It’s going to be a slow week, so today I thought I’d open up the blog to your questions.

Think of it as an interview with a music critic — and you’re the interviewer.

You can ask questions about classical music (naturally), music criticism (ditto), newspapers, blogging, performance, recordings, music education, writing — anything, really. I will not answer any question about what I was doing the night of April 11, 1971, however, so don’t even go there.

If you’d like to see a short interview that I did with a music critic, go here.

Leave your questions in the Comments section. One at a time, please. If you would like to ask a follow-up question, go ahead and do so after I’ve answered your first one. I will answer your questions in the body of this post, below.


1. Aunt Laurel asks: What do you want for your birthday, January 8th?:

A: My youth.

2. Rodney asks: On balance, do you think the emergence of classical music blogs and bloggers has been healthy or detrimental for discourse on serious music?

A: I think it’s a healthy development, though I have some reservations. Generally, the more the merrier is the way I feel, and there are some awfully good bloggers out there.

However, no one has yet figured out how to make classical music blogging pay, and so far that has hurt the profession of music criticism. I think that one should be able to make one’s living as a music critic, if you’re good enough, at least. As newspapers and magazines lay off music critics in droves, the profession currently has nowhere to go.

3. Tom DePlonty asks: Is there anything happening on your beat in the last year or two that you find especially unexpected or surprising?

A: On a personal level, I was very surprised to be reassigned to the celebrity column beat at my newspaper. Dudamel has been a pleasant surprise at the L.A. Phil. And Achim Freyer’s ‘Ring’ cycle at L.A. Opera was mind blowing — to me at least.

4. matthew asks: Would you agree with me that most modern classical music is not very good at all and that its ‘fans’ have no reason to be so smug ?

A: Most new music from any period in history wasn’t any good. Most of the music written in Mozart’s and Haydn’s time wasn’t any good either, but we don’t hear it anymore. It has been filtered off through time. With new music now, we’re privileged to be part of that first audience doing the filtering, so we’ll hear good stuff and bad stuff. That’s the game, that’s the fun. I love to listen in an “assessing” frame of mind, while sitting back and hearing nothing but masterpiece reruns over and over can be a little wearying.

All in all, though, I think there’s an awful lot of good stuff being written now. I wish I could hear more new music in performance, not less.

As for its ‘fans’ being smug — all fans of anything are smug. I can live with it.

5. John Garrett asks: Raymond Kobler, has been PSO’s concertmaster for over 10 years now; how much of PSO’s critical success can be attributed to him, to Carl St. Clair, John Forsyte, or others?

A: Kobler brought a wealth of experience to his job (he was formerly with the SF Orchestra and the Cleveland Orchestra) and the string section immediately improved under his guidance.  He’s a fantastic musician, and the strings continue to benefit from his wisdom.

Any orchestra’s success is a team effort. St.Clair, I believe, has been exactly what Orange County and this orchestra has needed, and he has grown with them. Forsyte is one of the top executive directors in the country. The organization has been singled out for its innovation by the League of American Orchestras, and rightly so. While on a case by case basis I have my disagreements with them, we’re lucky to have them.

6. CK Dexter Haven asks: Of the trombonists still currently performing (both classical & non-classical genres), who are are favorites and/or the ones you most admire?

A: Believe it or not, I actually don’t follow trombonists that much any more, now that I am no longer a professional myself. (I always pay attention to them at concerts, though.) James Miller in the L.A. Phil is awesome. The Pacific Symphony’s lead and second trombones are old schoolmates of mine, and they are both superb.

Bill Watrous, a jazz trombonist, is still playing, and, technically speaking at least, he is still probably the best there ever was.

7. CK Dexter Haven asks: If Carl St.Clair were to announce his retirement/departure from the Pacific Symphony (not that he has or will, mind you), who are your top three realistic choices to replace him as Music Director?

A: I was really impressed with Mei-Ann Chen, who recently guest conducted the orchestra. She would be a fabulous choice, I think, though, granted, I only heard her once. Also, two assistant conductors at the L.A. Phil: Alexander Mickelthwate (now gone) and Lionel Bringuier. Realistic? I don’t know.

8. CK Dexter Haven asks: Who are the artists (and perhaps more generally, which genres of music) outside of classical do you enjoy listening to the most?

A: The Clash, Talking Heads, Devo, The Specials (I’m dating myself), Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, dixieland jazz, Dean Martin (for kicks), Django Rheinhardt … so, selected jazz and rock.

9. Robert Saber asks: Can you give us any insight into the rationale employed by conductors/music directors in programming concerts or full seasons? Is there an artistic rationale, or do they just start with the soloists who are available that they can afford, and go from there?

A: Hmmm. Some conductors are more rational than others. Generally, I think they program concerts with an eye to making that specific concert work as some kind of cohesive unit, and yet, obviously, keep one eye on the season as a whole. Music directors will have to keep in mind the repertoire that guest conductors would like to perform, and then avoid it.

