Classical Music Round-Up: January through March 2016

I’ve been on blogging hiatus for almost two months.  Here’s the low-down.

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Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic. (photo via)

It was announced that Gianandrea Noseda will take over the helm of the National Symphony Orchestra next season, while Jaap van Zweden will join the New York Philharmonic at the podium.  Two more white men in charge of major American orchestras?  No big surprise there, but Marin Alsop might have something to say.  Meanwhile, in Britain, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla will be the City of Birmingham Symphony’s new leading lady, at only 29 years old.  *applause*  And another young conductor on the rise: 25-year-old Jordan de Souza will be heading up Komische Oper Berlin.

We lost some greats in recent months: business mogul turned self-taught conductor Gilbert Kaplan; pioneering composer Pierre Boulez; Pulitzer-winning composers Leslie Bassett and Steven Stucky; Dallas Symphony leader Louis Lane; conducting pedagogue Otto-Werner Mueller; and — just today — maestro Nikolas Harnoncourt.

Now some feel-good stories: a Berlin horn player reflects on collaborating with Simon Rattle before the conductor relocates to London; Tafelmusik’s rendition of Beethoven 9 left one Toronto critic with nothing to criticize; bassist Jane Little just became the longest-serving orchestral musician ever, after 71 years with the Atlanta Symphony; and Ennio Morricone just won his first Oscar after working on the scores for over 500 films.

Mahan Esfahani’s harpsichord recital was interrupted by Baroque-head “rioters,” while scholars have discovered that the taxi horns in Gershwin’s An American in Paris might be pitched in the wrong key, and the Yale School of Music launched its first ever MOOC on Coursera.

As 2016 got off to an alarming start (Donald Trump, anyone?), diverse voices shone — from a powerful performance in a Harlem crypt in solidarity with Black Lives Matter; to violinist Rosemary Johnson and the UK’s Paramusical Ensemble making music through disability; to Julia Wolfe’s big-deal commission — a piece about American women in the workforce — for the New York Philharmonic’s 2018-19 season; to composer Georg Friedrich Haas’ open sexuality.

In U.S. politics, WQXR explored classical music on the campaign trail, while Bernie is, apparently, a gifted maestro.  And in the classical crime beat, an opera singer’s “screams” alerted Amsterdam police, a former St. Paul cellist was caught in a massive drug bust, and a rare French horn stolen six years ago was reunited with its owner.

In Iran, the women of the Tehran Symphony face oppression.  In Germany, an emergency refugee camp is filled with the music of a children’s choir.

Gustavo Dudamel led the Youth Orchestra L.A. at Superbowl halftime.  Grammy-winning violist Kim Kashkashian shares the woes of her name.  The Telegraph had a really interesting conversation with Renée Fleming, Anne Midgette profiled musicians who take time off from performing, and drama continues to unfold in the Buffalo Philharmonic oboe section.

A new Mozart opera was discovered and performed, while for the rest of the opera world, it’s same-old, same-old.

And finally, to end this round-up with a smile: watch a Bach duet played by a 90-year-old husband and wife.

Newsflash/Flashback

A LOT has happened in the classical music world since I was last active on this blog back in early January.  I’ll sum up some highlights from the past half of 2014… but first, a song.

Okay, let’s start with some good news out of the North Star State: after nearly 500 days of a fierce lockout and labor dispute, the Minnesota Orchestra board and Musicians came to an agreement on January 14 that, though necessitating some concessions, reduced the musicians’ salaries far less than was originally proposed and — more importantly — proved that the artistic and administrative sides of a professional musical organization can, despite seemingly insurmountable differences, work together towards compromise.  (See “Minnesota Orchestra lockout is over”, Anne Midgette, Washington Post.)

Things only went uphill from there.  On January 26, the Minnesota Orchestra was graced with a Grammy win for Best Orchestral Performance.  On March 21, it was announced that the orchestra’s CEO, Michael Henson, whom a group of Minnesota state legislators had called on to resign from his post way back in December 2013, would in fact be stepping down come August.  This led eight of the seventy-seven Minnesota Orchestral Association Board members to resign as well, paving the way for a fresh start for the orchestra.  In April, Osmo Vänskä — the Minnesota Orchestra’s renowned music director who had resigned back in October 2013 — was hired back on to help rebuild the orchestra following the preceding months of tumult.  (See “A Conductor, Rehired, Now Must Rebuild”, James R. Oestreich, New York Times.)

More recently, Kevin Smith, who used to head up the Minnesota Opera, was announced as interim president come Henson’s August departure.  And just this past week, it was confirmed that six of the orchestra’s top players who, like many, fled during the height of the lockout will be returning to join Minnesota in its upcoming season.  It’s really an extraordinary story: for over a year, it looked like the Minnesota Orchestra would simply cease to be — but now, it’s back to making music.  Continue reading