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« Destination Pasadena | Main | The Harder They Fall »

January 18, 2010

Maazel Tov

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Okay, so the title to this post can't possibly be original. And I'm writing about music, about which I know almost nothing. But the nature of blogging is that bloggers tend to write about what they encounter on the Web or in daily life.

Yesterday, we ventured to downtown Los Angeles and the Walt Disney Concert Hall (designed by Frank Gehry -- I'll have photos and an article about it one of these days) to witness the Los Angeles Philharmonic and guest conductor Lorin Maazel.

The program began with a suite from Der Rosenkavalier followed by The Dance of the Seven Veils from Salome (the latter including singing by Nancy Gustafson) by Richard Strauss. After the intermission was the Second Symphony by Jean Sibelius.

We went because my wife wanted to see the Disney and soak up some culture. "Arts buff" me was thinking that, for the price of my ticket, I could buy three classical CDs of my choosing to pop into the trusty little Bose in our living room while avoiding the stress and hassle of navigating a downtown LA I hadn't visited in more than 20 years.

The main attraction for me was seeing Maazel conduct. The gent is pushing 80 really hard (his birthday is in March), yet was energetic enough for the 90 or so minutes he was on the podium. Actually, Gustafson proved a surprise attraction. She's in her early 50s and, as Salome, was wearing a slinky, semi-see-through gown: Bravo! quoth me.

Oh yes. The music. I'm not a huge Strauss fan. We saw his opera Elektra a while ago, and I didn't care for it much. The two pieces Maazel conducted were okay, but I wouldn't buy a CD of them. The Sibelius was a waste of my time. Plenty of different sounds, but save for the last few minutes, no sustained melodic thrust. I never cared for Sibelius' work.

But as I mentioned, I'm pretty ignorant of music, so do pile on in Comments if you wish.



posted by Donald at January 18, 2010


I'm very fond of Sibelius 1st Symphony, especially the version I have on CD conducted by Simon Rattle.

There are some very enjoyable free orchestral concerts available in Southern California given by the American Youth Symphony at UCLA's Royce Hall and the Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra at the SM Civic Auditorium.

Posted by: Peter L. Winkler on January 18, 2010 11:28 PM

I was a good friend of Nancy Gustafson's first cousin, Mark Gustafson when I lived in San Francisco. I was really shocked that he had a cousin who had done so well as an opera singer at such a young age (she was then in her twenties) and I saw her sing in a few productions in San Francisco in the eighties. Glad to know she is still going strong.

Posted by: Charlton Griffin on January 19, 2010 3:45 AM

I think you should extrapolate on your lack of Strauss enthusiasm to "Why do so many talented people decide to play such boring music?"

I'm starting to think the decline of classical music is directly proportional to the lack of willingness to play to their audiences. Have these people forgotten that if they keep losing audiences that they will eventually fade. The fade is even now happening and it will be slow but it will happen.

Posted by: DeepThought on January 19, 2010 6:37 AM

I've not been to a classical concert in years. We decided that jazz and opera gain from being live; for the rest we buy CDs.

(For cheap opera I recommend Berlin.)

Posted by: dearieme on January 19, 2010 8:19 AM

Maazel has a reputation as a hit-or-miss conductor, brilliant at times, boring at others.

Some might find the Dance of the Seven Veils to be over-the-top or even campy, but if the Rosenkavalier Suite wasn't thrilling, I think you must have caught Maazel on an off day.

Try Strauss's Four Last Songs. There are plenty of good versions, but the one I know best is Berlin Philharmonic/Karajan/Gundula Janowitz.

Posted by: Rick Darby on January 19, 2010 3:16 PM

De gustibus non disputandem, but I'll second Rick Darby on the Four Last Songs. When done well, they send shivers . . .

I'm generally a Sibelius fan, but more for the tone poems and oddments than the symphonies. A good performance of En Saga, cranked up loud, is a sock-knocker-offer. (I only know recordings.)

Any other Carl Nielsen fans in these parts?

Posted by: Narr on January 20, 2010 4:49 PM

I'm usually up for some Sibelius. Showing my age a little, but I've liked what Koussevitzky recordings I've heard. And Barbirolli, of course...but I'm always a sucker for Glorious John.

Posted by: Robert Townshend on January 20, 2010 11:41 PM


Absolutely there is another Nielsen fan in the house. I just listened to his third symphony the other day; it's my favorite, even over the popular fourth. The violin, clarinet, and flute concertos are fascinating.

Posted by: Rick Darby on January 21, 2010 10:51 AM

I wonder why no-one can post in your Harder They Fall post. Perhaps because you know it's a pretty ignorant assessment of Obama. He's done great for this country considering the mess he was given.

Posted by: ee on January 21, 2010 3:47 PM

Jay Nordlinger had a profile of Maazel in National Review last July. Did you know that Maazel was a conductor prodigy? He first conducted the New York Philharmonic in 1942, at the age of twelve.

Posted by: Rich Rostrom on January 21, 2010 4:54 PM

ee -- Dunno about comments; they have a life of their own.

As for Obama, please re-read the post. All I said was that he was extravagantly praised by others, that his poll numbers were below 50% and that his party lost three important off-year elections. In no way did I assess him; I simply reported three facts that you should be able to confirm. As for an assessment, please tell us why his poll numbers tanked over the last year and those elections were lost.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on January 21, 2010 11:20 PM

Rick D., I'm a lover of the Nielsen 3 also. I didn't know he had a violin concerto, but I've heard the others (including one for trombone(?)); they strike me as just so-so, but I'm no more than a music consumer and can't put my notions into words the way you do so skillfully on your blog. (You've made another Hilary Hahn fan, btw; there's a beautiful cellist who has been a guest with our local outfit several times recently, but for the life of me I can't recall her name right now.)

Posted by: Narr on January 22, 2010 9:25 AM

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