Commentary Magazine


Topic: pianist

Chinese Anti-American Propaganda Song Played at State Dinner

So that lavish state dinner President Obama hosted for Chinese President Hu Jintao last week? Turns out it was an even worse decision than previously thought. Not only did Obama honor a regime of human-rights abusers, but it turns out they weren’t even appreciative. According to the Epoch Times, a pianist at the event played a well-known Chinese propaganda song that’s about defeating the U.S. in a war. And it sounds like the Chinese government may have known the song would be played beforehand.

Lang Lang the pianist says he chose it. Chairman Hu Jintao recognized it as soon as he heard it. Patriotic Chinese Internet users were delighted as soon as they saw the videos online. Early morning TV viewers in China knew it would be played an hour or two beforehand. At the White House State dinner on Jan. 19, about six minutes into his set, Lang Lang began tapping out a famous anti-American propaganda melody from the Korean War: the theme song to the movie “Battle on Shangganling Mountain.”

The Epoch Times provided some of the song’s lyrics, which literally translate into: “When friends are here, there is fine wine /But if the jackal comes /What greets it is the hunting rifle.” The “jackal” line refers to the U.S.

The song apparently thrilled hardliners in China, who saw it as a major humiliation of America:

“In the eyes of all Chinese, this will not be seen as anything other than a big insult to the U.S.,” says Yang Jingduan, a Chinese psychiatrist now living in Philadelphia who had in China been a doctor in the Chinese military. “It’s like insulting you in your face and you don’t know it, it’s humiliating.”

The whole concept of the Chinese playing an anti-American song during a state dinner in their honor is too petty and childish to even be insulting. The embarrassing part is that Obama-administration officials didn’t bother to find out the background of the songs on the agenda before they were played. In comparison, the Chinese delegation reportedly knew about the song in advance, and may have been the ones who tipped off news outlets in China beforehand:

Cheng said that “The White House had to report in advance to the Chinese delegation and so the Chinese delegation would have certainly known Lang Lang’s program.”

Cheng believes, however, that the Chinese delegation would see no reason to suggest a change in the program. “The program is not against the interests of China. In fact, it is the opposite.”

Awful. This is worse than Obama’s bow to the Japanese emperor in 2009. The White House better have a serious explanation for why this song was allowed to be played at its own party. And it should also serve as a lesson to Obama for why we don’t throw state dinners in honor of openly anti-American governments.

So that lavish state dinner President Obama hosted for Chinese President Hu Jintao last week? Turns out it was an even worse decision than previously thought. Not only did Obama honor a regime of human-rights abusers, but it turns out they weren’t even appreciative. According to the Epoch Times, a pianist at the event played a well-known Chinese propaganda song that’s about defeating the U.S. in a war. And it sounds like the Chinese government may have known the song would be played beforehand.

Lang Lang the pianist says he chose it. Chairman Hu Jintao recognized it as soon as he heard it. Patriotic Chinese Internet users were delighted as soon as they saw the videos online. Early morning TV viewers in China knew it would be played an hour or two beforehand. At the White House State dinner on Jan. 19, about six minutes into his set, Lang Lang began tapping out a famous anti-American propaganda melody from the Korean War: the theme song to the movie “Battle on Shangganling Mountain.”

The Epoch Times provided some of the song’s lyrics, which literally translate into: “When friends are here, there is fine wine /But if the jackal comes /What greets it is the hunting rifle.” The “jackal” line refers to the U.S.

The song apparently thrilled hardliners in China, who saw it as a major humiliation of America:

“In the eyes of all Chinese, this will not be seen as anything other than a big insult to the U.S.,” says Yang Jingduan, a Chinese psychiatrist now living in Philadelphia who had in China been a doctor in the Chinese military. “It’s like insulting you in your face and you don’t know it, it’s humiliating.”

The whole concept of the Chinese playing an anti-American song during a state dinner in their honor is too petty and childish to even be insulting. The embarrassing part is that Obama-administration officials didn’t bother to find out the background of the songs on the agenda before they were played. In comparison, the Chinese delegation reportedly knew about the song in advance, and may have been the ones who tipped off news outlets in China beforehand:

Cheng said that “The White House had to report in advance to the Chinese delegation and so the Chinese delegation would have certainly known Lang Lang’s program.”

Cheng believes, however, that the Chinese delegation would see no reason to suggest a change in the program. “The program is not against the interests of China. In fact, it is the opposite.”

Awful. This is worse than Obama’s bow to the Japanese emperor in 2009. The White House better have a serious explanation for why this song was allowed to be played at its own party. And it should also serve as a lesson to Obama for why we don’t throw state dinners in honor of openly anti-American governments.

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Piano Teachers

The Piano Teacher, by Julia Cho, which opened recently at the Vineyard Theater off-Broadway to mixed reviews, features a haunted keyboard pedagogue with nasty secrets to hide. The Vineyard Theater production benefits from the presence of the veteran actress Elizabeth Franz in the title role of an isolated, shunned teacher who is only marginally more sane than the sado-masochistic piano teacher incarnated by Isabelle Huppert in the 2001 French film of the same title, based on a perverse novel by the Austrian Nobel-Prize winning author Elfriede Jelinek.

The reiterated imagery of peccant piano instructors is so ingrained in our culture that a Google Search of “piano teacher” by anyone actually trying to learn to play the instrument will bring up references to Jelinek’s book and film, first and foremost. The world of music education as represented by such writers belongs to an earlier, less psychologically acute era. It is a relief to escape such querulous and indeed unmusical paradigms and look at today’s real world of superb piano teachers, who represent a vastly more intriguing, mysterious, and gratifying accomplishment.

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The Piano Teacher, by Julia Cho, which opened recently at the Vineyard Theater off-Broadway to mixed reviews, features a haunted keyboard pedagogue with nasty secrets to hide. The Vineyard Theater production benefits from the presence of the veteran actress Elizabeth Franz in the title role of an isolated, shunned teacher who is only marginally more sane than the sado-masochistic piano teacher incarnated by Isabelle Huppert in the 2001 French film of the same title, based on a perverse novel by the Austrian Nobel-Prize winning author Elfriede Jelinek.

The reiterated imagery of peccant piano instructors is so ingrained in our culture that a Google Search of “piano teacher” by anyone actually trying to learn to play the instrument will bring up references to Jelinek’s book and film, first and foremost. The world of music education as represented by such writers belongs to an earlier, less psychologically acute era. It is a relief to escape such querulous and indeed unmusical paradigms and look at today’s real world of superb piano teachers, who represent a vastly more intriguing, mysterious, and gratifying accomplishment.

Juilliard’s Yoheved “Veda” Kaplinsky, the Tel Aviv-born chair of the school’s piano department, also teaches in the Pre-College division, where some of America’s most astonishing prodigies are currently thriving. One such is Conrad Tao, a pianist and composer born in Illinois in 1994, whose live recordings on CD and video convey a sense of musical line (with the entire score evoked in every measure of a given work) as found only in the greatest musicians. Tao is also a characterful, accomplished composer of charm and nuance; his early compositions on CD sound more adult, individualistic, and masterful than those by any preteen composer I have heard, including Mozart.

One of the most admirable aspects of Tao’s musicality is his collaborative acumen, and another outstanding Kaplinsky pupil, the Chinese pianist Peng-Peng Gong, born in 1992, often plays with Tao, in addition to his solo performances. Such brilliant students are allowed to flower into musical maturity in a healthy, non-neurotic way. Encouraging, rather than stifling, prodigies allows them to develop as artists and human beings, instead of condemning them to becoming the stunted, frustrated, unhappy leftovers, some of whom are alas still present on the concert scene today.

Another outstanding Juilliard piano teacher, Oxana Yablonskaya, is helping to guide the destiny of Alice Burla, born in Toronto in 1997. In such challenging works as Chopin’s “Variations brilliants,” Burla displays the suavity and maturity of an adult musician, quite apart from her fabulous technique. Tao, Peng-Peng, and Burla already are more accomplished artists than a number of adult pianists who trudge around the concert circuit; the challenge for their teachers is clearly not to spoil or discourage their inborn talent. This custodial task of wonderful young talent is far more thrilling than any fictional elaboration of a pathological teacher.

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Angel Voices?

Our culture’s uneasiness about raising an unruly new generation of rugrats may have caused, at least in part, a reactionary wave of nostalgia for “angelic” child singers. The sentimental 2004 French film The Chorus made treble singing popular across Europe, following the English precedent of the “angelic” boy soprano soloists in hugely popular (although schlocky) modern choral music like Paul McCartney’s Liverpool Oratorio and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Requiem. This precedent has been superseded by a new EMI Classics release on CD and DVD, Angel Voices: Libera in Concert.

Libera is a South London boys’ choir directed by Robert Prizeman, which tours the world to frenzied acclaim. Their trademark garments are white monastic robes, and their closely miked voices sing, on the “Angel Voices” program, a series of peculiarly morbid tunes. These include Going Home, sung to the famous tune from Dvořák’s “New World” Symphony; the lugubrious hymn Abide with Me; and an original Prizeman composition, Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep. Much of what these Brit moppets sing is about is cheery as Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder (Songs on the Death of Children), yet ecstatic audiences lap up their concert all the same.

Fans of restrained romantic music with treble solo singing like Fauré’s Requiem may find themselves lost in this new world of overblown kitsch. After all, kids are not really angels or convenient symbols of death. They can be expressive singers in their own right, but need a little guidance, otherwise they can commit grievous errors of taste in repertory, like the little German boy who squalls one of the Queen of the Night’s arias from Mozart’s Magic Flute on Youtube, apparently because no one told him not to. Healthier by far is the feisty, characterful treble singing in Bach Cantatas No. 31 & 50 conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt; on these CD’s, newly reissued by Warner Classics, the Vienna Boys’ Choir is hyperenergetic to the point of bullying, bringing an authentic flavor of the schoolyard tantrum to the music (Bach, who fathered twenty children, doubtless knew all about this kind of exuberant expressiveness).

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Our culture’s uneasiness about raising an unruly new generation of rugrats may have caused, at least in part, a reactionary wave of nostalgia for “angelic” child singers. The sentimental 2004 French film The Chorus made treble singing popular across Europe, following the English precedent of the “angelic” boy soprano soloists in hugely popular (although schlocky) modern choral music like Paul McCartney’s Liverpool Oratorio and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Requiem. This precedent has been superseded by a new EMI Classics release on CD and DVD, Angel Voices: Libera in Concert.

