Posts Tagged ‘Berg’

Fall Discs

Sunday, November 26th, 2017

Recommended CDs and DVDs

Published: November 26, 2017

MUNICH — Post is under revision.

Photos © Arthaus, BelAir Classiques, Querstand, Supraphon, Warner Classics

Related posts:
Winter Discs
Time for Schwetzingen
Ives: Violin Sonatas on CD
Chung to Conduct for Trump
Manon, Let’s Go

Mahler 10 from Nézet-Séguin

Thursday, March 9th, 2017

Veronika Eberle rehearsing Berg in the Herkulessaal

Published: March 9, 2017

MUNICH — Making a taut and impassioned case for Mahler’s Tenth Symphony (1910) here at the Herkulessaal Feb. 17, Yannick Nézet-Séguin still rather confirmed Leonard Bernstein’s dictum that the composer “had said it all in the Ninth.” Mahler’s inspiration sustained itself, as tidily executed by the Symphonie-Orchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, until after the second group of mortifying drum strokes, about a third the way through the 25-minute Finale. Then the emptiness he sought to convey played out only too literally: ashen recollections of earlier material, mostly from the opening movement, really running on empty. This was Cooke III; we know the composer’s substance in the Finale, not what he might ultimately have achieved with its form. The evening began with Berg’s Violin Concerto, Dem Andenken eines Engels, courtesy of Veronika Eberle (pictured in rehearsal). Sadly the partnership with the visiting Canadian yielded only a tepid traversal of this wondrous 1935 score, for all the beauty of her tone and obvious commitment. Both works were livestreamed and remain, for now, accessible online. Nézet-Séguin recorded the symphony in Montreal in 2014 with his Orchestre Métropolitain.

Photo © Bayerischer Rundfunk

Related posts:
Nézet-Séguin: Hit, Miss
Zimerman Plays Munich
Muti Crowns Charles X
Muti Taps the Liturgy
Concert Price Check

See-Through Lulu

Saturday, June 6th, 2015

Marlis Petersen and Dmitri Tcherniakov rip into a münchner Breze

Published: June 6, 2015

MUNICH — After the genetic mismatch of Kirill Petrenko and Gaetano Donizetti here, it was a relief to watch the conductor easily navigate and ignite the tone rows of Lulu last week (May 25 and 29) at the National Theater. Happily he did so using Cerha’s reconstitution of Act III and supported by an eloquent, virtuosic Bavarian State Orchestra, now truly his orchestra twenty months beyond the systemic jolt of the handover from Kent Nagano.

The GMD conveyed the differing compositional powers of each act almost entirely through soft, finely balanced ensemble, favoring transparency. Where the music rose dynamically, as in his ardent account of the palindromic Act II Zwischenspiel or the pithy societal interjections of the Paris scene, its contours and colors palpably stunned the capacity audience.

For these reasons alone these were luxurious traversals of Berg’s stimulating, exacting, 185-minute score. They revolved, though, not around Petrenko but upon the musicianship of the charming and beautiful Marlis Petersen, 47, who drew rapturous applause at evening’s end.

Meek early on, she sang out fully in the anti-heroine’s Act I duettino with the Painter (Rainer Trost on vivid form) and gauged her sound with Lied-art intelligence — but a diva’s command of the stage — from that point forward. The bright firm voice sailed into the house with greater body of tone than many a Lulu, shaded emotionally and locked into Berg’s text.

Having first essayed the role sixteen years ago in Kassel, Petersen has developed crisp, moving inflections for its unaccompanied dialog and Sprechstimme, and on these nights she fashioned from every last morsel the composer provides a gutsy, honest, amusing, vulnerable and above all integrated portrayal.

Daniela Sindram had a harder time making an impact as the pivotal Gräfin Geschwitz in this new production. In fact the mezzo barely stood out at all because director Dmitri Tcherniakov (pictured with the soprano) put her in pants, muting her sexuality and defeating the counterforce Berg intended to the men around Lulu. (Has Tcherniakov only this narrow grasp of what it means to be a lesbian?)

But she sang expressively, with a golden, even timbre, purity of line and good diction, and she capped her interrupted London monologue with a ravishing Lulu! Mein Engel! That last outpouring endured the distraction of Lulu’s death on stage, contrary to Berg’s plan, and so the drama ended out of kilter as the tempos slowed, and anticlimactic.

Lyric tenor Matthias Klink introduced a sweet-toned Alwa whose volume lessened in high-lying phrases. Bo Skovhus, as his father and Lulu’s lethal client, made a perfect foil for Petersen, magnetic of gesture and clever in pointing the text, even if his tenorial baritone lacked ideal resonance. In the supporting roles, besides Trost, Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke’s mellifluous turn as the Marquis stood out.

