A classical music blog by music critic Tim Mangan
Review: Pacific Symphony takes care of the familiar. Orange County Register, Dec. 12, 2014.
classical music, reviews
Beethoven, Carl St.Clair, Pacific Symphony, Rachmaninoff
December 12, 2014
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If one were looking for evidence that a slow rot has infested the house of classical music, this review could be submitted as evidence. I’m referring not merely to the presence of two wonderful and wonderfully overprogrammed pieces but to the incestuous nature of the evening: a commissioned piece by the house composer that fawningly incorporates the conductor’s name and a soloist’s encore that features the conductor’s son. If St. Clair was Fritz Reiner and he were retiring, I would understand, but ….
At the PSO: In a season that explicitely celebrates St.Clair’s 25th anniversary with the orchestra, you’d figure a composer would make a nice gesture on a big like this; it’s not like the gave him the job BECAUSE he put the St.Clair’s initials in the piece.
Salonen and the LA Phil are passionate about composers like Saariaho, Lindberg, and Adams. So are many other conductors who didn’t go to the same conservatory, not to mention orchestras where Salonen has been an infrequent guest conductor. Sure, he is close friends with Saariaho and Lindberg. But you act as if Salonen only conducted premiere performances of works by people he went to college with — which is so far from the truth as to be ridiculous.
The LA Master Chorale just performed a concert where no less than five people associated with the LAMC in some way (composers in residence, former associate conductors, singers) had their compositions performed. Some were better than others, and one (Morten Lauridsen) is a true living legend. Is that more cronnyism?
Is it nepotism when St.Clair conducts Bernstein just because he LB was his mentor? Is it cronnyism when Salonen conducts Lutoslawski’s 4th or any of his own pieces just because the Polish conductor had a close relationship with him and the LA Phil? Was it clannishness when Mahler conducted his own symphonies? Or when John Williams conducts his own movie scores? Uh, no.
Cronnyism, nepotism, clannishness, incestuousness — all that implies that something dastardly is going on, that somehow these composers are unqualified and somehow don’t deserve to have their music heard and that the only reason they’re getting exposure is directly because of their relationship with the conductor or the organization. I doubt that’s what is going on.
I don’t call it incestuous or clannish, I call it advocacy. Both the arts world AND the business world often rely on interpersonal relationships to make things work. When I do business with people I know well, it’s because I feel that they’re good at their job. In fact, I have built relationships with them specifically BECAUSE I think they do their job well. And I frequently advocate that these partners get more work because of it. What’s going on with these arts organizations is pretty similar.
That the conductors and arts organizations in question leverage relationships they have to create new art should neither be surprising or worthy of derision. It would seem much less like conspiracy theory claptrap if one were to just listen to the new music, decide whether or not you like it, and complain about its musical qualities (or perceived lack thereof) without having to resort to such ad hominim accusations.
“I don’t call it incestuous or clannish, I call it advocacy. Both the arts world AND the business world often rely on interpersonal relationships to make things work.”
So, in a world of 7B people, the once and future MD of the LA Phil thinks a handful of Finns (including himself) and perhaps a token from a neighboring country are worthy of advocating and you think nothing is amiss? And when the creative chair does likewise with his own compositions?
I’ve listened to the Salonens, Saariahos, Lindbergs, and Ahos and wish I had not. Adams, likewise. I don’t think it is a coincidence that where one goes, the others aren’t far behind.
No, I don’t. FWIW: Just to use Saariaho as an example . . .
The NY Phil, Chicago Symphony, St. Louis Symphony, the Cleveland Orchestra by decidedly non-Scandinavians like Christoph Eschenbach (German), Franz Welser-Most (Austrian), Alan Gilbert (American), David Robertson (American), among others. Robert Spano (American) conducted her opera, “L’amour de loin,” in that hotbed of all things Scandinavia: Santa Fe, New Mexico. A few months ago, she just got done being the composer-in-residence in Vermont’s Marlboro Festival, you know because Vermont is one of those “tokens” locales in a neighboring area code to Helsinki (BTW, her predecessors as composer-in-residence at Marlboro included the non-Scandinavian likes of Thomas Ades, Lera Auerbach, George Benjamin, William Bolcom, Robert Cuckson, Marc-Andre Dalbavie, Kristof Penerecki, Alexander Goehr, Osvaldo Golijov, John Harbison, Tigran Mansurian, and Jorg Widmann). Also this year, the Bowdoin International Music Festival in Brunswick, Maine, commissioned a new work from her. And on and on and on . . .
