Latest Posts

In Praise of Herbert von Karajan, with a Selective Critical Discography

My immediate reaction to Michael Miller’s commentary on the Karajan centenary [Oh no! He’s not back again, is he? – May 2, 2008] was rather choleric, but I’ve settled down a bit since then and can write this from a relatively balanced perspective.

Hector Berlioz, Les Troyens, Boston Symphony Orchestra, James Levine, conductor

Les Troyens is so widely accepted as Berlioz’s greatest work, that the progress of the Berlioz Renaissance is punctuated by performances of it in the opera house and in concert, beginning, arguably, with Sir Thomas Beecham’s moderately abridged 1947 BBC broadcast. Now Boston music-lovers may consider the Berlioz Renaissance to be something of a noble fiction, since his music has had its own secure place in the Boston Symphony repertoire for many years, maturing with Charles Munch’s arrival in 1949. During his tenure he and the BSO performed and recorded several of Berlioz’s most important works, and the recordingsare still considered among the best. Later, both Jean Martinon and Seiji Ozawa continued the tradition most capably, and Berlioz has been one of James Levine’s great enthusiasms since early in his career. Expertise in Berlioz seems to be a prerequisite for the job. Yet, this is the first complete performance of Les Troyens by the foremost Berlioz orchestra in America, which in the past has only played brief excerpts, above all the “Royal Hunt and Storm” from Act IV. Hence these concert performances of Parts I and II on following weeks, culminating in a complete performance on Sunday May 4, are in fact landmarks.

Black Watch from the Natonal Theatre of Scotland

The Iraq War is an infuriating abomination and I am more than happy to see anything that attacks it. I am also, as it happens, not against seeing fine theatre. Therefore, I was delighted to see two birds killed with one stone at the National Theatre of Scotland’s production of the Edinburgh Festival hit Black Watch at the Scottish Exhibition & Conference Centre (SECC) in Glasgow, as the play continues its tour through the UK, and then on to North America. [Since its first performance at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2006 in an unused drill shed, Black Watch has played before sold out audiences and won numerous awards, not only the Fringe First, but South Bank Show Award for Theatre, the Critics’ Circle Awards (to John Tiffany as Best Director) and others. It played to sold-out audiences at St. Ann’s Warehouse,Brooklyn in October-November 2007, and will return there in October 2008. – ed.]

More from Edinburgh and London…and more Elgar at Bard

The British Museum

This week more reviews from Edinburgh and London will appear, as well as from Annandale-on-Hudson, including a symposium on Anglophilia, no less. There was a fine evening of Mendelssohn with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra under Frans Brüggen with the distinguished young violinist Viviane Hagner, Wagner’s Siegfried, from the Royal Opera’s new Ring Cycle, which is receiving its first full performances this year, and—most British of all—the final weekend of the Elgar Festival at Bard. Reviews of several important exhibitions will follow in coming weeks: Richard Long and the Queen’s Flemish pictures in Edinburgh, and in London, the wonderful Millais exhibition at Tate Britain, al well as the major exhibition of the Queen’s Italian art, a once-in-a lifetime opportunity to see great paintings, drawings, and decorative arts rarely shown in public, including the recently “discovered” Caravaggio, which has been so much in the news.

Art

Why Draw? 500 Years of Drawings and Watercolors at Bowdoin College, May 03, 2017 – September 03, 2017

Lois Mailou Jones, A Student at Howard, 1947. Watercolor over graphite on off-white wove paper.

Between the limits of the discipline, as it is taught in graduate schools, and the structure of museological functions, exhibitions of drawings usually adhere to a restricted range of formats, which, while continuing to be viable for institutions and the public and useful for scholars in the field, can be felt as constricting for those who conceive and execute them. The scope of drawings exhibitions can be determined by time and/or place (stylistic categories), or an artistic personality (monographic), or collection (“Treasures on Paper from…”), and perhaps a few others. When a curator is faced with such a project, he may may find himself wrestling with an urge to break the mold and create something new.

Urban Planning: A Manifesto

The people of New South Wales have been anticipating the upcoming state election almost since the last election four years ago, never a good situation. As regular readers of our dispatches from Sydney know, the soon to be defeated Labor Government has for the past sixteen years, with its inimitably bland, shiny-suited glee, trashed poor old Sydney. A place which with the slightest effort could be the most beautiful city in the world has instead deteriorated into a kind of Los Angeles without a Raymond Chandler, a Melbourne without intricacy, a Singapore without ambition.

One of the most urgent tasks facing the next state government will be the reform of NSW’s broken planning system, a system I saw in action (if that is the right word) during the disillusioning two years I spent in a cubicle at the NSW Department of Planning.

Music

A Crop of Recordings XVIII: Honegger, Bernstein, Rachmaninoff, Smetana, Vaughan Williams

Arthur Honegger

This is the most fascinating Honegger CD I know—brought to us with foundation-shaking  percussion, virtuoso string and brass playing—and astonishing podium originality. Mario Venzago is a Swiss conductor who has recorded the Bruckner symphonies, some of them with this same Bern Symphony—sounding world class here. He’s the sort who takes chances with tempo, the way Bruckner conductors are either admired or forgiven for doing.

