Tonight, conductor Nikolaj Szeps-Znaider and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra present an evening of Strauss (Johann II and Richard) and Schumann. The concert will feature cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras. You can see the concert at https://www.dso.org/live. Here’s the program:
This morning, April 13, 2018 at 10:45 AM (GMT -4) The Detroit Symphony Orchestra will offer a free live webcast (see it here) with the following program:
Shostakovich: Violin Concerto No 1 with violinist Ray Chen
Schumann: Symphony No 1, “Spring”
Hannu Lintu will conduct.
Tomorrow, April 14, 2018, OperaVision will present a live stream of events from Den Norske Opera in Oslo to celebrate the opera house’s 10th anniversary. You can see it on the OperaVision YouTube channel. Highlights of the broadcast will be an attempt at a world record (at 8:15AM ET, GMT-4) for the largest number of people singing Verdi’s aria Va Pensiero from the roof of the opera house (which can also be seen on OperaVision’s Facebook page), and a live performance of Verdi’s La Traviata at 3:00PM ET (GMT-4).
Recently, I was talking with some folks who were lamenting the dwindling size of classical concert audiences, and we were trying to think of ways to rebuild them. It’s a nearly universal phenomenon.
I think I understand one of the reasons why classical music (concert or recording) is such a hard sell these days.
Or rather, time and focus.
Both, it would seem, are in precious little supply these days. There is more to do, there are shorter deadlines, there are more things vying for our attention.
And a symphony takes, say, 45 minutes. Nobody has 45 minutes in one block anymore. And that’s just listening time. If you’re going to a concert, you have to include travel time, intermission…you get the idea. And to get to the concert, you’re probably going to have to fight traffic, not conducive to preparing one for focused listening. Oh, and don’t forget to turn off your phone before the concert (and check if there’s anything you need to attend to immediately?). After the concert, when you turn your phone back on, it will be sure to alert you if you missed anything.
But then, people go to pop concerts. Since the time commitment’s the same, what’s different? Well, there’s more moving around on stage, possibly dancing. People have their phones out taking pictures or videos, tweeting. There might be a light show* and pyrotechnics. I don’t advocate pyrotechnics for a classical concert (except in the case of the 1812 Overture, then definitely). And it’s hard to dance with a cello.
And, the obvious, the songs are shorter, the form of the music is easier to grasp, and the tempi are probably faster. James Gleick, in his book Faster,1 explored the speeding up of modern life; others have noted the same trends. You can have your groceries delivered if you have no time to shop, and make dinner in an Instant Pot cooker if you have no time to cook. Texts have replaced emails, which replaced written letters (cursive writing is facing near extinction). We are in the age of the tweet and tl;dr (too long; didn’t read…thank you for your continued reading!)
What was the complaint about Glenn Gould’s Goldberg Variations in 1981? Oh yeah—too slow. Was he trying to tell us something?
Schubert’s sonatas have been said to unfold “at heavenly length.”**
When was the last time you had the luxury of that kind of time?
So, what do we do about these concerts? I wish I had a surefire answer. We might make them more approachable, more lively. We might change the programming a little; in the early 20th century, one might hear a sonata movement, not the entire sonata. That’s not necessarily true to the composer’s intent, but now, if something catches your ear, you can probably hear the rest of it on demand and explore. Others have noted the tyranny that audio recording has imposed on live performance—there is less risk-taking, because people want to hear what they heard in the recording, which is flawless, immaculate (and the product of numerous takes and editing). I’d prefer to hear someone playing from their soul, taking some risks, even if it means a few mistakes are made.
Or we can hope that the pendulum will swing back, and people will begin to turn away from the relentless jangling go go go of getting and spending,2 quick, easy, fast, now living, and turn more toward a slower, more deliberate pace, with focused attention and the taking of time. And, with that, the savoring of classical music.
Thank you for your precious time and attention, now and always.
*The organist Virgil Fox had light shows at some of his concerts. But then that was the 1970s…
**Robert Schumann first applied it to Schubert’s Symphony in C Major; it was later more broadly applied to his sonatas.
- Gleick, James, Faster. New York: Pantheon Books, 1999.
- from William Wordsworth’s The World Is Too Much With Us, via poetryfoundation.org. It was written around 1802, published in 1807 (also see Written in London. September, 1802).
