A funny thing happened on the way to the Phil

A funny thing happened on the way to the Phil


norman lebrecht

May 01, 2007

A week in New York is a long time in musical politics. I was there to launch the book and do some recording work for my new BBC series.
I saw Company and LoveMusik, and had no spare nights for the NY Phil and the Met – a matter of some regret since my ears tell me from recent broadcasts that the Phil are playing better than I have ever heard them. The improvements must be credited to the directorship of Lorin Maazel, whom the chief critic of the NY Times lashed into once again last week for not being the kind of conductor the chief critic of the NY Times would wish to see.
Some dysfunction here, surely. If Mr Tommasini has a problem with Mr Maazel – as Harold Schonberg had with Leonard Bernstein, most London critics had with Giuseppe Sinopoli and I increasingly have these days with the way Simon Rattle makes music – he should consider recusing himself from reviewing. Unless, of course, he is an incorrigible opitimist who imagines each night that Mr Maazel is about to undergo a miraculous transformation into exactly the kind of conductor Mr T wishes he would be.
Meanwhile, the Philharmonic president Zarin Mehta announced that since he has no candidate in mind to succeed Mr Maazel in 2009 – both Daniel Barenboim and Riccardo Muti having firmly declined – he will create an extra post of principal conductor, an artist with some ideas input but no authority whose job will be to cover managerial indecision with a figleaf of continuity.
Am I reading this right? You tell me. It seemed to be more important for the health of the nation than the music itself since it was with this business that Mr T opened his concert review. Or maybe it was the most interesting thing that happened in musical New York all week.
And then Slava died on Friday, and I got a high-voltage reality check. Five texts on my mobile at six in the morning. Turned on the TV: nothing on any US news channel. Several New Yorkers told me later they heard it on the BBC World Service over the internet or read it on the BBC website. Classical music has lost its last toehold on US media. If Slava couldn’t make it, which classical musician will ever again get a mention on US TV news?
Slava was more than just a musician. He was a Cold War hero and a post-Soviet icon. Was it his membership of the classical music elite that made him invisible to news producers?
The NY Times began its warm apprecation by Allan Kozinn appropriately on the front page and spilled over into obits. It was the valediction Slava deserved.


  • Oliver Rivers says:

    Here’s the CNN story on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xL4-yc1XCcU
    You just didn’t look hard enough.
    NL replies: It ceratinly wasn’t showing in the 12 hours after his death, when it was up on all wires and the BBC website.

  • R. B. Gold says:

    As usual, Mr. Lebrecht thinks one source constitutes fact checking. Slava’s death was all over the US media — NPR news and talk, every single daily paper I check (over a dozen), the AP wires, at least two of the network news shows, ad infinitum. I wasn’t able to check everything but, unlike Mr. L., I never consider my lack of knowledge as constituting some kind of proof.
    NL replies: Tut-tut. My observation was solely that it was not reported on main-channel US TV.

  • Tom Huizenga says:

    Mr. Lebrecht should have been listening to NPR and looking at NPR.ORG (rather than surfing TV channels) where there was intelligent coverage of Slava.
    NL: Thank you, I’d expect nothing less of NPR. It wasn’t on my hotel-room dial.

  • Cornetto di Bassetto says:

    Indeed, the NYPhil under Maazel is playing better than one can remember-at least in the last 17 years. His recent Brahms Second was magnificent! Although the NYC critics find his interpretations a bit quirky, and criticize his programming as not adventurous, the improvement in the sense of ensemble, especially in the violins allows hints of the greatness that has been highly touted but seldom heard. Now all that is needed is considerably more richness of violin tone, and much better blending of the principal horn (he usually plays much too loudly) with the ensemble. The woodwinds play very well together, and the principal trumpet’s musicianship alone is worth a visit.

  • Matthew Newton says:

    What’s wrong with Simon Rattle – his facial expressions?
    NL replies: Neither grimace nor gesture bothers me. I’m just not convinced, often as not, by the music.

  • John Harris says:

    Rattle gets so much hype that perhaps one tends to be over-critical. I have serious reservations about his Wagner, which seems much slower than it in fact is because it doesn’t flow as it should and is rhythmically flabby.His Dvorak I find seriously flawed because he doesn’t have a feel for the dance rhythms. Even so, it is a blessing that the BPO didn’t choose Barenboim, whom I find has nothing much to say about too much music.