Tuesday, September 1, 2009
Chronicle of July 2009
Tanglewood Festival. Boston Symphony Orchestra, conducted by James Levine, in Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring. Lenox, MA. "Stravinsky’s eruptive Rite of Spring . . . is, in more ways than one, the last word. In a good performance it can overwhelm receptive listeners, leaving them sated yet energized, needing nothing more, least of all a balm. And the performance here was terrific, with its dissonant stabs squarely on target and its percussive outbursts truly explosive. The savage sounds -- evoking, days after the death of the choreographer Pina Bausch, the mud flung about the stage in her memorable conception of the work -- stood in droll contrast to the picture of gentility presented by the players in their white summer finery" [James Oestreich, The New York Times, 7/6/09].
Death of conductor Edward Downes, with his wife, in an assisted suicide pact, at 85. Switzerland. "He joined] her in drinking a lethal cocktail of barbiturates provided by an assisted-suicide clinic. . . [T]he children said, they watched, weeping, as their parents drank “a small quantity of clear liquid” before lying down on adjacent beds, holding hands. 'Within a couple of minutes they were asleep, and died within 10 minutes,' Caractacus Downes, the couple’s 41-year-old son, said in the interview after his return to Britain. “They wanted to be next to each other when they died.' He added, 'It is a very civilized way to end your life, and I don’t understand why the legal position in this country doesn’t allow it.' Sir Edward, who was described in a statement issued earlier on Tuesday by Mr. Downes and his sister, Boudicca, 39, as 'almost blind and increasingly deaf,' was principal conductor of the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra from 1980 to 1991. He was also a conductor of the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden in London, where he led 950 performances over more than 50 years. Lady Downes, who British newspapers said was in the final stages of terminal cancer, was a former ballet dancer, choreographer and television producer who devoted her later years to working as her husband’s assistant. 'After 54 happy years together, they decided to end their own lives rather than continue to struggle with serious health problems,' the Downes children said in their statement. British families who have used the Zurich clinic in the past have said that Dignitas charges about $6,570 for each assisted suicide. Scotland Yard said in a statement on [July 14] that it had been informed on Monday 'that a man and a woman' from London had died in Switzerland, and that it was 'looking into the circumstances.' The information that prompted the police inquiry appeared to have been given voluntarily by the Downes family, which, Caractacus Downes said, 'didn’t want to be untruthful about what had happened.' 'Even if they arrest us and send us to prison, it would have made no difference because it is what our parents wanted,' he said. Attempting suicide has not been a criminal offense in Britain since 1961, but assisting others to kill themselves is. But since the Zurich clinic run by Dignitas was established in 1998 under Swiss laws that allow clinics to provide lethal drugs, British authorities have effectively turned a blind eye to Britons who go there to die. None of the family members and friends who have accompanied the 117 people living in Britain who have traveled to the Zurich clinic for help in ending their lives have been charged with an offense. Legal experts said it was unlikely that that would change in the Downes case. But British news reports about the Downeses’ suicides noted one factor that appeared to set the case apart from others involving the Dignitas clinic: Sir Edward appeared not to have been terminally ill. There have been at least three other cases similar to the Downeses’, in which a spouse who was not terminally ill chose to die with the other. Sir Edward was known for his support for British composers and his passion for Prokofiev and Verdi. After studying at the Royal College of Music in London, he joined the Royal Opera House in 1952. His first assignment was prompting the soprano Maria Callas. He traveled widely as a conductor and became music director of the Australian Opera in the 1970s. Friends of Sir Edward said that his decision to die with his wife did not surprise them. 'Ted was completely rational,' said Richard Wigley, the general manager of the BBC Philharmonic. 'So I can well imagine him, being so rational, saying, ‘It’s been great, so let’s end our lives together.’ '
Jonathan Groves, Sir Edward’s manager, called their decision 'typically brave and courageous'' [John F. Burns, The New York Times, 7/15/09].
