vendredi 29 janvier 2010

When is early early enough ?

Does the prospect of hearing Pollini playing Mozart K 488 and Schoenberg Piano Concerto under James Levine and the Boston Symphony Orchestra sounds good to you ? It certainly does to me and it is good to read that both artists are announced in this program for March 26 in Carnegie Hall.

Do not jump in a plane or the Metro, we have to wait somewhat. This is due for 2011 and not 2010.

January 2010 is not even over that Carnegie Hall has already announced its 2010 - 2011 season. They are not alone in such pre-announcement. It has been possible for a while to book tickets for Sir Simon Rattle's 2011 London concerts with the Berlin Philharmonic.

There could be some good reasons for these early announcements:

- First, if you are a die-hard of some of these artists, you will block out already some dates in your agenda. Carnegie Hall competes with the Met, the Avery Fisher Hall, Alice Tully Hall and many other venues. This is equivalent to Apple's deciding that they have enough material to present to the general audience a product not totally finished but enough so as to build anticipation and black competition.

- Second, this is good for the cash-flow of these halls. It allows for some money to come in early which helps financing the tours, get some interest incomes, reduces working capital needs  ...

But honestly, March 2011, this sounds so far away ...

PS: Carnegie season looks pretty good, as always.

mardi 26 janvier 2010

Movements in Geneva 2

More details could be available tomorrow but it seems that Bertrand de Billy will not be the next Chief Conductor of the OSR. He would have asked to be able to decide on which conductors to invite both at the OSR and for the Grand Théâtre, a condition which was refused given that both institutions are keen to preserve their independence although the same orchestra operates there.

We should know more tomorrow and I personally willbe hearing them Friday the 12th of February under N Järvi who will conduct Shostakovitch's 10th Symphony.

dimanche 24 janvier 2010

Official Black Market tickets in Bayreuth ???

Courtesy of fellow-blogger Intermezzo, the Bayreuth Festival is teaming with an Internet ticket service to offer black-market-like priced tickets. These will be acknowledged as valid ones, i.e., will be personalised so that valid holders will not be turned down.

I guess that the Festival purpose is not to encourage scalping but neutralise it. At least, if some are ready to pay for these prices, let the Festival benefit from them and not the tickets scalps.

Is this a good idea ? The real judge would be if the classic Bayreuth black-marketeers have a bad year. But the Beckmesser in me has difficulties feeling that this is such a good idea: It could get the black-marketeers fell vindicated. Another issue is that the company the Festival operates with is German whereas it seems that victims of Bayreuth scalpers seem to be speaking English with an American accent.

If this is too successful, then it could become fundamental to the Festival finances who could gradually increase all prices (which would not solve the issue of the black market which is more a reflection of the imbalance between a small supply and a much bigger demand). What would happen if all tickets were subjected to an eBay-like pricing, ie, have patrons name the price they you are ready to pay ? Any idea on the impact ?

I leave the reader to evaluate if they want to take advantage of this offer and remind them that if they really want to spend money on the Ring, then they can buy advanced tickets for $ 25,000 and $ 10,000 the 2012 cycle at the Met conducted by James Levine.

I last heard Levine conduct this work in New York in 2004 and enjoyed every second of it. I heard Thielemann perform the full cycle in Bayreuth (reviewed here, here, here and finally here) and had another great time. None of the performances were without some blemish but hearing them as a cycle is a treat.
This being said, at these highly inflated prices, can anyone really relax and enjoy the music ?

vendredi 22 janvier 2010

Movements in Geneva

Geneva's main newspaper Le Temps has announced that Marek Janowski has decided to shorten his tenure at the Swiss Romande Orchestra and will step down in 2012. Bertrand de Billy is already mentioned as a potential replacement whose appointment could be confirmed next week.

de Billy is a major talent which I have only heard in the Opera House, either in Salzburg for a swift and lively Zauberflöte as well as in London for a solid Carmen.There are worse possible choices for the OSR.

At the press conference done last yearby the orchestra to present the new season, there were a number of comments which hinted at Janowski's disconfort of having the orchestra spread between the Opera house (which does not have a musical director) and the concert hall.

There are a number of orchestras that hold both duties as in Vienna or in Leipzig. However, these are ensembles with bigger headcount which have enough principals to be able to perform in multiple places while maintaining a consistent level. They also benefit from halls with better acoustics than the Victoria Hall.

