Category Archives: Performance Venues

Leon Fleisher and Jaime Laredo at the 92nd St Y; Inbal Segev and Fernando Otero at LPR

It really was a visit to the past, in a way, my trip to New York’s 92nd St Y to hear Leon Fleisher and Jaime Laredo.

Just the night before, I’d been at [le] poisson rouge where I’d been experiencing one part, anyway, of the future of classical music–a terrific recital by the cellist Inbal Segev, joined for part of the program by the amazing pianist Fernando Otero.

Past the bouncers at the front door, hands stamped, my friend “Cello Mike” and I took a right at the suspended fish tank and headed down the red-lit stairs to the main space.  We wandered around a bit, found two black-draped chairs at a table and stared at the “two items minimum per person” sign on the table.

Segev’s beautiful Rugeri cello was amplified, as was the Yamaha piano Otero played.  Colored lights, spot lights, Segev talking to the audience with a microphone, the music accompanied by cocktail shakers shaking. All streamed live on the Internet.

Me spelling “R-O-B R-O-Y” to a  generally inattentive waitress whose first language isn’t English and didn’t believe me that there was such a drink.  “I don’t think we have that.”  “Yes you do, the bartender will know. I’ll spell it for you.”)  And this, all happening sotto voce, during the performance of Otero’s intense, soulful, and not infrequently stunning Songs for Cello and Piano.  (The rest of the program was two solo cello works: the Prelude from the Bach C Minor Suite and the ever-daunting Kodaly Solo Sonata.)  During that Kodaly, kind of wanting another drink, but not wanting to pay for one.  Luckily, the waitress didn’t come to check if we wanted something else until 30 seconds before the piece ended.  No, we didn’t, and we escaped the two-item minimum.

Classical music in clubs–that’s part of the future. There are advantages and disadvantages.  A cellist friend my age was there, for the first time, and found it all distracting.  Mike, who makes a living busking in the subways and playing just about every possible genre of music, including some classical, said he’d much rather hear a classical concert at a place like LPR than a concert hall.    Dressed in cargo shorts and a black wife beater, he looked perfectly at home in a Greenwich Village club, but would have gotten some stares uptown.  So there you go.

The next night, last night, I put on dress pants and shoes, as well as a white polo shirt and a sport coat, to hear Leon Fleisher and Jamie Laredo at the 92nd St. Y.

Security guards, rather than bouncers, greet you, and you have to walk through a metal detector to get in.  (It’s set to a low enough sensitivity that they tell you to hold onto your keys and cell phone, so I wonder how much good it does.) There’s a lounge area off the concert hall, with a bar, so you can get a drink and snacks there, too.  You just can’t take them to your seat, there’s no minimum, and no servers interrupting you during the music.

The audience was mostly over 40, many well over 50.  As is the case at most traditional classical concerts, I got to feel young.  Dark wood paneling, names of great Jewish figures inscribed over the proscenium (David, Moses, Isaiah), great statesmen (Washington, Jefferson), and great composers (Beethoven, et al) around the top of the walls.  The piano and music stand on a plainly-lit stage.  Two legendary performers–who became legendary decades ago.  The audience quiet and attentive, no clapping between movements.

This is the recent past of classical music, and the role of this sort of concert in this sort of venue in the future is yet to be revealed.

It was a visit to my past as well.  I got a bit dressed up because I knew I’d greet Mr. Fleisher after the concert.  As I wrote about yesterday, I had chamber music coachings from him when I was a student at Peabody, and played principal cello for him in the Annapolis Symphony.  I sat in on lessons once in a while, including a couple he gave my mother.  She had a faculty development grant from the University of Tampa, where she was the piano professor, to work with him on left-hand literature.  “If her right hand works,” Fleisher, whose didn’t at the time, asked me, “why on earth would she want to play this left-hand stuff?”  But she always had problems with her right hand, the result of a childhood injury, while having extraordinary facility with her left hand.

