Thursday, January 14, 2010

Nero Fiddles While Rome Burns: A Cold Saturday Night in Nashville with Hilary Hahn

I rarely attend concerts in Nashville because I am completely spoiled. My listening place by choice is the great Concertgebouw concert hall in Amsterdam. It's a holy-grail-kind-of experience for me. Great masterworks that rarely, if ever, reach an American audience are performed there frequently. The acoustics are completely amazing, and the Dutch people who attend are true music lovers… You tell by the way that they listen.

However, Last Saturday night, I braved the cold night air to make my way to Nashville's Schermerhorn Symphony Center to see and hear for the first time the amazing violinist Hilary Hahn, whose video recording of Korngold's Violin Concerto I have watched many times, and who simply amazes me. I wanted to see her in person. She has been touring for the past year or so, performing a violin concerto written for her by the American composer Jennifer Hidgon.

Seated comfortably in the second row behind the orchestra, I watched this astounding performer easily work her way through the intensely difficult violin music in the Higdon concerto. The music? Just as I expected, I was disappointed. For me, it was just another piece of garbage… well-written garbage, but garbage none-the-less. Some might feel that I have made too harsh of a judgement, but as completely fed up with so-called "modern music" as I am, I have gotten to the point of being beyond polite. Some musicians enjoy these kinds of intellectual acrobatics, but I don't. If I never hear another atonal, discordant, and discontiguous piece of music ever again in my life, that will be too soon. As I listened to this well-calculated cerebral music, I thought about the grave situation our world is in, the problems, the worries, the jobs lost, the pensions gone, homes boarded up. Meanwhile, I am watching this amazing musician playing music that… well I won't call it dark, but it was just so smart that it was STUPID! I felt like I was watching Nero fiddling while Rome burned.

The amicable-appearing guest conductor, Giancarlo Guerrero, was simply and carefully beating time with short baton strokes throughout the entire piece, always wearing a completely dead-pan expression. Tic-Tic-Tic. "Ah-ha! This conductor must just be time-beater," I thought.

At the end of the concerto, Jenifer Higdon came to the stage and bowed with Hilary, and the people obediently stood and applauded, but I didn't see any kind of emotional connection from those seated around me.

Then came the intermission. People moved out into the hallways and into the eating and drinking room while Jennifer and Hilary set up shop at a roped-off and well-guarded autograph table. "Security's tight. Jeniffer's got a stalker," I heard someone in the crowd mention. There was already a 60-feet long line of well-dressed people waiting for autographs. I wondered if the CD signing would continue while the second part of the concert was taking place. How else would all these people get their all-important autographs?

At the end of the long intermission, I found my way back into the hall. Fortunately, the second half of the concert featured Saint-Saëns' wonderful organ symphony. As the music began, the same conductor who had just tapped out the Higdon concerto now became intensely alive, filled with the joy and exuberance of this great French symphony. It was as if day had overcome the night.

When I left Symphony Center, I was so disgusted with my experience that I just didn't care to return again, not only to avoid the discomfort of having to listen to negative music, but also having to experience this strange dichotomy: people who have no problem sitting through what they probably call the "modern stuff," also there for music with feeling and depth. Is it all the same to them? It was as if I had just witnessed some ritual that had lost its true meaning: people who have come to listen with their minds, instead of their hearts. I had mixed feelings, confused sensations, the kind of emotions that I should not be taking away from a concert that I braved freezing temperatures to endure. I made up my mind never to attend another concert anywhere, if I would be forced to sit through another stupid discordant piece of garbage in the name of "art." I guess I have joined the ranks of those who rarely attend American orchestral concerts, because it less painful to stay at home and listen to recordings. Why sit through uncomfortable music only because we are told that it is a "Great Work," one of those that wins grammies and receives eloquent reviews in the newspapers! Ugh!

The truth is is that classical music is nearly dead in America. And this is because America is nearly dead itself. It has become a vast empire of strip malls and chain-stores, fast-food restaurants and abandoned factories, its citizens brainwashed with lies and phony politics. Why do I even live here anymore? America is cutting its heart out by abandoning what could feed its soul, feasting instead on a useless diet of manufactured garbage. Last year, Nashville lost its other orchestra, the Nashville Chamber Symphony. Other orchestras in other cities are going away also. The Honolulu Symphony filed for Chapter 11 last month, while at the same time, only because of a million-dollar gift, was the collapse of the Utah Symphony averted at the last minute.

