Shirley Verrett RIP

Another death in the musical world occurred on Friday 5th November, when Shirley Verrett died of heart failure after several months of illness.

The New York Times has an excellent obituary, which includes the following:

Among her 126 performances with the Met […] were many triumphs. In 1973, when the company opened its historic production of Berlioz’s [Les] Troyens, starring Jon Vickers as Aeneas, Ms. Verrett sang not only the role of Cassandra in Part I of this epic opera, but also Dido in Part II, taking the place of the mezzo-soprano Christa Ludwig, who had withdrawn because of an illness, a tour de force that entered Met annals.

In his New York magazine review the critic Alan Rich wrote that Ms. Verrett was “glorious to behold, and her luscious, pliant voice is at this moment in prime estate.” And in the Met’s 1978-79 season Ms. Verrett sang Tosca to Luciano Pavarotti’s Cavaradossi in a production of Puccini’s Tosca that was broadcast live on public television, which is available on a Decca DVD.

Opera News also has a fine obituary online.

This photograph (taken from that obituary page) shows her in that Met production of Les Troyens from 1973.

Rudolf Barshai & Henryk Górecki, RIP

Rudolf Barshai RIP

I’ve only now found out that Rudolf Barshai, viola player and conductor, died in his home in Switzerland on 2nd November aged 86. I got the news when I went to one of my favourite download sites and found an appreciation to him on the front page. A quick search on the internet brought a number of obituaries, including the New York Times, Gramophone magazine and The Guardian.

The last of these is quite sad when it deals with Barshai’s treatment by the Soviet authorities:

Told that he could go for good or not at all, in 1976 he emigrated to Israel, where he worked with the Israel Chamber Orchestra until 1981. Suddenly, he became a man without a past. The country of his birth disowned him; his name was removed from history books and even from the sleeves of his records; the Borodin Quartet and Moscow Chamber Orchestra toured without mentioning him in their programme material; and when a Soviet biography of Shostakovich was published in the west, Barshai, like his fellow emigres Kondrashin and Rostropovich, was absent from its pages.

I have a personal memory of Rudolf Barshai, who conducted a performance of Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony (Barshai’s arrangement for string orchestra of the composer’s 8th String Quartet) in St Patrick’s Cathedral which I went to with my dad some time in the ’70s. I always had the greatest respect for his music integrity, and was shocked when I heard of his death.


Not a good day in terms of musical demises. Not long after I learned about Rudolf Barshai I got an email about Henryk Górecki, who died today aged 76. As with Barshai, there are lots of obituaries making the rounds for Górecki. By far the most detailed that I’ve come across appeared in The Guardian.

I remember all too well the excessive exposure which the Symphony of Sorrowful Songs went through fifteen years ago or so. I jumped on the bandwagon and bought a copy of the famous Dawn Upshaw/David Zinman recording, but couldn’t stomach it at all and actually returned it to the shop. Hearing about Górecki’s passing I feel a bit guilty now about returning that CD, so to make up in some small way for that, here’s the second of his Three Dances in the Old Style. It’s played by the Warsaw Soloists conducted by Andrzej Mysinski.

Daniel Barenboim joins DG/Decca

This is from a press release from Deutsche Grammophon/Decca.

Deutsche Grammophon and Decca Classics are delighted to announce the signing of a wide-ranging recording agreement with conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim. Music director of Berlin’s Staatsoper and Staatskapelle and Maestro Scaligero at Milan’s Teatro alla Scala – with projects including a new Ring production at both houses – Barenboim has been called by The Times (London) “one of the few musicians in the world today who could accurately be described as legendary” …

The first releases on Deutsche Grammophon – early in 2011, to mark the 60th (!) anniversary of Barenboim’s performing debut – will be devoted to Chopin: a solo recital recorded in Warsaw as well as the two concertos with Barenboim accompanied by the Berlin Staatskapelle under Andris Nelsons. Later in the year, a new recording with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra will appear on Decca Classics to coincide with their annual tour: Tchaikovsky’s “Pathétique” Symphony and Schoenberg’s Variations for Orchestra.

I read somewhere else recently that Universal have decided to increase their commitment to classical music, apparently brought on in part at least by the defection of Lang Lang from Universal to Sony for a reported price of $3 million.

Leave Porgy alone!

Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks, American Repertory Theater artistic director Diane Paulus, and Obie Award-winning composer Diedre Murray are about to give “Porgy and Bess’’ a 21st-century update. Their musical-theater reinterpretation of the opera by George and Ira Gershwin and DuBose Heyward is slated to open the American Repertory Theater’s 2011-12 season next September.

That’s the opening of an article from The Boston Globe which made my hackles rise. More hackles rose even further when I read this:

What she wants, she said, is to introduce it to contemporary theatergoers. That, she explained, means taking it out of the operatic form and cutting the score so that it’s not four hours long … It will also mean more fully developing the characters, but whether new music will be part of the equation is yet to be seen, Paulus said.

I’m very surprised to see that the Gershwin Trust have given the project their blessing. I doubt very much if George Gershwin would do the same.