The list for Salonen’s music (and Lindberg’s) is similar. I’ll let you google them yourself in case you’re interested.
So, yeah, go ahead and keep telling yourself it’s a sinister plot to provide affirmative action to Finnish composers. Don’t let facts like these get in your way.
As far as your problems with the LA Phil’s Creative Chair conducting his own compositions . . . I trust you are equally skeptical every single time John Williams takes the baton of an orchestra to conduct his own works. And it was an absolute travesty that Copland conducted his own works, or Stravinsky his, or Strauss his, or Boulez his . . . I look forward to your conspiracy theories with each and every one of those composers and all the others who’ve stood on a podium in front of an orchestra.
“I’ve listened to the Salonens, Saariahos, Lindbergs, and Ahos and wish I had not. Adams, likewise. I don’t think it is a coincidence that where one goes, the others aren’t far behind.”
You don’t like their music — fair enough. I’m not a fan of Wagner or Brahms, and I’m glad I don’t think something is amiss when a German conductor programs one of their works, no matter how painful I may feel after hearing them at a concert.
Oh, I dunno. I remember a rotten evening back in the Chandler where Donatoni, one of Salonen’s teachers wrote a piece in his name (Esa in cauda, V(*)) with Salonen on the stand. Then there were so many of those evenings to forget where EPS programmed his Finn cronies and often himself to the usual fawning reviews and claims of this being the future. Cronyism, clannishness, and nepotism won’t go away no matter which direction classical music goes. If your PR is good enough, you can program anything you like.
(*) That ‘V’ is pronounced “cheen-kway”. I learned that at the pre concert talk.
I remember liking “Esa in cauda, V” but I guess that’s beside the point.
To CKDH: (No ‘Reply’ option under your 7:12pm post so using the main Reply tool here)
The ubiquity of Saariaho/Salonen: Don’t know about “L’Amour…” as I don’t do opera. I’m bewildered by the multiple playings of these people but then the first performance is the hardest one to get.
J. Williams: He’s usually brought in as a celebrity for fundraising so, no, I’m not surprised he gets to conduct his own stuff.
With the others, yes, it is a conflict of interest especially with Adams who works both sides of that street in ways that’d make a hooker blush.
“So, yeah, go ahead and keep telling yourself it’s a sinister plot to provide affirmative action to Finnish composers.”
Not affirmative action in the sense of leveling an unequal playing field but making the slope steeper in the first place. And feel free to do whatever you have to to keep your access to the Phil.
So to summarize everything you’ve said to be wrong with these situations:
1) Salonen (or Boulez) shouldn’t be allowed to conduct his own works because he’s been hired as a conductor, and conductors shouldn’t conduct their own compositions
2) Adams, Lutoslawski, Copland, Stravinsky, Strauss, Mahler, et al shouldn’t be allowed to conduct their own compositions because composers shouldn’t conduct their own compositions because it is a conflict of interest. Adams in particular should be chastised for “working both sides of that street in ways that’d make a hooker blush.”
3) John Williams is excluded from the list in #2 because he’s “usually brought in as a celebrity for fundraising”
4) Salonen shouldn’t be allowed to conduct Saariaho, Lindberg, or any other Scandinavian composer because he’s friends with them and they are his “cronies,” and this represents “cronyism, clannishness, and nepotism.” Giving any/all of them a first performance was particularly bad because it is equivalent to “making the slope steeper in the first place” for any of his non-friends to get a performance.
5) Adams is somehow tied into this circle of Salonen and Scandinavian friends
6) You don’t like the music of Salonen, Saariaho, Lindberg, Aho, or any of the other Scandinavians you consider to be Salonen’s “cronies,” and you’re “bewildered” as why anyone would want to program, perform, or otherwise be associated with it.
Did I mis-state anything? Feel free to correct any of the statements above. I truly want to make sure they accurately convey your thoughts and opinions.
While we’re at it, according to your line of thinking, since it is a conflict of interest for a composer to conduct their own work, it follows that it’s similarly a conflict if they perform their own compositions. So Rachmaninoff should never have publicly performed any of his own concertos or piano works? Or Saint-Saens his organ works? Or Miles Davis or Wynton Marsalis their trumpet works? Or Gershwin his piano works? Or a younger musician like Timo Andres his piano works?
