Today's Classical Music Video

Friday, June 17, 2016

We've Moved!

This blog is now retired. You can find all of the past videos of the day as well as new La Scena Musicale online content, news, and back issues at

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Andris Nelsons in Boston and Lucerne

Andris Nelsons has now taken charge of the Boston Symphony. The video comes from a concert given by Nelsons and the BSO this past July at Tanglewood. It includes excerpts from two Dvorak works: the Symphony No. 8 and the Violin Concerto, the latter with Anne-Sophie Mutter as soloist. By all accounts the new BSO music director has been warmly received by audiences, critics and members of the orchestra.
Meanwhile, Nelsons has been very active in Europe too. When Claudio Abbado passed away earlier this year his Lucerne Festival Orchestra was left wondering what to do. The orchestra had been created for Abbado. Should it be disbanded, or carry on with another conductor? The answer, at least for this season, was to invite Andris Nelsons to take over Abbado's concerts. Abbado was beloved my members of the Lucerne Festival Orchestra and there was some doubt whether they would warm to a replacement. So far the reaction to Nelsons concerts in Lucerne has been very positive. No announcement yet for the long term. It was recently announced that Nelsons will be stepping down as music director of the City of Birmingham Orchestra at the end of the 2014-2015 season.
Paul E. Robinson


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Legend of Django Reinhardt

For anyone brought up to appreciate the artistry of men like Andres Segovia and Django Reinhardt (1910-1953), it is sad to see the abuse of the guitar in contemporary popular music. The instrument has been transformed into a monster emitting deafening electronic noise. And the more distortion the better.

Django was in his prime in the 1930s and 40s. The war interrupted his career and together with some mishaps and bad judgment his postwar career was a series of hits and misses. But the recordings he made are jazz classics. Very little of his work was captured on film but it has to be seen to be believed. Django lost the use of two fingers on his left hand in a gypsy caravan fire. But what he did with the other three was incredible.

In spite of his fame in the musical capitals of Europe. Django was born a gypsy and died a gypsy. According to biographer Michael Dregni, Django "was born in a caravan at a crossroads in the dead of winter." In accordance with gypsy tradition when a man dies "the family moves out of the deceased's caravan, then sets it afire with all the beloved's worldly possessions." And so it was with Django. Everything he owned, including his Selmer guitar, went up in flames.

Django had tough times after the war but when he died he was on the verge of establishing the international presence he had never had. Norman Granz, the mastermind of the Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts, had signed up Django for an American tour in the fall of 1953. Django would be appearing with all the jazz greats. More than that, Granz planned to record Django as part of a trio with Oscar Peterson and Ray Brown.

Django Reinhardt died of a brain hemorrhage in Paris May 16, 1953. He was 43 years old.

Paul E. Robinson

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Friday, August 8, 2014

Carlo Bergonzi (1924-2014): In Memoriam

Italian tenor Carlo Bergonzi was 90 years old when he died this past week. He had a long and illustrious career. His made his debut at La Scala in 1953 and at the Met 3 years later. Thereafter, he was a regular at the Met for 30 years. He was not the most exciting tenor of his generation. But he was widely admired for his beautiful tone and good taste.

Like too many artists Bergonzi didn't know when to quit and left a major blemish on his career. In 2000 he attempted to sing the leading role in Verdi's Otello in a concert performance in New York. Unfortunately, the 76-year-old tenor had to throw in the towel at the end of the second act and an understudy finished the performance.

But there are plenty of recordings that preserve the sound of Carlo Bergonzi in his prime. In our video from 1970 Bergonzi sings the aria "Una furtive lagrima" from Donizetti's L'Elisir d'amore.

Paul E. Robinson

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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Karajan: the 25th Anniversary of His Death

It was 25 years ago this month (July 16) that Herbert von Karajan passed away. He was 81 and still conducting regularly even though he had been in almost constant pain from back problems for years. At the time of his death he was rehearsing a new production of Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera at the Salzburg Festival.

In the above video the current conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic - Simon Rattle - talks about his illustrious predecessor. As usual, Rattle is articulate, balanced and perceptive in what he says about Karajan. After all these years, he can't get over how Karajan conducted mostly with his eyes closed. Rattle still can't fathom how Karajan communicated with his players. But the answer to that is that it was another kind of communication that Karajan reserved for the concert. In rehearsal Karajan had constant eye contact with his players and a great deal to say as well. After days of hard work in rehearsal, Karajan closed his eyes in the concert to create a new level of concentration and intensity. And with orchestras familiar with his methods it worked. In fact, for most of his career Karajan guest conducted only rarely. He worked mostly with either the Berlin Philharmonic or the Vienna Philharmonic, and both orchestras found Karajan's conducting style highly effective.

