Author Topic: MTT  (Read 402 times)

Settembrini

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MTT
« on: May 25, 2018, 02:39:23 AM »
Hi everyone,

Last tuesday I heard Michael Tilson-Thomas conduct the 6th and 7th symphonies of Sibelius (what glorious music!) with the London Symphony Orchestra in Amsterdam. I was very disappointed, not with that great orchestra, but with MTT. He didn't seem to understand, or even like, Sibelius. It was as if, as one critic aptly described it, Sibelius was "bathing in the Californian sun." I've heard good things about his Mahler cycle in San Fransisco, but I've only heard the 4th, with its very slow adagio. I've never understood MTT's reputation. Any thoughts on MTT as a Mahler conductor, and his San Fransisco cycle in particular? Is it worth investigating?

Offline barryguerrero

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Re: MTT
« Reply #1 on: May 25, 2018, 10:45:19 AM »
Short answer: no.  A bit longer: you could do better for a lot less money. If you wish to stick with a single conductor, I would go - in order -  Gary Bertini, E. Inbal, Jonathan Nott, Boulez, Markus Stenz. I would rate the Stenz higher if the recorded sound were better. All this is assuming you're looking for something more recent and not the early birds such as Bernstein, Haitink, Kubelik, Abravanel, etc.

I noticed a change in MTT at the very start of his Mahler cycle. The first item, M6, was a red flag to me.  He has somehow gone off the tracks. I don't know why or how.
« Last Edit: May 25, 2018, 10:51:15 AM by barryguerrero »

Settembrini

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Re: MTT
« Reply #2 on: May 26, 2018, 04:54:38 AM »
Thanks for the response. I was just curious as to what the American perspective on MTT was. He used to conduct the Concertgebouw Orchestra quite regularly from the '80's on, but he hasn't been asked back since 2002. Anayway, a renewed acquaintance didn't leave a big impression. I guess I'll just stick with that 4th form San Francisco, which I really love.

Offline barryguerrero

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Re: MTT
« Reply #3 on: May 27, 2018, 03:22:31 AM »
It's a decent Mahler 4. My main issue (annoyance) with it is that in the finale, the soprano sings her dotted eighth/sixteenth note figures as triplets. It should be almost like a yodel.

Settembrini

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Re: MTT
« Reply #4 on: May 27, 2018, 05:52:57 AM »
I agree with you on Laura Claycomb. The other three movements sound more than 'decent' to me, especially the adagio. Anyway, there's more character in MTT's (and the San Francisco's) sleigh bells than there is in anyone of those boring Mahler 4's from Jansons and Haitink I've heard in the Concertgebouw during the last decade. Fortunately, Gatti is a big improvement (his Mahler 4 is one of the best things I've heard from him, certainly his best Mahler).

Offline barryguerrero

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Re: MTT
« Reply #5 on: May 27, 2018, 02:49:27 PM »
Thank you. No arguments from me. If it weren't for the sub-par job by soprano Maria Blasi, the Colin Davis/BRSO M4 would be my favorite. I really like like Miah Persson on the Ivan Fischer M4, so that's my usual first recommendation.

Offline Freddy van Maurik

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Re: MTT
« Reply #6 on: May 28, 2018, 01:21:36 AM »
Nice to read about some approval for Gatti (his M4) by Settembrini  ;)

As far as M4 goes, my top choice would also be Fischer with the very good Miah Persson.
And for MTT, I do like his Klagende Lied en first M7 (with the London Symphony Orchestra).


Settembrini

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Re: MTT
« Reply #7 on: May 28, 2018, 02:56:33 AM »
Gatti's earlier version of the 4th with the Royal Philharmonic (RCA) is one of his finest recordings (together with his Tchaikovsky with the same orchestra on Harmonia Mundi), and his performances of the 4th with the RCO were even better. Any conductor with a heartbeat would be an improvement over Jansons, but Gatti's 4th was very impressive indeed. I'm looking forward to the 7th (my favourite Mahler symphony), which he'll conduct next season.

