Posts Tagged ‘philharmonic’

New York Was His “Howieland”

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

by Sedgwick Clark

It’s a most improbable New York story: Broadway salutes a theater critic, of all things, by dimming its lights during prime box-office time prior to curtain. How often has that happened? No one would have been more astonished to receive this honor than its recipient, Howard Kissel, theater critic of the New York Daily News for 20 years, who died on Friday (2/24) at age 69 of complications from a 2010 liver transplant.

Howard and I shared a Midwestern upbringing and undying gratitude for living in New York City and being able to partake of its wonders. He was as unassuming, knowledgeable, and gentlemanly a member of the Fourth Estate as one could imagine. His critical judgments were direct, perceptive, and never gratuitously personal, laced with a droll, understated wit that always left one smiling. I had met Howard at the Russian Tea Room back in the 1970s when he was arts editor of Women’s Wear Daily and W magazine but only got to know him well in the ’90s. In between, he appeared in his one and only film as Woody Allen’s manager in Starlight Memories (1980). He wrote a biography of David Merrick and a study of Stella Adler’s teaching techniques. We saw each other frequently at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, when we would compare notes and I could grill him about shows I should try to sandwich between my concertgoing. I never received a bum steer.

An S.R.O. audience at Howard’s funeral yesterday shared many tears and much laughter as he was remembered. His sisters, Anne and Judy, affectionately eulogized their big brother, saying that he always seemed to be from another planet, which they called “Howieland.” A friend recounted that Howard had been on a list for a liver transplant for some time, but when the hospital finally called he discovered he had tickets that evening for City Center’s Encores! presentation of Stephen Sondheim’s cult musical Anyone Can Whistle and opted for the show. It would be months before he got a second chance for a new liver.

Musical America was fortunate to have Howard writing theater reviews for its Web site on occasion in recent years, and he blogged under the title “The Cultural Tourist” for the Daily News and, more recently, the Huffington Post, in which he filed his last, bittersweet entry three days before his death. Both the News and the Times printed obits worthy of his charmed life.

And then, on Tuesday at 7 p.m., Broadway dimmed its lights for a minute in recognition of one of its own.

Looking Forward

My week’s scheduled concerts:

3/2 Carnegie Hall. Vienna Philharmonic/Lorin Maazel. Sibelius: Symphonies Nos. 1, 5, and 7.

3/5 Zankel Hall. Making Music, Jeremy Geffen, moderator. Soloistes XXI. Saariaho: Echo; Nuits, Adieux; Lonh; From the Grammar of Dreams; Tag des Jahrs.

3/6 Carnegie Hall. Boston Symphony/John Oliver. Tanglewood Festival Chorus/John Oliver. Christine Brewer, soprano; Michelle DeYoung, mezzo; Simon O’Neill, tenor; Eric Owens, bass-baritone. Beethoven: Missa solemnis.

Choosing the Right Moment

Thursday, September 8th, 2011

by Edna Landau

To ask a question, please write Ask Edna.

Dear Edna:

As it is now late August and booking season is heading our way, I was wondering when you think is the best time to catch orchestra executive directors. I will be sending out materials through regular mail and e-mail. If I move too soon, they will be on vacation and have a lot to sort through when they return. If I’m too late, they may have already started the decision making process and my name most certainly won’t make it on the list! When is the best time to reach out? —A Violinist

Dear violinist:

It is difficult to pinpoint the exact time that any orchestra makes decisions about guest artists. In truth, it is an evolving process that might begin about eighteen months before the start of a season and continue until six months before the start of the season. It all depends on the size of the orchestra and when they traditionally announce their season. I admire your industriousness but hope you realize that the number of orchestras who will respond to unsolicited letters and promotional materials is rather small. Make sure that whatever you send clearly highlights something that might be of interest to them (perhaps a premiere or rarely performed work of genuine substance or appeal). Assuming that you are writing to mid-size or smaller orchestras, from now until Thanksgiving is an ideal time to be in touch. If the orchestra has an artistic administrator, you would do well to write to them instead of the executive director, as chances are a bit better that they will take note of your approach to them. Good luck!


