Thursday, August 27, 2015

YouTube Library of Examples of Great Conducting Part 1 - Stand By For Added Commentary

Everybody born pre-1900, though I'm sure I've forgotten a few from the 1890's not listed in Arthur Bloomfield's very interesting "More Than The Notes." hopefully I'll get around to conductors born post-1900 as well and even have a similar series of posts for great pianists and violinists. Everything here is good, but the star system is for just how extraordinary it is. If something is given five stars, it means that even if you knew the work well, you couldn't even imagine a more characterful performance. I could explain why, each clip is what it is, but that would literally take weeks to write up. Instead I'll settle for making paragraph long synopses of each performer and what particularly makes them extraordinary. If any of the links don't work, let me know (yeah... like that'll happen...) and I'll substitute. Also, when listening to YouTube, always listen with headphones. Almost any computer speaker can't possibly take in the full dynamic range.

Artur Nikisch
** Beethoven Symphony no. 5

Robert Kajanus:
**** Sibelius Symphony no. 2,
**** Sibelius Symphony no. 1

Karl Muck: Parsifal

** Gabriel Pierne: Giration

** Max Fiedler: Brahms Symphony no. 2

Felix Weingartner
*** Mendelssohn Symphony no. 3
**** Brahms Symphony no. 4,
** Beethoven Symphony no. 3

Richard Strauss
****  Beethoven Symphony no. 5,
*** Strauss: Till Eulenspiegel

Arturo Toscanini
**** Verdi Otello, 
*** Beethoven Symphony no. 5,
***** Respighi Pines of Rome

I've long suspected that the Toscanini we all know is nothing like the real Toscanini. Surely the Toscanini known to us from recordings is a caricature of a musician who could inflame imaginations across every corner of the earth. The Toscanini of his final twenty years is a vital but isolated old man who has forgotten what it's like to make music with others - much too often, his performances seem like the musical equivalent to military drills: clipped, metronomic, unyielding, inhuman. Certainly, the military discipline we associate with Toscanini has its own benefits. We hear the benefits in his Otello - for once in our lives, we hear opera singers reined in to project nothing but what's in the score - marking by marking, tempo by tempo, rhythm by rhythm. What unfolds is not an opera but a drama so precise and perfectly paced that it is closer to Sophecles than Shakespeare. Toscanini had meditated on this music his entire life, and when you were the composer's preferred interpreter, your dictations are better than anyone else's collaborations. But we hear the evidence of what must have been a greater of a conductor of much greater sensitivity in his Beethoven 5, which is very nearly as echt-German as it gets and only has the smallest hint of the military about it - put it on for someone who didn't know the performance, they would probably guess it was an old Bruno Walter or Klemperer performance. The elderly Toscanini, vital until the end, was perfect for the fascist pomposity of The Pines of Rome. The music is a piece of trash, and I love every second of it. Never has this most exciting piece been played with more excitement.

Lorenzo Molajoli
****  Verdi Il Trovatore

Carlo Sabajno:
** Verdi Aida

Henry Wood
***  Vaughan Williams Serenade to Music

Franz Schalk
** Schubert Symphony no. 8 "Unfinished"

*** Max von Schillings: Wagner The Entrance of the Gods into Valhalla

**** Leo Blech: Wagner Die Meistersinger Overture

Hans Pfitzner
*** Schumann Symphony no. 2

Oskar Fried
*** Beethoven Symphony no. 9 Finale

Willem Mengelberg:
***** Beethoven Symphony no. 5
**** Beethoven Symphony no. 7
***** Franck Symphony

No conductor is truly a free spirit - a free spirited conductor rides over the desires of 100 other musicians. But the best of the best, whether through persuasion or coercion or some unholy mix of the two, get their players to execute their wishes with an excitement that makes it seem as though they believe in their conductor's ideas as much as the conductor does. No conductor was ever more exciting than Mengelberg, even his weirdest ideas are brought off with such a surfeit of conviction that they work in practice when they absolutely shouldn't. For years, he has been dismissed unfairly as a bombastic virtuoso, the perfect conductor for Les Preludes - which he absolutely was by the way. He is, moreso even than Toscanini, responsible for the rise in the standard of playing in orchestras everywhere - a standard that was set by the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam which he lead for fifty years. But whereas Toscanini would seem to have obtained his results at the expense of emotional expression, the emotions in Mengelberg's performances practically throbbed. The more I listen to his Beethoven, the more I wonder if in spite of their gaucheries, or perhaps in part because of them, they are sui generis, closer in spirit to the revelatory, revolutionary nature of Beethoven's inspiration than any other master's performances in the long and glorious history of these works.

** Siegmund von Hausegger: Bruckner Symphony no. 9

**** Alfred Hertz: Mendelssohn Midsummer Night's Dream Overture

Frederick Stock
** Tchaikovsky Symphony no. 5

Sergei Rachmaninov:
** Rachmaninov Isle of the Dead

Serge Koussevitzky
**** Tchaikovsky Symphony no. 5
**** Rimsky-Korsakov: Russian Easter Festival Overture
*** Copland: Appalachian Spring

Koussevitzky's reputation was eclipsed by his greatest achievement - Leonard Bernstein. From learning at the elderly Koussevitzky's feet during the older musician's quarter-century at the Boston Symphony, his star pupil learned that unnameable spark that transmutes music from a flat experience of playing notes on a page to a poly-dimensional experience that changes lives. He also championed all the best music which Koussevitzky did so much to birth from the greatest musical minds of his time - not just Appalachian Spring, but also Copland's Third Symphony, and Pictures at an Exhibition (the orchestral version we all know), and Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms, and Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra, and Britten's Peter Grimes, and Messiaen's Turangalila Symphony... But Bernstein was a genius, and Koussevitzky was merely a great conductor and an even greater servant of music. At the heart of his archetypally Russian music-making is a heart of gold - that heart was sometimes molten, as in the most dramatic passages of Tchaikovsky, but anyone who's ever experienced the immediacy of Bernstein's performances will recognize the fearless risktaking - the extremities of tempo and dynamics, the slowing down to underline musical climaxes, the milking of beautiful phrases to get the maximum possible most emotional expression, the sheer humanity of it all. Many classical music lovers find such emotionally vulnerable musicmaking unseemly, others of us call it the reason we need music.