As far as a top choice for M4 is concerned, for me it would be Karajan/Berlin Phil. (and Haitink's version with the same orchestra and Sylvia McNair).

Offline AZContrabassoon

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Re: MTT
« Reply #8 on: June 23, 2018, 04:25:31 PM »
What DID happen to MTT? 40 years ago (longer, actually) he was like the Dudamel of his day. I remember the near hysteria that accompanied his Orff Carmina Burana - he was really young, and it was a terrific recording. He made some excellent Mahler - especially that 7th with LSO.  Some superb Ives. Then he kind of got lost, or did he just want to make music and get out of the headlines? I've tried some of the SFSO Mahler; fine orchestral playing, often weird recording balances. But the conducting was just too cold, as if he didn't believe it. Deadly in M2 and M8. A fine musician, brilliant pianist, and a decent non-controversial man. He keeps his private life private. But he isn't the strong leader that I thought he would become. He never quite lived up to the hype. Maybe we were thinking he'd be the next Bernstein.

Offline barryguerrero

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Re: MTT
« Reply #9 on: June 23, 2018, 11:15:27 PM »
Having been close to ground zero, I think it was a combination of all the things you mention here. Perhaps getting married took all the starch out of him.

I think his career has been a bit similar to that of Tiger Woods. He started the Mahler cycle when Bertini and Inbal - never household names to begin with - had already finished their cycles and were out of the way. Then, I think, he might have been disappointed that his Mahler cycle hasn't worn better than it has (it made a big splash at first). Then came just tons of new competition.

Also, I don't things have been as rosy between him and the administration of the SFS as they would like outsiders to believe. Perhaps a more logical explanation might simply be that MTT became cynical or disillusioned when they canceled his Mavericks series. Also, I think S.F. has suddenly become a much more conservative town. At the time MTT  took the reigns, arts in S.F. were still greatly patronized by the gay community. Sadly, due to the AIDS epidemic and many gays being priced out of S.F., their numbers and financial strength are a bit less than in previous decades. 'Techies' have taken over much of S.F., and they don't seem to be quite as interested in the older arts institutions such as the symphony, ballet or opera. While they may like modern art, their tastes in classical music probably run between Beethoven and Philip Glass. I'm sure these changes in the city itself don't appeal to MTT. Then again, I could be wrong.

Frankly, I haven't been to the S.F. Symphony in a long time (I no longer live there). Friends tell me that MTT looks as though he has aged quickly. My heart does not bleed for him in the slightest. When I was managing the Tower Records Classical Annex in S.F., the symphony and KDFC brought MTT to the store twice, to meet and greet his adoring public. His behavior vacillated between cold indifference and sheer rudeness. He was extremely cold and rude to me and - more importantly - my staff. It was so bad that I had to tell the KDFC folks not to bring him around any more. He was dismissive to anyone who actually wanted to discuss music with him. This is the first time I've told this story publicly (I'm getting older and not keeping as many secrets these days)

Much of this gets into the politics of what happened when Blomstedt was replaced by MTT. The orchestra itself helped spread the rumor that Blomstedt wasn't really all that great, musically speaking. In truth, what they didn't like was that Blomstedt was a bit of a task master and would make them stay until the end of their scheduled rehearsal time (Edo DeWaart frequently would not). Ironically, Blomstedt is now given a hero's welcome when he returns, partly because the core audience is more 'conservative' than when MTT first took over (and Blomstedt did do many interesting 'modern' works too).

As human beings, the contrast between Blomstedt and MTT could not more stark. Blomstedt never looked down on anyone, and was ALWAYS willing to discuss music with those who had something to say. A friend of mine - a Bruckner buff - once stood in line to meet Blomstedt and brought his young son along. Blomstedt not only discussed Bruckner, he was attentive and kind to my friend's son. That sort of thing goes a long ways with people. I had a very animated discussion with him on the Nielsen 6th symphony (a favorite of mine). That simply would not have happened with MTT.