Read my lips - Classical music in American is disappearing. And why shouldn't it? Many American cities no longer have any classical music available at all…. PERIOD. I am talking about no classical music for sale on CDs or DVDs, and no classical music available on radio or TV! Last month Nashville itself lost its only classical music station… transmogrified into politico talk radio. The chain store supermarkets are not interested in culture and neither are the automated radio stations and cable TV channels. Target stores, spread out all over the USA, sell NO classical music at all. Best Buy stores have a very limited amount… stuff like "Mozart's greatest Hits," and alas, the great Tower Records is gone. The only music that most school children are exposed to anymore is what America's failing record industry, in league with El Diablo itself, provides them with (you know, the hip-hop and heavy-metal garbage) while John Q. Public just looks the other way.

The problem with the live symphony experience is that it has remained completely unchanged. It is almost like attending a museum. Concerts of classical music are considered to be something meant for snobs to enjoy, just like art museums. Directors and conductors continue to program discordant music and the audience is told that the reason they didn't like it is because they don't "understand" it (i.e. - they are stupid). Many people have had only a single opportunity to attend a concert in their lifetime If they experienced something from the 20th century that was disturbing, they probably decided that classical music was not their "cup of tea." They leave with no intention of returning to the concert hall. An opportunity lost. The popular works, such as Holst's Planets or Pachebel's Canon, are spurned by the classical music intelligence! Performing them is considered to be pandering to the public's low tastes. Give them discord and complexity instead! Additionally, if a work such as Holst's popular Planets is presented in a concert, the effect is often distorted by also presenting something ugly alongside it.

Here's how I see the situation:

On one hand, the conductors and directors have been programming discordant, angst-ridden, ugly works composed by "contemporary composers," attempting to get audiences to appreciate what amounts to musical garbage, then because of poor turn out, they began programming concerts on other nights that consist of "classically arranged" pop tunes, hoping to lure the same audience back to the concert hall with the Beetles, Elton John or even Led Zeppelin. Had these audiences been given a steady diet of good music in the first place, this kind of dichotomy never would have been necessary!

This is the secret: music is supposed to make you feel good! I know that this is a very unpopular statement among the snobs of the artistic world, but if the classical music concert hall really had a fulfilling purpose, in spite of the current economic situation, it would thrive instead of facing bankruptcy. But instead, it continues to remain simply as a meeting place for the "cultural elite" (as if there really is any culture left in the land of McDonalds and Walmart), with the same tired rituals of applause, intermission and encores, and a complement of bored musicians who punch the clock for the pay.


The people… you know the one's that buy the tickets… don't care about your brilliant intellectual music! ENOUGH! Either consistently provide them with an experience that makes them feel good, or watch them go away. Loose the tuxedos, or loose your audience... and your orchestra.

It is time to turn away from the dictates of the musical intelligentsia: the "contemporary composers," the professors, the academia. Conductors, directors, boards of directors: you must program music that will make people feel good again, music that they love to listen to. We have turned our backs on simplicity and beauty and instead accepted the dictates of what I call the Mental Masturbators. Concentrate upon finding a new audience: people who would have never considered attending a concert before. Let them discover great music!

And we must transform the professional side of the symphony orchestra also. Musicians are going to need to start volunteering, putting the mission of bringing back great music ahead of making money. The fact is that there is not the kind of money that used to exist in music anymore. Music must come out of love now, and that is just the way that it should be. If there are people in your orchestra who are just there for the job… then get rid of them. Find someone who loves music and just wants to play.

The 20th Century with its disturbed art, its discords, its conglomerates, its politicians and academia is over! Throw it out of the concert halls. Enough is enough. As the economy, religion and art melt, along with the ice caps, it is time to restore live music to it's rightful position as healer of the people, uplifter of emotion, and builder of character. I dare an American symphony orchestra to accept the challenge:

Instead of loosing your audience……

Loose the stiff atmosphere.
Loose the applause and the encores… all that 19th century clap-trap.
Loose the completely stupid tuxedos and dark dresses.
Loose the intermission.
Loose the amplification.
Get rid of the musicians that think tonal music exists only to pander to the public.
Loose the 20th-century discords: the vibrations of good music will lift up your concert hall forever.
Loose the attitude. Music is all about people. Music is all about felling good (give me a reason why it should not!).
Use both stage and hall lighting creatively.
Think about dance, and enactments, and multi-media.
Finally… just perform the great works of beauty, new and old.