Ruth Sommers’ Festival Chamber Music, a Concert Series at Weill Hall (Carnegie Hall) — an Introduction

John Marcus, Violin; Eriko Sato, Viola; Ruth Sommers, Cello; Logan Coale, Double Bass; Tanya Bannister, Piano play Schubert's "Trout" Quintet. Photo © 2017 Richard Termine.

Just about a year ago I had the pleasure of discovering a New York chamber music series I hadn’t heard about, Festival Chamber Music, when I came to hear Mohammed Fairouz’s No Orpheus (2009) for Mezzo Soprano and Cello, settings of poems by our Senior Editor of Art and Music, Lloyd Schwartz, who had made the trip down from Boston to read his texts before they were sung. He has heard several performances of this work since its premiere, and he was well pleased with the work of Christine Antenbring, mezzo-soprano and cellist Ruth Sommers, noting the strong differences in the performances of the work he had heard. One might be tempted to consider the use of a solo cello to do the job of a piano a gimmick, but in fact it convinced me from the very beginning—thanks to a great extent to Ruth Sommers’ eloquent, colorful, many-sided, but disciplined playing.

Theater

The Home  Place by Brian Friel, New York Premiere, at the Irish Repertory Theatre, closing December 17.

Ed Malone as David Gore, John Windsor-Cunningham as Christopher Gore, and Rachel Pickup as Margaret O'Donnell.

You have five more days to see—or to see again—the New York premiere of Brian Friel’s late masterpiece, The Home Place, in its extended run. Between the rich language of the play—subtly heightened, but idiomatic to contemporary ears and sounding entirely convincing in the mouths of Irish and Anglo-Irish English-speakers of 1878—James Noone’s evocative set, the unfailing precision and feeling of the actors, and Charlotte Moore’s crisp direction, it provided the most absorbing and moving evening in the theater of the year.

Two’s Company: Broadway’s Greatest Duets, November 16, 2017, at Merkin

Sally Wilfert, Lora Lee Gayer, Georgia Stitt (piano), John Herrera, Gabrielle Stravelli. Photo David Andrako.

The program, presented in association with One Day University®, didn’t exactly live up to the  “great” part of its name as host, Sean Hilton, made clear in his introduction  explaining the focus was on  “underrated duets.” Exactly right and very interesting—and often fun—to hear music that the enthusiastic audience wasn’t fully familiar with.

Opera

Two New Releases of Lohengrin, part 2: Mark Elder, in a Live Concert Performance from Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw (2015)

Sir Mark Elder

There have been dozens of capable, and more than capable, recordings of Lohengrin. Among the most-often praised are the Sawallisch/Bayreuth (1962), Kempe (1963), Solti (1985), and Abbado (1991). Recording a major Wagner opera involves heavy costs that a record company may be unable to recoup. Hence the appeal of recording a concert performance. This CD set was edited from two such performances in Amsterdam’s famed Concertgebouw (literally: “concert building”) on December 18 and 20, 2015. The performance was semi-staged, i.e., done without costumes and sets. Some evocative lighting was employed. Characters made entrances and exits through various doors, and characters and (I gather) brass players appeared on balconies.

Two New Releases of Lohengrin, part 1: Knappertsbusch’s Only Recorded Lohengrin, Available for the First Time

Hans Knappertsbusch

Hans Knappertsbusch was one of the most renowned Wagner conductors who ever lived. His recordings of Parsifal, especially, are near-legendary among confirmed Wagnerians. It was thus with some excitement that I opened a new 3-CD set from Orfeo, consisting of the first release ever of any performance of Lohengrin conducted by the conductor sometimes known among musicians and opera-goers as “Kna.”

Dance

Complexions Contemporary Ballet at the Joyce Theater

Star Dust - Company. Photo Hagos Rush.

The evening’s big attraction was Star Dust, a ballet tribute to David Bowie. But to reach that gem, the audience first had to deal with Gutter Glitter, an “abstract landscape of contrasting ideas,” the first installment of choreographer Dwight Rhoden’s Collage Series. To recognize the dancers as extraordinary is an understatement. However, the work was disjointed and danced to music that didn’t connect to it, especially the bits that sounded (intentionally) like broken glass. The movements, with many enormous extensions and sinuously stretched arms and legs, didn’t make me see or understand what was meant by “discovering the light in darkness.”

Legends & Visionaries—The New York Theatre Ballet at the Danspace Project

from Legends & Visionaries by the New York Theatre Ballet

New York Theater Ballet continues to forge ahead. Now in its thirty-ninth season, NYTB brings new ways to look at classics together with the opportunity to see work by up-and-coming choreographers. Legends & Visionaries, presented as a tribute to the late David Vaughan, dance archivist, historian and critic, began with sweetly moving remarks by NYTB company founder and artistic director, Diana Byer, Vaughan’s friend and mentee.

