Saturday, August 27, 2016
The music of Dmitry Shostakovich is very much a reflection of the times during which he lived in the Soviet Union. Now we have a new recording that allows us to listen to his last three works. Shostakovich: Symphony No. 15 in A major, Op. 141, performed by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, Eduard Serov conducting. Suite on verses by Michelangelo Buonarroti, for bass & orchestra, Op. 145a, performed by the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra, Frantisek Vajnar conducting.k Novorosiisk Chimes, Op. 111b, performed by the Radio-TV USSR Symphony, Arvid Jansons conducting. Ever the humorist, Shostakovich delighted in placing references to his works and of other composers in his final, Fifteenth Symphony: in addition to the cryptic references to his own music, it includes an outburst of Rossini’s ‘William Tell’ Overture in the first movement; allusions to Mikhail Glinka and Gustav Mahler; and the use of Richard Wagner’s ‘Fate’ leitmotif from the Ring Cycle. There is little humour however in the orchestral version of the ‘Michelangelo Suite’: a cycle profoundly personal and deeply felt. ‘Novorossiisk Chimes’ (also known as The Flame of Eternal Glory or The Fire of Eternal Glory), Op. 111b, was written in 1960 for the war memorial in the city of Novorossiisk. The piece consists, mainly, of material Shostakovich had originally written in 1943 as an entry in a contest to compose a new national anthem for the USSR. Here is a recording of the symphony number 15 by Shostakovich:
“What is disappearing, some say, are the light classics that once were staples of mainstream classical concerts that, around the middle of the last century, migrated to pops” and which pops orchestras have now abandoned in favor of classic rock and the like. Says conductor John Mauceri, “If you’re going to do a Mahler symphony as the centerpiece of a concert, you don’t have any room for von Suppé or Offenbach.”
Today is the birthday of Leonard Bernstein. He was born in 1918, and he died in 1990. For most of his adult musical life, Leonard Bernstein was a champion of the music by Gustav Mahler. Like Bernstein, Mahler himself was also the conductor of the New York Philharmonic for a few seasons at the beginning of the 1900’s. Bernstein became the authority on Mahler works. On at least one occasion he said “…some times I feel like I AM Mahler…” While Bernstein often conducted the Vienna Philharmonic, he was on occasion frustrated with them, saying “This is not Mahler…. He was among you , yet you do not bring the passion, the bitterness, the raw energy to his music…” The Symphony number 9 was Mahler’s last completed work. Here is Leonard Bernstein conducting and speaking to the orchestra about this amazing piece of music: Rest in Peace, Leonard Bernstein.
Too many things make a post, or, why do I have 34 open tabs in my phone's browser? No, I am not putting 34 items in this blog post. Gilbert Kaplan died in January at 74; he was a Wall Street millionaire who got rich by starting a magazine, Institutional Investor. He had an obsession: Mahler's Second Symphony. The headlines when he died called him a conductor, but, well, that was all he conducted. Margalit Fox's NY Times obituary for him is here; The Telegraph has an obit here.Also deceased, the great choral conductor Sir David Willcocks, last September at 95 (yeah, I'm behind a little!). Guardian obit here; Times here, also by Margalit Fox."The Broken Musican," about injury and disability among musicians. Note especially the remarks about James Levine.Ivan Hewett reviews a new biography of Bela Bartok, by David Cooper, published by Yale University Press."Margin Notes," a very amusing blog post at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra about what you find in musicians' orchestral parts.Scott Chamberlain at Mask of the Flower Prince goes into great and gory detail about the myriad problems with Terry Teachout's article several months ago claiming that the cost disease was what's killing the Met. Let's just say that he is a lot more thorough than I was.Composer Kevin Volans gave a speech so muddled that I can't quite figure out what he is talking about. (I do agree with him that grants and awards shouldn't all be tied to the age of the composer because composers improve over time.) Joshua Kosman helpfully explains while taking the opportunity to wallop Volans and critic Philip Clark, who had published an equally muddled lament over the lack of great composers these days.Anne Midgette thoughtfully discusses HD broadcasts, and her conclusions all make