Libera is a South London boys’ choir directed by Robert Prizeman, which tours the world to frenzied acclaim. Their trademark garments are white monastic robes, and their closely miked voices sing, on the “Angel Voices” program, a series of peculiarly morbid tunes. These include Going Home, sung to the famous tune from Dvořák’s “New World” Symphony; the lugubrious hymn Abide with Me; and an original Prizeman composition, Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep. Much of what these Brit moppets sing is about is cheery as Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder (Songs on the Death of Children), yet ecstatic audiences lap up their concert all the same.

Fans of restrained romantic music with treble solo singing like Fauré’s Requiem may find themselves lost in this new world of overblown kitsch. After all, kids are not really angels or convenient symbols of death. They can be expressive singers in their own right, but need a little guidance, otherwise they can commit grievous errors of taste in repertory, like the little German boy who squalls one of the Queen of the Night’s arias from Mozart’s Magic Flute on Youtube, apparently because no one told him not to. Healthier by far is the feisty, characterful treble singing in Bach Cantatas No. 31 & 50 conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt; on these CD’s, newly reissued by Warner Classics, the Vienna Boys’ Choir is hyperenergetic to the point of bullying, bringing an authentic flavor of the schoolyard tantrum to the music (Bach, who fathered twenty children, doubtless knew all about this kind of exuberant expressiveness).

The bossy, know-it-all Viennese tykes send out the sacred message, expressing their own personalities instead of concealing them behind some adult’s edulcorated view of childhood. This is along the lines of another memorable Vienna Boys’ Choir recording, an aggressive Mozart Requiem conducted by Hans Gillesberger without a trace of “angel voice” sentimentality.

A new CD of Handel’s Messiah from Naxos also matches this earthy and realistic approach, which reconstructs a 1751 London performing version of the familiar choral work, nicknamed the “Misogynist’s Messiah” because women are banished from their usual soprano, alto, and choral roles, and replaced by trebles from the Choir of New College Oxford. The three pre-teen treble soloists, Henry Jenkinson, Otta Jones, and Robert Brooks, are described in the Naxos CD booklet as a “very promising composer,” a superb pianist,” and a “fine poet” respectively. They may not be “angels,” but they are something rarer: highly skilled musicians.

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What’s Up With Itzhak?

The November 12 announcement that star violinist Itzhak Perlman will conduct the Westchester Philharmonic as its artistic director starting with the 2008-09 season should be an occasion for congratulations. The local Journal News likened the star’s move to “Alex Rodriguez’s coming to the New York Yankees or David Beckham’s playing soccer on this side of the Pond” (doubtlessly without any irony about those problematic sports superstars). Perlman told the Journal News: “I’m a bread-and-butter kind of musician. I like to do my Brahmses, my Mozarts, my Tchaikovskys. It’s fun. Here’s a term for you: Call it ‘comfort music.’”

A major star for over 40 years, Perlman deserves his fame, yet some of his recent appearances seem to confuse comfort with mere laxity. This past May, at a sonata recital presented by Lincoln Center’s Great Performances series, Perlman seemed only intermittently focused on the music of Schubert and Richard Strauss. His automatic, visibly bored delivery in solo appearances has been commented on for several years, usually with euphemistic terms like “disengaged.” Part of the problem may be that twenty years ago in recital, Perlman would program composers like Webern and Hindemith, not just “comfort music.”

For a decade, Perlman has also been conducting orchestras from Tel Aviv to Philadelphia to audience cheers, despite mixed artistic results. When he conducted the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto on a high-profile 2002 Deutsche Grammophon release with the young violinist Ilya Gringolts, the orchestra sounded shapeless and unruly. In 2005, Perlman made his New York Philharmonic conducting debut, again to a mixed reception.

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The November 12 announcement that star violinist Itzhak Perlman will conduct the Westchester Philharmonic as its artistic director starting with the 2008-09 season should be an occasion for congratulations. The local Journal News likened the star’s move to “Alex Rodriguez’s coming to the New York Yankees or David Beckham’s playing soccer on this side of the Pond” (doubtlessly without any irony about those problematic sports superstars). Perlman told the Journal News: “I’m a bread-and-butter kind of musician. I like to do my Brahmses, my Mozarts, my Tchaikovskys. It’s fun. Here’s a term for you: Call it ‘comfort music.’”

A major star for over 40 years, Perlman deserves his fame, yet some of his recent appearances seem to confuse comfort with mere laxity. This past May, at a sonata recital presented by Lincoln Center’s Great Performances series, Perlman seemed only intermittently focused on the music of Schubert and Richard Strauss. His automatic, visibly bored delivery in solo appearances has been commented on for several years, usually with euphemistic terms like “disengaged.” Part of the problem may be that twenty years ago in recital, Perlman would program composers like Webern and Hindemith, not just “comfort music.”

For a decade, Perlman has also been conducting orchestras from Tel Aviv to Philadelphia to audience cheers, despite mixed artistic results. When he conducted the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto on a high-profile 2002 Deutsche Grammophon release with the young violinist Ilya Gringolts, the orchestra sounded shapeless and unruly. In 2005, Perlman made his New York Philharmonic conducting debut, again to a mixed reception.

Instrumentalists who are “naturals” as conductors are few. One example is Peter Oundjian (born 1955), former first violinist of the Tokyo String Quartet, now Music Director of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and Artistic Director of New York’s Caramoor Music Festival. Oundjian has proven a passionate maestro with a real sense of symphonic line, who motivates both orchestral musicians and soloists to surpass themselves artistically. A decade older than Oundjian, Perlman may have left playing for conducting a bit late in his career.

Music fans will always rejoice in the best of Perlman’s sweet-toned, dazzlingly effortless playing, which can be heard on a recently reissued 1965 New York recital with pianist David Garvey, and in the delightful camaraderie of Isaac Stern’s 60th Anniversary Celebration, starring the so-called “Kosher Nostra” of Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman, et al. Perlman is joyously virtuosic in a 1976 Brahms Violin Concerto conducted by Carlo Maria Giulini, in delightful miniatures by Fritz Kreisler, and in a program of rare Romantic works usually only played by students, Concertos from my Childhood.

Itzhak Perlman has won the hearts of a vast music-going public with his emotional playing, indomitable spirit, and sometimes raucous sense of humor. Westchester audiences surely will give him the benefit of the doubt and cheer his on-the-job training as conductor. Yet by the evidence so far, his main achievement looks likely to remain, first and foremost, as a violinist.

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Music’s Golden Age

A new polemic from Oxford University Press, After the Golden Age: Romantic Pianism and Modern Performance by Kenneth Hamilton, a professor at the University of Birmingham, argues that the worst excesses of the 19th century Romantic age of performance were more lively and fun than what he sees as today’s tedious and stuffy concert scene.

Hamilton lauds the clownish old pianist Vladimir de Pachmann (1848-1933), who was notorious for chatting with the audience during recitals, and occasionally exclaiming “Bravo, Pachmann!” when he had played a passage to his own satisfaction. Hamilton wants concert etiquette to hearken back to the 19th century’s so-called Golden Age. He feels that classical concerts would be improved if pianists today were more unfaithful to the printed notes, if they performed brief, isolated movements of sonatas instead of entire works, and if audiences felt free to applaud whenever they liked, including in the middle of works.

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A new polemic from Oxford University Press, After the Golden Age: Romantic Pianism and Modern Performance by Kenneth Hamilton, a professor at the University of Birmingham, argues that the worst excesses of the 19th century Romantic age of performance were more lively and fun than what he sees as today’s tedious and stuffy concert scene.

Hamilton lauds the clownish old pianist Vladimir de Pachmann (1848-1933), who was notorious for chatting with the audience during recitals, and occasionally exclaiming “Bravo, Pachmann!” when he had played a passage to his own satisfaction. Hamilton wants concert etiquette to hearken back to the 19th century’s so-called Golden Age. He feels that classical concerts would be improved if pianists today were more unfaithful to the printed notes, if they performed brief, isolated movements of sonatas instead of entire works, and if audiences felt free to applaud whenever they liked, including in the middle of works.

Hamilton must attend some odd concerts to inspire such notions. As for me, on November 3 at Carnegie Hall, I heard the pianist Murray Perahia in a recital of Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, and Chopin. Perahia plays Bach as love music, with plush, seamless legato and a strong sense of polyphony. Beethoven’s “Pastoral” sonata (1801) was played with an ideal sense of rubato, capturing the agitation that bubbles beneath even Beethoven’s works with tranquil-sounding subtitles. The “Pastoral”’s second movement “Andante,” played in a forward-moving yet mysterious way, showed Perahia at 60 to still be a youthful musician (his left hand ardently conducted while he played a passage for right hand alone). Perahia is in his prime today, as indeed are other magisterial pianists like Richard Goode, András Schiff, Maurizio Pollini, and Peter Serkin. Who needs Pachmann? Could our own time be a golden age of performance?

For me, the question was answered definitively on November 7 at Rockefeller University, where the Peggy Rockefeller Concerts series presented the Claremont Trio. Consisting of twin sisters Emily (violin) and Julia Bruskin (cello) with Donna Kwong (piano), the Claremonts, all in their mid-20’s, play and record with exceptional maturity. At Rockefeller University, they performed Schumann’s Piano Trio in D minor, Op. 63, capturing the composer’s obsessive energy, yet with deep feeling, which allowed Schumann’s romantic fantasy world to materialize. Despite their sylph-like appearances, the Bruskin sisters play their respective instruments with hearty, plangently eloquent tones.

A splendid up-and-coming ensemble like the Claremont Trio is the perfect counter-argument to any critic who bemoans the present or future of classical music. Learning from past great musicians—not freaks like Pachmann—is a sine qua non for today’s musicians, yet desperate nostalgia born of boredom obscures all the evidence that we are in fact living in our own golden age of performance. After hearing such spectacular concerts by exemplary artists like Perahia and the Claremont Trio, only a thick-skulled ingrate would react by complaining that something is wrong with classical music performance in our time.

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Really Terrible Music

The whimsical Scottish novelist Alexander McCall Smith, author of the popular No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series of mysteries, as well as academic works on his research specialty of medical law, has an unexpected new hit on his hands. As McCall Smith told the Daily Telegraph, he and his wife founded the Edinburgh-based Really Terrible Orchestra (RTO) for self-confessedly poor amateur players, as a fun form of musical therapy. A mainstay since 1995 at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the RTO sold out its London debut on November 3, and doubtless will soon make its New York debut.

