Gustav Leonhardt, whose death was announced today, with the young harpsichord player, Mahan Esfahani.  (photo (c) Esfahani)

The New England Conservatory of Music is refusing to answer seven questions, posted on a Facebook page, about the propriety and legality of its dismisal of Benjamin Zander, the popular and experienced conductor of the Youth Philharmonic Orchestra.

How long its president, Tony Woodcock, thinks he can hide is for him to decide. But from today he is hiding behind the skirts of a crisis-PR firm, and their services don’t come cheap.

Journalists and commentators are being referred to Ms Karen Schwarzmann, who told Drew McManus on Adaptrisation:

I’m serving as spokesperson for the New England Conservatory on the matter involving the sex offender who was engaged to videograph the Youth Philharmonic Orchestra and certain other programs at the Conservatory.

You asked whether we had put out a statement commenting on the posting on Ben Zander’s website. We have not.

Karen’s website helpfully explains that she provides ‘litigation support, crisis management, and general public relations services to a diverse mix of corporate and institutional clients.’ NEC may be needing all of those, and paying heavily for them.

The outstanding harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani has written a personal tribute to Gustav Leonhardt, whose death was announced today:


I had the honour and pleasure of making the acquaintance of Gustav Leonhardt during the last few years of his career and during the first few years of my own. Leonhardt had long been a great source of inspiration through his recordings and his few but valuable writings. I will never forget the experience of finding my first recording of Leonhardt’s at the local public library, a-well worn LP of Cantata 77, ”Du sollt Gott, deinen Herren, Lieben” directed by Leonhardt and made so rich not only by his own contributions but also by the unforgettable singing of Max van Egmond and Paul Esswood. It was my first experience in hearing period instruments, and I remember the confusion and joy I felt while I traced my fingertips over the red and gold record cover.

It was not long after that experience that I came across an old recording of the young Leonhardt (in the early 1950s, I should think) playing Froberger and Frescobaldi solos on the harpsichord in a recital with the legendary countertenor Alfred Deller. And finally, in my student days when I came to seriously understand the harpsichord as a solo instrument, I came to know Leonhardt at his height, his groundbreaking recordings of English virginalist music and Froberger for Telefunken, made on the 1640 Ruckers in Schloss-Ahaus in Westphalia.

And finally, when I was granted the gift of being able to hear him live in recital – allowing us to witness his private conversations with Louis Couperin, with Froberger, J.S. Bach, Georg Boehm, Merula, Frescobaldi – each of those evenings was like a masterclass and a whole year’s worth of lessons for which I will be eternally grateful. For some odd reason, a particular episode that comes to mind was an experience of student days, sitting up the whole night in my bedsit and notating all the articulations, stop changes, and agogics in his recording on the Dom Bedos organ in Sainte-Croix in Bordeaux, then, bleary-eyed, taking to train to a Baroque-style organ to go try them all out.
Many people have gone over the points of Leonhardt’s playing and his musical personality, and there is not much I can contribute to that discussion. But I would like to point out, in homage to him, that any harpsichordist alive – and I think whether they decided to imitate Leonhardt the musician, with varying levels of success, is a moot point – must acknowledge that he sat, in spirit if not in person, in all of our studios while we practised. His presence is so overwhelming and of such influence that we cannot deny how it totally changed our view of the harpsichord.
As a hero to harpsichordists, he showed us that the instrument could speak directly and with total sincerity without apologising for any of its falsely-perceived ‘faults’ or ‘shortcomings.’ He never resorted to talking down. He never pandered. Like the musician, the man was a figure of such grace and solemnity, and when the wit and humour came out it was so skilfully achieved that I still have memories of his wry smiles over lunch or an ironic glance behind his glasses as he played the last low octave in Forqueray’s ‘La Buisson.’ I’ll never forget him running backstage after one of my own modest recitals, in a state of great despair, wondering why I had modified the last chord of Scarlatti’s K. 69 to include an A-natural rather than an A-flat! And perhaps on a more sombre note, when I heard him in his last British recital, I recall the ‘Allemande on the Death of Charles XI of Sweden’ by Christian Ritter – whose eyes that evening were not moist? It was a eulogy to his own life, to his own career. Death in the most joyous and beautiful form was there in the playing from the beginning.

As I am sitting writing this, I have in my hands a few of the letters between Leonhardt and myself – they are mostly effusive and overdone lists of neurotic questions and artistic storms-in-teacups (my letters) and brief, polite, and very much to-the-point responses (his letters). In my last one, I wrote him a quote from Tolstoy’s ‘Resurrection,’ in which the protagonist comes to realise that the world’s approval of his actions was impossible to follow if one had any worthwhile sense of personal morality and values. I brought this up to Leonhardt as a description of the conflicts faced by a young musician who wanted an audience and yet wanted to maintain artistic integrity. He wrote back: ‘I never mind these things and neither should you. Go into the world and be a musician, and you will learn what you need to. If I had even one person listening, or none at all, I would have not changed any of my decisions.’

I’ve just had a call from one of his students to tell me that Gustav Leonhardt, the harpsichordist and conductor, has died.

He was 83 and retired from performance last month. His wife has told colleagues that he died Monday afternoon.

Gustav LeonhardtFoto NRC H'Blad, Maurice Boyer991210

Photo NRC / Maurice Boyer.

His wikipedia entry, freshly updated, tells the life story. First musical tribute here from a disciple.

And here’s the man in action.

There has been a nasty business at the New England Conservatory, where an authoritarian president has sacked a popular and experienced orchestra leader and dissimulated the cause for his dismissal with an imputed sex slur. We await a rely to our questions from President Tony Woodcock and so do lots of followers of a crisis facebook site.