Premiere of Rufus Wainwright's Prima Dona. Manchester International Festival, UK. "Wainwright arrived meticulously made up as Verdi, in a formal 19th-century black suit, complete with white silk scarf, black top hat and a bushy beard grown for the occasion. Mr. Wainwright’s companion, Jorn Weisbrodt, a German theater director, was dressed as a young Puccini in a cream-colored summer suit and a straw hat. The crowd erupted with applause, and lights flashed as people took pictures. . . . There are inspired touches and disarmingly beautiful passages in this mysterious, stylistically eclectic work. With a libretto in French by Mr. Wainwright and Bernadette Colomine, Prima Donna depicts a turning point in the life of a prematurely retired opera singer, a day when she confronts the demons that drove her from the stage and finds new resolve .. . .His music comes from pop and folk traditions yet boldly draws from myriad styles, evoking Bob Dylan, Edith Piaf, Judy Garland and, of course, opera. A sophisticated opera buff who can discuss the differences between Gluck’s Armide and Rossini’s Armida, Mr. Wainwright has said in recent interviews that writing songs was like a long preparation for writing an opera. The initial commission for Prima Donna came from a joint venture of the Metropolitan Opera and Lincoln Center Theater to generate new work. The Met withdrew from this project partly because Mr. Wainwright insisted on writing the opera in French, and Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager, wanted to foster works in English for American audiences. This seems senseless. A Philip Glass opera in Sanskrit is an American work, but not a Wainwright opera in French? The Manchester festival rescued the project and brought in Opera North, an English company in Leeds, as co-producer. The attractively gothic production, with sliding walls and eerie lighting effects, was directed by Daniel Kramer. Mr. Wainwright has described his opera as unabashedly Romantic, and when the orchestral introduction begins, that description seems apt. The strings play gently lapping, thickly lush chords. There is a hint of Ravel, but also of Mascagni and maybe Stephen Sondheim. Finally we meet the prima donna, Régine, Madame Saint Laurent, a demanding role performed here with intensity and stamina by the British soprano Janis Kelly. It is early morning in Paris on Bastille Day 1970. Marie, an efficient young maid (the pert lyric soprano Rebecca Bottone) is worried by her mistress’s disheveled appearance. Régine last sang in public six years ago, we learn, a performance of her signature role in “Aliénor d’Aquitaine.” But something traumatized her that night. She is convinced that her voice is gone. Philippe, Régine’s foppish and devoted butler (the baritone Jonathan Summers plays him as flamboyant and volatile) has persuaded Madame to return to the stage. A journalist, André (the hardy if vocally shaky tenor William Joyner) is arriving soon for an interview. Prima Donna becomes an operatic mystery tale about what happened that night. In Régine’s revealing first aria, ruminative vocal lines emerge from ethereal orchestral harmonies. But what are we to make of the overt melodrama? In his songs Mr. Wainwright will evoke Hollywood strings, a hint of Carmen or a brass band, and the listener goes along for the stylistic ride. But in an opera of some two and a half hours the extended passages in sundry styles make you wonder what is going on. Is it ironic? Cavalier? Intentionally maudlin? . . . When Philippe talks of his deep affection for Madame, the orchestra supports his wistful lines with bare chords, mostly winds, that recall Poulenc in his sacred music mode but with fresh harmonic twists. . . . The music is impressionistic yet neo-medieval, tinged with modal harmonies. . . . Yet there are places where Mr. Wainwright’s compositional skills seem lacking. Contrapuntal passages, as when Marie tells of home life with her handsome but bullying husband, are awkwardly written. . . . [W]hile Mr. Wainwright has always orchestrated his songs, scoring an opera is another matter. Finally, in the last 20 minutes or so, his attitude toward the story and the musical sources came together in music of enticing ambiguity. Régine’s trauma turns out to be nothing much: She had a thing going with the lead tenor and found him after the performance hotly embracing a young woman from the chorus. . . . The final trio of Der Rosenkavalier peeks through too, complete with soaring Marschallin-like melodic lines for Régine, who is resigned to her maturity and the end of her career, as Mr. Wainwright both honors and gently kids his sources. During an agitated orchestral interlude Régine, left alone, contemplates leaping from her balcony. But seeing the Bastille Day fireworks, she decides to go on, watching life from her window. The opera ends with a tender aria for Régine, a long-spun melody with a gentle accompaniment riff: in other words, a Wainwright song. Would that there had been more of them" [Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times, 7/12/09].