Rattle credits Karajan with being uniquely innovative in matters such as the technology of audio recording and film. But he questions the authenticity of the film work. The fact is that at the time, in the 1960s when Karajan began his film work, filming an orchestra was a cumbersome process and by 2014 standards downright primitive. Karajan took huge risks and spent a lot of his own money trying to find new ways of making it better. Were he still alive Karajan would look back on the methods he used in the 1960s as "gaslight," one of his favorite phrases for things that were out of date and left behind by newer technology.

Nonetheless, while some of the early Karajan films are somewhat labored and/or self-absorbed; others are works of art of the first order. Still others are extraordinary musical experiences.

Paul E. Robinson 

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Monday, July 21, 2014

David Zinman Retires from the Tonhalle Orchester Zurich

On July 11, 2014 David Zinman conducted his last concert as music director of the Tonhalle Orchester Zurich. He has headed the orchestra for 19 years and together they have made dozens of highly-acclaimed recordings including all the Schubert, Beethoven, Schumann, Brahms and Mahler symphonies. Not to mention nearly all the orchestral works of Richard Strauss.

Zinman is now 78 years old and says that due to medical problems he intends to slow down. There will be some guest conducting but no more permanent positions.

Zinman is one of the most successful and underappreciated American conductors of his generation. In his early years it was hard to get work in America but he landed the job of conductor of the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra. It was a fine orchestra and gave him the start he needed in the profession. Later came positions back home, first with the Rochester Philharmonic (1974-1985) and then with the Baltimore Symphony (1985-1998). He put the Baltimore Symphony on the map with numerous excellent recordings, and their broadcasts were among the best to be heard anywhere on radio. The repertoire was always interesting and the lively introductions by Zinman himself with announcer Lisa Simeone were models of how this sort of thing should be done.

David Zinman became known for his wry sense of humour but also for his insight into the music he conducted.

After a decade in Baltimore Zinman moved to Europe to head the Tonhalle Orchester Zurich. Critics couldn't believe how well the orchestra played under Zinman and how impressive they were together in their recordings. Zinman maintained an American connection as head of the Aspen Festival but it was in Zurich that he achieved many of his musical goals.

The attached video is a souvenir of the years Zinman spent working on Mahler in Zurich. It is mostly in German but I am sure you will get the idea. It is all about Zinman's search for the ideal cowbell player in Mahler's Symphony No. 6.

For more on this outstanding conductor visit his website at

Paul E. Robinson

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Lorin Maazel (1930-2014) RIP

I first saw Lorin Maazel conduct at Plateau Hall in Montreal in 1962. He was touring with the French National Orchestra. He was 32-years-old at the time and a real whiz-kid. He conducted everything from memory and seemed to have the most precise stick technique I had ever seen. Among other works he conducted Stravinsky's Petrouchka and Berlioz' Roman Carnival Overture. At the end of the Berlioz there is a loud sustained brass chord and Maazel dealt with it in the most theatrical way possible. He demonstratively dropped his arms while the brass players held their chord. Then when it seemed they could not hold the chord a second longer he flamboyantly cut them off. For much of his career he was that kind of conductor. He loved to draw attention to himself rather than to the music.

On that night in Montreal, he conducted a lot of flashy music and conducted it brilliantly. If you wanted brilliance he was your man. If you wanted sensitivity or depth of feeling, well, better look elsewhere.

I had the opportunity to interview him in Cleveland when he was the music director of the Cleveland Orchestra. As a successor to George Szell he was a huge disappointment. In the interview I found him pompous with intellectual pretentions that were laughable. During my visit to Cleveland he conducted the dullest performance of the Bruckner Fifth Symphony I ever heard.

He became known for performances in which the conductor pulled the music this way and that for no apparent reason. This was not interpretative insight; it was sheer willfulness.

In his later years he mellowed a great deal and pontificated less as he became more at ease with himself. He married for a third time and bought a farm in Virginia. He had the idea that he would start a school-festival at the farm. This became the Castleton Festival. Unfortunately, he probably started it too late in life and had only a few years to work on it. It was a worthy concept and showed that Maazel really cared about young people and about nurturing talent.

The last time I saw him conduct was at the ill-fated Black Creek Summer Festival in Toronto in 2011. He brought the Castleton Festival Orchestra in for a few concerts. The one I heard was superb. Mendelssohn's Incidental Music for a Midsummer Night's Dream with readings from the play by Helen Mirren and Jeremy Irons. It was not repertoire I would have associated with Maazel but he did it splendidly.

