Music News: March 25, 2014

March 25, 2014

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Symphony on the Road

March 25, 2014

Proposal in Paris: newly engaged SFS clarinetist Steve Sanchez and Stella Shi Photos by Oliver TheilLast week, Music News covered the San Francisco Symphony's appearances in Birmingham and London. Now, SFS Communications Director Oliver Theil picks up the story as Michael Tilson Thomas led his troops on to the Continent:

A pleasant two-hour ride on the EuroStar train through the Chunnel took the 106 members the orchestra, stage crew, and staff to Paris. On the docket were two concerts at the Salle Pleyel in the city’s 8th arrondissement, a stone’s throw from the Arc de Triomph. The 1913-seat hall is home to the Orchestre de Paris, but for the next two nights, the SFS.

The Monday and Tuesday concerts marked our final performances in this hall, as Paris opens a new concert hall next year. An adventurous project, the new Philharmonie de Paris will be situated in the outskirts of Paris, at the Cite de la Musique, also home to the city’s conservatory.

The Jean Nouvel-designed hall is still very much under construction, but MTT, SFS Executive Director Brent Assink, General Manager John Kieser and Director of Artistic Planning John Mangum were given a hard hat sneak preview. Impressive even in this incomplete state, the orchestra’s next visit to Paris will be to the Philharmonie.

MTT with Henri-Louis de la Grange and Marina Mahler, granddaughter of the composerIn a program that also included Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, the Parisian crowd was most wowed by the French premiere of Bay Area composer John Adams’ Absolute Jest, an SFS commission. With absolutely dazzling playing by the Stanford-based St. Lawrence String Quartet, the audience demanded five curtain calls and burst into the European tradition of rhythmic clapping.

While we’ve seen this on occasion on tour after a Mahler or Beethoven symphony, it was overheard that this was unusual in the Salle Pleyel, especially in the first half and with an American premiere no less. The rest of France will have a chance to hear the work on April 1 when Radio France broadcasts a recording of the concert. For Bay Area fans of the work, a CD release of Absolute Jest on the SFS Media label is planned for next year, MTT’s 20th as music director.

The second program featured Mahler’s Symphony No. 3 that, much like in London and San Francisco before it, brought tears and smiles and profound reactions by many of those who heard it. The Le Monde review has yet to come out but’s Gilles d’Heyres writes:

MTT at the Philharmonie de Paris construction site "The Orchestra from San Francisco brought to its Parisian audience all that a symphony orchestra can and should provide: breathtaking precision, subtlety, discipline, flexibility, and suppleness... The trumpets and trombones certainly provided their share of the gloriousness; the trumpet virtuosity of Mark Inouye was matched by the infallible trombone of Timothy Higgins. Other sections were not to be outdone, the percussion section impressive with their rhythmic and stylistic exactness, and the strings giving the audience a sound the color of honey." (Thank you pianist Robin Sutherland for the backstage translation.)

A well-deserved day off in Paris followed. Orchestra members scattered in all directions, trips to the Louvre and the van Gogh exhibit at the Musee d’Orsay, day trips to Versailles, Giverny or descending into the famed but slightly creepy catacombs or just getting lost and eating one’s way around the various arrondissements of Paris.

But one musician, clarinetist Steve Sánchez, had a particularly important item to check off his travel to-do list for the day: propose. Steve popped the question to girlfriend Stella Shi at the Rodin Museum. Unlike the sculpture in front of her, she didn’t have to think about it long, she said yes.

A short flight southeast to the base of the alps took the orchestra to its next destination, Geneva, Switzerland. In the beautifully ornate Victoria Hall, a full house awaited them for another breathtaking performance of Mahler’s Third Symphony. In the hall were Mahler’s granddaughter Marina Mahler, distinguished Mahler scholar Henri-Louis de la Grange, and interim head of the US Embassy, Chargé d’Affaires Jeffrey Cellars and his wife Bethanne. The Cellars, who hail from San Francisco, made their way from Bern for the evening to hear their hometown orchestra. Cellars made his way backstage and told MTT that, tonight, he and the SFS represented the United States about as well as he ever could hope to do. And so on to Dortmund.

