Friday, July 29, 2016

On Fort Worth....On Hartford.....

Who is going to save it?
Just some brief notes:

Check out the terrible news about U.S. Armed Forces musicians here.

Here are the facts, as published by the Musicians of the Fort Worth Symphony, AND one individual musician's take on all of the "dis-chord" on the ground. It is more than painfully obvious that management is making little effort in development.

In Hartford, Steve Collins has been named Executive Director, ending the very odd arrangement in which the Landlord was also CEO of the symphony. That at least lends more transparency to the organization. Of course, the organization still remains strapped for cash, AND they just created an Assistant Conductor position! Go figure....

There's less than good news out of Baltimore. I'm digging into that.

There is also some good news out there. For example:

  • In Kansas City, endowing the Assistant Conductor position.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Ft. Worth Nears (Another) Deadline

In early February, I passed on reports that the Fort Worth Symphony Association would not proceed with its "concessionary contract" which would have decreased musician salaries by 8%. That agreement was slated to expire (pretty basically) now. Headway since then? Nothing.

In March, musicians staged a sit-in at the symphony's offices. The local CBS affiliate reported that  the musicians said on Monday, (March 20) management cancelled three scheduled negotiation sessions, without offering alternate dates. “This recklessness, lack of good faith, and dereliction of duty on management’s part cannot be tolerated,” the statement read.

On July 1, the Association published a lengthy "Update and FAQ" section on the orchestra's website. Noting that the current agreement ends July 31, this seems a bit late in the game. Also, several statements go out of their way to paint the musicians as petty.

  • In answer to past salary cuts, the statement notes, During the recession, the musicians accepted salary reductions in 2010, and the staff endured layoffs and pension freezes. Since that time, musicians have received increases in wages and benefits in 2012, 2014, and 2015 totaling approximately 5.5%. Of course, this does not mention that the 2010 reductions totaled 13.5%. They are still 8% below 2009 levels. Further cuts put the players further behind.
  • The proposed cuts amount to an 8.7% cut in total wages. Further, given the rising cost of healthcare, we are seeking to move from paying 93% of insurance premium downward to 85% – still very competitive among comparable orchestras. Even with these changes musician salaries would remain competitive with orchestras of similar budgets.
  • What is the Union asking of the FWSOA?  The Union Negotiating Committee dismisses the current economic conditions and continues to put forth demands for nearly $1 million in increased salaries and benefits over the next three years. They have also submitted more than 50 non-economic “work rule” requests, and we have reached agreement of many of these issues.
  • How difficult would it be to meet the musicians’ demands? The demands would create an accumulated deficit of $3 million in the next 36 months. The Orchestra Association simply cannot fund what the Union Negotiating Committee has demanded.  This plainly doesn't add up. When does $1 million over three years equal a $3 million deficit.
The Musicians offered their own lengthy Response to FAQ on their website. They insist that management hasn't done its job in generating new donors and dollars. It doesn't help that the organization has employed four (or is it 6?) development directors in five years. The development staff is also quite small, employing only three members (with no executive in charge) when similar-sized orchestras have staffs 2-3 times that large.

Ft. Worth's V-P of Development
A few more nuggets:

Musicians of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra Facts:
●  With the proposed cuts, the FWSO would rank 32nd in salary amongst the country’s top 50 orchestras.  The FWSO musicians' salary would equate to the salary in 2003.

●  Under the management’s proposal, FWSO musicians would earn $42,000 less than a Dallas Symphony musician, and $20,000 below the national average of 50 of the country’s top orchestras.
●  Seniority and overtime are negligible, totaling about $500 per year for only the most senior members of the orchestra.

While the orchestra insists that its health benefit package is "competitive", the real numbers tell a different story:
●  The combination of reduced individual coverage and ZERO family coverage puts the FWSO at the BOTTOM of plans offered by the country’s top 50 orchestras.  
●  This past season, it cost $1746 per month to insure a family on the FWSOA health plan.

It is plainly obvious that these two sides are far apart in reaching any kind of agreement. It can only end ugly.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Never too late to learn....

My parents taught me how to listen to everybody before I made up my own mind. When you listen, you learn. You absorb like a sponge and your life becomes so much better than when you are just trying to be listened to all the time.  ~ Steven Spielberg

Anton Webern

Some time ago--thanks to my friend over at Classical Dark Arts--I discovered a work that is new to me, although it was composed in 1908 and is Anton Webern's Opus 1. The Passacaglia appeared just as Webern was completing four years of study with Arnold Schoenberg. Philip Huscher of the Chicago Symphony notes, Schoenberg’s presence is felt, too—the Schoenberg of Transfigured Night and Pelleas and Melisande, not of the later atonal pieces. The formal structure reminds us that the passacaglia finale of Brahms’s Fourth Symphony (scarcely twenty years old in 1908) was often performed and discussed and obviously influential. There are fleeting moments that recall the unlikely world of Bayreuth, the Wagnerian festival Webern attended as a present on graduation from the Klagenfurt Gymnasium in 1902. The Passacaglia is the work that brings them all together.
The work is amazing.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Theodor Kirchner

Thanks to my work on the annual "Huey Awards," I was reminded of a forgotten musical figure of the late Romantic era, Theodor Kirchner. He was close to both Robert and Clara Schumann; Johannes Brahms was a supporter. In fact, Kirchner made the vocal score to the German Requiem and arranged a number of his orchestral works for piano.