Lorin Maazel's Castleton Festival presents Benjamin Britten's The Rape of Lucretia and his version of the John Pepusch / John Gay Beggar's Opera. Castleton Farms, Castleton, VA. "[In] each year since 2006 the theater has housed a new production of a chamber opera by Britten, featuring promising young singers. For the inaugural festival, The Turn of the Screw, the first Britten opera presented here, returned in a new production. Also included in the festival are revivals of three earlier Britten productions, two symphonic concerts and two master classes . . . . No . . . attempt was made to conceal lust in The Beggar’s Opera, Britten’s 1948 realization . . . Ribaldry and scandal ran rampant in Mr. Kerley’s flamboyant production, resized for the new festival tent in a way that provided performers with more space to romp and cavort. . . . Even Mr. Maazel got into the act, swapping world-weary lines with Macheath at one point. Later the proceedings were held up momentarily when two chorus girls leaned down into the pit to stroke Mr. Maazel’s hair and beseech the willing maestro for his autograph. At the end, standing onstage amid the cast and crew, Mr. Maazel beamed with pride as he tallied the festival’s achievements and announced it would be back again next year" [Steve Smith, The New York Times, 7/14/09].
Frank Kimbrough Trio. Birdland. New York, NY. "Kimbrough . . . likes to slow down and pull apart the binding logic of a piece of music, while giving it just enough structure to stand" [Ben Ratliff, The New York Times, 7/15/09].
The New York Times Company announces will sell WQXR-FM to WNYC Radio and Univision, "[The] complex deal . . . preserves WQXR as the only station devoted solely to classical music in New York City, but . . . could alter its character. . . . WQXR would move to a weaker signal near the high end of the FM band, and would become a listener-supported station, owned by WNYC, the nation’s largest public radio station. The Times Company, which has been trying to shed assets to raise cash and weather a newspaper industry downturn, would get $45 million, but would sever ties with a station it has owned since 1944. . . . The parties involved said the station would keep a classical music format. But new ownership and a transition to public radio raise other concerns for those cultural institutions, creating a competitor for the diminishing pool of charitable dollars for the arts, and potentially changing the cozy relationship they have had with a station that gives them ample exposure and greatly broadens their reach. WQXR is a major outlet for the Met’s venerable Saturday afternoon broadcasts. 'There would be a huge void if, in our home city, the international broadcasts were not heard,' said Elena Park, the Met’s assistant manager for editorial and creative content. . . . Classical music fans may be relieved by WNYC’s pledge to keep that focus, but fewer will be able to tune in. Under the deal, WQXR would trade places on the dial, and transmitting equipment, with WCAA, at 105.9, a station owned by Univision, a major Spanish-language broadcasting company. Both stations broadcast from atop the Empire State Building, but WQXR would give up its 6,000-watt signal for WCAA’s signal of about 600 watts. But Steve Shultis, the chief technology officer of WNYC, said the reach and quality of the signal was “not a linear comparison” based on wattage, and there are no plans to make the 105.9 signal stronger, which would require obtaining a different kind of F.C.C. license. He said a clear 105.9 signal reaches about 30 miles from the broadcast antenna, extending into southwestern Connecticut and Central New Jersey — an area that is home to 14.6 million people. The 96.3 signal extends about 12 miles farther, reaching 17.1 million people. WQXR is broadcast even farther afield on independently owned 'repeater; signals in Poughkeepsie and Asbury Park, N.J. It was not clear . . . what would become of those arrangements. Listeners will still be able to go online to hear WQXR, which will retain a Web site of its own. . . . WQXR’s 19 full-time and 2 part-time employees who want to stay after the deal closes -- expected late this year -- will have to apply for their jobs. New York Times reporters and critics regularly appear on WQXR, but that arrangement will not continue . . . The station was founded in 1936 and calls itself the country’s oldest commercial radio broadcaster of classical music, and is in fact one of the first FM stations anywhere, as well as the oldest in New York. WQXR said it had the most listeners for a commercial classical station, nearly one million a week. . . . WNYC has started a campaign to raise $15 million to cover the purchase price and some transition and operating costs, and the Jerome L. Greene Foundation has committed $5 million. The pianist Emanuel Ax, a co-chairman of the campaign, called preserving WQXR as a classical station 'the sonic equivalent of saving Carnegie Hall from the wrecker’s ball'' [Richard Perez-Pena and Daniel J. Wakin, The New York Times, 7/14/09].