I’m getting a sense of deja vu. We either discussed this before here on on your blog.
Summary: When Salonen as MD of the LA Phil turns around and programs and/or commissions himself, when Adams as “Creative Chair” of same does so, I raise both eyebrows and a hackle. I do the same officials in government hand out largesse to themselves, family, and/or friends. Now, of course EPS is supposedly out of LA but I view him much as I view any politician who’s had his digits in the till.
If those guys want to pass the hat, do a Kickstarter, or heavens forfend, use some of their personal wealth to book a hall, hire the orchestra, sell the tickets, and produce showcases of their own work facing the profit/loss equation on their own floppy feet, that’s entirely different. I believe Beethoven did that, since we’re bandying about the dead.
“While we’re at it, according to your line of thinking, since it is a conflict of interest for a composer …”
See above. Wasn’t aware that Rachmaninoff, Saint-Saens, Gershwin etc. were in similar positions to EPS and Adams. I don’t follow jazz enough to say about the others. Haven’t heard of Timo Andres.
You still have not named a single composer-performer – either conductor or instrumentalist – who never performed his/her own music. My guess is there aren’t any. In fact, for a composer-performer not to perform his/her own compositions would be preposterous. It’s just common sense. If you don’t like a certain composer’s music – don’t go to hear such programs. What matters is not the name at the top of the page, but the notes that are under that name. Everything else is semantics. Similar positions? How about Mahler, Bernstein, Boulez, even Maazel? All of them performed their own pieces with their “own” orchestras. Every composer who was a performer always included his/her own music in their programs – since the very beginning of classical music, including Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Paganini, Berlioz, Chopin, Liszt, Prokofiev and countless others – all the way to this century, e.g. Thomas Ades.
“You still have not named a single composer-performer – either conductor or instrumentalist …”
I don’t need to. My point, which you don’t address, is “If those guys want to pass the hat, do a Kickstarter, or heavens forfend, use some of their personal wealth …”
Actually, you do address it. You say “That’s the way it has always been.” Things are the way they are until they are changed. MDs used to have autocratic powers. That was recognized as not generally good so now there are checks and balances. There don’t seem to be much of those when it comes to EPS and Adams double dipping.
Look, I get that the guy was your boss and that you got on well with him. It doesn’t make what he did right no more than politicians distributing graft because “That’s the way it has always been.”
All music directors are hired for more than just conducting. They are hired for their taste in music, among other things. As a composer/conductor, it was natural for Salonen to program music that he liked and responded to and it was natural, too, that at least some of that music was by fellow Finns. And as CK has pointed out, he wasn’t the only one programming those composers.
As far as “double dipping” goes … I believe that Salonen waved his fee when composing music for the LA Phil. What’s more, his music has been very well received by LA audiences. They want to hear it — it’s not being forced upon them.
“As far as “double dipping” goes … I believe that Salonen waved his fee when composing music for the LA Phil. What’s more, his music has been very well received by LA audiences. They want to hear it — it’s not being forced upon them.”
Interesting. I never got a straight answer to the commissioning fee question when I asked it years ago. Does he also waive the performance royalties? Judging from the articles on NewMusicBox and other places, composers have e devil of a time getting the first performance of any of their works. Seems like EPS/Adams have it sweet where they can get their stuff premiered after which subsequent opportunities come more easily. No, it’s not the same as an architect, design firm, scientist, or others using finished projects to get new ones. Those are competitions, not sole-sources.
I do agree that EPS is popular with LA audiences. But then, every performance I’ve attended at the Phil results in a standing ovation no matter what was on offer or how good or bad it actually was.
Thanks for the discussion.
Yes, i do imply that it’s “the way it has always been”, but it is so because it makes perfect sense. The composer knows his/her own works better than others because he/she not only sees the notes on the page but also knows exactly how and why they got there. And if a composer happens to be so good at conducting that he/she becomes a music director of a major orchestra, that is all the more reason to trust him/her with performing his/her own music.
Well then, since these composer/MDs are such paragons of musical omniscience, they must also have a keen sense of who should be playing their music. Let’s dispense with all of those pesky unions, blind auditions, trial periods, and just let the guy/gal hire and fire as s/he sees fit.
