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I've never been a big fan of Koussie...he was a great champion of new music, and his contribution was very substantial....as was his creation of the Tanglewood Music Festival...
As a conductor, I'm not so impressed - apparently he was not a "natural" conductor - the mechanics were difficult for him, and he had difficulty addressing problems clearly - he knew what he wanted, but had difficulty communicating it to the orchestra....
Personally, he was quite insecure, always needed praise and adulation, could get very testy and sensitive if it was not forthcoming. I heard many stories about Koussie and BSO from Willem Valkenier, former principal horn, who lived right down the road from me in retirement - really cool guy!! he loved to tell stories and had tapes of performances....he lived to be 99yo!!

Also - Koussie made some very odd appointments to the BSO over the years, so that section unity and unanimity of tone and style were not consistent -
when he became BSO conductor, Monteux had left him a very solid French-sounding orchestra - many section principals were former Garde Republicaine members who emigrated to America - his woodwinds were all French, and played in a similar style....then he fires the clarinet player [Hamelin], and hires a Viennese player [Polatschek] from VPO/VSOO!!...in the bassoons, he had a French principal - R. Allard - then hired a 2nd bassoonist from the Vienna VolksOpera [Panenka]!! now we have musicians playing different instruments in the same section [French (Buffet) and German (Heckel) systems are very different - different instruments. With the Horns, he had a German/Dutch principal [Valkenier]- a very refined, polished style, small sound but very precise...he brings in Stagliano, from the LA movie studios, as co-principal, with a much brasher, louder approach
Unfortunately for the BSO, Munch did not seem interested in correcting these discrepancies...

the disparity in section sound and style I always found rather distracting...
At this time, keep in mind, that other orchestras - NYPO, Philadelphia, Chicago, NBC were all building very tight, balanced sections known for unanimity of tone, phrasing articulation...
And yet, they ultimately got their act back together -- Doriot Anthony Dwyer, who succeeded Georges Laurent, Ralph Gomberg, Sherman Walt, Harold Wright, Joseph Silverstein, Jules Eskin -- all on those fabulous Boston Symphony Chamber Players records.
 

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The LSO came to the fore in the early 60s, as Monteux took over the helm...great orchestra!! This was the LSO that made such great recordings under Kertesz, Dorati, Previn, Abbado, Solti, Monteux, etc...
At one point, many principal players resigned over a dispute on work rules. So in came Neville Marriner, Barry Tuckwell and James.Galway. They had a pretty strong pool of players to draw from in London in the 60s.
 

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Nasty though he may have been to his players, Szell left us some great records, such as this one. Even Charles Munch and the BSO, my usual first choice in the French impressionist repertoire, didn't achieve this silken sound.

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That's an excellent question. Great conductors have in mind, in their ear, a sound that they want to produce from their orchestras...in a past era conductors would seek out specific musicians they knew, or knew of audition them personally, and get them into their ensembles...

so, not every musician will play with a tone or style that will please every conductor....every musician is going to have their own personal sound and approach...the trick is to have your sections comprised of players who all play in a similar style, tone, articulation....

The greatest orchestras all have their "training grounds" for prospective members...students who are studying with incumbent orchestra members, feeder orchestras...all perpetuating the sound of that orchestra.

Anomalies, inconsistencies within or between sections stick out like an auditory sore thumb...tone and balance problems are readily apparent...if a new musician doesn't "fit" into the orchestra for tone and balance, they probably won't be granted tenure...
Good question, big topic...I'm sure others will chime in with more insights...
Thanks, Heck. All I can add from my outside viewpoint (though friends and relatives are on the inside) is that the tradition you are talking about is fading in our modern world, though perhaps continuing on in the mighty institutions of the Vienna and Berlin Philharmonics. The top orchestral musicians come from all over the world and increasingly travel all over the world to land in the top orchestral chairs after competing in supposedly 'blind' auditions against a huge number of candidates from everywhere (though the French continue with their tradition of hiring their own, what French orchestra would you consider one of the best in the world today?).

And imo this does indeed result in problems. The New York Philharmonic recently hired a principal oboist from China (though he played in another American orchestra before joining the NYP). He was a spectacular player, but was fired for misconduct (sexual harassment, I believe, though the details were not publicized). That incident, which of course one hopes was isolated and not the norm, does illustrate how principal players are hired for their virtuoso playing but often without a whole lot of consideration for personalities and how well they will interact with colleagues.