Kronos Quartet. Prospect Park Bandshell, New York, NY. "'“I think that Brooklyn has maybe become the music capital of the world' . . . David Harrington . . . went on to suggest that to find a similar concentration of artistic vitality you had to look to late-17th-century Vienna. The claim was hyperbolic, maybe, but certainly understandable: after all, the Kronos Quartet was performing as part of the annual summer series Celebrate Brooklyn! Its program, presented before a large, diverse and boisterously appreciative audience, included new pieces by three Brooklyn composers -- Bryce Dessner, Missy Mazzoli, and J. G. Thirlwell -- with further selections prepared by a Brooklyn arranger, Jacob Garchik. Mr. Dessner is best known as a guitarist in the indie-rock band the National, which surely explained the youthful cheer that rose when his name was announced. He also plays in Clogs, a beguiling post-rock chamber ensemble.
Aheym (the name is Yiddish for homeward) suggested an intermingling of those two creative strands. Mr. Dessner parceled out a surging, rock-guitar-style drive in stuttering patterns repeated at length. A sudden silence prefaced a melancholy melody played by Jeffrey Zeigler, the cellist, with snappy pizzicato punctuation from his colleagues. The music then resumed its barreling momentum, shifting through a series of deftly contrasted sections toward a powerful conclusion. Ms. Mazzoli’s Harp and Altar offered further evidence that she is among the more consistently inventive, surprising composers now working in New York. Mr. Harrington played sweetly soaring, curling lines over a shivering blur in the opening bars, then Hank Dutt, the violist, offered a yawning melody punctuated with fidgety accompaniment. Midway through the piece, a ghostly recording of Gabriel Kahane singing verses by the poet Hart Crane revealed Ms. Mazzoli’s piece as a paean to Brooklyn itself. Her elegiac mix of tremulous, glitchy vocals and shimmering strings was deeply affecting; a final sequence of richly voiced chords promised conventional resolution, which Ms. Mazzoli sidestepped in favor of dense mystery. A driving rhythm pattern and tense, wiry amplification dominated the opening of Mr. Thirlwell’s piece, Nomatophobis (the title means “fear of naming things,” according to Mr. Harrington). Originally an industrial-rock pioneer under names like Foetus and Steroid Maximus, Mr. Thirlwell is lately negotiating the new-music world with increasing confidence. The mechanical clank of the first section gave way to passages of film-noir moodiness and atmospheric fragility. The rest of the program was dominated by selections from Floodplain, the latest Kronos album; standouts were Oh Mother, the Handsome Man Tortures Me, an anonymous Iraqi song arranged by Ljova (Lev Zhurbin), and Ram Naryan’s Raga Mishra Bhairavi, which featured exquisite playing from Mr. Dutt. Elsewhere, the quartet’s omnivorous appetite was confirmed once again in a set that ranged from the bucolic psychedelia of Sigur Ros’s Flugufrelsarinn (The Fly Freer) to the distorted catharsis of Michael Gordon’s Sad Park. The Mexican alternative-rock band Café Tacuba’s vivid 11/11 closed the show, and a suite from Clint Mansell’s score for the film Requiem for a Dream was a generous encore" [Steve Smith, The New York Times, 7/17/09].