Pierre Monteux:
**** Elgar Enigma Variations
**** Schumann Symphony no. 4
*** Ravel La Valse

Monteux was too sane and practical a musician to aim all the way to stratosphere. Yet he came more consistently close to it than most conductors who shoot for the moon at every performance. There is no such thing as a bad Monteux performance, nor is there such a thing as a generic one. Everything he did was shot through with intelligence, imagination, passion, and just a little too much good taste. Even if he never aimed for absolute revelation, he was a revelation all too often. No one but a fiery musician could ever play Schumann 4 like this - as a worthy Beethoven successor rather than a wooden Beethoven 5 imitation. No one but a truly perceptive musician could play Elgar's Enigma Variations - practically the national anthem of the English Concert Hall - with more passion and imagination than any English conductor I've ever heard has. And as the conductor whom young Stravinsky and Ravel entrusted their most important premieres, he has the kind of effortless vim (perhaps a bit too effortless sometimes, finding this quite visceral La Valse took some time) it takes to make Ravel's carefully wrought constructions lift off and stay in the air.

Ettore Panizza:
***** Ponchielli Dance of the Hours
**** Verdi Otello

I have no idea if Panizza's ultra-dramatic, tempo-change-a-minute approach to opera was how it was practiced when it was first performed - I doubt 19th century Italy had orchestras capable of keeping up with interpretations like this - the 1930's Metropolitan Opera Orchestra barely could. But if they did, I can't imagine audiences feeling anything but on fire from the result. In comparison to the sort of anodyne opera performances we usually hear, Panizza's performances seem to come to us from another planet where opera is more like a sporting event - every performance is expected to be completely different from every other. The tempos are often slow as a snail, so that every musical nuance from singers can be savored and pondered in the moment for its full weight, and no matter how weird the phrasing of the singer, Panizza stays exactly in timing with it. But when there's an orchestral interlude, the music suddenly snaps to at maximum speed and excitement and volume. Perhaps musicmaking like this was only possible in a brief era when the entire 'educated' world knew these works backwards and forwards and the best singers of every country descended on New York to flee war. But short of war, what I would not give to hear musicmaking like this live.

Bruno Walter:
***** Mozart Don Giovanni (then click here) (then here)
**** Mahler Symphony no. 9
***** Beethoven Symphony no. 9

There's the Bruno Walter we and our parents hear on recordings today, and then there's the Bruno Walter which our grandparents and great-grandparents heard in the concert hall. The recordings we hear today, wonderful as many of them are, come from the last six years of his life when he was recovering from a heart attack in his 80's and his energy was severely depleted. A lifetime's worth of wisdom lies in that Brahms and Mozart, but wonderful as they are, they are not the Walter that matters most. The Bruno Walter who existed until he was roughly 80 was the Bruno Walter who was Mahler's star pupil, and probably the closest we'll ever get to approximating what Mahler's performances sounded like. This Bruno Walter was perhaps the greatest conductor of the German classics there has ever been - combining Furtwangler's omnipresent imagination with Toscanini's omnipresent fire without Furtwangler's sanctimonious solemnity or Toscanini's oppressive rigidity.

Artur Bodanzky:
** Wagner Tannhauser

Only a Wagner skeptic such as I can offer up Bodanzky as the greatest of all Wagnerians. Through the antique sound lies a perfect image of Wagner as opera, not as Wagner. Never could Wagner have more commanding singers than the Met's roster of the late 30's - Lauritz Melchior and Kirsten Flagstad of course, but also Friedrich Schorr, Marjorie Lawrence, Elisabeth Rethberg, Emmanuel List, Helen Traubel, Kerstin Thorborg... The cast in itself was enough to overwhelm Wagner, and were a traditionally great conductor like Walter or Furtwangler or Klemperer or Kleiber in charge of the Met's Wagner performances during this period, there's no doubt that these voices would be put to the task of properly serving Wagnerian seriousness of purpose. Thank God, that was not to be the case. Bodanzky, an shallower-seeming musical personality, wanted nothing more than theatrical immediacy from his performances. To my knowledge, Bodanzky's performances are the only recorded Wagner which throbs with dramatic purpose for every minute of the performance. All the potentially dull meandering fat is excised form the score, and what emerges is a lean, unphilosophical dramatic genius that is completely alien to Wagner's intentions, and quite an improvement on them.

Tulio Serafin:
*** Verdi Requiem
Bellini Norma
** Mascagni Cavalleria Rusticana

Thomas Beecham:
*** Bizet Carmen
*** Mozart Symphony no. 35
***** Brahms Symphony no 3

For what should be obvious reasons, there's no conductor I'd have rather played for than Thomas Beecham. Even if he weren't a great conductor, Beecham's witticisms can take up whole books (I own one) and websites. but his musicmaking speaks for itself. Beecham was a man of mostly sunny disposition whom, while many times more intelligent than most conductors (who are generally not the most intelligent or curious bunch of people), had very little use for anything in music that stank too much of metaphysics. To put it more finely, he had little tolerance for bullshit. He loved the plainspokenness of Viennese classicism and 19th century France, and performed their music masterly naturalness. But perhaps it's all a bit too natural - compare Beecham's Carmen to Andre Cluytens (more on him later...) and you'll see the clear as day difference - Beecham is enjoyable and the soul of pleasantry, Cluytens is ecstatic and revelatory. But then, there are performances like Brahms 3, in which Beecham, clearly not content with the customary German stolidity, takes the bull by the balls and squeezes. You can hear Beecham in the outer movements, exhorting the players with all manner of shouts. Beecham is on record in a radio broadcast having some reservations about Brahms, so perhaps Beecham was best in works whose quality he was unsure about. I have never heard performances of Beethoven 7 which I found more persuasive and moving than his live performance (sadly not available on youtube though part of his hardly worse studio performance is), but it was a work about which Beecham said of the first movement (not without basis) "What can you do with it? It's like a bunch of yaks jumping about?"

