Monday, January 14, 2013

800 Words: Evan and Hauptmann Rinderherz discuss the Berlin Philharmonic (Part 1)

(Evan gets home around 8:30 in the evening Thursday night to find that Hauptmann Rinderherz is still in his underwear. Hauptmann Rinderherz is the 53-year-old, crew-cutted, 6’6, 350 lbs, German man who’s been crashing on Evan’s couch since September. They met one day at bar trivia in East Baltimore, and quickly came to learn that this was a kindred spirit with a seemingly bottomless knowledge of classical music, and who’d been evicted from his apartment a week earlier. In a moment he’d come to regret endlessly, Evan invited Hauptmann Rinderherz to crash on his couch for the night. Since then, Hauptmann Rinderherz has never so much as left the couch except to go to the bathroom. Evan would later find out from HaWestbrook that there was, in fact, no apartment, and he’d been moving from couch to couch until his host tires enough of him to call the police. On Evan’s coffeetable is Hauptmann Rinderherz’s 400-CD collection of Carlos Kleiber and Sergiu Celibidache bootlegs, which the good Herr Hauptmann has not bothered organizing or even listening to because they can all be found now on his youtube channel, the views of which he seems to check as often as possible.

From the little information Evan can coax out of him, Hauptmann Rinderherz would appear to have been a rising star in the East Berlin police who specialized in interrogations (only violent criminals, not political prisoners), but his career was tragically derailed by the fall of the Berlin Wall. Because he refused under oath to falsely acknowledge that he was ever a member of the Stasi, he was not allowed to continue his police work. He then decided to pursue the music career he abandoned at the behest of his mother who told him daily that her fondest wish for her son was to die for Germany. Hauptmann Rinderherz was apparently a childhood musical prodigy, and even claims that as a teenager he studied piano at the Moscow Conservatory under Emil Gilels, but Evan has yet to see Hauptmann Rinderherz approach a piano or even hear him speak a word of Russian. For the first few years after the wall fell, Herr Hauptmann made his living operating a floor-buffer in the lobby of the Philharmonie. But when Simon Rattle was elected the next leader of the Berlin Philharmonic in 1999, Hauptmann Rinderherz was so disgusted that he elected to leave for America.

Hauptmann Rinderherz lived for the next few years as a loafer, jumping coal train to coal train for the next few years through all the various American cities until he happened to catch an episode of The Wire through the window of a Radio Shack in Toledo. He immediately realized that of all American cities, Baltimore alone had the gritty dinginess to remind him of the good old days of the Honecker dictatorship when everybody was banded together in the communal solidarity of mutual misery.)

Evan: Hello Herr Hauptmann! How was your day?

Hauptmann Rinderherz: Ach. This latest post of yours is insufferably pompous - presenting your own personal opinions as though it’s a new theory. You never were much of an intellectual.

Evan: I’m not an intellectual. I just play one on the internet. And I never said it was anywhere near complete or anything more than attempt to gather my thoughts.

Hauptmann Rinderherz: We must work on your thought gathering ja? It is something you have very little ability for. 

Evan: Maybe I should have called it a self-interview.

Hauptmann Rinderherz: Ah! Now I understand you. Like Witold Gombrowicz?

Evan: …Why not….

Hauptmann Rinderherz: Ach, such a magnificent novelist, the Poles never had another. Have you ever read Ferdydurke?

Evan: I tried, I didn’t like it.

Hauptmann Rinderherz: You wouldn’t.

Evan: What does that mean?

Hauptmann Rinderherz: It’s the same reason you won’t read Hermann Broch. You are intimidated by the thought that intelligences are greater than yourselves.

Evan:  I’ve just come around to the point of view that if you’re insecure enough to have to show off what you know, you’re probably insecure about the fact that you don’t know that much. (pauses to contemplate the various ironies of that last sentence…)

Hauptmann Rinderherz: (mutters) Typical anti-intellectual Americanische…

Evan: Most Americans I know would probably disagree.

