I’m working on the program notes for the Oregon Symphony’s January 26-28, 2013 concerts, which will be a series you won’t want to miss. The first half is given to Mozart’s magnificent Serenade No. 9 in D major, K. 320 “The Posthorn”. Now, with a nickname like that, you’d expect there to be a virtual posthornpalooza going on. Not exactly. One of the trios of one of the minuets has some prominent passages for the postally-inclined horn and that’s it. Don’t fret, however, the piece is charming and beautiful, and even borders on the sublime on occasion. The second half of the concert contains two of my most favorite pieces in the entire repertoire, and they’re both by Richard Strauss. The first is his early tone poem Death and Transfiguration, Op. 25. It was a seminal work in my journey along the path towards becoming a professional musician, and so it has a huge sentimental attachment for me. Not only that, but I think it’s one of his strongest compositions just from a musical standpoint, and also one of his most vividly told musical narratives. Plus John Williams stole the transfiguration theme for use in his score to Superman. The last work on the program is Strauss’ Four Last Songs. The last pieces he ever completed, they are autumnal settings of poems depicting the close of life with great dignity, affection, and love. Something manages to get in my eye every time I listen to them – imagine the impact of hearing them in person!
Here are my picks for my favorite recordings of the works on the program – enjoy!
A one-day strike at the Cleveland Orchestra ended Tuesday morning with a tentative agreement but the issues that led to the dispute point to troubled times for the nation’s elite classical musical ensembles amid the Great Recession.
Orchestra members struck on Monday, the first such work stoppage here in 30 years. Terms of the agreement between the orchestra’s musicians and the board were not immediately released.
With the looming labor actions possible in the major orchestras of Seattle and Cleveland, it makes me wonder if there will be a shift in the largest budget level orchestras in this country. With the Big Five (now the Big Seven) orchestras in a Reagan-era arms race to maintain salary parity with each other (you can discern from the graph at Adaptistration that three of these orchestras are managing to continue their continual rise in pay levels, while the others are falling away to some extent) you’ve got to wonder where this will end. Cleveland is in a unique situation – it’s a smaller city by far than the others in the top tier, and may have a fundraising base that is similarly sized by comparison. Yet their salaries continue to rise. It’s not that they don’t deserve commensurate pay rates, the Cleveland Orchestra is one of the best in the world. The New York Philharmonic will have added $8 million to its deficit by the end of next season, according to estimates, with $4 million of that coming from the 09-10 season alone. Seattle is in a position where they are essentially rudderless, and with a lame duck music director and executive director (hand-picked by the MD), it must be harder for them to raise badly-needed funds on a consistent basis (aside from the end of year ‘messiah’ gifts from one of the deep pocketed mega-donors). Will Cleveland and Seattle end up like an over-zealous home buyer who got a jumbo loan with an adjustable rate and now finds themselves ‘upside down’ with their costs outstripping their ability to earn? I very much hope not.
This weekend, the Oregon Symphony is performing the early (op. 15) First Piano Concerto of Johannes Brahms with the great pianist Jon Kimura Parker. It’s long been one of my favorite pieces, a stormy, hyper-emotional, post-adolescent expression of the 25 year old Brahms. I only own one recording of this particular concerto, and to my mind, it’s the only one that anyone need own: Leon Fleischer with George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra.
It’s a recording of such supple power, with extraordinary playing by the Cleveland Orchestra at the peak of its powers, and without even a hint of bombast or over-wrought emotionalism that can mar performances of this piece (a prime example being Krystian Zimmerman and Leonard Bernstein’s virtually un-listenable recording).
It will be interesting to see what Carlos does with the tutti passages of the concerto, as he tends to pare down orchestral textures in Brahms to make the inner voices clearer, and present a lean and lithe conception of what often can be rendered as thick and stodgy.
Now, another Big Five orchestra is facing some serious belt-tightening, this time the Cleveland Orchestra (on the heels of the Philadelphia Orchestra):
The Cleveland Orchestra said Tuesday it plans a series of “broad and deep” cuts in response to the financial crisis, another sign that not even great cultural institutions are immune from economic woe.
So serious is the orchestra’s position, in fact, that music director Franz Welser-Most and executive director Gary Hanson volunteered to take pay cuts of 20 percent and 15 percent, respectively, reductions amounting to over $300,000. Other senior management will accept cuts of 10 percent, Hanson said Tuesday.
In addition, the orchestra has outlined plans to reduce the number of concerts here and on tour and seek concessions from its musicians and other unionized workers.