Desire Ingelbrecht:
Debussy: La Mer
Debussy Fetes

Carl Schuricht:
** Beethoven Symphony no. 5
*** Mahler Symphony no. 3
*** Brahms Piano Concerto no. 2

Albert Coates:
**** Tchaikovsky Francesca da Rimini
*** Beethoven Symphony no. 3 (first movement)
**** Tristan und Isolde Love Duet

Leopold Stokowski:
*** Debussy: Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun
** Bach: Toccata and Fugue
*** Sibelius Symphony no. 2

Hermann Abendroth:
*** Schumann Symphony no. 4
** Brahms Symphony no. 1 (Finale)
*** Beethoven Symphony no. 9 (In Russian) 

Ernest Ansermet:
** Debussy Nocturnes
*** Stravinsky: Song of the Nightingale
** Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherezade

Nikolai Malko:
** Prokofiev: Symphony no. 7

Fritz Steidry:
Nicolai: * Merry Wives of Windsor Overture

Vaclav Talich:
**** Smetana: Ma Vlast
**** Dvorak Symphony no. 8

Samuil Samosud
** Tchaikovsky: The Queen of Spades

Vittorio Gui:
Rossini: Barber of Seville

Otto Klemperer:
**** Mahler Symphony no. 2
**** Beethoven Symphony no. 3
** Brahms: German Requiem

The same problems that beset Bruno Walter beset his career-long rival. The two Berlin-trained Jewish students of Mahler represented two contrasting pictures of Germany - one supposedly the great humanist and conservative, friend to Thomas Mann, champion of the musical establishment - the other supposedly the great revolutionary and progressive, friend to Bertolt Brecht, champion of the new. And yet, in their dotage they inevitably resembled one another far more than they differed. Both were great but spent in their old age, and their musicmaking is the musicmaking of wise masters who must husband their energies. Perhaps even more than Walter, the manic-depressive Klemperer's music-making practically burst at the seams with fanatical vitality, as this Mahler 2 from Amsterdam can demonstrate all too well, as can this Eroica from Copenhagen. But Klemperer's musicmaking was never as flexible as Walter's. He had other virtues - a far wider musical curiosity and repertoire, and a Boulez-like concern about projecting form and detail. But while Walter, a larger star for longer, was captured far more in his prime, we have far more of Klemperer from his ubiquitous final years. The picture the world has of Klemperer is unfairly weighted toward the lethargic old giant he became. But even at Klemperer's most ponderous (and my God, listen to his Mahler 7 to hear how boring it could get, or better yet, don't...), Klemperer was clearly, as Furtwangler also did, misfiring as only a genius could. Good or bad, there was a zen-like, x-ray projection whose conviction carries the listener forward. I don't have the secret to how Klemperer managed to make such a cool style so expressive, hardly any other conductor ever has, but what's incontrovertible is that Klemperer did precisely that.

Wilhelm Furtwangler:
***** Bruckner Symphony no. 5
***** Brahms Symphony no. 1 (Finale) 
** Wagner: Ring

Today's cult of Furtwangler can be as nauseating as the cult of Toscanini was to previous generations. Even if Furtwangler did not consistently elicit shoddy execution from his forces, listening to his performances can still be as boring as watching paint dry. There is as little reason to to stretch Beethoven's 9th symphony to nearly eighty minutes as there is to try to compress it to under an hour. Whatever the occasional virtues of his Beethoven, the ponderous solemnity and absence of light-heartedness with which he conducts Beethoven and his rough contemporaries is unforgivable - as is the rhythmic slovenliness that accompanies his performances of later composers. Nevertheless, in Middle Romantic generation between Wagner and Brahms during which German music reigned supreme over all, Furtwangler is Holy Writ - never to be surpassed though none would claim to, and never to be duplicated though many have tried. Furtwangler rarely earns the claim of 'greatest of all conductors' to which many, perhaps most, critics would assign him, but in certain works of Wagner, Brahms, especially Bruckner, and yes, certain works (or at least passages) of Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert, and Furtwangler's ecstatic will to music will reign supreme forever.

Paul Paray:
** Debussy Nocturnes
**** Rimsky-Korsakov: Spanish Caprice
** Gounod: Ballet Music from Faust

Piero Coppola:
*** Saint-Saens Organ Symphony

Hans Knappertsbusch
* Das Rheingold

Fritz Reiner:
*** Strauss: Also Sprach Zarathustra
***** Bartok: Concerto for Orchestra
**** Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade

Adrian Boult:
*** Vaughan Williams: A Sea Symphony
** Schubert Symphony no. 9

Fritz Busch:
*** Schumann Symphony no. 4
*** Brahms Symphony no. 4
** Mozart: Don Giovanni

Erich Kleiber:
**** Mozart Marriage of Figaro Act I
*** Beethoven Symphony no. 3 
***** Strauss: Till Eulenspiegel

Erich Kleiber was a martinet - he was also so much more. Look at clips of his conducting and contrast it with the conducting of his still more famous son - Carlos, and you see two diametrically opposed styles. Carlos was all imagination and psychology, but Erich was all discipline. He possessed the clearest beat anyone had ever seen, and looked like a military bandmaster rather than a conductor for the concert hall. In classic repertoire, he could be as metronomic as such an approach would lead you to believe. But even at his most disciplined, there was a poetic streak with incredibly beautiful balances and weighted chords and only a little of the Toscanini-like chopped attacks. One critic likened his approach to a mythical beast - Toscwangler, as close to the perfect synthesis of Toscanini's discipline and drama with Furtwangler's freedom and poetry. Perhaps that is a false ideal, but in their differing ways, the two Kleibers are as close to capturing that ideal as we will ever see. And like Carlos, he might have been best of all in light, sparkling, comic music which needs rhythmic panache more than flexible depth. Good as his Beethoven is, and masterly as he's known for being in Beethoven, the true master's hand is found in places like Mozart and Richard Strauss, where Kleiber's light touch is nearly unparalleled.

