Posts Tagged ‘karita mattila’

The better is the enemy of the good

Friday, January 14th, 2011

By James Jorden

Garson Kanin wrote this novel a clef called Smash, a tale of a ruggedly handsome director’s trials in getting ready for Broadway a musical based on the life of a legendary vaudeville star, featuring a difficult young diva in the leading role—well, as you can see, the clef is pretty much a skeleton key, since among Kanin’s many credits was his helming of the original production of Funny Girl starring Barbra Streisand. My dog-eared copy of this sex-and-scandal potboiler disappeared about five moves ago, but I remember there was one line that should be inscribed over the doorway to every rehearsal room in every theater in the world.  (more…)

Second entry from our esteemed, don’t-make-me-do-this blogger

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

Why I Left Muncie. Half a dozen things to do every night without turning on a TV; Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall a stone’s throw from home; the Sunday Times on Saturday night; MoMA and the Met; theater and film; in the good old days, record stores. This title is kind of unfair to my home town because my move to New York 40 years ago was emphatically a positive one, not anything negative about Indiana. All I knew was that I, myself, didn’t belong in the Lynds’ Middletown U.S.A.

Bells of the Hall. By now everybody has read that Tully Hall’s Second Coming is the bee’s knees. But what about the icing on the cake: the intermission bells? No, I’m not kidding. Remember those exotic intermission bells at Philharmonic (now Avery Fisher) Hall? In 1965 Leonard Bernstein wanted a new signal for the audience to return to its seats, so he asked his assistant, the composer Jack Gottlieb, to select some felicitous 12-tone rows as prompters. “I chose rows written by the second Vienna school, Stravinsky, and Bernstein,” Jack recounted earlier this week, “and recorded them on a celesta for Lenny’s approval.” After Bernstein retired as music director in 1969 and George Szell, who detested 12-tone music, became interim “music advisor,” the bells were replaced by what sounded like foghorns. Soon after Pierre Boulez became music director in 1971, I urged him after a concert to reinstate the bells. Boulez hadn’t known about them, but he must have approved of Jack’s recording because they reappeared not long afterwards. They disappeared again at some point after Boulez’s departure, but now someone at Lincoln Center has had the brilliant idea to revive them at the newly reopened Alice Tully Hall. Bravo! Long may they resound.

A Revelatory Onegin. Tony Tommasini in the NYTimes wrote that Karita Mattila (MA’s Musician of the Year, 2005) as Tatiana was “a revelation” in the Met’s “Eugene Onegin.” Some critics wrote she was a bit long in the tooth. Peter Davis summed it up to me in conversation, “She’s astonishing—fifty and nifty.” [See his review.] The Met Tatiana I recall most warmly was the 57-year-old Mirella Freni in 1992. For me, on February 9th, the revelation was Thomas Hampson (MA’s Vocalist of the Year, 1992), who made me realize for the first time what an s.o.b. Onegin is. His singing was top-notch too, as was Poitr Beczala’s as Lenski. All of this fine vocalism was compromised by the flat-footed conducting of Jirí Belohlávec.

Classical Music in the Movies. OK, let’s see if anyone is reading this thing. Classical music was a natural for the early talkies: It was cheap (no copyright problems), and it was handy seed inspiration for a composer on deadline. My first strains of Liszt, Schumann, Schubert, Wagner, and Tchaikovsky were courtesy of the movies—in particular, Universal’s sublimely silly horror films, which I loved and still do to my wife PK’s bewilderment (“a guy thing”; “arrested development,” she says). The title music for Dracula, Frankenstein, Murders in the Rue Morgue, and The Mummy—all made in the early ’30s—is Tchaikovsky’s sinister Black Swan theme from Swan Lake. A veritable treasure trove of this sort of thing is the 1934 Karloff-Lugosi thriller, The Black Cat. Its soundtrack is all classical, and I identified ten pieces when I watched it recently (on an inexpensive, decently transferred Universal DVD called The Bela Lugosi Collection). How many classical pieces can you identify? See what you can find, and we’ll compare notes.

Whatever Happened to Ben Zander? He has made several recordings for Telarc in recent years, most notably of Mahler symphonies—Nos. 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 9. But after the Mahler First in 2005, not a peep. One hopes the Seventh will show up one of these days, but like many aborted Mahler cycles, we may never get the expensive Second and Eighth, or Das Lied von de Erde, for that matter. Too bad. Zander’s Eighth at Carnegie several years ago—with his Boston Philharmonic, a group of professional and amateur players—was the best I’ve ever heard live. Now, after nearly four years, he has turned to Bruckner—the Fifth Symphony (Telarc 2CD-80706). That this distinguished recording can even be mentioned in the company of Furtwängler’s extraordinary 1942 live performance (DG or Music & Arts)—possibly the greatest performance of any piece of music, ever—or Karajan’s immensely powerful DG recording, speaks highly for Zander’s accomplishment. As with his previous Telarc releases (all with London’s Philharmonia Orchestra), a second CD contains the conductor’s truly insightful comments into the music. I recommend them all.