Manhattan audiences are always eager to witness a musical car wreck, and the RTO guarantees just that, as McCall Smith, the orchestra’s bassoonist, explains: “Various sections of the orchestra stop playing if the music becomes a little bit too complex. There are all sorts of things that can go wrong and occasionally our conductor has to stop us and take us back to the beginning again and the audience absolutely loves that.” The subject of a 2005 short documentary, the RTO has even released CD’s, featuring mangled versions of pop songs like King of the Road and Yellow Submarine.

Although crowds will flock to see ineptitude on display, as fans of the 1962 New York Mets proved, the RTO’s stance of proudly self-proclaimed incapacity is an innovation. A detailed new documentary from VAI, Florence Foster Jenkins: A World of Her Own tells everything one would ever want to know about the excruciatingly bad coloratura soprano, who drew crowds to recital in the 1940’s.

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The whimsical Scottish novelist Alexander McCall Smith, author of the popular No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series of mysteries, as well as academic works on his research specialty of medical law, has an unexpected new hit on his hands. As McCall Smith told the Daily Telegraph, he and his wife founded the Edinburgh-based Really Terrible Orchestra (RTO) for self-confessedly poor amateur players, as a fun form of musical therapy. A mainstay since 1995 at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the RTO sold out its London debut on November 3, and doubtless will soon make its New York debut.

Manhattan audiences are always eager to witness a musical car wreck, and the RTO guarantees just that, as McCall Smith, the orchestra’s bassoonist, explains: “Various sections of the orchestra stop playing if the music becomes a little bit too complex. There are all sorts of things that can go wrong and occasionally our conductor has to stop us and take us back to the beginning again and the audience absolutely loves that.” The subject of a 2005 short documentary, the RTO has even released CD’s, featuring mangled versions of pop songs like King of the Road and Yellow Submarine.

Although crowds will flock to see ineptitude on display, as fans of the 1962 New York Mets proved, the RTO’s stance of proudly self-proclaimed incapacity is an innovation. A detailed new documentary from VAI, Florence Foster Jenkins: A World of Her Own tells everything one would ever want to know about the excruciatingly bad coloratura soprano, who drew crowds to recital in the 1940’s.

The self-delusion of Jenkins (1868–1944) inspired a number of recent plays, like Stephen Temperley’s 2005 Souvenir: A Fantasia on the Life of Florence Foster Jenkins, as well as a ballet choreographed by Ohad Naharin of Israel’s Batsheva Dance Company to Jenkins’s caterwauling of an aria from Strauss’s Die Fledermaus. These works mix the pathos of failed aspirations with laughs at punctured pretensions. Yet many who laugh at Jenkins’s recordings are motivated by plain old cattiness, as the arch notes to VAI’s The Muse Surmounted—Florence Foster Jenkins and Eleven Rivals show, ridiculing elderly women who were unfortunate enough to preserve their singing on tape for derision by later generations. This mean-spiritedness happily is absent from McCall Smith’s venture, yet the RTO on display is still uncomfortably close to audience fascination with past spectacles, like the Australian pianist David Helfgott, whose life inspired the 1996 film Shine. Helfgott’s celebrity led for a time to a spate of unlistenable Helfgott concerts and even CD’s.

Classical music may not be in its death throes, as some critics adamantly claim, but it surely does not need concerts and CD’s from the orchestral equivalent of the American Idol auditioner William Hung, who himself has launched a performing and recording career. Performers should not be encouraged to believe that the more objectionable they sound, the more the world will approve of them.

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The Legacy of Arthur Rubinstein

Earlier this month, The Juilliard School announced that the family of the pianist Arthur Rubinstein (1887–1982) donated 71 music manuscripts and other documents that had been seized by the Nazis from Rubinstein’s Paris apartment in 1940, and restored to his family by the German government only last year. This collection includes hand-written scores by Villa-Lobos, George Antheil, and other composers. The Dutch musicologist Willem de Vries’s 1996 study, Sonderstab Musik: Music Confiscations by the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg under the Nazi Occupation of Western Europe, details how in 1940, Nazi official Alfred Rosenberg founded the “Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg” (ERR, or Operations Staff of Reich Director Rosenberg) in order to accomplish what de Vries terms the “greatest systematic theft of art and culture in history.”

Renowned German musicologists Wolfgang Boetticher and Karl Gustav Fellerer helped to identify Jewish collections to be looted in Nazi-occupied Europe, and among those plundered were world-famous artists, forced to flee to America because of their Jewish origins, like the harpsichordist Wanda Landowska, cellist Gregor Piatigorsky, and composer Darius Milhaud. Most of the collections involved are still lost, or perhaps more frustrating, in Russia, where some were shipped after 1945 as Soviet war booty. In an exceptional move, Rubinstein’s 71 items were sent back to East Berlin around 1958, as a Soviet gesture to repatriate so-called “German cultural assets.” More of Rubinstein’s property still remains in Russia, but in 2002, the Russian parliament voted to block any further such restitutions.

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Earlier this month, The Juilliard School announced that the family of the pianist Arthur Rubinstein (1887–1982) donated 71 music manuscripts and other documents that had been seized by the Nazis from Rubinstein’s Paris apartment in 1940, and restored to his family by the German government only last year. This collection includes hand-written scores by Villa-Lobos, George Antheil, and other composers. The Dutch musicologist Willem de Vries’s 1996 study, Sonderstab Musik: Music Confiscations by the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg under the Nazi Occupation of Western Europe, details how in 1940, Nazi official Alfred Rosenberg founded the “Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg” (ERR, or Operations Staff of Reich Director Rosenberg) in order to accomplish what de Vries terms the “greatest systematic theft of art and culture in history.”

Renowned German musicologists Wolfgang Boetticher and Karl Gustav Fellerer helped to identify Jewish collections to be looted in Nazi-occupied Europe, and among those plundered were world-famous artists, forced to flee to America because of their Jewish origins, like the harpsichordist Wanda Landowska, cellist Gregor Piatigorsky, and composer Darius Milhaud. Most of the collections involved are still lost, or perhaps more frustrating, in Russia, where some were shipped after 1945 as Soviet war booty. In an exceptional move, Rubinstein’s 71 items were sent back to East Berlin around 1958, as a Soviet gesture to repatriate so-called “German cultural assets.” More of Rubinstein’s property still remains in Russia, but in 2002, the Russian parliament voted to block any further such restitutions.

That Juilliard should have wound up with anything at all may be ascribed at least in part to Rubinstein’s amazing luck and talent for survival. Rather than feeling bitter that the majority of his collection probably never will be restituted, Rubinstein himself would doubtless have rejoiced at his family’s beneficence to Juilliard. The quintessential glass-half-full personality, Rubinstein sometimes put off some listeners with his strenuously expressed “love of life” credo (the delightful 1969 French documentary Arthur Rubinstein: L’Amour de la vie is long overdue for DVD transfer).

The French author Roland Barthes dismissed Rubinstein’s hearty sense of psychological well-being, preferring an overtly neurotic pianist like Glenn Gould, although Gould himself worshiped Arthur Rubinstein. I well recall attending Rubinstein’s Carnegie Hall farewell recital in 1976 (70 years after his New York debut in 1906) when, after a full program and three encores, in the final piece—Chopin’s Polonaise in A flat major, Op. 53—descending octaves were played with such force that the balcony floor shook, as the 89-year-old pianist’s aureole of white hair glowed brightly.

A recently available DVD from Deutsche Grammophon filmed in 1975 captures Rubinstein near that time, playing concertos by Grieg, Saint-Saëns, and Chopin with verve and panache. The magnificent complete Sony/BMG Rubinstein edition on CD fortunately still is available, including live concerts with music by his friend Villa-Lobos as well as music from Spain; France; and even Norway. These lasting delights remind us of the international range of this performer, whose musical legacy triumphs over the injustices he suffered during the Nazi regime.

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Old Gould

The Canadian pianist Glenn Gould (1932-1982) would have celebrated his 75th birthday on September 25, had he not died of an untimely stroke on October 4, 25 years ago. These two anniversaries have sufficed for a great deal of worldwide hoopla, from the naming in his honor of a plaza in his native Toronto, to a commemorative envelope issued by the Canadian post office. Ottawa’s Canadian Museum of Civilization is offering a major exhibit, “Glenn Gould: The Sounds of Genius,” which runs through August 10, 2008. Sony/BMG, Gould’s longtime record company, is reissuing an 80-CD “complete original jacket” box set as an import. This offers a good occasion for an evaluation of Gould’s contribution, not a “re-performance” of “The Goldberg Variations”—which, in any event, already has been attempted, as I described in a previous post for contentions.

Setting aside the endless stories of his personal eccentricity and hypochondria, Gould’s musicianship could be brilliant when bizarreness did not intrude, making him the Bobby Fischer of classical music (before Fischer’s latest, definitive dip into darkness). Although Gould is unmistakably linked with Bach, whom he played with a jittery, edgy verve, he claimed to prefer the music of Orlando Gibbons (1583–1625), and indeed, his CD of Gibbons and other English masters like William Byrd has an entrancing dignity and poise absent from many of his other recordings. Gould’s very lack of empyrean calm may have helped in the modern romantic repertoire, and he was an invigoratingly dramatic performer of Prokofiev and Scriabin, as well as of Richard Strauss. Franz Liszt’s piano transcriptions of Beethoven’s symphonies, long dismissed as arid, were rediscovered with unsurpassed dazzle by Gould. In neo-classical works by Paul Hindemith, which can seem all too Apollonian in other hands, Gould’s storm and stress add contemporary, improvisational skittishness, also ideal for chamber works by Francis Poulenc and Dmitry Shostakovich.

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The Canadian pianist Glenn Gould (1932-1982) would have celebrated his 75th birthday on September 25, had he not died of an untimely stroke on October 4, 25 years ago. These two anniversaries have sufficed for a great deal of worldwide hoopla, from the naming in his honor of a plaza in his native Toronto, to a commemorative envelope issued by the Canadian post office. Ottawa’s Canadian Museum of Civilization is offering a major exhibit, “Glenn Gould: The Sounds of Genius,” which runs through August 10, 2008. Sony/BMG, Gould’s longtime record company, is reissuing an 80-CD “complete original jacket” box set as an import. This offers a good occasion for an evaluation of Gould’s contribution, not a “re-performance” of “The Goldberg Variations”—which, in any event, already has been attempted, as I described in a previous post for contentions.