And now, here are the musical works that will draw me out of my warm house on a freezing cold night…..

Works for Orchestra

Bach, J.C. - Sinfonia Opus 3, No. 2
Bach, J.C. - Sinfonia Op. 3, No. 3
Bach, J.C. - Sinfonia Op. 9 No. 2
Bach, J.C. - Opus 18 No. 1 in Eb major for Double Orchestra
Bach, J.S. - Orchestra Suite No. 3 in D Major
Barber - Adagio for Strings
Bartok - Suite No. 2, Op. 4
Brahms - Symphony No. 2
The Beethoven Symphonies
The Beethoven Overtures
The Bruckner Symphonies
Chausson - Viviane, symphonic poem, Op.5
Chausson - Soir de Fête, symphonic poem, Op.32
Chausson - Poeme d'amour et de la mer, Op. 19
Chausson - Symphony in B flat major, Op. 20
Debussy - Danses Sacree et Profane
Debussy - Nocturnes
Debussy - Printemps
Debussy - Prelude a l'apres-midi d'un Faun
Debussy - La Mer
Dukas - Symphony in C
Duparc - Aux étoiles
Duparc - Danse lente
Duparc - Lenore
Durufle - Three Dances for Orchestra
Dvorak - Symphony No. 9 "From the New World"
Franck - Psyche Suite
Franck - Symphony in D Minor
Franck - Les Eolides
Gabrieli - Canzona Quarti Toni
Gershwin - American in Paris
Gliere - Symphony No. 3
Gorecki - Symphony No. 3
Grieg - Two Lyric Pieces, Op. 68
Grieg - Wedding Day at Troldhaugen, Op. 65
Grieg - Lyric Suite, Op. 54
Hanson - Symphony No. 2
Hovhaness - Symphony No. 2 "Mysterious Mountain"
Holst - The Planets
Ibert - Escales
d'Indy - Jour d'ete, Op. 61
d'Indy - Souvenirs, Poeme pour orchestra, Op. 62
d'Indy - Symphony French Mountain Air
d'Indy - Tableaux de Voyage Op 36
Jongen - Symphonie Concertante for Organ and Orchestra
Lekeu - Adagio pour quatuor d'orchestre
Lekeu - 2ème Étude Symphonique
Liadov - The Enchanted Lake, Op. 62
Mozart - Symphony No. 41, K 551
Mussorgsky - Pictures at an Exposition orchestrated by Ravel
Nielson - Symphony No. 2
Orff - Entrata
Ravel - Alborada del Gracioso
Ravel - le Tombeau de Couperin
Ravel - Daphnis et Chloe
Respighi - Pines of Rome
Respighi - Fountains of Rome
Rimsky-Korsakov - Russian Easter Overture
Rimsky-Korsakov - Tale Of  the Tsar Saltan, Op. 57
Rimsky-Korsakov_ May Night Overture
Rimsky-Korsakov - Sadko, Op. 5
Ropartz - Symphony No. 1
Ropartz - Symphony No. 2
Ropartz - Symphony No. 4
Ropartz - Symphony No. 5
Ropartz - La Cloches des Morts
Saint-Saëns - Symphony No. 3
Satie - Gymnopédie No.1 and 3 orchestrated by Debussy
Schubert - Symphony No. 9 in C Major
Schubert - Symphony No. 8, the Unfinished
Schumann - Symphony No. 2 in C Major
Schumann - Symphony No. 3 n Eb, the "Rhenish"
Scriabin - Symphony No. 1
Scriabin - Symphony No. 2
Scriabin - Symphony No. 3 "The Divine Poem"
Sibelius - Symphony No. 2
Sibelius - Symphony No. 5
Sibelius - Symphony No. 7
Sibelius - En Saga
Sibelius - Oceanides
Sibelius - Tapiola
Sibelius - The Swan of Tuonela
Sibelius - Pohjola's Daughter
Smetana - Ma Vlast (My Country)
Stravinsky - Firebird Suite 1919
Tchaikovsky - Swan Lake Suite
Tchaikovsky - Romeo and Julliet
Tchaikovsky - Symphony No. 4
Tchaikovsky - Symphony No. 5
Tchaikovsky - Symphony No. 6
Tournemire - Poeme, Op 38 for Organ and Orchestra
Viadana - La Mantovana
Wagner - Overtures
Wagner - Excerpts arranged by Leopold Stokowski
Wagner - Siegfried Idyll, orchestral version
Weber - Overture to Der Freischutz

