The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Metropolitan Opera is playing out its own dramatic opera plot as it renegotiates contracts with labor unions and seeks major cutbacks. If an agreement isn’t reached, a lockout could throw off the Met’s opening for the new season. Read and hear about it in a variety of sources selected by The Ear.

August 5, 2014
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

The Metropolitan Opera (below top is the Met’s exterior and bottom below is the Met’s grand interior) in New York City’s Lincoln Center is playing out its own dramatic plot.

metropolitan opera 1

The Met hall 1

Will the outcome be tragedy?

Or farce?

Or both.

In case you haven’t heard about it, the famed Met is negotiating new contracts with its labor unions. The Met currently has a debt of $2.8 million.

According to the Met’s general director Peter Gelb (below), major reductions totaling some $30 million, in salaries are required to put the Met back on a financially sustainable course.

Peter Gelb

Those are easy words to say for Gelb, whose own salary is reported to be $1.4 million and whose tenure has emphasized extremely expensive productions that have taxed the Met’s budget.

On his behalf, Gelb also is the manager who initiated the “Met Live in HD” that have been so popular in movie theaters around the world – including the Eastgate and Point cinemas in Madison — and have generated a lot of income. (You can see the coming season in a YouTube video at the bottom, although the November broadcast of “The Death of Klinghoffer” by John Adams has been cancelled under a controversial agreement to pacify Jewish and Israeli protest groups and lobbyists who see the opera as too focused on humanizing terrorism and Palestinian terrorists, and who threatened to withdraw much needed needed underwriting for the Met.)

Met HD Rheingold

The original deadline for an understanding or agreement was this past Sunday. But that deadline has been extended until Tuesday, today, apparently because negotiations continued and presumably continued in a positive way, despite the appearance of an overall deadlock.

Mediators were called in and apparently an independent audit of the Met’s books is under way.

So by the end of the day we should hear more about the results –- or lack of results. That, in turn, will tell us more about the short-term future and long-term future of the Met.

Some of the best coverage of this potentially major event can be found on the Deceptive Cadence blog written by NPR (National Public Radio):

Here are some links mostly to websites for newspapers and radio. The Ear has heard NOTHING – at least nothing that I recall – on the major TV outlets and network, commercial or cable. Well, maybe they are too busy doing features about dogs and children who raise money for good causes. I am sure they have polling and surveys to back up their story selection.

To learn about the major players in the Met drama – or the Cast of Characters, so to speak, here is a story:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/08/01/337161589/keeping-score-in-the-met-s-labor-misfortunes

Metropolitan Opera union members

How the negotiations were going? Read this:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/07/31/336586571/on-the-eve-of-a-possible-lockout-met-opera-talks-remain-contentious

If you want an overview of the situation, try these:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/07/24/334974965/labor-conflict-may-lock-out-met-opera-workers

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/07/26/335336345/war-of-words-at-met-opera-may-signal-shutdown

And here in another selection of stories from The New York Times:

http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/organizations/m/metropolitan_opera/index.html?inline=nyt-org

Here is the latest news from The Wall Street Journal about an independent audit of the Met’s books:

http://online.wsj.com/articles/met-operas-books-to-undergo-financial-review-1407120687

Do you have an opinion on the matter?

Given the recent bankruptcies and closings of American symphony orchestras and the City Opera of New York, what do you think the Metropolitan Opera drama signifies or means for the classical music scene in the U.S.?

The Ear wants to hear.

 

 

 

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Classical music: Van Cliburn biopic is in the works with young star Ansel Elgort to play the late, great American pianist. Plus, Madison maestro John DeMain remembers opera maestro Julius Rudel.

July 6, 2014
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear sees that something for both the ears and the eyes is coming down the pike.

Hollywood sources have confirmed that a biographical film –- yes, a biopic -– about the American pianist Van Cliburn (below) , who died last year at 78 of bone cancer, is in the works.

Cliburn's hands

That is as it should be, despite what some classical musicians see as shortcomings in Cliburn’s artistry.

Here is a post The Ear did before about the opinions that members of the public and musicians have concerning Cliburn:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2011/04/17/classical-music-how-good-was-pianist-van-cliburn/

van cliburn ill

Cliburn was the first classical artist to make a million-selling record -– he played the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Minor, Op. 23 — on the RCA label (below and at the bottom). It was the same work with which, at age 23, he unexpectedly won the First International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1958.