After the March 21st concert in Dortmund, SFS went on to play in Luxembourg on Sunday, Prague on Monday, due in Vienna for the two final concerts on March 25-26.

San Diego Opera's Sudden Demise

March 25, 2014

Ian and Ann CampbellNobody outside the board of directors — voting 33 to 1 on March 19 for the dissolution of the San Diego Opera this summer — seems to have known that the future of company was in jeopardy. Reports say company members and San Diego Symphony musicians in the pit were stunned to learn of the decision.

"The San Diego Opera shocked many in the arts world by announcing it will cease operations at the end of the current season, citing a tough fund-raising environment and weak ticket sales. The company's board voted to shut down rather than declare bankruptcy, allowing it to honor its remaining commitments," said The Los Angeles Times.

San Diego Opera General Director Ian D. Campbell said "After nearly 50 years as a San Diego cultural cornerstone providing world-class performances, we saw we faced an insurmountable financial hurdle going forward." He said the decision was to close operations "with dignity and grace, making every effort to fulfill our financial obligations, rather than inevitably entering bankruptcy, as have several other opera companies.” Most recently, the New York City Opera filed for bankruptcy.

Some other North American opera companies falling by the wayside in recent years:

Opera Hamilton, Ontario (January 2014)
Opera San Antonio (2012)
Opera Boston (2011)
Lyric Opera of San Diego (2011)
Cleveland Opera (2010)
Spokane Opera (2010)
Connecticut Opera (Hartford, 2009)
Baltimore Opera (2008)
Opera Pacific (Orange County, 2008)

Campbell responded to a Music News request for comment on Monday:

We are not bankrupt, owe no money, and have no creditors we believe we cannot pay if people honor pledges they made for past-season recognition, but payable over several years. Some will take it as an opportunity not to pay, I am certain, even though they have an ethical obligation to do so.

It is not an expense issue. It is a problem on the revenue side. Drops in both sales and contributions over several years now mean that we doubt we will be able to complete the next season. We will not take money from anyone we expect we may not be able to pay back, so we are not taking subscriptions and are winding down, gracefully, I hope.

We knew this threat was coming, and have worked on it for three years. The Board, which cannot be criticized, stepped up their personal giving substantially, but we have been unable to get the larger donations needed. Many larger donors enjoy being honored with their names on buildings and this may be a contributing factor since we are the only major arts institution, whether performing arts, museum, technology, aerospace, etc. without a building to carry names. That, and a still problematic economy here have conspired against us as well.

There it is. Tragic, but we are facing reality, and hope to go out with dignity, not through bankruptcy.

Among the hundreds of comments on social media:

Opera America describes San Diego as among the top 10 companies in the USA, but it ranks 296th in the world for opera performances per year. This in spite of the city’s enormous wealth and population. UCSD is ranks as the 13th best university in the world, but the city can’t maintain an opera company. Even the San Diego Symphony went through a bankruptcy.

These problems all relate to America’s dysfunctional arts funding system by the wealthy. We are the only developed country in the world without comprehensive public funding systems for the arts.

The funding by the wealthy also helps explain why our companies often only do a handful of performances per year, but with the most expensive singers and elaborate productions. The wealthy do a few lavish performances for themselves and neglect the rest of the community that could be served with a longer run of more economical productions. Our opera companies tend to be cultural country clubs for the rich.

A Disheartening Adler Rumor

March 25, 2014

Pati meeting Rubik's Cube challenge, but probably not joining Adlers in time It's still rumor and speculation, and I hope it won't turn into a fact: One of the most unusual and fascinating young singers of recent years in the San Francisco Opera Adler Fellowship Program may — I repeat may — not fully participate in the year-long program, with peak activity before and during the company's summer and fall seasons.

The young tenor, who conquered audiences during his Merola year, is back home in New Zealand, busy with an extensive tour with his SOL3 MIO trio. He reported on Facebook earlier this month: "4 shows down, 16 to go ... Now just need loads of sleep!"

Pati is scheduled to be featured in the season's last Schwabacher Debut Recital on April 27, to perform songs by Quilter and Tosti, and as of now, no change has been announced, but against his current tour schedule it may be a tight squeeze. Said an Opera spokesman on Tuesday: "It is my understanding that Pene Pati will be here in S.F. to perform his recital in late April."