Charles Munch:
***** Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique
***** Honegger Symphony no. 2
***** Schubert Symphony no. 9

While Beecham is the one Golden Age conductor I wish I could have sat in on a rehearsal, Charles Munch is the Golden Age conductor I would have most wanted to hear live. A few years ago, I made a list of the conductors I thought were the greatest of all time - Munch ranked fourth. Today, I wonder if I would not rank him first. He is the one conductor whom in my experience has never given a performance that disappointed me. Even the most viscerally exciting conductors - Mengelberg, De Sabata, Mitropoulos, have performances when their passion seems to leave them and the phone in a generic performance. But there is not a single generic performance in Munch's discography. Every work I've ever heard of his has his elan, his imagination, his passion, operating at full blast. I have no idea whom the greatest conductor of all time is, but at this point in my life, I can tell you my favorite without a doubt.

Victor De Sabata:
**** Verdi Aida
***** The Salzburg Concert
*** Beethoven Symphony no. 8

When I came to make my ranking of the world's greatest conductors, I somehow forgot Victor De Sabata - a hugely regretful omission, as he would have ranked at very least #7 - not as high as Bernstein or Munch, or Kubelik and Mitropoulos, but higher than Stokowski, Koussevitzky, Mengelberg, Monteux, Mackerras, Klemperer, Barbirolli, Fricsay, Jochum, and other more famous conductors I esteem slightly less... What I'm sure about De Sabata is that he was the very greatest conductor who is not a personal favorite of mine. Whatever that means... it is nevertheless impossible to hear Victor De Sabata and not immediately be bowled over by the sheer animalistic intensity of the playing he elicits. Even among the most physically exciting conductors - Mengelberg, Mitropoulos, Munch - there can't possibly be anything like this in the annals of orchestral precision. It's all a bit high-strung, I could only wish for a bit more repose, but to have wound an orchestra so tightly also gives it incredible freedom and flexibility of the kind that, unlike Toscanini, De Sabata exploits to explore every possible musical nuance.

Nikolai Golovanov:
***** Mussorgsky Boris Godunov
*** Rimsky-Korsakov Scheherazade

Hermann Scherchen:
**** Beethoven Symphony no. 3
*** Schoenberg Moses und Aron
** Bach St. Matthew Passion

Clemens Krauss:
**** Wagner: Siegfried
*** Strauss Salome
***** Johann Strauss: Voices of Spring

Artur Rodzinski:
*** Tchaikovsky: Romeo and Juliet
** Brahms: Symphony no. 1
*** Shostakovich: Symphony no. 1

Karl Bohm:
Mozart: Symphony no. 36
*** Schubert: Symphony no. 2
*** Wagner: Tristan und Isolde

Dmitri Mitropoulos:
**** Mahler Symphony no. 3
**** Shostakovich Symphony no. 10
*** Strauss Elektra

George Szell:
**** Beethoven Symphony no. 9
**** Mendelssohn Midsummer Night's Dream
**** Sibelius Symphony no. 2

John Barbirolli:
**** Sibelius Symphony no. 2
*** Mahler Symphony no. 9
*** Nielsen Symphony no. 4

Eugene Ormandy:
Rachmaninov Symphony no. 2
Tchaikovsky Romeo and Juliet
** Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto

Another Complete Rewrite of Part 1 of Scene 5...

(In Walk Cousins 1 and 2, older daughters of Uncle and Aunt. Cousin 1, a west-coast doctor and wears as much maturity as possible as a pose. She is 30 and rail thin, but her dark hair is beginning to have grey highlights. Cousin 2, 28, is a bit thicker-set, but quite physically fit and tan from nearly ten years living in Israel. Aunt sees her daughters and literally breaks down weeping. Everybody else laughs. They come up to their mother and hug her from either side.)

Aunt: (through sobs to everybody) Why didn't you tell me they were coming into town?

Uncle: Your son wanted to keep this a secret.

Aunt: You all knew?

(Everybody awkwardly nods their heads)

Aunt: (suddenly angry at them all) How could you keep this a secret from me???

Uncle: What? Are you not happy your children are here?

Aunt: (offended they weren't there for Thanksgiving) Where were they for Thanksgiving?

Cousin 1: We were in Seattle.

Aunt: And where have you been for the three weeks since his bar-mitzvah? (points to Son 3)

Cousin 2: I was going through the National Parks with some friends from Israel.

Aunt: (ready to explode) You've been here for three extra weeks and you don't see your family?!

Son 1: Can you blame her?

Cousin 2: It was a chance to learn things for the Kibbutz.

Aunt: Yes, I'm sure your desert kibbutz needs to know everything there is to know about how to cope with 40 degree rainy seasons.

Cousin 3: Mom, you can't get mad at her. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity she got on a grant from the Israeli government.

Aunt: If I knew you were coming into town I'd have gotten ready for you!

Uncle: What do you need to do to get ready? Just make their beds and we'll make them lunch tomorrow!

Aunt: (frustrated) Their rooms are a mess from the last time they were in town!

Cousin 2: Relax Mom, we've been able to clean our rooms for a quarter-century.

Aunt: (exasperated) We redid the entire house last year and I've been dreaming the whole time about us all staying in a clean house together. Now it's a mess!

Cousin 1: I'm sure it's gorgeous.

Aunt: (rising anger) I'd have called all your cousins to come over!

Uncle: This doesn't need to be a big production. They all saw each other at the Bar Mitzvah.

Aunt: (furious) All we have in the fridge is leftover chicken!

Cousin 3: I'm sorry Mom, I told them to make it a surprise because I thought you were going to be happy to see them again.

Cousin 1: We can buy something tomorrow morning Mom.

Cousin 5 (entering): No you won't. It's Shabbos.

Cousin 2: (looks over to Cousin 5) Abba (Dad) warned us about you.

Cousin 5: What did he say?

Cousin 2: Nothing, just that you were 'exploring your Judaism.'

Cousin 5: You should explore it too!

Cousin 2: What do you think I'm doing in Israel?