Maazel was renowned the world over as an orchestral technician. He knew how to rehearse, he had a great ear and an amazing memory. The performances he gave were nearly always well-rehearsed but one seldom left his performances feeling that the music had been well-served.

In the attached video recorded just a few years ago Maazel comes across as exceedingly affable and self-deprecating. Unfortunately, not many of the musicians who played for him remember him that way.

Paul E. Robinson

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Sunday, July 13, 2014

Trumpeter Philip Smith Steps Down From the NY Philharmonic

Philip Smith has been principal trumpet of the New York Philharmonic for several decades. He joined the orchestra in 1978 and stayed for 36 years. He was universally admired for the quality of his playing. His reputation was so great that many people came to believe that he never missed a note. The fact is that he very rarely cracked a note but more than that he played with phenomenal technical control and tonal variety.

Philip Smith is retiring from the Philharmonic at the end of this season and his chair will be hard to fill. It will be nearly impossible to replace his personality. He was known as a great musician, a fine and inspiring teacher, and his sense of humor was second to none. In this recent video we get a glimpse of the comedian at work.

Phil's next stop is at the University of Georgia where he will become Professor of Trumpet.

Paul E. Robinson

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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Salonen Teams Up with Apple

Esa-Pekka Salonen, principal conductor of the Philharmonia Orchestra and former music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, is one of the world's foremost conductors. But he is equally renowned as a composer. One can only imagine how he manages to find time to be so active and so successful in both activities.

Salonen is a fine musician but he is also a man of his time. He is curious about everything in life, and especially fascinated with technology that  can make him even more productive as a conductor and a composer. He has recently joined forces with Apple to make use of their computer innovations and to use them to develop his musical ideas. Salonen uses the latest iPad Air and loves what he can do on it with apps such as The Orchestra, Pianist Pro and Notion. This video is a commercial introduction to what it is all about. I urge listeners to follow up by exploring the apps. The Orchestra is a great way to understand the orchestra and its repertoire, and Notion is a fabulous tool for composers.

Paul E. Robinson

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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Bernard Labadie In Munich

It was recently announced that Quebec conductor Bernard Labadie would step down from his post as music director of Les Violons du Roy. He will become founding director, presumably a title which suggests far less conducting than in the past. Now comes an announcement this past week that Labadie has cancelled all conducting engagements through the rest of 2014 "for health reasons."

In the past few seasons Labadie has become incredibly busy as a guest conductor with orchestras around the world. He is an authority of historical performance practice and a very welcome guest conductor wherever he goes. We understand that Labadie is being treated in Germany for an undisclosed illness. This is sad news and we wish him every success with his treatment. We look forward to seeing him back on the podium early in 2015.

In our video this week Bernard Labadie conducts the Bavarian Radio Symphony in C.P.E. Bach's Symphony in E flat major Wq 179. The performance was recorded in concert just a few months ago.

Paul E. Robinson


Sunday, June 8, 2014

A Great Conductor: RIP

On June 4, 2014 Rafael Frübeck de Burgos announced his retirement. He was 80 years old and conducted his last concert on March 14 with the National Symphony in Washington, D.C. Less than a week later the news from Spain is that he has passed away.

Frübeck de Burgos had been in failing health for some time but it was only this month that he publicly stated that he was suffering from cancer. The celebrated Spanish conductor had a major international career and conducted the Philadelphia Orchestra more than 150 times. He had a close association with the Montreal Symphony and at the time of his retirement he was principal conductor of the Danish Radio Symphony.

In our video he conducts his own orchestration of Granada from the Suite Espanola by Albeniz with the Danish Radio Symphony.

Frübeck de Burgos was authoritative in the music of Spanish composers but he also conducted French and German music with equal mastery. I first saw him conduct at a summer concert in Saratoga, New York. He led the Philadelphia Orchestra in Stravinsky’s Le sacre du printemps – from memory.

Paul E. Robinson


Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Serhiy Salov Plays Debussy

SUDDEN FLASHES OF LIGHT from Santiago Ruiztorres on Vimeo.