It's going to be an interesting crap-shoot as to who gets the SFS next. They've been trying out numerous guest conductors, many of them people I've never heard of. I think there's a fair chance they may want to pick a woman. If they're of the caliber of Simone Young, Marin Alsop or Jonn Falletta, I certainly won't object. Semyon Byckov is a popular guest conductor in S.F., but I don't think they'll offer him the job (just based on what little scuttlebutt I've heard).  I think they'll shoot for someone younger. We'll see - two more seasons.
« Last Edit: June 24, 2018, 08:11:09 AM by barryguerrero »

Offline sbugala

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Re: MTT
« Reply #10 on: June 26, 2018, 09:20:01 AM »
Good perspectives on MTT, Barry. If a musician doesn't like interacting with the public at a record store, he shouldn't be at record stores. Both sides lose. I'm posting this article from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch when the San Francisco Symphony came here on tour, because of Kennicott's swipe at Blomstedt (dour?!?). It felt wrong at the time, and reading up on him since, it feels even more off base.
   
THE TIME OF TILSON THOMAS - WUNDERKIND BRINGS HIS BAY AREA SYMPHONY TO POWELL HALLHide Details
St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MO) (Published as St. Louis Post-Dispatch) - March 11, 1996Browse Issues
Author/Byline: By Philip Kennicott; Classical Music Critic Of The Post-DispatchEdition: FIVE STAR LIFTSection: EVERYDAY MAGAZINEPage: 3DReadability: 10-12 grade level (Lexile: 1170)
Michael Tilson Thomas

and the San Francisco Symphony

Where: Powell Hall

When: 8 p.m. Tuesday

How much: $16-$59

More info: 534-1700

THE long wait is over. America's aging musical wunderkind finally has his own orchestra, and half-a-lifetime's imposed wanderlust has come to an end in San Francisco.

In 1993, Michael Tilson Thomas was appointed the new music director of the San Francisco Symphony; in September his tenure began. On Tuesday night, he brings his new band to St. Louis' Powell Hall.

The San Francisco Symphony's tour is both an introduction of the new musical marriage and a victory tour of sorts for the conductor.

Although Tilson Thomas has had a busy and productive musical career since 1969 when, at the age of 24, he was appointed assistant conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, it is a career that has progressed in fits and starts, with unexpected setbacks and, until now, few clear-cut triumphs.

When the young conductor arrived in Boston, his dynamic style and precocious musical understanding prompted comparisons with Leonard Bernstein.

But while Bernstein's musical ascent was precipitous and lasting, Tils on Thomas' has been slow and, at times, tenuous.

Although gracious and charismatic when he speaks from the stage, Tilson Thomas has a notoriously volatile personality; that, combined with a lifestyle that was perceived by many in the '70s and '80s as reckless, led to difficulties securing a full-time post worthy of his talents.

Tilson Thomas now has a post worthy of him, and his arrival in San Francisco seems a natural.

"I am the happiest I've ever been," says Tilson Thomas from San Francisco. "We're having a great time out here, the orchestra, the community. There is a great coming together, a coalescing of the orchestra and the many different constituencies in the community. It's working."

After years under Herbert Blomstedt, a brilliant conductor but a dour public presence, Tilson Thomas' tenure at the San Francisco Symphony has sparked a media blitz in his new home town.

His face looms large from billboards around the Bay Area, and he has become an instant civic celebrity.

His strong ideas about new repertoire and American music have instantly transformed the orchestra's artistic profile, and the city's audience seems ready for the change.

And while the orchestra's recording profile was high under Blomstedt, who left a critically acclaimed Sibelius cycle on London Records, Tilson Thomas has brought the orchestra an important five year, 15-recording contract from BMG.