Like most productions at Bavarian State Opera nowadays, this Lulu will look its best through camera lenses rather than from a seat in the theater. Tcherniakov sets all scenes in one static grove of glass panels, much as he locked us in a gray seminar room for his last work here, Simon Boccanegra. Glass of course is an upgrade: it affords depth, allows vivid use of light and overcomes staging challenges, such as when characters scenically snoop. But only the panning and zooming of cameras can make up for missing spectacle in this case.

During Berg’s several Zwischenspiele — intended for scene changes tracing Lulu’s progress and retrogression — the director populates the background panels with stiffly animated mimes, like mannequins in shop windows. Perversely, given today’s common use of projections, he offers no film for the Filmmusik, but a roving spotlight signals its crucial midpoint.

Placement of the panels forces most of the crowd in the Paris scene behind glass, and Tcherniakov drably lines everyone up in a row. Otherwise he strongly shapes and moves the individual characters and, with the one misstep of Geschwitz’s costuming, engages the viewer convincingly, avoiding cliché and graphic violence.

Today’s performance of Lulu, the fourth in a run of five, streams live at noon, New York time, at (Although named “Staatsoper.TV,” the service is not accessed at that domain.) Three performances are scheduled for September, when Petrenko hands over to Cornelius Meister.

Photo © Wilfried Hösl

Related posts:
Benjamin and Aimard
U.S. Orchestras on Travel Ban
Mastersingers’ Depression
Netrebko, Barcellona in Aida
Pintscher Conducts New Music

MKO Powers Up

Monday, March 24th, 2014

British conductor Clement Power, 33, with the Münchener Kammerorchester

Published: March 24, 2014

MUNICH — Few conductors can jump into a Berg-Zemlinsky-Honegger program on three days’ notice and lead it fluently without change. Enter Clement Power (33), a gray-haired Londoner, for the Münchener Kammerorchester’s March 13 subscription concert here at the Prinz-Regenten-Theater. The newcomer showed an easy rapport with the players (6-5-4-4-2 strings) and technical mastery, resulting in persuasive readings of four challenging scores.

He fostered a warm sound, with precise articulation in Berg’s Drei Stücke aus der Lyrischen Suite (1928) and clear, glowing layers in Honegger’s D-Major String Symphony (1941). The MKO responded passionately in the outer two Berg “pieces” and sustained rhythmic exactness in the forwards-then-backwards Allegro misterioso. The Honegger resounded with such refinement and allure that it was hard to channel the composer’s morose wartime outlook. Ideas swirled vigorously, swooned more than mourned. Rupprecht Drees’s trumpet made a happily unobtrusive entry in the last movement, and the chorale tune soared to rapturous applause.

In between, Sandrine Piau applied her elegant, bright lyric soprano to Zemlinsky’s lush Maiblumen blühten überall (1898) and Berg’s Sieben frühe Lieder (1908), both heard in arrangements, the Berg being Reinbert de Leeuw’s pungent reduction. Although sensitive to the German texts, however, she proved overparted.

String for string, the MKO may be Munich’s most accomplished orchestra. An ensemble of two dozen musicians founded in 1950, it has scant competition yet plays at consistently high levels in enterprising programs (often resulting in enterprising CDs on ECM Records). Its seasons in the Hellenistic-Romantic opulence of the Prinz-Regenten-Theater (1901), an architectural cousin of Bayreuth’s Festspielhaus (1875), are rounded out by chamber performances in the Jugendstil Schauspielhaus (also 1901) on ritzy-retail Maximilianstraße and by much touring. The ensemble favors Classical, Modern and new scores, augmenting itself as need be. In marketing, the Münchener Kammerorchester’s acronym usually stands alone, in a neat insignia that reduces its K to a less-than sign: less than a symphony orchestra, perhaps.

Chief conductor Alexander Liebreich, originally listed for March 13, enjoys a reputation for versatility but has compromised his career by numerous visits since 2002 to North Korea. Indeed the MKO itself ventured to Pyongyang in 2012 under a do-good Goethe Institute program, explained by Liebreich to the BBC. Anyway the players must like venturing beyond safe Germany: a trip to drug cartel paradise Medellín comes on a tour next month. Call them adventurous.

Clement Power, meanwhile, remains barely known. While pretty-boy maestros in his age group win coveted awards and take up rural British opera company and New York chamber orchestra jobs, this prodigiously gifted artist works apparently without representation.