Hauptmann Rinderherz: What do these idioten know? Spoiled and weak from comforts and thinking a year of unemployment is the world-end. In 1945 my mother lived on a single herring for a month!

Evan: She was dehoused by Allied bombing?

Hauptmann Rinderherz: Nein. Just anorexic.

Evan: Ah. I’m sorry.

Hauptmann Rinderherz: Bitte nicht, don’t apologize. She was my size and diabetic by the time I was five.

Evan: How do Northern Europeans always age so quickly?

Hauptmann Rinderherz: It’s in our blood. The new generation needs breathing room!

Evan: Are you at all aware of how you sound to other people?

Hauptmann Rinderherz: Yes. But your demand for a sense of irony is an easily surmountable obstacle.

Evan: Y’know…I’m still trying to figure out if you’re charming or a genuinely offensive stereotype. And can I please use my own computer?

Hauptmann Rinderherz: Here.

(Herr Hauptmann gives Evan the computer and picks up his copy of On Nature by Anaximander. Evan checks mail, looks at facebook, and checks his blog for pageviews. When he goes to twitter, he sees an extremely newsworthy development for classical music fans.)

Evan: Herr Hauptmann! Look at this! Apparently Simon Rattle is leaving the Berlin Philharmonic.

Hauptmann Rinderherz: Mr. Tucker thank you very much for your hospitality. I shall leave right now.

Evan: Really?

Hauptmann Rinderherz: Now that Simon Rattle is leaving the Philharmoniker, it is safe to go back to Berlin.

Evan: Well, far be it for me to stop you, but he's not leaving for another five years. And who knows, he might still change his mind and make peace with the orchestra.

Hauptmann Rinderherz: Nevertheless, this is the greatest victory for Rattlehaters in our long, illustrious history. I must go join the cheering throngs who are dancing in the streets.

Evan: I highly doubt there are any cheering throngs to celebrate Simon Rattle's departure. And why do you hate Simon Rattle so much?

Hauptmann Rinderherz: Ach! So viele grunde! He is the Barack Obama of music! A celebrity leichtgewichtler who put your hintere in the seat so he can feed you Scheissemusik! More rock singer than conductor!

Evan: What’s wrong with being a rock star? Wouldn’t it be great to have classical musicians who got the kind of publicity rock stars do?

Hauptmann Rinderherz: It is a pollution of music’s natural purity! The kultur industry now dictates how we must appreciate the classics! First they gave us a jazz conductor mit Leonard Bernstein, now we have this rock star Simon Rattle.

Evan: Was that any reason to leave Germany?

Hauptmann Rinderherz: Ach nein! I came to America to meet der Johnny Cash!

Evan: So you actually like American popular music?

Hauptmann Rinderherz: He sang Der Ring!

Evan: Herr Hauptmann… I don’t think that the same Ring.

Hauptmann Rinderherz: I know that! But he is the noble savage! The animal vox populi which must be kept in complete kulturkampf from Heilige Deutsche Kunst! I came to America to resist rock music. I came to America to look der Johnny Cash in the eye and tell him that he shall not triumph!

Evan: Why must the two cultures be kept separate? Don’t you think classical musicians might learn something from Johnny Cash? Who, by the way, has been dead for nearly ten years.

Hauptmann Rinderherz: Nein! So long as art is polluted by his energy we shall never free ourselves from the shakles of animal man to achieve our true worldspiritpotential!

Evan: I think that’s a little unfair. There is plenty of animal energy in classical music. And even if what you’re saying may have a very small grain of truth, why blame Simon Rattle for it?

Hauptmann Rinderherz: Because musicians like Rattle are the reason that all that is good in art shall never triumph. And his performances are terrible!

Evan: No they’re not!

Hauptmann Rinderherz: So you truly believe that Simon Rattle is the Maestro from all the Maestros?