I am grateful to my longtime friend and colleague, Ed Yim, former president and current board member of the American Music Center and Artistic Consultant to the New York Philharmonic, for his assistance in preparing my response to the following question.

Dear Edna:

I am a composer whose career is beginning to take off. I was fortunate last year to win a number of prizes and I have been receiving commissions. I also have signed with a very fine publisher who is eager to promote my work. Recently, I was contacted by a manager who is interested in representing me. I would appreciate your advice on whether a composer needs both a publisher and a manager. Thank you so much. —A Curious Composer

Dear Curious Composer:

Thank you for writing in with a question that I am sure will be of interest to other composers. It is wonderful  that you are already in a position to be represented by a fine publisher. Congratulations, too, on having won a number of prizes and already secured some commissions. It sounds like things are going very well for you. At the present time, I don’t think you need to have a manager. Part of your publisher’s job is to investigate possible new commissions and to promote your published works, hopefully leading to increased performances of them. There may come a time in the future when, if your career has grown exponentially, you might want to hire a publicist or manager to call attention to certain works or projects you have undertaken. They would also be an added ally to help monitor your publisher’s effectiveness on your behalf. In general, most composers don’t have managers unless they have their own performing ensembles (for example, Steve Reich) or are active as performers in some other way (e.g., John Adams as conductor).  Those performance activities generate an income stream that makes them more attractive to managers. Another raison-d’être for a manager’s or publicist’s involvement would be if the composer was undertaking substantial projects, such as extended residencies, or was the focus of major retrospectives. I hope that your current partnership with your publisher brings significant new opportunities your way and that whenever the occasion arises, you find time to share your experiences and mentor some younger colleagues. Composers’ careers develop differently from those of singers, conductors and instrumentalists, and they are always grateful to receive advice and encouragement from someone such as yourself.

To ask a question, please write Ask Edna.

© Edna Landau 2011

What We’ve Been Doing Lately

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

By Alan Gilbert

Those of us who were involved in preparing for last year’s production of Ligeti’s Le Grand Macabre are remembering the great excitement we all felt in this very same rehearsal room as we prepare for our upcoming performances of Janáček’s opera The Cunning Little Vixen, but are also amazed at how different the space feels. This time Doug Fitch — our brilliant director/designer/costume genius — has created a fantastic, magical landscape, populated with the most gorgeous creations: animal suits, bug antennae, plants and flowers, all fashioned out of found materials and readily-available clothing. LGM (as we referred to the Ligeti) filled the studio with high-tech equipment, making it feel rather like a mad-scientists laboratory. It is a testament to Doug’s incredible range that he is able to be so convincing in such vastly varied ways. I encourage everybody to check out Doug’s Website as well as the video that was made for the Philharmonic’s site to get a real sense of this amazing artist. 

During a break in rehearsal I was talking with Daniel Boico, my terrific Assistant Conductor at the Philharmonic, about how lucky we are to have a job that can be so different from day to day. The world of theater, where we are now, is a totally different experience from what our activities last week, when we were performing and recording Time Machines, Sebastian Currier’s marvelous new violin concerto with, Anne-Sophie Mutter for Deutsche Grammophon. We literally went directly from a listening session of the first edits into a staging rehearsal for the Janáček — the contrast could not have been greater.

It is difficult to believe that only two weeks ago we wrapped up our 11-concert EUROPE / SPRING 2011 Tour which took us to nine cities. Aside from the splendid playing of the Orchestra, night after night, some of my strongest memories from the tour are of the audiences — how intensely concentrated and appreciative they were, and also how distinctly different they were from place to place, from culture to culture. Audiences may not always realize how crucial they are in creating mood in a concert, and the great influence they can make on the inspiration, or lack thereof, of the performers. Many of the Philharmonic musicians were commenting on this as the tour progressed, observing that our performances experienced subtle changes over the trip according to the atmosphere we felt in the different halls.