His victory during the height of The Cold War was an event that led to a ticker-tape parade down Broadway in New York City (bel0w) and a meteoric career, then to premature burn-out and an early retirement from the concert stage. (You can see an archival historic footage at the bottom in a YouTube video. Complete performances by Van Cliburn of the same concerto are also on YouTube.)

Van Cliburn ticker tape parade in 1958

And, if The Ear recalls correctly, Van Cliburn became a phenom or superstar who sold out houses, and was the first classical artist to get paid a fee of $10,000 for a one-night performance.

Cliburn Tchaikovsky LP

Not many classical musicians have the stuff to become the subject of a biopic.

Some composers, especially Ludwig van Beethoven and Frederic Chopin, have lent themselves to such a treatment, several times in the latter case. (We will overlook the case of the mentally ill performer David Helfgott in “Shine,” which seemed more a pathology than a biography.)

But The Ear can’t think of another individual performer, although he remembers more general subjects like “The Competition.”

The young actor Ansel Elgort (below), who The Ear thinks resembles the young Cliburn (who resembles fellow Texan Lyle Lovett), has been cast in the leading role, which focuses on Cliburn’s early years and his victory in Moscow. Apparently, Elgort himself also plays the piano quite well -– but my guess is that he does not play well enough to play it the way that the Juilliard School-trained Cliburn did.

But Elgort’s star is on the ascent, given his performance in the much praised and popular current release (“The Fault In Our Stars,” about two teenagers with cancer who fall in love.

Ansel Elgort

Anyway here are some links to stories about Van Cliburn, Ansel Elgort and the forthcoming movie:

To CBS News:

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/ansel-elgort-to-star-in-van-cliburn-biopic/

To the Dallas Morning News, in Cliburn’s hometown:

http://www.dallasnews.com/news/local-news/20140623-ansel-elgort-tapped-to-play-van-cliburn-in-movie.ece

To TIME magazine with a good video accompanying it:

http://time.com/2917530/ansel-elgort-van-cliburn/

To another video with good comparison photos of Cliburn and Elgort:

http://www.hitfix.com/news/ansel-elgort-playing-van-cliburn-in-new-biopic

To Norman Lebrecht’s tweet-like comment on his popular blog Slipped Disc:

http://slippedisc.com/2014/06/ansel-is-picked-to-play-van-cliburn-in-biopic/

What other classical music performers would you like to see treated on a biopic?

I nominate the great Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter, a closeted gay man who led a dramatic life including encounters and confrontations with Soviet leaders and his American tour plus his eccentric late-life habits that included touring around Europe in a van playing in schools and old churches and using out-of-tune pianos. And perhaps also the legendary operatic  soprano Maria Callas, who was known for being tempestuous and temperamental as well as supremely gifted in both singing and acting. (There was a Broadway play about her, “Master Class” by Terrence McNally, the same writer who did the “Dead Man Walking,” the opera by Jake Heggie.)

richterwithcross1

Medea Maria Callas

Your nominations?

The Ear wants to hear.

JOHN DeMAIN ON JULIUS RUDEL

And speaking of celebrities, John DeMain (below, in photo by Prasad), the music director and conductor of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the artistic director of the Madison Opera, sent in his remembrance of the late, great opera conductor Julius Rudel, who led the now-defunct City Opera of New York and who died a week ago at 93:

John DeMain full face by Prasad

Here is a link to the Rudel posting:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/06/29/classical-music-conductor-julius-rudel-longtime-director-of-the-defunct-new-york-city-opera-has-died-at-93/

And here is John DeMain’s remembrance:

“It was my great honor to be chosen for the Julius Rudel Award at the New York City Opera in 1971. The purpose of the stipend was to allow an American conductor to work closely with Maestro Rudel to learn how to become an artistic director of an opera company.

Rudel (below) was far and away the best conductor in the house. His performances were vital, theatrical, and intensely musically expressive. His “Marriage of Figaro” was an unforgettable experience for me. I prepared the auditions of singers for the company, and got to sit in on the casting conversations, and learned the criterion for casting a singer in an opera.

Julius Rudel at home in 2010 NY Times

Rudel was extremely demanding musically, and, of course, expanded the repertoire of the company in all directions. He had great flair for American opera and musical theater.

