Schedule changes

1.  Due to unavailability of so many members, Ron has decided to cancel the scheduled session in his place on Saturday next, 2nd September. So we all have a day off!

2.  Tom Faulkner has asked me to notify the Group that he cannot go ahead with The Flying Dutchman on DVD on 4th November as planned. Is anyone else willing or able to take this on instead?

Behind the scenes with the Pittsburgh SO in Dublin

Music on the move: Transporting PSO is like maneuvering an army
DUBLIN, Ireland — An ear-piercing, grating noise fills the air on an otherwise pristine Sunday morning here. Not even John Cage dreamed of a violin making this sort of sound, a dull but loud clamor. But he would still call it music, and in more than the aesthetic sense of a radical composer, he would be correct.

“I would liken it to moving an army”, says John Karapandi, the PSO’s head tour technician since 1981. “On a smaller scale, of course, but we have the troops and we have the supplies. It is very complex.” Symphony cargo tends to resemble the orchestra itself. The music freight has its own management (Genevieve Twomey and Marcie Solomon at the PSO), and its own trio of conductors (Karapandi, Rocky Esposito and Jim Petri). Like fine instruments, cargo cases are custom-made in Europe — the PSO’s by the renowned Paul Gerstbauer shop in Vienna. The payload also has its own itinerary, flying from Toronto to Rome to Athens to begin the tour, while the musicians flew through Frankfurt. The cargo has its own seating arrangement, with each case holding multiple instruments stacked like a Tetris game on pallets loaded into the plane. It also has its own strict program — an important customs document called the carnet that is as strictly adhered to as any concert personnel chart. And, as seen in the brisk pace the loaders maintained on this tour, the quick setup and break down before and after each concert is a performance unto itself, allegro.

The above is a quote from a fascinating article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which is covering the orchestra’s European tour in some detail on the web. The linked page also includes short audio excerpts of NCH and PSO staff setting up for the Dublin concerts, an atmosphere piece about orchestra members’ Dublin experiences, and concert reviews from Dublin and Wales. Well worth a read.

The Wanderers return from Bayreuth

The precious tickets

We’re back! Well, actually, we’re back 36 hours at this stage, but I needed some recovery time and I also had to do some photo editing so you guys would have something to look at as soon as possible.

What can we say? We had a fantastic trip. Ron hired a car (Hertz, naturally), and we drove the width of Germany and back, from Hahn near Belgium to Bayreuth near the Czech Republic. Every km was worth it. We were blessed with glorious weather on the Friday and Saturday as we toured the Mosel Valley, collected our tickets in Frankfurt and spent some time in Würzburg. We spent the nights before and after the opera in Hollenfeld, which is just 25 km from Bayreuth. On our way back on the Monday we stopped off in glorious Bamberg for a few hours, just about made it back to Hahn in time to drop off the hire-car and check in. That’s a very, very quick summary of what was a brilliant few days. I’m afraid I’ll go into much greater detail over the next few days, so be warned. Also watch out for a review of the actual Dutchman production.

UPDATE, 30th August, 11.55 pm: At last, I’ve finished! I’ve set up a new Bayreuth Home Page from which you can access all the earlier photo albums along with the final one which covers odds and ends, and I’ve also included a link on our main web page. I’m pretty happy with how it all turned out, and I think there are some good shots included. It’s great to be able to share the memories like this, but, of course, none of it would be possible without Ron’s wonderful gesture of the ticket in the first place. Thanks a million, Ron, for the experience of a lifetime.

‘The search for Maestro Right’

That’s the title for a very long article in the Chicago Tribune about the search for a succeessor to Daniel Barenboim as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Music Director.

Nobody ever claimed finding Maestro Right would be a cakewalk. More than 2 1/2 years have gone by since Daniel Barenboim dropped his bombshell announcement that he was stepping down as music director … in June of this year. And still there’s no successor in sight.

The appointment of the dream team of Bernard Haitink as principal conductor and Pierre Boulez as conductor in interim leadership roles, beginning this coming season, has bought the CSO time to conduct the search process as thoroughly as possible, removing any pressure to fill Barenboim’s shoes with an ill-considered choice.

The writer speculates about likely candidates, including in the list David Robertson (a name new to me), who is currently music director of the St. Louis Symphony. He is a 47-year-old Californian who is building a reputation for himself. As the article points out, ‘if hired, he would become the first American-born music director in CSO history’. Take a look at the article for a fascinating insight into the process of conductor appointment at a major orchestra. It’s five pages long, but some of the later pages don’t have all that much content.

Irish woman leaves €5.5m to Edinburgh Festival

The Scotsman reports that the Edinburgh Festival has benefited to the tune of €5.5 million thanks to a bequest from what the newspaper describes as ‘an Irish spinster’. This is the biggest single gift in the history of the Festival. The full article is available here for anyone caring to read it all. This is an excerpt, which gives the general gist —

Léan [sic] Scully, who died last year aged 72, had a passion for classical concerts at the Usher Hall and a taste for crème de menthe at Festival parties. She cheerfully promised Festival staff that she would “see you right when I’m gone”.

They were stunned when she left property worth €5.5 million “for the benefit of the Edinburgh Festival” in her will. The money is to be used for promoting the careers of young artists. “It’s fantastic, it’s absolutely wonderful, and it’s something concrete that she will be remembered by,” the Festival director, Sir Brian McMaster, said. “She’s doing something great, something for the Festival, the thing she cared most about. It’s a wonderful thing,” he added.