Today's economic realities have also damaged the traditional family concept of the symphony orchestra. Look at the debacle in Minnesota. Ultimately the orchestra was saved, but not before losing some if its best players permanently. In sum, though the technical proficiency of the best players has likely never been higher, something has been lost from the proud symphony orchestra tradition.
 

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What exactly, happened in Minnesota?? I'm not up to speed on that....
There was a 15-month lockout there before the orchestra accepted a major cut in benefits and pay in January 2014.

http://https://www.startribune.com/jan-15-minnesota-orchestra-deal-ends-15-month-lockout/240153421/

I must respectfully disagree with you about the Chicago Symphony and other major American orchestras. If you look at their current roster, it is a very nationwide and international bunch. Principal flutist Stefan Hoskuldsson was trained in his native Iceland and was principal flutist at the Met for many years, a nice guy and fine player. Concertmaster Robert Chen is a Juilliard alum from Taiwan. Principal violist Li-Kuo Chang is from China and studied at Eastman. Other players come from all over the US and the world and many are Juilliard, Eastman or Curtis alums, including the current principal bassoonist Keith Buncke, a Curtis alum from Portland, Oregon. A member of the horn section, Daniel Gingrich, is a Chicago area native and Civic Orchestra alum who has been with the orchestra since 1975. I remember him from my days in Chicago in the early 80s. But I'm not sure how many more there are these days.

The leading 'training' orchestra in the US today no doubt is the New World Symphony in Florida, where young players can remain a maximum of four seasons before they must seek employment elsewhere. You can find its alumni in major (and minor) orchestras throughout the US, including the Chicago Symphony.

I have a cousin who was a section leader in the Chicago Youth Symphony and played in the Civic Orchestra as well. Those are good ensembles, but can't be characterized as Chicago Symphony training ensembles.
 

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I would like to return to George Szell and also touch upon the issue of homogeneity of orchestra. I am going to make two statements. Your opinions please.

Obvious some like Szell,some do not. The statement is;Most of the Szell recordings are between the late 1950' s until his death in 1970. Many(a large major) have control to be regarded as contenders to be amongst what is known as "reference recordings."
Would you agree to disagree to that statement?

The Cleveland Orchestra still is influenced by Szell. 50 years after his death. Three music directors;Lorin Maazel,Christopher Von Dohnanyi,Franz Welser Most. Your thoughts please
Just my very humble opinion, but the Cleveland Orchestra today is nothing like what it was under Szell. The discipline and precision he was able to attain at his best is no longer there, even if today's players are as good or better. I don't think that's anything to moan and groan about, though. Things change.
 

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Szell was a real prick, no doubt.. a control freak, not a nice person...
So -- Who was the bigger *******? Szell or Reiner? Or maybe Rodzinski, who took a loaded gun to rehearsals? I vote for Szell. For the others, there are at least one or two stories I've read that don't put them in such a bad light. I saw a televised interview he gave as part of a documentary. There, he made it clear there that he saw the orchestra as existing solely for the benefit of the board of directors and that he had no responsibility to anyone else, least of all to the hired hands playing the music.

Contrast that to Osmo Vanska, who (temporarily) resigned in response to his players being locked out by management.
 

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You're answer was perfect
And further to Heck's comment about Szell building a superb orchestra -- The superb 1969 Stravinsky le Sacre du printemps with Pierre Boulez conducting imo is superb in large part because Szell built such a superb orchestra. For me, that Sacre still tops the list, despite subsequent fine versions by Colin Davis and the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra, Michael Tilson-Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony, and a number of others.

Ironically, with Szell himself conducting, though the orchestra produced many fine recordings, especially of Mozart and Beethoven, most of them are not indispensable for me. I don't care for his Schumann symphonies, though they are highly praised by many. I prefer Reiner and the CSO for Richard Strauss, and a number of others for Dvorak, good though his versions are. I mentioned his wonderful La Mer and Daphnis above, but Munch is my overall favorite Debussy and Ravel conductor, along with Ansermet and Paray.

But a significant exception to that are his recordings of the late Mozart piano concertos with the great Robert Casadesus. Right up there with the very best ever put on record, standing up to comparison with Clara Haskil, Clifford Curzon, Murray Perahia, or Mitsuko Uchida, to name some other great ones I'm familiar with. Those really are indispensable.
 

