Tag Archives: classical

Hazy Shade of Winter

Time, time, time, see what’s become of me—Paul Simon

“It has been nearly a year and a half since Thomas, at 78 one of the world’s leading musicians for more than half a century, announced he would be undergoing treatment for an aggressive form of brain cancer,” the New York Times reported in a story about conductors of classical music. The story, “A Mighty Generation of Musicians. A Moving Final Chapter” by Zachary Woolfe, opens with the conductor, Michael Tilson Thomas, leading the Los Angeles Philharmonic in Mahler’s Ninth Symphony. He is still working.

The story goes on: “The performance came just days after another miracle of a concert from an eminent maestro lately forced to reckon with mortality. On Jan. 6, Daniel Barenboim, 80, stepped down from the podium of the Berlin State Opera. . .after a year buffeted by health problems.”

Woolfe goes on to note that:

  • Riccardo Muti, 81, will end his role as music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra
  • Maurizo Pollini, 81, a pianist, canceled a recital at the Salzburg Festival last summer after the audience was seated because of heart trouble
  • Herbert Blomstedt, 95, a conductor, had to stop touring last fall because of a fall, but will conduct the New York Philharmonic in Symphonie fantastique in February

The tone of the story is quite elegiac. Writing of Barenboim’s conducting the Berlin Philharmonic in Brahms’s Second Symphony earlier this month:

“Without lacking vividness, the Brahms had a gentle cast in its opening; the allegro finale sent off bright energy, but its colors were the blaze of a sunset rather than daylight brashness. It was just the right amount of goodbye.”

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Musicians in a Time of Trouble

My sister, who is far more pragmatic than I, told me of the plight of a friend’s daughter. The young woman has received a graduate degree in liturgical music. Yes, as in playing organ and suchlike in places of worship. In the best of times that can’t be something where there is a whole lot of demand. In these times when there is but a slow return to churches and non-trivial concern regarding the spread of projected droplets from those who are lustily singing, finding a paying gig (she didn’t undertake those studies purely out of an interest in the subject; this was/is intended to be a career) is something that escapes her right now. She is working at a daycare center. Not as a musician.

While I am certainly sympathetic to her plight, I, unlike my sister, am glad that there are people who are studying things that don’t necessarily have an ostensible direct connection to a career. One could—and I will—make the argument that if we have learned anything over the past three-plus years is that we could probably use more poets and fewer politicians, more musicians and fewer cable blowhards.

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My niece, my sister’s daughter, entered the conversation. She quipped that Yo-Yo Ma recently had a live-streamed concert that was viewed by people who bought “tickets” to the performance. Cellists who aren’t Yo-You Ma or who are liturgical musicians would undoubtedly have a problem getting on a streaming platform like IDAGIO, which has an extensive suite of classical music performances lined up for its members to purchase. But for those classical musicians who have made it onto the platform, I couldn’t be happier because we need them, too.

Do you think that rock musicians have it tough? Consider this, according to Classical Music Rising, which describes itself as “a collaborative project of leading classical stations to shape the future of classical music radio as the field confronts evolution in delivery across multiple broadcast and digital platforms, demographic and cultural change, and significant disruption throughout the music industry,” the entire state of California has three classical music stations. Three. New York State: four. Plenty of states: zero. And were it not for pubic radio stations that have some classical music programming, the availability of hearing a bit of Beethoven would be non-existent for terrestrial broadcast listeners.

(My niece, incidentally, recently obtained her degree in instructional design and the company that she had been interning at, which she had intended to be employed by, one day folded up its tent and pretty much disappeared, leaving another large bit of commercial real estate full of pods, a contemporary version of Roanoke Island in the 16th century: seems like even the churches of commerce are taking it hard, as well. Had she gotten an art history degree she’d probably be in the same position she is right now: unemployed.)

Continue reading Musicians in a Time of Trouble