The bottom line for me, however, was he delivered totally engrossing performances night after night. He also was a mentor to me, and provided counsel and advice as new career opportunities presented themselves to me.

I consider Julius Rudel’s time at the City Opera as the “golden age” of that company. It was during that time that Placido Domingo, Jose Carreras, Norman Treigle, Beverly Sills, and many other greats were singing on that stage.

I’m grateful to have had him in my life.

Julius Rudel middle age conducting NPR

 


Classical music: Conductor Julius Rudel, longtime director of the defunct New York City Opera, has died at 93.

June 29, 2014
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Julius Rudel (below, in a 2010 photo from The New York Times), the longtime artistic director of the now defunct New York City Opera, has died at 93.

Julius Rudel at home in 2010 NY Times

By all accounts, Rudel was a knowledgeable, impeccable and insightful musician, and a generous man and instructive role model. And that is how he comes across in an interview for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) you can listen to at the bottom in a YouTube video.

An unassuming man and a populist for the arts, Rudel, who was a native Austrian and a refugee from Adolf Hilter’s Nazi Germany at 17 in 1938, had the misfortune to outlive the opera company that he so nourished but which went bankrupt and defunct eight months ago.

He had a local tie in that, early on, he recognized and encouraged the talent of a young piano and conducting graduate of the prestigious Juilliard School of Music in New York City who was also a student at the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s famed Tanglewood Festival.

Julius Rudel middle age conducting NPR

That man was John DeMain (below), who is the music director and conductor of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the artistic director of the Madison Opera. Before coming to Madison, DeMain led the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and the Huston Grand Opera.

Here is a link to the story where John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) talked briefly about his link and debt to Rudel.

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/06/19/classical-music-madison-symphony-orchestra-and-madison-opera-conductor-john-demain-talks-about-the-role-of-the-piano-in-his-career-and-his-upcoming-performances-this-weekend-of-robert-and-clara-schum/

John DeMain full face by Prasad

Rudel lived a long and productive life, filled with nurturing many famous opera singers, including Beverly Sills who is seen below, at left, in 1976 talking to Rudel) and Placido Domingo, and with guest stints around the world conducting all kinds of music.

new york city opera in 1976 soprano Beverly Sills, stage director Sarah Caldwell and then-director Julius Rudel

Here is a great story from the Deceptive Cadence blog on NPR:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/06/26/325809149/julius-rudel-longtime-director-of-new-york-city-opera-dies-at-93

And here is an impressively comprehensive obituary from The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/27/arts/music/julius-rudel-longtime-city-opera-impresario-dies-at-93.html?_r=0

And here is the NEA interview on YouTube:

 


Classical music: Maestro John DeMain of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Madison Opera is The Ear’s “Musician of the Year” for 2013. Plus, “New Year’s Day From Vienna” will be broadcast Wednesday once on Wisconsin Public Radio and twice on Wisconsin Public Television.

December 31, 2013
7 Comments

REMINDER: “New Year’s Day From Vienna,” with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra performing waltzes, polkas and marches under Daniel Barenboim, will be broadcast live on Wednesday morning at 10 a.m. on Wisconsin Public Radio, and then air at 1:30-3 p.m. and again at 7-8:30 p.m. on Wisconsin Public Television.

Vienna Philharmonic

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is the day last of the old year, New Year’s Eve — which means it is that time of the year again when The Ear looks back over the past year and decides who deserves to be named “Musician of the Year.”

That is never an easy decision, especially in a city with as much fine classical music and as many fine classical musicians as Madison has. There are so many talented individuals and so many outstanding groups or ensembles in the area that any number of them could qualify for the honor.

It was particularly difficult this year because, due to personal circumstances, The Ear didn’t get to attend a lot of live events he wanted to.  Even so, this year the choice seemed somewhat obvious.

For example, here is a link to an insightful overview of the 2013 season offered in Isthmus by critic John W. Barker, who often is a guest writer on this blog. You just have to scroll down through the long story until you find Barker’s spot-on assessments of the year in classical music. It should make any classical music fans envious and proud to be in Madison:

http://www.thedailypage.com/scroll/2013/arts2013/index.html

So on to the man who happens to be the most common denominator among Barker’s Best Picks: John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) is the Musician of the Year for 2013.