The Budapest audience was definitely the most shocking: they have an amazing routine that involves rhythmic clapping that gradually increases in speed. Many audiences do this, but what was unusual for us was how slowly the rhythm started; the crowd began the accelerando with such long pauses between each clap that it sounded as if they had rehearsed!

All of the audiences were very quiet during the music, but there was a special intensity we felt in Leipzig; Lisa Batiashvili, one of our soloists on the tour, said that she thinks they have “cleaner ears.”  Perhaps so, or perhaps not, but in any case there was a palpable connection that created a rare musical bond for all of us who were there.  

But now back to rehearsing Vixen: It’s taking shape wonderfully already, and everyone is excited to hear the New York Philharmonic play this luscious score. See you there!

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

A Reluctant Blogger Joins the Fray

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

My publisher made me do this.

I’ve always been leery of blogs, from the disgusting sound of the word to the colossal self-importance of the act. Still, I admit to a good read and insight courtesy of bloggers Alex Ross and Alan Rich, and I’m sure I’d find others out there if I took the time. I am told I needed a title. Among friends’ suggestions are “Musical Rants and Raves,” “Bloviation on a Theme by Sedgwick,” “Symphony in E Flatulence,” “Why I Left Muncie,” “High Forehead, Low Brow.” No—too many notes, Mozart. The publisher wants my name in the title, but I can’t hack that. (I’m still working on it.) My only diary experience lasted a few months after I arrived in New York City. Come my first real job, as a press department gofer at The Repertory Theater of Lincoln Center, I no longer had time for such things. Samuel Pepys I am not.

I knew since at least the eighth grade that I would make my life in New York. I wanted to be a movie critic. My father was born in New York, but after the war my mother wanted to raise her family in her home town in Indiana. We vacationed in the Mohawk Valley each summer, so the move after college was as normal as blueberry pie—or Carnegie Deli strawberry cheesecake. I can’t imagine living anywhere else. For 40 years I have had the inestimable opportunity to savor all the arts in what I consider the center of the world. Perhaps my enthusiasm for my adopted city’s offerings will ring some others’ chimes.

Two young conductors. I got here in time for Leonard Bernstein’s final season as Philharmonic music director, 1968-69. His concerts and recordings have colored my tastes more than that of any other musician—no surprise, my being a child of his Young People’s Concerts. Nearly 20 years after his death, I walk out after many concerts wondering what Bernstein would have done. Obviously, I’m not alone. The night before going on vacation three weeks ago (1/14), I heard young Venezuelan hotshot (and Bernstein aficionado) Gustavo Dudamel conduct the Mahler Fifth at the Philharmonic. It was a young man’s performance, all drama and climaxes and exciting as all get out, and not even St. Martin’s balmy rays could expunge the memory of that Fifth. He may well be Bernstein reincarnated: all over the podium, barely containing his excitement, and sharing an instinctive sense of rubato that seems to have escaped most conductors and soloists of the last half-century. The orchestra played as if possessed, and then the damnedest thing happened: He comes out for bows, the audience goes wild, and the players sit there stone-faced like Eurydice. Eventually some of them can’t help breaking rank, smiling and tapping their bows. Why? I didn’t see him, but I’ll bet my blog that the New Yorkers’ new music director, Alan Gilbert, was in the house, and the New York Philharmonic wasn’t about to display any favoritism for the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s new music director. (Both conductors take over their new orchestras in September.) Gilbert had just introduced his new season programming three days before on the Fisher Hall stage. He’s a child of the Philharmonic. His parents were violinists in the orchestra (his father is retired), and young Alan heard Bernstein lead the Phil often. He’s a much different animal than Dudamel—earnest, laid back, perhaps even a little embarrassed at being in the limelight—and the contrast will provide press fodder on both coasts. He’ll be a breath of fresh air after Lorin Maazel’s unadventurous programming . . . if he’s allowed. He wants to encourage young contemporary composers at the Phil, and there are two concerts of world premieres scheduled—safely performed at small venues so that the usual audience suspects won’t look so lonely in Fisher. The other season treat is a three-week Stravinsky festival conducted by Valery Gergiev. I can’t wait! But, and it’s a big but, most of the subscription programs are awfully careful.