Supported in the past by both the Dame Malvina Major and Kiri Te Kanawa Foundations, Pati (who now uses his full name of Darren Pene Pati) formed the trio a couple of years ago at the Wanganui opera school, and has turned it into a commercial success with a mix of opera and pop.

If — heaven forbid — he abandons "serious opera," Pati may become one of the few formidable tenors going directly the popera route without having a traditional career.

Sonos Benefit Offers Singers, Miland, and All Them Bells

March 25, 2014

Sonos in V formationJim Meredith's Sonos Handbell Ensemble and the Young Musicians Choral Orchestra he coaches join for a free concert — but inviting contributions — in and for Lake Park United Methodist Church in Oakland on March 30 at 3 p.m.

Meredith writes:

We are doing a benefit concert for Lake Park United Methodist, the church that has so graciously given Sonos and the YMCO Choraleers rehearsal space for some time. That’s an article that needs to be written, the multitude of churches that support the arts by providing space for concerts and rehearsals for many years. Can you imagine how many struggling arts organizations' existence they have made possible?

Participating guest artists are soprano Julia Hunt Nielsen, mezzo-soprano Lisa van der Ploeg, and cellist Emil Miland in an afternoon of instrumental, choral and vocal works for soloists and ensembles, including music from Les Misérables, Bernstein's West Side Story, and Gershwin's Porgy & Bess, in addition to Sonos' signature "Sonics" and "Smirti," plus art songs and opera arias.

405 Shrader's Free Spring Concert Season Begins

March 25, 2014

One Art Ensemble to perform at 405 Shrader on April 18 (and <em>was</em> at last year's Noontime Concerts) One of my favorite music organizations and venues, 405 Shrader — San Francisco's intimate concert hall (40 or so seats) — opens another one of its always free seasons on April 4, with ZOFO, the one-piano-four-hand team of Eva-Maria Zimmermann and Keisuke Nakagoshi. The Steinway Artists, with two Grammy nominations, will play Gustav Holst’s Jupiter, Urmas Sisask’s The Milky Way, and Francesco Di Fiore’s The West Coast Point of View.

405 Shrader founders/directors Ellen and Michael Milensky say "many of the concerts are by young Bay Area artists who have come together into chamber groups to explore both new and old, even standard repertory." The next event, on April 18, is by One Art Ensemble — soprano Ann Moss, pianist Hillary Nordwell, and violist Alexa Beattie — who explore the rather limited repertory forthat combination.

The center of their program are songs by William Bolcom, composed for soprano Benita Valente and mezzo Tatiana Troyanos — before they were finished, Troyanos had died of cancer thus Bolcom replaced her voice with viola.

Eusebius Duo to perform on May 30 The Trinity Alps Chamber Players arrive on May 9 in the configuration of clarinet, violin, cello and piano for a program of Brahms, Bartok and Mason Bates’ Red River. The Phonochrome ensemble, flute, cello and piano, follows on May 16 to perform George Crumb’s Voice of the Whale, and the Eusebius Duo come on May 30 to play the Strauss and Schumann violin sonatas (Eusebius was Schumann’s name for the lyric side of his musical personality).

Performers on other of the Friday evening concerts: on May 9, mezzo-soprano Betany Coffland sings a concert of mostly Spanish songs with her friend, Aaron Caplan-Larget, a guitarist from Boston, and on May 23, viola da gambist Amy Brodo and harpsichordist Katherine Heater perform works from the French and German Baroques.

405 Shrader's Grotrian concert grand piano will serve pianist Jason Chiu when he performs the four Chopin Ballads on April 23, and 405 Shrader proprietor Ellen Milenski who completes her late Beethoven cycle with Op. 111 on June 6.

Concerts are on Friday evenings at 7 p.m.. There is no formal charge but the musicians appreciate appreciation of their work, and when the hat is passed around, a $10 donation is encouraged. A glass of wine is offered following the concerts to encourage conviviality, an integral part of an evening at 405 Shrader.

And one more thing: "reservations are absolutely essential and are made only by e-mail" — [email protected] — and they must be confirmed. With "40 or so seats" order must prevail even in the midst of conviviality.