Son 1: According to your emails you sound like you kill a Palestinian every day and then go out for Ice Cream to celebrate.

Mom: What's email?

Son 1: I explained this to you Mom. It's just like regular mail, but on a computer.

Mom: Oh that's right!

Son 1: If you like I can also show you how the Cotton Gin works.

Dad: Be nicer to your mother.

Son 1: This is 1995! You have to know what computers are if you want to do anything today.

Dad: Well you're right that everything is computers these days but it's all gonna be over in a few years.

Son 1: Here we go, the expert on all things technology.

Dad: It has to or else we're all farcockt! One day soon we're all going to store every tchotchke (triviality/trinket) in the world on a computer and one little glitch happens and it'll all disappear.

Son 1: (almost interrupting) The Charge of The Luddite Brigade!

Dad: How can anybody get anything done on a computer? I didn't think a person could get any more addicted to anything than you were to television. Then you discovered the internet!

Cousin 1 (to Cousin 2): Here we go.

Dad: You stay in your room for hours at a time looking at that screen. What the hell is so interesting?

Aunt: Oh I think we know...

(everybody except Son 1 and Dad laughs)

Son 1: Alright, fuck every last one of you.

Mom: Sha!

Son 1: (Indignant. Dad looks more confused as this rebuttal goes on.) Yeah sure, I look at it, so have all of you at some point! I'm happy you all can find people to spend your lives with. But you all think it's so easy! When you were young you had all the looks and the right temperament and the organizational abilities I didn't. So stop fucking judging me.

Dad: Wait,... what?

Son 1: You all go through life as though there's nothing to life but a Heuse mit Zvay point Zvay Kinder (house with two point two children) und (and) a Veiss (white) Picket Fence!  But we all have the right to some happiness in the way we want and need and I'm sick of you all resenting me for being a little bit different!

Dad: I really don't know what you're talking about?

(son 2 whispers in his ear)

Dad: (horrified, amused, and excited about the possibility at the same time) Is that really what people do on the internet?

Son 1: (gets up) Oh god, I'm leaving.

Dad: (gets up to stop him) Haltn mein sohn (stop my son). Let me red (tell) you a little nishtik (trivial something) you didn't know. You may not realize this but your Zaydie had a thing for pornography too.

Son 1: I don't have a thing for pornography!

Dad: Well your Zaydie certainly did!

Son 1: Stop talking about him like that! He's right here!

Dad: Neyn neyn (no no), your other Zaydie.

(long pause) 

Son 2: You gotta be kidding me.

Dad: Yes, while he was dying of cancer he would sit on the sofa in your Bubbie's living room, and there would be all these alte (old) Playboys right underneath the sofa. And no matter who was over, he never moved them.

Uncle: This can't possibly be true! I was living there to help take care of him and I never saw them.

Dad: I swear they were there every time we were there!

Uncle: Those must have been my Playboys.

Dad: Stop covering for him. It was your father's and you know it! We would sit there every Shabbos afternoon, you, me, your Tateh (Dad), and Rabbi Blitz, the playboys would be right underneath the sofa and Rabbi Blitz had to pretend he didn't see anything!

Cousin 1: That's amazing!

Dad: (to Cousins 1 and 2) And it was the 70's, so all the women were totally unshaved. Is that back out of style with your friends?

Mom: What the hell are you doing?

Dad: What? I asked about their friends, not them!

Cousin 1: See Mom, we wouldn't have missed this for the world. Come hug me.

(long, firm embrace between them) 

Aunt: (coming out of the hug) You have a rip in your jeans. That's not like you!

Son 2: It's all the rage now in Seattle. (Cousin 1 affectionately rolls her eyes) 

Aunt: What do you mean?

Cousin 3: Everybody tries to be like Kurt Cobain over there.

Aunt: Who's Kurt Cobain.

Son 1: He's a famous rock singer from Seattle who killed himself last year when he realized how bad his music was.

Son 2: I think his music is great!

Son 1: Another great example of a Columbia education at work.

(needs transition...)

(Cousin 5 goes over to hug her sisters, hugs Cousin 2 first) 

Cousin 2: I love your skirt!

Cousin 5: Thanks!

Cousin 2: The Charedi girls in Israel don't look nearly this beautiful.

Cousin 5: (disappointed) Oh... (unconsciously puts her hands over herself to cover herself up) 

Cousin 1: Don't worry, you still look plenty tzniyustic (modest).

Cousin 5: Aw... thanks! (hugs Cousin 1. Within a second of when they go in for a hug, Cousin 1 pulls back, suddenly quite nauseous.) Excuse me, I have to head to the bathroom... (runs out of room)

Dad (jokingly): Oh don't tell me she's pregnant. (long awkward pause) 

Son 1: Well shit...

Cousin 3: None of you were supposed to know until Sunday so when she announces it, act surprised.

Son 1: Who's the father?

Cousin 3: (immediately, so that no speculation starts) The new guy.

Son 2: Who's the new guy?

Uncle: (with a slight hint of pride) Another doctor at the hospital.

Son 1: (chuckling with barely contained relish) He's divorced with grown up kids.

Dad: Her fiancee has grayer hair than any of us. When she brought him here over Labor Day I figured it was to set him up with her grandmother.

Son 1: Well, speaking of the fact that he's old,... not that that I care but is he...

Uncle: (interrupting) He's converting.

Son 1: No, I know that, I mean, is he... (makes a motion as though it's obvious)

Uncle: I don't understand.

(this time Son 1 makes a scissor motion, Uncle buries head in hands)

Aunt: You know, I never asked... Do you know? (turns to Cousin 2)

Cousin 2: She never mentioned one way or the other.

Dad: Well this is probably something you're going to need to know.

Mom: (irritated at Dad) You don't need to know anything.

Son 1: But don't you want to find out?

Son 2: I know I do.

Mom: Don't ask her. Please.

Cousin 1: (enters) What do you want to ask me? Whether I'm pregnant?

(nervous laughter all around except for Son 1)
Son 1: No, actually we figured that out about a minute ago. What we want to know is whether your new boy is...

