By Erica Sharp
“Sometimes as a joke I refer to myself as ‘your intrepid annotator,’” said Michael Clive, longtime program note writer for Pacific Symphony, in an interview last week. He had just arrived back at his Connecticut home and grabbed a cup of coffee, ready now for a chat on the phone.
Clive was referring to a Symphony Magazine piece written about his style of program note writing during his early years with Pacific Symphony. “The premise of that article is that program notes were taking a new direction. They were becoming less formal and more interesting.”
Though he had done some program book writing for regional orchestras as a volunteer when he was 23, Pacific Symphony was officially the first orchestra he wrote program notes for. After Clive’s fellowship at the National Endowment for the Arts for classical music writers, Joseph Horowitz, former artistic advisor of the orchestra, recommended that he contact the Symphony.
From the very start, he was encouraged to take chances in his writing.
“Every time I have written something and thought it was risky, they put it in,” he said. “I said you can take it out if you want, but they have left it.”
Clive obtained his masters of arts degree in music criticism at the Peabody Institute of The Johns Hopkins University in 1987. At the time he was enrolled at the university he had a job with an advertising agency in New York and was living what he described as “a very corporate” lifestyle.
Readers of this blog will receive 20 percent off of their ticket purchase for ‘Watts Plays Beethoven’ by going here and entering the promo code “blog”.
The concert features the venerable André Watts as soloist in Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto and Shostakovich’s epic Tenth Symphony, one of the greatest of the 20th century. Carl St.Clair conducts. The orchestra is just back from its triumph at Carnegie Hall.
The concerts takes place at 8 p.m. on May 3-5 at Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa.
Several classical tunes here. Can you name them?
An inside look at James Levine’s lawsuit against the Metropolitan Opera….
The musicians of the Atlanta Symphony have a new contract, negotiated without rancor….
John Williams’ next “Star Wars” film will be his last….
Here’s a fresh idea for a classical concert — Poems While You Wait….
Several classical titles have been named to the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress, including Artur Schnabel’s complete recording of the Beethoven piano sonatas….
Zack Ferriday makes a strong case for ditching the term “Maestro”….
José Abreu, founder of Venezuela’s El SIstema, has died….
For those of you who ever wonder what, exactly, a conductor does (and for those who are just curious), we offer you Rules for Young Conductors by the conductor and teacher Pierre Monteux. These won’t answer every question you might have about conducting, of course, but they will give you insight into some of the challenges and pitfalls of the profession. At the end, I append a video of Monteux in his 80s conducting the Chicago Symphony as evidence that he followed his own rules.
RULES FOR YOUNG CONDUCTORS
by Pierre Monteux
- Stand straight, even if you are tall.
- Never bend, even for a pianissimo. The effect is too obvious behind.
- Be always dignified from the time you come on stage.
- Always conduct with a baton, so the players far from you can see your beat.
- Know your score perfectly
- Never conduct for the audience.
- Always mark the first beat of each measure very neatly, so the players who are counting and not playing know where you are.
- Always in a two-beat measure, beat the second beat higher than the first. For a four-beat bar, beat the fourth higher.
- Don’t overconduct; don’t make unnecessary movements or gestures.
- Don’t fail to make music; don’t allow music to stagnate. Don’t neglect any phrase of overlook its integral part in the complete work.
- Don’t adhere pedantically to metronomic time — vary the tempo according to the subject or phrase and give each its own character.
- Don’t permit the orchestra to play always a boresome mezzo-forte.
- Don’t conduct without a baton; don’t bend over while conducting.
- Don’t conduct solo instruments in solo passages; don’t worry or annoy sections or players by looking intently at them in “ticklish” passages.
- Don’t forget to cue players or sections that have had long rests, even though the part is seemingly an unimportant inner voice.
- Don’t come before the orchestra if you have not mastered the score; don’t practice or learn the score “on the orchestra.”
- Don’t stop the orchestra if you have nothing to say; don’t speak too softly to the orchestra, or only to the first stands.
- Don’t stop for obviously accidental wrong notes.
- Don’t sacrifice ensemble in an effort for meticulous beating — don’t hold sections back in technical passages where the urge comes to go forward.
- Don’t be disrespectful to your players (no swearing); don’t forget individuals’ rights as persons; don’t undervalue the members of the orchestra simply because they are “cogs” in the “wheels.”
The December newsletter is out a day early …
Pacific Overtures. December, 2017.
This seems appropriate for the day, one of my favorite recordings of Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony, with Carlo Maria Giulini conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Happy Thanksgiving.
As we discussed in a previous post on the Minuet, classical music doesn’t always have to be as hard as it seems to be. With some simple listening tips, the arcane (seeming) can often become clear.
Let’s take a look at the “rondo.” It is defined as a “musical form in which the first section comes back to frame episodes” (in “The Penguin Companion to Classical Music”). It’s sort of like a pop song, in which the chorus keeps coming back. The word “episodes” in this case just refers to the material in between the returns of the rondo main theme; the episodes are sections where the composers go on little musical adventures.
Rondos end up having forms like this: ABACABA, the “A” being the returning main theme and the other letters being episodes.
Let’s say no more, and listen to a rondo, the last movement of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1. Here’s a map, with timings to the video above.
Section A: The main theme of this rondo is heard right at the beginning.
Section B: The first episode starts at 34″.
Section A returns at 2’06”. Notice the pre-echo of the theme before the return.
Section C (second episode) starts at 2’39”.
Section A returns at 4’18”.
Section B (the first episode varied) returns at 4’51”. It leads to solo piano cadenza at 6’23”.
Section A returns in the orchestra at 7:07. The rest is coda, or epilogue.
Glenn Gould plays the scherzo from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in the transcription by Franz Liszt. Initially, Gould’s tempo may seem too slow, but it works quite well over the long haul I think.
Here’s one of the earliest recordings of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, with Arthur Nikisch conducting the Berlin Philharmonic in 1913. Don’t let the primitive sound put you off; it’s a fascinating interpretation, notable for its extremely flexible approach to tempo.
Carl St.Clair and Pacific Symphony open the season with the work this week.