DVD Screening of ‘Tristan und Isolde’

There are two operas left in the occasional series of complete screenings on DVD of Wagner’s ‘big six’ operas other than The Ring. Those remaining are Tristan und Isolde and Parsifal. Jim is offering to host a screening of Tristan in February, in or around the 21st in place of his usual monthly hosting.

The thing is … when exactly is the best time for this to happen? The last few screenings have been on Saturdays, in place of the usual music session, but it’s been suggested that this is perhaps not such a good idea. The problem is Wagner, though, and the fact that his operas tend to go on for rather a long time. Length is certainly a consideration in the case of Tristan und Isolde, and having the screening on Saturday afternoon means that it wouldn’t be too desperately late when the opera finishes, even allowing for a break for refreshments between Acts I and II and a more extended break between Acts II and III for a more substantial, sit-down meal. Indeed, staying on for a bit of craic afterwards would be well within the realms of possibility, especially with Sunday following as a recovery day.

Still, not everyone in the Music Group is an avid Wagner fan, and perhaps it isn’t fair to cancel the usual session just for the sake of a few members. So, I’ve put together a poll and I’m asking you guys to decide when you’d prefer this whole thing to happen. Some things to bear in mind when making your choice:

  • Starting time needs to be later on the Friday and earlier on the Sunday to facilitate gainfully-employed members with working hours to take into account.
  • Allowing for one short and one longer interval between acts, the complete screening will take approximately five and three-quarter hours.
  • Whatever the outcome of the poll, further information (production, cast etc.) will be made available closer to the time.

Closing date for the poll is 8.00 pm on Friday 5th December, but don’t be shy — get your votes in and let’s see if we can reach a clear-cut decision before that.

‘Why so serious?’

The modern classical-music performance, as audiences have come to know it and sometimes to love it, adheres to a fairly rigid format. Most people are aware that this clockwork routine—reassuringly dependable or drearily predictable, depending on whom you ask—is of recent origin, and that before 1900 concerts assumed a quite different form. It’s always a shock, though, to confront the difference in all its particulars. Two new books, Kenneth Hamilton’s “After the Golden Age: Romantic Pianism and Modern Performance” and William Weber’s “The Great Transformation of Musical Taste: Concert Programming from Haydn to Brahms”, explore how and why the classical ritual has changed.

This is from the beginning of an article in The New Yorker magazine by Alex Ross. This is much more than a mere review of a couple of books, since AR expands his comments into a well-considered essay which makes excellent, and amusing, reading. Here’s another quote to whet appetites and hopefully encourage a full reading:

Piano recitals were, by modern standards, completely nuts. Hamilton, in his deft, sympathetic account of the old-school virtuosos and their gaudy habits, devotes several amusing pages to the antics of the great Franz Liszt, who was the first pianist to break from the miscellany format and give concerts on his own, although the ensuing spectacle resembled “The Ed Sullivan Show” more than the hushed recital of today. In one favorite routine, Liszt brought onstage a large urn into which his listeners had dropped slips of paper, each one inscribed with a suggestion for a tune on which he might improvise. He then drew out the messages one by one, taking delight in those which wandered off topic. Hamilton writes, “On turning out the urn in a concert on March 15, 1838 in Milan, Liszt found a piece of paper with the question ‘Is it better to marry or remain single?’—to which he slickly replied, ‘Whatever course one chooses, one is sure to regret it.’ Written on another scrap he found the words ‘the railroad’—which he illustrated on the keyboard with a swath of glissandi.”

The audience sometimes participated without any prompting from the stage. Once, when Liszt was beginning a performance of the “Kreutzer” Sonata with the violinist Lambert Massart, listeners began calling out “Robert le Diable!”—meaning that they wished to hear instead Liszt’s fantasy on themes from the Meyerbeer opera. Liszt acceded to the demand and launched into his “Robert” fantasy. Imagine what would happen today if, just as Maurizio Pollini was playing the first of Chopin’s Études, concertgoers were to shout, “ ‘Claire de Lune’! ‘Claire de Lune’!”


As a major component of the special projects honoring Esa-Pekka Salonen in his final season as the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Music Director, the LA PHIL launches the “Celebrate Salonen” microsite. The comprehensive and multi-layered site, a living tribute to Salonen’s legacy, is an exploration of his 17 seasons with the LA PHIL. Through images, as well as on-demand audio and video components, it showcases him as both composer and conductor as well as a champion of music of our time.

The more than 100 images, 4 hours of audio interviews, 3 hours of video and 15 hours of music that can be accessed via the timeline points are also housed in a comprehensive media section. Site visitors can listen to interviews with and concerts conducted by Salonen with the LA PHIL; view video of performance clips, including Salonen’s first rehearsal as Music Director, interviews and discussions with Salonen as well as view on-stage and behind-the-scenes photos; and read articles, personal essays and program notes. The media section also offers a complete searchable listing of the more than 900 concerts that Salonen performed with the LA PHIL during his tenure.

These are quotes from a weblog entry which gives an excellent idea of what’s in store for visitors to the Celebrate:Salonen web site. I can’t recommend the Salonen site highly enough. Esa-Pekka Salonen did wonders for the LA Philharmonic during his tenure there, and the fact that the LA PHIL management went to the trouble of setting up this special site speaks volumes for the high regard in which he’s been held.

If you have some time to spare, you could do a lot worse than spend it at Celebrate:Salonen.