A View of Opera Management at a Time of Turmoil

March 25, 2014

David Gockley and Carlisle Floyd listen to Adler Fellow baritone Hadleigh Adams at the SFO annual meeting
Photos by Scott WallLisa Hirsch — stern critic in general and no friend of managements per se — contributed this opinion piece to Music News in the wake of San Francisco Opera's annual meeting and the announcement from San Diego Opera:

Elsewhere on the Internet — on Parterre Box — there was a discussion of the upcoming Metropolitan Opera labor negotiations. In the middle of all this, someone made a horrified remark about how much David Gockley is paid when SFO puts on so many fewer performances than the Met. The pay figure cited was $1.5 million.

As it happens, a few weeks ago, I had glanced at the most recent SFO 990 — a tax formed filed by all nonprofits and made public by the IRS — and knew that Gockley’s current salary is a lot closer to $550,000. He was additionally paid a $1 million bonus during the year covered by the form.

I am not complaining about this for a very simple reason: David Gockley saved San Francisco Opera. It’s reasonably well known that Pamela Rosenberg blew through a huge amount of money on non-necessities during the recession earlier in the century, including an infamous $3 million “rebranding” effort; building a second, very expensive copy of a set for Barber of Seville for use in a rehearsal space; reinforcing the opera house stage so it would hold that set (I guess in some sense that was necessary), pricy costumes for invisible choristers in St. Francois, and on and on. The unions were pissed off at her for a lot of good reasons, like allowing unsafe stage practices (there were lawsuits ...).

Gockley at the annual meeting, introducing Floyd whose <em>Susannah</em> is on the Opera's next season Rosenberg hated the kind of glad-handing and fund-raising you have to do in the U.S. if you run a big arts organization, and if you hate that sort of thing, it makes fundraising a lot harder. Gockley made peace with the unions, improved the company’s ability to make DVDs and do video broadcasts, brought in some gigantic donations in support of the company ($35 million from Jeannik Méquet Littlefield, $40 million from John and Cynthia Fry Gunn), increased the size of the endowment, brought the deficits under control, and took some important steps to physically consolidate the company’s operations, which have been dispersed all over the city at great expense to SFO. The costume shop and other shops will be brought into the renovated Veteran’s Building, next door to the opera house; there will be a new archive; there will be a new 300-seat theater for chamber opera.

The careful financial controls have had some effect on programming, of course. A planned new production of Peter Grimes was canceled because of the cost. Programming has sometimes been conservative, with long runs of double-cast popular operas such as La traviata, Barber of Seville, and Madama Butterfly.

On the SFO schedule: <em>Les Troyens</em>, as it looked in the Royal Opera House Photo by Tristram KentonBut even in the face of financial constraints, Gockley has continued an unmatched record of commissioning new operas, largely from American composers. Asked about programming, Gockley replied by e-mail:

When the Recession hit we made what cuts we could: staff salary freezes, executive pay cut of 10%, union concessions in salaries and medical coverage, Peter Grimes canceled, using smaller scaled and revival productions, etc. Our efforts to change the schedule did not work to better our position.

We are closing our scene shop on Indiana St. and are selling the property. We sustained operating deficits over the last three years, though they were not catastrophic. The endowment grew to about $150 million, and we have raised $16 million out of the $19 million needed to redevelop or new leased spaces in the Veterans Building next door.

The last two years we began to feel that the cuts were affecting the box office, and made the decision to "bet the ranch" on the 2014-2015 season, with more productions, more new productions, The Trojans, etc. If this doesn’t bring people out of the woodwork, I’m not sure what would.

Gockley’s impact on the company’s financial health has been huge and will help support SF Opera’s operations for decades. IMO, he deserves every penny of the bonus.

Kronos 40th Anniversary Victory Lap Reaches New York

March 25, 2014

Kronos Quartet: Hank Dutt, David Harrington, Sunny Yang and John Sherba Photo by Jay BlakesbergA feature in The New York Times in advance of the Kronos Quartet's 40th anniversary concert at Carnegie Hall on Friday says the ensemble "has revolutionized the approach to string quartet repertory, performing experimental, jazz and tango (among other genres) and working with a broad range of musicians from disparate cultures."