Death of former CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite, at 92, after a long illness. New York, NY. His narration to excerpts from Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring on the record accompanying the Edwin H. Colbert and William Burns Digging for Dinosaurs; Adventures in Nature and Science (1960) provided at least one listener a first exposure to Stravinsky, and career shift from paleontology to music [ed.].
Alarm Will Sound. Le Poisson Rouge, New York, NY. "It's hard to tell whether Alarm Will Sound is finding itself or losing itself, but it may be a bit of both. A reasonably straightforward new-music band in 2001, when it made the jump from college orchestra (at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester) to professional ensemble, it has preserved its freshness by thinking about repertory in ways that most groups do not. One has been to raid arcane corners of the pop-music world, specifically electronica, a form that combines elements of avant-garde electronic music (tape loops, found sounds, radically altered timbres) with the heavy beat of rock. Since Alarm Will Sound’s roster includes several composers, arranging these pieces is done entirely in house. Mostly the group slips these transcriptions into programs otherwise devoted to composers with more solidly classical pedigrees, but it occasionally devotes an evening almost entirely to its adventures in electronica, as it did on Wednesday evening at Le Poisson Rouge. The occasion was the fifth anniversary of Acoustica -- the CD of works by the electronic composer Aphex Twin it released on Cantaloupe in 2005, which has become its biggest-selling disc -- celebrated a bit early. . . Newer transcriptions of pieces by Preshish Moments (Why Do Birds, itself a barely recognizable deconstruction of the Carpenters’ Close to You), Autechre (Cfern), Mochipet (Dessert Search for Techno Baklava) and the Beatles (Revolution 9) also benefited from the arrangers’ obsessive attention to detail and the players’ fascination with this music. . . . Several original works by members of the ensemble drew on the aesthetic of electronica — particularly the reconfiguration of existing music and the juxtaposition of disparate sounds — but proved considerably more interesting than the transcriptions. John Orfe contributed Dowland Remix, an update of Dowland’s 16th-century lament Flow My Tears that bounced between snippets of an unadorned reading and fast-paced, almost zany woodwind-and-brass-heavy variations. Stefan Freund’s eerily dreamy kinda asleep is a fantasy on sections of The Little Death, Vol. 1, an opera by Matt Marks, Alarm Will Sound’s hornist. And Caleb Burhans’s melancholy 'oh ye of little faith ... (do you know where your children are?)' moves deftly from gentle Minimalist scale figures to electric-guitar power chords, touching on murky brass figures along the way. Mr. Burhans’s work was written for Alice Tully Hall’s reopening festivities this year. It delivered a more visceral punch in the tighter confines of Le Poisson Rouge" [Allan Kozinn, The New York Times, 7/24/09].
Das Racist. Union Pool, New York, NY. "During a news conference on Wednesday night, President Obama stood up for the prominent African-American Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., who had recently been arrested by a white police officer in Cambridge, Mass., in an incident rife with racial tension. In a less publicized defense later that night at Union Pool in Brooklyn, the local art-rap group Das Racist offered a song to Mr. Gates, who famously testified on behalf of 2 Live Crew in a 1990 obscenity trial, locating that bawdy group’s performances in a long lineage of black oral traditions. Mr. Gates, though, couldn’t have anticipated Das Racist, a pair of stoner jokesters: Himanshu Suri, whose parents emigrated from India, and Victor Vazquez, of Cuban and Italian heritage. But their sloppiness is a mask for detailed, affectionate hip-hop parody, name-dropping KRS-One and Asher Roth as easily as W. E. B. Du Bois and the literary critic Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Their act is a blend that inspires questions like this one in a recent interview in The Village Voice: 'Is this a joke that everyone thinks is a graduate thesis, or vice versa?' And this one, which Mr. Suri asked the tightly packed, largely white, artfully dressed and coifed crowd on Wednesday: 'You guys like rap music at all?' Both were fair questions. Das Racist formed at Wesleyan: if the Hoover administration promised a chicken in every pot, perhaps what the Obama era has to offer is a joke-rap ensemble at every liberal arts college. But Das Racist’s lack of piety has become an aesthetic of its own, with songs that are as much commentary on hip-hop as rigorous practice of it. (Its music is at myspace.com/dasracist.) On