Photo © Münchener Kammerorchester

Related posts:
Nazi Document Center Opens
Volodos the German Romantic
Thielemann’s Rosenkavalier
Mahler 10 from Nézet-Séguin
Pogorelich Soldiers On

Finding the Right Gimmick

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

by Sedgwick Clark

Shaham’s 1939 Dark Horse

Gil Shaham had an epiphany. After years of recognition as one of the brightest young lights of the concert circuit, the Israeli-American violinist conjured one of the most imaginative programming concepts in years. He had been struck by how many violin concertos written in the 1930s had entered the basic repertoire: Stravinsky (1931), Berg and Prokofiev Second (1935); then, in 1939 alone, the same year that Hollywood produced perhaps its greatest year ever, the Bartók, Hindemith, Walton, Britten, and Barber concertos. Since 2009 he has performed all of these but the Hindemith and Britten, and in December, when he received Musical America’s Instrumentalist of the Year award for 2012, he promised that he would get to those too.

But there are many other concertos on the periphery waiting to be discovered—as Dennis D. Rooney mentioned in his tribute to Shaham in the Musical America Directory—waiting for the right performer to bring them alive to a public that loves the tried and true but welcomes a little spice too. The Szymanowski Second (1932) is one; Henryk Szeryng introduced it to me at a New York Philharmonic concert nearly 40 years ago. And after four decades of over a hundred concerts a season, countless radio broadcasts, and the collection and partial deaccession of over 20,000 LPs and 10,000 CDs, I’m about to be introduced to another ’30s violin concerto at a Philharmonic concert—this time courtesy of Gil Shaham, who gave the Walton concerto such a virtuoso turn with this orchestra last spring. The work is Karl Amadeus Hartmann’s Concerto funebre (1939). Astonishingly (to me, anyway), I don’t know if I’ve ever heard a note of Hartmann’s music. Shaham will perform this concerto with the New York Philharmonic and David Zinman on March 15, 16, 17, and 20. Who knows? As with Szymanowski it may be a new love affair. I’ll let you know.

As a warmup to hearing Gil again in concert, I listened this past weekend to two Shaham CDs on his own Canary Classics label, which he founded several years ago when his previous label, Deutsche Grammophon, didn’t want to record a disc of Fauré chamber music. An all-Prokofiev disc (ATM CD 1555) includes the two violin sonatas, Opp. 80 and 94, the Five Melodies, Op. 35, and three Heifetz transcriptions sandwiched between the larger works. It’s a great CD, with the violinist contributing subtleties of dynamic shading and phrasing that elevated these works far beyond my previous estimation; he is ideally partnered by his sister, Orli Shaham. The sound, superbly produced by Eric Wen, matches the performers in its breathtaking realism. My preferred recording of the sonatas was previously the ’70s Perlman-Ashkenazy (most recently paired on an RCA CD with Perlman’s peerless recording of the Second Concerto with Leinsdorf and Boston). Henceforth, I’ll reach for the Shahams. Another superior Shaham CD on Canary is called “Virtuoso Violin Works” by Sarasate (CC07). This time Gil shares violin duties with his wife, Adele Anthony, and the pianist is Akira Eguchi. The four tracks requiring orchestral accompaniment feature the Orquesta Sinfónica de Castilla y León conducted by Alejandro Posada.

The Rest Is Noise in London

Another brilliant programming connection will dominate London’s Southbank Centre next season. It takes the subject of American music critic Alex Ross’s award-winning book The Rest Is Noise as a stepping-off point, and I quote:

“In 2007 Alex Ross wrote the seminal book The Rest Is Noise – listening to the Twentieth Century. Throughout 2013 we bring the book alive, with nearly 100 concerts, performances, films, talks and debates. We will take you on a chronological journey through the most important music of the 20th century to dramatise the massive political and social upheavals. The London Philharmonic Orchestra, with over 30 concerts, is the backbone of the festival that reveals the stories behind the rich, exhilarating and sometimes controversial compositions that have changed the way we listen forever.”

BBC Four is also involved in the project, assuring that the Foggy City will be awash in 20th-century music next season (see link).

NOW, I ask you, my good friends at Lincoln Center: Here’s a concept inspired by an internationally acclaimed book by an American author, published in America (Farrar, Straus, Giroux). With all your resources and a campus made for a project of such scope, why . . . ? But that’s a hopeless query. The Brits beat us to it, and no arts org on this coast is likely to jump off the 20th-century music cliff in today’s economic climate.

A New Carlos Kleiber Bio—in ENGLISH!

