Some time during the long summer, I bumped into Lang Lang in a radio studio and took a moment to congratulate him on his techno-comm skills. Lang Lang and his works can be found on every medium of electronic transmission invented up to and including last Thursday. He is tweeted, facebooked, i-Googled, B&N-ded and, in all likelihood, apped on an abacus. He has a brilliant website, updated 24/7.
At 36, he is inexperienced but full of idealism and unlikely to get worn down by world-weary professors in the front desks who have seen it all before. As Peter Dobrin has reported, the players liked him more than any other guest conductor in the past couple of years.
Lang, an American, was installed at DG as the executive arm of Chris Roberts, president of Universal Classics and Jazz, whose writ reduced the famous label from standard-bearer of classical performance to ambulance chaser of crossover trash. Roberts is leaving the job in October and his structure is being demolished daily beneath him.
The tension rises by imperceptible notches to a point where my teeth sink into the armchair. There is nothing like it in television drama, at least in the Swedish original (a British remake, with Kenneth Branagh as the world-weary detective, paled by comparison). Much of the dialogue consists of ‘tak’ and ‘bro’. I am, in case you hadn’t guessed, hooked.
They have been sworn enemies since Henze, in some published musings, attacked Lachenmann for writing musica negativa. The pair then had a ding-dong on Stuttgart Radio in which the less flamboyant composer felt he was given insufficient chance to counter the accusation. Since then, they have co-existed in uneasy silence, broken by the occasional barbed letter to a music magazine.
Valery Gergiev’s idea of playing two Mahler symphonies in the same BBC Prom concert - the fourth before the interval and the fifth after - is a product of our special-offer times. If neon-strip retailers can accustom us to buying more than we want by pretending to give it away free, what’s to stop conductors cramming our heads with musical excess?
This stark and unchaing reality makes the Grammy classical awards materially irrelevant, even if one were to agree that Michael Tilson Thomas’s account of Mahler’s eighth symphony was the best thing to happen in the past musical year.
I got pretty close to the edge when one of my daughters transcribed her repertory and played it on the penny-whistle, but both she and the instrument survive in good nick and I am quietly coaching her two year-old tot to exact an appropriate revenge. All in good time…
I was sorry to read this morning of the death of Otto, Count Lambsdorff, the former German economics minister. I met him briefly last summer at the Beethoven Festival in Bonn, where he turned out, in visible discomfort, to share memories of his heady days in office.
Duke Bluebeard’s Castle was never one for the squeamish, but English National Opera’s production tips Bela Bartok’s masterpiece into an abyss of atrocity. Originally staged during the First World War, it retells the fable of a Transylvanian count who keeps his wives in a dungeon as a Freudian parable of female sexual curiosity and impotent male vengeance.
The film is about a man’s midlife crisis in a mainstream Jewish community in the Midwest, set in 1967 when society was on the cusp of change and institutions were stuck in the past. The hero suffers marital breakdown, workplace stress, debt issues and other commonplaces of the modern era. The rabbis he consults lack the certainties of the East European shtetl from which his ancestors stem and where the film enigmatically begins. He is, in a word, lost.