Hugo Chávez, which the band skipped on Wednesday night, its Venn diagram of influence reads as such: 'Listening to coke-rap, listening to joke-rap/Listening to ‘Donuts,’ listening to grown-ups/Listening to Camu, listening to Cam too.' That’s Camu Tao, the indie rapper who died last year, and Cam’ron, perfecter of Harlem’s flamboyant polysyllabic thug-rap and the most direct antecedent of Das Racist’s style, even more so than hip-hop satirists like Plastic Little, J-Zone or the eccentric producer Prince Paul. At Union Pool Das Racist was messy — sometimes appealingly so, sometimes agonizingly so. Mr. Vazquez and Mr. Suri spent as much time pinballing around the crowd as rapping onstage, and their drummer for the night abandoned ship after three songs, leaving his kit unprotected from the random poundings of Mr. Suri and Mr. Vazquez. But there was unerring charm amid the mess, and a heaping buffet of references waiting to be unpacked for careful listeners, of which there were few here. 'Shorty said I look like Devendra Banhart,' Mr. Vazquez rapped. 'Shorty said I look like that dude from Japan’s art/You know, the dude that did the Kanye album cover/ Shorty said I look just like Egyptian Lover.' Lately, Das Racist has become best known for one of its dimmest songs, the blog favorite Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, an entrancing but numbing track based largely on the repetition of the title phrase. It came at the end of the night. A half-hour earlier, Mr. Suri had asked if the crowd was ready to hear 'the fast-food idiot song.' Or did he say 'the fast-food idiom song'? Who could tell? [John Caramanica, The New York Times, 7/23/09].
Lincoln Center Festival. Dennis Russell Davies and Maki Namekawa. Alice Tully Hall, New York, NY. "The concert was presented as a collaboration with the Ruhr Piano Festival in Germany, which commissioned the works by Chen Yi and Philip Glass that made up the second half of the program. Mr. Davies and Ms. Namekawa began with a lively account of Stravinsky’s Concerto for Two Pianos (1935), a work Stravinsky composed for his own use in duo concerts with one of his sons, Soulima. He kept it eminently practical: by arguing that the orchestra parts that might normally be expected in a concerto were incorporated into the keyboard fabric, he guaranteed the work’s portability. And by couching it in Neo-Classical gestures and textures, he made it accessible and appealing, if not quite as sharp-edged as his most enduring work. Its charms include a rhythmically vital opening movement and inventive variations, and Mr. Davies and Ms. Namekawa gave it a supple performance with a hint of modernist steeliness in its closing fugue. They ended the first half of their program with another, more recent oldie, Steve Reich’s Piano Phase (1967), an early experiment in applying to instrumental music the phasing techniques that Mr. Reich discovered in his seminal tape pieces, Come Out and It’s Gonna Rain. The idea is that two musicians playing brief, simple figures begin in unison and then move apart one beat at a time. Eventually they return to the positions from which they began, but along the way the displaced beats create an increasingly dense web of sound from which phantom themes emerge and interact. Or at least, they seem to: Mr. Reich’s real discovery here is the power of the overtone series and of psychoacoustic effects. In his phase pieces we hear rhythms and counterpoint that no one is actually playing. Ms. Chen’s China West Suite (2007) is more straightforward. In a fanfarelike introduction and three longer movements, Ms. Chen elaborates on Meng, Zang and Miao traditional themes. A listener did not have to know the themes to be seduced by them, and Ms. Chen’s settings turn them into flowing dialogues between the pianists. Particularly striking were the stately opening of the Meng Songs movement and the rhythmic pointedness of the dance in the finale. Mr. Glass employs an amusing trick in his Four Movements (2008). The first three begin in musical worlds that you would not readily identify as Mr. Glass’s, but after a few introductory moments, the Glassian hallmarks begin to pile up. The opening movement, for example, starts with a Lisztian rumble. The second sounds like middle-period Beethoven and the third is steeped in Bartok. But arpeggiation, gracefully winding chromatic figures (particularly in the first movement), a syncopated chord figure that appears in many earlier works and even a few specific harmonic progressions all find their way into the music, making its authorship unquestionable. In the finale Mr. Glass drops the allusions to other composers entirely and goes directly to his trademark figuration, which Mr. Davies and Ms. Namekawa, both expert in this music, play with clarity and energy" [Allan Kozinn, The New York Times, 7/26/09].