Evan: He’s one of them, certainly. He has his problems as a conductor, but he’s no lightweight. He’s a fantastic musician who came to Berlin for all the best reasons. The musicians of the Berlin Philharmonic knew that if they wanted to maintain their reputation as the world’s greatest orchestra, they had to modernize themselves very quickly. But they didn’t let Rattle finish the job, so now they’ll be just another fine German orchestra which specializes in Brahms and Bruckner – no different than the Staatskapelles Dresden or Berlin, but not quite as good as either. 

Hauptmann Rinderherz: So honestly you think the Philharmoniker lost its position as the world’s greatest orchestra by chasing Rattle from the baton?

Evan: The Berlin Philharmonic probably never was the greatest orchestra in the world, and it especially wasn’t the greatest under Karajan.  At least the Vienna Philharmonic was probably the world’s greatest orchestra in the 1870’s and 80’s, and it’s lived in that era ever since. But the supremacy of the Berlin Philharmonic was always a myth.

Hauptmann Rinderherz: I can’t believe what I’m hearing! Listen to how much better they sounded from the Karajan and Furtwangler years. Listen to the final years of Abbado!

Evan: Berlin never got Simon Rattle at his best because the more traditional members of the orchestra weren’t willing to give him their best. They resented the fact that he was their director at all, and that limited how willing they were to commit to his performances. And perhaps now that they know Rattle is leaving, they’ll perform better for him in the same way their performances for Abbado improved once they realized he was leaving too.

Hauptmann Rinderherz: They resented him because he wasn’t a conductor good enough!

Evan: Well it’s true that he’s not the greatest conductor in the world performance-wise. He has a kind of interpretive attention deficit disorder which makes him too reckless. Conductors like Bernstein and Barenboim have a level of genius that allows them make up their interpretations on the spot and still make musical sense, Rattle doesn’t but thinks he does. But even so, it’s amazing how many risks he gets away with, and I’ll take Rattle’s fearlessness over the kind of overprotective carefulness you get from most conductors any day of the week.

Hauptmann Rinderherz: But if he’s not performance-wise the greatest conductor in the world, he’s not the greatest conductor in the world. Only performances matter.

Evan: The performance is just one part of a conductor’s responsibility. Rattle is a great conductor because he brings music to others who would never hear it otherwise. He made sure the Berlin Philharmonic musicians were all well-paid before he even signed his contract. He’s involved inner-city children in concerts, he brought in great multimedia artists for interdisciplinary performances, he established an education department for the Berlin Philharmonic, he is absolutely undogmatic in terms of the repertoire he performs, and he’s always rethinking his interpretations of what he performs. To me, that is indicative of the fact that he is one of the very greatest conductors who ever lived.

Hauptmann Rinderherz: Well I just think he is lucky. A wunderkind who was not talented yet had every advantage other musicians never have.

Evan: Well it can’t be denied that luck certainly played its role in Rattle’s career. But Rattle should be measured by what he’s done with his luck. And very few musicians have used luck to do more good.

Hauptmann Rinderherz: Ach. Do good, what does good and evil have to do with music?

Evan: What is the point of Beethoven’s message if people aren’t there to hear it?

Hauptmann Rinderherz: People will hear it!

Evan: How?

Hauptmann Rinderherz: By force!

Evan: What??

Hauptmann Rinderherz: If they do not hear the message of die neunte symphonie, they must be made to listen and appreciate its importance.

Evan: Is this what you really believe?

Hauptmann Rinderherz: 300%.

Evan: So… then I’m just going to take a guess that you would like to see Christian Thielemann replace Rattle.

Hauptmann Rinderherz: Ja ja. Er ist Der Meister. The greatest since Furtwangler!

Evan: High praise indeed. Though you do realize that he’s branching out now and making a real effort to conduct Russian and French music, right?

Hauptmann Rinderherz: Ja. But he doesn’t look like he likes it.

Evan: Well, you’re in luck, because Thielemann will probably be the next director. 

Hauptmann Rinderherz: Wirklich? I thought he would be too committed to his work in Dresden and Bayreuth.

