November 8, 2012

Problems we hadn't started worry about yet

Norman Lebrecht, Slipped Disc - [Bernard Haitink] has complained before that Mahler gets performed too much, at the expense of more beautiful and more important music. In an interview with the November issue of Das Orchester magazine, the Dutch conductor – once a champion of Mahler on record – let fly again at alleged Mahler excess. Here’s what he said:

It’s a hobbyhorse of mine and a major worry, this Mahler cult. There are people who come to a concert only if Mahler is played. Once, after a performance of Mahler’s Third Symphony, I received a letter, telling me: ‘I was so moved, I wept through the whole piece.” I almost wrote back: ‘You need to see a psychiatrist.’ I didn’t, of course. These are isolated instances, but Mahler is not well served by this cult. Maybe, after the anniversary year, it will all die down.


Strelnikov said...

You can say that with a lot of composers, especially the popular ones. What I hate is how certain musicians are constantly asked to do their popular music, and thus never get a chance to play new/unheard/neglected pieces. A good example is Pete Seeger; allegedly he has tons of songs, but he is constantly pushed into playing "Mbube" and Woody Guthrie tunes. Seeger needs to record what he has NOW, because he is 90-something.

Capt. America said...

It takes a long long long time for music evaluators (I mean consumers, not just critics.) to gain any perspective at all. I am inclined to believe Haitink, because he knows the music that he is talking about, but he will not live nearly long enough to see others see it as he does. Only infinite patience will avail.

I think Bartok and Copeland are the most overrated composers of the 20th century, but I'm not holding my breath waiting for anyone to agree with me. :-)

Anonymous said...

With the Dead at some point something unusual would happen during Not Fade Away, etc. Same with Mahler for an audience that needs that elevation, as Bernstein did. At least Haitink is honest that he won't go there, but that's like preferring Tommy Sands. Not bad, just somewhat square.

mike flugennock said...

Seeing as how I'm an old rock'n'roll guy, I'm not really up on my classical music, so I don't really know the story on Mahler.

Still, a parallel situation exists with a lot of your more popular rock'n'roll acts, especially bands which have become institutions, like the Dead, Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin. I especially recall being at Dead shows back in the day, hearing audiences repeatedly yelling for tunes like "Box Of Rain" which, although wonderful, memorable favorites, had a tendency to be over-performed to satisfy audience demand at the expense of equally-memorable pieces like "Saint Stephen" or "Unbroken Chain".

As much as I enjoyed them, "Box Of Rain", "Not Fade Away" (actually an old Buddy Holly tune, not a Dead original) and "Brokedown Palace" eventually became something like taking communion, a special ritual that became ordinary and mundane due to excessive repetition, and thus became less special.

As I recall, the same situation arose on the recent highly-successful Led Zeppelin reunion tour (with Ringo Starr's son Zack replacing the late John Bonham on drums); predictably, audiences were loudly demanding to hear old chestnuts like "Whole Lotta Love" and the redoubtable "Stairway To Heaven" despite Led Zeppelin having a vast repertoire of music spanning seven albums and over a decade of performances.

Anonymous said...

I went out and bought an Ellington album once because I needed to hear the trombones and saxophones, like I needed to eat. The job of the conductor may explain Haitink's need to move on. Further, comprised of former Dead, conducts communions. Similarly, the Duke Ellington Orchestra, Little Anthony and the Imperials, Guy Lombardo. Mahlerians perhaps could use a touring orchestra of their own.