He was a prolific composer of solo piano pieces as well as a smaller amount of chamber music. I think I need to do some digging.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Alberto Ginastera, turning 100!
Died too soon in 1983
While working on programming for the 2016-17 season of the Quad City Wind Ensemble, I've come across some original music for winds from Venezuela and Colombia. More on that later. In the meantime, here is the line-up for the first concert:

Fall Concert, 2016: Sweet Sixteen

Clifton Williams (1923 - 1976): Caccia and Chorale (1976)

Vittorio Gianinni (1903 - 1966): Symphony No. 3 (1958)
            I.  Allegro energico
            II. Adagio
            III. Allegro con brio

Julius Fucik (1872 - 1916): Gigantic March


Alberto Ginastera (1916 - 1983), arr. Greg Bimm: Pampeana No. 3 (1954)
            II. Impetuosamente

John Philip Sousa (1854 - 1932): Willow Blossoms (1916)

Vincent Persichetti (1915 - 1987): Turn Not Thy Face, Chorale Prelude (1966) 

John Barnes Chance (1932 - 1972): Variations on a Korean Folk Song (1966)

I think it's going to be darned good (even though they're all dead white guys of European extraction; I'll have to make up for that later). Looking ahead, we're going "south of the border" to play contemporary(!) wind music of Columbia, Venezuela, and elsewhere.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

A (pretty) good news summer: Contracts, Musical chairs.....

As opposed to the recent past (that included a rash of contract disputes), this spring/summer has generated more than a few surprises (both good and not so good):

Grand Rapids Symphony, DeVos Hall

     The Grand Rapids (MI) Symphony and its players ratified a five-year agreement in April. Local media reports that the agreement that will carry the Grand Rapids Symphony through its 90th anniversary season in 2019-20 maintains the present 40-week performance season, preserves the current complement of musicians, and makes no changes to the orchestra's health insurance. The contract negotiations took eleven (11) months to ratify the previous agreement which had expired August 31, 2015.

Raymond Harvey, MD of the Kalamazoo Symphony
     Meanwhile, down Highway 131 from Grand Rapids, members of the Kalamazoo Symphony filed an unfair labor practice charge against the orchestra with the National Labor Relations Board. KSO management is attempting to save a few dollars by doubling up rehearsals (similar to sports team's "two a days"). Al Jones writesAt the crux of the union's complaint are plans by orchestra management to schedule two rehearsal sessions on each of the two days preceding the shows in the KSO's symphonic concert series, rather than have one session per day for four days preceding a show. There may also be a rehearsal on the same day as a show.
     Management obviously doesn't know how these things work. Peter Gistelinck, CEO, said it creates more access and easier access for guest soloists and guest conductors to perform. They can visit Kalamazoo for two to three days, rather than four or five. "If you really want to bring in high level stars, they can't spend four to five days in the community," he said. 
     As one who knows the business, even middle-tier soloists are rarely in town for more than three days. Management also doesn't even try to accommodate schedules of musicians who don't work full-time at it (which would be practically all of them), or the serious possibility of injury from players overextending themselves. Keep an eye on this one.
     Better news comes from Kansas City as well. The orchestra reached a new agreement (in eight meeting with no attorneys) for four years that includes a 20%(!!) wage hike and a better benefit package. It helps that management and players are united in a common goal to halt the flow of fine players from KC to greener (and more lucrative) pastures. It also doesn't hurt to have an Executive Director, Frank Byrne, who trained as a professional musician. Honestly I don’t see how one could do my job without having that connection and that commitment to music,” Byrne said. “So when we talk about any number of issues, the musicians know that I am aware of what it takes to perform on a professional level, the sacrifices, the commitment, the pressure, everything that goes with it, and that they have someone who is respectful of the work that they do. That has been very beneficial in the many conversations that we’ve had.


The 5-million-dollar man

The highest-paid conductor in the U.S. is not Christoph Eschenbach! Rather, it's Jaap van Zweden (MD designate with the New York Phil), Conductor of the Dallas Symphony. Apparently, he was given a signing bonus of over $3 million, on top of a salary increase of 19% (over 280K) over the previous year. Total compensation: $5,110,538. This is obscene and uncalled-for.

Rounding out the top ten:

2. Riccardo Muti, Chicago Symphony: $2,309,837
3. Christoph Eshenbach, National Symphony: $2,274,151
4. Michael Tilson-Thomas, San Francisco Symphony: $2,105,920
5. Alan Gilbert, New York Philharmonic: $1,751,570
6. Gustavo Dudamel, Los Angeles Philharmonic: $1,661,493
7. David Robertson, St. Louis Symphony: $1,043,313
8. Franz Welser-Most, Cleveland Orchestra: $977,496
9. Marin Alsop, Baltimore Symphony: $914,747
10. Leonard Slatkin, Detroit Symphony: $800,957

Yannick: adored in Philly
Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Music Director of the Philadelphia Orchestra, has been named the new conductor (or whatever the title is) at the Metropolitan Opera. At 41, he has to fill the big shoes left by James Levine. Lest one is worried about his apparent youth, Levine was 32 when he began his 40-year run. Although his Philadelphia contract has been extended through 2026, perhaps Yannick wants a safety net. As arts critic Peter Dobrin reports, the cloud of Philadelphia's 2011 bankruptcy hasn't necessarily cleared. Turns out they're ignoring the younger donor base....Go figure.