Cousin 1: Jewish? No, he told me he was interested in converting before we even started dating.

Son 1: No, not Jewish. Is he...

Cousin 1: Black? Yes, you know that, so what?

Son 1: No not that either. Is he?...

Cousin 1: Is he?...

Son 1: Is he?...

(Cousin 1 looks at him as though to say 'I don't understand, say it out loud...) 

Son 1: (exasperated so just saying it) Has he had his dick cut?!

Cousin 1: Oh! No, he actually hasn't.

Son 2: Ew. You're not going to make him go through with that are you?

Cousin 1: Brisses are different for adults.

Son 2: Do we castrate the adults?

Cousin 1: No, they just take a needle and prick it like a blood test so a few drops of blood come out like a blood test.

(collective gasps and exclamations) 

Son 2: (loud enough to be over the din) That's the most disgusting thing I've ever heard!

Cousin 1: He's a surgeon. He does worse all the time!

Son 2: How can you all be OK with a religion that sees newborn boys and feels the urge to mutilate their penises?

(more collective gasps and exclamations) 

Dad: (loud enough to be over the din) Why are you so hostile to everything we do?

Son 2: Why are you so hostile to the idea that maybe we shouldn't sever the genitals of defenseless babies?

(the daughters leave the room with their mother) 

Uncle: (as though he's been waiting the whole time for the chance to strike back) And how can you be OK with supporting a religion that severs the genitals of girls when they're already teenagers?

Son 2: It's not the whole religion, it's just a small part of it.

Uncle: It's not that small.

Son 2: You can't paint all of Islam like that.

Uncle: Why not? They do it to us!

Son 2: So you should just be as bad as they are?

Uncle: There's no way we could ever be as bad as they are!

Son 2: Well what do we do? We stick a million of them in a piece of land smaller than Manhattan. How is that not like the ghettos?

(Mom's and Uncle's lines at the same time)

Uncle: Don't you dare use that word to compare us to that.  

Mom: How can you be so hateful to your own people?

Son 2: (To Mom) Because it's my people doing these things!

Uncle: Oh, so we're only your people when you get to criticize us?

Son 2: You criticize me all the time, and I'm your people!

Uncle: That's because you want your own people to die!

Son 2: Ah, you see?! There it is! Just because I want peace I'm no different than people who want to butcher women and commit genocide!

Dad: Oh, so you admit that they want to commit genocide?

Son 2: Well after what we've done to them, who can blame them?

(exclamations of exasperation all around from Mom, Dad, Uncle) 

Son 1: Alright, this whole fight is bullshit. I'm going to the other room.

Mom: Can you call your cousins back in here when you go?

Son 1: I want to talk to them!

Mom: They still haven't said hello to their father.

Son 1: Why's that my responsibility? He's foaming at the mouth right now about his nephew riding a Hezbollah rocket into Tel Aviv.

Uncle: (suddenly realizing how badly he lost it) No,... no, I'm done. Can you call them in?

Son 1: I don't think I need to...

(enter all three daughters...)

Daughter 1: Is everything alright in here?

Monday, August 24, 2015

A Library of Youtube Music Recommendations for Your Personal Listening - An Ongoing List

Performances I Love, In No Real Order - though the top rec always comes first. I will add to this list as time goes on, both in number of pieces and in performance recommendations. I'll repost this link to facebook every time I feel like updating it - though I have no idea when that will be. But I'm lazy, so this is extremely incomplete. No doubt, this documentation is very sloppy and confusing. One thing though, always wear headphones if you can on youtube, there's much more dynamic contrast:

1. Furtwangler/Berlin: Bruckner 5 (1942)
2. Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique: Munch/Paris (1967), Munch/Boston (1954), Munch/Chicago (1966), Munch/New York (1948), (there's a theme here, nevertheless...) Bernstein/Paris (1976), Gardiner/Romantic and Revolutionary Orchestra (London) (1993), Dudamel/Combined Orchestras (2009)
3. Mahler Symphony no. 2: Bernstein/New York (1987), Mehta/Israel (1994),  Klemperer/Philharmonia (1962) Solti/London (1966), Bruno Walter/Vienna (1948), Scherchen/Vienna (1958),
4. Beethoven Symphony no. 5: Mengelberg/Concertgebouw (Amsterdam) (1940), Szell/Dresden (1961), Karajan/Berlin (1977), Carlos Kleiber/Vienna (1975)
5. Mravinsky/Leningrad: Tchaikovsky Francesca da Rimini (1972)
6. Sibelius Symphony no. 2 Barbirolli/New York (1939), Szell/Cleveland (1970), Philadelphia/Stokowski (1962)
7. Victor De Sabata - the final Vienna Philharmonic Concert (1953)
8. Smetana Ma Vlast: Kubelik/Prague (1990), Talich/Prague (1939),
9. Beethoven Symphony no. 9: Szell/Philharmonia (London) (1969), Amsterdam/Mengelberg (1938), Wand/Hamburg (1987)Schuricht/Paris (1965)Bruno Walter/London (1948), Celibidache/Turin (1958), Kubelik/Copenhagen (1959),  Bernstein/Vienna (1979)
10. Brahms Symphony no. 3: Beecham/NBC (New York): Brahms 3 (1956), Bruno Walter/Los Angeles (1959), Furtwangler/Berlin (1949)
11. Brahms Symphony no. 2: Jochum/Berlin (1955)Walter/New York (1950), Weingartner/London (1939), Carlos Kleiber/Vienna (1991)
12. Strauss: Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks: Furtwangler/Berlin (1950), Solti/Chicago (early 70's),
13. Franck Symphony: Bernstein/New York (1959), Monteux/Chicago (1960), Mengelberg/Concertgebouw (1937), Furtwangler/Vienna (1945), Munch/Boston (late 50's), Bernstein/Paris (1981), De Sabata/New York (1950), Cantelli/New York (1954), Muti/Philadelphia (1980's)
14. Stravinsky Les Noces: Pokrovsky Ensemble (1994), Gergiev/Mariinsky (St. Petersburg) (2008)
15. Brahms Symphony no. 1: Furtwangler, Furtwangler, Furtwangler, and especially Furtwangler. ... also Bernstein/Vienna (1983)
16. Stravinsky: Petrushka Bolshoi (Moscow) (1997), Gergiev/London (2008), Temirkanov/Leningrad (1975), Monteux/Boston (1951),
17. Stravinsky: Rite of Spring Gergiev/London (2008?), Salonen/Los Angeles (2003), Boulez/Paris (2002), Monteux/Boston (1951), Dorati/Minneapolis (1959), , Zander/Boston (1990s) Tilson Thomas/San Francisco (2000), Ormandy/Philadelphia (1954),
18. Beethoven Eroica Symphony: Scherchen/Vienna(1958), Karajan/Berlin (1977), Klemperer/Copenhagen (1957), Kleiber/Amsterdam (1950), Gielen/Freiburg (1990's)
19. Mozart Last Three Symphonies: Harnoncourt/CMW (Vienna) (2014), Bruno Walter/Los Angeles (late 50's), Fricsay/Vienna (1958), Harnoncourt/Vienna (1991)
20. Mozart: Gran Partita Furtwangler/Vienna (1950), Schonwandt/Copenhagen (?)
21. Verdi: Aida Toscanini/NBC/Nelli/Tucker (New York) (1949), Chailly/La Scala (Milan)/Urmana/Alagna (2006)
22. Verdi: Otello Toscanini/NBC/Vinay/Valdengo (New York (1947)Panizza/Met/Martinelli/Tibbett (New York): Verdi/Otello 1938, Levine/Domingo/London (1978), Kleiber/Domingo/Milan (1976)
23. Berlioz: Les Troyens Colin Davis/London (2000)Pappano/Royal Opera (London), 2012, Beecham/London (1947), Kubelik/Milan (1960)
24. Verdi: La Traviata Kleiber/Munich/Contrubas/Domingo (1977),
25. Verdi: Falstaff Bernstein/Vienna/Fischer-Dieskau: (1966), Molajoli/Rimini (1930ish),  Toscanini/New York/Valdengo (1950)Karajan/Taddei/Vienna (1980), Karajan/Gobbi/London (1955), Cillario/Gobbi/Paris (1975),
26. Muti/La Scala (Milan)/Licitra: Verdi - Il Trovatore (2004)
27-32.  Mozart: The Marriage of FigaroBohm/Vienna/Prey/Freni/DFD/Te Kanawa -(1976), the Giulini/Taddei recording set to the Salzburg Marionette Theater , Jacobs live in 2004ish,  Fricsay/Schoffler live in German/just heard (1951), and in the absence of Fricsay's studio recording, best of them all, here is the full Giulini
33. Mozart: Don Giovanni - Sanderling/Bolshoi live in Russian/just heard (1948) and the Commendatore Scene set by the Prague Marionette TheaterAbbado/Ferrara/Keenlyside/Terfel (1997), absenting Bruno Walter's all-time desert island 1944 Met performance with Pinza and Kipnis, here is Leinsdorf/Met (New York)/Siepi/Corena (1961), nearly as great.
34. Wagner: Die Meistersinger - Jochum/Bayreuth/Hotter (1949), Furtwangler/Berlin/Nazis Die Meistersinger Overture
35. Jochum/Munich - Bruckner 9
36. Tennstedt/Berlin - Bruckner 8
37. Jochum/Berlin - Bruckner Te Deum
38. Bruckner - Os Justi - Gardiner/Monteverdi Choir
39. Bruckner - Ave Maria - unknown
40. Mahler Symphony no. 1 (finale) - Mitropoulos/Minneapolis Symphony (1941)
41. Mahler Symphony no. 4 (opening) Kegel/Leipzig (1970's)
42. Mahler Symphony no. 5: Kubelik/Concertgebouw (Amsterdam) (start here) 
43. Mahler Symphony no. 6: Szell/Cleveland (1967)
44. Mahler Symphony no. 8: Rattle/National Youth Orchestra (London, 2002) 
45. Mahler Symphony no. 9: Bruno Walter/Vienna (1938), Abbado/Berlin (1999), Barbirolli/Berlin (1964)
46. Mahler Das Lied von der Erde: Bruno Walter/Ferrier/Patsak/Vienna (1952), Concertgebouw/Schuricht (1939), Klemperer/London/Wunderlich/Ludwig (1965) , Kleiber/Vienna/Ludwig/Kmentt
47. Mozart: The Magic Flute - Klemperer/Everybody/London (1967), The Bergman Movie (1975), The Ustinov Production (1971), Royal Opera (London)/Colin Davis (2000ish),
48: Mozart Operas: The Ostman Recordings (Sweden) - Take Them As A Whole
49. Golovanov/Prigorov/Bolshoi (Moscow): Mussorgsky Boris Godunov (1947)
50.  Mahler 3:Haitink/Concertgebouw (Amsterdam) (mid 80's), Martinon/Chicago (1967) (start there),
51. Verdi: Rigoletto/Chailly/Pavarotti/Wixell/Vienna (1982)
52. Leoncavallo: Pagliacci/Pretre/Domingo/Stratas/Pons/La Scala (Milan) (1990's)

There are many, many more, I could recommend. But this is really all I feel like doing today. Hopefully, I'll come back at some point.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

800 Words: Sense of Place

Biddeford, Maine: I have just gone on the first solo road trip of my life - up the East Coast, the one part of the world, save Israel which is really a small sliver of a part of the world, that I know with anything more than passing familiarity. After days spent on the couches and spare rooms of different friends and their spouses, I arrived yesterday morning at the house of my college best friend, whom after three years in Baltimore may still be my closest friend.