John DeMain full face by Prasad

Let’s start at the beginning.

It has been 20 years since maestro John DeMain came to Madison as the Music Director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Artistic Director of the Madison Opera. And he is a supremely articulate — he often does interviews on TV and radio — and cordial advocate of his own causes, as you can hear for yourself in a video at the bottom and in more than a dozen video on YouTube.)

Even before he arrived here, DeMain had a high profile as the artistic director of the Houston Grand Opera, where he commissioned and premiered John Adams’ “Nixon in China” and has a long history with the City Opera, where he conducted while still a student at the Juilliard School. He had also won a prestigious Grammy Award for his landmark recording of George Gershwin’s opera “Porgy and Bess.”

But coming to Madison, DeMain had a chance to show his strength as an organizational  builder and planner -– with results that the Madison public could easily see, hear and be impressed by.

John DeMain inherited a fine organization for an amateur or semi-professional orchestra, one that had been built up especially by Roland Johnson during his long tenure.

But once he took over, DeMain vastly improved the playing and then programmed more ambitious pieces for the players, and developed his approach to them. His Brahms now is tighter and leaner and more exciting than when he arrived. John DeMain (below in a photo by Greg Anderson) is devoted to lifelong learning and improvement, and doesn’t take even the music he already knows and performs for granted.

John DeMain conducting MSO CR Greg Anderson

Over his tenure, DeMain has discovered and booked exciting and affordable young guest soloists – pianist Philippe Bianconi, violinists Augustin Hadelich and Henning Kraggerud, cellist Alisa Weilerstein tenor Stephen Costello — although The Ear would also like to see some big and more expensive figures brought to town to allow us to hear these artists live. Plus, DeMain listens to dozens of auditions each year and unerringly picks great young up-and-coming singers for the Madison Opera’s season including the popular Opera in the Park each summer.

opera in park De Main_001

I also find it noteworthy and important. DeMain is in demand elsewhere and every season has many opportunities to guest conduct out of town — for the now defunct New York City Opera, the San Francisco Opera, the Glimmerglass Opera in upstate New York and many others.

John DeMain conducting 2

No less important is his willing to expand out into the local scene. In addition to the opera, he has conducted the chamber groups Con Vivo the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society. He continues to play the piano — he was trained as a pianist before turning to conducting.

As an administrator and organizer, he has demonstrated great skills at putting together a team. True, the orchestra has suffered somewhat during the Great Recession and its aftermath – as did all artistic groups. It had to cut back its season by one concert, which DeMain says he hopes to restore to the subscription season.

But the same labor strife that has led to great damage to the Minnesota Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra and so many others has not touched the MSO. DeMain’s contained the damage.

Having inherited double performances, DeMain took the MSO to three performances of each concert, reaching about 5,000 people or so with each “triple” performance. He continues to experiment with programming, and in late January will try out the “Behind the Score” series of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra with the “New World” Symphony by Antonin Dvorak (below).

dvorak

And while some listeners might complain about the lack of more adventurous contemporary music, DeMain has seats to fill and still manages to program contemporary works every season, even with many experimental offerings nearby at the University of Wisconsin School of Music.

DeMain attends concerts at the University of Wisconsin School of Music, and is a tireless promoter of music education from the televised “Final Forte” Bolz concerto competition to the matinée Young People’s concerts (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson).

MSO Fall Youth kid greg anderson

And let’s not forget that DeMain was instrumental in getting the impressive Overture Center built and then programming concerts for the orchestra’s and opera’s home in Overture Hall (below).

Overture Hall

I am sure there is more I am overlooking.

Do I have some disappointments? Sure.

I thought his 20th anniversary season would be a bit more ambitious and adventurous, and feature some big works by Gustav Mahler and Anton Bruckner. I would like to see few more big-name and hot young soloists, including pianists Joyce Yang, Daniil Trifonov and Jeremy Denk (below), who has done two recitals at the Wisconsin Union Theater but has yet to perform a concerto. And there are so many young talented soloists out there today, we should be hearing more of them live and while they are still affordable in our market.