Still, in the end, it all seems kind of random, doesn’t it? A little bit of this and a little bit of that, mix, rinse and repeat as necessary. Soloists are booked well in advance, of course, and that does influence program decisions, to a point. Many times, though, it seems as if a random concerto has been plugged into a sandwich of other pieces the conductor chose.

Festivals within the subscription season have gained in popularity in recent years. Sometimes these have been quite good and coherent looks at a single composer or movement.

Not sure if this answered your question, so speak up, if not.

10. MM asks: Do you have any favorite interviews you have done, or favorite interview stories?

A: Lots of favorite interviews. Some that come to mind: Esa-Pekka Salonen, Pierre Boulez, Carlo Maria Giulini, Cecilia Bartoli, Bernard Haitink, Andre Watts, Dawn Upshaw, Andrew Porter, Maurice Sendak, Garrison Keillor, Martin Bernheimer, Alfred Brendel.

Least favorites: William Christie, John Eliot Gardiner and the Indendant of the Berlin Philharmonic (who I ended up hanging up on). All difficult in their various ways.

Stories: Ivo Pogorelich once threatened to walk off a radio interview I was doing with him because he didn’t like the head mike we had provided him.

I once interviewed Yo-Yo Ma on the phone. He was driving his car at the time, talking to me on his cell. At one point, he even got out a map and was looking at it. It was a good interview, but I was anxious that he’d crash and I would be remembered as the man who killed Yo-Yo Ma.

As I’ve mentioned before I believe, I once asked Anne-Sophie Mutter what she thought of the cheesecake photos that accompany her publicity and emblazon her recordings. I asked her if she minded that the photos were “sexy,” or some such.

She laughed and, in her cute German accent, replied: “Oh Tim, I hope it’s not just the photos that are sexy.”

11. Lisa Hirsch asks: What new music have you heard during your career as a critic that you think will survive and be played, say, 50 years or more out?

A: First off, I’ll just say that I really have no idea what will survive.

I think John Adams’ “Doctor Atomic” has a good chance though. Also, his “Naive and Sentimental Music.”

The music of Lutoslawski. I was at the premiere of his 4th Symphony, and though that might not make it, I think a lot of his music SHOULD survive.

Salonen’s Violin Concerto struck me on first acquaintance as a work that could enter the repertory. As did Oliver Knussen’s Violin Concerto.

I love Ligeti’s music … I don’t think I ever heard a premiere though. But I think his music might survive.

Oddly, perhaps, because it’s hardly revolutionary, Daniel Catan’s “Il Postino” might stand a chance.

I’m sure I’m leaving some out.

12. gerry schroeder asks: I’m reading a biography – “Paul Bowles; a life” by Virginia Spencer Carr, and in the forward of the book, there is a section called “A few words before” where the author thanks various people who helped in the books completion. She mentions Irene Herrmann, described as “Bowles’s friend, heir and music executor” , and then also mentions “edited with her colleague, Timothy Mangan”, regarding music reviews that appeared in the New York Herald Tribune”. If that’s you, congratulations for “helping” as it’s a delightful read.
Can you expound on that connection? Sounds very interesting.

A: The book Carr refers to is “Paul Bowles on Music,” a collection of his music criticism, published by the University of California Press. It was a gigantic bestseller. (Kidding.) I was co-editor, with Herrmann, and wrote the introduction, still the longest single piece of writing I’ve done, unless you count my essays on the Beethoven symphonies as a single effort.  Together, Herrmann and I also interviewed Bowles for the book. It was his last interview, I believe. The book is available on Amazon.

13. chris asks: Can you list a top 5 of people in any field of any time period that you would like or would have liked to interview and why?

A: Well, I’ve never thought about that. Plus, I’m a nervous interviewer, who rarely enjoys an interview as it is happening. One other thing: You can never tell who will be a good interview. As interviewees, would Beethoven or Mozart live up to their music?

1) But, OK, how about Socrates? He’d have as many questions for me as I of him.

2) Samuel Johnson, sir, just because I admire him so much and he was quite a character.

3) I’d love to have met Hector Berlioz, and I suspect he’d be a great interview.

4) For many years when I was younger, I was dying to meet the novelist and poet Robert Graves, and though my fascination has dimmed (or perhaps just played itself out), I still would have liked to meet him and perhaps interview him.

5) In another field, maybe Barbara Stanwyck. At the very least I could make eyes at her and hope that she would respond in kind.

That’s really an impossible question, chris!

14. Deborah asks: Do you think the Los Angeles Philharmonic will be able to duplicate the success (or apparent viability) of the Metropolitan Opera’s regularly scheduled screenings in movie theaters nationwide?

A: I would say that the performance of symphonic music isn’t as visually compelling to most people as the performance of opera. But beyond that, your guess is as good as mine.

15. Betty Lou asks: What is Leontyne Price doing these days?

A: She gave her last recital appearance shortly after 9/11 at age 74, Wikipedia says, and easily hit a high B-flat. She lives in Greenwich Village. She’s 83 now.