sense to me. Speight Jenkins, former general director of Seattle, a post he held for decades, says some very silly things, like HD broadcasts aren't opera. Um. I wish Anne had asked him how he feels about recordings and DVDs. I also wish she had not used the word "purist." More to the point, opera administrators should think about Peter Gelb's admission that the HD broadcasts are, or might be, cannibalizing the live audience. I'll hazard a guess about why: cheap tickets, parking close by, comfortable seats, popcorn, camaraderie. (Think about where your local opera company stands on those issues. I am aware of no company that allows popcorn except for the SFO ballpark broadcast) I do find it interesting that David Gockley says there's no money in HD when the Met is making about $18 million/year. He means, for US companies other than the Met.Changing the Narrative: Why "Getting New Audiences" Isn't the Answer The California Symphony goes into quite a bit of detail about how they approached the question of audience growth. Their strategy involved identifying and, well, befriending single ticket buyers, many of whom started buying more tickets or subscribing. They rewarded ticket purchases, personalized offerings, etc. This worked brilliantly. They're a small organization that puts on a small number of concerts; I don't know how this would scale for an organization such as SFS or SFO that has a lot more performances and tickets to sell, but it made an awful lot of sense to me.David Allen writes about new works that are responses to older masterpieces. I wish he'd squeezed in something about John (Coolidge) Adams's "Absolute Jest;" he did not, he tells me, because it wasn't commissioned specifically to be a response. So? The work does feel like part of the trend, and the revised version is a damn good piece.Okay, enough for now. I'm down to 20 open tabs.
Hans Spialek, celebrated orchestrator Performing classic Broadway musicals with a full orchestra affords the opportunity to hear them in their original symphonic splendor. Because of the decreasing size of pits and budgets, many first-rate theater companies now use scaled-down instrumental forces when producing musicals. Clever reductions exist, but something is lost. The harp part is covered by the pianist, four sax lines are boiled down to one, and the string section is decimated. In the worst scenario, everyone is replaced by a synthesizer. What is lost is not just color and richness but also counterpoint—the back and forth among instruments that is a hallmark of masterful orchestral writing. When Boston Landmarks Orchestra and Commonwealth Shakespeare Company (CSC) decided to revive Rodgers & Hart’s The Boys from Syracuse, this summer, we looked forward to what we had done in 2013 with Kiss Me, Kate: playing the full charts. The performance comes next Wednesday at 7pm at DCR’s Hatch Memorial Shell. Boys was orchestrated by Hans Spialek (1894-1983), one of the so-called Twelve Major Orchestrators of the Golden Age. His work, inventive and detailed, is steeped in ’30s swing and big band, while rooted in classical style. It would be perfect for BLmO. The problem was, I was told when I applied for our license, the Spialek parts were in such poor condition that they could not be played. We would have to accept the reduced version. Christopher Wilkins and I took this as a challenge. The musicologist in us was eager to find out exactly how the materials were in bad condition, and moreover we were motivated to help preserve and restore this chapter of American musical history. The optimist in us viewed the pronouncement of “simply not possible” as a dare. Wilkins and I worked with a band of fellow optimists, including CSC director Steven Maler, adviser and Broadway specialist Matthew Peter Donoghue, the most helpful team at Rodgers & Hammerstein (Ted Chapin, Michelle Yaroshko, Wayne Blood), Roger Grodsky of the University of Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, and skilled copyist David Kempers. It is because of their work that we will hear the Spialek orchestrations on August 31. They are incomparable. The tale takes interesting turns. From Vienna to Manhattan via Siberia Our quest to restore the original 1938 orchestration of The Boys from Syracuse began, improbably enough, in Vienna with Gustav Mahler and Enrico Caruso. Spialek was born in Vienna in 1894. As a boy soprano, he sang at the Imperial Opera under the baton of Mahler, and once appeared in La Bohème in a performance starring Caruso. In his teens, Spialek worked as a movie house pianist by night, attending classes by