Serhiy Salov is a Ukrainian-born pianist now living in Montreal. He won the 2004 Montreal International Competition and has established himself as an exceptional artist. In this video he plays his own arrangement of Debussy's Fetes (Festivals). The playing is remarkable enough but what makes this video even more memorable is the direction by Santiago Ruiztorres. The camera work and the editing is imaginative, to say the least. Videos of this sort can sometimes seem gimmicky and contrived, telling us more about the film-maker's self-absorption than about the performer or the music. Not so in this case. Debussy's evocative music and Salov's dynamism cries out for this kind of treatment and gets it. Quite an achievement. For more about the artists visit their websites at and

Paul E. Robinson


Monday, May 26, 2014

Franz-Paul Decker: In Memoriam

The German-born conductor Franz-Paul Decker died in Montreal on May 19 at the age of 90. He was music director of the Montreal Symphony from 1967 to 1975 and returned often thereafter as a guest conductor. Just last season he had been scheduled to appear with the MSO - the main work was Richard Strauss' massive An Alpine Symphony - but was forced to cancel due to ill health.

Decker held many conducting posts in Europe throughout his career and he also had a close association with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. Decker was highly regarded for his performances of the German classics, especially the music of Brahms, Richard Strauss and Bruckner. But he had very wide musical interests. In our video from 1989 he conducts a movement from the Symphony No. 6 by Shostakovich.

Paul E. Robinson

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Friday, May 16, 2014

The Art of Audio Restoration: Mark Obert-Thorn

We live in a time of tremendous technological advances in recorded music. But at the same time, there is chaos and uncertainty in the way that recorded music is marketed. The big companies like Deutsche Grammophon, EMI, Decca and RCA have shrunk to being shadows of what they were. People are not buying CDs in the volumes needed to keep these companies viable. Music-lovers are getting their music in other ways – largely from streaming.

But let’s look at the bright side. All this new technology has provided us with the tools to go back to older recordings and make them new again.

My guest this week in the video is producer and audio restoration engineer Mark Obert-Thorn. Mark is one of the best in his field. He loves old recordings and he has both the talent and the patience to get the best out of them in his restoration work.

Mark was born in Philadelphia and still lives there. He was formerly a pianist and a broadcaster, but for the past 25 years or so he has worked at restoring old recordings  – more than 200 so far. His work can be found on a variety of record labels including Naxos, Pristine, Biddulph, Cala, and Music & Arts. He was also the artistic consultant for the Philadelphia Orchestra’s Centennial Collection.
The CD we talked about in the interview is now available as Pristine PASC 387. It is titled Stravinsky: First Recordings. The CD contains performances of The Rite of Spring from 1929 and The Firebird Suite (augmented 1911 version) from 1928. For more information visit the website at

Paul E. Robinson


Saturday, May 10, 2014

Grande Symphonie funebre et triomphale

Berlioz was one of the most innovative orchestrators in the history of music. He had a genius for combining instruments to produce unusual sonorities, and for using individual instruments in original ways. In 1840 he wrote a piece for a brass band of 200 players to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the revolution of 1830. The first performance was given by a huge band marching through the streets of Paris and the sound must have been astonishing. And it still is! A few years later the composer added a chorus to the final movement Apotheosis.

Performances of this Grande symphonie funebre et triomphale are rare today but Simon Rattle and members of the Berlin Philharmonic and more than a few "friends" took it on last October. Our video includes an excerpt from the last movement.

Paul E. Robinson

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Sunday, May 4, 2014

Barenboim Launches a New Label

Everyone knows by now that the classical music record business is a shadow of what it once was. The big companies have drastically reduced their operations in the face of the availability of product by other means, above all, streaming. One effect of all these cutbacks has been that few companies are now willing to sign exclusive or any other kind of contract with performers. Some artists have taken matters into their own hands and started their own labels. The latest to do so is Daniel Barenboim. He has just launched Peral, in association with Universal. It appears that Universal will be little more than a distribution system while Barenboim and Peral make their own artistic choices. Incidentally, "peral" means "pear" in Spanish and "Barenboim" means "pear tree" in Yiddish.

Peral's slogan is "For the Thinking Ear". Barenboim's idea is that the great classical music deserves a listener's full attention. He intends to do everything he can to help listeners understand the music with analysis and discussion. The delivery system for Peral releases will be centered around iTunes. In other words, Barenboim is recognizing that most listeners are now getting their music from streaming and that artists need to understand that and make the most of it.

Among the first releases will be some early Bruckner symphonies with Barenboim conducting the Staatskapelle Berlin. The website for Peral is fresh and interesting in itself:



Thursday, April 24, 2014

Jansons Resigns from the Royal Concertgebouw

This past week Mariss Jansons, 71, announced his resignation from the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, effective at the end of next season. Jansons has been the chief conductor of the RCO since 2004, and only the 6th chief conductor of this great orchestra in its long and illustrious history.