One of the pieces she worked on with him, in the spring of 1980, was the Brahms arrangement of the Bach Chaconne, one of the most extraordinary pieces of music ever composed, from the D Minor violin partita.  I sat there in Fleisher’s studio as he discussed how he approached breaking the opening chords, two notes and two notes, as would a violin.  (I thought, and still do, that if you’re playing it on a piano, play it on the piano and don’t try to imitate a violin.)  There were details of phrasing and voicing and fingerings, how to bring out the key bass notes that are the basis of the variations that form the work.

And it was that piece that was at the center of last night’s recital.  Fleisher and Laredo had started with two Schubert Sonatinas, in in G and A minor.  And then this piece, the piece he coached my mother, now in her dementia dream world, on. It was the first time I’d heard him perform in person with both hands.  Back when I worked with him, the focal dystonia that would cause the fourth and fifth fingers of his right hand to snap shut had yet to be successfully treated.  When there was a brief respite in 1982 and he performed the Franck Symphonic Variations with the Baltimore Symphony, I listened to the sold-out concert on the radio, and cried.  The combination of his celebrity, his musical insight, his personal warmth and accessibility (I sat with him at breakfast in the Peabody cafeteria any number of times during my first year there)–I just loved the guy.  There was a kind of a cult around him.  We had his records, some of us, and compared every other pianist (unfavorably) to his two-handed recordings.  And it seemed that at some point each of his male students (including me for a while) grew a beard and trimmed it, narrowly, just like his. (Not so long ago I heard one of his current successful students, and, no surprise, he was sporting a Fleisher beard.)

Whatever had happened to enable him to use both hands at that concert in 1982 didn’t last.  I left Baltimore in 1984, and hadn’t even seen him until last night.  I’ve heard, and rejoiced in, the two-handed recordings he’s made since more successful treatments have worked their magic, and I’ve read his memoir co-authored with Ann Midgette.  So when I read about last night’s concert, I had to go.  I had to see this man who meant so much to me, who taught me so much, who shared his time with my mother.  And I wanted to see him play with two hands, for myself.

He walked out on the stage, the powerful shoulders (he always seemed very muscular to me, and I always wondered if that had something to do with his hand issues) now a bit stooped, the walk a bit slow. Some gray in his hair, but surprisingly little for a guy who is 82.

It was if I’d just seen him yesterday.  What is it about relationships?  Time passes, and yet it’s as if it hasn’t. There he was, Mr. Fleisher.  I felt 23 again.

You get over the personal stuff, and the miracle of the two hands, and the miracle of being 82 and still performing (I know this is hardly remarkable any more, but by the time my dad was 82, a year he didn’t survive, he was so physically fragile he could barely make it to the supermarket, and my mother, at 78, thinks Bach visited her in person), you’re left with the playing.  And as much as anything else, I went to that concert because I’ve loved what I heard in Fleisher’s recent recordings and I wanted to hear him make music with Jaime Laredo.

It was worth it.  Fleisher’s playing is at once supremely lyrical and profoundly architectural.  Singing and structure, in balance with each other. It’s something that’s not at all easy to do, to get that combination right.  There’s a flow that, as he used to work to help us learn to do ourselves, is rhythmic without being metronomic.  His sound is beautiful–rich and mellow.  There may have been more intensity and high drama in his younger years; there’s still a full range, and the music he makes feels both wise and fully alive.

Jaime Laredo is terrific, too.  When I was growing up, my parents treasured his recording of the Mendelssohn concerto.  Somehow, I’ve never heard him before.  He’s got a sound that ranges from soft and delicate to big and energetic, and played with energy imagination.  They both played wonderfully.  I didn’t feel, though, that they were always “clicking.”  The ensemble playing was good; it just never felt magical to me.  The program was originally going to be all piano, and was changed because Fleisher has been recovering from some more work on his right hand, which was still used quite a bit. So I found myself wondering how rehearsed this program was.

