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Friday Miscellanea

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Friday Miscellanea

After the longest hiatus in Music Salon history, more about that later, we return with a substantial Friday Miscellanea.

First up an extensive review of Bayreuth's new production of The Ring in the New York Times: Review: A New ‘Ring’ at Bayreuth Does Wagner Without Magic.

About 150 years ago, in a megalomaniac’s coup, Richard Wagner built a theater on a hilltop here in northern Bavaria.

His immense, complex, innovative operas had never been presented as he imagined them. If he wanted them done right, he concluded, he would have to do them himself.

But when the Bayreuth Festival Theater opened in 1876, with the premiere of his full “Ring of the Nibelung” — a four-opera, 15-hour mythic tale about nature and power with a cast of gods, warriors, dwarves, giants, talking birds and spitting dragons — Wagner was still unsatisfied.

Among the most intractable (and inadvertently laugh-inducing) problems were the magical effects he called for: girls frolicking in the depths of a river; transformations into serpents; Valkyries riding through the air on horseback. Even now, with 21st-century stage technology, what Wagner makes musically persuasive has struggled to be visually and dramatically so.

In his intriguing, insightful new production of the “Ring” at the Bayreuth Festival, the young director Valentin Schwarz has dealt with those problems by sidestepping them entirely.

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 Here is a fascinating and informative clip on the evolution of the timpani:

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I'm just seeing this Guardian article from a few weeks ago: Russian sponsorship row overshadows opening of Salzburg festival.

After a recent sell-out performance by Currentzis’ ensemble at the Elbphilharmonie, which organisers were quick to emphasise was attended by Ukrainian refugees and also involved Ukrainian musicians, Mischa Kreiskott, a leading German music critic, said: “The choices of music can be seen as a commentary in itself – especially the Strauss … they are of a dark persuasion.” He said that Currentzis was doing nothing less than trying to save his orchestra: “He knows it is under threat and the musicians feel it too … you see it in the passion with which they perform. It must be very difficult for them right now.”

I suggest reading the whole piece as there are a variety of accusations and responses. I have to say that the most compelling performance I attended at the festival last summer was by Currentzis.

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A sobering message from Norman Lebrecht: The vast plight of the Proms

This summer’s BBC Proms will be the last festival of British orchestras as we know them. This is not due to Brexit, Covid, Ukraine, inflation, the gas squeeze or any other headline. It is the consequence of half a century of mismanagement and mental indolence on the part of safe-seat executive suits who turned a Nelsonian blind eye to the gathering storm. Well, it’s all over now.

The death sentence was delivered by the BBC’s director general, Tim Davie, in a statement terminating BBC Four, which televises most of the Proms, and urging the BBC’s six orchestras in London, Manchester, Scotland and Wales to look for “alternative sources of income where possible.” The insincerity of that suggestion is on a par with Vladimir Putin’s “special measures” in Ukraine.

There is no “where possible” — as Davie, a former boss of BBC music and radio, is well aware. Private cash for concerts has become scarce and BBC orchestras have no brand to sell apart from the big one — the GazProm Last Night of the Proms. Davie knows what lies ahead for his orchestras: oblivion. All he can do is soften the pill and spread the blame. The party’s over.

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 Yet another in the long line of essays bemoaning the strange fate of 20th century modernist music: The Disappearing Modernists.

Except for a small niche of connoisseurs, classical music patrons these days spend their money on endless performances of a musical canon that mostly ended around 1910. Why is there this difference in public reception of modernism in the two art forms? Why is abstraction no longer seen as avant-garde in art and sculpture, but continues to be in music? Why do people line up around the world to see canvases by post-1910 painters, why do paintings by Willem de Kooning and Frank Stella sell at auction for millions, but the orchestral music of Schoenberg, Pierre Boulez, or Elliott Carter is never played at pops concerts (and rarely at subscription performances, for that matter)?

This is actually another review of The War on Music: Reclaiming the Twentieth Century by John Mauceri that we have mentioned before, though this is a much more detailed discussion. Most of these kind of critical discussions of the failure of modernism to attract audiences focus on the deficiencies of the music: it is just too dissonant or jagged or simply lacking in proper tonal organization and charm. But it might be interesting to have a look at how audiences changed over the course of the 20th century. In any case, this is an aesthetically and historically complex issue that has not been explored deeply enough.

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Max Emanuel Cenčić: staging rare operas at Bayreuth Baroque:

To opera lovers all over the world, Bayreuth means Wagner: the summer festival dedicated to the German composer is one of the most famous and well-respected in the industry. But in Bayreuth there are two opera houses: the Richard Wagner Festpielhaus, and a Baroque jewel, the Margravial Opera House, built in the middle of the 18th century. This theatre, whose spectacular interior was designed by the Italian architect Bibiena on the model of the old imperial opera house in Vienna, is currently a museum for most of the year, except two weeks in the summer, when it hosts the Bayreuth Baroque Festival.

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More on Currentzis: Under Pressure to Cut Russian Ties, Maestro Forms New Orchestra.

The conductor Teodor Currentzis, who has faced scrutiny since the start of the war in Ukraine because of his ties to a state-owned bank in Russia, announced on Monday that he would form a new international ensemble with the support of donors outside Russia.

The ensemble, to be called Utopia, will bring together 112 musicians from 28 countries, many of them soloists and principal players in renowned orchestras, for a European tour that is to begin this fall and go through 2023, according to a statement. The group will rely on ticket sales as well as donations from European benefactors to finance its operations, the statement said.

Currentzis, who has made a career of defying conventions in classical music, said he wanted the new group to shake up the traditional model of orchestras, in which musicians play together for years in the same concert halls. He said in a statement that the new group would “leave behind the framework of respectable institutions which, while being blessed can also be doomed to create what could be described as a certain standardized international sound.”

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 Here is a film of Currentzis rehearsing the Prokofiev Symphony No. 5. There is a long spoken introduction that may be interesting:


And here is one of those hateful modern pieces, the String Quartet No. 4 by Bartók:


And for something completely different a Georgian folk trio:





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