Jansons has had major health problems since at least 1996 when he suffered a serious heart attack. In recent years he has cut back his long distance travel and limited his conducting to just a handful of orchestras, all of them in Europe.

Jansons was born in Latvia but grew up in St. Petersburg (formerly called Leningrad). His father, Arvid Jansons was assistant conductor to Mravinsky with the Leningrad Philharmonic. Mariss Jansons still uses St. Petersburg as his home base although he rarely does any conducting there.

At various times in the course of his career Mariss Jansons has been chief conductor of the Oslo Philharmonic and the Pittsburg Symphony.

Jansons is currently the music director of the Bavarian Radio Symphony in Munich and after leaving the RCO he will retain that position.

In the video Jansons conducts the final part of Mahler's Symphony No. 3 with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra.

Paul E. Robinson

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Monday, April 14, 2014

Peter Sellars discusses Bach's St. Matthew Passion

For Easter Week 2014 what better time to discuss Bach's St. Matthew Passion. In recent years conductor Simon Rattle and director Peter Sellars have collaborated on performances of both the St. Matthew and the St. John Passions of Bach. What makes these performances fresh and original is the placement of the performers on stage and the interaction between them. Sellars and Rattle see these works as much more than oratorios but something less than operas. Whatever else one can say about them, it is clear that they are dramatic works. Purists will say that the drama is in the music and that movement is both unnecessary and against Bach's conception. Each listener will have to make up his or her mind about this.

There is no question, however, that Peter Sellars has an inquiring mind and a vivid imagination. In this conversation Peter Sellars is joined by Simon Halsey, the conductor of the Berlin Radio Chorus which also took part in these performances. They are sitting in the home of the Berlin Philharmonic, the Philharmonie. If you are interested in seeing the performances themselves they are available - for a fee - from the BPO's website,

Paul E. Robinson

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Sunday, April 6, 2014

Van Zweden Gets a Call From the VPO

Last year Jaap van Zweden got a call from the Berlin Philharmonic to fill in for an ailing conductor. He did and made his debut with the BPO to great acclaim. And just last week, van Zweden got a call from another prestigious orchestra. This time it was the Vienna Philharmonic, and another conductor (Gustavo Dudamel) had fallen ill. Van Zweden made his debut with the VPO April 6 conducting the Bruckner Symphony No. 8.

For several years now van Zweden has been a favorite guest conductor with the Chicago Symphony. In June this year he will lead three weeks of concerts devoted to the music of Britten, Shostakovich and Prokofiev.

But before that he will preside over a Beethoven Festival with one of his own orchestras, the Dallas Symphony.

Jaap van Zweden is a very busy man these days and a large chunk of his time is devoted to his other orchestra, the Hong Kong Philharmonic. Just last month he led the HPO on an extensive tour of China with Simone Lamsma as soloist in the Beethoven Violin Concerto.

Lamsma is one of van Zweden's favorite soloists and they have often worked together. Our video this week features van Zweden and Lamsma in an excerpt from the Shostakovich Violin Concerto No. 1. The orchestra is the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic. The concert was given in Utrecht on October 30, 2009.

For more on Lamsma visit her website at

Paul E. Robinson


Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Solti Archive

In 2011 Lady Solti donated her late husband's scores and papers to Harvard University. The Sir Georg Solti Archive is now a treasure trove for scholars and young conductors interested in the legacy of one of the greatest conductors of the Twentieth Century.

Sir Georg Solti (1912-1997) was born in Budapest and was trained as a pianist. But his talent for conducting soon emerged and after the war he began his career working in German opera houses. He came to the attention of Decca producer John Culshaw and was soon involved in the company's project to record the first Ring cycle with the Vienna Philharmonic. The recordings created an international sensation and Solti became a major figure. He headed the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden then went on to lead the Chicago Symphony.

The Solti Archive is part of the Eda Kuhn Loeb Music Library at Harvard and it can now be accessed online at The site includes selected pages from various scores owned by Solti with his copious markings. Some conductors - Herbert von Karajan is a good example - scarcely marked their scores at all. Solti, on the other hand, marked up his scores to the point where often the music can scarcely be seen. Take a look at his markings for Schubert's Symphony No. 9, Mahler's Symphony No. 5 or Shostakovich's Symphony No. 15.

Many of these markings were put in the scores at different times. They remind the conductor what he did at an earlier performance. To keep things straight Solti often used different coloured pencils. Nonetheless, it seems to me that this way of working leads to confusion. If I were conducting I would prefer to work with a "clean" score or at least a score that only contained markings pertaining to the performance I was now preparing. But people and conductors are different, and their minds often work in different ways. And knowing that Solti got remarkable results, a young conductor might well do worse than spend time trying to decipher Solti's markings.