The highlight was that Bach Chaconne, after the two sonatinas, just before intermission.  It was insightful, fluid, colorful, deep, dignified without being pompous, and moving.  There was a big standing ovation after it, and no wonder.  After intermission, Fliesher played a two-handed arrangement of Bach’s “Sheep May Safely Graze.” I’ve played it in so many wedding services that sometimes I think it will make me scream, but in Fleisher’s hands it was magic.  As he walked off the stage, I thought to myself, “I bet he could even make me like the Pachelbel Canon.

I got to see him, shake his hand, remind him who was (he squinted a bit, in that way he has, and seemed to remember me), and told him what I was doing these days.  He thanked me for coming, and it felt quite sincere.  I let him move on to the next person.  But I forgot to say, “thank you for all you did to help me become the musician I am today.”  So I guess I’ll write him a note.  It’s more for me than for him–I think he knows how much of an impact he’s had on the many young musicians he’s guided.

Life is full of irony.  He plays that Chaconne so extraordinarily well, and includes it even in his two-handed programs.  If those problems with his right hand had never happened, would we ever have gotten to hear him play what has become a kind of signature piece for him, with the mastery and insight that comes from years of performance?  Probably not.  He’d probably be happy to have forgone it.  But that performance last night was so, well, perfect, that I’ll always be grateful. Not just for the playing, but for the pain-tinged beauty he created out of his tragedy.

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Filed under 92nd St Y (Upper East Side), Inbal Segev, Jaime Laredo, Le Poisson Rouge, Leon Fleisher

Typo of the Day: NY Phil and Eating Capacity

A piece in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal (which I noticed when the guy next to me at lunch today had that section of the paper open between us) reports that with the New York City Opera leaving the David H. Koch Theater (formerly the New York State Theater) at Lincoln Center, the New York Philharmonic is considering a a temporary move in, if and when money is raised to renovate Avery Fisher Hall.

There are other possibilities in town. “The Koch, however, tops the list, say people familiar with the matter, in part because its eating capacity is close to that of Avery Fisher . . .”

Neither place seems to have that much of an eating capacity to me.  Seating capacity, that may be similar.

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Filed under and everything, Avery Fisher Hall, David H. Koch Theater, Lincoln Center, New York Philharmonic

Oregeon Symphony Springs, with Passion, for Music

Wow, I just had a blast at the Oregon Symphony Spring for Music concert.  Lots of Oregonians in the audience, of course, cheering on their standard bearers.

Ives, Adams, Britten, and Vaughn-Williams.  The Britten Sinfonia da Requiem and the Vaughn Williams Symphony No. 4 were especially effective. The playing was not only on an amazingly high technical level, but also was genuinely passionate.  Musicians actually moving in their seats–maybe not as much as I hear the Berlin Philharmonic does, but still quite something.  This was the sort of concert you could drag your college-age kid to and he or she would be glad you did.  (So I wish I’d dragged mine.)

I’d arrived at the concert tired, thinking I might leave at intermission.  By then, I’d been so energized by the Britten performance, which concluded the first half, that there was no way I was going to miss the Vaughn Williams.  This was classical music-making at its best.  And the prolonged standing ovation, which went on seemingly forever, wasn’t fueled just by the home-town fans happy to be in NY.  This was the real thing, a celebration of a genuinely extraordinary shared experience.

Everyone I spoke to after was raving about it.  A publicist friend and I ran met another music writer on 57th Street after the concert.  He was blown away (although he put it in a much more dignified way).  With perhaps a touch of old-school east-coast snobbery, he was in a state of delighted shock.  “If the Monteral Symphony on Saturday measures up to even half of what this group did tonight, I’ll be delighted.”

Many congratulations to music director Carlos Kalmar, the members of the magnificent orchestra (including fellow blogger Charles Noble), and to all who support this fine organization.  People should leave a concert on a more-alive-then-when-they-got-there high.  An overwhelming number of us did.  I’m so glad I went!

