Monday, November 11, 2019

The Chopin etude in the snow



Looking out the front window tonight with all the snow, I thought of this video I made some years (!) ago, of Leonard Pennario playing Chopin's famous Etude in E.

I had just bought this antique stereo. It had come to me under unusual circumstances.. I had answered an ad from these people selling it, and I got lost on the way to their house. And when I was lost I thought: Wouldn't it be odd if they had a Pennario record on the stereo?

And sure enough, they did!

They had the Chopin waltzes and I recognized them when I walked in. I could not believe my ears. Well, I wrote about it on this blog so I should just link to it. But it is a memory I kind of like, you know? Walking in there hearing this waltz, thinking... I think it is.. I think it is ... it can't be... I think it is...

That was the way I was thinking then. He had just died and I was sad. And I had sort of been through the emotional wringer. You cannot just go through something like what I did and be yourself again immediately afterwards. It takes a while to come back

Anyway, so that is the stereo in the video. And I played Pennario's own copy of the record with this beautiful Chopin etude. It was the one and only video I ever put on YouTube. I will have to teach myself to do it all over again.

I loved the winter background in the video. The snow, the cars, the bus.

Looking in on it now I realize I have not been good at tracking the comments. One gentleman wrote, "One of the greatest performances ever." I agree!

Pennario is underrated. If you just listen, and forget about anything negative you might have heard, you hear it. Just the first notes of this Etude, the sound is different from anyone else I have ever heard. It has such sorrow and soul.

Got to get back to this project, you know? Gotta wind it up.

Maybe now I can.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Wolfgang Wagner's "Meistersinger"



The other day on my other Web log I mentioned that while I was getting my nerve up for my first art show, I listened to "Die Meistersinger."

This was the performance I tuned into!

Actually I watched it, too. I was putting things into frames and mats and stuff and I could kind of keep track of what was going on. Even though this performance had no subtitles.

This performance is in two parts and above is part 1. It is from Bayreuth. I will keep this quick because I do not want to go on for two hours the way I did the time I discussed that "Meistersinger" from Glyndebourne. I will just say there were certain things I loved about this production and one of these days I will let it eat my day again.

There is one thing about this production that was the Most Cool.

That is that at the end, in the final moments of the opera, a white-haired man reaches out humorously to both Beckmesser and Sachs and makes them shake hands.

That man, that peacemaker, was Richard Wagner's grandson, Wolfgang Wagner.

Here is Act 3 in case you need it.



It is the sweetest thing. One gentleman wrote in the comments: "There are so many things that make this the best Meistersinger I've ever heard and see, but the final handshake reconciliation is the final touch of human greatness. I'll always want to see that ending, and will see it whether it is present or not."

Agree!

Not only that but Beckmesser is the great Hermann Prey. Let me tell you one thing, when he flubs the Prize Song, it does not sound that bad. Because Hermann Prey could sing the leaflet you get with your gas bill and you would sit there entranced because, I mean, he is Hermann Prey. Also Prey has great acting skills. He makes the part human. When the Master Singers parade in, you see him just looking kind of befuddled, following along. So funny.

Anyway, that is enchanting, just enchanting, that touch at the end. Wolfgang Wagner, it turns out, was in charge of this production.

And now I have new respect for him, because I loved this production.

That fat fanciful tree, perfect. The treehouse balcony beneath the leaves. In Act 2 when they get together for the song contest, I got tears in my eyes. Someone in the comments said, "It's like a painting come to life." I second that.

I love medieval productions of "Meistersinger." You can set it in the 19th century, maybe -- it seems that the Glyndebourne production did that, though I will have to check. But the thing is, "Meistersinger" is supposed to be about the 1500s. It is arranged around that. It has guilds and banners and references to Walther von der Vogelweide.

I saw one production -- well, I mean, the DVD was sent to me, I did not watch it -- but it was set in a boardroom with guys in suits. For the love of God as my friend Michelle would say.

Back to this Bayreuth performance. I liked Bernd Weikl as Sachs. He is on the young side for the part as was Gerald Finley in the British production I liked so well. Maybe I like my Hans Sachses on the young side.

