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!

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

The psychedelic art of classical music

I am coming to a new appreciation of the psychedelic classical music album art of the 1970s.

Part of that is from my Etsy store. These records go in and out of my life. But it is also true that they bring back memories.

Mozart's Greatest Hits.

I sold this one out of my shop not long ago. It was factory sealed. That was not my copy! My own personal copy has been played a million times.

There is this gem. I have this album and will be listing it tomorrow, I think.

Is that amazing or what? I part with it reluctantly. But I price my albums high enough so that they take a long time to sell. So with luck I will have years to enjoy this.

Then there is the great Mozart album at the top of the post. I have this album myself but I recently came into possession of a second copy and that one is for sale.

I have learned that the Mozart Serenade art was the work of the great Sandy Hoffman who is one of the artists rightfully lionized on the site "Groove Is In the Art."

That site also includes this gem.

And this masterpiece by Sandy Hoffman for a Shostakovich record. He was the greatest! Hoffman we are talking. Shostakovich was great but let us admit it, in this case you could argue that he could not hold a candle to his album art.

All this takes me back to when I was very young. My parents took us to some kind of toy sale and there was a coloring set featuring drawings from "The Yellow Submarine." I went home with it but I had no idea what "The Yellow Submarine" was and though I colored the drawings they kind of creeped me out.

Now I look at these things differently.

What a wonderful world of color and music!

You have to keep your eyes open when you go to Goodwill.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

The Met Opera's "Die Walkure" - Gods and seesaws

Saturday, I went to the Metropolitan Opera simulcast of "Die Walkure." I have gone out of my way not to read any reviews of it because I wanted to think my own thoughts.

Somehow "Walkure" has become one of my sacred cow operas, one of a handful that I am very particular about. I think it began when my sister and I went to Toronto and saw it at the Canadian Opera Company. We had lost our dad not that long before that and we were totally not ready for what Wotan's Farewell was going to do to us. All through that final scene we cried and cried, passing a single soggy Kleenex back and forth. We were still crying as we left the opera house.

Because we were so undone we went for a glass of wine, and we spied Wotan and Brunnhilde a few tables away, quarrel forgotten, eating Buffalo wings. How could you not cheer up, seeing that? Now I think I would go up and say hello, say something. But I was shy then.

I have another "Walkure" story that I know I have told here before. That one involved the Met and James Morris as Wotan, not that I was there, but I feel as if I was.

Anyway, I come to this opera with a lot of baggage. The good news is, I was drawn into what I saw yesterday. I got a kick out of Greer Grimsley's Wotan. He has a mighty fine voice, and with his looks and his manner, he puts his own spin on the part. An American spin, I want to say, though I know he is from New Orleans, a city I love, and the power of suggestion is strong. He looks like a handsome biker. There is this quick clip from "Rheingold" --


 -- that I found today and adore. You can really see his personality there. That rakish smile, irresistible. And a creative take on the part. Jamie Barton, as his wife, is a kick too but maybe too much, a little too funny. You have to watch it. Seeing this gives a new dimension to "Walkure," where these two singers are together again.

In "Walkure" things are less sunny with these two and he is more world weary, as Wotan should be. I loved him, how can you not? But he does not yet have the overwhelming .... can I use that cliche word gravitas? It makes me laugh but maybe I have to ... that Wotan should have, that the big Wotans of history had. The big Wotans of history. They cast a long shadow, terrible to any singer these days. I do not envy present-day Wotans, I will tell you that right now.

You have big powerful supermen like Hans Hotter. He picks Brunnhilde up in his arms as if she is nothing. Just doing what needs to be done.

As does Donald McIntyre, here with the beautiful Gwyneth Jones.

(You do not want to know how long I wasted on YouTube today.)

That last clip, from a Bayreuth production, really got to me. They just took it to the wall. The sweat and tears on Wotan's face, the intensity and drama. The flames and the smoke.

That brings me to a problem I had with the Met production. The staging was too complicated. They had this set of sort of seesaws -- I think they used that word -- that was supposed to stand in for the Valkyries' horses, or something. It did not work, at least from where I sat. Maybe if you were at Lincoln Center the seesaws worked better. To us in the movie theater they just looked like seesaws.

Not only that but at intermission we had to try understanding how they worked. They had stagehands explaining them. If there is one thing I hate it is someone trying to tell me how they stage something, how a movie was made, anything like that. Now when I watch the actual production I am thinking about how they did it. What a pain.

And for what? There was one cool scene that had you looking down on Brunnhilde as if from above. I think that is it at the top of this post, though it is hard to make out. But otherwise the last scene could have been staged a lot better. And as Brunnhilde settled into her resting place, it looked for a moment as if she were pitching backwards. You do not want that.

You want flames and smoke. It is not rocket science. Wagner will do the rest.

Well, at least this production was not horrible like this other one I wrote about this other time. Let us hash over the other singers. Brunnhilde (Christine Goerke) was too cartoon-ish for me at the start but I warmed up to her. There is this haunting scene when she appears to Siegmund as a portent of his death. The music grows trance-like as she tells him who she is and what her appearance means. There is a moment when he meets her eyes, sealing his fate. Goerke was lovely in that scene, just devastating.

Tomorrow I will research other singers singing that scene. There go another five hours, you know?

Siegmund and Sieglinde, I liked them both. Sieglinde was just beautiful, I mean she looked the part. Eva-Maria Westbroek, her name is. She was glorious.

And in the all-important role of Hunding, Sieglinde's Neanderthal husband -- a part I love, and that my father loved before me -- was   ...let me check ... Gunther Groissboek. I am a complete Gunther Groissboek fan from this moment on. He has this marvelous voice and he knows how to use it, which is often out of a corner of his mouth. A spectacular Hunding, spectacular.

"Badass," I whispered to my friend Nisha, sitting next to me, between me and our friend Meghan. I am privileged to have not one but two friends willing to spend five hours at "Die Walkure."

One touch I loved -- it might be in the script, who knows? -- is how Hunding hangs his Neanderthal furs on Nothung, the magical sword stuck in the tree.

At intermission Grossboek confided that he had been tapped to play Wotan at Bayreuth. Do it. Do it! But at the same time I would also like to see Greer Grimsley tackle the part at Bayreuth. In another year or so he should be ready. He is 62 now but as Wotans go that is young.

I have multiple careers I will be following thanks to this production.

And multiple hours in store for me on YouTube.

God help me!