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Feliz Navidad & A New Year Resolution

NYC_SkylineWhilst being privileged to take my son up to the top of The Empire State building in NYC the other day, I was watching the late afternoon sun sparkle on the water looking downtown toward the Statue of Liberty.  I was struck by the observation that, in that fleeting moment, all the elements were lining up for a fabulous photo; one simply having to wait for that moment when the effects of light and water intermingled to give the optimal photographic result.

Synonymously, it reminds me of the methodology of rehearsing orchestras to elicit the best performance. Making performances is little different to en plein air painting wherein the canvas objects are subject to shifting light densities.  Timing when to put the artist’s brush to the canvas is key to the artform – and what an artform!  For orchestral conductors, the deft touch needed to paint using the inestimable skill of orchestral players to achieve the perfect result is very difficult indeed.  Too often, as conductors, we fail subsequently asking the orchestra musicians to come back tomorrow whilst we practise our artistic insights over again.

My favorite conducting experiences this year have been with the Australian Discovery Orchestra for live-stream concerts.  My least favorite experiences – conducting university orchestras of varying abilities in the USA.  Someone questioned me recently why I found these student-level orchestras an unenviable proposition to work with, assuming my answer would in all likelihood be about the respective orchestras’ technical shortcomings. But that isn’t the problem. Continue Reading →

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A Conductor Is Not A Policeman…Or A Circus Clown

Kevin_Purcell

Photo_Simon Schluter

In the immortal words of Neil Diamond, ‘hello again!’

So what has been happening?  Recording sessions, concerts, a new musical to write, a previous musical to revise, a TV series demystifying Opera….the list goes on.

But we’re not here today for that update, although it is coming down the pipeline soon.

Today’s small topic is about ‘What you are doing is not conducting, and would you please stop referring to it as such when you are being nothing more than a policeman!’  OK, it’s a long title, but it represents the core perspective of this post.  Yes, you’re right, something is bugging me and it is this: Continue Reading →

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Recordings in June and July

I have had remarkably little time in the last month, other than to keep my head above that euphemistically imaginary line labelled ‘Drowning’.  I have started to consider how much music can one conductor keep in his/her head at any one time.  Without doubt, I have discovered my limit!

This month sees the culmination of two recording projects, for release in 2017, that have been long in the planning and about to be short in the execution.

The first of these projects is the new CD of the music of contemporary American composer, Nan Schwartz to be recorded at the marvellous Synchron Stage facility in Vienna. The original Synchronhalle was built in the 1940s, adjacent to Rosenhügel-Filmstudios as part of “Film City Vienna”. In the 1960s, eminent classical artists such as Karl Böhm, Herbert von Karajan, Yehudi Menuhin, Sviatoslav Richter and Mstislav Rostropovich used the halle for some of their now-legendary recordings.

Nan Schwartz

Nan Schwartz

Nan Schwartz comes from a family musical pedigree that is astounding, yet simultaneously defining in the emergence of her own unique musical voice in Amercian Music. Contrary to the availability of her Jazz arrangements, television and film music on records and CDs, the lack of available commercial recordings of Nan’s concert music is a major oversight – one that is about to be corrected.

Her family legacy includes a father who played with the Glenn Miller Orchestra and performed on nearly every Frank Sinatra recording, and a mother who performed such chart-topping hits as “Chicago” and “On the Sunny Side of the Street” for musical legend Tommy Dorsey before going on to work as a studio singer for Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Judy Garland, Henry Mancini, and Sonny and Cher, among others.

With a record 7 Emmy nominations, a Grammy win for her elegant and sophisticated arrangement of “Here’s That Rainy Day” for Natalie Cole, two 2014 Grammy nominations (Gianmarco & Amy Dickson), and a 2013 Grammy nomination (The London Symphony Orchestra) Nan’s melodic, harmonically-rich music, is a perfect vehicle for symphony orchestras to peform.  No doubt you will start to see her name on orchestra concert programs in the near future.

The second project is the recording of Brenton Broadstock’s concerto for orchestra, Made in Heaven, that I premiered with the Australian Discovery Orchestra two weeks ago in one of their live-streamed Internet concerts.  This is a marvellous piece and a wonderful homage to ‘Kind of Blue’, the iconic Jazz album of 1959 from Miles Davis.  It is incredible how this large-scale work (for a very large orchestra) captures the heart and soul of this Jazz masterpiece without ever using a single melody from any tune on the record – it’s like a classical music counterpart to the five tunes that make up the album.

Made in Heaven will be recorded in Bratislava in early July.

