance of Puccini’s “La Boheme”.

On Sunday afternoon, March 10, we attended a performance of Verdi’s “Rigoletto”.


The Chicago “La Boheme” was worthwhile because two singers with major international careers had been engaged for the roles of Mimi and Rodolfo: Russian soprano Anna Netrebko and Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja.

Both singers lived up to their reputations.

Both singers lived up to our expectations.

Netrebko’s voice is HUGE; it set the enormous Chicago Lyric Opera House ringing. It is not often one hears a voice of such size; there is a special pleasure—even thrill—in experiencing a voice as it fills a large auditorium with wave after wave of overwhelming, luxuriant sound.

To my ears, Netrebko’s timbre is exceedingly beautiful. There is a hint of smokiness that I associate with Eastern European singers (and much admire), yet Netrebko’s is a very pure instrument, as pure as that of a “white voice”. There the parallel with white voices ends: Netrebko’s voice has color and richness and warmth—“glamour of sound”, as my father calls it—that outrank and outpace virtually all other soprano voices on the international circuit.

Netrebko’s voice is very even throughout its range—I heard no register breaks—and her pianissimos were as lovely as when she was singing full out.

Netrebko gave an attractive stage performance. No one would call her a great actress, yet Netrebko had a genuine and natural stage presence, and displayed an appealing and engaging personality. The Chicago audience adored her—and I did, too.

Like Netrebko, Calleja possesses a major instrument.

Calleja is a lyric tenor, with the fast vibrato associated with Italian tenors of the early 20th Century. His voice has Italianate color and warmth, and he produces a rounded, soft-grained sound that I find immensely appealing. (He floats high notes beautifully.) He is one of the finest tenors of the day, with a natural command of Italian lyric style.

Calleja presents a slightly-stiff onstage figure, but his restrained portrayal of Rodolfo was convincing. Genuine acting is not necessary for a singer to offer a successful Rodolfo.

The Musetta was American soprano Elizabeth Futral. Futral has a small, focused voice, but hers is not a major instrument. Her aural rendition of Musetta was wiry and colorless—it verged on the acidic—when it should have been fulsome and sensuous and Mediterranean. Futral’s voice simply was not made for major roles in major houses.

Futral’s physical portrayal of Musetta was superb. Futral is a committed and convincing stage actress. There was far more pleasure to be gained watching Futral’s Musetta rather than hearing Futral’s Musetta.

The Marcello was American baritone Lucas Meachem, in the very early stages of a career. Meachem sang the notes cleanly if blandly—but he displayed a bumpkin-like stage presence, giving the impression that he had wandered in from a student production in Tallahassee.

Emmanuel Villaume, a Frenchman, conducted—without distinction. “La Boheme” was Villaume’s fifth Chicago assignment in the last ten years. The man gets theater work everywhere, in the United States and Europe, mostly in French and Italian repertory, and I haven’t a clue why. May I assume his fees are low? Perhaps he is very easy to work with?

The production, a traditional one, had been borrowed from San Francisco Opera, where the production had premiered in 1996. The stage design was not offensive, but neither was it attractive—and surely it was more low-budget and unimaginative than necessary. There are far finer “La Boheme” productions to be rented than San Francisco’s.

A staff director from the Metropolitan Opera was in charge of the Chicago staging—but Netrebko and Calleja may have ignored the stage director. A Chicago opera patron who had attended a February performance of the same production with a different Mimi and Rodolfo told us that Netrebko and Calleja were doing their own staging—and even their own blocking. What Netrebko and Calleja were doing, he said, was vastly different from what had been enacted by the previous Mimi and Rodolfo (neither of whom had been international-level singers with sufficient clout to disregard stage directions).

We last heard “La Boheme” in November 2006 in Hamburg. Hamburg’s had been a new production (Guy Joosten) also guided by a French conductor (Jean-Yves Ossonce). The 2006 Hamburg “La Boheme” paralleled the 2013 Chicago “La Boheme” in many ways: the Hamburg orchestra had lacked genuine virtuosity and radiance of sound; the Hamburg conductor had not been ideal; the down-list cast of singers in Hamburg had been provincial; and the physical production in Hamburg, unattractive and undistinguished, had looked like an exercise in cost-cutting.

