Doctor’s orders

Where are the concert reviews?

As I posted in December, I’m being medicated with several immunosuppressant drugs, leaving me more vulnerable to infection during the flu season and the rise of a new strain of Covid-19. My doctor specifically advises against my being in crowded public spaces. So, no concertgoing.

I look forward to attending live performances, as soon as I safely can.

Oldies and (very?) goodies

The Canadian pop star Justin Bieber has become the latest songwriter to sell the rights to royalties from his catalogue of published tunes to an investment fund, following the likes of Bob Dylan and the late Leonard Cohen. Bieber’s deal is said to be worth about $200 million.

The songwriters “are selling the rights to their work – in other words, to collect royalties largely from streaming of their back catalogue,” Anya Wassenberg reports on the website Ludwig van Toronto. “About 70 percent of the music consumed today is older music,” making these songs, some decades old, valuable assets.

All the more valuable as lawmakers in various countries keep extending the periods of copyright protection. In this country, per the US Copyright Office, works “created and fixed in a tangible medium of expression” after Jan. 1, 1978, remain under copyright protection for the lifetime of the author or longest-living co-author, plus 70 years. The term of protection ranges from 70 to 120 years for works copyrighted before 1978.

If Bieber, who was born in 1994, lives 86 years (the current statistical life expectancy of male Canadians), the catalogue he has sold will remain under US copyright protection until 2150. Dylan is 81; if he were to die now, his pre-1978 works – the likely basis of his being awarded the Nobel Prize in literature – could remain under protection until 2143.

Now, it seems there’s a budding market for “music futures,” in which investors bet on tunes or musical genres likely to produce high royalty payments in years to come, Wassenberg reports. Clouty, a Chicago-based firm “re-imagining the value of music by making it a tradable asset,” last summer launched MUSIQ, a music-trading index that could be the basis of “an exchange-traded fund to make it easy for investors to jump into the game.”

FEATURE | Music Finance: Where The Real Money Is Being Made


Gambling on whose current hits will be royalty-rich 20 or 30 years from now? That makes sports betting look pretty lame.

The rights to works of “classical” composers – in quotes because the definition is so open-ended now – are not as lucrative as those for pop songs, with the notable exceptions of some film and television scores. (Imagine the bidding war for the John Williams catalogue.)

Betting on a classical work’s future financial value is probably more speculative than it would be in pop. It’s certainly more long-term: Few pieces composed since the 1970s have entered the canon of widely acclaimed, regularly performed concert music or opera, thus generating reliable royalty income; so the bet is on a composer’s stature a generation or more in the future.

Classical and pop music have this in common: One generation’s hits and masterworks may be future generations’ historical novelties or hoary relics.

Had today’s copyright laws been in effect and a music-futures market been up and running in the 19th century, rights to Giacomo Meyerbeer’s then-popular operas would have been a hot commodity. Not so hot in 1934, 70 years after his death, and not even lukewarm by 1984, had post-mortem protection lasted 120 years. Conversely, rights to Anton Bruckner’s symphonies, rarely performed in his lifetime, would have skyrocketed in value. (The steady-income bet would have been Johann Strauss II.)

Care to bet on the royalty value of music by Philip Glass, John Corigliano, Arvo Pärt or Rodion Shchedrin, let alone compositions by younger fry such as Anna Clyne, Anna Thorvaldsdóttir, Mason Bates or Jessie Montgomery, in the 2080s? I wouldn’t – but, then, I don’t frequent roulette tables or buy lottery tickets.

Letter V Classical Radio Jan. 30

1-3 p.m. EST
1800-2000 UTC/GMT
WDCE, University of Richmond
90.1 FM

Bohuslav Martinů: “La revue de cuisine”
The Dartington Ensemble

Mozart: Oboe Quartet in F major, K. 370
Robin Williams, oboe
Scottish Chamber Orchestra members

Stravinsky: “L’histoire du soldat” Suite
Orchestra of St. Luke’s members/Robert Craft

Louise Farrenc: Sextet in C minor, Op. 40, for piano & winds
Éric Le Sage, piano
Les Vents Français

Brahms: Horn Trio in E flat major, Op. 40
Jane Coop, piano
Martin Beaver, violin
Martin Hackleman, French horn
(CBC Musica Viva)

All the Rachmaninoff you can eat

Updated Sept. 29

Pianist Yuja Wang, who at 20, in 2007, dazzled a University of Richmond audience with her performances of Maurice Ravel’s “La valse” and Alexander Scriabin’s Sonata No. 2 in G sharp minor, went on to become a globally celebrated virtuoso, excelling especially in the concertos of Sergei Rachmaninoff. (Also noteworthy/notorious for her fashion choices and lifestyle, which have made her a face in celeb “news.”)

Now a seasoned 35-year-old, Wang is playing all four Rachmaninoff concertos and his “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini” with the Philadelphia Orchestra and its music director, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, in pairs of programs between Jan. 26 and Feb. 5 at Philly’s Verizon Hall, and in a single marathon performance, expected to run 3½ hours, on Jan. 28 at New York’s Carnegie Hall.

A star-studded celebration of the composer’s 150th anniversary year: Philly has been “Rachmaninoff’s orchestra” since he recorded the concertos and rhapsody with them in the late-1920s and early ’30s, and Wang currently is one of the best-known pianists playing them. (One of the best? It’s a crowded and accomplished field.)

Star power aside, this will be a hard-core undertaking for performers and audiences alike.