Setting aside the endless stories of his personal eccentricity and hypochondria, Gould’s musicianship could be brilliant when bizarreness did not intrude, making him the Bobby Fischer of classical music (before Fischer’s latest, definitive dip into darkness). Although Gould is unmistakably linked with Bach, whom he played with a jittery, edgy verve, he claimed to prefer the music of Orlando Gibbons (1583–1625), and indeed, his CD of Gibbons and other English masters like William Byrd has an entrancing dignity and poise absent from many of his other recordings. Gould’s very lack of empyrean calm may have helped in the modern romantic repertoire, and he was an invigoratingly dramatic performer of Prokofiev and Scriabin, as well as of Richard Strauss. Franz Liszt’s piano transcriptions of Beethoven’s symphonies, long dismissed as arid, were rediscovered with unsurpassed dazzle by Gould. In neo-classical works by Paul Hindemith, which can seem all too Apollonian in other hands, Gould’s storm and stress add contemporary, improvisational skittishness, also ideal for chamber works by Francis Poulenc and Dmitry Shostakovich.

Some readers may be allergic to the Second Vienna School, but Gould was one of the rare pianists (like Italy’s Maurizio Pollini, who played Arnold Schoenberg’s works with genuine love. A 1960’s meeting with violinist Yehudi Menuhin in the Schoenberg “Phantasy,” has a feeling of affection (tied to Gould’s admiration for Menuhin) unmatched in the discography. A gentler version of Schoenberg’s modernist investigations came from the Norwegian composer Fartein Valen (1887– 1952). Gould found spooky poetry in Valen’s work, too.

All of these achievements are essential elements of Gould’s artistry, and those who love—or dismiss—Gould based on his Bach recordings alone are missing the forest for the trees. Some who admire Gould’s Bach have missed his obsessively intense recording of Johann Sebastian’s “Art of Fugue” on the organ. Yes, Gould’s “Goldberg Variations” from 1955 and 1981 are both remarkable, but they are not the summa of all things Gouldian. Yes, there are bad recordings by Gould, like his Mozart sonatas (music he despised) or his famously ungainly 1962 Brahms’s First Piano Concerto with Leonard Bernstein. Yet the best of Gould is splendid indeed.

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Music in Stuttgart

For the next few weeks, I will be traveling back and forth to Stuttgart, Germany, where I am serving on the jury of a triennial lieder (classical song) competition. The contest is the brainchild of the Internationale Hugo-Wolf-Akademie, directed by the pianist and accompanist Hartmut Höll. Among his other accomplishments, Höll was the longtime accompanist in concerts and on CD’s of the legendary German baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. Among the other jurors is Japanese-born mezzo-soprano Mitsuko Shirai, known as the “Maria Callas of classical song,” whose CD’s with Höll of music by Schubert, Schumann, and Brahms on the excellent small record label Capriccio are among the most exciting in recent decades. Shirai’s stark emotional expressivity and Höll’s spiky, freewheeling playing, and the way both performers yield to one another, all make for a fascinating dialogue that sets the bar high for younger contestants.

It will also be intriguing to see how the 44 piano-vocal teams from 25 countries, including China, Brazil, and Israel, fare (the finale is not until October 8, so stay tuned). Meanwhile, Stuttgart, which I last visited a decade ago, continues to grow as a bustling business town, focused on Neue Messe Stuttgart, its vast new Trade Fair Center. There is a new Mercedes Benz Museum, and next fall it will be joined by a Porsche Museum. When I was last in Stuttgart in the 1990’s, I was presented to the town’s then-mayor, a nattily attired elderly gentleman who stuck out his hand and said, “Rommel.” Turned out it was Manfred Rommel, son of the notorious “Desert Fox” Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, who served as Stuttgart mayor from 1974 to 1996, during which time he showed a distinct interest in the local arts scene.

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For the next few weeks, I will be traveling back and forth to Stuttgart, Germany, where I am serving on the jury of a triennial lieder (classical song) competition. The contest is the brainchild of the Internationale Hugo-Wolf-Akademie, directed by the pianist and accompanist Hartmut Höll. Among his other accomplishments, Höll was the longtime accompanist in concerts and on CD’s of the legendary German baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. Among the other jurors is Japanese-born mezzo-soprano Mitsuko Shirai, known as the “Maria Callas of classical song,” whose CD’s with Höll of music by Schubert, Schumann, and Brahms on the excellent small record label Capriccio are among the most exciting in recent decades. Shirai’s stark emotional expressivity and Höll’s spiky, freewheeling playing, and the way both performers yield to one another, all make for a fascinating dialogue that sets the bar high for younger contestants.

It will also be intriguing to see how the 44 piano-vocal teams from 25 countries, including China, Brazil, and Israel, fare (the finale is not until October 8, so stay tuned). Meanwhile, Stuttgart, which I last visited a decade ago, continues to grow as a bustling business town, focused on Neue Messe Stuttgart, its vast new Trade Fair Center. There is a new Mercedes Benz Museum, and next fall it will be joined by a Porsche Museum. When I was last in Stuttgart in the 1990’s, I was presented to the town’s then-mayor, a nattily attired elderly gentleman who stuck out his hand and said, “Rommel.” Turned out it was Manfred Rommel, son of the notorious “Desert Fox” Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, who served as Stuttgart mayor from 1974 to 1996, during which time he showed a distinct interest in the local arts scene.

The younger Rommel was succeeded as mayor by Wolfgang Schuster, who, if anything, is even more dedicated to celebrating the arts than was his predecessor. New York’s own Michael Bloomberg allowed Central Park to be defaced in order to promote his friend and dinner guest Christo, creator of the witless “Gates” project (an NYC architect informed me that the full extent of infrastructure damage to Central Park was never made public). By contrast, Stuttgart’s Schuster seems fully aware that he has a serious legacy to protect and promote. No Stuttgart organization pursues this goal more responsibly than the Hugo-Wolf-Akademie, which organizes concerts at local sites of historic resonance, like “Hölderlin’s tower” in nearby Tübingen, where the 18th century poet Friedrich Hölderlin spent the last decades of his life besieged by mental illness.

Not everyone in the Stuttgart region is obsessed with lieder and romantic poetry; pop culture, especially of the American variety, still conquers all in some quarters. Every local newspaper devoted extensive space to reporting the hot news that Peter Falk, TV’s world-famous Columbo, is now 80. Most kids hereabouts are more drawn to Tokio Hotel, an adrogynous boy band led by Bill Kaulitz, than anything by Schumann or Wolf, two composers featured in this year’s lieder contest. Still, Hartmut Höll and his Wolf-Akademie deserve hearty thanks for fighting the good fight for what is humane and permanent in the arts.

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Hitler’s Record Collection?

It is ironic that just as the death of the distinguished Holocaust historian Raul Hilberg is announced, the media here and abroad should broadcast news of the rediscovery of Hitler’s presumed “record collection.” Der Spiegel reported that the daughter of Lev Bezymensky (1920-2007), a World War II Soviet military intelligence officer, revealed some 100 records, which her father reportedly stole from the Berlin Reich chancellery in 1945, after the Red Army invasion. Readers may remember that the same Lev Bezymensky (his name transliterated as Bezymenski) authored the 1968 book The Death of Adolf Hitler: Unknown Documents from Soviet Archives, in which Bezymensky claimed to have been present at Hitler’s autopsy. Bezymensky himself later admitted the claim was a lie. Toeing the line of the notorious Soviet counter-intelligence organization SMERSH, Bezymensky’s memoir of the autopsy was persuasively exposed as fraud in Ron Rosenbaum’s Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil.

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It is ironic that just as the death of the distinguished Holocaust historian Raul Hilberg is announced, the media here and abroad should broadcast news of the rediscovery of Hitler’s presumed “record collection.” Der Spiegel reported that the daughter of Lev Bezymensky (1920-2007), a World War II Soviet military intelligence officer, revealed some 100 records, which her father reportedly stole from the Berlin Reich chancellery in 1945, after the Red Army invasion. Readers may remember that the same Lev Bezymensky (his name transliterated as Bezymenski) authored the 1968 book The Death of Adolf Hitler: Unknown Documents from Soviet Archives, in which Bezymensky claimed to have been present at Hitler’s autopsy. Bezymensky himself later admitted the claim was a lie. Toeing the line of the notorious Soviet counter-intelligence organization SMERSH, Bezymensky’s memoir of the autopsy was persuasively exposed as fraud in Ron Rosenbaum’s Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil.

The London Times trumpeted the story about Hitler’s record collection with headlines like “Hitler’s ‘Desert Island Discs’ turn up in a dead Russian soldier’s attic” and “A cultivated taste that went for very best,” lauding the dictator’s musical acumen. This praise was based on information that the collection includes recordings by the Russian bass Feodor Chaliapin singing Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov, the violinist Bronislaw Huberman, a Polish Jew, playing Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, and pianist Artur Schnabel, an Austrian Jew, performing a Mozart sonata. These recordings are available on CD from Naxos, Pearl, and Music & Arts Records respectively; they are exceptional performances from a time when the choice of major musical repertory on disc was limited.

The London Times goes so far as to praise Hitler as a recordings connoisseur: “Hitler appeared to enjoy a good tune.” This sentiment echoes such mock kudos from Mel Brooks’s The Producers as “Hitler was a better dancer than Churchill.” Other media reports managed to find a moral to the story. A headline in the Australian proclaimed that “Hitler relaxed to music of Jews”; the article that followed suggested he was guilty of hypocrisy. The cellist Steven Isserlis claims in the Guardian that “racial rules could be stretched where the glory and comfort of supermen were concerned.”

Do we really need new reasons to despise Hitler? The hoopla surrounding this record collection rates as the most frivolous innovation in Third Reich studies since Lothar Machtan’s 2001 The Hidden Hitler claimed that Hitler was gay (an idea also advanced by The Producers). Even during the slow news days of summer, the media would do well to maintain a sense of the ridiculous, as well as a healthy suspicion of reports originating from deceased Soviet intelligence officers.

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Endgame for the Jerusalem Symphony?

Last month’s decree by the Jerusalem Regional Court—that the 78 musicians of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra (JSO) must be paid their salaries until October 14—is a reprieve for the much-beleaguered orchestra. In June, the Israeli Broadcasting Authority cut funding of the JSO from $2.7 to $1.2 million, and the orchestra was expected to disband by July 15. Judge Ezra Kama ruled that the JSO and the Broadcasting Authority must develop a recovery plan for the future. Let’s hope so.

