Wednesday, September 20, 2017
The death of Pierre Bergé reminds me of the unexpected consequences of the wealthy fashion mogul’s decision to sack Daniel Barenboim as music director of the new Opéra Bastille in 1988. The cause of dismissal was, ostensibly, Barenboim’s $1.1 million salary, which Bergé wanted to cut by half. Bergé argued that Barenboim lacked operatic experience (true, at the time), that his programme was heavily weighted towards German operas (also true) and that he was too independent (tick that, too). But when Bergé got on the phone and tried to hire a replacement, he ran into a wall of maestro solidarity. No conductor of any consequence would agree to replace Barenboim. Most shocking of all, Herbert von Karajan cancelled a concert he was supposed to give at the Bastille, saying (through a spokesman) that ‘as Daniel Barenboim has been fired in debatable circumstances, he is no longer coming. He will conduct in Paris, but not at the Bastille.’ Now Karajan detested Barenboim. Richard Osborne, in his biography of the conductor, relates that the old Nazi practically leaped up from his sickbed after a heart attack when he was told that the young Israeli might replace him at a couple of Berlin concerts. Karajan never met Barenboim, never invited to him conduct at Salzburg or Berlin and never had a good word to say about the circle of musicians who hung out in Daniel’s den. Despite these prejudices, the conductor-for-life of the Berlin Philharmonic joined and actively led a boycott against the Bastille, outraged that a state-appointed dilettant like Bergé could impinge on the powers of a legitimate music director. In a passion, he picked up the phone and called Barenboim in Paris, asking what else he could do to support him. I don’t remember the details of the conversation, which Barenboim once shared with me (‘I was astonished,’ he said), but the essence of it was that all maestros must stick together or the whole of civilisation will fail. In retrospect, this would prove to be the final roar of the maestro myth . Karajan died in July 1989. Five years later, record labels sacked their conductors wholesale and the power of the podium was broken.
Nina Stemme at the Last Night of the BBC Proms 2017. She was not the only one left open-mouthed by this year's Non-Event LNOP, which was as vision-free as most of the this year's season. Formula works, to some extent. Stemme is is such a megastar that even those who know zilch about music knoiw who she is and that she does Wagner. So nil imagination needed to make her do Brünnhilde while singing Rule Britannia. So no-one really goes to the Last Night for music. But Nina Stemme deserves better ! She's an artist not a cartoon. A few years back, Roderick Williams did it in street clothes. That was infinitely more sincere and moving and more in the spirit of the anthem. Dressing up is all very well, but it needs to be done with genuine flair and humour, the way Juan Diego Florez did last year as Inca Prince and the skit on Paddington Bear as homeless immigrant. (Please read more here). It's not Stemme's fault. It's the marketing philosophy behind the Proms these days that puts commercialism above music. Formula is all very well, and thanks to formula, there were many good Proms this year, scattered around the crass detritus Thanks to good performers who actually like music, not the suits behind formula. How did the Royal Albert Hall get its name ? The vision of a Prince who believed in excellence and learning. Who created the Proms ? A man with vision who loved music and believed that ordinary people could appreciate serious music which wasn't dumbed down. Instead, we're now locked into the "Ten Pieces" mentality, probably the worst case of moronic, musically illiterate goonishness ever. The first year, it was a gimmick but repeated and extended it's become a joke that gone stale. Yet again, formula without vision. Alan Davey claimed "Don't apologise for classical music's complexity. That's its strength". So if he really believes that, why not act on it? For a start, the BBC should scrap the Ten Pieces groupthink and get rid of those behind it. What makes the Last Night of the Proms so much fun is that it's when Prommers party. Party, as in having fun, not party as in Party. As someone interviewed for the broadcast said "We Germans can't do that". They've seen where mass rallies and jingoism can lead. Flag waving wasn't a LNOP tradition til fairly recently, and in principle, there's nothing wrong with it. But there's flag waving because you love your country, and flag waving as a form of passive aggression qnd intimidation. Again, hidden messages. Parry's Jerusalem arranged by Elgar, setting a poem by William Blake whose real meaning has been misappropriated. Read more about that here. What's more, Parry's original version is more questioning than truculent. It might not go down well these days. What also makes the Last Night great is the sense of spontaneity and irreverence. This is why it responds so well to current affairs and social conscience. The Conductor's Speech varies, but the best have been the ones which came from the conductor's heart. That's why conductors need freedom. The job usually falls to the Chief of the BBC SO, the BBC's flagship orchestra, which works so hard all year around. Sakari Oramo's a genial, engaging character, with integrity. No firebrand he. But this year, he was reading a script so banal it sounded like it had been cobbled together by BBC management. All bullet points and mealy mouthed platitudes. Like the bit about women conductors. If the Proms really cared about women, why stick to one token conductor, moulded by Bernstein, whose speeches were self promotion as opposed to the common cause ? Oramo is a good speaker because he's real. Rumour had it that the political powers that be, in whose hands the BBC's fate lies, wanted to control the LNOP speech. And perhaps they did. But if such politicians and those who influence them, (to put it gently) were so secure in their beliefs, why would they feel threatened by Barenboim and Igor Levit ? We don't live in truly democratic times but in a world where those who control the media control minds and use their power to bypass parliamentary process and the very right to dissent. Fact is, most people in the music business, and in the business world in general, have experience dealing with the complexities of the situation. Regular Prommers, the ones who come all season for the music, not just for LNOP, often think on the same lines. So why the fear ? In a democracy, you live with alternatives, you don't suppress them. Nice enough music, though the LNOP isn't really about music. Most memorable apart from Stemme's Liebestod, were Sibelius's Finlandia Hymn in the version made in 1941 witha text relevant to the war between Finland and Russia, and Zoltán Kodály Budavári Te Deum with Christine Rice, Ben Johnson (looking natty in a beard) and John Relyea. Good stuff from the BBC Singers and BBC SO Chorus. Many improvements this year in the physical management of the Proms, like not letting latecomers enter willy nilly, and exceptionally helpful ushers and staff. The people at Door 9 in particular deserve praise, though praise from the public doesn't often get relayed down to the folks on the ground. The presenters are less hyped-up, too, thank goodness, though some of the chat shows were dire.. So many thanks to someone getting things as right as possible., Hopefully those standards of excellence will apply, in future to artistic policy and (dare I say) the Vision Thing.
