Richard S. Ginell: From Out of the West

By Richard S. Ginell

100 years of Woody Herman and Witold Lutoslawski

     There have been a lot of round-numbered birthdays this year, and there will be no letup next year – what with Verdi, Britten, Wagner and Lutoslawski coming up fast.  And not just in so-called classical music, for Woody Herman would have been 100 next year as well. Yet he somehow doesn't seem like a historical figure, for he kept his big bands refreshingly up to date over the decades, even attempting a rapproachment with components of rock before heading back to the mainstream in his last band.

A Portrait of Georg Solti on his Centennial

By Richard S. Ginell
It used to be said that among the living conductors in the 1980s, the three that were at the summit of the profession were Herbert von Karajan, Leonard Bernstein and Sir Georg Solti. They departed one by one – Karajan in 1989, Bernstein in 1990, and Solti supposedly had the mountaintop all to himself until his unexpected death in 1997.  It was unexpected because even at 84, Solti seemed like an inexhaustible ball of energy; no one could imagine him being ill. And then when he died, few noticed because it

Sightings of Henze and Elvis

    I just missed seeing Hans Werner Henze by two days.       Had I visited Leipzig on a Saturday rather than the following Monday on my trip to eastern Germany this past May, I could have caught a glimpse of the venerated German composer, who died Oct. 27 at 86, receiving well-wishers in J.S. Bach's own church, the Thomaskirche. I know this because Donald Rosenberg, the president of the Music Critics Association of North America, made the trek to Leipzig that Saturday afternoon, although he wasn't sure

Georg Solti on his Centennial

By Richard S. Ginell: From Out of the West
Among living conductors in the 1980s, the three said to be at the summit were Herbert von Karajan, Leonard Bernstein and Sir Georg Solti. They departed one by one...

Gustavo’s Symphony Of More Than A Thousand comes to DVD

     Gustavo Dudamel's Mahler Project earlier this year is now in the history books, but it hasn't disappeared from view, nor will it.  The first permanent artifact from that audacious, bicontinental adventure has emerged, a Deutsche Grammophon DVD (and Blu-ray) release containing the Mahler Eighth Symphony performance from Caracas on Feb. 18 (the Ninth Symphony was recorded in Los Angeles by DG for iTunes, but hasn't been released yet – tentatively delayed until next year). This was the performance

Plenty of Penderecki

     Some have written that Naxos's brave, long-term project of recording all of Krzysztof Penderecki's orchestral and choral works has been going mostly under the radar amidst the blizzard of Naxos releases every month.  Now there is one quick way in which to start catching up.  All of the completed Penderecki symphonies have been gathered together in a discount-priced five-CD boxed set, led with eloquence and bite by Naxos's main man in Poland, Antony Wit. Since starting the cycle way back in 1998,

The Music In Politics 101

    While watching Barack Obama and Bill Clinton speak at the Democratic Convention last week, it occured to me that the difference between the two presidents' speaking styles can be explained in terms of musical ensembles.     In the case of Obama, I think of a symphony orchestra led by an inspired conductor – a large diverse organization that reads the notes right off the printed page (as Obama reads a teleprompter), but now and then manages to harness the rhythm, flow, melodic content and meaning of the

HEAR NOW festival

      If it didn't happen in New York, it didn't happen – so some of our East Coast brethren seem to say. Indeed, they still trot out the epithet "Hollywood" to dismiss and denigrate a lot of things that come from here. To this day, much interesting musicmaking From Out Of The West goes not only under the national radar, but locally as well as publishing outlets become fewer and fewer, and blogs like this one try to fill in some of the gaps.      Well, here's one gap

From Dresden to Leipzig and Back Again: Opera in Saxony

By Richard S. Ginell
The distance between Dresden and Leipzig is only 62 miles, and to see one city without visiting the other would seem to be an opportunity missed if you have the time.

The Forgotten Leinsdorf Centenary

By Richard S. Ginell: From Out of the West This has been a year of centenaries for a number of 20th-century podium giants born in 1912 – Solti, Sanderling, Markevitch, Celibidache – all of whom still have their fame, or at least a cult. Yet a fifth, Erich Leinsdorf (1912-1993), remains in a curious state of limbo, not exactly reviled but not particularly loved. One wonders why.