In advance of the concert, the Kronos is working with the Pannonia string ensemble, a member of the Face the Music program, in which young players are coached in scores written by living composers.

Kronos has added some 800 new works and arrangements to the repertory, some of which will be performed at the anniversary concert, including Aleksandra Vrebalov's Bubbles (with the Brooklyn Youth Chorus), Bryce Dessner's Aheym (with guitarist Bryce Dessner), Geeshie Wiley's Last Kind Words and Omar Souleyman's La Sidounak Sayyada ((both arranged by Jacob Garchik), the world premiere of Terry Riley's The Serquent Risadome, and a great deal more, by Severiano Briseño, Laurie Anderson, Philip Glass, Jherek Bischoff, and Clint Mansell.

Mad Music: New Ives Biography

March 25, 2014

Mad Music is the provocative, but historically and musicologically correct title for Stephen Budiansky's biography of Charles Ives, to be published by ForeEdge, an imprint of University Press of New England, on April 1.

His stamp is no longer enough for first class, but his music will always be Budiansky has made significant new discoveries about the composer, finding previously unknown correspondence revealing the physical and mental impact of Ives' 1918 diagnosis with diabetes. Until now, the sharp decline in Ives' creative output at around that time was a puzzle to scholars.

Budiansky also explores and brings to life "the places, eras, events, and cultural contexts — rural New England of the 19th century, Yale of the 1890s, New York City and Wall Street of the early 20th century — that shaped Ives' development both as a visionary American composer and idealistic business pioneer."

The author adds: "Above all, what makes the story of Ives' life so compelling and of broader meaning is how he succeeded in putting into practice the transcendental ideal of a life lived for the purity of art."

A "local angle" to the book, although it's not part of it: It is to the credit of Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony to champion Ives so forcefully even in an environment without majority acceptance of the man's genius to this very day. MTT's very first subscription concerts here as SFS music director in September, 1995, paired the Beethoven Ninth with sublime Ives choral works, including "The Housatonic at Stockbridge" from Three Places in New England.

Ives paraphernalia Since then, there have been numerous Ives performances, a grand Keeping Score program, and the Brant transcription of "The Alcotts" from Ives' A Concord Symphony on the orchestra's current European tour.

Even in relatively adventurous San Francisco and in the late 20th century, it was somewhat risky to present Ives on subscription concerts. As Budiansky writes, quoting David Schiff:

Much of the continued resistance to Ives in the concert halls ... was due not to the music's technical difficulties (which loom far less large to today's performers than they did in the past) not even to the chaos and incompleteness of many of his scores, but rather to the fact that his music "resists the context of the classical concert altogether," demanding that listeners be participants, and all the while really suggesting that it belongs somewhere else entirely — a town square, a revival meeting, a football game, a Victorian front parlor, a parade: It was music that challenged the very idea of the place of classical music in America.

Local Talent to the Met National Council Finals

March 25, 2014

Julie Adams sang Blanche, with Emma McNairy as Constance, in the S.F. Conservatory's <em>Dialogues of the Carmelites</em> Photo by Betsy KershnerSan Francisco Conservatory graduate and incoming Merola Program participant Julie Adams and 2012 Merola alumn Ao Li are among the nine finalists of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. They were chosen from hundreds of candidates and dozens of regional winners.

The finals on Sunday, beginning at noon PDT, will be broadcast nationwide on the Metropolitan Opera Radio Network, with no known local outlets (neither KQED nor KDFC has plans to broadcast it). Besides the career-boosting fame, the five singers named grand winners will receive $15,000 each, the remaining national finalists receive $5,000.

Annually, some 100 former National Council auditioners appear in Metropolitan Opera productions. Among them: Frederica von Stade (1969), Thomas Hampson (1981), Patricia Racette, Susan Graham, and Renée Fleming (all in 1988), Stephanie Blythe (1994), Eric Owens (1996).