16. Su Lin asks: What is your favorite Beatle album and why? What is the most important thing you learned from your USC education (in terms of music)?

A: I haven’t listened to the Beatles albums as albums in a long time, alas. I’m tempted to say one of the mid-period ones — Revolver, The White Album, or Sgt. Pepper’s. Been listening to one of the iTunes compilations recently, and it’s terrific, but it’s not an album.

As for USC … that’s hard to say. But, if I had to pick: Practice. It is the answer to all challenges. I spent a whole lot of time practicing back then, and even spent an entire summer practicing 8 hours a day.

17. gerry schroeder asks: 1. Do you have any recommendations regarding Paul Bowles’ music on CD?
I’m intrigued by the positive musical criticism of his output in the book.

A: The place to start is with Jonathan Sheffer’s survey disc on RCA — “The Music of Paul Bowles” with the EOS Ensemble. It seems to be out of print at the moment, but I’m sure you can find a used copy online. Incidentally, 2011 is the Paul Bowles centennial, and I will help celebrate the same at a conference at UC Santa Cruz in February.

18. chris asks: What are some symphonic works or operas that you wish would be performed in the LA/OC area?

A: Operas: “Benvenuto Cellini” and “Beatrice and Benedict” by Berlioz; “Le Roi Malgre Lui” by Chabrier; “Four Saints in Three Acts” by Virgil Thomson; “William Tell” by Rossini; “The Nose” by Shostakovich; “Le Grand Macabre” by Ligeti staged by Achim Freyer. Symphonic works: “Rugby” by Honegger; “Marche Joyeuse” by Chabrier; all the Nielsen symphonies; Symphony No. 6 by Martinu; “Sinfonie singuliere” by Berwald; Schumann’s “Carnaval” as orchestrated for the Ballets Russe; “Philosopher” Symphony (No. 22) by Haydn, etc.

19. Dan D asks: How do you think classical music could make itself more attractive to audiences in the decade ahead ?

A: The current trend across the land is to make concerts more “educational” for adults, often with the use of multimedia. Sometimes this works; sometimes it doesn’t. In general, I’m against it. Usually, it means ways too much talking. But I think we’ll see more of this type of thing in the future.

One idea that I would like to see classical music groups try is to offer programs featuring shorter pieces, mirroring the way that people listen on an iPod, jumping from one style to another, one period to another. I’d like to see an orchestral program, for instance, that included, say, 20 pieces, from Monteverdi to Stravinsky, Corelli to John Adams.

Performing in non-traditional venues is catching on too. We’ll see more of that.

20. MarK asks: In your answer to question 3 you said that “Dudamel has been a pleasant surprise at the L.A. Phil”. What exactly surprised you so pleasantly?

A: I think his performances of the standard repertory. For a conductor so young, he seems very secure in it as well as full of ideas. The standard repertory is his strong suit. The previous music director had to grow into the standard repertoire (which I think he did quite well, thank you), but it wasn’t there from the start, as it seems to be with Dudamel. I’m looking forward to his take on Beethoven’s 7th in January.

21. Bob Montgomery asks: In high school in the 50s, I first broadened my musical knowlege beyond the concert band and big band jazz that students play, and into classical music, with the “light” classics.

And every record collection has many examples of these worthy pieces by major composers. But they seldom find their way on to subscription programs or even at the Bowl.

Of course I mean the William Tell and Roman Carnival Overtures, Cappricios Espagnol and Italien, Espana, Bald Mountain, Russian Easter, Marche Slav, on and on.

I’d love to hear these played by the Phil, and I suspect the musicians would love to play them for us.

How about a return to the overture, concerto, symphony format? Do you think there’s a chance?

(can you tell I was a trombone player?)

A: I have advocated for a return to the “light” classics both in print and even behind the scenes. I agree with you — I think it’s an important part of the repertoire and that it is being neglected. (I have never heard a live performance of the “William Tell” Overture — or maybe just once on a summer concert. I find that strange.)

As I have said elsewhere, the “light” classics are pieces that educate audiences in classical music language and forms while entertaining them at the same time. The repertoire on the average pops concert these days, consisting of warmed over film music and non-classical pop fare performed by washed-up singers, doesn’t do that. Or am I too harsh?

22. Deborah asks: Are humans from different planets when some of us admire the music of, for example, Mahler and Beethoven, while others love the music of [insert name of hard-core rap artist here]. Or prefer Dvorak to Schoenberg, and visa versa?

A: I think this is a nature or nurture question. I think our musical preferences are a consequence of both. So, therefore, some folks could be taught to love classical music through exposure to it and so on, but there will always be some who will never find it to their liking.

Another aspect here, is that comparing classical fare to rap and other popular music, is, I think, apples and oranges. I really enjoy certain types of popular music, but I think that they speak to a different part of my musical senses than classical music. I don’t think we necessarily have to argue for the superiority of any music; just recognize their differences. And in that sense, classical music supplies something that other music can’t or doesn’t.