Death of Michael Steinberg (b. 10/4/28, Breslau, Germany), at 80. Edina, MN. "[He was] an influential classical music critic, teacher, lecturer and author, and the pre-eminent program annotator of his day . . . . Trained as a musicologist, with a degree from Princeton University, Mr. Steinberg spent his early career teaching music history at the Manhattan School of Music. He came to wide attention as the music critic for The Boston Globe for nearly 12 years, until 1976. While a critic he continued to teach at the New England Conservatory, Brandeis University and other colleges. His reviews were erudite and readable, his interests wide-ranging. He stood up for intellectually formidable composers at a time when a postmodernist backlash was taking root and also encouraged the early-music movement, which thrived in Boston during this period. He was a regular critic of the conductor Seiji Ozawa’s work at the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Orchestra officials openly expressed their dismay with Mr. Steinberg’s critiques. So the Boston musical community was stunned when, in 1976, Mr. Steinberg accepted a position as program annotator for the Boston Symphony. It seemed as if he had switched camps. But as Ms. King said in an interview on Monday, Mr. Steinberg had grown tired of reviewing. 'For years,' she added, 'he harbored a secret desire to write program notes for a major symphony and to serve as an artistic adviser or administrator.' His work as an annotator was immediately popular. Suddenly, reading Mr. Steinberg’s long, analytic program notes, rich with anecdotal information and historical context, became an essential part of attending a Boston Symphony concert. Yet it was not until 1979, when he became the publications director and artistic adviser of the San Francisco Symphony, a position he held for 10 years, that Mr. Steinberg had the opportunity to affect repertory and artistic policy. Mr. Steinberg’s program notes, full of vivid descriptions of pieces, were collected in a series of listeners’ guides: The Symphony, The Concerto, and Choral Masterworks, published by Oxford University Press. His account of the 'alien and terrifying' opening pages of the finale of Mahler’s Sixth Symphony is typical. 'From the thud of a low C,' Mr. Steinberg wrote, 'there arises an encompassing swirl of strangely luminous dust: harp glissandos, a woodwind chord, chains of trills on muted strings.' Mr. Steinberg was born on Oct. 4, 1928, in Breslau, Germany. His mother had him sent to safety in England through Kindertransport, the rescue mission that saved nearly 10,000 refugee Jewish children in the months before World War II. After the war, he, his mother and his elder brother lived in St. Louis. After Princeton, while studying in Italy on a Fulbright scholarship, Mr. Steinberg met his first wife, Jane Bonacker. They divorced in 1977, having had two sons, Sebastian and Adam. All survive him. His other survivors are his wife, Jorja Fleezanis, the concertmaster of the Minnesota Orchestra since 1989, and three grandchildren. While living in Minneapolis with Ms. Fleezanis, Mr. Steinberg became the artistic adviser to the Minnesota Orchestra. He continued to write program notes for the San Francisco Symphony as well as the New York Philharmonic. He also wrote liner notes for some landmark recordings, including John Adams’s operas Nixon in China and The Death of Klinghoffer" [Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times, 7/29/09].
International Keyboard Institute and Festival. Mannes College the New School for Music, New York, New York. "Sofya Gulyak [played] . . . Bach-Busoni . . . [and] Shostakovich . . . in a thundering, steel-tread style in which virtuosity is almost everything, and subtlety is an occasional footnote" [Allan Kozinn, The New York Times, 7/28/09].
Posted by Mark Alburger at 9:00 PM