New York Philharmonic Can’t Get Enough of Mahler

Jaap van Zweden conducts the New York Philharmonic (Photo: Chris Lee)

The New York Philharmonic is entering a bold new era for fans of Gustav Mahler and other late-Romantic symphonists, if the opening-night gala concert, led by Jaap van Zweden, was any indication. The Sept. 19 program featured Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, performed days after van Zweden led the same work at the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, where he is in his final season as music director.
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Orchestras Hire Youthful Conductors to Stay Relevant. Is that Enough?

Gael García Bernal as Rodrigo in 'Mozart in the Jungle' (Amazon)

What can symphony orchestras learn from “Mozart in the Jungle,” the Amazon series featuring a dashing young conductor from Mexico who replaces the aging music director of an orchestra, in a bid to invigorate the stodgy institution? In this Slate article from Feb. 4, 2016, I look at various factors that contribute to an orchestra’s perceived relevance and value in its community – starting with the conductors who stand on the podium.

“Orchestras across the country have been buffeted by deficits, declining attendance, and labor unrest; and the Philharmonic, while in better health than many, remains a medium-sized fish in a New York cultural pond dominated by Broadway, fashion, and the latest restaurant openings. While a conductor’s first responsibility is to the music, is it possible in 2016 for the face of an arts institution—or one that wants to remain relevant, anyway—to avoid engaging with the social and cultural context in which he makes his art?” Read on.

Photo: Gael García Bernal as Rodrigo in ‘Mozart in the Jungle’ (Amazon)

Louis Andriessen: A Political Composer for the New York Philharmonic?

Louis Andriessen (photo: Francesca Patella)

The New York Philharmonic this week announced that Dutch composer Louis Andriessen is the recipient of its Marie-Josée Kravis Prize, an award consisting of $200,000 and a commission for the orchestra. Something of a lifetime achievement award, the prize has previously gone to Frenchman Henri Dutilleux (2011) and Danish composer Per Nørgård (2014). Continue reading “Louis Andriessen: A Political Composer for the New York Philharmonic?”

Gershwin in Concert: When Orchestras Prefer Jazz Pianists

Gershwin Rhapsody in Blue with the Boston Pops and Arthur Fiedler (RCA Victor)

During the 1990s and early 2000s, several improvised, jazz-based versions of George Gershwin’s 1924 Rhapsody in Blue arrived in concert halls. Jazz pianists, including Marcus Roberts, Herbie Hancock and Michel Camilo, unveiled deconstructed, semi-improvisatory versions of the score. There were few protests from purists – the piece is a rhapsody, after all, and it can withstand or even be enhanced by novel approaches. Continue reading “Gershwin in Concert: When Orchestras Prefer Jazz Pianists”

Pops Means Maximum Variety for Many Orchestras

Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood (Photo: Brian Wise)

LENOX, MA – Dispelling any notion that the living is easy for orchestra musicians in August, the Boston Symphony Orchestra on Sunday, Aug. 21, presented two-and-a-half-hour, Shakespeare-themed concert at Tanglewood featuring four works: Berlioz’s Overture to Béatrice et Bénédict, Saint-Saens’s Egyptian Concerto (with pianist Dejan Lazić), George Tsontakis’ Sonnets and Prokofiev’s Suite from Romeo and Juliet. Continue reading “Pops Means Maximum Variety for Many Orchestras”

Pops Concerts Change Their Tunes Amid Uncertainty

Boston Pops on July 4th (Wikipedia Commons)

Received wisdom holds that pops concerts are a cash cow, supporting orchestras’ ability to present more serious fare, while reaching audiences who may watch PBS and even buy the occasional recording but aren’t going to turn out for Messiaen’s Turangalila Symphony. But according to a report by the Associated Press, the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular, one of the signature pops concerts in the United States, faces an uncertain future after its lead sponsor pulled out last year. Continue reading “Pops Concerts Change Their Tunes Amid Uncertainty”

Iceland Emerges on World Classical Music Stages

Harpa Concert Hall, Reykjavik (Photo: Brian Wise)

Don’t be surprised to see a wooly sweater or two if you’re on the streets of Los Angeles next spring. The Los Angeles Philharmonic said Tuesday that it will present a Reykjavik Festival in April 2017, featuring five concerts of Icelandic music from across the stylistic map, along with film screenings, lectures and visual art events. Continue reading “Iceland Emerges on World Classical Music Stages”