Some months ago an email discussion arose among our writers and friends about César Franck’s D Minor Symphony. Steven Kruger, who heard the Chicago Symphony play the work under Riccardo Muti on a West Coast tour in February, was surprised to learn from Alex Ross’s review of their New York series in October (The New Yorker, Oct. 22, 2012) that the old warhorse, once performed at Carnegie Hall seven or eight times in a season, had become a rarity, played there only four times since 1988. Kruger observed: “I think senior conductors serve a function in recycling music that was popular forty-five years ago—in the same way that fashion does this. I’ve always noticed that sixty-five-year-olds in positions of power in the fashion industry see to it, perhaps unconsciously, that the styles they saw at age twenty make a return appearance. It is no accident that the women today look the way they did when I was 20. Somebody my age on “Seventh Avenue” is seeing to it that they do. Similarly, I’m delighted to have Muti bring us back to the pieces of our youth…” Ross quoted Muti, who said, “This fantastic symphony by Franck, it was played everywhere in Italy when I was young. Then, suddenly, it vanished. Why is this?”
The Metropolitan Opera has released the following announcement, which comes as no surprise. What struck me above all is that Fabio Luisi was not able to conduct the last two performances of Siegfried and Götterdämmerung on May 9 and May 12 matinee. I very much hope that the responsible parties will consider Jonas Alber for these dates. Former Music Director of the Braunschweig Orchestra, he filled in for Mr. Luisi when he withdrew from his commitment, as Music Director of the Dresden Staatskapelle, to conduct theRing at the Semperoper in Dresden. I had the good fortune to attend Mr. Albers’ second performance of Das Rheingold and this only performance of Götterdämmerung. This he conducted without rehearsal, and it was nonetheless superb. The Rheingold was the most compelling I have heard in live performance. He was in fact invited to conduct these performances at the behest of the members of the Staatskapelle, who were delighted with his work in their first Rheingold. Albers’ approach to Wagner is grounded in his enthusiasm for 20th century and contemporary music. Textures were transparent and full of finely-wrought detail. See my review of the Dresden Ring for more. I know Mr. Alber is interested in conducting in the U. S., and American audiences should have the opportunity to hear the work of this extraordinary conductor.
As sundry acts of God and man are manifested, unexpected changes, substitutions, and permanent transitions abound.
I can’t resist beginning on a happy note: The Berkshire Review for the Arts has exceeded 1,000,000 hits in a month. The numbers game is not our priority here at The Review, but a million is a significant and symbolic number in the esoteric world of Internet traffic statistics.
This full realization of the Ring as drama became the unifying principle of the production, as it was perhaps meant to be, but unified musical direction was lacking—the greatest challenge the participants faced—since the Music Director of the Staatskapelle, Fabio Luisi, who is now basking in adulation in New York—justifiably, as it would seem from his sensitive reading of Berg’s Lulu—summarily cancelled his engagements with the orchestra, following a set-to with the Intendant, Gerd Uecker. (We are interested in music drama here, and this is not the place to tell this unpleasant story.) In the end, Luisi was not greatly missed, although the most significant shortcomings of the Ring as a whole stemmed from the weaknesses of one of the three conductors who took over the Maestro’s responsibilities. On the contrary, the audience had ample reason to rejoice in Asher Fisch’s energetic and visceral Siegfried, and, even better, in the discovery of an extraordinary new talent, Jonas Alber, who, at 41, is little known outside Germany