NHK Sashimi

I find myself in Tokyo this week at the home of good friends.  I’ve only been here a few days, but I think I’m already starting to get the flavor of the place.  There really is no “center” of Tokyo — rather, it is a conglomeration of 23 cities, each with its own center, surroundings and specialties.

Yesterday, we took in a concert of the NHK Symphony.  There were only two pieces on the program, both by Edward Elgar: the cello concerto and the 2nd Symphony.

It would be very difficult to describe the huge difference between the impression these two pieces made.  The cello concerto is a piece I recently conducted and was still very fresh in my mind.  I found the performance utterly lifeless, the soloist overblown and the sound lacking any warmth or color.  It was a sonic version of the Raw Horse Meat I had eaten the night before:


A dish that I expected would be full of wild, gamey flavor really ended up being about as tasty as a glass of water.  [PS. The Japanese charmingly refer to this dish as “Cherry Blossom Meat”.]

The performance of the 2nd symphony, however, under the baton of Tadaaki Otaka, was a true delight.  This is a piece that I’ve had problems with in the past, having conducted the first movement in a lesson once, largely unsuccessfully.  I think the hardest thing about this piece is the pacing, and Mr. Otaka really brought it off with charm and ease.  The sound was beautiful all around and the playing was precise and impassioned.  Delicious as a rich okonomiyaki.

Also, the NHK concert hall had an ingenious idea of how to deal with children at concerts:


Oh that concert halls in the U.S. would adopt such a sensible Baby Policy.

The superb rendition of the Elgar 2nd almost made up for the disappointment of not getting to see Shugo Tokumaru, who was playing a sold out show in Tokyo the night before.  BUT, I was able to buy his new album, which won’t be released in the states for who knows how long.  It’s a short little affair, but a welcome addition to the most excellent EXIT.

I’ll offer a tantalizing amuse-bouche:

A Book of Orchestrators

(and orchestrations)


I just finished reading Steve Suskin’s The Sound of Broadway Music, not five days after Terry Teachout did the same.  What a book!  What a HUGE gap this fills in for anybody interested in how Broadway Melodies get transformed from a tune with words to a what you hear in the theater.

I’ve been conducting musicals since I was 16 years old, and this book for the first time demystified Broadway scores in a major way.  I can remember conducting Kiss Me, Kate when I was a senior in high school and wondering where in Creation the dance music came from – reading the music (specifically, the “Tarantella”), it just seemed impossible that it was written by Cole Porter.  It turns out that a lady named Genevieve Pitot basically improvised it over a period of several days working with choreographer Hanya Holm.  This is what’s known as “dance arranging”, and the dance arranger might improvise something that has nothing to do with the score and then go home and arrange themes from the show to correspond to the dance patterns.

From there, Ms. Pitot’s scores went to Russell Bennett (who was the credited orchestrator on the show) and Don Walker (who did about a third of the total orchestrations – uncredited, as was so often the case).  These two gentlemen, along with very minor contributions from Walter Paul and Hans Spialek, orchestrated the entire score a mere 10 days before the opening.

This book is so tremendously informative, I would recommend it to anybody interested in Broadway musicals.  Suskin did a HUGE amount of research to put this whole thing together, and he is kind enough to share the great stories that he dug up in the process.  For example, a story from Stephen Sondheim that I had never encountered anywhere else, about how a strong-willed director/choreographer can actually trump a composer on his own orchestrations:

Jerry [Robbins] took over the orchestra during the dress rehearsal for “Somewhere,” and proceeded to circle the instruments.  “Now I want those out of there…”  He thought that Lenny had made it too lush.  I remember, I was sitting next to Lenny in the back o f the house.  Jerry hadn’t objected at the two orchestra readings.  But hearing it in the theatre with his dancers onstage, Jerry went running down the aisle, changing the orchestration.  I went, “Oh my God, I can’t wait to write home about this.”  Then I looked over, and Lenny is gone.  Where is he?  Not in the house.  I went out in the lobby of the teatre.  He wasn’t there.  Then I had a hunch.  I went down the street, to the nearest bar.  There he was, in a double booth, with five shots of scotch lined up in front of him.  Nobody could face Jerry Robbins down, so he went to the bar.

And that’s the version that is played to this very day.


On an unrelated note, I found a new young composer that I’m just wild about: Timothy Andres.  He has a big premiere coming up by the LA Phil “Green Umbrella” series; clearly this kid is a major contender of the Muhlian variety.  Dude’s music and the presentation thereof is hot.  I do so hate it when anybody else has talent.

Just Plain Ugly

I just received an e-mail from the NY Phil encouraging me to buy tickets to some upcoming concert:


Now, we’ll put aside the fact that I have never been to a NY Phil concert and that I don’t live anywhere near New York — that’s hardly the point.  The point is, what is with that butt-ugly picture of Esa-Pekka Salonen?  I didn’t even know that it was possible to photograph the man in an unflattering light.  He looks like he’s staring into the blinding sun while a skunk gets a little too friendly with his right leg.

I had thought the man was eternally youthful.  Evidence:




And now this?


What gives?  Is he trying out some new “ugly” look?  Where did those wrinkles come from all of a sudden?  Maybe he thinks that now that he’s a slightly-more-full-time composer, it’s expected that he not be quite so pretty any more.

If he keeps writing music like this, he can be as ugly as he wants:

(Helix played by the LA Phil)

Also, celebrate the man while the gettin’s good!  (I can’t wait to see what kind of web site they come up with for Dudamel’s first season.)

More like Whore-ostovsky!

OK, I guess start with this?  Not for any particular reason, just to get some idea for those of you unacquainted with Mr. Hvorostovsky’s talent.  Just watch about 30 seconds or so, you’ll get the picture.

OK, and now, with no further ado, it’s time for this:

which may be the single oddest thing I have ever seen in my life, Ever.  The best part about it is that, as strange as it begins, it only gets stranger as it progresses.

I’ve watched it like 5 times now and I defy anybody to come up with a plausible explanation of the “plot”.  Who is anybody in this video?  Why the barbecued scorpion tail whip?  Where can I buy one of those capes??  Is that an erect nipple at 2:20???

Why yes, upon further review, I believe it is.

I know that the YouTube info states that this was directed by one “Alan Badoev”, but I’m pretty sure they meant to say “Darren Aronovsky”.

Well, there goes the rest of my day.