This production is odd in that Walther von Stolzing is actually older than Sachs, I mean if you go by the singers. Walther von Stolzing is Siegfried Jerusalem who is a year or two older than Weikl.

That proves a bit problematic, I have to say. There is that sweet interlude when Eva comes in complaining to Sachs that her shoe pinches, and you kind of sense that she is a little sweet on him. Ordinarily you would figure, well, Walther is more her age. Not so in this case! So why does she not go for Sachs? That is the question!

Weikl's Sachs seems conflicted when he is handed the crown at the end. Indeed in real life he is conflicted. He wrote something recently saying "Meistersinger" should be banned in Germany. Again.. For the love of God as my friend Michelle would say.

One last thought and then I sit down and shut up as my dad always told me to.

Everyone who suggests that "Meistersinger" is anti-Semitic... what about that the big symbol of the Master Singers is the medal of King David? King David was Jewish. He wrote the psalms.

Hello!

OK, enough for now.

Perhaps later I'll revisit this.




Monday, July 29, 2019

About the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra


All the talk about Baltimore these days made me wonder:

What is the latest with the Baltimore Symphony?

That is the picture up above from the BSO's Facebook page. Early July brought the news that the musicians were on strike. They had been locked out by the orchestra as of June 17. The orchestra has been digging into its endowment recently to meet payroll -- not good news.

As the classical music critic for The Buffalo News it would fall frequently to me to research situations like this. It is an aspect of my job that I do not miss. You get exhausted sifting through orchestras and their problems.

Which, let me say this, are nothing new. Chronicling Leonard Pennario's life, I have come to see how long before I was born, the conversation has been going on about are symphony orchestras relevant, do only older people like this music, can a city sustain an orchestra, etc. Pennario participated in the 1950s in a fund-raiser for the Hollywood Bowl, the Los Angeles Symphony's summer home, when it was, well, circling the bowl. Jascha Heifetz performed for the same fund-raiser. The best musicians pitched in. It worked, and the summer season, which had been canceled, went on after all. Pennario was the featured soloist for the jubilant opening concert. He was their hometown hero and they loved him.

Baltimore's summer season was canceled this year and as far as I can see it is still canceled.

As far as I can see there is no light yet at the end of the tunnel.

Marin Alsop, the BSO's music director, appeared just two days ago on this NPR game show "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me." Incredibly, there seems to be no mention that the Baltimore musicians are locked out -- or of any problems at all. I just skimmed the text but I skimmed it twice.

Maybe they taped that show far in advance.

Either that or, maybe the problems have been solved and I just cannot find any mention of it!

In case they have not, let us return to the New York Times story. Caution: If you check it out, be prepared to sink an hour or so into reading the comments. That is what happened to me!

My heart goes out to the Baltimore musicians and what they are dealing with. The problems are not unique and they are not necessarily permanent and unsolvable. But they pose big challenges.

One gentleman wrote on July 3:

We used to enjoy 1-2 trips a year there but stopped going when the panhandlers and window washers became more than annoying but seemed threatening. Police hands are tied, sad to see what has happened there. I wish it well as I may never return.

Other comments:

The quest for funding often reaches absurd levels, as shown by one of the article’s statements: “ And [the Symphony] has creatively reached out to its community, starting OrchKids, which offers music instruction, homework tutors, after-school snacks and dinner to more than 1,300 children in neighborhoods that struggle with poverty and violence.

This is a ridiculous and insupportable example of mission creep; why should symphony orchestras be involved in providing homework tutors, after-school snacks and dinner to poor kids? These social services are the province of schools and welfare agencies, not symphonies or museums or theaters.

Interesting. I can see how an initiative like that, while well-meaning, could be very costly. Unless the orchestra were getting government money for it, who knows. This is also interesting: Wikipedia says that the Baltimore Symphony is the only major U.S. orchestra founded as an arm of the municipal government. So maybe things like this are a tradition with it.

I like inside-baseball talk like this:

Just imagine the cost of sending an entire orchestra and staff to Europe for a tour, as the Board approved for 2018.  Everyone loves to go on tour, especially Music Director (Marin) Alsop, who insisted on it.  Tours are how conductors audition for their next job, and she is likely to jump off the sinking BSO ship when her contract ends.  A fiscally responsible Board would have said no.