It needs to be pointed out that conductors add markings to printed scores for a variety of reasons. Stokowski, for example, often added markings that changed tempo, dynamics and orchestration. Solti was more inclined to play the music as written with only occasional changes in the printed score. Why all the markings? For Solti - and many conductors do this - additional markings often serve to highlight what is written. For example, if there is a sudden change in tempo, metre or dynamics a conductor might circle, underline or enlarge the printed marking so that he or she can see it better. Other markings might be added to draw the conductor's eye to an instrumental solo that should be given prominence. Solti's scores are filled with such markings.

In our video Solti conducts the Bavarian Radio Symphony in Suppe's Pique Dame Overture. This was a Solti specialty and this performance is tremendously vibrant and exciting.

Paul E. Robinson

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Sunday, March 23, 2014

Dudamel Conducts Revueltas

Gustavo Dudamel was recently in Canada conducting several concerts with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. By most accounts these concerts devoted to symphonies by Corigliano and Tchaikovsky were hugely impressive. Meanwhile, in Austin, TX, in the aftermath of the annual SXSW Festival, the Austin Symphony presented a rare showing of the film Redes with music by Silvestre Revueltas. This fine Mexican composer died in 1940 at the age of 40, and it was a tragic loss. Revueltas was destined to be one of the major composers of his generation. Among his finest orchestral works is Sensemaya, a pounding, surging piece influenced by Le sacre du printemps but with a character all its own. Here is a performance conducted by Dudamel with the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra.

Paul E. Robinson

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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Nelsons First Rehearsal with the Boston Symphony

Latvian-born conductor Andris Nelsons seems to be everywhere these days, and everywhere he goes he leaves a positive impression. Here is a conductor who is technically brilliant and totally involved in the music he loves. On top of that, he is charismatic too. No wonder the Boston Symphony signed him up as their next music director. Just a week ago he was in Boston announcing the orchestra's 2014-2015 season and conducting performances of Strauss' Salome. A few days later he was in New York leading the Vienna Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall. Then it is back to Birmingham, England where he is music director of the City of Birmingham Orchestra, still one of the best in the world after years of development under Simon Rattle.

In this video, Nelsons rehearses Brahms Third Symphony with the Boston Symphony. Lots of detailed work and an easy familiarity between conductor and musicians. Nelsons and the Boston Symphony; it should be an exciting combination for years to come.

Paul E. Robinson


Saturday, March 8, 2014

Anne Akiko Meyers Plays the Vieuxtemps Guarneri del Gesu

Great violinists can make music out of practically any instrument. But it certainly helps if that instrument is a Strad or a Guarneri, or something comparable rather than a cigar box.

Anne Akiko Meyers has been in the news lately for acquiring a violin reportedly worth $18 million: the 1741 "Vieuxtemps" Guarneri del Gesu. Not that she really needs a better instrument. She already owns two Strads. In 2012 she made a recording of the Bach Concerto for Two Violins and played both parts herself. She played the first solo part using her 1697 "ex-Molitor/Napoleon" Strad and the second part using her 1730 "Royal Spanish" Strad.

She has recently recorded Vivaldi's Four Seasons on her "Vieuxtemps" violin. It gets its name, by the way, because it once belonged to the famous Nineteenth Century virtuoso violinist and composer, Henri Vieuxtemps. Apparently Ms. Meyers didn't buy the "Vieuxtemps" herself. Rather, it was purchased for her lifetime use by an anonymous donor.

In the video Ms. Meyers gives us a sample of the sound of the "Vieuxtemps."

Paul E. Robinson


Monday, March 3, 2014

Alan Gilbert Conducts Mahler

Alan Gilbert is the music director of the New York Philharmonic but he is also the principal guest conductor of the NDR Symphony Orchestra in Hamburg, one of the best orchestras in Germany. Gilbert has his detractors in New York but he has brought a breath of fresh air to the orchestra's programming. He has very wide interests and works hard to present contemporary music in interesting ways. In New York in the next few weeks he will continue his Nielsen cycle in concert and on recordings and conduct performances of Sondheim's Sweeney Todd with Emma Thompson and Bryan Terfel. Next season he'll conduct Honegger's Joan of Arc at the Stake starring famed French actress Marion Cotillard. For more on the New York Philharmonic's next season go to

More on Gilbert and the NDR Symphony Orchestra can be found at In our video Gilbert conducts this fine German orchestra in the opening of Mahler's Symphony No. 5. The excellent trumpet soloist is Jeroen Berwaerts.