One has to wonder what kind of contract Jaap will command in New York.

Edo de Waart finishes his tenure as Music Director of the Milwaukee Symphony at the close of the 2016-17 season. Leonard Slatkin of Detroit departs at the same time.

Gianandrea Noseda assumes the podium of the National Symphony in 2017-18.


For years the prestige of various American orchestras was based upon their budgets; the "top five" included New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, and Cleveland. How things have changed. Here's the new list.

"The Dude" and his band are easily #1.
Frankly, it's all in the hair.
1 Los Angeles Philharmonic: $117,813,629. That's a lot of cash. Of course, the LA Phil makes a slew of it at their high-powered summer venue in the Hollywood Bowl.

2 Boston Symphony: $88,543,401

3 Chicago Symphony: $80,482,607

4 San Francisco Symphony: $74,566,128

5 New York Philharmonic: $73,256,773

Cleveland is sixth at $51,303,220 and Philadephia seventh with $45,366,875.

Read more here:

Saturday, July 9, 2016

The Huey's (Part 5) Summary

The scores are tabulated and the results? (Scores are aggregate/averages)

6. Des Moines (IA) Symphony: 10
5. Dubuque (IA) Symphony: 11
4. Quad City Symphony (Davenport IA/Rock Island IL): 13
3. Madison (WI) Symphony: 13.125
2. Orchestra Iowa (Cedar Rapids IA): 14
1. WCF Symphony (Cedar Falls IA): 18.2

I have to admit a personal bias against seasons that try a common thread such as Dubuque's "Season of the Arts" and QC's river-based theme. It's just that something doesn't fit: Dubuque's "Music and Movement" has no ballet music (two opera overtures, two violin works, and Beethoven's Seventh Symphony). In the Quad Cities, a Michael Daugherty tuba concerto (Reflections on the Mississippi--ok that fits) is stuffed between Don Juan and the Eroica (those don't).

Two orchestras are tying out Bach, with QC offering the St. Matthew Passion and Orchestra Iowa taking on the so-called B-minor Mass. While sources on the ground have assured me that there will not be a "cast of thousands" in the QC choir, I note that the Adler Theater doesn't have an organ, subjecting the audience to what I refer to as an "appliance". (Forgive me, I am a erstwhile organist). In Cedar Rapids, will it be continuo parts on the Mighty Wurlitzer?

There are "bright lights" in many of the orchestras' seasons, something that would not have been said in previous years:
  • The Madison Symphony is offering the Lutoslawski Concerto for Orchestra and guest conductor Carl St. Clair. As I've said before, I've rarely heard the Madison strings play more beautifully than in St. Clair's Mother Goose.
  • Orchestra Iowa offers a Czech concert, with Janacek! (a welcome respite even if the rest: Mozart "Prague" and Dvorak 8 need no dusting off. There's also a great concert of American music as well as Branford Marsalis playing classical! (Many people don't realize that he has legit chops.)
  • The Quad Cities gives some interesting programs, even if the sum of the parts don't always add up. Items of note include some new music and the "River of Life" concert.
  • And then there is the WCF Symphony, Huey winner for the fourth consecutive year. Jason Weinberger and Co. are always breaking the mold: providing contexts for popular film music, offering chamber-sized pieces in more intimate settings, and even stretching the boundaries in an outdoor concert.
WCF Symphony at Waterloo's Brown Derby
Things are getting better and more original. Still, the music of our time remains underrepresented (and Ives is considered "contemporary"). Everyone talks about generating the next new audience for classical music, but few are doing much about it. That is the next challenge.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

The 2016 Huey's (Part 4)! Quad City Symphony and WCF Symphony

Quad City Symphony (History)

The orchestra began at a meeting of musicians and citizens from Davenport, Rock Island and Moline on February 10, 1916. They hired Ludwig Becker of Chicago as the first music director. The first name for the orchestra was the Tri-City Symphony. The Tri-Cities, as the area was then called, was the smallest community in the United States to support a full symphony orchestra. The first rehearsal for the orchestra was held on March 12, 1916, and its first concert was held on March 29. The orchestra was composed of 60 amateur and professional musicians from the Tri-Cities.

Barely surviving the early years of the depression (and the loss of many professional players), in 1934 orchestra board member Elsie von Maur suggested they charge what the concerts were worth and return to hiring well-known guest artists. The changes worked. The orchestra started to make money, and was able to hire professional musicians again. The Junior Board was established in 1936 to sponsor fundraising projects. In 1940 Elsie von Maur became the symphony’s first manager, a position she held for 47 years.

