09 March 2007

Review: Music

A wonderful Shostakovich’s 4th awaits you this Saturday night if you’re near Philly. Charles Dutoit’s tenure as interim skipper of the Philadelphia Orchestra will feature four years of speculation about which young conductor will get the nod to form the orchestra’s identity starting in 2012, and I am already won over by Ingo Metzmacher (pictured), whose cup of coffee this month seems to be going well. One of the reasons I like him, and the reason I suspect he won’t get hired, is this line from the program notes: ‘Metzmacher’s book, Keine Angst vor neuen Tönen, published in German by Rowohlt in 2005, is a plea for pioneering composers such as Ives, Messiaen, Schoenberg, Varèse, Stockhausen, and Cage.’

Today, Leopold Stokowski would never last in the orchestra he made world class. Basically now the Orchestra gets into a tough spot financially and the suits take over, don’t want to make a brave decision and don’t want new music. It’s because of the audience, we hear, though I have never seen more people at the concert hall as when they played Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder.

The strike highlighted the absurdity of the situation: old-timer Wolfgang Sawallich was hired in the early 90s, declaring immediately that ‘Mahler is too noisy,’ which meant any record contracts would have to take the form of some label wanting to put out the gazillionth Brahms’ 1st, and the sought after, groundbreaking recordings from the former Soviet bloc countries could be had for a pittance by the record labels. The musicians loved Wolfgang and his repertory but wondered why EMI ditched them, and went on strike in ‘96 over lower recording bonuses.

What went wrong with Eschenbach is something that those privy to the rehearsals are best to answer to; I’m inclined to think that a clash of musical philosophies doesn’t tell the whole story. As much as he represented to some the modernization of the orchestra, I saw the programming as an insufficient departure from convention, which I tended to associate with Esch though he does braver stuff across the pond. I did see his Mahler’s 6th that everyone talks about and do recommend the CD to those who don’t have the whole Mahler set – there his tendency for tinkering was most vindicated.

Dutoit was the only older conductor with a strong relationship with Philly, and his forte is modernism, which means I get some quality time with my beloved Stravinsky. French standards: Dutoit's rendering of Symphonie Fantastique is worth timing your romantic angst for and you can go deep into the Ravel catalogue, as he does, without finding anything you don’t want to hear. I remember his massive production of Honegger’s Jeanne d'Arc au Bucher, the sort of thing he tends to go out on a limb for, which one would expect me to like on account of my Francophile tendencies but I couldn’t get over the fact that the librettist Paul Claudel had dissed the Surrealists. Dutoit doesn’t strike me, though, as someone who goes out on a limb for anything after 1950, the decade when Stravinsky effusively praised Boulez’ Le marteau sans maître, which changed the face of French music thereafter.

1 comment:

Ian Keenan said...

This is why no one wants to release Philadelphia Orchestra recordings, from the upcoming March 29 program notes:

“As we look back with greater perspective now on the music of the last century, the dominant stature of Schoenberg and his followers has gradually begun to recede, while the reputations of more conservative figures have risen. Slowly, history is being rewritten so as to resonate more harmoniously with present-day aesthetic tastes.”

No one cares about your history but the frustrated creditors of the new concert hall.