Alison Ames informs me that Corresponding with Carlos: A biography of Carlos Kleiber by Charles Barber has been published by Kindle, available through Amazon for $52.69. The reader reviews, which seem astute, are raves, and two of the reviewers find the price well worth it. Here’s the link:

American readers frustrated by the existence of three bios in German may click on this link for info (they’ll still be frustrated, of course, but at least the info will be available to them):

Looking Forward

My week’s scheduled concerts:

3/15 Metropolitan Opera. Verdi: Macbeth. Gianandrea Noseda (cond.). Thomas Hampson, baritone; Nadja Michael, soprano; Dimitri Pittas, tenor ; Günther Groissböck, bass.

3/16 Avery Fisher Hall. New York Philharmonic/David Zinman; Gil Shaham, violin. Hartmann: Concerto funebre. Beethoven: Symphony Nos. 1 and 3.

3/17 Walter Reade Theater.1:30 The Callas Effect. 3:00 Callas on Film.

3/17 Alice Tully Hall. Vadim Repin, violin; Itamar Golan, piano. Janácek: Violin Sonata. Ravel: Violin Sonata. Violin Sonata No. 2. Chausson: Poème. Ravel: Tzigane.

3/18 Carnegie Hall. American Symphony Orchestra/Leon Botstein; Stephen Powell, Lori Guilbeau, Robert Chafin, Burak Bilgili, Corey Bix, soloists; Collegiate Chorale Singers. Schmidt: The Hunchback of Notre Dame (in concert).

3/21 Rockefeller University. Rachel Barton Pine, violin. Paganini: Caprices (24).

A Genuine Jolt at the NY Phil

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

by Sedgwick Clark

Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic are on a European tour for a couple of weeks, and for a change I didn’t roll my eyes in despair when I saw the list of repertoire. His predecessors as music director, Kurt Masur and Lorin Maazel, for all their superb work at building the ensemble, utilized Dvořák’s “New World” Symphony (1894) as the orchestra’s calling card. But not only has Gilbert leapt ahead half a century to show off the ensemble with another Philharmonic commission conducted by its composer at its premiere, Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements (1946), on February 17 he has included the U.K. premiere of Thomas Adès’s hot-off-the-press Polaris, which the Phil played in its New York City premiere only a month ago. Moreover, he has also programmed Composer in Residence Magnus Lindberg’s 1997 Féria three times.

The repertoire list below must come as a genuine jolt to anyone who has looked at how the orchestra presents itself to the world. Not even Zubin Mehta, who was not averse to contemporary music during his tenure, had the nerve to acknowledge the 20th century so thoroughly on tour. The only German chestnut here is the Beethoven Violin Concerto. And while Lang Lang plays the First Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto three times, he also plays Bartók’s Second Concerto thrice on a bracing program that begins with the Lindberg piece and ends with Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony.

Don’t get me wrong. These programs are hardly the adventures of the Boulez years. But when it seems that everyone’s idea of selling tickets these days is to advance to the rear, I applaud Gilbert and my home orchestra for making a statement on tour with meaty works by Bartók, Stravinsky, and Prokofiev and hors d’oeuvres by Adès and Lindberg.

New York Philharmonic
Alan Gilbert, conductor

Feb. 2, 8:00 pm (Cologne, Philharmonie)
Frank Peter Zimmermann, violin
Beethoven: Violin Concerto
Stravinsky: Symphony in Three Movements
Ravel: Daphnis and Chloe Suite No. 2

Feb. 3, 8:00 pm (Luxembourg, Salle de Concerts)
Frank Peter Zimmermann, violin
Beethoven: Violin Concerto
Stravinsky: Symphony in Three Movements
Ravel: Daphnis and Chloe Suite No. 2

Feb. 4, 8:00 pm (Luxembourg, Salle de Concerts)
Lang Lang, piano
Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1
Prokofiev: Symphony No. 5

Feb. 6, 8:00 pm (Paris, Salle Pleyel)
Frank Peter Zimmermann, violin
Beethoven: Violin Concerto
Stravinsky: Symphony in Three Movements
Ravel: Daphnis and Chloe Suite No. 2

Feb. 7, 8:00 pm (Paris, Salle Pleyel)
Lang Lang, piano
Lindberg: Féria
Bartók: Piano Concerto No. 2
Prokofiev: Symphony No. 5

Feb. 8, 8:00 pm (Frankfurt, Alte Oper)
Lang Lang, piano
Lindberg: Féria
Bartók: Piano Concerto No. 2
Prokofiev: Symphony No. 5