Concerts were held at Augustana College's Centennial and, in the 1960s, also at Davenport's Masonic Temple. In the 1980s, the orchestra relocated Iowa concerts to the renovated Adler Theater (Saturday evenings) while still performing at Centennial (Sunday afternoons).

Compared to other orchestras on our list, the QCSO has had a large number of Music Director/Conductors. That said, James Dixon, late director of orchestras at the University of Iowa, held the podium for 29 of the orchestra's first 100 years.

1916–1933: Ludwig Becker
1933–1936: Frank Kendrie
1936–1937: Frank Laird Waller
1938–1949: Oscar Anderson
1949–1954: Harry John Brown
1954–1956: Piero Bellugi
1956–1965: Charles Gigante
1965–1994: James Dixon
1995–1997: Kim Allen Kluge
1999–2007: Donald Schleicher
2008–present: Mark Russell Smith

Centennial Hall, Augustana College, Rock Island, IL

Adler Theater, Davenport, IA
2016-17 Season:


Richard Strauss: Don Juan
Michael Daugherty: Reflections on the Mississippi
Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony #3 (Eroica) 

A note from David Hurwitz's review of the premiere recording in Classics Today: "The Daugherty is obviously the reason for releasing this disc, but its 20 minutes hardly suffices for an entire CD, and so someone had the not very bright idea of coupling Reflections on the Mississippi with Shostakovich’s Ninth Symphony....What business has this symphony sharing a disc with the Daugherty? It simply couldn’t be more superfluous." That kind of sums up my feeling about this concert; it just doesn't fit together right. Scoring: 13


Tobias Picker: Old and Lost Rivers
Bedrich Smetana: Moldau
Felix Mendelssohn: Scherzo, Nocturne, and Wedding March from A Midsummer Night's Dream
Johannes Brahms: Piano Concerto #2

Here we have two "river pieces" (although Smetana entitled it Vltava--let's get with the Czechs!), some incidental music and a concerto unrelated to the rest. Scoring: 13 (the inclusion of Picker doesn't make up for "Moldau"--the title, not the piece, especially in the city of the National Czech and Slovak Museum!)


George Frederick Handel: Water Music Suite
Edward Elgar: Cello Concerto, Op. 85
Robert Schumann: Symphony #3 "Rhenisch" 

Scoring: Easy peasy: 10


Modest Mussorgsky/Rimsky Korsakov: Dawn on the Moscow River
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Violin Concerto #5
Michael Abels: World Premiere Commission
Mozart: Symphony #38 in D Major, "Prague"
Johann Strauss: Blue Danube Waltz 

OK, everyone knows the Mozart Concerto, the Prague Symphony, and the Blue Danube Waltz(es)--that's what he titled it. Michael Abels writes, "I'm inspired by the idea of water as a commodity. I've long wanted to write a piece inspired by the idea of panning for gold, the sense of finding precious things inside a continuous flow of water. In the 21st Century, we discover that the precious thing is actually the water itself, not so much what is sifted out of it." In a concert entitled "Joined By A River," What's the connection between Mozart and the rest? (Yes, there is a river in Prague called Vltava--not the Moldau--but Wolfie wasn't writing about that.)  Scoring (this is a toughie): it doesn't follow the "format" but the Strauss is kind of tacked on at the end. 17


Richard Wagner: Dawn and Siegfried's Rhine Journey from "Götterdammerung"
Richard Struss: Four Last Songs
Wagner: Prelude and Liebestod from "Tristan und Isolde"
Maurice Ravel: Daphnis and Chloë Suite #2

River of Life? I'm only discounting this performance because all these works are very well known.  Scoring: 15


Johann Sebastian Bach: St. Matthew Passion

From the QCSO website: Six vocal soloists, two organs, the Quad City Symphony Orchestra, Handel Oratorio Society and Quad City Choral Arts will amass on our concert stages. Amass? Uh-oh.... All told, the "mass" could include nearly 300 singers, in BIG HALLS. The purist in me comes out again. Give me a HIP (historically-informed performance) replacement!  10

Total score: 78
Divisor: 6
Aggregate: 13

WCF Symphony (History)

The orchestra was founded in the fall of 1929 by G.T. Bennett, Director of the East Waterloo High School Orchestra; Ralph Pronk, director of the West Waterloo High School Orchestra; Cressy Whalen, then president of the Waterloo Musicians Union; and the late Myron Russell, emeritus head of the School of Music at the University of Northern Iowa. Our first name was ‘Waterloo Symphony Orchestra’. Our first concert was held at East High School, Thursday, February 6, 1930, with Mr. Bennett as conductor, sharing the honor with Mr. Pronk. This first concert featured two soloists: Mr. William E. Hayes, tenor and Myron Russell, English horn, both from Iowa State Teachers College.

For many years, the symphony played in Waterloo West High School's Kersenbrock Auditorium. A partnership with the University of Northern developed office space as well as the vastly improved Great Hall at Gallagher-Bluedorn Performing Arts Center on the UNI campus.

The orchestra has had sixteen conductors since its founding. G.T. Bennett and Ralph Pronk conducted the first two concerts and Dr. Edward Kurtz, the head of the Orchestra Department at Iowa State Teachers College, was made official conductor in 1931. A particularly difficult time followed the the departure of Joseph Giunta (now with the Des Moines Symphony) in 1992. Four conductors held the podium in the ten-year span that ended with the hiring of Jason Weinberger in 2002.

