Friday, January 18, 2013

800 Words: Evan and Hauptmann Rinderherz Discuss the Berlin Philharmonic (part 2)

Hauptmann Rinderherz: Zo, who do you think are the world’s great conductors?

Evan: It depends on how you define greatness.

Hauptmann Rinderherz: Nein, there is only one way can we define greatness. Nur performance.

Evan: That’s not true at all. Greatness is how much they give to music, rather than how much music gives them. When conductors collect thirty thousand dollars for a one-week engagement during which they perform a piece both the conductor and the orchestra barely need to rehearse before they perform to an audience which knows no more about the wonders of this piece of music by the end of the performance than they did at the beginning, that’s not greatness. I don’t care how effective or affecting the performance is, that’s cultural evil.

Hauptmann Rinderherz: OK. Ich habe nicht the energy fur this fight. What conductors you think give the best performance?

Evan: Well… Let’s see… The ones whom I think have totally mastered the art of performance?

Hauptmann Rinderherz: Ja. Who gives the best performance?

Evan: Of what composer?

Hauptmann Rinderherz: Any.

Evan: You can’t do that.

Hauptmann Rinderherz: Warum nicht?

Evan: Because lots of conductors give great performances of some composers and are terrible in others.

Hauptmann Rinderherz: That is not true! I find that many conductors who are good in one composer are good in them all.

Evan: That’s because you only like five composers.

Hauptmann Rinderherz: Untrue! I like sixteen!

Evan: But some of them you don't love passionately, like Mendelssohn, Mahler, Handel, Gluck...basically the one's who aren't German enough to be loved.

Hauptmann Rinderherz: Ja! But I still like them!

Evan: The only composers I'm convinced you love are Bach, Weber, Wagner, Schumann, and Richard Strauss. And sometimes I even have my doubts about Schumann and Strauss. 

Evan: Alright, enough from me. So who’s consistent over a huge number of composers…well, I have to include Riccardo Chailly,…

Hauptmann Rinderherz (interrupting): Schrecklich!

Hauptmann Rinderherz: Scheisse!

Hauptmann Rinderherz: O weh!

Hauptmann Rinderherz: O Gott!

Evan: and perhaps Ivan Fischer and Paavo Jarvi,…

Hauptmann Rinderherz: Ach Gott!

Evan: and I suppose I could include Semyon Bychkov and Andris Nelsons and Kirill Petrenko and David Zinman and Herbert Blomstedt

Hauptmann Rinderherz: Mein Gott!

Evan: Oh! Don’t forget Franz Welser-Most and especially Neeme Jarvi.

Hauptmann Rinderherz: Um Gottes willen! You are an enemy of music!

Evan: I’m sorry you feel that way.

Hauptmann Rinderherz: Und I’m sorry you feel this way. Warum do you?

Evan: Because I like my music fast and Russian.

Hauptmann Rinderherz: How do you sleep at night?

Evan: I don’t. I’m too wired from the fast Russian music.

Hauptmann Rinderherz: Aber you listen to Schubert and Otis Redding late at night!

Evan: OK, you got me. I think these conductors make orchestras really responsive to what they feel the music wants, they inspire the orchestras they stand in front of to consistently give viscerally exciting performances, they never neglect any of the most crucial musical elements, they can be extremely expressive without compromising the music's formal elements, and most importantly, they don’t bore me. But except for Nelsons and maybe Jurowski, none of them are serious candidates for the Berlin Philharmonic.

Hauptmann Rinderherz: Und you’re sure of that?

Evan: Riccardo Chailly is a star in Leipzig and he’ll be 65 when Rattle retires. Daniel Harding is a protégé of both Rattle and Abbado, and that will disqualify him even though he’s a completely different sort of conductor than either. Paavo Jarvi will be knee-deep in Frankfurt and Paris and god knows where else by the time Berlin opens up. Welser-Most will still be in Vienna and possibly in Cleveland too, and even so, half the world already thinks he’s a mediocre conductor. Ivan Fischer will be 67 and is already the director of the Berlin Konzerthaus Orchester. Bychkov will be 66, and he could be a stopgap, but in five years he may well be the director of any major orchestra who offers him. In 2018, Zinman will be 82 and Blomstedt will be 90. The others are just too small time.

Hauptmann Rinderherz: What about Daniel Barenboim?

Evan: Daniel Barenboim is awesome when he realizes that he’s a Jewish kid from Argentina who loves to perform and not trying to be the most profound German musician who ever lived.

Hauptmann Rinderherz: Zo you do not like even his Beethoven?

Evan: Oh no, I think a lot of his Beethoven’s wonderful. I just don’t like it when he performs every slow movements at half Beethoven’s speed. But I think his Liszt and Bruckner are magnificent and he almost makes me love Wagner.

Hauptmann Rinderherz: But you think faster than the metronome like Harding and Jarvi is alright?

Evan: At least I’m not bored…

Hauptmann Rinderherz: Disgusting!

Evan: Whatever works for you…

Hauptmann Rinderherz: What about Riccardo Muti? He does the faster.

Evan: Another conductor who thinks seriousness is the same thing as intelligence. He’s a much, much better conductor during those few moments a decade when a major key score lightens him up and stops him from flopping his hair.

Hauptmann Rinderherz: And even Mariss Jansons you don't like?

Evan: I used to like Jansons a lot more when he was a younger man, but he’s been spoiled. Too much success made him kind of bland. He still has the same intensity, which I love, but it’s just intensity without any character.  But what are we talking about these guys for, they’ll all be over 75 by the time Rattle leaves. What about real candidates?

Hauptmann Rinderherz: Barenboim is real.

Evan: If Barenboim becomes the next director, the Berlin Philharmonic will be a joke – no different then any other orchestra which throws its future away with a high prestige name who has no future with them.