These are the finalists:

Julie Adams, soprano; Western Region
Patrick Guetti, bass; Middle Atlantic Region
Nicole Haslett, soprano; Northwest Region
Ao Li, bass-baritone; Rocky Mountain Region
Yi Li, tenor; Middle Atlantic Region
Christopher Lowrey, countertenor; New England Region
Rafael Moras, tenor: Gulf Coast Region
Rexford Tester, tenor; Middle Atlantic Region
Amanda Woodbury, soprano; Western Region

Ao Li as Belcore in S.F. Opera's <em>The Elixir of Love</em> Photo by Kristen LokenAdams, a native of Burbank, CA, has earned her master’s degree at the S.F. Conservatory, where her stage credits included Blanche in Les Dialogues des Carmélites, Mimi in La bohème, and Fiordiligi in Così fan tutte.

Ao Li, from Dezhou, China, sang numerous roles with San Francisco Opera during and after his Merola year, including The Secret Garden, The Elixir of Love, and The Capulets and Montagues. Last year, he was first prize winner at Operalia.

Both singers have been coached by César Ulloa, whose students include prize-winners in major voice competitions around the world. He commented on the National Council results:

I will be there in New York for the finals to support both Julie and Ao. I've been Julie's teacher for the past six years, and of Ao Li since he entered the Merola program; I continue to work with the two of them among my students, and will coach both in New York before the finals.

It's all very exciting, I am very proud of both of them. They are both extremely talented and hard workers. I am blessed!

Symphony's Blomstedt Years in 15-CD Set

March 25, 2014

BlomstedtIn Germany, it's already available. On March 31 there will be worldwide distribution, including the U.S. of a 15-CD box, titled Herbert Blomstedt The San Francisco Years. Preorder on lists for $59.08.

Among the 30 works recorded in Davies Symphony Hall, in addition to Beethoven, Brahms, Strauss, and Hindemith, there are some the former SFS music director's specialties, such as Berwald, Nielsen, and Bruckner.

The set is released here to coincide with Blomstedt’s return to San Francisco for concert dates April 3-11. From the introduction to the set:

Herbert Blomstedt, 86 years young, is now regarded as one of the last torch bearers of the great Austro-Germanic tradition. He has served as principal conductor of the two oldest great German orchestras, the Dresden Staatskapelle and the Leipzig Gewandhaus.

He also is an expert in Nordic repertoire, being Swedish, though born in the USA. It is in the USA where on record he made the most impact with 10 still much-talked about years as music director of the San Francisco Symphony (1985-1995). With this orchestra, he and Decca made some of the most spectacular orchestral recordings to date, still prized and cited as reference versions by collectors.

Contents of the box:

Bartók: Kossuth, Sz. 21
Concerto for Orchestra, Sz. 116

Beethoven: Symphony No.1 in C, Op.21
Symphony No.3 in Eb, "Eroica", Op.55

Berwald: Symphony No.1 — "Sinfonie sérieuse"
Symphony No.4

Brahms: Ein deutsches Requiem, Op.45
Elizabeth Norberg-Schulz (Soprano)
Wolfgang Holzmair (Baritone)
San Francisco Symphony Chorus

Decca producer Andrew Cornall at playback session with Herbert Blomstedt in 1987 Photos by Bob Adler/DeccaCD5
Brahms: Schicksalslied, Op.54
Rhapsody for Alto, Chorus, and Orchestra, Op.53
Begräbnisgesang, Op.13 / Nänie, Op.82 / Gesang der Parzen, Op.89
Jard van Nes (Contralto)
San Francisco Symphony Chorus

Bruckner: Symphony No.4 in E flat major — "Romantic"

Grieg: Peer Gynt, Op.23 — Incidental Music
Mari-Anne Haeggander (Soprano)
Urban Malmberg (Baritone) etc
San Francisco Symphony Chorus

Hindemith: Symphonic Metamorphoses on Themes by Weber
Symphonie "Mathis der Maler"
Konzertmusik für Streichorchester und Blechbläser

Mahler: Symphony No.2 in C Minor — "Resurrection"

Mendelssohn: Symphony No.3 in A minor, Op.56 — "Scottish"
Symphony No.4 in A, Op.90 — "Italian"

Nielsen: Symphony No.2, Op.16 — "The Four Temperaments"
Symphony No.3, Op.27 — "Espansiva"
Nancy Wait Kromm (Soprano)
Kevin McMillan (Baritone)

