Friday, March 6, 2015

Archive: January, 2010

POSTED: Thursday, January 14, 2010, 6:51 AM

A few more thoughts on how the audition process at orchestras is anything but impartial, and how some orchestras have no great will to increase African American membership.

First, many players auditioning are contacted in advance and invited to audition - either by friends or relatives already in that orchestra, or by an administrator. That means if an orchestra really is interested in increasing the number of African American players, they can increase the odds by inviting certain known players. How often has this happened? Not much, from what I hear.

Second, one of the best ways to get into any orchestra is to study with a current member of that orchestra. It does two things. The member can get his or her student work as a substitute in the orchestra - sometimes without a substitute audition - which means the student is getting valuable experience in learning the style of the orchestra, which will in turn make for a more successful audition. It also often means that the teacher, when he hears the student playing from behind the screen in an audition, can recognize who is playing. And so, if an orchestra really is interested in increasing its African American membership, it will begin a formal training program to nurture potential new members. That's happening at some orchestras.

POSTED: Wednesday, January 13, 2010, 8:43 PM

As if anyone needed more proof that the audition screen really is a smoke screen, and that the race of the person auditioning is often known during the audition process, here are two recent examples of orchestra tryouts taking place in public.

The New York Times writes about Burt Hara (formerly principal clarinetist of the Philadelphia Orchestra) auditioning in performance at the New York Philharmonic.

And flutist Mathieu Dufour has ended his flirtation with the Los Angeles Philharmonic after he auditioned that orchestra for several months. The Frenchman decided to go back to his old job in Chicago.

POSTED: Monday, January 11, 2010, 6:31 AM

Jiří Bĕlohlávek has canceled his Philadelphia Orchestra appearances this week. An orchestra spokeswoman says the conductor has a bad back. Juanjo Mena takes over.  Soprano Karita Mattila will still sing Strauss' Four Last Songs. The Mahler "Adagio" from Symphony No. 10 also stays. But the Martinu Symphony No. 3 will be replaced by Beethoven's Symphony No. 6. Too bad, that, but we're looking forward to Mattila's debut.

POSTED: Thursday, January 7, 2010, 12:27 PM

The gloves are off in Cleveland, where labor talks between management and musicians of the Cleveland Orchestra are stalled. Public relations firms are being retained, statements from indignant musicians and scolding orchestra administrators released. Although the pressures of a severely depressed economy may be unique to our time, the rhetoric is the same as usual: Management wants cuts, citing the musicians' average compensation of $152,000 a year for an "official work week" of 20 hours; musicians are countering by portraying themselves as guardians of artistic quality.

"We are disappointed that management is not willing to give proper consideration to our offer of a one year salary freeze." said players in a statement release by their publicist. "They want drastic cuts. If that were to happen, it would be the beginning of the end of the Cleveland Orchestra as one of the leading ensembles in the world."

Executive director Gary Hanson told the Plain Dealer that musicians had not "agreed to share in the sacrifice that everybody else has." Cleveland's staff and music director have taken pay cuts of 10 to 20 percent, as have musicians and staff at several other orchestras.


POSTED: Friday, January 1, 2010, 11:21 AM

Here is an early, unedited version of a review scheduled to run in the paper edition of The Inquirer tomorrow.

You can keep those waltzes and polkas. This New Year’s eve the Philadelphia Orchestra imported Audra McDonald.
In their annual glamour grab, a lot of American orchestras have appropriated Vienna on this night. Passing the last few hours of the year with Strauss and Straus has its old-country pleasures, though like a lot of folk music, doing it right is more tricky than it sounds. Without the artistic integrity to time an authentic distortion of the afterbeats, auslanders just can’t communicate what it is that makes a Vienna waltz defy gravity. It’s really a kind of swing, and it doesn’t belong to us.
What our indigenous ensembles do have, or should have, is an ear for American popular song, and the sound of McDonald Thursday31 night in Verizon Hall against all that Philadelphia Orchestra lush made your heart beat faster, especially in the Gershwin tunes.
The actress and singer (who spent a similar New Year’s eve with the New York Philharmonic three years ago) has a love of sonic purity, and her way of making a song her own comes not by way of liberal interpretation but through intensifying the composer’s intentions.
Her strengths even render powerless the risk of cliché: wisely, she approached Arlen/Harburg’s “Over the Rainbow” not by starting at the chorus as most do, but with the rarely heard verse - all accompanied by only the sensitive amplified acoustic guitar of Kevin Kuhn. “Moon River” could have been the stuff of kitsch, but in a touched-by-dissonance orchestration by Lee Musiker, Mancini came off with a glistening, nocturnal edge.
That McDonald is a technician of the highest order was clear with the machine-gun-fast triplets of Loesser’s “Can’t Stop Talking About Him.”
The orchestra had plenty of material on its own – Gershwin’s An American in Paris, the “Three Dance Episodes” from Bernstein’s On the Town – and perhaps too much. Rossen Milanov was conducting, and the material often sounded under-rehearsed. I hope to never again hear the Philadelphia Orchestra as raggedy and out of its element as it did in the Robert Russell Bennett orchestration of the Overture to Gershwin’s Girl Crazy.
The concert, sold out, was a strange paradox. Twice McDonald had to re-start the orchestra after bad starts (one time was her fault, the other perhaps a shared mishap). The evening was littered with sloppy or false orchestra entrances and instrumental sections playing out of sync.
And yet McDonald’s ease and wit was the larger presence, and when the group could fall back on its traditional sound and soft, kitteny mews, the package was luxuriant. Gershwin’s “Ask Me Again” was as if written for this ensemble in an arrangement by Ted Sperling and orchestration of Bruce Coughlin.
Anyone who left after the printed program indicated McDonald was finished missed a ten-minute bonus: Arlen’s “Ain’t it de Truth” from Jamaica, and “May You Always,” the popular song by Larry Markes and Dick Charles that mingles with “Auld Lang Syne.”
Again, McDonald averted cliché. There was nothing boozy or sentimental in her view of the tune, which traditionally sends audiences into the cold New Year’s Eve air in an odd state of melancholy. Instead, McDonald’s purity and sweetness gifted her listeners with a sense of renewal, which is really the only sensible way to straddle a difficult year and the hope that lies just around the corner.
- Peter Dobrin

About this blog

Peter Dobrin is a classical music critic and culture writer for The Inquirer. Since 1989, he has written music reviews, features, news and commentary for the paper, covering such topics as the Philadelphia Museum of Art at the Venice Biennale, expansion of the Curtis Institute of Music, the Philadelphia Orchestra's bankruptcy declaration in 2011, Philadelphia's evolving performing arts center and the general health of arts and culture.

Dobrin was a French horn player. He earned an undergraduate degree in performance from the University of Miami, and received a master's degree in music criticism from the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University, where he studied with Elliott Galkin. He has no time to practice today.

Reach Peter at pdobrin@phillynews.com.

Peter Dobrin Inquirer Classical Music Critic
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