This Board has failed and must be removed.  

There is a good series of stories Anne Midgette wrote in the Washington Post which I cannot read because of the paywall.

It also appears that an orchestra called the National Philharmonic is closing in Bethesda, Md.

Perhaps that will free up more money for the Baltimore Symphony. I think ultimately it will come down to that, more funding from somewhere -- a foundation, a philanthropist.

We like to talk about the audience in situations like this because we are the audience. And concerns like crime, traffic, and time are all real and figure in. Programming, too. Many times over the last 10 years I have read about some onerous Baltimore Symphony concert with some heavy new work and thought, you could not pay me enough to sit through that.

But over years of covering the Buffalo Philharmonic I learned that ticket sales are a relatively small piece of the puzzle.

Buffalo is so lucky. Our orchestra has been in the black for some time now which is a big reason I was charged so often with reporting on other orchestras and things going wrong with them. People in Buffalo do not rejoice in anyone's misfortune. God knows we have had our share. But Buffalo rejoices in the BPO the way it rejoices in the Buffalo Bills and the Buffalo Sabres and the chicken wing festival. It is a lightning rod of city pride.

But just to keep things in perspective, the Buffalo Philharmonic is not as lucky as our Albright-Knox Art Gallery, which has been getting dizzying sums from some philanthropist whose name I forget but whose pockets are bottomless. We are talking gazillions of dollars. I wish that guy had a soft spot for Beethoven and Mozart, I do not mind telling you that. If the Albright-Knox collapses under the weight of all that money maybe we can send him in Baltimore's direction.

I do think the Baltimore Symphony's problems will be solved, somehow.

The musicians have set up a donation site here, with updates.







Saturday, July 27, 2019

Giacomo Rossini -- the software still works



To be honest I never quite realized Rossini's greatness until my tablet popped this commercial up at me the other day.

It's that aria from "The Barber of Seville" that you hear all the time. Well, being into classical music I have heard it all the time. But I heard it differently, watching this ad.

That software still works!

That is my husband's expression. It means that what worked in 1820 still works now. Watching that commercial, I was absolutely charmed. That music is pure fun. It's masterful. It pulls you in and keeps you there. It makes you laugh out loud.

Just when you think it's over, it goes into overdrive.

I know other people would be charmed and sure enough. Looking on YouTube at the comments, I read, "I came here for this song." And: "Who sings this song?"

Someone wrote: "Very nice song. Which is this language how can I get songs like this."

I still do not know exactly what the ad is selling.

But whatever it is, I'm buying!

Friday, July 26, 2019

Otto Klemperer and Beethoven's Ninth


The other day, I wrote about losing Howard's cousin -- the one, the only,the great Ron Moss. I went searching into the archives to see what I had written about him. One of the posts I found was called "A Present from Ron Moss," and talked about the time Moss had shoved a gift between the slats of the fence surrounding Howard's garage.

That present, eventually located in a clump of weeds, wound up being Beethoven's Ninth -- a box set of a performance conducted by Otto Klemperer, pictured above, and featuring mezzo soprano Christa Ludwig and the wonderful bass baritone Hans Hotter.

I was thinking, I have to find out where that box set is at, as we say here in Buffalo. Because it is great.

Ron Moss had taste!

Gramophone Magazine, in Britain, proclaimed it .... drum roll please ... the best performance of Beethoven's Ninth EVER! Read for yourself.

Gramophone talks about how the universal nature of Beethoven's Ninth emerges in the power that Klemperer, a German Jew, brings to it. Actually by the time he made that recording Klemperer was Roman Catholic. But still ...

Imagine that!!

Moss ...



... knew his Beethoven!

I have an affection for Otto Klemperer because of Leonard Pennario. Pennario was only 14 when he gave the first of what would become countless performances with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. And Otto Klemperer was the conductor. Klemperer liked him and was good to him and took him to heart. He knew great gifts when he saw them.

I love how Otto Klemperer was the father of Werner Klemperer who played Colonel Klink on "Hogan's Heroes." I did not watch that show much but the kids I babysat for did.