Paul E. Robinson

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Monday, February 24, 2014

Menuhin Competition Austin 2014

For the first time ever the Menuhin Violin Competition is being held this year in the United States. The current competition began last Friday in Austin, Texas and continues until Sunday, March 2. Forty-two young violinists from all over the world are competing for prizes and a chance to appear with the Cleveland Orchestra in the closing gala concert. I'll be blogging from the competition every few days. The first blog about the opening concert has already been posted on the LSM website.

Yehudi Menuhin (1916- 1999 ) was one of the great violinists of his time. At the age of eleven he played the Beethoven Violin Concerto at Carnegie Hall. In 1932 he made a recording of the Elgar Violin Concerto with the composer conducting. In addition to a major career as a soloist Menuhin took a strong interest in teaching. In the 1960s and 1970s he established the Yehudi Menuhin School in England and the Menuhin Music Academy in Gstaad, Switzerland. He founded the Menuhin Competition in 1983.

In this video Menuhin plays Beethoven's Sonata for Piano and Violin Op. 96 with Canadian pianist Glenn Gould.

Paul E. Robinson

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Friday, February 14, 2014

Sid Caesar (1922-2014): In Memoriam

Like so many kids growing up in North America in the 1950s, my life was hugely enriched by Sid Caesar's comedy on television. He was a genius at what he did, and in my book there is greater gift than being able to make people laugh.

 Sid Caesar had a remarkable gift for sketch comedy, the kind of thing we celebrate today on "Saturday Night Live." While we are at it, let's not forget the contribution to this genre made by so many Canadian comic actors on SCTV. Caesar had a Chaplinesque talent for physical comedy. He had a rubber face, he could contort his body into the most amazing configurations, he was a master of double-talk, and he had energy - boy did he have energy. He also had some of the best comedy writers ever assembled including Mel Brooks, Woody Allen, Carl Reiner, Larry Gelbart and Neil Simon.

Unfortunately, his career as the leading comic of his day was short-lived. After ten or twelve glory years in the 1950s and early 1960s he was all but burned out. He was so addicted to painkillers and alcohol he could hardly function. From his late 30s into his 90s he lived mostly in obscurity, barely eking out a living. A sad story.

This old video (c. 1955) captures one of his classic routines. Caesar and Nanette Fabray argue to the first movement of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. The concept was brilliant but actually doing it was something else. As you watch you will see that each move from Caesar and Fabray has been carefully choreographed to fit the music; it is not simply angry faces and flailing arms. It is as precisely choreographed as any ballet, and perfectly executed. And all this on live television in the 1950s. Bravos too for the director and the camera operators for what they were able to do in these early days of television. If he did nothing else Sid Caesar would be remembered for this remarkable performance.

Paul E. Robinson


Saturday, February 8, 2014

Maria Schneider Wins Grammy

She is known mainly as a jazz composer and bandleader but she walked away with the Grammy in the category "Best Contemporary Classical Composition." Her name is Maria Schneider and she hails from Minnesota. And she is not to be confused with the actress of the same name who was Marlon Brando's love interest in "Last Tango in Paris."

Is Maria Schneider a "classical" composer? Perhaps the genre titles don't mean much. There is good music and there is bad music. Maria Schneider has spent most of her life in jazz and in jazz ensembles but she composes music that is ambitious and complex. And it is often beautiful and exciting. Anyone interested in music of quality ought to be interested in hearing what Maria Schneider has to say.

Paul E. Robinson

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Sunday, February 2, 2014

Bamberg Symphony New Year's Concerts - On Two Continents!

It is a sign of the times that symphony orchestras are seeking new audiences as never before - and finding them. Each year the great Cleveland Orchestra plays fewer concerts at home in Cleveland and more in places such as Miami, Vienna and Lucerne. In early March it will take part in the Menuhin Competition in Austin, Texas. The Philadelphia Orchestra is developing a residency in Beijing, and the New York Philharmonic a permanent presence in Shanghai.

What these new patterns have in common is a need for the orchestras involved to serve more people and balance their budgets. But it is significant too that many of these developments are only possible because of the recent explosion of classical music interest in China.

Another recent example is how the Bamberg Symphony celebrated the New Year earlier this month. Many orchestras follow the example of the Vienna Philharmonic and give concerts on New Year's Day but the Bamberg Symphony added a new dimension. It managed to celebrate the occasion in two places at once. With a small baroque contingent it gave a New Year's concert at home while the main body of the orchestra was in Beijing ringing in the New Year. By all accounts both concerts were a big success. Enjoy the video!