Edward Kurtz 1931-1935
George Dasch 1935-1944
Jeanette Sheerer 1944-1947
Otto Jelinek 1947-1955
Matys Abas 1955-1958
Myron Russell 1958-1971
Donald Wendt (Acting Music Director) 1971-1972
Lathon Jernigan (Resident Conductor) 1972-1974
Joseph Giunta (Music Director and Conductor) 1974-1992
Elizabeth Schulze (Music Director and Conductor) 1994-1997
John LoPiccolo (Music Director and Conductor) 1998-1999
Jack Graham (Acting Music Director and Conductor) 1999-2000
Richard Rosenberg (Music Director and Conductor) 2000-2001
Jason Weinberger (Artistic Director and CEO) 2002-present

Waterloo (IA) West High Auditorium (post renovation), now state-of-the-art
Not so before the new millennium

The Great Hall, Gallagher-Bluedorn Performing Arts Center
University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, IA

2016-17 Season:

WCF Symphony

Antonio Vivaldi – The Four Seasons: Summer & Fall
Max Richter – The Four Seasons Recomposed: Summer & Fall

In an NPR interview, composer Max Richter notes, "The first thing that was sort of difficult — and I wasn't expecting this, actually — was trying to understand who I was at each moment of writing it," he says. "That sounds a bit crazy, but in the piece, there are sections which are just Vivaldi, where I've left it alone. I've done sort of a production on 'Autumn,' but I've left the notes. And there other bits where there's basically only a homeopathic dose of Vivaldi in this completely new music," he says. "So I have to figure out how much Max and how much Vivaldi there was going on at every moment."

This will be performed--as are all of the orchestra's "chamber" programs--at Waterloo's historic Brown Derby Ballroom.  Scoring: 18 (I don't know the Richter, but I've heard others "mess" with this timeworn Vivaldi.   


John Williams – Sorcerer’s Stone, Chamber of Secrets, Prisoner of Azkaban
Sergei Prokofiev – Peter and the Wolf, final scenes
Béla Bartók – Miraculous Mandarin, Suite selections
Edvard Grieg – In the Hall of the Mountain King from Peer Gynt
Modest Mussorgsky – Night on Bare Mountain arr Rimsky-Korsakov
Paul Price-Brenner – World premiere 

Conductor Weinberger enjoys presented modern "classics" or film music alongside works that have inspired them. As Williams is among the most derivative of all (a major complaint), snippets of these sounds will be found in his scores. That said, it's brave to offer selections from the Miraculous Mandarin. The rest? Pop fare. Another tough one to score. Scoring: Rep: -3 Total 17


Antonio Vivaldi – The Four Seasons: Winter & Spring
Max Richter – The Four Seasons Recomposed: Winter & Spring

Part Two. See above. 18


Charles Tomlinson Griffes – The White Peacock
Aaron Copland – Appalachian Spring
Adam Schoenberg – Scatter Concerto with PROJECT Trio

I like this show--a lot. Griffes didn't write enough; it's a fabulous piece. My only 20.


Theodor Kirchner – Nur Tropfen (adapted by Jason Weinberger for string orchestra)
Robert Schumann – Introduction and Allegro with Rachel Kudo, piano
Clara Schumann – Konzertsatz with Rachel Kudo, piano
Johannes Brahms – Symphony no. 1 

So Robert Schumann championed Kirchner and Clara was fond of him. He also arranged works of Brahms and created the first vocal score for the German Requiem. And yet, remains largely unknown to contemporary audiences. Connections abound in this program of mid-to-late nineteenth century works. The Schumann work(s) are not the best known; the audience is going to discover that Clara was a heck of a composer. The composers (sans Kirchner) are from the canon, but only the Brahms First is a part. 18 points for such originality!

Total: 91
Divisor: 5
Aggregate: 18.2

Stay tuned. There will be a closing article on the "final standings" as well as some interesting trends this year.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The 2016 Huey's (Part 3): Madison Symphony and Orchestra Iowa

Madison Symphony (History)

Though the history of the Madison Civic Symphony, later the Madison Symphony Orchestra, officially begins in 1926, the roots of the organization extend a few years earlier In the spring of 1920, the University of Wisconsin Music School, the Madison Women's Club, and other groups were involved in the formation of the Madison Music Committee, a group that included some twenty members. On August 6, 1926, they officially named Dr. Sigfrid Prager as conductor of the Civic Orchestra.  The orchestra's inaugural season, 1926-27, was such a success and the MCMA expanded its activities in the next season to include a newly-created Madison Civic Chorus. The MCMA eventually established a partnership with (now) Madison College, providing a salary for the conductor as well as office and storage space. He was succeeded (actually hand-picked by Prager) by cellist/conductor Walter Heermann. While continually lobbying for a new concert-space, the ensemble continued to perform in the Central High School (now Madison College) Auditorium. Heermann would lead the orchestra into the professional ranks, assuring that all players were paid by the end of the 1950s.