The gift came from the sale of two houses next to one another in Dublin. The property was left over from her estate after gifts to friends.

Musical Gluttony?

This is the tagline to an article by Michael Berkeley (yet another from The Guardian‘s Arts section): Bach’s complete works, every Beethoven symphony, the Ring in a day — could we be overdoing the greats? Through the wonders of the internet, I came across a link to this at the US ArtsJournal Music site. Their intro reads like this (as usual, follow the link below to read the full article):

As the phenomenon of downloadable media continues to entrance the classical music world, marathons have become the hottest promotions going. “Blockbusters, bonkbusters, eat as much as you can for £5, sit through the whole of the Ring with a nasal feeding tube and a catheter… Hogarthian feasting is in vogue, with total immersion in composers, artists, playwrights and film directors sold to us as ultimate experiences. But is this an aesthetically rewarding endeavour or a marketing ploy?”

Too much of a good thing

It’s an interesting point of view, and I agree with some of what he says. What does anyone else think? Personally, I only dipped into BBC Radio 3’s Beethoven, Bach and Wagner extravaganzas, most especially in the case of The Ring in a Day, which I really thought was a bit much. In the case of the Beethoven the BBC followed up with free downloadable versions of the complete Beethoven symphonies with the BBC Philharmonic conducted by Gianandrea Noseda, which was a nice bonus, and I dipped into The Beethoven Experience more than into the other two marathons, but I’m inclined to go along with Mr B on the other two. Anyway, the BBC has more of the same in store for us, as Michael Berkeley says in his piece. I think I heard Tchaikovsky mentioned as being due for the ‘everything he wrote’ treatment.

A Librettist speaks

Simon Armitage was never a great fan of opera — so writing a libretto was a steep learning curve. But, he says, hearing his words take second place to the music was a liberating experience. He tells about writing the libretto for Stuart MacRae’s new opera The Assassin Tree (which has its premiere at the Edinburgh Festival on 25th August) in this fascinating article in the Guardian Unlimited Arts section. He begins like this:

It was Craig Raine who said that librettists are to opera what toilets are to theatres. So when someone from the Edinburgh festival asked if I’d be interested in writing the words for a newly commissioned opera, I hesitated. I’ve never thought of what I do as a mere functional necessity and, despite having the surname Armitage, I don’t take kindly to being pissed on.

Visconti’s ‘Ludwig’ – a quick review!

When I looked at the slipcase for this DVD I couldn’t believe the length (approx. 6 hrs!). However, it was such an easy film to watch (I really didn’t notice the length at all!). The Italian sounded so wonderful & it was so…so of another (film making) time. I would have liked it if there had been more shooting in Munich. But then he (Ludwig) disliked the city & spent most of his time in his ‘castles’. I visited the two that were mainly featured…Linderhoff and Neuschwanstein. The latter is a m a z i n g ! The interior decor is a complete homage to scenes from Tristan and The Ring. I don’t think Wagner came across very well in the film. Just the opportunist he probably was…all for the sake of his art!!

I thought the guy who played Ludwig was very good. Tony K. proffered the following info. about him: apparently he had no previous acting experience and was working as a waiter or something where Visconti was film-shooting. Apparently Visconti picked him up (in more than the usual way) and got him for ‘Ludwig’. Pretty amazing really. The goodlooking girl that played Empress Elizabeth was very good too I thought.

Kalliwoda, a composer worth hearing

Tom got Saturday’s session off to a great start with the first movement of the 5th Symphony by Johann Wenzel Kalliwoda, a composer none of us had heard of before. His dates are 1801-1866, his music sounds like a cross between Beethoven and Schumann, but what we heard also suggested the discovery of a fascinating, unique musical voice who sounds well worth getting to know. You’d hardly believe that the CPO recording Tom played would be anything other than a once-off, but now it turns out that there’s more Kalliwoda out there. The following is the opening of a review at Classics Today.com of a CD of his 3rd Symphony and other orchestral pieces, which sure sounds like it’s worth a listen too.

Leave it to the classical music biz to issue three discs of Kalliwoda orchestral music at exactly the same time! Between Orfeo, CPO, and this newcomer, we now have four of his seven symphonies available in excellent performances (a previous release of Symphonies Nos. 5 and 6 on Centaur isn’t at the same level as these).

Classics Today reviews another Kalliwoda recording

PS: Classics Today reviews the CPO CD here, and their review of the Orfeo recording (Symphonies 5 & 6) is here.

Classical Music's Ten Dirtiest Secrets

Classics Today.com is a review/news site which I’ve only recently discovered (isn’t the internet wonderful!). It includes the occasional article/editorial as well as its stock fare of news and reviews. The title of this one sounded intriguing. This is the final section of one such editorial, which may or may not be intended to be tongue in cheek. As usual, click the link to read the complete thing.

Admit it folks, deep down we all know the truth, don’t we? Judge for yourself:

  1. Mozart really does all sound the same.
  2. Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge is just plain ugly.
  3. Wagner’s operas are much better with cuts.
  4. No one cares about the first three movements of Berlioz’ Symphonie fantastique.
  5. Schoenberg’s music never sounds more attractive, no matter how many times you listen to it.
  6. Schumann’s orchestration definitely needs improvement.
  7. Bruckner couldn’t write a symphonic allegro to save his life.
  8. Liszt is trash.
  9. The so-called “happy” ending of Shostakovich’s Fifth is perfectly sincere.
  10. It’s a good thing that “only” about 200 Bach cantatas survive.

Link to the full article