Artists of the Year. Last week (2/5) I took Charles Rosen (MA’s 2008 Instrumentalist of the Year) to Zankel Hall to hear Pierre-Laurent Aimard (MA’s 2007 Instrumentalist) juxtapose excerpts of Bach’s “Art of Fugue” with piano works by Elliott Carter (MA’s 1993 Composer). It’s hard to avoid “our” artists these days! February is quite the month for this. Like Aimard, Charles recorded the “Art of Fugue” and most of Carter’s piano music—in fact, he was one of the pianists who commissioned Carter’s “Night Fantasies”—and it was a treat to hear his comments on the works and watch his fingers mime certain passages. On Monday (2/2) at Carnegie I heard an extraordinary recital by Christian Tetzlaff (MA’s 2005 Instrumentalist) and Leif Ove Andsnes—edge-of-seat performances of Brahms’s Third Violin/Piano Sonata and Schubert’s “Rondo brilliant” and hardly less impressive ones of Janácek and Mozart sonatas. Although I already had planned to attend, I was cued by Alan Rich’s blog (soi’ in his review of their LA performance of the same program the previous week: “This was a great evening: violin and piano without flash or schmaltz. . . .”

The Cleveland Orchestra played three concerts at Carnegie last week under Franz Welser-Möst (MA’s Conductor, 2003). I have never heard this most European of American orchestras sound so sumptuous! For months I had looked forward to hearing Ligeti’s “Atmosphères” live (2/4) at last—remember its use in Kubrick’s “2001”?—and it didn’t disappoint. The Carnegie Hall audience was absolutely quiet as W-M beat several “silent” bars at the end, as Ligeti requests; thank goodness he didn’t try that with a Philharmonic audience. Wagner’s “Wesendonck” Lieder featured ravishing pianissimos from soprano Measha Brueggergosman and a perfectly judged accompaniment. And what Strauss’s Technicolor “Alpine Symphony” lacked in drama, it thrilled in sheer tonal beauty. I see that Peter Davis (, 2/6) found the Ligeti a “quaint period piece,” and the soloist in the Wagner “underpowered and lacking firm support” as well as “overly fussy” interpretively. The Strauss “lacked panache and seemed excessively rushed,” he felt. I skipped the second concert, with Shostakovich’s “Leningrad” Symphony. I don’t understand why conductors prefer this melodically barren tub-thumper to the far superior Fourth, Sixth, or Eighth. I had greatly anticipated Janácek’s glorious Glagolithic Mass on the third concert (2/7), but after a rather unsettled Mozart 25th and beautifully performed Debussy Nocturnes, W-M chose to play a recent version by Janácek scholar Paul Wingfield “that seeks to restore the composer’s original vision.” Seems that “numerous compromises . . . had been made to accommodate practical needs in the first performance. . . .” Well, maybe so, but on first hearing I found the changes highly disconcerting and deeply disappointing, despite fine playing, solo singing, and superbly solid work from the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus. I was astonished to see no mention whatsoever of the different version in Jim Oestreich’s otherwise perspicacious review in the Times.

Political hypocrisy. Once again the Loyal Opposition is contesting money to the National Endowment for the Arts. Why can’t they accept that the arts generate billions annually, employ millions of Americans, and most importantly, teach kids that everyone has unique talents to offer the world? But no, they’re still equating all the arts with Andres Serrano’s supposedly blasphemous “Piss Christ” and the homoerotic Mapplethorpe photos that were so controversial two decades ago. And now, believe it or not, after eight years of kneejerk voting of billions for a questionable war that may eventually bankrupt the American economy, they’re feigning concern about the monetary legacy we’re leaving our grandchildren. They say the arts aren’t an immediate concern. Like education? The mind boggles.