Monday, December 26, 2011

Special Year-End Musical Awards

Today Daniel J. Wakin of the New York Times offered his own list of awards modeled upon the plethora of other prizes presented at year's end.  While mentioning the many musical organizations in serious financial hardship (I did not know that the Utica Symphony had gone under), he did also make note of some of the year's highlights, including:
  • "the happiest final chord" presented to my beloved Detroit Symphony, as it concluded a gut-wrenching six-month strike with a concert in which the audience embraced their orchestra with "an outpouring of warmth and enthusiasm from the audience, showing, if only for an evening, what music can mean to a city."
The entire awards list can be found here.

Monday, December 12, 2011

We have to admit....

....that James Levine's career as a conductor has come to a close.  The New York Times announced here that he has cancelled all performances through the end of the 2012-13 season (which has yet to be announced).  It is clearly obvious that Maestro Levine's health problems are far worse than have been reported.

As I have said in previous posts, this is a sad way for one of the greats of our time to exit the stage.  Mr. Levine first conducted a Met performance of Tosca in 1971 and was named its principal conductor in 1973.  Since that time, he has led over 2500 performances and turned the Met Orchestra into one of the finest ensembles in the world, offering a series of concerts from both the Met stage as well as Carnegie Hall.

The management at the Met has already named Fabio Luisi its principal conductor until Levine would be able to return.  Given his recurrent health issues (which seem primarily focused on severe back pain) and the fact that he turns 70 in 2013, it is difficult to imagine Levine's return to the podium.  One can only hope that the organization will offer an appropriate tribute to the conductor who has made the company among the best in the world.

* * * * * * * * * *

In other musical news around the globe:
  • After finally admitting that nothing can be done to improve the acoustics in its pit, the Sydney Opera Orchestra will actually play in another room(!) with the sound transmitted electronically into the house during next year's Australian premiere of Korngold's Die Tote Stadt.
  • Iris Wagner, great-granddaughter of the composer is suing the Bayreuth Wagner Foundation and the city of Leipzig for her share of Richard's Bechstein.
  • Anthony Tommasini writes here of a resurgence among orchestras for new music!  He notes, among the events at the New York Philharmonic that music director Alan Gilbert has elected to end the season at the Park Avenue Armory, one of few spaces large enough to accommodate a performance of Stockhausen's Gruppen.  This entire article is a great read, discussing the uses of alternative performance spaces as well as new voices in "classical" music and opera.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

This is optimism?

OK, so I'm trying to stay high about Detroit, its sports teams (hey, the Tigers won their division and the Lions are a vast improvement from the 0-16 season of 2008) and in particular, its symphony--one of the first orchestras I ever heard in the flesh.  But one has to wonder when one reads:

2010-11 deficit:  $1.8 million, even though the season didn't begin (and no one was paid) until April.  Of course that was much better than the $5.3 million deficit the previous year.

2011-12 deficit (projected):  $3 million.

2011-12 ticket income (projected): $5.7 million, down from $7.2 million before the strike.

And lest we forget, the orchestra still owes $54 million on the "Max," the orchestra's new music center (a significant addition to historic Orchestra Hall).  In actuality, the entire bill was paid in full before DSO management decided to invest the contributions instead of using the gifts as intended.  The economy tanked (particularly in the Motor City) and the rest is, it all here.

Does a great (truly) singer make for an acceptable conductor?

A review of the Met's Madama Butterfly just in from the New York Times.  Arguably the greatest tenor of our time, Placido Domingo, is now extending his career by stepping off the stage and into the orchestra pit.  This is not the first less than glowing review I have read of a musician whom I admire greatly.  Of course, even though he is nearly 71 and still (mostly) in possession of that incredible sound, Domingo is obviously too old to be convincing in the many roles (136 as of July 2011!) that he has played.

Interestingly enough, Domingo made one of his major debuts (New York City Opera) in Madama Butterfly in 1965.  He has opened the season of the Metropolitan Opera a record 21 times.  To say that he has sung everywhere would not be hyperbole. 

I have always considered him to be a class act.  I'd much rather see him bow out as a conductor than possibly become a caricature of one.