Works for Choir and Orchestra

Bach, J.C. - Kyrie in D Major
Bach, J.C. - Magnificat
Bach, J.S. - Mass in A Major BWV 234
Bach, J.S. - Mass in G Minor BWV 235
Bach, J.S. - Mass in F Major BWV 233
Bach, J.S. - Mass in G Major BWV 236
Bach, J.S. - Mass in B Minor BWV 232
Bach, J.S. - Sanctus BWV 238
Bach, J.S. - St. Matthew Passion BWV 244
Bach, J.S. - Cantata No. 1
Bach, J.S. - Cantata No. 5
Bach, J.S. - Cantata No. 11
Bach, J.S. - Cantata No. 56
Bach, J.S. - Cantata No. 76
Bach, J.S. - Cantata No. 51
Bach, J.S. - Cantata No. 147
Bach, J.S. - Cantata No. 82
Bach, J.S. - Cantata No. 69
Bach, J.S. - Cantata No. 80
Bach, J.S. - Cantata No. 106
Bartok - Three VIllage Scenes SZ 79
Beethoven - Choral Fantasy, Op. 80
The Beethoven Masses
Borodin - Polovitzian Dances
Bruckner - Mass No. 3 in F Minor
Buxtehude - Membra Jesu Nostri
Campra - Requiem
Campra - Benedictus Dominus
Campra - De Profundis
Campra - Notus In Judea Deus
Cavalli - Nisi Dominus
Cavalli - Magnificat
Colonna - Beatus Vir
Colonna - Beatus Vir a 9
Colonna - Mass a 5
Colonna - Dixit Dominus a 9
Colonna - Magnificat a 8
Charpentier - Midnight Mass
Cherubini - Requiem In C Minor
Debussy - La Damoiselle Elue
Durufle - Requiem, Op. 9
Durufle - Missa Cum Jubilo
Dvorak - Mass in D Major
Dvorak - Stabat Mater
Faure - Requiem
Franck - Mass
Franck - Rebecca
Franck - Redemption
Franck - Les Beatitudes
Franck - Psyche
Gabrieli - Both of his masses
Gabrieli - In Ecclesiis
Gabrieli - Plaudite
Handel - Messiah
Handel - Chandos Anthem No. 1
Lotti - Mass For Three Choirs
Monteverdi - 1610 Vespers
Monteverdi - 8th Book of Madrigals
Mozart - Missa in C, KV 167
Mozart - Vesperae KV 339
Orff - Carmina Burana
Perti - Magnificat
Perti - Mass a 5
Pergolesi - Stabat Mater
Rachmaninoff - The Bells, Op. 35
Ropartz - Symphony No. 3
Ropartz - The Miracle of Saint Nicolas
Ropartz - Nocturne (1926)
Ropartz - Psalm 136
Ropartz - Psalm 129
Rutter - I Will Lift Up My Eyes
Rutter - What Sweeter Music
Rutter - Requiem
Rutter - Angel's Carol
Rutter - All Things Bright and Beautiful
Rutter - The Lord Bless You and Keep You
Rutter - For the Beauty of the Earth
Schoenberg - Gurrelieder
Schubert - Mass in G Minor
Schubert - Mass in  Eb Major
Viadana - Vespers for 4 Choirs
Viadana - Requiem
Victoria - Magnificat Primi Toni a 8

Works for Violin and Orchestra

Barber - Violin Concerto
Bruch - Concerto for Violin and Orchestra No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 26
Chausson - Poeme Op 25
Korngold - VIolin Concerto
Massenet - Méditation from Thaïs
Mendelssohn - Violin Concerto
Nielson - VIolin Concerto
Ravel - Tzigane
Saint-Saëns - Violin Concerto No. 3, Op. 61
Sibelius - Violin Concerto
Tchaikovsky - Violin Concerto
Vaughan Williams - The Lark Ascending