I also love the story Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau tells in his memoirs about Otto Klemperer. It is a long story but the simplified version is, Klemperer winds up imagining a conversation between himself and God. He has God asking, "Tell me, Doktor Klemperer ...."

I loved that!

I loved the idea of God addressing Klemperer with his formal titles!

You know that would be the case.

Anyway, Beethoven's Ninth and Otto Klemperer ... I must locate Moss' gift.

I must listen to it!



Saturday, June 15, 2019

Mozart and the Mass


The Gregorian Chant I wrote about last time has made me see classical music differently. Specifically it has made me see Mozart differently.

Every Thursday I have been going to chant practice. And I am starting to understand how Gregorian Chant is the purest form of worship. Just like Latin never changes, Gregorian chant never changes. And as the priest has pointed out to us, it is not passionate.

Now when I listen to Mozart church music I have to say, it is, well, rather passionate.

All these years I have been listening to him and I have not seen that. In the classical music world Mozart is seen, although I have not been on board with this, as one of the "cooler" composers, as in temperature. Beethoven is seen as hotter.

The other day I was listening to Mozart's Mass in C Minor, "The Great." Because of all the Gregorian chant, it struck me: Mozart burned hot.

Hotter than Beethoven. I am going to go ahead and say that.

Beethoven was more calculated in comparison. Mozart took it to the wall. The Mass in C Minor, it is like listening to "Don Giovanni." It is beautiful and I am not saying it is not devout. It is a hymn to his faith. But it is hot, is all I am saying.

I am going to do more research into the situation but I do remember understanding that in Mozart's time there was already this discussion going, about Gregorian chant, and what was appropriate. There was pressure coming from somewhere to stick with the chant and not to go with contemporary music, which was Mozart.

Mozart was not against the chant. There is a story I keep reading about how he said that he would have given up all his music to have written the beautiful Preface you hear in the Tridentine Mass. To be honest I would like to see documentation for that. I do not remember reading it in all my years of reading about Mozart. But everyone writes it and so it is likely true.

At the same time ... contemporary music written by Mozart is not the same as contemporary music we are stuck with these days like, oh, "The Servant Song."

Mozart can fill you with awe.




Listening to this I found myself remembering a famous line from the biography of Mozart written by Marcia Davenport. Other people have quoted this line to me too, which makes me think it is famous. Davenport was writing about Mozart's death, on Dec. 5, 1791. She wrote:

"Thus died this glory of Catholicism."

It is fascinating to imagine this music being heard in churches in the 18th century, with some of the faithful shaking their heads, thinking, the wheels have come off.

They might have been right. It is passionate music. Hot.

Still, so beautiful ...

Saturday, May 25, 2019

My Gregorian Chant adventure

ne thing is different at church and that is that we have a new priest and his name is Father Kluge. His last name means "clever" in German. And he is clever.

He has us singing Gregorian Chant!

It is even more thrilling than it sounds. It is as if we have turned the calendar back to the year 450 or thereabouts. Mozart is way too modern!

We have to get together and practice so that nobody's voice stands out. We are all supposed to be together and it is like swimming because you have to take deep breaths and try to make it all the way through a long and meandering phrase without a break.

Father Kluge had a great way of describing chant, how it can be like a butterfly, going this way and that.

Early last Sunday morning I was cramming because I had forgotten a lot of what we had practiced. So I was practicing beautiful Mass I, which is what we are singing, off of a YouTube video. I worked in this practice while I was brewing our coffee. We do pour-overs with a Melitta cone and the water drips through pretty slowly and so while I was pouring, I was watching the score on the video ...



.... and singing along.

Son of a sea cook, I overpoured Howard's cup of coffee! Coffee was everywhere!

But we did OK. Father Kluge was up in the choir loft directing us because one of our other priests, Father Justus, was the celebrant. That is us in the illuminated "O" at the top of this post! I was able to step back and take a quick picture.

We look good! And we sounded good, too. It was like we were in school all over again because we were all trying really hard and after the Agnus Dei Father Kluge gave us a discreet thumbs up.

A great moment!