day at the Conservatory. His musical career was interrupted by World War I. Spialek was captured by the Russian Army and sent to a prison camp in Siberia. Undeterred, he formed and led an orchestra of 28 prisoners. When the Revolution broke out, Spialek and his fellows were set free—but he was left stranded in Siberia. In a saga worthy of Hollywood, he worked his way back across Europe on foot, playing piano recitals in town concert halls and movie houses in exchange for food. Spialek made it back to Vienna by 1921 and began a moderately successful career as a composer. He quipped that one of his pieces won a competition not because of its quality but because of his neat handwriting. In 1923 Spialek and his new bride emigrated to New York City, and soon he was working in movie houses and theaters once again. By chance, Spialek met the legendary Robert Russell Bennett (1894-1981), who would become the leading orchestrator of Golden Age musicals (Kiss Me, Kate; Annie Get Your Gun; Oklahoma!; My Fair Lady; Show Boat; and The Sound of Music are some of his credits). Bennett arranged for Spialek to work as a copyist at T.B. Harms, which was one of several publishers who controlled the musical stages of New York in the manner of a (usually) benevolent mob syndicate. Spialek had made it into the club. He worked his way up through the ranks. Soon he was sought after as an orchestrator in his own right, and in 1936 received the plum assignment of orchestrating Rodgers and Hart’s On Your Toes, followed immediately by Pal Joey. In the late ’30s, Spialek was Richard Rodgers’s orchestrator of choice, and in 1938 was hired to orchestrate The Boys from Syracuse. Those Twins Boys opened at the Alvin Theater on November 23 1938 after tryouts in New Haven and Boston (at each city’s respective Shubert Theater). It played for 235 performances, a decent run during the Depression. But in 1939 Richard Rodgers and Hans Spialek had a falling-out, and by 1943 the team of Rodgers and Hart had also broken up (followed by Hart’s untimely death). Although several of the songs from Boys have become standards, the show fell out of favor, in part because its vaudeville aesthetic had been supplanted by the realistic drama of Oklahoma! and Carousel. Perhaps because there was no rental market for regional and amateur productions, the handwritten parts of Boys were never engraved. Luckily, they were saved (the musical materials from quite a few Broadway shows have been lost or discarded). When The Boys from Syracuse was eventually revived on Broadway, in 1963, Spialek’s big-band orchestration was abandoned in favor of a perhaps more modern-sounding, smaller arrangement. It is this version that has since been available for rental from Rodgers & Hammerstein, but Broadway enthusiasts have long known that the more interesting 1938 version existed in the publisher’s vault. In 1983, librettist George Abbott and conductor John Mauceri planned a Broadway revival. As Steven Suskin writes in his book The Sound of Broadway Music: Everyone assumed that Spialek was long gone, but an old-timer at Rodgers’s office mentioned the he had seen “old Hans” at Russell Bennett’s funeral…. Someone had the bright idea of calling 411, and there was Hans on West 86th street, The bright and alert octogenarian left a message that Mauceri could “call him any day, from two in the afternoon till two in the morning. The planned revival of Boys never happened. The producer had lost a small fortune on a different adaptation of The Comedy of Errors, and was not eager to sink any more money into a musical based on the same story. Abbott, Mauceri, and Spialek instead revived On Your Toes for a 500-performance run. Spialek died soon after, in November of 1983. Interest in his orchestrations had been revived, but The Boys from Syracuse materials sat unused in the archives of Rodgers & Hammerstein. In 1997, Encores!, under the baton on Rob Fisher, performed the 1938 Boys, apparently using the handwritten parts. This was the first professional performance of the original orchestration since 1938. The Boston Landmarks Orchestra / Commonwealth Shakespeare performance on August 31 will mark the second. Encores! also made a wonderful recording of Boys, which is still the only commercially available document of Spialek’s 1938 orchestration. There has been a performance by students at the College Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati, led by Roger Grodsky, who assisted us in our quest. Remarkably, a high school on Long Island also has apparently performed from the challenging manuscript parts! Finally