Opera Boston has been shut down because the main backer didn’t like the chief executive and withdrew his cash (doesn’t happen in mixed state-private funded companies).

And the Boston Symphony Orchestra is no nearer to finding a music director now that Riccardo Chailly is on medical leave and Andriss Nelsons is playing with his new baby.

It sounds like an awful lot of crises for one city to be having at the same time and makes you wonder whether the malaise has not been brewing for much longer. Boston, unless it gets its act together, risks becoming the sick man of American classical music, overtaking Philadelphia.

Glyndebourne takes its first step on Friday to being self-sustaining – ecologically as well as financially – by opening its own wind turbine.

Glyndebourne’s wind turbine construction from Glyndebourne on Vimeo.

Details below:

Join us at Glyndebourne on Friday 20th January as Sir David Attenborough officially launches the Glyndebourne wind turbine.

The turbine launch is a landmark development for the UK arts community and confirms Glyndebourne as the UK’s first and only arts organisation to generate its own power using a large scale wind turbine. This is a ground breaking development and an important step for ensuring sustainability for Glyndebourne and the arts.

This year will see Glyndebourne’s 2012 Festival as the first to run on wind power and the turbine (commissioned in December 2011) will allow Glyndebourne to generate 90% of its annual electricity requirements. The turbine provides Glyndebourne with the cleanest and most efficient natural energy with no fuel or waste related costs.

Glyndebourne will work in partnership to deliver community engagement activities that focus on promoting positive environmental actions and educating local and regional groups on the benefits of tackling climate change.

 Sir David Attenborough and Glyndebourne’s Executive Chairman Gus Christie will be available for interviews on January 20th. To secure an interview, please contact Glyndebourne’s Media Centre.

Our China correspondent, Rudolph Tang of Klassikom, reports the emergence of a third orchestra in Beijing:

The Beijing Symphony Orchestra, long overshadowed by two state-funded rivals, has been promised a minimum 50 million RMB (US$7.5 million) grant from the Beijing municipal government and, according to its music director Lihua TAN, BSO will embark on two European tours in 2012.

The new season boasts of a glittering array of international celebrities, notably Christoph Eschenbach, Lawrence Foster, Michael Barenboim, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Yuri Bashmet, James Judd, Thomas Sanderling and Vadim Repin. Due to shortage of funds, BSO is always considered a low-key and lesser orchestra in Beijing, after the bombastic China Philharmonic Orchestra and the self-content China National Symphony Orchestra. BSO had to cancel a European tour due to low budget and paperwork procrastinations two years ago. The Beijing Daily, a newspaper under the administration of the city government, offered a large coverage on BSO’s limbo situation in March last year and subsequently won attention from the city fathers. Qi LIU, party leader of Beijing, paid a high-profile visit to BSO in July last year and pledged to “revitalise the orchestra with all means”.

NL adds: The Michael Barenboim you spotted in there is the violinist son of Daniel and Elena Bashkirova, who is taking his first steps on the international circuit. More details here.

Back to Rudolph Tang, with a UK exclusive: BSO will inaugurate the London Beijing Cultural Week at the Royal Festival Hall in July by a concert with LPO featuring Jianping TANG’s percussion concerto “Olympic Fire” and Beethoven 9th conducted by TAN himself, followed by an extensive tour in Berlin, Koln, Amsterdam and Turkey. BSO also presented the renowned percussionist Biao LI as its first ever artist-in-residence together with two new recording project to be released by EMI China.

NL adds: The London festival has not yet – apparently – been announced. You read it here first. It means London will be getting two Beethoven 9th performances in a matter of days, the other conducted by Daniel Barenboim at the BBC Proms.

Rudolph again: The new season kicks off on February 8th with music by two living Chinese composers Qianyi ZHANG and Xilin WANG as BSO’s standing and signature commitment to contemporary Chinese music. In addition, TAN disclosed the idea to host a Forbidden City Int’l Arts Festival and projected it as “people’s festival”, a remark viewed by some as a polite reference to the “sponsors and officials’ festival” like the Beijing Music Festival. New initiatives of the 2012 season also include a permanent residency at the Forbidden City Concert Hall and moving of its HQ from a remote and modest building to a peaceful location within the Forbidden City compound, both under the city authority.

One of the government officials presiding over the press conference was quoted as saying “we aim to build BSO as a leading orchestra in the world”.

I’m excited to receive a press release about the first piece of classical music to reflect abuses by the US military in Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. It’s by the Chicago-based composer Drew Baker and the pianist is Marilyn Nonken.

The title track, we are told, ‘is an artistic response to a torture technique used in Abu Ghraib and Guantanomo, and Mr. Baker has found an extremely creative and unique way to make a political statement in instrumental music.’

The label owner, Daniel Lippel, adds: ‘Because of the broad relevance of this type of art making, we are reaching out beyond the contemporary piano community to try and promote this release and hopefully engage in a discussion about what the nature of political music really is.’

If you’re still wondering, there’s an audio sample here.

(photo: Christian Science Monitor)

There’s been a rather tense meeting on the Green Hill of the Society of the Friends of Bayreuth. They have just found out that the main festival house is disintegrating. ‘Unless something happens soon, the building will fall down,’ said Wolfgang Wagner before his death in 2010. You might have thought he would have noticed the decay while he was still in charge.

They need 25 million Euros for refurbishment. My guess is that the Bavarian government will provide most of it, but do watch out for official looking letters with RW’s head on the front and a would-you-be-so-kind line inside.

The Society has commissioned – wait for it – a masterplan. From Die Meisterplanners, no doubt.