Heermann was followed by Roland Johnson, who would lead the orchestra for 33 seasons. With the expansion of the UW School of Music, faculty members held principal positions in the orchestra. The orchestra gave first performances of works by Lee Hoiby, Robert Crane, Stephen Chatman, Alec Wilder, Gunnar Johansen, John Harbison, Crawford Gates, and Michael Torke. Johnson also brought staged opera back to the community, while his Johnson's concerts were held at the Masonic Temple until the completion of the Madison Civic Center in 1980. John DeMain, then Director of the Houston Grand Opera, was engaged as Johnson's replacement in 1994. The ensemble inaugurated its new home, the Overture Center, in 2004.

Prager's 1948 farewell, UW-Madison Stock Pavilion

The Overture Center stage
2016-17 Season


George Enescu: Romanian Rhapsody No. 1
John Corigliano: Chaconne from The Red Violin
Gustav Holst: The Planets

I have a problem with programs that don't seem to make any sense, i.e. pieces just tossed together. Enescu is a grossly underplayed composer, although the first Romanian Rhapsody is probably his most popular work.
Scoring: format: -5; -2 for lack of originality.  Total: 13.


Edward Elgar: In the South (Alassio)
Max Bruch: Violin Concerto No. 1
Henning Kraggerud: Three Postludes from Equinox
Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No. 6 (Pastorale)

A little-known Elgar and one of the warhorses of the violin repertoire. Violinist Kraggerud's Equinox is that composer's homage to the Well-Tempered Clavier.  According to his website, "the postludes are by turn joyful, mournful, effervescent and heart-wrenching." (Um...why not play all four?) Do these relate well to Beethoven's Pastorale? I don't know.
Scoring: format: -5; contemporary work: +3. Total: 18 


Claude Debussy: Le Printemps
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Concerto for Two Pianos
Dmitri Shostakovich: Symphony No. 5

Shosty 5: a guaranteed "standing O". In total, however, ugh. Again, a program which doesn't seem to add up to the sum of its parts.
Scoring: 10


Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade

A Chicago Symphony "Beyond the Score" presentation; many orchestras are jumping on this bandwagon but now, the CSO is abandoning the project. And Scheherazade? I'd love a look inside a less-known work.
Scoring: 10


Samuel Barber: Second Essay
Camille Saint-Saëns: Piano Concerto No. 5 (The Egyptian)
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 6 (Pathétique)

What I can say about this concert is that Saint-Saëns's fifth concerto (who knew he wrote that many) should be well worth hearing, especially with pianist Stephen Hough. The Pathétique? How many times must it be marched out?
Scoring: Format -5; repertoire -2 (although a composer of the "canon", the full deduction was not made due to the inclusion of the Saint-Saëns.) Total: 13


Ludwig van Beethoven: Egmont Overture
Johann Hummel: Trumpet Concerto
Richard Strauss: An Alpine Symphony

In a program titled "Peak Performance", the orchestra will be led by frequent guest conductor Carl St. Clair. The orchestra always plays at a higher level (especially the strings) when he is in town and, although this program is "typical" in format, he will do wonders with the Strauss.
Scoring: Format: -5; Rep: -2 (while all three composers are--or should be--well-known, the Alpine Symphony ups the rest. Total: 13.


Robert Schumann: Manfred Overture
Witold Lutosławski: Concerto for Orchestra*
Sergei Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 3

This concert is called "Colossal Piano", so it's obvious that Lutosławski is taking a back seat to Rachmaninov. Alas.....but at least he's being played.

Scoring: format -5; Lutosławski +3; Total: 18.


Charles Stanford: Concert Piece for Organ and Orchestra
Johannes Brahms: A German Requiem

One can almost hear the wheels turning in the music director's head: what shall I program with the Brahms Requiem (which clocks in at little more than an hour)? A Charles Villiers Stanford organ work! That adds a whole eight minutes to the show. Why bother, OR maybe offer Brahms's solo organ works? Here's what he wrote:

Prelude and Fugue in G Minor
Fugue in A Flat Minor
Eleven Chorale Preludes, Op. 122
Chorale Prelude and Fugue on
O Traurigkeit, O Herzeleid ("O Heartbreak, O Sadness"): this would be a logical pairing and it is eight minutes long.
Prelude and Fugue in A Minor

Scoring: 10, just because my "gast" is getting "flabbered"!

Total score: 105
Divisor: 8
Aggregate: 13.125

Orchestra Iowa

Orchestra Iowa began as the Cedar Rapids Symphony Orchestra. Its first concert was held on April 13, 1921, in the Sinclair Auditorium at Coe College. By 1928 the orchestra was playing its concerts at Veterans Memorial Coliseum. They continued playing during the Great Depression and World War II. It was not until the 1950s that the orchestra had a paid music director and began to pay the musicians. A string quartet was established in the 1970s. By 1980 the orchestra moved to its current location at the Paramount Theatre. (Ed. note: the "Orchestra Iowa" moniker appeared following the floods of 2008 that inundated much of downtown Cedar Rapids and the Paramount Theater.)