Evan: Furtwangler and Nikisch both conducted the Berlin Philharmonic and the Leipzig Gewandhaus simultaneously. Karajan held jobs with the Vienna Opera, the Vienna Symphony, the Salzburg Festival, and L’Orchestre de Paris at the same time that he headed the Berlin Philharmonic. I don’t think it’s good for music, but conductors hold multiple jobs all the time and put in too few hours with every one of them.

Hauptmann Rinderherz: Do not give me false hope! A Thielemann Philharmoniker would be a golden age for music!

Evan: Well, Thielemann is a very talented conductor, but he conducts a limited repertoire. And even in his specialties, he has many of the same problems as an interpreter that Simon Rattle has.

Hauptmann Rinderherz: Do not you dare to compare der meister to that Beatlesschwindler!

Evan: Think about it. They both have amazing ears for orchestral color, they both relish the big tunes, and they can both go to ridiculous interpretive extremes.

Hauptmann Rinderherz: It is not ridiculous when Thielemann does it! He lives and suffers for his holy art!

Evan: Well, I think he goes to a lot of excesses that don’t come off particularly well. But if you don’t want a heart attack from too much excitement, why don’t we discuss some of the other alternatives. How do you feel about Daniele Gatti? When it wasn’t certain Rattle would extend his contract past 2012, the musicians conducted a poll for whom they wanted to be the next conductor and Gatti was the winner.

Hauptmann Rinderherz: Ein grosser Maestro. The greatest of the Italians except for Il Giulini.

Evan: Wow. No other Italians earn your approbation?

Hauptmann Rinderherz: Toscanini was a kappellmeister, no imagination or gemutlichkeit. De Sabata has no innigkeit, Muti too much loves the Italian music, Chailly is an annihilator of all German, and Abbado used to be better before he went to Berlin.

Evan: But Gatti clearly loves Verdi.

Hauptmann RInderherz: Nobody’s perfect.

Evan: Well, I don’t much care for Gatti and I don’t see the big deal about him. Technically, his performances are often disasters, and that would be alright if he sounded like he inspires orchestras. But he doesn’t, and instead he just has a lot of interpretive quirks that his technique isn’t good enough to make the orchestras play.

Hauptmann Rinderherz: But there is so much innigkeit in his performances!

Evan: I’m still not sure what this innigkeit thing is… but I’ll let it go. And in any event, he keeps getting invited back to the greatest orchestras, so clearly orchestral musicians see something in him I don’t.

Hauptmann Rinderherz: Ja ja. And certainly would he be preferable to Paavo Jarvi.

Evan: Really? I love Paavo Jarvi, I just wish he would stop trying to conduct 5 orchestras at a time.

Hauptmann Rinderherz: Jarvi is terrible. Such awful Beethoven.

Evan: I love Jarvi’s Beethoven. Hell, I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a performance by Jarvi which I didn’t think was great. But I don’t think you have to worry too much. He’s clearly beloved in Frankfurt and he’ll probably be the director of four more orchestras by the time the Berlin Philharmonic begins to consider who their next director might be.

Hauptmann Rinderherz: Well if not Thielemann, the next director should be Andris Nelsons. Ein grosser Wagnerleiter.

Evan: Well I agree that he’d be a very good choice, maybe even the prudent one. He’ll be only 40 when Rattle leaves, he’s a very fine conductor of all sorts of music, including many composers you don’t like, and he always has interesting ideas. But if you expect another Furtwangler, you won’t get it in Nelsons.  

Hauptmann Rinderherz: Why not?

Evan: He’s far too catholic in his tastes to limit himself to German music. And his basic tempos are far, far quicker than Furtwangler’s. He’s more like Mengelberg than Furtwangler.

Hauptmann Rinderherz: To even have a Mengelberg today…

Evan: Well, you’re a Celibidache fan. What do you think of Semyon Bychkov?

Hauptmann Rinderherz: He’s no Celibidache! How can you make that comparison even?

Evan: They’re both uncompromising masters of the craft who hate the wear and tear of being a music director, they’ve whittled their repertoire down to the pieces they really love, they both started their careers at the top of the profession and then had periods of working in obscurity so they could get the results they wanted. 

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