At first glance, Tilson Thomas' current tour might seem a bit premature. He is, after all, offering for national scrutiny an orchestra with whom he has only worked full-time since September. But as he points out, his relationship with the San Francisco as a guest conductor has a long history.

"We've worked together in one form or another for donkey's years," says Tilson Thomas. "This was more like a homecoming for me after all the guest conducting, and we are getting it together very quickly. Naturally there were certain anxieties, and it is still taking a chance (to tour so soon), but I knew by the time we played the Prokofiev ("Romeo and Juliet" Suite, recently recorded on BMG) early in the season that we had it all in place. We're building on all our past work."

The one virtue of Tilson Thomas' belated arrival at a major American post is the breadth of experience he brings immediately to his role.

He arrives with the major repertory - Mahler, Beethoven and Ives are some of his specialities - fully digested. He also brings plenty of experience heading major orchestras, including years as the artistic director of the New World Symphony, a first-class training ensemble based in Florida, and as principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra. He's clearly mastered the difficult multiple roles of musician, administrator, fund-raiser and figure head.

"It's like taking over General Motors," he says of his new responsibilities. "There is a huge administrative part to the job. It's the kind of thing you can only do when you really have a great back log of repertoire. And while it's essential to do new repertoire - we're doing a lot of it in the coming seasons - you also have to be sensitive to the burden on the orchestra, and not overwhelm them. It's a matter of balance."

Tilson Thomas is lucky, it seems, to have found an orchestra in which that balance can be pushed toward the unfamiliar. In June he leads the group on a two-week festival of American music, covering everything from John Cage and Henry Cowell to Copland and Bernstein; next season features a Gerswhin and Stravinsky festival.

When asked about his interest in American repertoire and his new opportunity to explore it in depth, Tilson Thomas sounds historically self-conscious.

"There's no doubt in my mind that American music will be one of the most powerful streams in music, comparable to Russian music in the early part of this century," says the conductor who is also a composer. "So many 20th-century musical ideas have come through American music, its vernacular and cultural traditions. There is a kind of merging of these musical streams that is going on."

Tilson Thomas own tastes remain unpredictable and eclectic.

"The most important American composers were the mavericks," he says. "Although we had a group of very distinguished cultural icons, composers with a more intellectual and cerebral front, ultimately it was the ground breakers, the eccentrics that we produced. People as diverse as Ives and Gerswhin and Copland, Lou Harrison, John Cage and Steve Reich."

And his own aesthetic tends to the more directly expressive voices.

"I began very much in the avant-garde, but I've become more traditional over the years. The actual notes must express something, the piece has gestures, it takes me on some kind of emotional journey. We are learning more and more about the structure of the brain, the way it schematizes sound. And it suggests that there are certain set parameters within the way we can hear music."

The program Tilson Thomas brings to St. Louis is a kind of personal resume of his musical interests and talents. The orchestra will perform Mahler's "Symphony No. 5" and Copland's "Symphonic Ode."

Of the Copland, the conductor says with typical concision and enthusiasm: "You'll never hear "Copland's Ode" like this - it is a bridge between Mahler's Tenth and St. Louis blues."
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Offline barryguerrero

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Re: MTT
« Reply #11 on: June 26, 2018, 11:49:01 AM »
I try not to dwell in the past, as MTT's time will be over with in two seasons. I know I'm not the only one who'll be happy to see his back side. I'm hoping that the SFS won't pick a young woman, simply because they believe that that would put butts in the seats. I hope they pick one because she's truly qualified to take the reigns.

All this is a bit of a shame, because he did start out rather brilliantly in S.F.  I have a 'pirate' of the Mahler 8 he did in 1991 - which I attended as an usher - and it's vastly superior to the SFS recording. I once heard a radio broadcast of an M7 he gave in S.F., in which the finale was an absolute 'barn burner' - vastly more exciting that what's on the recording. Enough of that.