Music Directors:
  • Joseph H. Kitchen (1923–1952)
  • Henry Denecke (1952–1970)
  • Richard Williams (1970–1981)
  • Christian Tiemeyer (1981–2006)
  • Timothy Hankewich (2006–present)
Veteran's Memorial Coliseum (pre-flood)

Paramount Theater (post flood--returned to its original splendor)
2016-17 Season:

            Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 4, “The Italian”
            Mozart: Horn Concerto No. 4 in E-flat Major, K. 495 Andy Harris, horn
            Beethoven: Symphony No. 6, “Pastoral”

Two symphonies? Really? Yeah, Mendelssohn is short, like an overture
Scoring: Format -5; Rep: -5 Aggregate: 10

            Janacek: Moravian Dances
            Mozart: Symphony No. 38, “Prague”
            Dvorak: Symphony No. 8

Again....two symphonies! Kudos for user-friendly Janacek, but really? I get all the Czech connections, but play 6 (too little known) or 7 (possibly the best of the bunch).
Scoring: Format -5; Rep: +2 (for Janacek); Aggregate: 18

            Hovhaness: Mysterious Mountain (Symphony No. 2), Op. 132
            Barber: Violin Concerto, Op. 14 Dawn Gingrich, violin
            Ives: The Unanswered Question
            Hanson: Symphony No. 2, “Romantic”

Again--TWO SYMPHONIES! But a big plus--the program is all-American, even if it's very user-friendly. Ives should open the show, especially within the spatial palace of the Paramount.
Scoring: -3 points for a lack of originality. Aggregate: 17

            Ellington: Three Black Kings
            Sally Beamish: (Scotland) Under the Wing of the Rock: Saxophone Concerto No. 2 
            Branford Marsalis, saxophone
            John Williams: Escapades Branford Marsalis, saxophone
            Aaron Copland: Symphony No. 3

Ellington tone-poem: great! Sally Beamish's work is originally for viola but rescored specifically for Branford Marsalis. John Williams Escapades? It's film music, from "Catch Me If You Can." Copland 3? One of America's great symphonies.
Scoring: -1 for Williams. Aggregate: 19

            PROKOFIEV Lieutenant Kije Suite
            LISZT Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-flat Major Andreas Klein, piano
            RIMSKY-KORSAKOV Scheherazade

Warhorses all. Liszt wrote two concertos for piano although we wouldn't know it. Scheherazade is the most overplayed of Rimsky-Korsakov's "big three" (he wrote a slew of operas by the way).
Scoring: Easy--10.

            Bach: Mass in B Minor 

In a concert entitled "Epic Bach", we'll have a big hall, a big chorus, and probably a big orchestra. I've become a purist (does that make me a snob?) about Johann Sebastian's works. Of course, the piece was never presented (note I did not say "performed") in his lifetime as he barely finished it before his death.
How do I score this? With a smaller venue and reduced forces, I'd be all over it. As it is: 10

Total: 84
Divisor: 6
Aggregate: 14

Up next, our final two orchestras: QC and WCF. Smith vs Weinberger. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The 2016 Huey's (Part 2): Des Moines and Dubuque Symphonies

The Des Moines Symphony

History (from Wikipedia):
     Founded as the Des Moines Civic Orchestra, the Symphony performed its first concert at Hoyt Sherman Place on November 21, 1937, as a joint effort between community and Drake University musicians. Drake professor Frank Noyes served as conductor, beginning a 30-season tenure as conductor.
     Subsequent concert sites have included Roosevelt High School (1938-48), the KRNT Theater (1948-54), a three-year return to Hoyt Sherman, and North High School (1957-79). The orchestra has made its home at the Civic Center of Greater Des Moines since 1979.
     After Noyes's retirement in 1967, Yuri Krasnapolsky became a permanent conductor in 1974. Joseph Giunta has served the role of conductor and musical director since 1989.

Hoyt Sherman Place

Des Moines Civic Center--love those seats!

2016-17 Season:

            ROSSINI  William Tell Overture
            J.S. BACH  Brandenburg Concerto No. 5
            BEETHOVEN  Symphony No. 9, “Choral – An Ode to Joy”

Scoring:   Traditional format: -5; Nothing outside the "canon": -5;  Aggregate score: 10

            WAGNER  Overture to The Flying Dutchman
            BRAHMS  Violin Concerto
            MOZART  Symphony No. 35 “Haffner”
            R. STRAUSS  Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks

This one's kind of a toughie, as the Strauss is tossed in because the Mozart symphony isn't that long (21-22 minutes). Still, following such a delightful piece with the excess of Strauss is a rather gaudy choice.  Scoring: Format: -5; Canon: -5; Aggregate: 10

            TCHAIKOVSKY Romeo & Juliet (Overture-Fantasy)
            RACHMANINOFF Piano Concerto No. 2
            PROKOFIEV Music from Romeo & Juliet
            BORODIN Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor

Another oddity. It's all Russian and it's all popular, though there is no real "symphony" here.  Regardless "warhorses" all. Scoring: Canon: -5; Aggregate: 15

January (JoAnn Falletta conducting)
            BRAHMS  Academic Festival Overture
            William BOLCOM  Concerto Grosso for Saxophone Quartet
            BRUCKNER  Symphony No. 4 “Romantic”

Leave it to JoAnn Falletta to program something out of the mainstream. Still, even with the music of Bolcom, the program follows the "Overture - Concerto - Symphony" format. Scoring: Format:-5; Contemporary (and American!): +5; Aggregate: 20.