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Filed under Carnegie Hall, Oregon Symphony, Spring for Music, Stern Auditorium

Spring for Music: Dallas Does Stucky Does LBJ

“Not every concert we do is a history lesson,” a Dallas Symphony member quasi-apologized to me after the orchestra’s Spring for Music Carnegie Hall concert last night.  “I’m looking forward to getting back to Beethoven and Brahms.”

We talked about that a while.  “But we couldn’t have played here with standard repertoire.”

And that’s the point, of course. Orchestras applied to be part of this 8-day festival at Carnegie Hall, presenting orchestras from around the country performing innovate programs. The Dallas Symphony commissioned  Steven Stucky to compose a work in honor of Lyndon Johnson‘s 100th birthday.  The oratorio August 4, 1964, libretto by Gene Scheer, with its Beethoven-Ninth forces (choir and solo vocal quartet) was the result. Premiered in 2008, it was performed again and recorded last week in Dallas.  It is this substantial and ambitious work that the orchestra and its music director Jaap van Zweden proposed to bring to Carnegie Hall.  Not surprisingly, they were invited to do so.

Imagine being the President of the United States. While America’s favorite pastime seems to be not baseball but finding fault with whomever is in office, the weight of the responsibilities is such that I always feel for–and root for, even when I’m feeling exasperated–the sitting president.

August 4, 1964.  You’re Lyndon Baines Johnson. The morning brings news (later shown to be false) that U.S. ships are under attack in the Gulf of Tonkin.  In the evening, word that the long-recalcitrant FBI has finally discovered the bodies of three young civil rights workers. You insist the announcement of the latter be held until you–the president–have called the families.  And then you go on national television to, in essence, lie to the American people about an attack that never happened, and announce the start of bombing (a process that will eventually lead to your own political downfall).

Stucky and Sheer’s work, using texts from recorded phone conversations, letters, etc., shows LBJ at his best (the compassionate civil rights advocate personally notifying the families) and his worst, seemingly manipulated by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, and by a fear of appearing weak, into starting the bombing that led the U.S. into the debacle of the Vietnam War.  As with John Adams’s Nixon in China, a president who is tragic and heroic figure.  A riveting subject for a musical drama.

Soloists Vale Rideout (McNamara) and Rod Gilfry (Johnson) sat to the conductor’s right, as viewed from the audience.  Indira Mahajan (playing the mother of African-American James Chaney, one of the slain activists) and Kristine Jepson (the mother of Andrew Goodman, a white anthropolgy student from New York) were on his left.  (The other murdered student was Michael Schwerner.) Each pair inhabited separate vocal and musical worlds in Stucky’s fascinating musical construction.

This tragic subject matter makes perfect material for an evening-length work.  The music is eclectic and varied, at times lushly neo-romantic, at others driving and agitated.  Wonderfully crafted, of course, with fabulous orchestration. I didn’t respond emotionally to all of it; I’d like to hear it again, and am glad to hear it’s been recorded for release.  The center of the piece is an orchestral Elegy, which captivated me, followed by an exquisite aria, “Letter from Mississippi,” in which Mrs. Goodman reads the last letter from her son before he disappeared.  It devastated me; I wasn’t the only one crying.  For a first hearing of a big new work, that was quite something.

Not as many people from Dallas, when it came time to wave their (yellow) bandanas, as there had been from Toledo and Albany earlier in the series, but still quite a few. That’s not a surprise, given the distance.  The main level (where I sat) was mostly full, as were the boxes.  The balcony levels were essentially empty. That’s a good idea, I think, and good management, because in the rest of the hall there was that special full-house energy.  (I was at a Beethoven 9th performance earlier in the winter where the balcony was full but, for some reason, the main floor half-empty, and it felt like a party no one came to.)

“We’re doing Beethoven Ninth when we get back,” that Dallas Symphony member told me.  “Third time in four years.”  A sigh.  Overdosed on Stucky, but not all that excited about Beethoven Ninth, either.  This person loves being a member of that orchestra.  But as with most jobs, there’s ambivalence. “I tried to get myself excited about this concert.  It’s Carnegie Hall, after all.”

