Author Archive: Steven Kruger

Steven Kruger is a former classical concert agent. For a number of years he supervised the roster of conductors at Shaw Concerts in New York City, representing such artists as Sir Andrew Davis, Sir Neville Marriner, Rafael Fruhbeck De Burgos, Jose Serebrier and Robert Shaw.

Born in New York City in 1947 to a German immigrant father and an American mother, Kruger is a descendant of 19th century Bach biographer Philipp Spitta. He was educated at Phillips Exeter and Princeton, and received his degree in Philosophy, but turned to music administration after a brief career as a military officer and as a stockbroker.

Early in his exposure to music, Kruger developed a special fondness for the British Symphonists, and as a concert agent was able to play a part in the revival of such composers as Elgar, Delius, Walton, Bax and Vaughan Williams during the late 1970s.

He continues today as an advocate for these and other 19th and 20th century neo-romantic symphonic composers, such as D’Indy, Magnard, Korngold, Schmidt and Tubin, who were at one time eclipsed by the mid-century fashion for academic music. Now living in California, Steven Kruger reviews selected concerts in Davies Hall by The San Francisco Symphony and international visiting orchestras. Since 2011, he has written program notes on demand for the Oregon Symphony, including their recent CDs, “Music for a Time of War” and “This England”. He contributes a regular CD review column to New York Arts twice a month called A Crop of Recordings and is a masthead reviewer for Fanfare, America’s most serious remaining hardcover journal devoted to recorded music.

Vasily Petrenko leads the SF Symphony in Glinka, Lalo, and Rachmaninoff, with Joshua Bell, violin

Vasily Petrenko

I don’t know how many in the audience had ever heard anything like it, a symphony dragging itself to a conclusion like a wounded beast over shrieking strings, bass drum rolls gone mad, brass, cymbals and tam tam flashing like jaws and teeth. And then, there was that set of hall-flattening final chords, like crates dropped on the stage, followed by silence for five seconds, broken only by a quiet “Jesus!” under someone’s breath. Welcome to the Rachmaninoff First Symphony!

A Crop of Recordings XV: Bizet, Brahms, Dvořák,and Jongen!

Joseph Jongen

As well-written program notes remind us here, Georges Bizet was an unlucky man. Chain-smoking killed him at 36. He died thinking Carmen a failure. And his Symphony in C went unknown and unheard until Felix Weingartner unearthed it eighty years later at a 1935 concert in Basel. None of this gets in the way of the fact that the piece is memorable from beginning to end, even if similarities to Gounod’s symphony are a bit on the suspicious side. Bizet’s own symphonic effort was catalysed by the experience of transcribing Gounod’s work for two pianos. At times one can hardly tell the two pieces apart.

Charles Dutoit conducts the San Francisco Symphony with Emanuel Ax, piano, in Sibelius, Mozart, de Falla, and Debussy

Gustave Courbet, The_Wave, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Scotland

If you ever wonder how Sibelius’ music seems to come in two styles, one bardic, noble, warmly patriotic and slightly thumpy; the other austere, cerebral, craggy and interplanetary, think Karelia. This is the eastern portion of Finland near the White Sea, where ancient forms of native song and poetry still obtained at the turn of the last century. As Vaughan Williams scoured England for folksong and Bartók transcribed them in Hungary, a similar romantic enthusiasm for Finnish roots swept young Finns of the day. Karelianism, it was called, and Sibelius’ suite derives from the music he wrote for the Karelia Pageant of 1893, which represented something of a culmination of the movement. The opening “Intermezzo”, otherwise a contradiction in terms, was in fact used to separate two tableaux within the festivities.

A Crop of Recordings XIV: Richard Strauss, Bruckner, Brahms, and Wagner

Richard Strauss Conducting

Here is a really lovely performance of Ein Heldenleben, perfectly recorded in Frankfurt’s Alte Oper. From the very first note—that rich ocean-liner steam whistle signifying a voyage through life—it’s satisfying—if, that it is—you like things a bit understated. You are sitting about row “K,” and the orchestra is laid out before you at a slight distance. Listeners familiar with the many videos of this orchestra on YouTube will not be disappointed at the fine balances and purring nature of the sound. This is a satiny, swift reading, gently beautiful, supple and romantic in an undemonstrative way. It reminds me of Reiner’s and Kempe’s versions, both of which bring the piece home similarly at around 45 minutes.

Emmanuel Villaume leads the Prague Philharmonia in Smetana and Dvořák, with Gautier Capuçon, cello

Emmanuel Villaume and the Prague Philharmonia

must have been in a Fantasia mood for this program—funnybone at the ready. There was something cartoon-friendly about the array on stage Sunday afternoon—an orchestra half the usual size—an enormously tall conductor in black maitre d’ tails with a huge bald head, black goatee and a tiny baton—a remarkably small cellist by his side. Were we about to hear a concert in caricature by the Katzenjammer Kids? It would seem so. My bad!

A Crop of Recordings XIII: Richard Strauss, Hans Rott, Alberto Ginastera, Robert Schumann, and Gabriel Fauré

Alberto Ginastera with Cat

This is a groundbreaking recording—and a wonderful one! I first became aware of Elektra on an old Fritz Reiner/Inge Borkh LP of excerpts. The unusual violence of Strauss’s harmonies appealed to my teenage ears. Not long after, Georg Solti taped the complete opera, though without, I felt, the same crushing power from the podium as Reiner. But the sound of the orchestral score remained with me, and I always hoped someone would put together a suite. It’s taken 54 years in my case—but here it is!

Memorial Hall, Chapel Hill, North Carolina – Two Orchestras, East and West

Tonu Kalam

I had the pleasure of visiting Chapel Hill at a festive, eclectic time early last December. It was exam week at the University of North Carolina. This won’t quite be a review as a result—more a series of hopeful impressions from that impressive musical crucible. Old friend Tonu Kalam, who leads the UNC Orchestra, and new wife Karyn Ostrom, who plays violin in it, pulled out all the stops for my visit. In the course of several days, I took in Kalam’s orchestra at rehearsal and concert, witnessed a conducting class, attended a student chamber recital and heard the China Philharmonic perform a new concerto written for UNC pianist Clara Yang. I came away impressed, as I always do at UNC, rejuvenated by the high level of musical interest and talent at play on campus.

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