From where I sat, the LA Phil achieved adequate with EPS on the stand regardless of what he was shaking his stick at. When certain others flew in for their week, the claim of major orchestra had some more substance to it. I will concede that what an audience member hears and what an orchestra player hears can be poles apart.
Your first sentence here is a baseless speculation that has nothing to do with my statement that composers/conductors know THEIR OWN MUSIC better than others, not everything else; your second sentence is therefore a nonsensical fabrication. Your opinion of his conducting is a completely separate issue as is your opinion of his composing and i have never said anything pro or con about that.
“Your first sentence here is a baseless speculation…” etc.
Our host understands my concerns about conflicts of interest although he does not agree with them.
You are welcome to your cavils and “It was always thus.”
A conflict of interest doesn’t/can’t exist if the hiring party not only knows in advance what the employee is going to do but actually hires them for that purpose, even if the employee stands to benefit.
– EPS was a composer/conductor before the LA Phil hired him as MD. He was a guest conductor multiple times before being named to the full-time gig, and during many of those times, he conducted his own music and that of his conservatory mates. The LA Phil knew he’d conduct this music during those guest stints and I’m willing to bet a whole heapin’ helpin’ of $$$ that among the many reasons one hires a MD in general (as Tim pointed out, they hired him specifically because he was a composer/conductor who was expected to conduct his own music. In fact, I’m willing to bet double that they considered it a coup.
– Ditto for John Adams. Repeat guest conductor, many/most of those stints conducting his own music. If the LA Phil thought that this were a conflict of interest, they wouldn’t have hired him back as often as they did, and they sure as hell wouldn’t have hired him into a titled job with the orchestra.
You clearly don’t like this music. You clearly don’t think EPS conducting his own music (or that of other Finns) his a good idea, and likewise for JA. I submit that if you should this way, you should be considering this situation a questionable/bad management decision instead of a conflict of interest, and that your blame and disdain would be more properly directed towards the people who have hired and continue to hire these musicians to perform their own works (the Deborah Bordas, Chad Smiths, and Ernest Fleischmanns of the world) than to the musicians themselves.
(cue mike drop and feedback . . . cut to black . . . and . . . scene)
We aren’t going to convince each other but you raise an interesting point about an employee being hired to make decisions where he could benefit in the manner you described. If LA County had a competition for a large building commission and had Frank Gehry heading the jury, wouldn’t it be odd if Gehry’s firm were also contending for the job? Music competitions have prominent teachers on juries where their students are competing. This raises hackles and eyebrows. I can’t dismiss it with, “Oh, there’s always graft in contracting” or “Yes, competitions are rigged”
Now, one might argue that the MD of the Phil is a contractor and not an employee, per se, and therefore has latitude in subcontracting. But, even in the underworld of contracting, prime contractors can’t wash their hands of what their suppliers do.
” I submit that if you should this way, you should be considering this situation a questionable/bad management decision…”
To me, allowing this kind of dubious situation is indeed questionable/bad management. (See above).
“…and that your blame and disdain would be more properly directed …than to the musicians themselves.”
I don’t think I’ve blamed or disdained the musicians of the orchestra for decisions that are made by the management. They have to play for whoever is on the stand and whatever is on their stands. In my experience, that ensemble plays better, often far better, for conductors other than EPS regardless of what they’re playing. I view that as a statement on the conductor, not the players. My disagreeing with one of the musicians should not imply anything about the rest.
Indeed. It has been another interesting exchange and future iterations aren’t likely to serve much purpose. And continued Yar (I think that’s a good thing?) to you and yours.
I’m glad to have hosted this discussion and pleased that there were no fisticuffs.
“Our host understands my concerns about conflicts of interest…” So do i. But i called the premise of your previous comment “baseless speculation” because it is a willful misrepresentation of my statements. In my opinion, hiring a composer/conductor may work both ways – it is a disadvantage if his/her music is unworthy of being performed, but when it is indeed worthy, then it is a clear advantage for the reasons that i have already described earlier here. I other words, the quality of the music remains the most important consideration. Our opinions about it are highly subjective and so arguing it would be pointless. We do know however that some of Esa-Pekka’s works won Pulitzer and other significant awards, and that his music is being performed around the world by musicians other than himself. As for his conducting, it is a fact that there are lots of people among musicians and knowledgeable music fans who feel very strongly that LA Phil sounds much better with him than with most other conductors.
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