In the case of the OSR, Janowski brought a certain discipline and rigour which definitely helped the orchestra coherence and overall level to go up. In the right works like in Mendelssohn's Elias, his long-lined approach paid superb dividends and the performance was first-rate. His sudden departure feels like a blow to the musicians and the coming months could feel tense.

I will keep you posted as news follow.

dimanche 17 janvier 2010

Downloads: best and worst practices for Classical Music

I am the now proud owner of an Itouch given to me by my kids and wife (to be more precise, the Itouch came from my wife and the protective cover from my kids ..). It is now constantly with me and I have transferred the music I have from various sources. The first one which I used is Itunes.

My experience of Itunes for classical music is just terrible. The classical home page is messy. Itunes does not remember that I go there mostly whereas cookie technologie is simple to deploy and classification is average at best. On top, as I have changed countries and have had to modify my account, there is some music I can access from my PC but not my Itouch.

For my day work (I am currently in Orlando for my day job at the Lotusphere Tradeshow), I have met Julian Woodward who has developed the Hyperion download site. Have a look at it, it is a site designed for classical music fans by an genuine IT proficient classical music lover. For info, the Schubert series weights 48 Go and has been downloaded several times.

lundi 11 janvier 2010


There has been many musical events last year: the confirmation of some emerging talents (watch out for a conductor named Robin Ticciati by the way), the inauguration of the Alan Gilbert/Gustavo Dudamel areas in New York/Los Angeles, Maurizo Pollini finally returning to Bach, Domingo reinventing Simon Boccanegra, … but it is likely that future generation will be more remembering this year as the one when the Met replaced the 20 plus year old production of Tosca by Franco Zeffireli with a new one by Luc Bondy.

What a stir this created. The glitzy crowd at the opening night booed the director in front of cameras “live from Lincoln Center”. This is a unique situation where nearly all American critics were negative (including Concertonet’s reviewer Arlene Klotzko). Have a look at the New Yorker’s music critic Alex Ross’s entry in his blog as well as at Jay Nordlinger’s comments for those who can have access to the print edition of the “New Criterion”. Alex Ross is the writer of the outstanding 20th century music history book “The Rest is Noise” whereas Jay Nordlinger is at the other extreme a self-admitted traditionalist. I have huge respect for both critics (I know personally Jay Nordlinger and have exchanged a few emails  with Alex Ross). Both disliked Bondy’s production but for different reasons. Ross felt that too many liberties were taken with the work and took the example of the ending of Act 2 where Bondy scrapped the tradition which has Tosca laying candlesticks around Scarpia’s body. Nordlinger disliked what he saw as the director underlining the “ugly side” of Scarpia enjoying companies of prostitutes at act 2 and embracing the statue of the Virgin Mary at the end of the Act 1 Te Deum.

I was not in New York when Tosca was on at the Met but was able to catch it on the TV station PBS. As Jay Nordlinger outlines it, there are far more radical restagings in European Opera Houses. This Tosca had no Neunfels-like histrionics, no resetting of the work in modern days, no naked figurants… and Nordlinger rightly outlined that Met audiences have in the past been able to get and appreciate recent production by the likes of Wernicke or Carsen. Bondy’s reading was a fairly classic one but it had a cardinal flaw: it was not a Zeffirelli production. The Italian director had the Met audiences used to gigantic settings, lavish costumes, with singers posturing and acting with a style dating from silent movies. For many New Yorkers and many Opera audiences, Zeffireli is the essence of what Opera is about: an art form where extremes passions are set on extreme settings … They go to the Met to experience this feeling of extremeness, from Tosca’s extreme jealousy, Cavaradossi’s extreme heroism and Scarpia’s extreme sadism.

If you go through Concertonet’s archives, you can see that Zeffirelli’s stagings had all of us disagreeing on their merits. I along with Fred Kirshnit disliked the classic Zeffireli Boheme whereas Harry Rolnick was much taken by it. Regardless of their merits, how old are these productions ? Is Zeffireli himself coming back to revive them and do they really reflect what he wanted ? Zeffireli likes to have lots of action on stage. Maybe, all this activity was well coordinated when he himself directed them but they now feel obtrusive and are drowning the work’s central impact. Maybe they were modern in his days but what we see today is substandard.