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^^^^

What a great post :tiphat:
Agreed. Heck helps us remember the business and personal sides of a professional symphony orchestra, and the impact they have on the musical side of things. One important trend in the business end of things, that began as far back as the 60s but only got worse in later decades, was the decrease in lucrative freelance work that was an important source of income for many orchestral musicians, especially those in New York and Los Angeles but in other large cities too. Movies, radio and early TV, and even musical theater, all were important sources of income that have diminished over the last 50 years.

Many great players, violinist David Nadian for example, spent their careers as studio musicians. Nadian briefly joined the New York Philharmonic as concertmaster, but found it not to his liking and soon returned to the studio. After starting his career as second flute in Cleveland, Julius Baker was principal in Pittsburgh under Reiner and in Chicago under Kubelik, but then, like many musicians after the war, went to New York, where he was active as a studio musician, including in recordings by the Columbia Symphony, which was the CBS house orchestra.

By this time it was generally acknowledged in the business that Baker the best flute player in the US, certainly better than the longtime NY Phil principal John Wummer, though he was no slouch. Wummer was finally convinced to retire and Baker took the principal position in NY in 1965, at the age of 50.

I don't think that would happen today. Denis Bouriakov, the best flutist in the US if not the world today (imo, with the possible exception of Emmanuel Pahud of the Berlin Philharmonic), took the Met Opera principal position, but when Peter Gelb decided that the band James Levine had built into one of the world's best didn't have to be that good (his own words!) and so didn't have to pay top dollar, Bouriakov left for the LA Philharmonic. Anthony McGill, the best clarinetist in the US and possibly the world today, left the Met Opera for the NY Philharmonic.

In the old days, Bouriakov and McGill likely would have followed the money to New York's lucrative studio work and freelanced, like Baker. But those days are over.
 

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There has been a veritable exodus of woodwind principals from the MetOpera in recent years...it used to have the highest pay scale, tho with lots of services...but many principals left the orchestra...in addition to Bouriakov and McGill:
Steven Williamson - clar - to Chicago
Eugene Izotov - oboe - to Chicago, then LAPO
Whitney Crockett - bssn - LAPO
That's a lot of positions to fill...
Peter Gelb is a ********. He has embraced high technology as the way to make traditional 19th century opera relevant today, and while technology is inevitably part of the scene these days and can't be ignored, it can't compensate if people don't find opera dramatically and musically compelling. If he doesn't think orchestra quality is important, why doesn't he replace it altogether with synthesizers and electric guitars, as has been done for many Broadway musicals? SMH.
 

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The Met tried to pull a fast one during the covid shutdowns.....they put on some event, and rather than use their contracted musicians, tried to hire all substitutes, like a pick-up orchestra....I don't know how that came out....if they actually put the show on, or had to cancel it...that's really slimy in any case...
Yes, that was last year's New Year's Eve pay-per-view gala. This summer, the Met reached a deal with the orchestra including pay cuts, some but not all of which would be restored once box office revenues return to 90 percent of pre-pandemic levels, and reducing the number of full time members from 90 to 83.
 

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Desperate? His lack of choral/opera output compared to his conducting peers of similar stature is conspicuous. There's nothing controversial about that statement. It's objectively true. I was just wondering the reason for it.
I'm not arguing with that, but I'd point out that his 1961 Beethoven 9th is famous, and I think justifiably so. He also recorded the Strauss Four Last Songs with Schwarzkopf. The problem may have been simply that Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra didn't have one of the major record labels behind them. They recorded for the smaller Epic label, and got minimal distribution in the UK with the British Columbia subsidiary of EMI, which doubtless didn't want to create competition for their own artists. The original 1963 release on a British Columbia 2-LP set of Szell's Beethoven 9th sells for thousands on the collector's market. American Columbia Masterworks (i.e., CBS), finally took over when Epic dropped classical music in 1967, but Szell died in 1970. Columbia then reissued most of the Szell/Cleveland records on its Odyssey label.
 

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I don't think it can be seriously disputed that Szell was a great conductor. IMO, Toscanini and his disciples Reiner, Szell, Ormandy and Rodzinski raised the technical level of symphony orchestra playing in the US to sky high levels. That legacy hasn't disappeared completely, but economic pressures have taken their toll in recent years.
 
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