The JSO’s annual budget is about $4.2 million, only one quarter of the annual budget of the Tel Aviv-based Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO), which is funded in part by the American Friends of the Israel Philharmonic. The JSO has its own American Friends organization, befitting an ensemble founded 69 years ago.

The IPO (which feted its own 70th anniversary this year) has attracted a series of star conductors from its first concert in 1936 led by Arturo Toscanini, and continuing with William Steinberg, Leonard Bernstein, Paul Paray, and Jean Martinon. Zubin Mehta has been the orchestra’s flamboyant and charismatic Music Director for some 30 years. The IPO has made over 100 recordings with conductors including Leonard Bernstein, Paul Kletzki, Carlo Maria Giulini, and István Kertész.

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Last month’s decree by the Jerusalem Regional Court—that the 78 musicians of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra (JSO) must be paid their salaries until October 14—is a reprieve for the much-beleaguered orchestra. In June, the Israeli Broadcasting Authority cut funding of the JSO from $2.7 to $1.2 million, and the orchestra was expected to disband by July 15. Judge Ezra Kama ruled that the JSO and the Broadcasting Authority must develop a recovery plan for the future. Let’s hope so.

The JSO’s annual budget is about $4.2 million, only one quarter of the annual budget of the Tel Aviv-based Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO), which is funded in part by the American Friends of the Israel Philharmonic. The JSO has its own American Friends organization, befitting an ensemble founded 69 years ago.

The IPO (which feted its own 70th anniversary this year) has attracted a series of star conductors from its first concert in 1936 led by Arturo Toscanini, and continuing with William Steinberg, Leonard Bernstein, Paul Paray, and Jean Martinon. Zubin Mehta has been the orchestra’s flamboyant and charismatic Music Director for some 30 years. The IPO has made over 100 recordings with conductors including Leonard Bernstein, Paul Kletzki, Carlo Maria Giulini, and István Kertész.

The JSO has experienced less glittery (if solid) podium leadership from Americans Lukas Foss and Lawrence Foster, as well as Israeli musicians Mendi Rodan, Gary Bertini, and David Shallon. In 2000, Shallon died unexpectedly of an asthma attack on a musical tour of Japan, dealing a severe blow to the JSO’s future. More recently, the conductor and President of Bard College Leon Botstein has labored for the orchestra’s survival by fundraising and updating the orchestra’s repertoire. The JSO’s U.S. tour last year earned mixed reviews, but its programming of works by Martinů and Prokofiev was refreshing.

The JSO has made few studio recordings of note, yet the doughty small label Doremi has published a series of its live recordings with the pianist Pnina Salzman (1922-2006), who was known as Israel’s First Lady of the Piano, and who had been student of the famed keyboard pedagogues Alfred Cortot and Magda Tagliaferro. Salzman’s lively temperament matches the JSO’s rough and ready enthusiasm in Franck’s “Symphonic Variations” from 1968; d’ Indy’s “Symphony on a French Mountain Air for piano & orchestra” from 1973; and Chopin’s “Andante Spianato et Grande Polonaise Brillante” from 1979.

More than political or financial debates, such concrete examples of performances on CD persuade us of the JSO’s irreplaceability. If the orchestra does fold, Israel will still be left with the IPO, the Haifa Symphony Orchestra, and the Rishon LeZion Symphony Orchestra, among others. Yet we cannot help feeling that Jerusalem the Golden would become a trifle tarnished if its orchestra were somehow allowed to fold. Music lovers, wherever they may be, should therefore paraphrase the Psalmist and declare: “If we forget thee, O Jerusalem Symphony, may our CD players lose their cunning…”

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Huddled Masses (of Musicians)

By-now familiar moans about “agonizing” visa delays for foreign musicians hired to perform in the U.S. inspired the superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma to testify last year on Capitol Hill. Such plaints echoed again recently when Erik Schumann, a visa-less 25-year-old German violinist, forfeited a July engagement as soloist in the Tchaikovsky Concerto with the Philadelphia Orchestra in its summer season at Vail, Colorado. In May, Italian pianist Cristina Barbuti could not obtain a visa in time to perform in a scheduled duo concert at Manhattan’s 92nd Street Y. Last year, the Manchester, England-based Hallé Orchestra scuppered a planned 2007 U.S. tour because of the extra cost of obtaining 100 U. S. work visas for its players.

Such delays and difficulties are widely attributed to a current backlog at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Some nonetheless consider the delays to be (as Ma alleged in his testimony before the House Committee on Government Reform) affronts to musicians’ “dignity.” But Ma raised an interesting question: should musicians (as inherently “dignified” beings) be given instant visas regardless of current security concerns?

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By-now familiar moans about “agonizing” visa delays for foreign musicians hired to perform in the U.S. inspired the superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma to testify last year on Capitol Hill. Such plaints echoed again recently when Erik Schumann, a visa-less 25-year-old German violinist, forfeited a July engagement as soloist in the Tchaikovsky Concerto with the Philadelphia Orchestra in its summer season at Vail, Colorado. In May, Italian pianist Cristina Barbuti could not obtain a visa in time to perform in a scheduled duo concert at Manhattan’s 92nd Street Y. Last year, the Manchester, England-based Hallé Orchestra scuppered a planned 2007 U.S. tour because of the extra cost of obtaining 100 U. S. work visas for its players.

Such delays and difficulties are widely attributed to a current backlog at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Some nonetheless consider the delays to be (as Ma alleged in his testimony before the House Committee on Government Reform) affronts to musicians’ “dignity.” But Ma raised an interesting question: should musicians (as inherently “dignified” beings) be given instant visas regardless of current security concerns?

That question can be answered in two words: Papa Wemba. Papa Wemba was the stage name of Jules Kikumba, a renowned Congolese musician who was jailed in France in 2003 for helping to smuggle hundreds of illegal immigrants from the Democratic Republic of Congo into Europe. French prosecutors charged that would-be immigrants paid up to $4,500 for documents stating that they belonged to Papa Wemba’s band. Suspicions were raised when around 200 Congolese “musicians” arrived in France in 2000, none carrying any musical instruments. (Most turned out to be goat herders and fishermen.)

Some classical music snobs might assert that highbrow performers are more trustworthy than stars of world music or pop. Blair Tindall’s Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs, and Classical Music—which provides a fascinating account of drug use and debauchery among classical musicians—should disabuse anyone of the notion that classical musicians are better behaved than their pop counterparts. If our Citizenship and Immigration Services are dancing as fast as they can, traveling performers (and the artistic managers who hire them) should grin and bear it. After all, Johann Sebastian Bach never left Germany once, and his musical development did not suffer as a result.

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Why We Remember Jerry Hadley

My fellow blogger Terry Teachout has already posted an apt expression of poignant regret at the news of the suicide of the American tenor Jerry Hadley, who shot himself at age 55. A career in music can be cruelly difficult, and many performers are worn down by the stresses and frustrations inherent to the profession. Yet classical musicians who commit suicide do so for different reasons, rarely linked to their choice of career.

Listeners to Metropolitan Opera broadcasts will recall how, in 1988, the Bulgarian-born singer and vocal coach Bantcho Bantchevsky (1906-1988), in failing health, threw himself off the balcony of the Met’s auditorium during an intermission between the 2nd and 3rd Acts of Verdi’s Macbeth, ending both that day’s performance and his own life. In 1994, the Duo Crommelynck—two married pianists, Patrick Crommelynck (1947-1994) and Taeko Kuwata (1945-1994)—committed double suicide after an apparent crisis in their relationship. A gifted Australian-born pianist, Noel Mewton-Wood (1922-1953), reportedly committed suicide after the death of his gay lover. The acclaimed Viennese-born conductor Georg Tintner (1917-1999), honored with a posthumous series of CD reissues from Naxos, leapt off the balcony of his apartment after a lengthy battle with cancer. Another conductor, Austria’s Oswald Kabasta (1896-1946), whose performances have been reprinted by Music & Arts, killed himself after World War II, supposedly because, as a Hitler supporter, he feared the aftermath of the Nazi defeat . Meanwhile, the suicide of the modern German composer Bernd Alois Zimmermann (1918-1970) is ascribed to depression and eye problems , and the impoverished Czech-American composer Jaromír Weinberger (1896-1967), whose opera Schwanda the Bagpiper is available on Naxos, ended his life after being afflicted with brain cancer.

Still, suicide is a human problem, not a peculiarly musical or artistic one. French Jewish sociologist Émile Durkheim (1858-1917), in his treatise On Suicide, now available in a new translation by Robin Buss, confirms this assertion. Reading Durkheim, we may conclude that it is not prudent to venture instant guesses about the motives of a suicide, whether the unfortunate subject is a singer in decline, or a disappointed Nazi conductor.

It is best to recall Jerry Hadley for his bright lyric tenor, featured in a 1992 Handel’s Messiah conducted by Sir Neville Marriner and available on Philips; or in a 1986 Schubert Mass No. 6 in E-Flat Major conducted by Claudio Abbado on Deutsche Grammophon. Singing in English, Hadley was particularly forceful and self-assured in such CD’s as Weill’s Street Scene on Decca; Mendelssohn’s Elijah on Telarc; and Jerome Kern’s Show Boat on EMI. These CD’s furnish evidence of why we should remember Hadley’s life, instead of merely his tragic way of leaving it.

My fellow blogger Terry Teachout has already posted an apt expression of poignant regret at the news of the suicide of the American tenor Jerry Hadley, who shot himself at age 55. A career in music can be cruelly difficult, and many performers are worn down by the stresses and frustrations inherent to the profession. Yet classical musicians who commit suicide do so for different reasons, rarely linked to their choice of career.

Listeners to Metropolitan Opera broadcasts will recall how, in 1988, the Bulgarian-born singer and vocal coach Bantcho Bantchevsky (1906-1988), in failing health, threw himself off the balcony of the Met’s auditorium during an intermission between the 2nd and 3rd Acts of Verdi’s Macbeth, ending both that day’s performance and his own life. In 1994, the Duo Crommelynck—two married pianists, Patrick Crommelynck (1947-1994) and Taeko Kuwata (1945-1994)—committed double suicide after an apparent crisis in their relationship. A gifted Australian-born pianist, Noel Mewton-Wood (1922-1953), reportedly committed suicide after the death of his gay lover. The acclaimed Viennese-born conductor Georg Tintner (1917-1999), honored with a posthumous series of CD reissues from Naxos, leapt off the balcony of his apartment after a lengthy battle with cancer. Another conductor, Austria’s Oswald Kabasta (1896-1946), whose performances have been reprinted by Music & Arts, killed himself after World War II, supposedly because, as a Hitler supporter, he feared the aftermath of the Nazi defeat . Meanwhile, the suicide of the modern German composer Bernd Alois Zimmermann (1918-1970) is ascribed to depression and eye problems , and the impoverished Czech-American composer Jaromír Weinberger (1896-1967), whose opera Schwanda the Bagpiper is available on Naxos, ended his life after being afflicted with brain cancer.