Literature

The 36th Bloomsday at Symphony Space, 2017

James Joyce, circa 1922

The thirty-sixth celebration of Bloomsday at Symphony Space, originally conceived by SS ‘s late founder, Isaiah Sheffer, was a fitting tribute to Ulysses and its author, James Joyce. With a projection of Joyce’s face looking down on either side of the stage, the audience reveled in panel discussions; music including a beautiful rendition of Love’s Old Sweet Song, as discussed by Molly Bloom in the book and a “Whirlwind Tour through all 18 Episodes.” This Joyce fest offered something for even the most die-hard fan.

riverrun runs wild in Brooklyn, with performance artist Olwen Fouéré

Olwen Fouéré in riverrun at BAM. Photo Rebecca Greenfield.

You’ve doubtless read somewhere or another or heard someone say that our relationship to novels is much like our relationships to people (our relationships to their authors, living and dead, are a whole other thing). That may sound trite, but it has its degree of truth. In no case is it so true as in the case of Finnegan’s Wake. In most cases James Joyce’s last novel is like some celebrity academic, who jets constantly between, say, Paris and Berkeley, but never crosses our path. Others may have approached the great man at the podium after a lecture and tried to ask a private question, only to be

About NYC

Cinema

Silver Stream – Short Film: Grace Kiley – Writer, Director & Actor – Kickstarter Campaign ends on May 22!

Diagnosed with a progressive illness at the time of her daughter’s birth, Anna made the decision to give her daughter, Una, up for adoption when she was just 2 weeks old. Twenty-seven years later, Anna feels compelled to contact Una in order to pass on her inheritance, “some good and some not so good.”  Anna’s illness has begun to affect her daily function. She assumes her daughter was raised by the privileged family who adopted her, but soon discovers a very different story.

Kino!2017, a Festival of German Cinema at the Sunshine, Closes on April 6

Lilith Stangenberg in Wild.

For its fourth season as an independent festival, Kino!2017, has moved to everyone’s favorite art house, the Sunshine Cinema, as congenial a venue as possible for the screenings and the inevitable lively discussion around them. Curated by New York film professionals—distributor Meghan Wurtz, journalist Karl Rozemeyer and festival consultant Marian Masone, Kino!2017 presents twelve feature-length films, including one North American premiere, five US premieres, four East coast premieres and two New York premieres, plus the Next Generation Short Tiger 2016 selection.

Places

Bomarzo tra il Santo Biscotto e la Fava Marxista: La Festa di Sant’Anselmo (April 23-25, 2014)

Il biscotto di Sant'Anselmo

My days in Bomarzo in 2009 did not show the town at its most industrious…or, on the contrary, perhaps it did. The end of April and the beginning of May mark holiday season in this medieval hill town of fewer than 1800 inhabitants. The third weekend of the month and the weekdays that lead up to it mark the festival of the local saint, Saint Anselm of Bomarzo, the 25th also being the national holiday of the Liberation. The following weekend embraces May Day, the international celebration of the working man and woman, which needs no explanation. A young person asked me why we don’t celebrate this holiday in the United States, conjuring up old photos of the police and the National Guard in my mind.

Seven Ways to Improve the Tour de France

Cycling fans watch the opening time trial of Paris-Nice in Saint-Rémy-lès-Chevreuse, 3 March 2012. Photo © 2012 Alan Miller.

I wouldn’t go so far as the three-time world-champion Óscar Friere, who reckons that the Tour de France is “the most boring race of the year” — has he ever watched the Tour of Qatar? — but this year’s race did make me wonder how many more like it the old institution can take. Institutionalization is the Tour’s great burden, or at least its double-edged sword. For the casual fan it is the ‘race of record,’ cycling itself. Those who follow the sport more closely understand that while the Tour is undeniably the most competitive, and therefore the most prestigious, among the three Grand Tours of Italy, France and Spain, it often not the most interesting.

Food & Drink

Podcasts

Paavali Jumppanen, Pianist, Talks to Michael Miller before his Recital at the Frick Collection, Sunday, October 8, at 5 pm.

Pavaali Jumppanen

I’m very pleased to present this interview with Paavali Jumppanen, who will be playing a recital at the Frick Collection this coming Sunday, October 7, 2017, at 5 pm. He will play works by three composers he has studied in particular depth over many years: Beethoven, Debussy, and the William Duckworth (1943-2012).

Manfred Honeck talks to Michael Miller about Mahler, Bruckner, and Conducting

Manfred Honeck. Photo Felix Broede.

Anyone who has heard Manfred Honeck conduct his own Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in Heinz Hall or in their exemplary recordings on the Exton and Reference Recordings labels will know what a treasure he is for the world of music. This week he will conduct the New York Philharmonic in Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto with Inon Barnatan and Mahler’s First Symphony. He has made something of a speciality of this composer, a fellow Austrian. His recorded cycle with Pittsburgh now includes Symphonies No. 1, 3, and 5. Maestro Honeck also has special insight into the work of Anton Bruckner, another fellow Austrian. He has so far recorded Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony and looks forward to recording the Ninth.

In this interview you will learn something about the care and intelligence he puts into preparing his performances and his particular feeling for these great composers.