Works for Piano and Orchestra

Addinsell - Warsaw Concerto
Bach, J.S. - Concerto for 4 Pianos and Strings BWV 1065
Bach, J.S. - Concerto for Two Pianos and Strings BWV 1060
Bach, J.S. - Concerto in G minor BWV 1058
Bach, J.S. - Concerto For Piano And Orchestra No. 5 in F Minor BWV 1056
Bach, J.S. - Concerto in A major BWV 1055
Chopin - Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor
Dvorak - Piano Concerto
Franck - Variations Symphonique
Gershwin - Rhapsody in Blue
Grieg - Piano Concerto
Katchaturian - Concerto for Piano and Orchestra
Mozart - Piano Concerto KV271
Mozart - Piano Concerto KV482
Mozart - Piano Concerto KV503
Mozart - Piano Concerto KV466
Mozart - Piano Concerto KV467
Rachmaninoff - Piano Concerto No. 2
Rachmaninoff - Piano Concerto No. 3
Rachmaninoff - Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini
Ravel - Concerto for the Left Hand
Ravel - Concerto in G Major
Saint-Saëns - Piano Concerto #5 In F, Op. 103
Schumann - Piano Concerto
Scriabin - Piano Concerto
Tchaikovsky - PIano Concerto No. 1

Works for Cello and Orchestra
Dvorak - Cello Concerto in B minor, Op.104
Lekeu - Larghetto pour violoncello solo et ensemble

Work for Guitar and Orchestra
Rodrigo - Concerto de Aranjuez

Works for Soloist(s) and Orchestra
Chausson - Poeme d'amour et de la mer, Opus 19
De Falla - El Amor Brujo
Duparc - The orchestrated songs
Strauss, R - Four Last Songs
Villa-Lobos - Brazilian Bachaneros No. 5

Semi-Classical Music for Orchestra
Anderson - Sleigh Ride
Anderson - Saraband
Anderson - Belle of the Ball
Anderson - Forgotten Dreams
Anderson - Fiddle Faddle
Borodin - Polovitzian Dances - Orchestral version
Borodin - In the Steppes of Central Asia
Brahams - Hungarian Dances
Chabrier - Espana
Debussy - Petite Suite (orchestrated by Büsser)
Delibes - Ballet music
Dukas - The Sorcerer's Apprentice
Dvorak - Slovonic Dances
Enescu - Romanian Rhapsodies, Op.11
Faure - Dolly Suite
Gounod - Faust Ballet Music
Grieg - Peer Gynt Suites
Grieg - Norwegian Dances, Op. 35
Grieg - Symphonic Dances, Op.64
Griffes - The White Peacock
Herbert - Irish Rhapsody
d'Indy - La Foret Enchantee, Op. 8
Katchaturian - Masquerade Suite
Ketelby - In a Persian Market
Liadov - Eight Russian Folk Songs, Op. 58
Lincke - Gavotte Pavlova ("Glow Worm Fantasy")
Milhaud - Le Boeuf Sur Le Toit, Op. 58
Prokofiev - Lieutenant Kije
Prokofiev - Peter and the Wolf
Rachmaninoff - Vocalise For Orchestra, Op. 34 No. 14
Ravel - Pavane pour une infante défunte
Rimsky-Korsakov - Scheherazade
Saint-Saëns_ Danse Macabre, Op. 40
Schubert - Rosamunde Ballet Music
Scriabin - Reverie, Op. 24
Smetana - Overture to the Bartered Bride
Strauss, Johann - Artist's LIfe Waltz
Strauss, Johann - Blue Danube Waltz
Strauss, Johann - Tales from the Vienna Woods
Tchaikovsky - Nutcracker Suite

Works for String Orchestra
Corelli - Christmas Concerto, Op. 6 No. 8
Dvorak - Serenade for Strings
Geminiani - Concerto Grossi, Op. 3
Giazotto - Adagio in G Minor for Organ and Strings (Attr. to Albinoni)
Grieg - Holberg Suite, Op. 40
Grieg - Two Elegiac Melodies for String Orchestra, Op. 34
Grieg - Two Nordic Melodies, Op. 63
Handel - Concerto Grosso, Op 6, No. 11 in A Major
Locatelli - Concerto Grosso in E flat major, Op. 7 No. 6
Manfredini - Christmas Concerto Op. 3 No. 12
Marcello - Concerto for Oboe and String Orchestra in C minor
Pachelbel - Canon
Sibelius - Romance
Sibelius - Valse Triste
Torelli - Christmas Concerto Op. 8 No. 6
Vaughan Williams -- Fantasia on a theme by Thomas Tallis
Vaughan Williams -- Fantasia on Greensleves
Vivaldi - Concerto A 5 L'amoroso RV 271
Vivaldi - Concerto A 4 Madrigalesco RV 129
Vivaldi - Sinfonia 4 _Al Santo Sepolcro_ RV 169

Don Robertson
January, 2010