As Daniel Wakin reported today in the NY Times, Alan Gilbert has been announced as the incoming Director of Conducting and Orchestral Studies at the Juilliard School. He replaces James DePriest, who will remain on the faculty as Principal Conductor and Director Emeritus. Gilbert will also get some help from James Ross (currently at the University of Maryland), who will serve as his assistant, providing a “more permanent presence” than that of a frequently touring maestro.
Gilbert plans to integrate his work at the New York Philharmonic, where he assumed the post of Music Director in 2009, with his teaching duties at Juilliard. According to the Times article, he will require conducting students to attend rehearsals and will allow them opportunities to meet with members of the orchestra and undertake internships at the Philharmonic.
I’m of two minds about this. I think it will be a tremendous opportunity for Juilliard students, both conducting and performance majors. Gilbert has already shaken things up at the Phil, frequently in ways that have benefited contemporary music. Juilliard may grow in as yet unforeseeable ways as a result of Gilbert’s energetic presence and vision.
On the other hand, as we’ve seen recently with James Levine’s experiences at the Boston Symphony and the Metropolitan Opera, spreading oneself too thin can create problems at both of one’s organizations. While conductors routinely juggle multiple appointments, both of these are high profile and demanding positions. I’m not saying Gilbert can’t manage them, but it’s at least cause for concern. Also, I’d imagine that aspiring orchestra musicians attending graduate school at NEC, Eastman, and other major conservatories are gnashing their teeth at what they may perceive to be too cozy a relationship going on at Lincoln Center.
The New York Philharmonic kicks off its second season of the new music series CONTACT! this Friday and Saturday at Symphony Space and the Met Museum (tickets/details here). The theme of the concert is spectralism. The program pairs Souvenir, a new work written in memory of Gérard Grisey by NYPO composer-in-residence Magnus Lindberg, with Grisey’s own Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil. Lindberg studied with Grisey, and he talks about the connections between them in the video interview below.
And more about his new piece:
And there are lots more video goodies and links over at the NY Phil’s Tumblr page.
My tweet right after the concert on Thursday: “Magnus Lindberg’s Kraft: some very beautiful passages + intriguing spatial effects amidst a joyously chaotic maelstrom of sound.”
It’s a fascinating piece and a gutsy one for the New York Philharmonic to present. I do question the wisdom of programming it alongside Joshua Bell playing the Sibelius Violin Concerto. It threw some of the more conservative ticket-holders a curveball, as they had no idea (unless they’re checked out the promo videos on YouTube) what the Lindberg had in store for them.
There were far more than the “handful” of walkouts Anthony Tommasini noted in his otherwise superlative review in the New York Times. From where we were sitting in the Third Tier of Fisher Hall, we had a birds-eye view of a steady exodus of disgruntled patrons: perhaps 10-15%.
On Friday, I talked about the walkout phenomena with my analytical studies class. One issue we discussed was the notion that many orchestras seem to have of “one audience” vs. the possible lifesaving way forward of cultivating “many audiences.” The former notion seems pretty entrenched at the Phil. I’m glad to see that Alan Gilbert and some of the folks in the press office are exploring ways to curate and cultivate multiple kinds of music-making at the NYPO and leverage social media to find new audience sources. Last year, Ligeti’s Le Grand Macabre was a terrific example of that.
But Thursday’s concert seemed to me to be a holdover of the former way of thinking. Get people to come to hear Joshua Bell, and then have the conductor give a lecture explaining why they should like a loud piece with oxygen tanks and multiple gongs in the midst of the audience. I don’t entirely blame the folks who stormed out for being upset, although I do wish they’d taken the hint and left after the concerto if they weren’t up for an adventure.
Still, for those who stayed, it was quite an adventure. Here’s Lindberg discussing the piece.
How often does a promo video (and indeed, program booklet) from the NY Philharmonic namecheck experimental industrial postpunk collective Einstürzende Neubauten? This is perhaps the first time! But one can really see the connections between the group’s aesthetic and Magnus Lindberg’s Kraft in the videos below: check out their percussion setup!
There’s one more performance of Kraft on Tuesday. If you’re in New York, I heartily recommend checking it out!
Despite there already being many musical highlights since Alan Gilbert joined the orchestra as music director, of late the NY Philharmonic has also had its share of successes offstage. Their PR office has steadily been increasing the orchestra’s presence on a variety of social media platforms – Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube among them. This no doubt in part helped to get out the word about their performances of Ligeti’s Le Grand Macabre.
Their latest addition is a Tumblraccount. Tumblr is a handy platform for sharing media heavy blog posts. In addition to my blog here, I maintain a Tumblr page for File Under ?, putting up videos and audio excerpts that often dovetail with what’s going on here at Sequenza 21.