Chicago’s “La Boheme”, to its credit, featured a great Mimi and a great Rodolfo—which raised the level of an otherwise unremarkable enterprise to something memorable. I never expect to hear the roles of Mimi and Rodolfo sung more beautifully. Netrebko and Calleja, alone, made our weekend in Chicago worthwhile.

(Alexia Voulgaridou had been the Hamburg Mimi, John Matz the Hamburg Rodolfo. Voulgaridou still sings in Hamburg and other secondary houses, with an occasional appearance in a first-tier house; Matz’s career, I understand, has come to a close.)

Last month’s was not my parents’ first “La Boheme” at Lyric Opera Of Chicago. Many years ago, my parents had attended a very poor performance of the opera in the same house.

In 1979, my parents had acquired tickets to hear Mirella Freni and Jose Carreras sing Mimi and Rodolfo in Chicago. Both Freni and Carreras were to cancel their Chicago appearances shortly before rehearsals commenced; they were replaced by a very young Leona Mitchell and a very young Neil Shicoff, neither of whom was yet ready for international exposure. My parents were keenly disappointed in the quality of the performance they heard.

That 1979 “La Boheme” was the first time my parents had an opportunity to hear conductor Riccardo Chailly, making his one and only appearance with Lyric Opera Of Chicago. Chailly, too, was very young at the time, and was not yet good.

My father says that Chailly, in 1979, gave no hint whatsoever that he would become good within the following half-decade—and become great within a decade.

Today Chailly is probably the world’s finest active conductor as well as THE living master of “La Boheme” . . . but apparently there was no way, in 1979, of ascertaining what was to come.


The Chicago “Rigoletto” was not a fulfilling performance. Several of the pieces were in place, but the pieces did not for one moment cohere into a satisfying whole.

I place primary blame for the production’s failure on the conductor, Evan Rogister, an American in his early 30s, who gave a faceless, unstylish reading of the score. The big moments were loud, but lacked conviction and sweep; the rest was episodic, and lacked tension and concentration. Of suppleness and line—and rhythmic life and vigor—there was none. The entire performance, I kept wondering why Rogister had been allowed even into the building, let alone the orchestra pit. (Rogister cites Patrick Summers, Alan Gilbert and Donald Runnicles as his chief musical mentors—which explains much.)

Polish baritone Andrzej Dobber sang the title role. Dobber is a serious, even distinguished, artist, but his voice was made for Central European repertory, not Italian repertory. Moreover, Dobber’s instrument, dull and gray, is not truly first-class, although he uses it with great intelligence. Sixty years ago, an abundant era for Italian baritones, Dobber would never have been considered for Italian repertory in American theaters; the very notion would have been deemed laughable.

Italian tenor Giuseppe Filianoti sang the Duke Of Mantua. I thought Filianoti was saving himself for the big moments, and otherwise came close to marking the performance. He may have been having an off-afternoon—or been disgusted with the conductor, and deliberately marked.

Russian soprano Albina Shagimuratova sang Gilda. I did not know what to make of her. Her coloratura was clean, even brilliant, and she demonstrated more than a little heft in the ensembles in order to make herself heard. However, I did not find Shagimuratova to be interesting or convincing, as singer or actress—she had zero stage presence—and perhaps my disappointment was a result of having seen and heard Netrebko, against whom no one can compete, the previous evening.

The production was the company’s own, first offered in 2006. A revolving unit set was in use—a rotunda was the unifying theme—and the unit set was cheap-looking and all-too-obviously budget-conscious.


We shall not return to Lyric Opera Of Chicago next season. The “Werther” and “Simon Boccanegra” we heard in November were not impressive. The “La Boheme” and “Rigoletto” we heard last month, Netrebko and Calleja aside, were nothing to write home about.

My parents say Lyric Opera Of Chicago has floundered since the death of former General Manager Ardis Krainik. My parents went to Lyric performances often during the Krainik years, but stopped going entirely within three or four years of Krainik’s passing. The deterioration in the company’s performances, my parents say, was near-instantaneous once Krainik was gone. The company may have yet to find its post-Krainik footing.