Orff: Carmina Burana
Lynne Dawson (Soprano)
John Daniecki (Tenor)
Kevin McMillan (Baritone)
San Francisco Symphony Chorus

Schubert: Overture in the Italian Style: No.2 in C, D.591
Symphony No.9 in C, D.944 — "The Great"

Sibelius: Symphony No.1 in E minor, Op.39
Symphony No.7 in C, Op.105
Tapiola, Op.112

R.Strauss: Don Juan, Op.20
Alpensymphonie, Op.64

Crimean Crisis' Impact on the Arts

March 25, 2014

Denis Matsuev: not welcome in Kiev As Musical America reports, an open letter supporting Putin's annexation of Crimea is having repercussions for Russian artists.

The Ukraine National Opera in Kiev has canceled a concert by pianist Denis Matsuev, scheduled for March 27. The violist Yuri Bashmet has lost his honorary professorship at the Lviv National Music Academy in Lviv, Ukraine. In Munich, City Council Chairman Florian Roth has denounced Valery Gergiev's upcoming appointment as principal conductor of the Munich Philharmonic as "unacceptable." In London, some audience members of the London Symphony Orchestra, where Gergiev is principal conductor, have returned their tickets for his upcoming concerts.

On March 11, Matsuev, Bashmet, and Gergiev were among more than 80 Russian cultural figures to sign a statement published in the Russian newspaper Izvestia in support of Russia’s military intervention in Crimea. Other signatories included Bolshoi Theater Director Vladimir Urin and Zurab Tsereteli, president of the Russian Academy of Arts.

Helen Keller's Experience of Beethoven's Ninth

March 25, 2014

Hellen KellerIn March of 1924 Helen Keller wrote the following letter to the New York Symphony Orchestra describing how she listened to Beethoven's Ninth Symphony over the radio. The source is The Auricle, Vol. II, No. 6, March 1924. American Foundation for the Blind, Helen Keller Archives.

Dear Friends:

I have the joy of being able to tell you that, though deaf and blind, I spent a glorious hour last night listening over the radio to Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. I do not mean to say that I heard the music in the sense that other people heard it; and I do not know whether I can make you understand how it was possible for me to derive pleasure from the symphony.

It was a great surprise to myself. I had been reading in my magazine for the blind of the happiness that the radio was bringing to the sightless everywhere. I was delighted to know that the blind had gained a new source of enjoyment; but I did not dream that I could have any part in their joy.

Last night, when the family was listening to your wonderful rendering of the immortal symphony someone suggested that I put my hand on the receiver and see if I could get any of the vibrations. He unscrewed the cap, and I lightly touched the sensitive diaphragm.

What was my amazement to discover that I could feel, not only the vibration, but also the impassioned rhythm, the throb and the urge of the music! The intertwined and intermingling vibrations from different instruments enchanted me. I could actually distinguish the cornets, the roil of the drums, deep-toned violas and violins singing in exquisite unison. How the lovely speech of the violins flowed and plowed over the deepest tones of the other instruments! When the human voices leaped up thrilling from the surge of harmony, I recognized them instantly as voices more ecstatic, upcurving swift and flame-like, until my heart almost stood still.

The women's voices seemed an embodiment of all the angelic voices rushing in a harmonious flood of beautiful and inspiring sound. The great chorus throbbed against my fingers with poignant pause and flow. Then all the instruments and voices together burst forth an ocean of heavenly vibration and died away like winds when the atom is spent, ending in a delicate shower of sweet notes.

Of course this was not hearing, but I do know that the tones and harmonies conveyed to me moods of great beauty and majesty. I also sense, or thought I did, the tender sounds of nature that sing into my hand-swaying reeds and winds and the murmur of streams. I have never been so enraptured before by a multitude of tone-vibrations.

As I listened, with darkness and melody, shadow and sound filling all the room, I could not help remembering that the great composer who poured forth such a flood of sweetness into the world was deaf like myself. I marveled at the power of his quenchless spirit by which out of his pain he wrought such joy for others and there I sat, feeling with my hand the magnificent symphony which broke like a sea upon the silent shores of his soul and mine.