One imagines a number of ways that the Philharmonic can employ Tumblr, providing one-stop shopping for various videos, audio excerpts, program notes, and press releases: materials that inform both audience members and press folks alike.
To give people an extra incentive to visit their Tumblr blog, the orchestra is entering all of the folks who “follow” the site by Nov. 1 in a ticket drawing. A lucky social media maven will win a pair of tickets to hear them at Avery Fisher Hall!
Sounds like other folks are starting to wake up to the reality of the orchestral labor market. Last April, in response to the argument that salary cuts at major orchestras will prompt their members to flee to better-paying jobs, I argued: …where exactly are all these top-flight musicians going to go? To one of the other 17 full-time orchestras with a yawning budget deficit? The market for orchestral talent is hardly dynamic. There is far more supply than there is demand, and the dirty little secret is that the players aren’t what makes the orchestra great (see NY Phil: great players, underachieving ensemble). Buried in that BSO announcement last month is the fact that they are actually replacing two professional seats with amateurs from Peabody. What matters in an orchestra is who’s on the podium and who’s leading the sections. There’s plenty of room for fair to middling talent in even the great orchestras. […] For now, I’d just point out that what you are generally seeing in Baltimore, Detroit, Philly and other orchestras in similar straits is a dim recognition on the management’s part that the party might just be over, and a determination on the players’ parts to rebuild the bubble. Given their druthers, I get the impression that both sides would be happy to return to their Quixotic days inside the bubble, and that fundamental delusion is the biggest problem facing these institutions.
Two interesting situations are developing that on the surface may not seem connected but are actually deeply related. For better or for worse. Detroit. Charleston. One’s a biggie. The other’s a … not so biggie … though I’m sure that the musicians in Charleston who rely on those jobs to make a living would argue otherwise, and I can’t really blame them. What they have in common is that for years no one has taken adequate responsibility for the long term health of these organizations. Now they’re paying for it. […] While the big boys were jacking up their salaries over the past 40 years, and everyone else was trying to Keep Up With The Joneses, some serious systemic imbalances got contracted into the picture. No one seemed to mind deficit after deficit after deficit. But, unfortunately for us, only the Government has license to print money. The general economy is retrenching and the orchestra business isn’t going to be far behind. The admittedly excellent orchestras like Detroit are now in the position where decades of deficit spending and endowment raiding are going to come home to roost. Whether we like to admit it or not, we musicians have been complicit in this debacle. At some point the long-term health of an organization must be more important than how much the salary will increase during the next year of the contract.
So, how long until we’re a country with maybe 1000 living-wage musicians in 10-15 orchestras in only the biggest cities, and everybody else scraping what they can from wherever; and does that mean that most folk would be fools to invest years learning instruments that so few will pay them to play?
The last thing that Alan Gilbert or the New York Philharmonic needs is another affirmation that they have done something important and memorable by producing Le Grand Macabre in May. There were three (perhaps more?) New York Times articles over 11 days (May 18th, 23rd, 28th), an nice summary over on Anne Midgette’s Washington Postblog, and from just a few days ago there was this over at Newsweek. Of course our own site added to the frenzy of press/buzz here, here, here, here, here, here, and here – and with good reason! I’m quite happy to throw my hat in the camp who counts themselves lucky to be one of the few to see this amazing production. It was everything that I had hoped it would be, and I even got a fancy collectors-edition-style booklet of the libretto with the program.
Some time has gone by since the production (I’m late on my contribution to this, as per my usual), I think it’s enough for me to say that I thought it was great, and to move on to some questions.
After reading all of the press about the production, it seems that everyone who saw it easily and quickly deemed it a huge success. But I’d love to know if the Philharmonic thought it was a success! All three nights sold-out, but we know that a sold-out show doesn’t necessarily mean success. Le Grand Macabre was without question an unusual and elaborate production and must have come with a tremendous expense – just watch this video. All the extra marketing, and YouTube videos; all the lighting and projections and costumes; (presumably) all the extra rehearsals and percussion instruments; etc, etc, etc. I think the big question is: was this a successful enough event that the Philharmonic will continue these kinds of productions in the future? Was dealing with disgruntled subscribers worth it? Was the cost of the “spectacle” worth it? Was all the marketing and rogue videos worth it?
Of course I hope that the answer to all of these questions is yes. I would love to see the New York Philharmonic continue to support contemporary music the way it has since Mr. Gilbert has arrived. It’s clear that he feels very strongly about new music: he brought in Magnus Lindberg, started the Contact! series, and made this incredible Ligeti production happen. I want to know what else he has planned and what else the Philharmonic is willing and capable of doing. But, it seems that a lot of it depends on whether or not the Philharmonic thought Macabre was a success.