Seeing the Parts Last April Christopher Wilkins and I made a pilgrimage to the offices of Rodgers & Hammerstein in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood. Awaiting us there, in a suite adorned with fascinating memorabilia of Broadway’s glory days, were the handwritten musical parts from the 1938 production of The Boys from Syracuse. These were facsimiles of what was played in the pit of the Alvin Theater for those 235 performances. Later we had rare access to a full score, or partitur. It is not entirely accurate to describe the condition of the materials as poor. All pages are present and legible, and Spialek’s handwriting (the partitur and some of the parts are in his hand) is indeed neat. But simply copying the parts and giving them to a professional orchestra in 2016 would have presented challenges. Instead of designations such as Reed I, Reed II and Reed III those parts are labeled with the first names of the intended musicians: Dale, Dante, and Pepper. These talented players played a variety of winds, and some numbers call for switching from flute to tenor sax in just two or three beats. Violins divide (sometimes illogically) into A, B, C, and D rather than I and II. Key signatures and clefs were often left out in the haste. Sometimes there is no music at all on the page, just verbal instructions (“Play the end of the first page again, then the last part of the third page”). One imagines Rodgers, Hart, Spialek, and a team of copyists in a smoke-filled hotel room in Boston or New Haven quickly rewriting songs after tryouts. There would hardly have been time for the ink to dry before the next performance. The cello part is, touchingly, signed and dated by its first player: Rosanoff, Nov 23 1938 – Jun 10 1939 Wilkins and I left New York with a car full of photocopies of these precious parts and renewed optimism. Thanks to the speedy, accurate, and beautiful work of copyist David Kempers, we now have a full score and set of parts engraved and laid out to 2016 standards. More than anyone else, Kempers has made our performance of Spialek’s work possible. He has as well helped preserve an important musical treasure. Post Scriptum There is a final footnote to this saga. Wilkins and I spent much of the spring and summer learning about Hans Spialek, and tracking down those handwritten parts. We were also preparing for all of our concerts, including the July 20th Pictures at an Exhibition, which we presented in partnership with the Gardner Museum. Among the people we worked closely with was Kathy Sharpless, the Gardner’s marketing and communications director. Backstage after the concert, we all were chatting. Sharpless remarked how much she was looking forward to attending The Boys from Syracuse, as her grandfather had orchestrated the score. The performance is this Wednesday at 7pm (rain date is September 1st, and if raining that day the concert will be moved to Symphony Hall). With degrees from Harvard, the Ed school, and BU (MM vocal performance), tenor Rishi is a veteran recitalist and also arts administrator, currently with BLmO. The post Restoring a Classic Broadway Score appeared first on The Boston Musical Intelligencer .
My dual goal of posting at least one performance of every opera in today’s standard repertoire as well as the complete operas of several composers gets one step closer this week with Falstaff, Verdi’s totally unexpected, final, great comedic roar. While many performances were available, I chose one from Teatro Colón in 1965 with an amazing ensemble led by Geraint Evans, Raina Kabaivanska, Sesto Bruscantini, Oralia Domínguez, Jeanette Scovotti, and Luigi Alva. Evans was my first Falstaff, making his Met debut in the fifth performance of the now-legendary 1964 Franco Zeffirelli production. In eight seasons, he proved his versatility by alternating performances as Verdi’s fat knight with Mozart’s Figaro, Don Pizarro with Leporello, Captain Balstrode with Beckmesser, and a few Wozzecks thrown in for good measure. He is also the star of George Solti’s magnificent RCA recording of Falstaff, notable for many reasons including then-unknown kids named Mirella Freni and Alfredo Kraus. Kabaivanska, who also sang Alice Ford in the Zeffirelli production, is one of your alte Jungfer’s favorites, and was introduced to my Mixcloud site as Desdemona in a Solti-led Covent Garden Otello with Mario Del Monaco and Tito Gobbi. Bruscantini had a long career, eventually settling comfortably into the basso buffo repertoire, making an overdue Met debut at the age of 61 in L’italiana in Algeri in 1981. His other Met