It was clear that other members of the orchestra were excited;  I met some after the concert who told me how enthusiastic they were about the piece. But not all of them.  As beautifully as this major orchestra played, the strongest visual impression was of calm professionalism.  As we wonder about what symphony orchestras can do to attract new and younger audiences, this is an issue.  You love your job, but can’t get all that excited for either yet another Stucky performance or yet another Beethoven Ninth performance.  That’s called being human.

But we spend money to go to concerts to get more in touch with our humanity.  To have an emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually engaging experience.  We don’t want to see and hear calm professionalism (and I don’t mean to imply that this is all there was at last night’s performance).

How do you get 85-100 orchestral musicians to all be passionate at the same time?  I have no idea.

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Filed under Carnegie Hall, Spring for Music, Stern Auditorium, Steven Stucky

Spring for Music: Toledo and Albany

In a little less than two hours, I’ll be at my third Spring for Music, a mini-festival of American orchestras, concert at Carnegie Hall.

Tonight: the Dallas Symphony performing Steven Stucky‘s August 4, 1964, which looks to be a big work with solo vocal quartet and chorus.  (I played the solo part many years ago for Stucky’s Voyages for cello and wind ensemble; it is quite a piece.  I wonder if he’ll remember me if I meet him at the reception.)  I’m especially excited about tonight because a former student of mine is a member of the cello section.

I’ve been to the performances of the Toledo (Saturday May 7) and Albany (Tuesday May 10) symphonies.  Both ensembles are more than impressive; they’re terrific. I wasn’t sure whether or not to be surprised.  Regional orchestras, back in my student days, were often not so hot.  Now there are so many good players in so many places that it should come as no surprise that both these bands are first-rate, certainly more than deserving of being heard in Carnegie Hall.

It was inspiring, in this time of concern over orchestras seeming irrelevant, to see the community support for both groups.  There were 1400 people from Toledo at Saturday’s concert, it was announced from the stage.  And last night when folks from Albany were asked to wave their bandanas (there’s a different colored one handed out for each orchestra, it seems), more than half the audience complied.  I’m wondering how much of tonight’s audience will have come in from Texas.  We’ll see who waves a bandana! A symphony orchestra is part of a community; a concert is a social event, in the best sense.  A shared experience.  And clearly these orchestras are loved and supported and embraced.  Which makes me optimistic about the future of symphonic music.

On the other hand, it makes you wonder how much of an audience there would have been without the orchestras’ traveling fan bases.  In his Times review of the Toledo performance, James Oestreich says there were “more than 2000″ people at the concert, I figure I assume he got from Carnegie Hall or the Spring for Music organizers.  Which means there were only a bit over 600 people not from Toledo there.  Without all the Albany folks last night, there would have been a lot of empty seats.

My big interest here in NY is seeing what people are doing to develop new (especially young) audiences while maintaining artistic integrity.  Spring for Music is extremely affordable–just $25 for any seat in the house, with the upper balcony seats only $15.  The concerts are certainly accessible.

The point of this series isn’t to bring in a new audience, though.  It’s about giving an orchestra the chance to do something artistically innovative without the financial pressure of having to bring in a big audience. From the SfM mission statement:

Spring for Music provides an idealized laboratory, free of the normal marketing and financial constraints, for an orchestra to be truly creative with programs that are interesting, provocative and stimulating, and that reflect its beliefs, its standards, and vision. Spring for Music believes an orchestra’s fundamental obligation is to lead and not follow taste. As such, programming needs to advance, and not just satisfy, expectations.

This is about artistic integrity and performance quality, and yay for that.  So I’d say the festival is aimed at that segment of the existing classical music audience which has an interest in new music (as well as home-town boosters with travel budgets).  Critics like the Times’ Anthony Tomassini are enthusiastic about it.  He wrote a glowing preview predicting great interest by both the music press and audiences.