Feb. 9, 8:00 pm (Frankfurt, Alte Oper)
Frank Peter Zimmermann, violin
Beethoven: Violin Concerto
Stravinsky: Symphony in Three Movements
Ravel: Daphnis and Chloe Suite No. 2

Feb. 11, 8:00 pm (Düsseldorf, Tonhalle)
Lang Lang, Piano
Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1
Prokofiev: Symphony No. 5

Feb. 1, 8:15 pm (Amsterdam, Concertgebouw)
Frank Peter Zimmermann, violin
Beethoven: Violin Concerto
Stravinsky: Symphony in Three Movements
Ravel: Daphnis and Chloe Suite No. 2

Feb. 14, 8:15 pm (Amsterdam, Concertgebouw)
Lang Lang, piano
Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1
Prokofiev: Symphony No. 5

Feb. 16, 7:30 pm (London, Barbican)
Mahler: Symphony No. 9

Feb. 17, 7:30 pm (London, Barbican)
Joyce DiDonato, mezzo-soprano
Adès: Polaris (U.K. Premiere)
Berlioz: Les nuits d’été
Stravinsky: Symphony in Three Movements
Ravel: Daphnis and Chloe Suite No. 2

Feb. 18, 4:00 p.m. (London, Barbican)
Young People’s Concert: Bernstein’s New York
Leonard Bernstein’s New York
Jamie Bernstein, host
Benjamin Grosvenor, piano
Bernstein/Peress: Overture to West Side Story
Copland: “Skyline” from Music for a Great City
Strayhorn: “Take the ‘A’ Train”
Bernstein: “Ain’t Got No Tears Left,” from On the Town
Bernstein: “The Masque,” from Symphony No. 2, The Age of Anxiety
Bernstein: Three Dance Episodes from On the Town
                        The Great Lover
                        Lonely Town Pas de Deux
                        Times Square 1944

Feb. 18, 8:00 p.m. (London, Barbican)
Lang Lang, piano
Lindberg: Féria
Bartók: Piano Concerto No. 2
Prokofiev: Symphony No. 5

Stage Door Johnny Dept.
Tuesday night while picking up tickets for Porgy and Bess, I found myself standing next to playwright Neil Simon. I try not to bother celebrities, and I succeeded for a few seconds, but I couldn’t resist telling him that on my first night after moving to New York from Muncie over 43 years ago I saw George C. Scott and Maureen Stapleton in his Plaza Suite on Broadway, and what a great introduction it was to my new home. He seemed genuinely pleased and thanked me for telling him. A nice man.

Looking Forward
My week’s scheduled concerts:

2/8 Peter Jay Sharp Theater. Gluck: Armide. Juilliard Orchestra/Jane Glover. Emalie Savoy (Armide), Alexander Hajek (Hidraot), David Portillo (Renaud), Alexander Lewis (Artémidore), Luthando Qave (Ubalde), Noah Baetge (Le Chevalier Danois), Wallis Giunta (Phénice), Devon Guthrie (Sidonie), Evan Hughes (Aronte), Renée Tatum (La Haine), Soo Yeon Kim (La Naïade), Pureum Jo (2nd Coryphée), Deanna Breiwick (Une Bergère), Lilla Heinrich-Szász (Lucinde), and Raquel González (Mélisse).

2/14 Carnegie Hall. Philadelphia Orchestra/Charles Dutoit; James Ehnes/violin. Martin: Concerto for Seven Wind Instruments. Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto. Bartók: Concerto for Orchestra.

Omus in Person

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

by Sedgwick Clark

I first met Omus Hirshbein in Carnegie Hall’s executive offices, where he worked for a brief time in 1973 between tenures at the Hunter College Concert Bureau and the 92nd Street Y. He was walking out of a planning meeting, saying in frustration to anyone nearby, “They won’t listen to me—they should be emphasizing the sound of Carnegie Hall.” Guess what Carnegie’s subscription campaign was the next season, after Omus left for the Y? There he would create a concert series that for two decades would dominate the chamber-music field in New York (and annoy the hell out of me because it was such a nuisance to get to from my apartment near Lincoln Center).

We became friends over the years, especially after buying one of his pianos several years ago when his upper West Side apartment could no longer house two Steinways. Every time my wife and her four-hands partner, the composer and conductor Victoria Bond, get together to play, we think of Omus and his wife, Jessica.

