February 13, 2009

Recently a well-meaning citizen of a major American city with a major international orchestra asked me if I thought the orchestra in her city was "the best," or at least "one of the three best."  She never specified whether she meant best in the United States, the world, or the solar system, and I didn't press the point. I gave my usual politically correct answer, pointing out how difficult it is to numerically rank orchestras without hearing them week after week under different conductors in different repertoire, and I also pointed out that different people would use different criteria in their own rating systems. Her reaction seemed somewhere between annoyance and acceptance, leaning more toward acceptance when I assured her that "her" orchestra was certainly one of the great ones in the world.
February 13, 2009 1:39 PM | | Comments (0)
February 6, 2009

Until this current generation, America was not the country in which to develop a conducting career--at least not through the traditional European path of working one's way up gradually from the smaller orchestras (often called "the provinces"). While some careers did manage to develop in America, for the most part they were begun at the level of larger orchestras: Bernstein in New York, Slatkin in St. Louis, Mehta in Los Angeles, Ozawa in Boston, Levine (after a stint as assistant in Cleveland) at Chicago's Ravinia Festival and the Metropolitan Opera. Michael Tilson Thomas did spend time as music director in Buffalo, but that actually came after he had achieved considerable fame as an assistant in Boston who wound up conducting many important concerts as a substitute for the ill William Steinberg. Just about the only international career of true importance that began in a small American orchestra prior to the last ten or fifteen years was that of Semyon Bychkov, who started in Grand Rapids and went from there to Buffalo. 
February 6, 2009 1:23 PM | | Comments (2)
January 30, 2009

That these are difficult economic times is hardly a news flash. Symphony orchestras, like all other fields of endeavor, are facing challenges that are more serious--or, at least, might be more serious--than anything they have experienced in decades. Even the poor economy of 2001-2004 was not as challenging as what we appear to be going through right now. And perhaps the worst part of it is the uncertainty--the inability to know how deep and how long this will be, and exactly what impact it will have on our orchestras. 
January 30, 2009 9:51 AM | | Comments (0)
January 23, 2009

Last week I wrote about Kenneth Hamilton's After the Golden Age, a book that illuminates the variety of performance styles prevalent in the 19th and early 20th centuries. I recommended it for anyone interested in the history of performance styles in classical music, particularly music of the Romantic era.  It fascinates (and frustrates) me that we have experienced over the past 20 or 30 years a serious and valuable interest in what is called "authentic performance practice" for Baroque and 18th-century music, but we have not seen a similar interest among performing musicians and those who write about music in appropriate performance practice for 19th - and early 20th - century music. 
January 23, 2009 4:17 PM | | Comments (4)
January 16, 2009

Regular readers of this blog will know that I have on more than one occasion railed against what I consider the excessive emphasis on "purity" in music today. I have often noted that while no one would wish a performance of a play to reflect the precise intonation and inflection of the first performance that took place with the playwright present, there seems to be a concept in the air today that a good musical performance will simply reproduce the notes printed on the page.  The idea that music, like theater, is an interpretive art--that once a piece of music enters the public arena it is not only open to a range of interpretation, but that this is healthy for the life of the piece--is an idea that has been minimized, if not completely squashed, by the ethic of "purity" or "fidelity to the score."  Stravinsky was famous for instructing performers to just play the notes and not interpret his music. But listen to Stravinsky's performances of his own music recorded over a span of time and you will hear that he had different ideas about what the notes said at different times of his life.
January 16, 2009 10:43 AM | | Comments (5)


on the record We've been hearing about the death of classical music and the aging of the audience for many decades. Not true! more

Henry Fogel Henry Fogel is senior advisor to the League of American Orchestras and a consultant for a number of orchestral and musical organizations. He served as the League's president and CEO from 2003 through June 2008. more

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