But whatever the future of generating new audiences for classical music, especially orchestra concerts in big halls, may be, this isn’t it. The festival’s first concert, by Orpheus, drew only a half-full house. That’s not a criticism, really.  I like concerts where people play the music they want to play and don’t worry about selling 200+ tickets. But I do feel frustrated, because the one thing I haven’t seen here, amidst the many innovative smaller-venue offerings, is a model for how a big venue can bring in a younger audience to symphony orchestra concerts.

A few comments on what I’ve heard so far:

The Toledo Symphony, under its music director Stefan Sanderling, performed the Shostakovich Sixth Symphony and a theatre piece with orchestra, Every Good Boy Deserves Favor (1977), by Tom Stoppard and André Previn. Terrific performance–including the excellent actors.  In all honesty, though, while the Stoppard/Previn work was interesting and the music was fascinating and enjoyable, it was not exactly a gripping, cathartic experience.  I’m not surprised it doesn’t get done more often.

The enthusiastic David Alan Miller led the Albany Symphony in a program that included a theatrical element as well.  George Tsontakis’s Let the River Be Unbroken begins with a costumed fiddler in the back of the hall who works his way to the stage (and ends the piece by playing his way back to the rear of the auditorium).  The heart of the program was The Spirituals Project, arrangements of spirituals by eight composers, commissioned by the Albany Symphony (according to the program notes, they’ve done thirteen altogether; an ninth was performed as an encore).

I was excited about this.

Wouldn’t Dvořák be delighted, I thought, that finally, all these years after he advocated it, that spirituals (“Negro melodies,” as he put it) are providing the material for concert music?  And in Carnegie Hall.

In his program note, David Alan Miller writes that he began the commissioning project because he was “surprised and frustrated to discover how few artistically compelling orchestral versions of spirituals were available” when he was developing a program featuring Dvořák’s  “New World” symphony.

But I found it strangely unsatisfying.  Synthesizing genres is great, but the more I listened, the more I was struck that this wasn’t doing all that much for the spirtuals. It recontextualized them in a way that, to me, restrained them.

Yes, it is great that a modern symphony orchestra loves this music of African-American heritage so much that it wants to embrace it in its own way.  But drenching these powerful songs in the luxurious trappings of an essentially white, European-derived musical language seems somehow to suck the mojo out of them.  Vocal soloist Nathan De’Shon Myers is a stunningly good baritone with an incredible voice, wonderful sense of line, and tremendous energy.  I just wasn’t moved the way I wanted to be.

So I find myself wondering.  Is there a need for “artistically compelling orchestral versions of spirituals”?  What about spirituals requires orchestration?  Is all music made better by giving it a contemporary classical orchestration?

I found myself wanting to hear a good gospel singer, maybe a choir, and no orchestra.

I talked with a well-connected friend who was at the concert as well.  He knows people in the Albany Symphony, or people who know people, and said that this was supposed to be, among other things, outreach to the African-American community.

If so, I didn’t see where it worked.  (My friend thinks it’s an example of clueless white classical-music people having no idea about an audience they are trying to reach.) Not many non-white faces in the audience–or in the orchestra.

Contemporary African-American culture is vibrant and alive (I should probably say cultures).  I don’t imagine it would be all that exciting, were I an African American who wasn’t a fan of symphonic music, to learn that an orchestra with no African-American players (at least I didn’t spot any from my seat) was doing heavily-orchestrated versions of music of another time.

All that said, Spring for Music is, as they say, a laboratory.  A place where you do experiments, and learn from the results.  Art is paradoxical, for the result of the experiment may be different for each member of the audience.

And now, 1964. 

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Filed under Carnegie Hall, Spring for Music, Stern Auditorium

Pianist Greg Kallor at Weill Recital Hall Tonight: Getting (an Audience) to Carnegie Hall

Late this morning, I spotted pianist-composer Gregg Kallor’s performance tonight in Weill Recital Hall (at Carnegie Hall).  Here’s the blurb from Time Out New York:

The composer-pianist’s recital starts off with Chick Corea’s Children’s Song sandwiched between works by Rachmaninoff and Stravinsky, demonstrating Kallor’s fluid ability to move between the jazz and classical realms. Also on the program are works by Bartók, Louise Talma, Thelonius Monk, Brad Mehldau and Annie Clark, plus a world premiere of Kallor’s own A Single Noon.