More soon,

Kevin

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The Demise of DG’s Sinfini Platform: From Critic To Convert

Sinfini_Music_LogoIt surprised me a little that the demise of UMG’s entry-level platform to Classical Music – SINFINI –  caused hardly a ripple when it was announced in December 2015 its activities would be wound down.

In fact so little a ripple was created, I missed the announcement altogether.

When Sinfini launched in 2012; created by outgoing UMG Chairman and Chief Executive Max Hole, I was highly critical of the entire enterprise being in agreement with music critic Igor Toronyi-Lalic’s view of Sinfini’s “ingratiating tweeness”.  I have since changed my mind.

The Classical Music business is a very poor business indeed. It suffers unheralded ignominies by its gatekeepers – the few remaining multinational record companies – because of its inability to make them vast revenues quickly.  Classical music product is extremely expensive to make (I know!); takes months or even years to plan and execute, only to be ever so quickly consigned to the 50% off ‘Sale’ bin ( if you remember when there were actual record stores?)

If there are real heroes in this ugly business, it is the niche, independent boutique record companies that are keeping the patient alive (if only barely).  But, the unpalatable truth is that the record companies simply don’t care because of the sheer size of their legacy and back catalog of classical music already recorded able to be repackaged and re-issued, ad infinitum, in any applicable technical format of the day.

What has this to do with Sinfini? Continue Reading →

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If You Listen Very Carefully….

In this informative discussion about ‘Music Director Searches’ for orchestras organised by the Conductors Guild (of which I am a Board member for purposes of disclosure) I was most impressed by comments offered by Henry Fogel.  Mr. Fogel is Dean of the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University. Between 2003-2008, Mr. Fogel was President and CEO of the League of American Orchestras.  In fact his list of professional accomplishments is extensive.

Mr. Fogel (and his son Karl) also run a website called HenrysRecords.org which is one of the most wonderful resources for classical music recordings available anywhere on the Internet.

The disclosure statement is important as the Conductors Guild is currently developing a new handbook on this specific topic – and one that presents quite contrary views to an extant document published by the League of American Orchestras.

This little Google Hangout online seminar has particulary good information for younger orchestral conductors trying to make the first big leap to a music director role – an issue specifically addressed by Mr. Fogel on several occasions.  The information from all participants in this seminar, including both Diane Wittry and Gabriel Lefkowitz, is honest and generally well-considered.

My only concern in this presentation is the rather limited understanding of the place and inclusion of contemporary composers in the orchestral repertoire and the somewhat unhelpful antagonism toward some types of contemporary orchestral music as expressed by several of the participants.  This topic might have better been avoided frankly, if only for the reason that the sentiments expressed tend to reinforce the outmoded and ill-informed attitudes commonly heard by many orchestra artistic administrative personnel.  It’s the classic chicken or the egg scenario.  Since I have written extensively on this in the past, I won’t mount my soapbox again here.

Also, pre-announcement to conclude today’s post:  Mark your calendars for the Australian Discovery Orchestra’s opening 2017-17 season concert on May 29, streamed live from the ADO website.

From late April also check out our 3D interactive environment where you can explore the world of the music we are presenting in this concert event.

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Kurt Masur and Pierre Boulez

Kurt_MasurAfter my diatribe the day before yesterday about the situation at ENO, I felt it was necessary to write something utterly positive. What could be positive about the passing of two great maestri you ask? Well what about reminiscences from long-serving and ex-orchestral musicians in the New York Philharmonic about both these illustrious conductors. Fortunately AFM’s Local 802 here in New York posts its magazine online. You can read the Reminiscenes article here.

But not only that, I would like to point out one paragraph in the article from long-serving double-bassist in the NYPhil., Orin O’Brien.  And I reprint it here for good measure:

“I would like to put in a word here for all orchestral musicians everywhere: it has been fashionable for music critics to write that “such-and-such an orchestra either likes or dislikes a conductor.” No attitude could be more wrongly portrayed. Every professional musician I have ever known has wished to collaborate with the kind of conductor exemplified by a Kleiber or a Bernstein, who allowed an orchestra to play its best. This means that each player, giving all that is possible to be his or her absolute best in every minute of a rehearsal or concert, is playing for the music, for the audience and for the conductor. I have never known any musician to want anything but to play beautifully, to serve the composer most of all. The miracle (which sometimes occurs at a rehearsal, not only at a concert) of a memorable flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon or horn solo, the delicate shimmer of a pianissimo cymbal, or a concertmaster’s tender arpeggio – those are precious, shared, ideal moments that form the character of an orchestra.”

You want Ms. O’Brien playing for you everyday if you conduct an orchestra!

More soon,

Kevin

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