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Pierre's Tuesday Blog

Don't be frightened, Mr. Gould is here

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The podcast I retrieved from the Vault this week is one of my favorite montages, and one that exceptionally lasts more than 90 minutes.

Before I begin, let me say that I rarely program “repeat works” in these pages, and certainly would avoid programming a major work I discussed only a few weeks ago. However, the circumstances – and the performance – are noteworthy enough that I will allow myself this slight departure from the norm.

The 1961-62 season of the New-York Philharmonic is memorable to some, if only because it marked the final season that the orchestra performed at Carnegie Hall, moving to Lincoln Center in the Fall of 1962. However, concert subscribers and the Philharmonic’s music director probably didn’t imagine that they would be part of an evening that to this day stands out for one performance and one notable statement on one fateful April evening.

I don’t quite know how orchestras build their programs, and how much the program is influenced by the booking of soloists, but the Philharmonic engaged Glenn Gould to perform a series of concerts with the orchestra, and featured him as soloist in the Brahms D Minor piano concerto. We do know the concerto is one that Gould had performed as a concerto soloist before – there is a performance of Gould and the Winnipeg Symphony that is contemporary to time period available on YouTube that attests to this. Never the less, Gould and Leonard Bernstein corresponded prior to Gould’s visit with the orchestra, and in these messages Gould informed Bernstein that he’d been working the piece and had “made discoveries” while studying the score.

For the record, Gould and Bernstein had collaborated many times before, on disc and in concert, and since both men are musicians of indisputable intellect, I can’t imagine that they have always seen eye to eye on all their performances, though I don’t question that either musician would be respectful of the other’s musical vision when it comes to Bach or Beethoven (composers we know the musicians collaborated on before).

Legend says that the rehearsals for the concert of April 6 didn’t go so well, and that Bernstein and the orchestra management feared that Gould would simply skip the performance altogether – in fact, the orchestra had Brahms’ First symphony “at the ready” if Gould were to recuse himself in extremis. The first half of the concert program consisted of two works by Carl Nielsen, the overture to his opera Maskarade (conducted by assistant John Canarina) and his Fifth Symphony.

Thankfully, Gould was in his dressing room at intermission, and Bernstein provided his now infamous remarks from the podium before inviting Gould to join him on stage:

Don't be frightened. Mr. Gould is here. He will appear in a moment. I'm not, um, as you know, in the habit of speaking on any concert except the Thursday night previews, but a curious situation has arisen, which merits, I think, a word or two. You are about to hear a rather, shall we say, unorthodox performance of the Brahms D Minor Concerto, a performance distinctly different from any I've ever heard, or even dreamt of for that matter, in its remarkably broad tempi and its frequent departures from Brahms' dynamic indications.

I cannot say I am in total agreement with Mr. Gould's conception and this raises the interesting question: "What am I doing conducting it?" I'm conducting it because Mr. Gould is so valid and serious an artist that I must take seriously anything he conceives in good faith and his conception is interesting enough so that I feel you should hear it, too.

But the age old question still remains: "In a concerto, who is the boss; the soloist or the conductor?" The answer is, of course, sometimes one, sometimes the other, depending on the people involved. But almost always, the two manage to get together by persuasion or charm or even threats to achieve a unified performance. I have only once before in my life had to submit to a soloist's wholly new and incompatible concept and that was the last time I accompanied Mr. Gould. (The audience roared with laughter at this.) But, but this time the discrepancies between our views are so great that I feel I must make this small disclaimer. Then why, to repeat the question, am I conducting it? Why do I not make a minor scandal — get a substitute soloist, or let an assistant conduct? Because I am fascinated, glad to have the chance for a new look at this much-played work; Because, what's more, there are moments in Mr. Gould's performance that emerge with astonishing freshness and conviction. Thirdly, because we can all learn something from this extraordinary artist, who is a thinking performer, and finally because there is in music what Dimitri Mitropoulos used to call "the sportive element", that factor of curiosity, adventure, experiment, and I can assure you that it has been an adventure this week collaborating with Mr. Gould on this Brahms concerto and it's in this spirit of adventure that we now present it to you.
So was all that fuss over “conception” worth it? Clocking in at just over 53 minutes long, the Brahms concerto was seen at the time to be far too slow. Gould was also criticized for taking excessive liberties with score markings. More recent research has, to a point, validated Gould's ideas. Bernstein's later recording of the concerto, with Krystian Zimerman, runs to 54 minutes, and other recordings are of comparable length.
Gould, for his part, is said to have thoroughly enjoyed the proceedings, especially the fact that he had provoked some booing from the audience; he held that some controversy was better than quiet complacence with the performance. He also made concessions in the Sunday matinee performance, at Bernstein's request, when the performance was apparently closer to a vision both artists could agree upon.

I can’t say that this incident is partly responsible for the abrupt end to Gould’s career as a public recitalist, but one has to think it is emblematic of his “issues” with dealing with the public and critics of his approach to music.

Thankfully, the broadcast recording of the concert is available, and occupies the second half of this podcast (including the Bernstein disclaimer). A facsimile of the first half is provided, featuring Segiu Celibidache and Herbert Blomstedt as conductors of the two Nielsen works.

ITYWLTMT Podcast Montage # 50 – This Day in Music History 06-04-1962
(Originally issued on Friday, April 6, 2012)

Carl NIELSEN (1865-1931)
Overture to Maskarade, FS39
DR Radiosymfoniorkestret (Denmark)
Sergiu Celibidache, conducting

Symphony no.5, Op.50
DR Radiosymfoniorkestret
Herbert Blomstedt, conducting

Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Piano Concerto no.1 in D Minor, Op.15
Glenn Gould, piano
New-York Philharmonic
Leonard Bernstein, conducting (providing spoken introduction)

April 10 2014, "I Think You Will Love This Music Too" will feature a new podcast "Max Bruch (1838-1920)" at its Pod-O-Matic Channel . Read more on our blogs in English and in French.

Updated Apr-11-2015 at 12:23 by itywltmt

Classical Music , Recorded Music