Hauptmann Rinderherz: But he should be the music director now!

Evan: I’m sorry to say that you’re probably right. They should have made him director after Karajan, but imagine appointing Herbert von Karajan as the director in 1984 if Karajan were the director of La Scala and the Philharmonic's crosstown rival. That's how dumb a Barenboim appointment would be. 

Hauptmann Rinderherz: Still better than Abbado…

Evan: Oh really?

Hauptmann Rinderherz: Abbado stopped being great when he got to Berlin. He destroyed the Philharmoniker!

Evan: Actually, you’re probably right about the first part of that, but it’s not because Abbado destroyed the orchestra. The orchestra was a shadow of a great orchestra under Karajan, turning music into a luxury item while other orchestras did the important work of introducing new music and finding new ways to perform old music. If anything, Abbado improved things quite measurably. But Claudio Abbado was always a delegator, and he got increasingly bored as his career went along. There was some point when he stopped caring about rehearsal or conveying any serious wishes to his musicians, but at every point in his career, he was lucky enough to face the world’s greatest orchestral musicians and in recent years they've all loved the fact that he makes no real demands. Sometimes I wonder if he isn’t just the luckiest conductor to ever step onto the podium, yet sometimes he snaps back into focus and pull an amazing performance out of his pocket.

Hauptmann Rinderherz: Ja, then so you hate Haitink too?

Evan: I don’t hate Haitink, but I do often find him astonishingly dull. I don’t hate Abbado either. But I do think they’re both amazingly overrated in comparison to a number of contemporaries who are demonstrably better. Not just Blomstedt and Rozhdestvensky but others like Mackerras and Dohnanyi and Colin Davis, all three of of whom can be extremely dry but also can turn on the excitement far more often than either Haitink or Abbado.

Hauptmann Rinderherz: What about a junger conductor like Vasily Petrenko?

Evan: A one-trick horse who doesn’t seem to conduct anything but Russian music, which he performs extraordinarily well in that virtuoso way which tells you he’d be not much good in anything else.  He’ll probably end up inheriting the St. Petersburg Philharmonic after Yuri Temirkanov collapses off the podium dead drunk after his third bottle of vodka.

Haputmann Rinderherz: Then what about Yannick Nezet-Seguin?

Evan: Oy. Leonard Bernstein sans le talent.

Hauptmann Rinderherz: How can you say that?

Evan: He’s like a kid up there with a permanent sugar rush, but that’s when he isn’t trying to do the super-profound us to sleep in Bruckner. But he has no sense of the long-range structure or how to keep an orchestra together. But he’ll have a great career as the new ‘great conductor’ in this part of America. He arrived at just the right time to be the knight on the white horse who ‘saves’ the Philadelphia Orchestra and he’ll probably have the same lucky timing when or if he becomes director of the Metropolitan Opera. But I don’t understand how he got there or how people think he’s a great conductor.

Hauptmann Rinderherz: But you like the fast tempos!

Evan: I like fast tempos when they make musical sense and the conductor gets the musicians to play in them well!

Hauptmann Rinderherz: Then you must hate der Gergiev.

Evan: Sometimes I love Valery Gergiev. When his orchestras catch up to him, his performances can be amazing. But they can also suck, and sometimes his performances are both in the same piece. Like Furtwangler.

Hauptmann Rinderherz: I give up, you are ein musicalisches schweinegrippe! But how about der Dudamel? He too is fast.

Evan: Well in most ways he’s just like Gergiev. An amazing conductor at inspiring the orchestra and getting a rich sound, he’s also musically smarter than Gergiev and much more curious about music. But even if he stays this inspirational, he’s gonna be erratic as hell and he could still be just another Zubin Mehta and completely check out musically by the time he’s 40.

Hauptmann Rinderherz: Zubin Mehta is better than people say.

Evan: I agree with you, but that’s a pretty low bar to clear. In any event, La Scala clearly wants Dudamel to replace Barenboim, and if he takes it, he will have as terrible a time managing that house as every other director they’ve ever had.

Hauptmann Rinderherz: But then why should he not go to Berlin?

Evan: Because he will and should demand they play all sorts of music which they hated to play under Rattle. As a conductor, Dudamel’s like Gergiev, but as a music director he would be Rattle redux.

Hauptmann Rinderherz: But he venerates our traditions!

Evan: Well good for you that you think you found someone who does!

Hauptmann Rinderherz: You’re hopeless.

Evan: I’m not hopeless. I just think the traditions you love are unbelievably stuffy and reactionary.

Hauptmann Rinderherz: You’re hopeless because you hate music!

Evan: I don’t hate music. I love it more than anything short of herring in wine sauce and a pastrami sandwich.

Hauptmann Rinderherz: These traditions are what made the music you love. If you do not honor them, the music will disappear along with it. And everything in kultur you love except herring and pastrami will be gone.  

Evan: The age in which these compositions were produced will soon be completely dead and gone. We currently live in the most revolutionary era since the dawn of Romanticism. And the true test of whether or not these works are true classics in the sense which Homer and Sophocles are is if they still demand to be heard when the tradition of how they’re meant to be heard is entirely broken and a new one begins with no knowledge of how it was once presented. Will people still want to hear Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven’s music if they can only be heard live in an arrangement for Rock Band; or a synthetic orchestra, because in 150 years, or perhaps much sooner, that may be the only way people can hear the music we love.

Hauptmann Rinderherz: Such an age approaches too quickly for me.

Evan: Well, we may all live to see that day.

Hauptmann Rinderherz: For music to die before me is a death from which I want nothing.

Evan: So long as our minds stay open, music will never die.

Hauptmann Rinderherz: What mind is there in this other music?

Evan: This is gonna take a while…

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