The American humorist Joe Queenan has stirred up a tempest about the performance of contemporary music, and for that, at least, we should thank him. He has published a Guardian essay, “Admit it, you’re as bored as I am,” that grows out of what he tells us is attendance at 1,500 concerts in the past 40 years. In those concerts he has been caused to listen to a fair amount of new music, to which his response might be summed up in the immortal words of E.B. White: “I say it’s spinach and to hell with it.”
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We’ve now lost a great singer of the vintage of Magda Olivero. Though their métiers have been cultivated in very different atmospheres and circumstances, the timeless values of communication through song are displayed by both. Abounding obituaries testify to the force of Jo Stafford’s art, as does this performance, which now seems valedictory:

As someone has said before, poetry makes us think its words, music makes us feel its tones, but song makes us feel its words.


July 10, 2008

It’s a theme fit for Kafka: a person gets lost in the maze of YouTube, never to return. For music-lovers the daily-expanding selection of videos online is astounding — and gratifying. The very young are exploiting the medium with an abandon that acts out a democracy beyond the dreams of Jefferson. I recently met an exorbitantly gifted 18-year-old pianist who has publicly documented much of his repertory on YouTube, beginning with a performance when he was only 3 years old.

Last evening I enjoyed one of those online feasts in front of the screen and want to point to a couple of particularly valuable videos. The first is a talk given by Gérard Mortier recently in Denver. I won’t characterize it or prejudice other potential viewers, except to make one observation: the man’s love, yea passion, for opera is manifest and to me, at least, inspiring. Here is the video link, courtesy of Opera America.

From illuminating talk about opera to an incandescent example of the singer’s art at its highest level. Here is the great Magda Olivero singing an aria from one of her celebrated rôles. She was 83 years old at the time of this performance:

In 1996 I had the great privilege of meeting Magda Olivero, backstage at the Palau de la Música Catalana in Barcelona, after a brilliant recital by Marilyn Horne. A colleague wrote to me today, saying that she had also been at that recital and was thrilled to meet Olivero. She naturally esteemed this a once-in-a-lifetime experience. A few days later, she was in Milan and

Imagine my surprise when I took a bus tour to Cremona and, as I got onto the bus, there was Magda!

Magda Olivero may well give us all hope through her demonstrations that it is possible still to keep doing fine things at an advanced age. Perhaps one reason Olivero has aged so gracefully and sung so well for so long is that she has been a true diva onstage but was not above taking ordinary bus tours.

To say that someone lives on after his or her earthly journey is ended is a cliché that is easily tossed off. But I was struck again at a concert last night with how profoundly right this worn image can be in the case of Leonard Bernstein.
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One of the boons of New York summers is the explosion of free music — much of it outdoors. But a classical series that starts on Monday combines the casualness of summer with the comfort of an indoor venue for appealing artists whom we may not have encountered before. And did I mention the price of tickets?

We owe these concerts to the River to River Festival, Pace University, and Classical Action (which has been lauded here before).

The first concert in the Summer Stars Classical Music Series will be given by rising young clarinetist José Franch-Ballester. Here’s the link to the whole classical series, which I’m looking forward to visiting as much as possible. But there are many other riches of all kinds on the calendar, so it’s a good chance to broaden horizons — from river to river, in fact.

The following bracing news comes from Aleba Gartner Associates in New York:

A Cultural Prelude to the Olympics

Yale School of Music Teams with Beijing’s Central Conservatory of Music to Host “Musicathlon,” A Cultural Prelude to the Olympics. The Yale School of Music and Beijing’s Central Conservatory of Music will host students from ten of the world’s most elite schools of music this summer in Beijing. The concert halls of Beijing will be filled with concerts, lectures and master classes for two weeks prior to the start of the Olympic Games, from July 9 to July 24.

    Philharmonia Orchestra of Yale

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