Omus died on December 31st after a long decline due to Alzheimer’s. It seems especially tragic that one whose mind was so fertile would leave us in such a manner. I’m sorry I took so long to take note of him in this forum. Perhaps I was stymied because Brian Kellow, who worked for Omus at the Y in the 1980s, captured his personality and accomplishments so warmly and vividly in an Opera News piece, as did Allan Kozinn in his New York Times obituary (January 7, 2012). So I decided I would do something different and reprint Omus’s own typically impassioned words from a panel discussion on the programming of classical music, which appeared in the 1995 Musical America Directory. Participants with Omus in the discussion were industry V.I.P.s Deborah Borda, Eugene Carr, Mary Lou Falcone, Christopher Hunt, and Jane Moss. I highly recommend your reading it; check out the Services section on top of the desktop. You may find, as I did when I read it again, that it could have been recorded yesterday.

Omus Hirshbein: “I think there are two reasons why people like to go to concerts these days. One is being addressed by the kind of programming that the American Symphony is doing. Back in 1986 I agreed to put together a series of eight concerts for the Museum of Modern Art exhibition called “Vienna 1900.” It had to do with the years of the Vienna Secession, which are roughly 1898-1918, and the composers were Schoenberg, Berg, Webern, Zemlinsky, Schmidt. And I said to them, “But no one will come.” To my surprise, tickets were being scalped on 53rd Street. I saw virtually none of the usual New York music people at those eight concerts. Audience members were reading, they were seeing the paintings, they were seeing the workshop of Hoffman, and they were hearing a group of composers described by curator Kirk Varnedoe as part and parcel of the Secession, and they went. Okay, that’s one reason.

“The other, of course, is that music is supposed to touch the heart. And it’s supposed to touch the soul. Now, there was a period of 40 or 50 years when what was new was ugly. Sorry, it was mostly ugly. And the legatees of those Viennese geniuses—and I speak of Schoenberg as a genius—made it worse. They became academic, producing a system of writing in this country that was not for the public. Now, there are some young people writing music today who are mobbed by audiences. I’m talking about Aaron Kernis, and Bright Sheng, and there are others. And maybe it signals a reversal of that horrible trend where what was new was impossible to listen to. That’s all I can hope for, because the teaching of music has become of little importance in most of the major cities today as they cope with their social and educational problems.

“Let me just add that money is really an issue. And I’m not talking about balancing budgets. On the wall in my new office is a blowup of an advertisement from 1971, announcing a repeat concert of Victoria de los Angeles and Alicia de Larrocha doing a program of Spanish tonadillas and whatnot. I ask people to look at it because it has tremendous meaning—and finally down at the bottom, they come across what is really disturbing about it. And this is 1971, folks. The top price at the Hunter College Concert Bureau, where this took place, in a 2,200-seat house, was a dollar below Carnegie Hall and a dollar below Lincoln Center: six and a half dollars. A movie was three bucks, or three and a half. A musical event of that magnitude was twice the price of a movie. And that was prevailing.

“Now, I throw down a gauntlet to the commercial interests that have ruined our business. I assure you that Mostly Mozart once was a three- and four-dollar ticket. Commercial interests, and the interests of unions, have hurt us a great deal. This not a high-tech business, this is not the movies, this is not mass media, and we are paying the kind of monies out that would say it’s mass media, and it ain’t anything like that.

“. . . I had a staff of music lovers in my previous job. Music lovers. A couple of them were married, they were in their thirties, and you know what they do? They get together with their friends in a restaurant, and they spend an evening, and that’s all they can afford to do; they are making $23,000 and $24,000 a year, and they cannot afford to go to these concerts.

“. . . There’s another side of the coin. Once the performer becomes recognizable, there is the most extraordinary avarice to get the fees up as fast as possible. And that, for me, is what has wrecked the business. An artist could go on the road and make a decent living at fees somewhere in the $5,000 or $6,000 range and that’s about all that anybody out there in the hinterlands can afford. Now, I think maybe that’s all I have to say.”

Of course, it wasn’t all he had to say. His last professional endeavor was to found, with his former Y colleague Jacqueline Taylor, a series of free public concerts with major artists that they called “Free for All at Town Hall.” They wrote about its genesis in the 2004 edition of Musical America Directory, and we can still look forward to these concerts each spring. Martin Riskin, who is now president and artistic director of the series, tells me that the upcoming concerts will be dedicated to Omus.

Looking Forward

My week’s scheduled concerts:

2/1 Paul Hall. FOCUS! Festival. Cage: Five Songs (1938); Six Melodies for Violin and Keyboard (1950); Imaginary Landscape No. 1 (1939); Etudes Boreales, Nos. 1 & 3 (1978); Sonnekus² (1985); Satie Cabaret Songs; Child of Tree (1975); The Perilous Night (1944).