Still, suicide is a human problem, not a peculiarly musical or artistic one. French Jewish sociologist Émile Durkheim (1858-1917), in his treatise On Suicide, now available in a new translation by Robin Buss, confirms this assertion. Reading Durkheim, we may conclude that it is not prudent to venture instant guesses about the motives of a suicide, whether the unfortunate subject is a singer in decline, or a disappointed Nazi conductor.

It is best to recall Jerry Hadley for his bright lyric tenor, featured in a 1992 Handel’s Messiah conducted by Sir Neville Marriner and available on Philips; or in a 1986 Schubert Mass No. 6 in E-Flat Major conducted by Claudio Abbado on Deutsche Grammophon. Singing in English, Hadley was particularly forceful and self-assured in such CD’s as Weill’s Street Scene on Decca; Mendelssohn’s Elijah on Telarc; and Jerome Kern’s Show Boat on EMI. These CD’s furnish evidence of why we should remember Hadley’s life, instead of merely his tragic way of leaving it.

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New York Philharmonic: New Conductor, New Season

The hoopla surrounding the naming of a 40-year-old native New Yorker, Alan Gilbert, as the next music director of the New York Philharmonic has somewhat obscured the fact that its current conductor, Lorin Maazel, will retain his job until after the 2008-2009 season. Gilbert, who is chief conductor of the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, will next appear here in March 2008, according to the New York Phil’s newly released 2007-2008 season schedule.

Curious music lovers might meanwhile try a soon-to-be released CD of Gilbert conducting Mozart at the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival on Koch International Classics. Live performances of Gilbert leading the Mahler Chamber Orchestra in works by Mahler and Mendelssohn have appeared; Gilbert has also shown a somewhat uneven interest in contemporary music, including a concerto for recorder by Swedish composer Daniel Börtz on BIS Records. All this suggests that Gilbert is still a talent-in-progress, who will be paid nothing near the reported $2,638,940, which a recent study documented as Maazel’s current annual salary.

Do New York concert-goers get enough bang for their buck? Next season’s finest musical events will surely be three concerts on April 3, 4, and 5, 2008, in which the British conductor Colin Davis leads one of America’s most profound pianists, Richard Goode, in Beethoven’s philosophical Fourth Piano Concerto. Davis, born in 1927, has produced a series of CD’s for the LSO Live label that ranks among the finest classical recordings (of anything) in recent years.

Among other soloists invited by the Philharmonic is the emotive Georgian violinist Lisa Batiashvili, whose EMI Recital CD of works by Bach, Brahms, and Schubert was a revelation. Batiashvili will perform Beethoven’s Violin Concerto with the Philharmonic this September 19, 20, and 21. Other parts of the Philharmonic schedule are sadly trite and predictable, none more than the September 18 season opener with the omnipresent Yo-Yo Ma playing the overexposed Dvořák Cello Concerto.

Then there are concert performances of Puccini’s “Tosca” on June 12, 14, 17, and 19, 2008 conducted by Maazel. A concert performance is most suited to a musical rarity that is almost never staged; the inescapable “Tosca” hardly qualifies. Likewise, when an admirable soloist is programmed—like the Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes playing Brahms’ Second Piano Concerto on January 17, 18, and 19, 2008—he is saddled with a conductor hardly reputed as a Brahmsian, Italy’s Riccardo Muti.

One of the two co-winners of the 2002 Maazel/Vilar Conductors’ Competition, the Chinese conductor Xian Zhang, will perform in November, but nowhere to be seen is the other superbly talented winner of the same competition, the Thai maestro Bundit Ungrangsee, a fine Mozartian on CD. Ungrangsee would himself have been a brilliant choice for music director.

Too many of the Phil’s concerts are centered around presumed “audience favorites,” like the grievously unidiomatic pianist Lang Lang, or Frenchman Pierre-Laurent Aimard, another merciless keyboard hammerer. When Maestro Gilbert takes over the Philharmonic’s helm, he might consider, as an urgent priority, hiring a new concert programmer.

The hoopla surrounding the naming of a 40-year-old native New Yorker, Alan Gilbert, as the next music director of the New York Philharmonic has somewhat obscured the fact that its current conductor, Lorin Maazel, will retain his job until after the 2008-2009 season. Gilbert, who is chief conductor of the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, will next appear here in March 2008, according to the New York Phil’s newly released 2007-2008 season schedule.

Curious music lovers might meanwhile try a soon-to-be released CD of Gilbert conducting Mozart at the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival on Koch International Classics. Live performances of Gilbert leading the Mahler Chamber Orchestra in works by Mahler and Mendelssohn have appeared; Gilbert has also shown a somewhat uneven interest in contemporary music, including a concerto for recorder by Swedish composer Daniel Börtz on BIS Records. All this suggests that Gilbert is still a talent-in-progress, who will be paid nothing near the reported $2,638,940, which a recent study documented as Maazel’s current annual salary.

Do New York concert-goers get enough bang for their buck? Next season’s finest musical events will surely be three concerts on April 3, 4, and 5, 2008, in which the British conductor Colin Davis leads one of America’s most profound pianists, Richard Goode, in Beethoven’s philosophical Fourth Piano Concerto. Davis, born in 1927, has produced a series of CD’s for the LSO Live label that ranks among the finest classical recordings (of anything) in recent years.

Among other soloists invited by the Philharmonic is the emotive Georgian violinist Lisa Batiashvili, whose EMI Recital CD of works by Bach, Brahms, and Schubert was a revelation. Batiashvili will perform Beethoven’s Violin Concerto with the Philharmonic this September 19, 20, and 21. Other parts of the Philharmonic schedule are sadly trite and predictable, none more than the September 18 season opener with the omnipresent Yo-Yo Ma playing the overexposed Dvořák Cello Concerto.

Then there are concert performances of Puccini’s “Tosca” on June 12, 14, 17, and 19, 2008 conducted by Maazel. A concert performance is most suited to a musical rarity that is almost never staged; the inescapable “Tosca” hardly qualifies. Likewise, when an admirable soloist is programmed—like the Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes playing Brahms’ Second Piano Concerto on January 17, 18, and 19, 2008—he is saddled with a conductor hardly reputed as a Brahmsian, Italy’s Riccardo Muti.

One of the two co-winners of the 2002 Maazel/Vilar Conductors’ Competition, the Chinese conductor Xian Zhang, will perform in November, but nowhere to be seen is the other superbly talented winner of the same competition, the Thai maestro Bundit Ungrangsee, a fine Mozartian on CD. Ungrangsee would himself have been a brilliant choice for music director.

Too many of the Phil’s concerts are centered around presumed “audience favorites,” like the grievously unidiomatic pianist Lang Lang, or Frenchman Pierre-Laurent Aimard, another merciless keyboard hammerer. When Maestro Gilbert takes over the Philharmonic’s helm, he might consider, as an urgent priority, hiring a new concert programmer.

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Gone, But Not Forgotten

Baseball fans who recall Jackie Robinson’s heroic role in integrating baseball in 1947 tend to forget other pioneering African-American players in the major leagues like Larry Doby, Hank Thompson, and Sam Jethroe. Likewise, music fans often pay tribute to African-American singers like the contralto Marian Anderson (1897 –1993), and soprano Leontyne Price (b. 1927) for their triumphant Met Opera debuts, in 1955 and 1961 respectively. Yet other mightily talented singers who also battled early opposition have often been overlooked, which makes a new CD reissue from Bridge Records of a live 1940 concert at the Library of Congress by soprano Dorothy Maynor especially welcome.

Virginia-born Maynor (1910-1996) is accompanied in 1940 by the expert Hungarian pianist Arpád Sándor (1896-1972), a student of Bartók and frequent recital partner of Jascha Heifetz, who knew when to be reticent and when to make passionate keyboard points. Maynor’s flexible lyric soprano has a rapid beat, akin to the voice of the endearing Brazilian diva Bidu Sayão. Maynor’s singing of French in works by Bizet and Charpentier is particularly impressive. She fully deserves this commemoration from Bridge, a doughty, small label run by two New Yorkers, Becky and David Starobin.

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Baseball fans who recall Jackie Robinson’s heroic role in integrating baseball in 1947 tend to forget other pioneering African-American players in the major leagues like Larry Doby, Hank Thompson, and Sam Jethroe. Likewise, music fans often pay tribute to African-American singers like the contralto Marian Anderson (1897 –1993), and soprano Leontyne Price (b. 1927) for their triumphant Met Opera debuts, in 1955 and 1961 respectively. Yet other mightily talented singers who also battled early opposition have often been overlooked, which makes a new CD reissue from Bridge Records of a live 1940 concert at the Library of Congress by soprano Dorothy Maynor especially welcome.

Virginia-born Maynor (1910-1996) is accompanied in 1940 by the expert Hungarian pianist Arpád Sándor (1896-1972), a student of Bartók and frequent recital partner of Jascha Heifetz, who knew when to be reticent and when to make passionate keyboard points. Maynor’s flexible lyric soprano has a rapid beat, akin to the voice of the endearing Brazilian diva Bidu Sayão. Maynor’s singing of French in works by Bizet and Charpentier is particularly impressive. She fully deserves this commemoration from Bridge, a doughty, small label run by two New Yorkers, Becky and David Starobin.

The same is true of another neglected African-American singer, Georgia-born Mattiwilda Dobbs (b. 1925). A silvery lyric soprano capable of emotional warmth in Schubert lieder and coloratura flash in arias by Rimsky-Korsakov, Dobbs made precious few recordings, one of which is happily available from Testament. Her Met Opera debut was as Gilda in Verdi’s Rigoletto in 1956, and she sang 29 performances there of six roles during eight seasons. Yet Dobbs’s career mostly flourished in Europe, where her recordings were made, including a scintillating 1950’s performance of Bizet’s Pearl Fishers, reprinted on Preiser Records.