Image attribution: Difficult times via https://imgur.com/gallery/Mb8q5.
They threw away half
Of all the great music that
Might have been written.
They threw away half
Of all of the great music
That could have been heard.
No time to write for
The hand that rocked the cradle
And maintained the home.
No baton left for
A matron, mom, or maiden
On the podium.
For lack of training
And of opportunity
We lost their voices…
Nearly—just a few
Managed to break down the walls
And make themselves heard.
Today is more than
Women’s Day—it’s time to rise,
Conduct, play, compose.
Today is International Women’s Day. You may see any number of articles on Clara Schumann, Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, maybe even Hildegard von Bingen or Amy Cheney Beach. You can follow the links to articles on each of these remarkable women in this blog.
Women were traditionally underrepresented in classical music. What’s the situation now?
If you look at an old photograph of any orchestra, you’ll see a sea of tuxedos, and not a woman in sight (wait…maybe there’s one hidden behind the harp). Look at a current photo, and you’ll see some women in the orchestra. So, progress is being made. But you’re still unlikely to find an equal distribution.
When we turn to the topic of female conductors, everyone first thinks of Marin Alsop—and then perhaps there is a long pause. However, journalist Jessica Duchen has compiled a list of over 100 female conductors. Duchen includes links to the conductors’ websites as well as brief bios, and these are fascinating. But if we can name only one out of a hundred, there is still a long way to go.
Sadly, a search using the words “women classical music soloists” yields articles with titles containing the words”hottest,” “sexiest,” and “pin-ups”…and I’m going to be ill now.
While there may be more women composers now than in previous times, a 2014 study11 found that women constitute only 15 percent of composition faculty in the top 20 music schools in the United States. More than half of these schools have no women among the composition faculty at all. Women constitute less than 15 percent of living composers whose works are presented by orchestras and in new-music series.11
Are things better than they were? Yes.
Has the problem of underrepresentation been solved? No.
We still have a long way to go, but the progress that has been made is somewhat encouraging.
Below you will find a number of articles on this topic that may be of interest.
- Gregory, Alice, “A History of Classical Music (The Women-Only Version),” The New York Times, December 2, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/12/02/arts/music/01womencomposers.html?_r=0
- “The Great Women Composers,” Classic fm, http://www.classicfm.com/discover-music/latest/great-women-composers/
- Rivera, Jennifer, “Where Are All the Women in Classical Music?” The Huffington Post, September 21, 2016 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jennifer-rivera/where-are-all-the-women-i_1_b_12095342.html
- Tsioulcas, Anastasia, “What is Classical Music’s Women Problem?” NPR Classical Deceptive Cadence, October 9, 2013 http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2013/10/09/230751348/what-is-classical-musics-women-problem
- Pentreath, Rosie, “9 of the Best Contemporary Female Composers,” Classical-music.com, March 8, 2017 http://www.classical-music.com/article/six-best-contemporary-female-composers
- Cooper, Elinor, “10 Female Composers You Should Know,” Classical-music.com, March 8, 2016 http://www.classical-music.com/article/10-female-composers-you-should-know
- Duchen, Jessica, “Why the Male Domination of Classical Music Might Be Coming to an End,” The Guardian, February 28, 2015, https://www.theguardian.com/music/2015/feb/28/why-male-domination-of-classical-music-might-end
- Tilden, Imogen, “’This is not a woman’s issue’—Tackling Conducting’s Gender Problem,” an interview with Marin Alsop. The Guardian, February 6, 2017 https://www.theguardian.com/music/2017/feb/06/this-is-not-a-womans-issue-tackling-conductings-gender-problem
- Beer, Anna, “The Sound of Silence: Classical Music’s Forgotten Women,” The Guardian, April 2, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/apr/02/sound-silence-classical-musics-forgotten-women-caccini-strozzi
- Elizabeth, Jordannah, “10 Black Female Women Composers To Discover,” https://bitchmedia.org/post/10-black-female-women-composers-to-discover
- “Her Music: Today’s Emerging Female Composer,” WQXR, August 20, 2014, http://www.wqxr.org/#!/story/her-music-emerging-female-composer-today/
The other day I decided I would listen to some Mozart overtures. DSO Replay has an “Outstanding Overtures” category, and there a number of overtures from their recent MozartFest.
