Karl Miller replies to me:
>My recollection was that membership to the "Big Five" was, at least at
>one time, determined by the size of the budget.
I think that was true at one time, although it has evolved to mean The
Five Best Orchestras.
>Reading that article I was reminded how unaware I am of the playing
>of US orchestras these days since so few have syndicated broadcasts.
>I also wonder if I would even bother listening since the programming
>is so dull.
I certainly agree. I haven't subscribed to my local season, such as it
is, and have little intention to do so. To me, the chamber and choral
concerts are far more interesting (including, recently, a Bach Christmas
Oratorio on three successive evenings; for a small city with no real
professional orchestra, Austin does very well in attracting marvelous
>I often consult the repertoire lists published by the American Symphony
>Orchestra League. Earlier this morning I was reading a posting on the
>Martinu discussion list.
There's a Martinu discussion list?
>A friend of a friend who plays in the orchestra, tells me that the NY
>Phil has gotten very sloppy as of late...and bored with Maazel...well
>I guess I rarely ever found him inspiring.
The NY Phil was sloppy under Barbirolli, Mitropoulos, Bernstein, and
Mehta as well. Masur did a fabulous job rebuilding that orchestra.
They played better than ever for him, with a golden string tone and a
much sharper sense of ensemble. I've never quite understood why the NY
public condemned him as a routinier.
>And then the article above suggests Ozawa was treated unfairly...Perhaps
>so, but I never heard a broadcast or a recording of his that moved me
>in the slightest. I am not suggesting he didn't know what he was doing,
>but for me, he and Maazel have nothing to say.
I think they have "pieces" they do well. Ozawa, for example, did a
superb recording of Poulenc's Les Mamelles de Tiresias, and was absolutely
clueless in his other Poulenc discs. But in general I agree.
>As to the orchestras...I think...remember Steve, you did ask for
>comments...that it is a bit like my Dad used to say about football. On
>any given Saturday, just about any college team can beat out any other
>team. It depends on many factors, how tired they are, how much they
>like their conductor, how filled the house it, how well rehearsals went,
>how much they like the repertoire...etc.
When I lived in New Orleans, the orchestra there regularly surprised me
with the commitment and depth of their playing.
>I believe that today we have more highly trained, proficient orchestra
>musicians than we have ever had. For me, what we lack is inspired
>conductors who have something to say with the music and conductors who
>can inspire the players.
Again, I agree. But I don't believe it's because great conductors aren't
out there. Klauspeter Seibel gave some of the best recordings of standard
rep I've ever heard, and he also committed to contemporary, even local,
work. Yet, he's had only a modest career. I think of George Tintner
and Gunter Wand, as well as Ton Koopman and others. What mystifies me
is how certain conductors get to the top. Why is Barenboim or Levine
so highly paid, for example, for really dull music-making? Maazel is
a conducting virtuoso in terms of technique, but he really hasn't
a consistent point of view and often seems content with the okay.
>And, from the little I have heard, I think San Francisco under Tilson
>Thomas is probably amongst the best we have when it comes to a conductor
>with something to say, a well trained and proficient group of musicians,
>diverse repertoire, etc.
Yeah, I was amazed the Thomas and the SFSO were left off the list and
Salonen and the LA Phil made it -- thoroughly professional, the latter
bunch, but not really inspirational.