In his 5/23 article for the NY Times, Daniel Wakin asked ,”A contemporary surrealist opera at the NY Philharmonic? About the end of the world? On Memorial Day weekend? What are they thinking over there at Avery Fisher Hall?” He then went on to report that “2/3 of the Philharmonic’s regular concert goers were having none of it… subscription sales averaged about 33 percent, the Philharmonic acknowledged…”
When I went to the Philharmonic website last night, I was greeted with message that the entire run is SOLD OUT!
Apparently, the NY Philharmonic was thinking that there might be other audience members interested in the first NY production of Ligeti’s Le Grand Macabre. As Mr. Gilbert says in the Times article,”“It’s about developing and expanding the audience.”
True, Mr. Wakin also wrote about NYPO’s marketing strategies for the show: the website, the videos with “Death and Alan,” and the little eye that’s become the NYPO’s email signature this week. But that was much later in the article, well “below the fold,” well after a snarky set-up.
It would be nice if the Times ate a bit of crow and published a follow up piece, one that reported that Mr. Gilbert’s “risky gambit” paid off. One hopes the information about Le Grand Macabre being a sold out run won’t be buried as an aside in their review of the event. Of course, that’s just one subscriber’s opinion … what do our Sequenza 21 readers think?
Le Grand Macabre premieres tonight at Avery Fisher Hall, with subsequent performances Friday and Saturday. The NY Philharmonic’s website noted that, while the event is sold out, those who want tickets should check back to see if any are returned for resale.
The National Symphony Orchestra has been hosting composer John Adams over the past two weeks in presentations of his own works as well as works of the 20th century American, Russian and English repertoires. Last week he presented works by Copland, Barber, and Elgar as well as his own The Wound Dresser. This week, Adams and the NSO were joined by violinist Leila Josefowicz for a performance that included Adams’ electric violin “concerto,” The Dharma at Big Sur, and the Washington premiere of the Dr. Atomic Symphony.
The program began with Benjamin Britten’s “Four Sea Interludes” from his opera, Peter Grimes. While the opening “Dawn” interlude began on somewhat shaky ground, Adams quickly proved himself a capable conductor of this repertoire. The composer has been doing a lot of conducting over the past decade and it’s beginning to show. His confidence as a conductor, particularly one of pre-WWII 20th century music, has grown by leaps and bounds and the NSO’s playing under him reflected this. Whenever Adams conducts, however, he always presents his own work (it is part of the attraction, after all) and where in Britten and Stravinsky he is confident and capable, in his own work Mr. Adams is simply superb.
The Dharma at Big Sur, not so much a formal concerto for six string electric violin so much as a rhapsodic evocation of cross-country travel , California mythology, and the poetry and prose of Jack Kerouac. This is a powerful work, conveying a joyful energy that is simply infectious. The violin carries the bulk of the musical argument in the piece, with very few tutti moments offering rest from some highly energetic, virtuosic music, and Ms. Josefowicz astounds in her role as Kerouac’s musical manifestation. Her playing is a revelation and she simply OWNS this part. One hopes that she and Adams will come to record the piece sometime, not so much to replace the original 2006 recording with Tracy Silverman, the violinist for whom the work was written, but to complement it, as Ms. Josefowicz brings an exuberant energy to the piece that is just on the edge of wildness, where Mr. Silverman’s recording seems much more sedate by comparison.
After intermission, Mr. Adams and the orchestra took on Stravinsky’s early, slight orchestral showpiece, Feu d’artifice (Fireworks). They handled the work expertly, certainly, but it is a work that has failed to make much of an impression upon me through the years as little more than a youthful work by a composer on the verge of greatness. Indeed, the second half was really all about the Dr. Atomic Symphony, a reworking of material from Adams’ 2005 opera, Dr. Atomic. While the symphony obviously owes a great deal to the opera (and Adams, both in his speeches to the audience in between numbers and in the program notes, rather redundantly stressed the musical connections with the opera’s plot) it is certainly worthwhile as a free-standing work and does not really need any programmatic allusions to make its point. This is a harrowing symphony, full of a wild energy that proves the dark contrast to The Dharma at Big Sur’s sublime apotheosis, and the NSO and Adams gave it a duly appropriate reading which deservedly brought the house down. And while the symphony makes a visceral impression, it is also governed by a Sibelian formal logic that makes it an important addition to the somewhat dormant American symphonic tradition. It will hopefully prove to be one of Adams’ truly major works.
The National Symphony Orchestra, Leila Josefowicz, violin, under the direction of John Adams, will repeat this program on Friday, May 21 at 1:30 p.m. and Saturday, May 22 at 8:00 p.m. at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.