Something to listen to: Bluebeard’s Castle

Bluebeard’s Castle is cool as shit, man. It’s such a great story, and the music is unbe-fucking-lievable. Bartok wasn’t actually supposed to write it – Bela Balasz, the librettist, had a roommate who also composed named Zoltan Kodaly – but thank God he (being Bartok) did. It’s possibly the raddest thing he ever did, a score overrun with ideas and colors and intrigue. The story is pretty simple: boy meets girl, boy brings girl home, boy is rich and has sweet castle that could use a little light, boy sure has a lot of closed doors in here, boy has some secrets that he would prefer you not ask about, boy relents and shows you everything one door at a time, girl is rewarded with jewelry. Lots of jewelry.  Continue reading

Wolfgang Sawallisch, RIP


Wolfgang Sawallisch died Friday at the age of 89. I confess to have been working under the assumption that he had died years ago. Because conducting is often something that people at the highest levels do until they’re extremely fucking old (or extremely fucking dead in some cases), it’s unusual to think of a world-class maestro “retiring” to the Bavarian Alps and just chilling and playing piano and shit. But that’s exactly what Sawallisch did – his last major gig was with the Philadelphia Orchestra, which ended in 2003 and he retired “officially” in 2006 – something that, as I reflect upon that unbelievably relaxed cardigan/tie combo and wry smile, seems totally reasonable, ill health or otherwise. Continue reading

Something cool you might have missed: The Meeting of the Volga and the Don


Much of the history of the twentieth century is some variation on the idea of exile, occasionally self-imposed. Music’s portion of that history is filled with musicians and composers who fled the Nazis or the Communists for safer environs. But there was a small subset of prominent musicians who remained firmly entrenched in the cultural life of these regimes, and they are often the figures that are the subject of some controversy (the obvious archetype being Wilhelm Furtwangler). Sergei Prokofiev was one such figure. Continue reading

Conductor/Orchestra Retrospective, vol. 1: Charles Dutoit and the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal



Charles Dutoit/Montreal Symphony Orchestra: Ravel - Dpahnis et Chloe

Charles Dutoit/Montreal Symphony Orchestra: Ravel – Dpahnis et Chloe

There is perhaps no musical relationship of the last 30 or 40 years married to its specific time and place more than that of Charles Dutoit and the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, or as they’re known in Quebec, the (insert accent that sounds like an alcoholic with a head cold and a mouthful of brownie – WHAT!). Like two relatively bright stars passing in the night sky, they found each other and subsequently embarked on a 25-year relationship that raised both of their respective profiles immensely. And as can be the case in many 25-year relationships, things ended sourly and abruptly (shout out to parents everywhere!). Dutoit, attempting to fire two musicians, instead was the subject of an open letter from a union rep alleging that he had verbally and psychologically abused everybody during his tenure. He left immediately. He hasn’t conducted in Montreal since. Continue reading