2/7 Rodgers Theatre. Gershwin: Porgy and Bess. Audra McDonald (Bess), Norm Lewis (Porgy), David Alan Grier (Sportin’ Life).

1/8 Peter Jay Sharp Theater. Gluck: Armide. Juilliard Orchestra/Jane Glover. Emalie Savoy (Armide), Alexander Hajek (Hidraot), David Portillo (Renaud), Alexander Lewis (Artémidore), Luthando Qave (Ubalde), Noah Baetge (Le Chevalier Danois), Wallis Giunta (Phénice), Devon Guthrie (Sidonie), Evan Hughes (Aronte), Renée Tatum (La Haine), Soo Yeon Kim (La Naïade), Pureum Jo (2nd Coryphée), Deanna Breiwick (Une Bergère), Lilla Heinrich-Szász (Lucinde), and Raquel González (Mélisse).

Masterly Mann at Manhattan

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

by Sedgwick Clark

In their wildest dreams, the six string quartets couldn’t have asked for more. Nor could music lovers, as the Manhattan School of Music rang in the New Year with what it called the “Inaugural Robert Mann String Quartet Institute.” Yes, this is why I left Muncie, but this time my hometown friends could share the event, for the Thursday and Friday master classes were streamed worldwide. Those who couldn’t attend could watch the great man inspire several gifted young musicians in works by Brahms, Bartók, and Beethoven, among others. And now they can see both classes by going to Which I highly recommend!

For those not into chamber music, Robert Mann is renowned as the founding first violinist of the Juilliard String Quartet (in 1946) and, moreover, probably the postwar era’s foremost influence on the “American” style of chamber-music playing. Since retiring from the Quartet in 1997, he has continued to perform chamber music, conduct, give master classes, and teach on the faculty of the Manhattan School. The passion and personality of the many JSQ performances I’ve heard over the years in concert and on record were fully evident in his comments at Friday’s session. Indeed, his many expressive tips to the PUBLIQuartet in the Poco allegretto of Brahms’s Third Quartet gave me an appreciation of the music I’d never had before.

As usual, however, it was the Bartók performances that grabbed me. The Juilliard recorded the six quartets three times since 1950. It was the second cycle—recorded in 1963, released in 1965, and honored with a Grammy the next year—that introduced me to the works and which I still prefer above all others. (The CD reissue, now on Sony Classical/ArchivMusic 77119, sounds excellent. Mann is on all three cycles; be sure you get the one with Cohen, Hillyer, and Adam.) A complete Juilliard Bartók cycle at Alice Tully Hall, 43 years ago this month, is no less vivid in my early New York memory bank than my first Bernstein/Philharmonic concert, or Colin Davis leading Peter Grimes with Jon Vickers and Wozzeck with Geraint Evans at the Met. In the mid 1980s, the JSQ’s long-time press rep, Alix Williamson, presented the group in the complete Brahms and Bartók quartets at Tully, and I complained that she was devaluing Bartók. Alix, who loved Brahms and detested Bartók, barked endearingly that if she listened to the likes of me, no one would come. I miss her.

Mann’s insightful blend of performance comments, anecdotes, and cheerleading at Manhattan—filmed admirably, by the way, with none of the herky-jerky camera cross-cutting that can compromise one’s attention—revealed a master of persuasion. When the Ars Nova Quartet plays the Allegro molto capriccioso second movement of Bartók’s Second Quartet, Mann initially has nothing but praise, telling of the time a group played the Third Quartet for the composer and was disappointed when Bartók simply stood up and said, “Good, let’s have lunch.” Mann continues, “The great composers are less critical than you might think.” He suggests that the young players should worry less about wrong notes and dig in more. “You know, Bartók as a performer played very cool, but he liked performers to play wildly.” The violist demurs, “But we’re on the Internet.” Still, the Ars Nova foursome plays part of the movement again, digging in as prescribed, and the results are markedly superior—as in every case of following Mann’s masterly advice.

Next, the Old City Quartet plays the Mesto-Burletta movement of Bartók’s Sixth Quartet. Mann asks for more march character (“It lacks rhythmic swing”) and evokes the opening of Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du soldat as a guide. Later he remarks about a precipitous speedup, laughing robustly, “Your accelerando is too fast: You’re very exciting, but it’s too fast.” After a slower runthrough he says, with a huge grin, “Terrific!  I’d like you in my quartet,” and the four players break into smiles. A final comment: “Can you make a bigger bite on that C?” he asks the first violinist, and when he does Mann shouts, “Ah-h-h-h, wonderful!”