By contrast, there are apparently no CD’s available of early recordings by the tenor Roland Hayes (1887-1977), who was an international celebrity starting in the 1920′s. Perhaps because Hayes was a concert artist rather than an opera performer, with a sometimes eerie (although compelling) vocal tone, he has been relatively neglected. The same is true of soprano Camilla Williams (b. 1919), who sang the title role of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly in 1946, yet can only be heard today on a 1950’s Sony recording of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, and as one of a multitude of soloists in Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 conducted in 1950 by Leopold Stokowski.

Still, fans of the resonant, characterful contralto Carol Brice (1918-1985) can delight in the recent reissue of two of her long-unavailable recordings from 1946: of Falla’s El Amor brujo and Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, both conducted by Fritz Reiner. Before these reissues, Brice was only represented in the catalogue by brief performances in Broadway musicals for which she was clearly overqualified, like 1959’s Saratoga and 1960’s Finian’s Rainbow. Kudos to the CD companies helping us remember these vocal pioneers.

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Messiaen’s Dark Past

The French composer and organist Olivier Messiaen (1908–1992) is one of modern music’s most prominent figures. Although he died in 1992, Messiaen’s CD’s are sold in the classical music section of most stores, instead of the less commercially viable contemporary music bins. Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, written in 1940-41 for clarinet, violin, cello, and piano (and dedicated to the Angel of the Apocalypse) has become particularly popular for its spirituality and accessible tonal style. There are currently seventeen versions of the Quartet in print, of which the most fervent remains the one by pianist Peter Serkin and the chamber group Tashi on RCA Victor. Likewise infused with Messiaen’s ardent Catholic piety, his Twenty Gazes at Baby Jesus (Vingt regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus) has been brilliantly recorded by Serkin on RCA and with stark conviction by the gifted Norwegian virtuoso Håkon Austbø on Naxos.

Recently Messiaen has been the subject of a flood of books, including For the End of Time: the Story of the Messiaen Quartet by Rebecca Rischin (Cornell University Press); Messiaen by Peter Hill and Nigel Simeone (Yale University Press); and The Life of Messiaen by Christopher Dingle (Cambridge University Press). These books reveal a long-overlooked shadow on the composer’s history: his ambiguous relationship with the Nazi occupiers of his native country.

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The French composer and organist Olivier Messiaen (1908–1992) is one of modern music’s most prominent figures. Although he died in 1992, Messiaen’s CD’s are sold in the classical music section of most stores, instead of the less commercially viable contemporary music bins. Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, written in 1940-41 for clarinet, violin, cello, and piano (and dedicated to the Angel of the Apocalypse) has become particularly popular for its spirituality and accessible tonal style. There are currently seventeen versions of the Quartet in print, of which the most fervent remains the one by pianist Peter Serkin and the chamber group Tashi on RCA Victor. Likewise infused with Messiaen’s ardent Catholic piety, his Twenty Gazes at Baby Jesus (Vingt regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus) has been brilliantly recorded by Serkin on RCA and with stark conviction by the gifted Norwegian virtuoso Håkon Austbø on Naxos.

Recently Messiaen has been the subject of a flood of books, including For the End of Time: the Story of the Messiaen Quartet by Rebecca Rischin (Cornell University Press); Messiaen by Peter Hill and Nigel Simeone (Yale University Press); and The Life of Messiaen by Christopher Dingle (Cambridge University Press). These books reveal a long-overlooked shadow on the composer’s history: his ambiguous relationship with the Nazi occupiers of his native country.

In 1939, Messiaen was mobilized as a soldier, assigned to carry stretchers. After the French surrender in 1940, Messiaen was imprisoned at Görlitz in Silesia. There, a German sergeant took a liking to Messiaen after learning he was a composer. He gave Messiaen extra rations of bread to eat and allowed him to write undisturbed in the afternoon. The product of these afternoon sessions was the Quartet for the End of Time, which the other prisoners were even commanded to stand and listen to when it was first performed in the camp.

Insofar as Nazi officers made the work materially possible to compose, and incited Messiaen to write it, his Quartet was a Nazi commission. Messiaen himself never explicitly denied this, stating decades later in an interview, “As Germans always admire music, wherever it may be found, not only did they leave me my scores, but an officer gave me pencils, erasers, and music paper.” In the 1960’s, he went so far as to object when an American recording was published with a cover design of a swastika torn into pieces: “This hideous and stupid drawing is the complete opposite of what I intended to do!”

All of the books mentioned above are huge improvements over earlier hagiographies of Messaien. The composer is frankly overdue for a clear-eyed estimation of his co-relationship with the Nazis and his anti-Semitic statements, such as this one, made to the interviewer Claude Samuel in 1987:

What I am going to say is horrible, but the Jews as a people committed a deicide. No doubt they didn’t know what they were doing . . . but finally they did pronounce that terrible sentence “May his blood fall on us and our children.”

Someone close enough to observe at first hand Messiaen’s relations with the Nazis, and a figure generally ignored in Messiaen literature, was his former student and eventual colleague at the Paris Conservatory, Odette Gartenlaub. I interviewed Gartenlaub in the early 90’s about her relationship with the composer and her Vichy-era vicissitudes as part of a research project about French music. So stay tuned for the follow-up to this post, which will be drawn from that interview.

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Rebirth of the Classics

The online classical music vendor ArkivMusic has been developing a sales program that solves one of the great problems besetting CD collectors. Superb classical CD’s are often abruptly withdrawn by record companies for reasons having little or nothing to do with intrinsic quality, and much more to do with marketing ploys and vagaries of taste. The Hungarian-born pianist András Schiff, for instance, is generally considered one of the supreme keyboard artists of our time. But since he stopped recording for Decca, the label has allowed many of Schiff’s CD’s to go out of print in the U.S. Happily, ArkivMusic is offering a solution.

Over 2,700 previously unavailable CD’s (originally released by Universal Classics, EMI, Sony BMG, and smaller labels) can once again be purchased on a production-on-demand basis. The sound quality, according to ArkivMusic, is comparable to that of the originals; the original liner notes are, however, absent. These CD’s include landmarks like Schiff’s delectable recording of Mozart’s Music for Four Hands (played with his mentor, the British pianist George Malcolm). Or Schiff’s exuberant CD’s of Mozart piano concertos with the Hungarian maestro Sandor Végh, formerly unavailable from Decca’s U. S. catalogue. Another newly available summit of Mozart performance (which Decca also allowed to go out of print in the U.S.) is a 1970’s recording of Mozart’s violin sonatas by the wizardly violinist Szymon Goldberg, with Radu Lupu* on piano.

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The online classical music vendor ArkivMusic has been developing a sales program that solves one of the great problems besetting CD collectors. Superb classical CD’s are often abruptly withdrawn by record companies for reasons having little or nothing to do with intrinsic quality, and much more to do with marketing ploys and vagaries of taste. The Hungarian-born pianist András Schiff, for instance, is generally considered one of the supreme keyboard artists of our time. But since he stopped recording for Decca, the label has allowed many of Schiff’s CD’s to go out of print in the U.S. Happily, ArkivMusic is offering a solution.

Over 2,700 previously unavailable CD’s (originally released by Universal Classics, EMI, Sony BMG, and smaller labels) can once again be purchased on a production-on-demand basis. The sound quality, according to ArkivMusic, is comparable to that of the originals; the original liner notes are, however, absent. These CD’s include landmarks like Schiff’s delectable recording of Mozart’s Music for Four Hands (played with his mentor, the British pianist George Malcolm). Or Schiff’s exuberant CD’s of Mozart piano concertos with the Hungarian maestro Sandor Végh, formerly unavailable from Decca’s U. S. catalogue. Another newly available summit of Mozart performance (which Decca also allowed to go out of print in the U.S.) is a 1970’s recording of Mozart’s violin sonatas by the wizardly violinist Szymon Goldberg, with Radu Lupu* on piano.

But ArkivMusic is not just rehabilitating recordings from decades ago. The Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes’s CD of works by Schumann was nominated for a Grammy in 1998. Yet it too went out of print (although it is well worth hearing today.) The acclaimed young German baritone Matthias Goerne recorded an aria recital in 2000, including youthfully pliant versions of opera excerpts by Wagner and Richard Strauss. Decca let this fine CD, one of Goerne’s best, languish. But both are newly available on ArkivMusic.

Sometimes musical trendiness seems to have determined which recordings labels drop from their catalogues. As the “authentic approach” in Baroque music passed in and out of fashion over the past 30 years, a number of top performances fell by the wayside. In 1977, the Dutch bass Max van Egmond recorded two Bach solo cantatas for Sony Classical, which are among the most elegantly sung Baroque performances ever. Now they can be heard again, as can a brilliant recital of François Couperin’s harpsichord music, originally recorded by Gustav Leonhardt for Philips and long unavailable.

There are dozens of such high points among ArkivMusic’s new offerings. But perhaps the most compelling of all are recordings by the composer Benjamin Britten (also a splendidly sensitive conductor) in a program of British music. Or the tenor Peter Pears, Britten’s companion and prescient musical partner, in a program of Elizabethan lute songs with the lutanist Julian Bream. These CD’s are truly authoritative, and we were poorer without them.

*Editing introduced an error, which has since been corrected.

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Music from Kids of All Ages

Lunch-hour pedestrians in midtown Manhattan from June 4th to 8th may have stumbled across one of five consecutive mid-day recitals (part of Bryant Park’s Piano in the Park series) by Roy Eaton, an African-American musician born in Harlem in 1930, gifted with unusual poise and calm grace. Mr. Eaton, who has released CD’s of Chopin on Summit Records and Scott Joplin’s ragtime music on Sony, has a new Summit CD out, Keyboard Classics for Children, which reveals unusual insight into the world of childhood. The disc includes works by J.S. Bach and Claude Debussy, as well as Robert Schumann’s Kinderszenen, played in deliberate (yet never heavy) tempos and with unshowy intimacy, in the spirit of the acclaimed British pianist Clifford Curzon (1907-1982).

Eaton was born, sadly, before it was possible for an African-American classical pianist seriously to envisage a concert career. Instead, he became an advertising executive for Young & Rubicam and Benton & Bowles. (Eaton is responsible for several popular TV jingles, including You can trust your car/ to the man that wears the star/ the big, bright, Texaco star and Beefaroni’s full of meat/ Beefaroni’s really neat./ Hooray for Beefaroni!). After being downsized in 1980, Eaton (who now teaches at the Manhattan School of Music) found time to rediscover his inner child and his musical ambitions.