Back to Bondy’s reading of Tosca. We have here is a more focused reading and more intimate which uses far less colors and canvas compared to Zeffirelli’s massive Baroque overcharged means. Action is far easier to watch and there are far more characters developments. Scarpia is a definitely a perverse and dangerous, Cavardossi is stuck in the middle and Tosca’s personal journey becomes the center of the work. Bondy had her emotionally exhausted lying on a couch trying to recover from the days’ events at the end of act 2. The trauma of her day is thus much better outlined than any Candlestick gimmick would ever do. This is a typical Bondy moment, where he finds a gesture that illuminates so well the spirit of the work. Why did people booed ? No objective reasons apart from the fact that this was not the old Zeffireli one. As Mahler said, tradition is just what people remember of the last bad performance.

The Met organized a conference at New York Public Library where Luc Bondy was invited along with the Met’s new director Peter Gelb, Patrice Chéreau who is doing his Met début with Janacek’s From the House of the Dead and Bartlett Sher in charge of the new Tales of Hoffmann. The conference can be seen and downloaded from the NYPL site and I would recommend its viewing to our readers (for those who have not yet seen the Janacek’s production, skip the excerpt, since, as Chéreau drily points it out, it gives away one of the key surprise in his staging). Surprisingly, it shows that New Yorkers are convinced that directors are purposely trying to generate booing at premieres and furthermore that this is a typical European attitude. 

But the main interest of the conference is to watch and listen to Peter Gelb. There was some apprehension when he was appointed that it could mean a downfall for the Met. Some critics expressed doubts as to his artistic vision referring to the fact that he pioneered some cross-over material while at Sony and also because he had not run a place of the size and scope as the Met. There was also concern as James Levine was starting to spend more time in Boston. A few years after, Gelb can really be proud of what he is happening there. In the past, Carlos Kleiber accepted to come and conduct only if he were given enough rehearsals. Today, Chéreau or Bondy would not come at the Met if they would not find the working conditions they want. Levine is still there and is spending time in Boston but the Met has invited new names like Barenboim and Salonen. Listen to  Gelb during the conference. He has to walk a fine balance in between the audience, the sources of funding, the artists, probably the Met board … He knows what he wants to do and he is making sure this is happening. There is artistic leadership here.

Do go to the Met next time you are in New York and if we have to use Candlesticks, let it be to pray for a Bondy directed Bohème very soon for another opening night at the Met.

samedi 9 janvier 2010

Karajan is on the App Store

I am the recent happy owner of an 32 G Itouch (not an Iphone, I am a Blackberry addict) which I have loaded with good music and a few good apps.

One of these is the Orange Liveradio which gives me Wifi access to Radio stations and Podcasts worldwide.This is a concept similar to the one of Radeo. The choice of stations is pretty good (and I have added to my favorites Future Radio where Bob Shingleton has a weekly program.)

I would wholeheartedly recommend it.

Browsing through the music apps, I was astonished to find a .. Karajan application which enables musicians to to train their ears to recognize chords, intervals, tempis, ... I have donwloaded the free version and am enjoying it.

This being said, can Karajan's name be used like this, or is not registered ? Also, is this a brand which will speak to the generation of Ipod Users ?

Concert halls in Paris

Interesting article in le Figaro about the prospects for a new concert hall in Paris.

While this seems a good idea, I am confused. The relatively recently renovated Salle Pleyel has a superb sound. The Théatre des Champs-Elysées is also pretty good although a little too dry..

This new hall would be close the current Cité de la Musique which while being a great hall with imaginative programming is a disaster to go to. Boulez is quoted to arrive late to a concert because of traffic ... And trust me, you do not want to hang around after a concert for a drink.

A new hall could bring the number of major places to four in Paris which also has two Opera houses, Bastille and Garnier as well as the Opéra Comique as well as many smaller places. Is not this too many ?

Why not revive the Théatre du Chatelet whose high standards for classical music are long gone ...

dimanche 3 janvier 2010

Austria's traditions

The New Year concert is not the only musical tradition at year end in Austria.In Innsbruck, brass players serenade locals in the old city at Christmas.

While the conditions and standards are those of live music concerts (and sorry for the wobbly camera ...), this tradition is genuine and whenever I hear Mahler or Brahms, I feel that this has been a direct part of their musical heritage.

vendredi 1 janvier 2010

Musicians and politics

I thought that the French le Monde was the number one dispenser of biased news on the Middle East.  It seems that Y Kissin has openly been questionning the BBC objectivity towards Israel, thus joining a small group of musicians ready to express their political views.