Now 91, Robert Mann seems the youngest man in the room. I can’t wait for next year’s master classes.

Looking Forward

Concerts I would attend next week were I not on vacation:

1/14 Galapagos Art Space, 16 Main Street, DUMBO, Brooklyn. 4:30-9:00 p.m. Brooklyn Art Song Society. Complete Songs of Charles Ives (114).

1/18-21 Avery Fisher Hall. New York Philharmonic/Alan Gilbert; Lang Lang, piano. Lindberg: Feria. Bartók: Piano Concerto No. 2. Prokofiev: Symphony No. 5.

1/20 Carnegie Hall. American Symphony Orchestra/Leon Botstein. Stravinsky: The King of the Stars; Mavra; Requiem Canticles; Canticum Sacrum; Babel; Symphony of Psalms.

Ruminations and reflections, Lyonnais

Monday, October 17th, 2011

By Alan Gilbert

I’ve recently tried my hand at acrylic painting, and just bought a how-to book that stresses the overriding importance of composition — i.e. form and the use of spatial elements — in a successful work of art. By that measure, I can tell you right now that this blog entry will not be successful, since for my return to this space after a series of hopelessly sporadic postings, for which I apologize and beg your indulgence, I anticipate a random series of thoughts and musings.

At the moment I am looking out the window of my sister’s sun-drenched apartment in Lyon, France. This is undoubtedly one of the great gastronomic capitals of the world, and I am looking forward to a great meal tonight at Mère Brazier with Chef Mathieu Viannay, a restaurant I’ve long wanted to try.

Last night we ate at Yomogi, a hugely popular Japanese noodle bar, of which my sister is a part-owner. I think this is very cool — in addition to being concertmaster of the Orchestre National de Lyon, Jenny followed through on a dream we have talked about for years: she actually opened a restaurant in Lyon, a city where half of all new food establishments close after six months. Yomogi just celebrated its first birthday, and from the quality of the food (the gyoza were particularly yummy) and the good vibe I experienced, it looks as if they are in for a good run.

Yomogi is going through some changes in staff, and it was interesting to observe Jenny interacting with the people she manages. In many ways the analogy of a restaurant to an orchestra could not be more apt: both rely on goodwill and effective teamwork, and when these elements are in place and functioning well, both are better able to please and fulfill their customers. I was also struck by the behind-the-scenes dimension (planning for renovation of the ventilation system, hiring new cooks, mediating tensions between the workers) that reminded me uncannily of experiences I’ve had with orchestras.

I was able to make this quick two-day jaunt to Lyon because I am between two performances with the Munich Philharmonic. The first concert was yesterday at 11:00 a.m. on Sunday, and the other is not until Tuesday evening. Jenny has left to hear a contrabass audition for her orchestra, and as I sit here alone in her flat, it feels like the first real breather I’ve had since early September (not to mention the first chance I’ve had to address my blogging responsibilities!).

That month was insane for the New York Philharmonic — many members told me that they could not remember a period in which they played so much repertoire under such intense conditions. The season opened with three wonderful programs that included Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony, an important premiere by John Corigliano, and Frank Peter Zimmermann’s first concerts in his season as our Artist-in-Residence. Frank Peter really wanted his first appearance this year to underline the collaborative spirit he likes to feel, and so the first piece on the program, preceding his magnificent reading of the Berg Concerto, was the Bach Double Concerto for two violins, for which I joined him as the other violin soloist.

Before the subscription season proper even began, the Philharmonic was already in full swing: working backwards, we had Opening Night, with the incredible Deborah Voigt in great voice; a memorable Henry V by Walton, with Christopher Plummer’s profound Shakespearean presence; and A Concert for New York on September 10th, marking the 10th anniversary of 9/11. And if this were not enough, the Orchestra also played the fiendishly difficult sound track to Bernstein’s West Side Story with the film projected live in Avery Fisher Hall, and a few days later I joined them for by an outdoor extravaganza in Central Park with Andrea Bocelli, Bryn Terfel, Tony Bennett, and Celine Dion.

All in all it was, despite the intensity, a great stretch for the New York Philharmonic: the Orchestra is playing unbelievably well and is truly fulfilling our hopes to be an important cultural force in the U.S. and abroad. During the last few days I have been struck by how many people in Europe have told me that they have been following us on European television and in the news. I think it is fair to say that for many of them the New York Philharmonic is a major icon.

For the moment that feels very far away, though: my pressing concern is what to eat for lunch, knowing that a traditionally heavy Lyonnais meal awaits tonight. See you soon!

(For more information on Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic, visit