appearances included Dr. Bartolo in Il barbiere di Siviglia and Dulcamara, which he sang in a telecast performance of L’elisir d’amore with Luciano Pavarotti and Kathleen Battle. Domínguez became – and remains – a sensation with her show-stealing, smoldering Amneris in the infamous 1951 Mexico City Aida with Maria Meneghini Callas and Del Monaco. A little known – and totally amazing – fact is that she was just 25 when she gave that legendary performance, and had made her operatic debut only one year before. An incredibly versatile artist, she was as comfortable in all the great Verdi mezzo roles including the Requiem (check out the 1954 EMI recording led by Victor de Sabata with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf) as she was in Monteverdi, Vivaldi, Bach, Rossini, Brahms, Mahler, Stravinsky, and, rather surprisingly, was Herbert von Karajan’s Erda in his Osterfestspiele Salzburg Ring Cycle and the subsequent DG recordings. Another surprise was her Covent Garden debut in 1955 as Madame Sosostris in the world premiere of Michael Tippett’s The Midsummer Marriage, learned by rote (she spoke no English), alongside the 28-year-old Joan Sutherland. Performing until 1982, she died in Milano less than three years ago at age 88. Our Nannetta and Fenton, who also appeared together in the Zeffirelli production, are still with us. Scovotti, Zerbinetta in my Mixcloud upload of a 1967 Wiener Staatsoper Ariadne auf Naxos, sang over 80 Met performances covering the coloratura/soubrette repertoire. Alva, who sang over 100 Met performances in a decade, was as close to a true tenore di grazia as was to be heard in the 1960s and 1970s (post-Cesare Valletti), specializing in lighter repertoire which prolonged his career into his mid-60s. Maestro Fernando Previtali, a pupil of Franco Alfano and Vittorio Gui, was known as a Verdi specialist and led a cycle of the composer’s operas in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of his death. Among his many recordings is the beloved RCA La traviata with Anna Moffo, Richard Tucker, and Robert Merrill. While he held various positions in his native Italy, he was music director of the Teatro Colón in the 1960s, and later at the Teatro Regio in Torino and the Teatro Comunale in Genova. At the risk of being jumped on, I’d like to posit one of my rhetorical questions: has any other opera composer concluded a lengthy career with such a quicksilver masterpiece, so full of light and joy? Giuseppe Verdi: Falstaff Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires Fernando Previtali, conductor Sir John Falstaff – Geraint Evans Alice Ford – Raina Kabaivanska Ford – Sesto Bruscantini Dame Quickly – Oralia Domínguez Nannetta – Jeanette Scovotti Fenton – Luigi Alva Meg Page – Carmen Burelio Dottore Cajus – Italo Pasini Bardolfo – Nino Falzetti Pistola – Andres Huc-Santana
Gustav Mahler (7 July 1860 - 18 May 1911) was a late-Romantic Austrian-Bohemian composer and one of the leading conductors of his generation. As a composer, he acted as a bridge between the 19th century Austro-German tradition and the modernism of the early 20th century. While in his lifetime his status as a conductor was established beyond question, his own music gained wide popularity only after periods of relative neglect which included a ban on its performance in much of Europe during the Nazi era. After 1945 the music was discovered and championed by a new generation of listeners; Mahler then became one of the most frequently performed and recorded of all composers. After graduating from the Vienna Conservatory in 1878, Malherhe held a succession of conducting posts of rising importance in the opera houses of Europe, culminating in his appointment in 1897 as director of the Vienna Court Opera (Hofoper). During his ten years in Vienna, Mahler experienced regular opposition and hostility from the anti-Semitic press. Late in his life he was briefly director of New York's Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic. Mahler's uvre is relatively small and is confined to the genres of symphony and song, except for one piano quartet. Most of his ten symphonies are very large-scale works. These works were often controversial when first performed. Mahler's immediate musical successors were the composers Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg and Anton Webern. Shostakovich and Benjamin Britten are among later 20th-century composers who admired and were influenced by Mahler. The International Gustav Mahler Institute was established in 1955, to honour the composer's life and work.
Great composers of classical music