I looked away for a bit, and suddenly, I realized it wasn’t Mozart I was listening to anymore. The style was different. In fact, it sounded like the soundtrack to an action movie, maybe one with a romantic plot line as well. If you closed your eyes, you could imagine the credits rolling on the screen. What was this?
It turned out it was Schumann’s Overture to Manfred.
Seeing that it’s an overture, you might be thinking, “Schumann wrote opera?” Well, he wrote one, Genoveva, that was poorly received at the time.* Manfred is not an opera, it’s incidental music, that is, music that is intended to set a mood (or accompany a play; and if you look it up, it has now become synonymous with soundtrack). The Overture to Manfred was written about the same time as Genoveva. It is based on the poem Manfred by Lord Byron. It includes an overture, choral and solo performances, and musical interludes.
If this is a soundtrack, here is the plot. The poem Manfred tells the story of a man consumed by guilt for some sin which remains unnamed. He grieves for Astarte (he may have had something to do with her death), and conjures spirits to help him forget. They can’t help him. He attempts suicide and fails. He sees Astarte, who tells him he will die the next day, and he does. You can read and download the poem in a modern PDF file here. You can read and download it as a scan of the 1817 publication here.
Byron was living with the family of poet Percy Bysshe Shelley at the time, and they entertained each other with gothic tales of ghosts and horror. Mary Shelley was in the midst of writing Frankenstein.
When Schumann read Manfred, he was greatly affected by it, and immediately started writing music for it. The poem is also the inspiration for Tchaikovsky’s Manfred Symphony.
I hope you will enjoy the overture. If you would like to see the entire work, it can be seen here. The score may be found here.
*One opera house turned it down. When it was finally performed, there were only three performances. There are occasional revivals.3 In 2008 Nikolaus Harnoncourt recorded Genoveva as a staged performance (it is available on DVD).4
- Manfred, Byron’s poem https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manfred and Manfred, Schumann’s composition https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manfred_(Schumann)
Image attribution: Photograph of Robert Schumann by Johann Anton Völlner, Hamburg [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Schumann-photo1850.jpg
In case you missed it in my Twitter feed, I thought you might enjoy this humorous video, “How To Be a Classical Musician.”
Since you’re reading this, you are likely to be over five years of age, and (according to the video) too old to learn violin, so, if you don’t play an instrument already, which instrument would be best for you? Again, more silliness to help you make your selection, a funny flowchart titled “Which musical instrument should I choose?” It is too detailed to see small on this page, so the link takes you to the attachment page, where you can magnify it clearly (click the image, then click it again to magnify).
The long and short of it all? It doesn’t matter–pick the instrument you love/can afford/can fit in your space/can play without getting evicted. If that doesn’t work out, pick another one. And don’t let little things hold you back.
Want more advice? See the Robert Schumann essay from which my title is drawn, “Advice to Young Musicians,” which I have written about previously (see post here). Cellist Steven Isserlis will release a new version of this classic soon that includes his own insights.
And then, to quote a more recent source of musical advice, “Rumble, young musicians, rumble.”1
Image attributions: Musical instrument flowchart from the now defunct Sinfini Music, which has been absorbed by Deutsche Grammophon. Ritardando illustration from https://flic.kr/p/bDbXTR
I just finished watching WQXR’s webcast featuring violinist Joshua Bell and pianist Jeremy Denk, and thoroughly enjoyed it. It is available only today and tomorrow, so I hope you’ll get a chance to see it. Here’s the program:
Robert Schumann: Romance No. 2
Brahms: Violin Sonata No. 3 in D minor, Op. 108
Brahms: Intermezzo in B minor, Op. 119, No. 1
Brahms: Hungarian Dance No. 1
Clara Schumann: Romance No.1
Bell and Denk, along with cellist Steven Isserlis, are releasing a new CD in September 2016, “For the Love of Brahms.” The CD will include Brahms’s Trio in B Major, Op. 8 in it original formulation from 1854. Typically, the 1889 revision by Brahms is performed. It is said Brahms refined the trio and removed some of the less-reserved romanticism of his youth in the revision, so it will be very interesting to hear this original version.