This sounds (or should I say “looks”?) fascinating. So I’m going. I love composing performers and performing composers and think we need more of that. Performing musicians who create music.  And juxtaposing different musical genres is fascinating as well–doesn’t always “work,” so we’ll see.  I’m wondering how this sort of program will feel in a formal space like Weill.

Getting (Yourself) to Carnegie Hall

There’s old joke.  “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” a tourist asks a man with a violin on a New York street.  “Practice!” he replies.

To elaborate:

The idea is you get good, and Carnegie Hall books you.  That’s rare, unless you have a big name, either as an established artist or as a fast-rising young/unconventional performer or group.  It takes quite a bit for Carnegie Hall itself to hire you to play.

The alternative is you get good and someone else rents the hall and presents you.  Tonight’s concert is an example.  It’s underwritten/presented by the Abby Whiteside Foundation as part of a series of four concerts this spring.  Each recital has, or had, a very interesting mix of music, including a lot of new music. I’ve enjoyed exploring the foundation’s website–obviously Ms. Whiteside was a inspiring teacher.

Getting an Audience to Carnegie Hall?

Well, there’s the publicity and marketing.  What do the presenter and the hall do to let people know about the concert?  When it’s a rental, like tonight, it’s all up to the presenter.  The hall will post information on it’s website and sell the tickets, but the real responsibility is for the people presenting the concert.  The web is so important–as I said, I found tonight’s concert from the Time Out New York site.  What else was done, I don’t know.  Some organizations hire a publicist for their events.  I get a zillion emails from publicists about events here, but I’m evidently off the radar for the publicist for these concerts (if there is one).

Some other thoughts:

I don’t quite understand why the Whiteside Foundation website pages for these concerts, each of which are in Weill Recital Hall, feature the same photograph of the Perelman Stage of Stern Auditorium, cluttered with chairs for an orchestra concert.  Why not use a photo of the actual venue?

Carnegie Hall has recently revamped it’s website, and it looks a lot better than it used to.  Still pretty boring, but no longer mystifyingly ugly, so it’s a big step forward. Ironically, while it has nifty panoramic photos of the interior of the halls, there are no easy-to-find, easy-to-download photos (hence the lack of photos here).

A good, well, let’s say terrific, website for a major performing arts center is a massive, expensive operation.  To be genuinely engaging, especially for people under 40, it needs extensive multimedia integration with audio and video.  Maybe more of that will emerge as time goes by.

But why wait? If [le] poisson rouge, which has at least as many events as Carnegie, can have such an effective multimedia website, why can’t Carnegie, now?  Surely Carnegie Hall could could get plenty of interns to do the work. So maybe there’s something going on over there to prevent much video.  Even the New York Philharmonic, which is often criticized for a supposedly-boring web presence, has extensive video integration.

Meanwhile, the listing in the Time Out New York music pages, run by the amazing Steve Smith (who has superhuman energy and dedication to the musical life of New York) made me much more interested in tonight’s concert than this description on the Carnegie Hall site:

Program

  • Works by Bartók, Chick Corea, Fred Hersch, Gregg Kallor (World Premiere), Rachmaninoff, Scriabin, and Stravinsky
Steve or one of his colleagues must have taken the Foundation’s press release and written the paragraph I quoted above. I’ve had the experience of seeing a long, unfocused press release and then how beautifully it was transformed into an engaging short paragraph by someone at Time Out.  I wrote earlier about hearing Steve, along with his NY Times colleague Nate Chinen, talk about a sense of mission in his work: it’s about getting people to go experience events. And you can tell it from his writing.  Someone at Time Out took the time to write a paragraph that makes you want to go, that states succinctly what’s fascinating about this concert.  The Carnegie Hall listing simply tells you what’s on the program.
Something seems backwards here. Why should a music writer be working harder at this key element than the people putting on the concert?  In the best of all possible worlds, the concert presenter would supply the hall, in this case Carnegie, with some engaging copy.  Maybe even a photo.  Here, the Foundation doesn’t even have engaging copy on its own website.
I don’t mean to bash anyone here.  As I say, it takes a lot of work.
I organize a dozen free concerts every summer in Greencastle, Indiana.  I’ve been doing it as a volunteer, and I don’t have a huge amount of time to put into publicity–especially audio and video. I look at my own press releases now and realize how much they, well, suck.  But my thoughts are turning to how to draw in more people to our concerts in Indiana, and to concerts everywhere.  It’s obvious that good, short press releases and a genuinely engaging web presence, including a website, blog, and active presence on Facebook and Twitter are essential.
Oy!  Such a lot of work.  And I need to practice.

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Filed under Composer-Performers, Greg Kallor, Publicity and Publicists, Stern Auditorium, Steve Smith, Time Out New York, Weill Recital Hall

Gubaidulina performed by Mutter, Thomas, and the NY Phil

I had never heard the stunningly-good violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter in person before the Thursday March 31 New York Philharmonic concert (that link takes you to a page with program notes, audio, video, etc.).  She has a ravishing, intense, into-the-string tone that can make you forget that Avery Fisher Hall is not acclaimed for its acoustics.  Michael Tilson Thomas conducted, wonderfully.  I’d never heard him in person before, either, so the night was a special treat for me.  (Steve Smith’s NY Times review is here.)

The Tchaikovsky Second Symphony (“Little Russian”) made up the concert’s second half.  During it, I was reminded of a music-history professor with whom I had an in-class tiff when he dismissed the Tchiak Fifth Symphony, about which I was passionate, as “a string of sequences.”  “Some composers can take a chain of sequences and make great music,” I snarled at him, “and some people listen to great music and only hear a chain of sequences.”  In this performance, the winds and brass were terrific, and although the violins seemed to have a touch of ensemble difficulties in some fast off-the-string passages, the strings were gorgeous. I, to be honest, was only hearing chains of sequences.

Maybe that was because the first half was so terrific.  Prokfiev’s Overture in B-flat Major, Op. 42 “American” opened the program.  It’s a wind ensemble piece with 2 cellos and a double bass, so no wonder it doesn’t get programmed often. It was commissioned in the 1920s by the Aeolian Duo-Art company for its then-new, small New York concert hall, hence the unusual instrumentation.  While I enjoyed it, a friend in the orchestra called it a “justly neglected masterpiece.”  Of course, I only heard it once. Still, I found it a fascinating, energetic little thing.

What made the concert worth attending was Sofia Gubaidulina‘s powerful and moving In tempus praesens, Concerto for Violin and Orchestra.  It’s an intense piece,with extended violin soliloquies. As Mutter explains in the video below, the solo violin represents the composer battling with society.  Another unusual instrumentation–no violins (other than the soloist), which gave the strings an especially dark, rich sound and allowed the violas plenty of opportunities to shine.

Mutter discusses the piece:

The friend who took me to the concert didn’t enjoy the concerto, at least while she listened to it. She’s not familiar with a lot of contemporary music and I think she found it disconcerting. But after the performance she said, “You know, I liked the violin concerto the best.  It seemed strange at first, but now I realize it was really powerful.” Often it takes repeated hearings to get used to new musical language and be affected by it; this was an interesting case of impact after the fact. Or maybe something about those Tchaikovsky sequences made Gubiadulina’s brilliance apparent in retrospect.

Speaking of that compositional brilliance, here’s a fascinating video (which I found on Alex Ross’s blog) in which Gubaidulina discusses her complicated creative process.

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Filed under Avery Fisher Hall, Conductors, Michael Tilson Thomas, New York Philharmonic, Orchestras, Sofia Gubaidulina