Paul E. Robinson


Friday, January 24, 2014

Claudio Abbado In Memoriam (1933-2014)

Claudio Abbado's passing last week was not unexpected - he had been seriously ill for some time - but it came as a heavy blow to those who had known him and admired his work. In that number were thousands of young people who had played in orchestras he had created. And there were many older musicians too who had been devoted to Abbado and his kind of music-making.

Abbado was a shy but dedicated and determined man for whom music came first. He was not interested in personal glory, only in serving the music he loved. In that respect and in many others he was following in the footsteps of his compatriot Arturo Toscanini. Unlike Toscanini he rarely if ever lost his temper and was known more for his whispering than his shouting. But musicians knew from the look on his face when he was unhappy and sensed how it pained him to hear poor playing. Like Toscanini, Abbado conducted for many years at La Scala, and late in life had the honor of having an orchestra created for him. For Toscanini it was the NBC Symphony, and for Abbado, the Lucerne Festival Orchestra. In both cases the conductors got results that were exceptional.

In Europe Abbado was perhaps the foremost conductor of his generation. Although he grew up in Italy and called it home throughout his life he held important posts in Berlin and Vienna. He succeeded Karajan as conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic and headed the Vienna State Opera for several years. But he had a particularly close connection with La Scala where he was music director from 1968 to 1986.

He was also in great demand in the United States. He was principal guest conductor of the Chicago Symphony in the 1980s and he was expected to succeed Sir Georg Solti as music director. But the post was offered to Barenboim instead. In Chicago he recorded extensively, including a complete cycle of the Tchaikovsky symphonies. In the U.K. he is fondly remembered for his tenure as head of the London Symphony.

He had a lifelong interest in young musicians and spent much of his time working with them. He founded the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra and made several recordings with them. Late in life, when his health deteriorated, he began to spend the winter months each year in Caracas where he worked often with the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra. In 2010 he gave a sensational performance of Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony with this orchestra at the Lucerne Festival. It is available on a DVD (Accentus Music ACC20101).

Abbado made fine recordings throughout his career but some of the Mahler performances he conducted with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra between 2003 and 2012 are in a class by themselves. For me, the Symphony No. 2 "Resurrection" with the Orfeon Donostiarra is one of the finest I ever heard.

Abbado was a man of few words in rehearsal and in interviews. But the documentary by Paul Smaczny gets as close to Claudio Abbado as we will probably ever get (Claudio Abbado: Hearing the Silence. Euroarts DVD 2053278)

In tribute to Abbado the Berlin Philharmonic is making available all its videos with him free of charge. To access this collection go to

On Monday, January 27, at 12:00 noon EST, La Scala will pay tribute to Abbado with a live streaming performance conducted by Daniel Barenboim. It can be accessed at

Paul E. Robinson


Saturday, January 18, 2014

Minnesota Orchestra Musicians Reach Settlement with Management

Finally, some good news from Minneapolis. The musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra have reached a settlement with their management. Concerts will resume in February.

But there is one big unanswered question. When the dispute was at its height music director Osmo Vanska resigned. Will he be asked to return? Will he want to come back?

The Minnesota Orchestra is one of the best symphony orchestras in the country. No doubt about it. But how much should its musicians be paid? That was the main issue in the conflict. On its side management pointed to a deficit that was huge and growing larger. It couldn't see how it could continue operations without cutting musicians' salaries. At one point it demanded a reduction of 30% from the musicians. In the final settlement musicians accepted a 15% cut. But will it be enough to enable the orchestra to function properly?

US orchestras get their revenue from ticket sales - anywhere from 40 to 60% - and the rest of the money comes from private donations. This formula has worked pretty well over the years. Problems develop when the economy is in a slump and businesses and private citizens don't have the money to make their usual donations, and music-lovers don't have the money to spend on tickets.

But these are not the only factors. In many communities musicians have demanded longer seasons and higher pay. Often those demands exceed what the community can afford. A balance must be found between the often legitimate demands of the musicians and what can be raised in ticket sales and donations. Musicians often forget that not every community is the same in terms of the number of ticket buyers and donors available. Managements often forget that musicians are entitled to be paid what they are worth.

Before the strike/lockout in Minneapolis the orchestra and its conductor were in the process of recording all seven Sibelius symphonies. In this video we see them at work on the symphonies 2 and 5.

Paul E. Robinson