            MENDELSSOHN  Music from A Midsummer Night’s Dream
            BRAHMS  Piano Concerto No. 2
            MUSSORGSKY/Ravel  Pictures at an Exhibition

Another 10. Obvious reasons. A program of "favorites" just thrown together.

April: Beyond the Score
            BERLIOZ  Symphonie Fantastique

Scoring: 5. Who doesn't know nearly all there is to know about Symphonie Fantastique?

            HINDEMITH  Symphonic Metamorphosis
            Michael DAUGHERTY  American Gothic
            SAINT-SAËNS  Cello Concerto No. 1
            RAVEL  Bolero

Scoring for programming the under-represented Hindemith, as well as Daugherty ( Still, the inclusion of Bolero negates all else. An interesting program made trite.  Scoring: 10

Des Moines total score: 70
Divisor: 7 concerts
Average score: 10

The Dubuque Symphony

History (Wiki)
     Although its antecedents may be traced as far back as 1903, the Dubuque Symphony Orchestra, as currently structured, was organized in 1958 as the “University Civic Symphony” under the auspices of the University of Dubuque. The name was changed to the Dubuque Symphony Orchestra in 1974 to reflect the organization’s mission to serve the entire community.
     More than 40 years ago, the orchestra presented five concerts yearly under the baton of founding Music Director and Conductor Dr. Parviz Mahmoud, who served until 1985. Subsequent conductors include Nicholas Palmer (1985-2000) and current Music Director and Conductor, William Intriligator.
     Although the orchestra has previous split time at the University of Dubuque's acoustically superior Heritage Center, all 2016-17 programs are at Five Flags Theater:
2016-17 Season:

Visitors to the DSO website are greeted by this image:

Resistance is futile!
Is this photo really inviting?
The description of the coming season states, "You are invited to join us for a SEASON OF THE ARTS, as we explore some of the ways music has been inspired by other art forms such as literature, theater, film, the visual arts, and dance."
October: Music and Drama:
MENDELSSOHN Overture from A Midsummer Night's Dream
JOHN LUNN Downton Abbey Suite
TCHAIKOVSKY The Tempest fantasy-overture
BEETHOVEN Overture to Egmont
PROKOFIEV Piano Concerto No. 3 - Ilya Yakushev, piano

I'm trying to figure out the "drama" part of the Prokofiev concerto. The three well-known "drama pieces" are known to all. And TV music? No comment.

Score: Format: -2; Canon: -5; Aggregate: 13

November: Music & Movement (Gianna Fratta, Conductor) 
ROSSINI The Barber of Seville Overture
ROSSINI The Silken Ladder Overture
PAGANINI Variations on one string on a theme by Rossini - Dino De Palma, violin
SAINT-SAËNS Introduction & Rondo Capriccioso - Dino De Palma, violin
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 7

Where's the "movement"? OK, two overtures, two concert pieces, and a symphony still don't break the mold. By the way, it appears that conductor Fratta and violinist DePalma might be a "package deal"; they've worked a great deal together. Scoring: Format: -5; Canon: -5; Aggregate: 10.

February: DSO Showcase
SCHUMANN Concert-piece for Four French Horns & Orchestra - Über Horn Quartet
SÉJOURNÉ Concerto for Marimba & String Orchestra - Keith Lienert, marimba
PRICE-BRENNER Sinfonia for Small String Orchestra
SCHUBERT Ballet Music in G from Rosamunde
MENDELSSOHN Symphony No. 4 “Italian”

A concert I don't know what to make of: there is contemporary music (Sejourne and Price-Brenner) but the rest. It's also a very odd combination of unrelated things. How to score? All the makings of the traditional format and three works from the canon.  Give it the benefit of the doubt and a 12.

March: Music & Movies

WILLIAMS Main Title & Imperial March from Star Wars
WILLIAMS Hedwig’s Theme from Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone
WILLIAMS Catch Me If You Can: Escapades for Alto Saxophone & Orchestra - Allen Cordingley, saxophone
GILBERTSON Tragedy Tomorrow

I'm sorry, but this is a pops concert on a subscription series. 10.

April: Music & Fantasy
BRAHMS Symphony No. 3
JENKINS New Work, DSO commission (WORLD PREMIERE) a short new premiere by Dubuque native Derek Jenkins
BRUCH Scottish Fantasy - Robert Zimansky, violin

The Brahms Symphony will appear early in the program because it always does. It's the composer's best, but ends softly (and incredibly profound!) "A short new premiere?" So the audience won't go running away. Let's see: violin concertos. Mozart's 5, Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Bruch, Barber. I'd prefer the latter, but it's a toughie, especially for the orchestra. Maybe find somebody who plays a piece that everybody doesn't know? Zimansky has a slew of seldom-heard early 20th-century concertos under his belt. Let's hear one!   10

Season total score: 55
Divisor: (5)
Aggregate: 11

NEXT UP: Madison vs. OrchIowa, DeMain takes on Hankewich.