Even now, one-third of the way through my thirties, my mind still sees the years 21 and 22 as a very brief golden era. I was probably as miserable (or at least barely less) than I ever was. But there was something about the group in which I felt at home - a shared ethos, common values, a weirdly earnest cynicism, and a determination to have funny things to say about serious matters and serious things to say about funny ones. I probably didn't even know many of the friends I associate with those two years yet particularly well, and yet those two years set the stage for any consolation that came in later years that offset the misery that returned nearly unabated until I came to Baltimore. Inevitably, such groups can't last long, and much to my dismay, everybody dispersed to where life had to carry them. The loss was inevitable, it was also painful for a guy who direly needed a better period.

I love, truly love, my good friends in Baltimore. But I do not share many of their values, and I disapprove as strenuously of their values as I don't doubt they do of mine. I've written so many times about the differences that they require no revaluation here, but for the record, the values of Smalltimore are every bit as rotten and corrupt as the places from which we all had to so direly wish to escape in order to find ourselves amongst each other.

Even so, I worry that if my life yet again takes a sharp downward turn, I may yet view these first few years in Baltimore with the exact same halo, and I want it on the record here that if I start viewing those first few years in Baltimore surrounded by a gold plate, it wasn't at all like that, just as the last two years at AU weren't at all like that. A set of circumstances conspired to make those years only slightly less miserable than the years surrounding them. The anxiety attacks with their hand tremors and hyperventilation, the omnipresent facial tics, the helpless addiction to food, the physical pains and ailments, the compulsive going through money like water, the total inability to create the person you wanted to be, was exactly the same as it ever was. It only seemed, for a brief moment, like the fog was lifting, and you were finally, if ever so briefly, on the path to being that delusional image of a person you wanted to be.

In retrospect, there was one thing which all the people from those AU days shared: a shared devotion to, or at least an inability to escape, a certain place - a place different for each of us, but startlingly similar in particulars as all places are to the people who grew up in them. We all loved those places, even as we often hated everything about them. The roots haunted us all, the places from which we hailed gave us the wings they chose for us even as they tore asunder any wings we might have wanted to obtain on our own.

Over the years, I've traveled plenty of times to my friends' towns of origin. I've travelled so often to Biddeford Maine, or Toms River New Jersey, or St. Mary's Pennsylvania, that hometown friends of my friends have become friends of mine. I'll probably never have opportunity to visit other such hometowns of old friends like Watertown, New York or Homestead, Florida. But what I inevitably return to is that each these places are true places, with genuine senses of place within them, whereas my hometown is just a makeshift place that Jews settled because they were not from anywhere else.

When you go to Biddeford, Maine, you see a place worth preserving exactly as it is. You see the still waters of the coastline running against rocky cliffs of every color, both of which rub up against beaches that seem to stretch into infinity. Turn your head slightly away from the shores and you see land too pristinely green for a kid who grew up going the Delaware beaches to believe could exist within the same sightline. Life is calm and peaceful, surrounded by natural beauty at every turn, and every day as relaxing as a vacation. Everything about this place seems as quiet and untroubled as the landscape. A Jewish kid from Northwest Baltimore can't help wonder how a person could ever be so lucky to grow up in a place so beautiful.

When you go to Toms River, New Jersey, you see a similarly seaside town - far more ethnically diverse than Biddeford, but not nearly so attractive aesthetically. And yet the diversity gives every possible amenity, and makes life into a never-ending soiree. If you want to go to a beach, everybody seems to know someone who has their own piece of private beach where you can lie and swim, practically undisturbed. If you want a good meal, you visit the restaurant of your friend who became a chef. If you want entertainment or culture, you take a simple drive to Philadelphia or New York. If you want to hang out, you call the friends you've grown up and gone to the same gatherings with since you were in high school.

Provincial though these places may seem to people who've never been there, being born to places like them is better than living any big city, and worth the lifelong fight it takes to preserve everything that's worthwhile about them. Hopefully, your children can soon enjoy all the things that enliven your time upon this Earth just as you do now.

But for a Jew who wants to truly be a Jew, there is no such truly defined place from which to hail. For all Pikesville's Jewish concentration (and it's the largest concentration outside of Israel), it's just a makeshift Jewish community that people come to because Jews live there, and leave without a second thought when better opportunities arise. It's not particularly attractive, nor is it a place where people are particularly nice to each other, it's simply a place where some Jews feel free to be Jewish without judgement. Such a place is the long-cherished dream of those who might fancy themselves "Jewish separatists", and for those who dreamed of it, it is very much a place worth defending. But for those of us who look at the fanaticism which such a dream engenders, for those of us who disapprove of the right-wing paranoia and religious fanaticism such a place can't help but breed, it is a place we can't help longing to escape, even as we feel gratitude for everything with which it provided us.

Being a Jew, by definition, means that there is no place where you should feel truly at home. There is no place on this planet where a true Jew feels accepted, and I doubt there ever will be. Many Jews thought that America, not Israel, is the true Promised Land where we can be integrated among the American population, but for many Jews integration turned out to be the same as assimilation - once you're fully American, you're no longer fully Jewish. And for all New York's Jewish heritage, it will always be a scattered, multicultural place. According to Lenny Bruce, if you live in New York, you're automatically Jewish. But if your primary attachment is to New York, then your religion is New York and there's no room for a second primary affiliation. If you live in Israel, your right to existence is questioned on a daily basis by the world, and living among other Israelis, your existence is a life permanently in conflict. Even if Israelis weren't known for being of an extremely abrasive and confrontational temperament, the challenge of creating and sustaining a productive, dynamic country in the desert, among people who wish us dead and a world that expects us to accept that wish without objection, would make any Jew who lives in Israel feel extreme rancor.

There is nothing comfortable or harmonious about a Jewish existence. I don't know the origin of the term 'People of the Book', but being a Jew is the definition of being at home nowhere but in your own thoughts, and a properly applied mind is an extremely turbulent place to live. Whether among themselves or among non-Jews, Jews thrive best in an atmosphere of conflict, defiance, opposition. Wherever we're from, our sense of place will always be filled with tension, and tension is the lifelong burden which every Jew takes on himself. There is no inner harmony to Judaism, and no sense that life should be fun. There is only constant debate and argument. The hightened state in which argument exists produces many crucial things that improve the quality of life, but it is not a life to be enjoyed.