Jeremy Denk playing 2

I also get impatient with what I call “playing the Gershwin card” too often -– including again for this year’s season finale -– because the important and identifiable George Gershwin (bel0w) had such an easy-listening and crossover pop-like musical style that it unfailingly draws so many listeners. I loved DeMain’s last concert version of “Porgy and Bess,” but there must be other solutions.

gershwin with pipe

But in the end I have to defer to his judgment. The excellence that John DeMain has brought to the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Madison Opera has extended to the entire city and to other groups. The rising tide he brought has lifted all boats.

If any one individual can take credit for the ever-increasing quality of the classical music that wehear in Madison, that person is John DeMain (below in a photo by Katrin Talbot).

DeMainOpera

Little wonder, then, that on this 20th anniversary of his arrival in Madison, maestro John DeMain is the Musician of the Year for 2013.

Thank you, John DeMain. We all – listeners and performers alike — are in your debt.

Cheers and good luck in the coming years!


Classical music: More bad news. The Minnesota Orchestra cancels its fall season and two Carnegie Hall concerts over labor strife that causes its acclaimed Finnish conductor Osmo Vanska to resign.

October 6, 2013
5 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

It has been a week of really bad news for classical music.

Yesterday I posted a blog about the closing of the New York City Opera – the “People’s Opera” — after 70 years because of a failed attempt to raise the millions of dollars money that it needed to continue.

Here is a link:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/10/05/classical-music-the-final-curtain-falls-tonight-on-the-peoples-opera-the-city-opera-of-new-york-while-across-town-the-metropolitan-opera-launches-the-new-season-of-the-glo/

But last week also brought word that the long ongoing labor strife and lock-out at the Minnesota Orchestra (below are the musicians protesting), based in Minneapolis, has not been resolved. To the contrary, the administration and the players still remain so far apart that the fall season has now been canceled.

minn-musicians

Moreover, the acclaimed Finnish conductor Osma Vanska (below)  who led the Minnesota Orchestra has quit.

Vanska brought much critical praise to the orchestra with their recordings of a Beethoven symphony and concerto cycle as well as a Grammy-nominated recording (at bottom in a YouTube video) of Sibelius symphonies (all on BIS records). But he has kept his promise of resigning if the two Carnegie Hall concerts by the orchestra were canceled.

Canceled they were, and resign he did – with a dignified and diplomatic message, as follows:

1 October 2013

Press statement from Osmo Vänskä

Today I have given notice of my resignation as Music Director and Conductor for the Minnesota Orchestra Association, effective 1 October 2013.

It is a very sad day for me. Over ten years ago I was honoured to be invited to take up this position. I moved from Finland to the Twin Cities. At that time I made clear my belief that the Minnesota Orchestra could become one of the very greatest international ensembles. During the intervening years I have had the privilege of seeing that belief vindicated through the skill, hard work and commitment of this wonderful group of players and with the valued support of the Board of Directors, management and administration team, volunteers, as well as our exceptional community.

I send my deepest thanks to everyone involved for what we have achieved together and I wish the Minnesota Orchestra all the very best for its future.

Osmo Vänskä

Osmo Vanska BIG

And here are links to stories about the Carnegie Hall cancellations and the fallout with Vanska, who conducted two concerts with the Minnesota Orchestra musicians – plus pianist Emanuel Ax (below)  in piano concertos by Ludwig van Beethoven and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart for the first concert — in an unofficial capacity at a concert hall on the University of Minnesota campus:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/02/arts/music/vanska-quits-minnesota-orchestra.html

http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/10/05/departing-director-conducts-locked-out-minnesota-orchestra/

Emanuel Ax Philharmonia

What is one to do?

Here is the press release from The Minnesota Orchestra:

http://www.minnesotaorchestra.org/about/press-room/615-concerts-cancelled-through-nov-25

Well, we in Madison can be very happy that we don’t seem to have similar problems with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra – at least not right now.

But maybe some fundamental structural reforms need to be made. Maybe the ways of doing business and administering art need to be changed.

Perhaps one way out of the awful dilemmas is to make the musicians a more integral part of the administration, similar to the way that principal oboist James Roe (below, in a photo by Fred R. Conrad for The New York Times) was made the president and CEO of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra in June.

James Roe, principal oboist, became president and CEO of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra cr Fred R. Conrad, NYTIMES

Here is a story from The New York Times reporter and critic Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim about doing just that, which seems like a smart move to The Ear:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/29/arts/music/orchestras-hire-performers-as-executives-to-head-off-strife.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0


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