The BBC has released audience figure for the Proms, showing an 89 percent attendance at the main evening Proms, one percent above last year but still below the 90+% of the previous decade. No figures have been released for lunchtime, late-night and external Proms. Press release below. The 2017 BBC Proms ran from Friday 14 July to Saturday 9 September and featured eight weeks of concerts, talks, workshops, family events and more. Highlights of the 2017 festival included an opening weekend of Elgar with the Staatskapelle Berlin conducted by Daniel Barenboim; the return of the ‘Proms at …’ series, matching music to venues across London and Hull; the first ever Relaxed Prom; Sir András Schiff performing Book 1 of Bach’s ‘The Well-Tempered Clavier’ (he will return in 2018 to perform Book 2); the first complete live performance of Ravi Shankar and Philip Glass’ album ‘Passages’ with Anoushka Shankar conducted by Karen Kamensek; 30 premieres as new music remains at the heart of the festival; and a host of international orchestras, including the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, the Oslo Philharmonic and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. Average attendance for the main evening Proms in the Royal Albert Hall this year was 89% and well over half of the concerts in the Royal Albert Hall sold out. The Proms welcomed nearly 60,000 Prommers through the doors of the Royal Albert Hall, purchasing standing tickets which are sold on the day for £6. More than 35,500 tickets were bought by people attending the Proms for the first time and over 10,000 under 18s attended concerts across the season. David Pickard, Director, BBC Proms, says: ‘It’s been a remarkable season of world-class music-making and our outstanding audience figures prove that classical music is in rude health. Our audiences have embraced the huge breadth of music on offer throughout the eight weeks of the festival – from Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’ Symphony performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra under their Chief Conductor Sakari Oramo to a concert celebrating the music of Ella Fitzgerald and Dizzy Gillespie – and show a huge public appetite for classical music, including new and lesser-known works. Thanks to the BBC – who have been running the Proms for 90 years – I’m delighted that we are able to continue Henry Wood’s founding vision of bringing the best quality classical music to the widest possible audiences.’
The death has been announced of Pierre Bergé, lover and manager of Yves Saint-Laurent. In 1988, the vastly wealthy Bergé was appointed head of the Opéra Bastille, where he clashed with the music director Daniel Barenboim, forcing his resignation over Barenboim’s refusal to accept a 50 percent pay cut. Bergé replaced Barenboim with the unknown Myung Whun Chung and saw the new theatre through to four years past its opening. Chung was fired in 1994 by Bergé’s successor, Hugues Gall. Those were turbulent times, exciting and colourful in comparison to present mundanities. Bergé always described himself as ‘un artiste manqué’.
Good friends, making music! They first met when they were growing up in Buenos Aires, Argentina… Date: Fri, 24. November 2017, at 19.30 Venue: Vienna, Austria Musikverein, Golden Hall Concert of the Society of Friends of Music in Vienna Soloists: Pianist Martha Argerich CONDUCTOR: Daniel Barenboim Program: Franz Liszt piano Concerto Nr. 1, E- major — Pause — Gustav Mahler Sym. Nr. 7, e-flat
"When the city committed itself in 2008 to renovating the Staatsoper, which needed to be reinforced from groundwater leaks, the conductor Daniel Barenboim insisted that the acoustics also be improved. While he and Stefan Rosinski, the former Berlin Opera Foundation general director, advocated a full modernization of the interior, the mayor at the time, Klaus Wowereit, favored a historic preservation in keeping with German laws about cultural heritage."