This season was the first time my parents had returned to Lyric Opera Of Chicago in more than a decade. Disappointed with the four operas they heard, my parents are not keen to return anytime soon.

Instead, we may go to New York next season to hear some Russian repertory at the Metropolitan Opera. Borodin’s “Prince Igor”, slated for its first Met production, has certainly piqued our interest. This summer, we shall have to get out our calendars, and get out the Met calendar, and see whether we can find a sequence of Met performances that makes a trip to New York worthwhile.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

“Rigoletto”: The Chicago Production

Lyric Opera Of Chicago’s production of Verdi’s “Rigoletto”, which we caught on the afternoon of March 10.

The Chicago “Rigoletto” production, not at all attractive, was first presented in 2006, and revived this season for the first time.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Two More Plays

Of the many theater companies in the Twin Cities, Theater In The Round is the only company that devotes meaningful attention to modern British playwrights. If one is to encounter work by Alan Ayckbourn, Simon Gray or Tom Stoppard in the Twin Cities, it generally will be at Theater In The Round and nowhere else.

On Friday evening, Joshua and I took Joshua’s sister to a Theater In The Round performance of Ayckbourn’s “Life And Beth”. It being a Friday evening, with other family members looking for something to do, my parents and my middle brother joined us for a night out.

Gentle and thoughtful, “Life And Beth” is a very fine play. It tells the tale of Beth, a middle-aged woman recently widowed after thirty years of marriage, as she deals with persons in her life attempting to assist her in addressing her bereavement—when in actuality Beth needs no assistance at all. A mettlesome sister-in-law bearing a lifetime of grievances, an obnoxious vicar with romantic designs, a dolt of a son and his dolt of a girlfriend (the latter utters not a word throughout the play): all intrude upon Beth as she tries to get through her first Christmas in thirty years without her husband.

To this mixture of oddities is added the sudden return of Beth’s husband, whose ghost appears on Christmas Eve—and stays on, refusing to leave. The ghost of Beth’s husband is an intolerable presence, more annoying and more unwelcome than all the other well-intentioned intruders combined.

During the course of the play, it is revealed that Beth’s husband had been domineering and controlling, and that Beth—once beyond her late husband’s clutches—became free at last to live a life without unpleasant constraints. It is in watching Beth’s progress as she breaks free from the additional clutches of her sister-in-law, her son and the vicar that the play proves compelling.

“Life And Beth” is a very small-scale, intimate drama, but it may prove durable. The play was first produced in 2008—and, for an Ayckbourn play, it aroused little interest and received little attention. However, it would not surprise me, fifty years from now, if the play becomes regarded as one of Ayckbourn’s finest. I thought “Life And Beth” immeasurably charming; the play showed Ayckbourn at the top of his craft.

Theater In The Round’s production was perfectly fine. We enjoyed the play and performance enormously.


On Saturday evening, Josh and I took Josh’s sister to a performance of Ira Levin’s “Deathtrap” at Jungle Theater. Saturday’s performance was only the second performance of the run, and the production had not yet “settled”. Glitches abounded: timing was not spot-on; pacing was too slow; execution of the lighting plan was troublesome. For all practical purposes, it was a preview performance that we attended (although reviewers had been invited to the first night).

“Deathtrap” is not a good play—but it is a good amusement. It is very imaginatively constructed, and its plotline and dialogue are often very witty, adding much to an audience’s enjoyment. Following the twists and turns of the convoluted plot can provide a rewarding theatrical experience—and the final scene is extraordinarily clever and amusing.

Levin was a very strange man—“Rosemary’s Baby”, “The Boys From Brazil”, “The Stepford Wives”: all attest to his strangeness—and he operated well outside the realm of genuine literature.

Nonetheless, Levin understood the intricacies of plotting. He knew how to turn a tale’s components and conventions inside out—and he knew how to pervert them, to the nth degree, to the delight of audiences and readers.

As purveyor of off-kilter entertainment, Levin mastered the full bag of tricks.