Horst Stein dies aged 80

Horst Stein, who died on Sunday 27th July 2008 in Vandœuvres, Switzerland, began work in 1952 as a conducting assistant at the Bayreuth Festival to such conductors as Joseph Keilberth, Hans Knappertsbusch, Clemens Krauss and Herbert von Karajan. From 1969 to 1986, he conducted 76 performances there, including the 1983 Bayreuth centenary production of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. His recorded discography is extensive, and includes a number of classic Wagner performances on DVD, including fine versions of Meistersinger and Parsifal. He held many other appointments, including principal conducting positions with the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra, l’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande and the Basel Symphony Orchestra. He was especially associated with the music of Max Reger, and recorded several Reger works.

Discussion wages on

Joe Queenan certainly opened a bit of a can of worms with his article in the Guardian, even to the extent of its travelling across the Atlantic. Terry Teachout entered the fray in his column in The Wall Street Journal. Having read that, Ethan Iverson issued this challenge to Mr Teachout:

what about a list of classical music since 1950 that he finds interesting? It should be a list of music that is neither twelve-tone or minimalist, nor particularly “crunch and thump.” 

Responding to the challenge, Terry comes up with a list of 10 pieces which includes several surprises (to me, at least). The ding-dong then continued, with TT challenging EI to do the same. He did. Once again, some of the choices came as a surprise. In particular, I was fascinated by the inclusion of Frederic Rzewski‘s North American Ballads — so much so in fact, that I investigated this composer further and went on to download a wonderful performance (by Marc-André Hamelin) of Rzewski’s monumental work for piano, The People United Will Never Be Defeated.

The final instalment of this saga (so far, at least) comes from George Hunka. So the strangest thing of all (at least for me) is that Joe Queenan’s dose of negativity has resulted in an expansion of my exposure to 20th-Century music, into areas I never previously imagined possible.

Modern music: Two divergent views

This is part of an article in today’s Guardian by Joe Queenan (who’s featured here before with his witty-enough A-Z of composers). The gist of his article is summed up in its title (which also links to the full text): Admit it, you’re as bored as I am.

In New York, Philadelphia and Boston, concert-goers have learned to stay awake and applaud politely at compositions by Christopher Rouse and Tan Dun. But they do this only because these works tend to be short and not terribly atonal; because they know this is the last time in their lives they’ll have to listen to them; and because the orchestra has signed a contract in blood guaranteeing that if everyone holds their nose and eats their vegetables, they’ll be rewarded with a great dollop of Tchaikovsky and Mendelssohn.

Being fair, the Guardian also provide a rebuttal by Tom Service, which includes the following:

The problem is that Queenan seems to equate a composer making a “breakthrough” not with whether audiences actually go to hear this stuff – they do – but whether he likes it or not. If he doesn’t get on with it, that’s fine, but it makes the argument a soupcon self-aggrandising. And although he holds up the audience as the final, great arbiter of whether music survives or not, there’s some interesting language about the people who go to classical music, who are either “trained seals” or “brash young urbanites”. I’d be worried about sitting next to him at the Royal Festival Hall.

Both articles are well worth a read. Perhaps the fact that I’ve since gone to iTunes and downloaded the performance of Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians on the strength of the YouTube video embedded in Tom Service’s piece gives some idea of where my own sympathies lie. (Considering that I’ve always had a blind spot where Steve Reich was concerned, that’s quite something — mind you, I haven’t listened to it yet.)

Solved: the mystery of why Stradivarius violins are best

They are said to produce unparalleled sound quality. Until now, however, no one has been able to explain why 300-year-old Stradivarius violins have never been matched in terms of musical expressiveness and projection.

A study has found that the secret may be explained by the consistent density of the two wooden panels used to make its body, rather than anything to do with the instrument’s overall contours, varnish, angle of the neck, fingerboard or strings.

Scientists compared five antique violins made by the Cremonese masters Antonio Stradivari and Giuseppe Guarneri Del Gesu with seven modern-day instruments by placing them in a medical scanner that could accurately gauge the density of the two wooden plates that make up the top and the back of the body

That’s the beginning of an article by Steve Connor, Science Editor of the British Independent which makes interesting reading.