It’s my prerogative. Wait. Is it my prerogative?

Anton Bruckner

Anton Bruckner circa The Fantastic Moustache Epoch

How much can, or should, a personal choice influence a conductor’s decisions? These kinds of questions are often asked about tempi, dynamics, balances, etc., but what about in the broader context of something like a performing version? How does one, for example, choose to do the Cooke completion of Mahler 10 vs. the Carpenter vs. the Wheeler vs. the Mazzetti? All the research in the world is likely to lead you to the same place: get some guts and pick something already.

This question came into my head recently while being engrossed in Bruckner’s Third Symphony. The murky history of Bruckner’s various performing versions needs little explanation; it’s like trying to decide which Oprah to use based on weight. Short of playing pin-the-tail-on-the-performing-version, conductors are left with mountains of research, counter-research, anecdotes, hearsay, and innuendo to make their calls. Surely, at some point, “I like this one” becomes an acceptable answer. Continue reading

Is Gustav Mahler the ‘Ice, Ice Baby’ to Hans Rott’s ‘Under Pressure’?

Paavo Jarvi, the reigning Prince of Turtlenecks, has recently been in the process of performing and recording the Hans Rott Symphony in E major, a work that has generated mild interest in the past, but has picked up steam in recent years.

Jarvi, though, is kicking it into overdrive…based on these fairly strong accusations against none other than Gustav Mahler.

I listened to the Rott Symphony again today because of all this ruckus (the premiere recording with the great Gerhard Samuel and the CCM gang)…

There are a few small details here and there that certainly caught my ear as being familiar from Mahler. For example, there is a spot in the first movement of Rott that sounds very similar to the spot in the finale of Mahler 7 after the first section ends and the woodwinds are holding that chord as a transition into the next section of the movement…

And yes, the first two bars of Rott’s Scherzo and the Scherzo from Mahler 2 are essentially identical, though not in orchestration…

And I, for one, feel like I can hear the whole “they’re inhabiting the same sound world” thing…

But you know who else inhabited roughly the same sound world? Terence Trent D’Arby and Michael Jackson.

Bill Parcells once said, “you are what your record says you are.”  Dandy Don Meredith once said, “if ifs and buts were candy and nuts, wouldn’t it be a Merry Christmas?”  My composition teacher in high school once said, “plagiarize, don’t hide your eyes.”  They were all right.  All we can go on is what we know.  And what we know is that Mahler made his legacy, Rott did not.  Was it his fault?  Who knows?  But even IF you wish to think like Maestro Jarvi and think that Mahler owes a posthumous apology to Rott, you have to first acknowledge that whatever material you may think was lifted by Mahler was handled with the skill of one of the greatest composers who ever walked the Earth, not one of the all-time musical question marks whose style, as we know it, is a raw, jumbled mix that shows great, but completely unfulfilled, promise.

In all seriousness, plagiarism is a serious allegation to levy.

Phil & Paavo

Phil Collins & Paavo Jarvi

For example, if I were to say that Paavo Jarvi seems to have plagiarized Phil Collins’ entire fashion aesthetic in an attempt to look like a more alcoholic but also more cultured version of the famed singer of “In the Air Tonight,” I would risk being criticized heavily for making such disparaging remarks about one of the 15 most famous currently living Estonians in the world.

So I won’t.  I’ll simply re-post in its entirety a thing I had written a while back about Hans Rott and the potential he took to his grave, and assume Paavo Jarvi was high as shit on peyote when he made those comments.

Continue reading

I was at a concert: Stern/Kansas City Symphony in Ravel, Barber, & Mahler

Kansas City

Kansas City, MO

Due to having guests in our midst, we ended up exchanging our normal Friday night tickets at the Lyric for some Sunday afternoon tickets in Yardley Hall, somewhere in Kansas. I had only attended one previous concert in Yardley, a Christmas performance by mens choir Cantus, which remains one of the most interesting and exciting performances I’ve ever been in attendance for. I must admit, though, that I was apprehensive about the acoustics in Yardley Hall for a full orchestra. Sadly, I had my Pyrrhic victory, and the thought of hearing another Mahler symphony in that hall would surely send me back to Epirus alone. Continue reading

In the land of contradictions, what is Mussorgsky?

Modest Mussorgsky

I recently finished reading Orlando Figes’ “Natasha’s Dance: A Cultural History of Russia.” It is equally as dense and thorough as it is fascinating and insightful. Never before have I encountered history as detailed as this examined through the lens of the arts and literature. One should not be surprised at all to know that a lot about Russian history can be gleaned from Gogol, Tolstoy, Akhmatova, Stravinsky, Kandinsky, Diaghilev, et al, and in ways that simply don’t come across by reading a simple historian’s guide to insert-location-here.

Russia is a culture of endless inner struggles. The 20th century alone saw them transition from monarchy to Socialist state to democracy (though linking Vladimir Putin with democracy seems a bit like linking Lady Gaga with normal). Historically, they have fought a constant internal battle of east vs. west, with St. Petersburg and Moscow serving as the symbols of these powerful “who are we?” sentiments. Russia has been ruled by some of the most famous (and infamous) figures throughout time, from the descendants of Genghis Khan and the Golden Horde to Boris Godunov to Peter and Catherine (they’re GRRRRRRREAT!) to Lenin and Stalin. Continue reading