Updates on Boulez’s Mahler and Salonen’s Orango

   Here are some follow-ups to previous posts that you may or may not have seen in this blog:      Pierre Boulez's Mahler cycle was completed last year with the release of the video of Des Knaben Wunderhorn and the Adagio from the Symphony No. 10 – or was it?  Now we have an addenda of sorts, not part of the official cycle but still a something's extra, a live performance of Das Klagende Lied from the opening concert of last year's Salzburg Festival (C Major DVD or

LBJ – The Book and the Concert Piece

     Thanks to the usual early-summer lull in the concert season, I have just finished reading the long-awaited fourth volume of Robert A. Caro's massively eloquent biography of Lyndon Johnson, The Passage Of Power – and with one more volume to go, one can only hope that he and we live long enough to see the end of it.  There is no finer writer of political biographies working today; Caro's mastery of rhetoric, his use of repetition for purposes of flow as well as reminding us of past material,

From Dresden to Leipzig and Back Again: Opera in Saxony

By Richard S. Ginell
The distance between Dresden and Leipzig is only 62 miles, and to see one city without visiting the other would seem to be an opportunity missed if you have the time.  While they are amazingly similar in population currently – Dresden as of 2010 has 523,000 residents while Leipzig comes within a whisker of that total at 522,000! – and both have deep connections with the great composers, they are not twin cities.  Leipzig is more of a trade center with a more bustling street vibe; it was also a book

Rebounding Dresden Stages A Music Festival

     Looking at Dresden today –  with the Baroque splendor of the restored Semperoper and Frauenkirche in the same neighborhood as drab Communist architecture and a modern indoor shopping mall off the Altmarkt that could be located anywhere – you are confronted with the abrupt clash between the very old, the very new, and the recent past. It is the home of Raphael's "Sistine Madonna;" the city where "Der Fliegende Holländer," "Tannhäuser,"

Ten Freedom Summers – The Longest Jazz Composition Ever?

     Last October, Southwest Chamber Music kicked off its 25th anniversary season with a monster of a work, Ten Freedom Summers by jazz trumpeter, avant-garde classical composer and CalArts faculty member Wadada Leo Smith. It was a magnum opus in every sense –  19 compositions requiring three nights to perform, 34 years in the making, rolling avant-garde jazz and classical elements into one ball, purporting to capture the psychological and spiritual meanings of not only the Civil Rights movement in

Looking For Gustavo Dudamel/LA Philharmonic CDs? Good Luck.

     I realize that there is a brave new world of changing formats out there, a massive transition from physical to digital with supposedly washed-up technologies like vinyl LPs on the comeback trail.  Even so, Deutsche Grammophon's release schedule for its caliente conducting star, Gustavo Dudamel, has taken a turn toward the bizarre this year.      "Discoveries" – a 2009 hodge-podge of isolated tracks wrenched from Dudamel's earlier albums, with a few

Los Angeles hosts a Schubertiade, plus P.D.Q.’s Alter Ego.

      The wind was howling, the sky was a gloomy dark grey, the thermometer was stuck at 28 degrees, and the snow came tumbling down, coating the trees in the front yard with white crystals better suited for the dead of winter than the middle of spring ...  Sounds like the start of a bad novel, but that was the scene outside my front glass door a couple of weekends ago as I left Frazier Park (elev. 5,000 feet)  to attend the Los Angeles Philharmonic's Schubertiade in Walt Disney Concert Hall the week of April 15.

New Recordings From The Bay Area

    Are classical CDs and DVDs going out of style? Not in the Bay Area, where at least two organizations continue to regularly pour out live recordings of their musical offerings on their own labels on paradoxically old-fashioned, state-of-the-art physical media.       The San Francisco Symphony observed its centennial with a gala season-opening concert last September that was shown on PBS here a couple of weeks ago and has found its way onto a DVD (SFS Media).  It isn't quite the complete

Buried Treasure From The Jazz Giants

    Segueing over to one of my other musical passions, jazz, I recently found three bound volumes of Down Beat magazine's jazz record reviews in a Simi Valley antique shop, of all places.  The books cover all of the reviews that DB printed in 1959, 1960 and 1962 – in other words, right at the heart of what many scribes and record company factotums now consider to be jazz's artistic high-water mark  (one can debate that, but there's little doubt this was one of the richest periods).    

The Sound of Wagner in Berlin, and that New Year’s Concert in Vienna

    The gears are cranking up already for next year's Wagner bicentennial, and we can probably expect a slew of new videos from the currently dominant school of regietheatre – sometimes known as Eurotrash.  Yet PentaTone, the outfit that has resurrected many a 1970s-vintage Philips recording in SACD surround-sound, is bucking that trend by gradually issuing new recordings of all ten Wagner repertory operas in audio only, recording concert performances live in the Berlin Philharmonie, one per
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