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Lunch-hour pedestrians in midtown Manhattan from June 4th to 8th may have stumbled across one of five consecutive mid-day recitals (part of Bryant Park’s Piano in the Park series) by Roy Eaton, an African-American musician born in Harlem in 1930, gifted with unusual poise and calm grace. Mr. Eaton, who has released CD’s of Chopin on Summit Records and Scott Joplin’s ragtime music on Sony, has a new Summit CD out, Keyboard Classics for Children, which reveals unusual insight into the world of childhood. The disc includes works by J.S. Bach and Claude Debussy, as well as Robert Schumann’s Kinderszenen, played in deliberate (yet never heavy) tempos and with unshowy intimacy, in the spirit of the acclaimed British pianist Clifford Curzon (1907-1982).

Eaton was born, sadly, before it was possible for an African-American classical pianist seriously to envisage a concert career. Instead, he became an advertising executive for Young & Rubicam and Benton & Bowles. (Eaton is responsible for several popular TV jingles, including You can trust your car/ to the man that wears the star/ the big, bright, Texaco star and Beefaroni’s full of meat/ Beefaroni’s really neat./ Hooray for Beefaroni!). After being downsized in 1980, Eaton (who now teaches at the Manhattan School of Music) found time to rediscover his inner child and his musical ambitions.

An equally moving expression of childhood in classical music can be heard in the merry, radiant works of Conrad Tao, a composer, pianist, and violinist born in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois in 1994. Tao, a student at Juilliard’s preparatory program, has produced a CD of his pieces, Silhouettes & Shadows, expressing a balletic musical grace. His Sonata for Cello and Piano ranges in mood from the impish to the searching. Another disc available on Tao’s website, a 2006 solo piano recital at Juilliard, includes tenderly exalted performances of works by Beethoven, Chopin, and Liszt.

Tao has a sense of musical line—a conviction that each note is part of the total fabric of a given work—found only in the greatest musicians, like the conductor Arturo Toscanini and the tenor Peter Pears. This quality, plus the congenial sense of community endeavor that marks everything Tao does, augurs very well indeed for his future as a musician. He has nothing in common with the usual image of the child prodigy, an isolated misfit in a media fishbowl.

Whether an aging musician re-awakens a talent long ignored, or a child possessing unusual gifts writes music with adult acumen, it’s clear that music can provide an exception to the otherwise cruelly rigid laws of Father Time.

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Getting to Know Grieg

Some composers, such as Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849) or Edvard Grieg (1843-1907), suffer from overexposure. Music lovers feel that they “get” these composers because of their obvious lyricism, and conclude that their works possess no further mystery. In fact, both Chopin and Grieg are profound composers: the more we study their music, the more it reveals. Since 1991, the Grieg Society of New York has done stalwart work on behalf of its namesake, with extra effort put into this year’s events commemorating the centenary of Grieg’s death in 1907.

On September 23 at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall, the cellist Darrett Adkins will perform Grieg’s Cello Sonata as part of a program of Norwegian cello music. On October 26, the Norwegian violinist Ole Böhn will play Grieg’s complete violin sonatas at New York’s American-Scandinavian Foundation. And on December 9 at Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall, the society’s founder and president Per Brevig will conduct members of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic in a concert featuring Grieg’s beloved Holberg Suite.

Norwegian-born maestro Brevig is an apt representative of the diversity of Grieg’s musical legacy. After a legendary career from 1968 to 1994 as principal trombonist of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Brevig became a conductor, currently serving as music director of the East Texas Symphony Orchestra, although his lyric grasp of the orchestral and operatic repertory should have led to invitations to the Met and New York City Opera years ago. (Fortunately, Norwegians seem to be gifted with a Lutheran sense of patience and stoicism.)

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Some composers, such as Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849) or Edvard Grieg (1843-1907), suffer from overexposure. Music lovers feel that they “get” these composers because of their obvious lyricism, and conclude that their works possess no further mystery. In fact, both Chopin and Grieg are profound composers: the more we study their music, the more it reveals. Since 1991, the Grieg Society of New York has done stalwart work on behalf of its namesake, with extra effort put into this year’s events commemorating the centenary of Grieg’s death in 1907.

On September 23 at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall, the cellist Darrett Adkins will perform Grieg’s Cello Sonata as part of a program of Norwegian cello music. On October 26, the Norwegian violinist Ole Böhn will play Grieg’s complete violin sonatas at New York’s American-Scandinavian Foundation. And on December 9 at Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall, the society’s founder and president Per Brevig will conduct members of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic in a concert featuring Grieg’s beloved Holberg Suite.

Norwegian-born maestro Brevig is an apt representative of the diversity of Grieg’s musical legacy. After a legendary career from 1968 to 1994 as principal trombonist of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Brevig became a conductor, currently serving as music director of the East Texas Symphony Orchestra, although his lyric grasp of the orchestral and operatic repertory should have led to invitations to the Met and New York City Opera years ago. (Fortunately, Norwegians seem to be gifted with a Lutheran sense of patience and stoicism.)

The same is true of the scholars meticulously studying Grieg in this anniversary year. Tone N. Slotsvik, a graduate student in history at the University of Bergen, observes that Grieg was rightly acclaimed for his outrage at the persecution of Captain Alfred Dreyfus—even refusing an invitation to perform in Paris in 1899. When Dreyfus was unjustly convicted a second time by an anti-Semitic cabal, Grieg wrote to his French hosts, “I am so upset by the disdain of justice demonstrated in France that I don’t feel it possible to be in contact with the French public.” Loads of hate mail from France and elsewhere deluged Grieg, who did not waver in his beliefs. (Yet, as Slotsvik notes, Grieg was no philo-Semite either, repeatedly using the word “Jewish” in his correspondence in a pejorative sense.)

Grieg’s complexities and contradictions are fully expressed in his music, as some of the best available CD’s reveal. Grieg’s Lyric Pieces are played with spiky philosophical grace by the Norwegian pianist Haakon Austbö on a 3-CD set from Brilliant Classics. Glenn Gould gives a fresh viewpoint to Grieg’s Piano Sonata in E minor, Op. 7 on SONY. Listeners who feel overfamiliar with Grieg’s Piano Concerto might sample the freewheeling, dynamic 1927 recording by Grieg’s friend the pianist Arthur De Greef on Pearl and Simax. Grieg himself made magical records in 1903, also reprinted on Simax, though marred by a good deal of surface noise.

Other must-hear interpreters of the Concerto include Benno Moiseiwitsch on Testament, as well as Dinu Lipatti, Sviatoslav Richter, and Leif Ove Andsnes on EMI. (Nothing played by musicians of this caliber seems hackneyed.) Likewise, Iona Brown’s conducting of Grieg’s Holberg Suite on Virgin Classics makes the work sound as vivacious as it doubtless will prove to be under Per Brevig’s baton at Zankel Hall in December.

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Good as Gould?

A few months ago, at Manhattan’s Yamaha studios, a large black piano stood onstage—minus any pianist—playing what was billed as a “re-performance” of Glenn Gould’s 1955 mono recording of J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations. The feat was accomplished with a MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) file containing vastly detailed information about Gould’s old record, including such matters as volume and tempo, fed through a Disklavier Pro piano, one of the few concert grands that can play such files.

But why bother? This bestselling record—Gould would rerecord the “Goldbergs” in stereo in 1981—has remained in print ever since it was first published by Sony Classical (now Columbia) in 1956. Why this staged display for a pianist who famously loathed concert performance, retiring at 31 from live recitals to devote himself entirely to recording, films, and radio? The event’s real protagonist, of course, was Zenph Studios, a North Carolina software company, which developed this technology.

Listening to the Zenph re-performance, it is immediately clear that no musician’s fingers are actually hitting keys. The notes may be faithfully replicated in terms of the duration of notes and their intensity, but the physical presence of a pianist is sadly missing. What is a piano without a pianist, except an odd-looking piece of furniture? When Franz Liszt began the tradition of piano recitals in the 19th century, one audience member was heard to ask quizzically, “A piano recital? How can a piano recite?” The question today—thanks to Zenph—becomes “Should a piano recite?”

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A few months ago, at Manhattan’s Yamaha studios, a large black piano stood onstage—minus any pianist—playing what was billed as a “re-performance” of Glenn Gould’s 1955 mono recording of J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations. The feat was accomplished with a MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) file containing vastly detailed information about Gould’s old record, including such matters as volume and tempo, fed through a Disklavier Pro piano, one of the few concert grands that can play such files.

But why bother? This bestselling record—Gould would rerecord the “Goldbergs” in stereo in 1981—has remained in print ever since it was first published by Sony Classical (now Columbia) in 1956. Why this staged display for a pianist who famously loathed concert performance, retiring at 31 from live recitals to devote himself entirely to recording, films, and radio? The event’s real protagonist, of course, was Zenph Studios, a North Carolina software company, which developed this technology.

Listening to the Zenph re-performance, it is immediately clear that no musician’s fingers are actually hitting keys. The notes may be faithfully replicated in terms of the duration of notes and their intensity, but the physical presence of a pianist is sadly missing. What is a piano without a pianist, except an odd-looking piece of furniture? When Franz Liszt began the tradition of piano recitals in the 19th century, one audience member was heard to ask quizzically, “A piano recital? How can a piano recite?” The question today—thanks to Zenph—becomes “Should a piano recite?”

Sony has signed up Zenph to produce a series of eighteen CD’s, half classical and half jazz. The jazz wizard Art Tatum’s Piano Starts Here, a compilation of performances from 1933 and 1949, is next in line to be Zenph’d, followed by recordings by Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873–1943). Both of these will doubtless offer noisier originals to be cleaned than Gould’s 1955 record, whatever the loss in direct communication of personality may turn out to be.

All marketing surveys show that CD buyers are generally drawn to recent performances with high sound quality, not historically important material. And the Zenph release is clearly aimed at CD buyers who still find the sound quality of Gould’s previous recordings to be too old-fashioned, even when cleaned up by traditional engineering methods for CD. For these demanding purchasers, the best alternative may simply be to choose be a more recent Goldberg Variations: Murray Perahia (Sony; 2000), András Schiff (ECM; 2001), and Pierre Hantaï (on harpsichord, Mirare; 2003), all master musicians, have all produced them. Glenn Gould’s uniqueness apart, he was not the only fine performer to record the Variations, and—although rabid Gouldians may find it blasphemy to even hint as much—his may not have been the best recordings. Posterity will decide.

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