Thursday, January 08, 2009


Gilbert Kaplan conducted Mahler's Symphony number 2, the Resurrection with the New York Philharmonic at Avery Fisher Hall last December 8th. This was a one night only benefit for the Orchestra's pension fund. From all reports there was a full house and a large and apparently satisfied audience. The New York Times was respectful. Trombonist David Finlayson reports on his blog (see that the people on stage weren't as happy. Kaplan, a multi millionaire has been conducting this Mahler Symphony as an amateur for the last 25 years, with two recordings and over fifty performances to his credit. My dear friend Jane Struss sang with him in South America over twenty years ago. I remember her struggles to get the necessary visa from consular offices in New York, not to mention her comments at Kaplan's rehearsals. Like him or not, Kaplan has put this Mahler Symphony into the popular culture, where it may or may not belong.

Finlayson has made an emperor has no clothes argument, that Kaplan was a hopeless conductor and that the audience, Mahler and certainly the New York Philharmonic deserved better. A lot of people agree with him and a lot of people don't. Kaplan doesn't pretend to be a seasoned conductor-it is only this one piece he conducts, and his two recordings are available to be heard and and judged and enjoyed.

"His continued appearances are an affront to all "real" conductors who have toiled relentlessly for the recognition the truly deserve," writes Finalyson. He in turn is being attacked as a snob and an ingrate. He's carrying all the comments on his blog. Ominously he himself has posted nothing since December 18th. Over in London, Norman Lebrecht is huffing and puffing away in support of Kaplan (I never miss Norman's blog: I the only one in the world without his own website...and who is this Facebook person anyway?)

Years ago I went on air and decried the local symphony for importing Charlotte Church. She was the little girl who trilled Estrellita and Over the Rainbow in a toneless falsetto. Oprah called her the voice of an Angel. I guess Oprah had never heard Joan Sutherland. I said that such an appearance was disrespectful to the serious musicians on stage and to the loyal audience supporting them. I made myself no friends. People were irate. The symphony management told me off. Charlotte came, sang, sold out the house and made them money. Well and good. You know what? I don't take it back. I don't regret it.
Gilbert Kaplan has spent a lot of his own money making Mahler's music widely available. Good for him. Now let others conduct it. I wonder whatever happened to Charlotte Church?

Check them out for yourself:

And try to find Jane Struss. What an artist!

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