Rachmaninoff’s two best-known concertos, the Second and Third, are sufficiently long, eventful and note-heavy to satisfy any healthy appetite for the composer and/or piano-playing. The rhapsody, while shorter, is also a plateful. Add the lesser-known First and Fourth concertos, each running half an hour or so. Presumably, there will be an intermission or two (or three?). Even with breaks, though, I would anticipate a musical event not unlike one of those all-you-can-eat competitions popular in the future diabetic and stroke-victim communities.

From the performer’s perspective, Wang, speaking to The New York Times’ Javier C. Hernández, opts for a combat metaphor: “Let’s see where this kamikaze run is going to go. I can’t even control it, so I’m just going to go with the flow.”

UPDATE: Wang “brought both clarity and poetry. She played with heft but not bombast, sentiment but not schmaltz. Her touch can certainly be firm, but not a single note was harsh or overly heavy; her prevailing style is sprightly, which is why the concert didn’t feel like eating five slices of chocolate cake in a row,” The Times’ Zachary Wolfe writes in his review of the concert:

Middle-aged standard-bearers

For what seems like forever, the classical music world has obsessed on the very young and the very old.

Concert stages and recording studios are packed with hot young instrumentalists, singers and conductors; 20-somethings are leading major orchestras and performing pieces that 40-somethings used to approach with caution.

Meanwhile, we’re witnessing the fast fadeout of a generation of artists who have been the class acts of classical music since the 1970s. Age and illness have led conductors Michael Tilson Thomas and Daniel Barenboim to give up podiums, and pianists Maurizio Pollini and Martha Argerich to withdraw from engagements. Riccardo Muti is in his last season as music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Neeme Järvi rarely conducts outside his homeland, Estonia. Pianist and conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy has retired. Itzhak Perlman, the most stellar violinist of the past 50 years, is performing far less frequently. We don’t hear much anymore from pianist Murray Perahia. Veteran string quartets, most recently the Emerson and Orion, are disbanding. I could go on . . .

Amid this shuffle of arrivals and departures, who are today’s adults on the stage – mature, active exemplars of classical performance, artists who can be relied upon to do justice to the masterpieces, and, ideally, connect with living composers and make persuasive cases for new music?

Some esteemed veterans are still at it, notably Herbert Blomstedt, who at 95 continues to conduct major European orchestras in demanding repertory. Cellist Yo-Yo Ma is as busy as ever, and is still the most widely recognized classical musician. Ma’s longtime duo partner, pianist Emanuel Ax, maintains a full schedule of solo, concerto and chamber-music dates, as do pianists András Schiff and Yefim Bronfman. Long-leading lights in the historical performance practice field – William Christie, Robert Levin, John Eliot Gardiner, Philippe Herreweghe, Jordi Savall – remain active and influential.

None of these artists (not even Blomstedt) is immortal, however, and sooner rather than later, younger performers will be the most prominent and valued figures in classical music, if not stars à la Perlman, Ma or Argerich.

Thinking back on performances I’ve heard over the past 10 or 15 years (live and recorded), I’ve come up with a list of middle-aged musicians – mid-30s to mid-60s – whom I would rate as present and future classical standard-bearers. Many big names are absent. I haven’t overlooked them; I’ve looked them over, and I find them . . . reliable (usually). I’ve limited my choices to artists who most persuasively and insightfully take me into the music they play.

I thought about listing singers, and soon decided not to. I’m not an operaphile, and there are too many subjective and/or specialized factors, too many cases of good in this/not so good in that, to pick six or eight leaders from a populous and diverse talent pool.

My honor roll:

Conductors: Manfred Honeck, Iván Fischer, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Paavo Järvi, Vasily Petrenko, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, Sakari Oramo, Susanna Mälkki, Thomas Wilkins, Jakub Hrůša, Kazuki Yamada, Edward Gardner, François-Xavier Roth, Andrew Manze.

Pianists: Igor Levit, Leif Ove Andsnes, Evgeny Kissin, Stephen Hough, Marc-André Hamelin, Charles Richard-Hamelin (no relation), Shai Wosner, Jeremy Denk, Angela Hewitt, Alessio Bax, Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, Denis Kozhukhin, Víkingur Ólafsson, Orli Shaham, Stewart Goodyear, Orion Weiss, Sunwook Kim . . . enough, already – this is a golden age of pianists.

Period keyboard players: Ronald Brautigam (fortepiano), Kristian Bezuidenhout (fortepiano), Jean Rondeau (harpsichord), Mahan Esfahani (harpsichord).

Violinists: Gil Shaham, Leonidas Kavakos, Isabelle Faust, Hilary Hahn, Christian Tetzlaff, Nicola Benedetti, Patricia Kopatchinskaja, Jennifer Koh, James Ehnes.

Cellists: Pieter Wispelwey, Steven Isserlis, Truls Mørk, Maximilian Hornung, Ralph Kirshbaum, Jean-Guihen Queyras.

Wind soloists: Emmanuel Pahud (flute), Sharon Bezaly (flute), Albrecht Mayer (oboe), Martin Fröst (clarinet), Anthony McGill (clarinet), Radovan Vlatković (French horn), Tine Thing Helseth (trumpet).

String quartets: Danish, Pavel Haas, Jerusalem, Miró, Doric, Belcea, Dover.

Early music: Collegium 1704 (orchestra & chorus), Handel + Haydn Society, Boston (orchestra & chorus), Apollo’s Fire (orchestra & chorus), Rachel Podger (violin), Stile Antico (vocal ensemble), Voces8 (vocal ensemble), Cappella Romana (vocal ensemble).

Not many household names . . . yet.

Letter V Classical Radio Jan. 23

Where would the orchestra be without the symphony? Once a background or supportive presence in churches, theaters, ballrooms, feasts and festivals, the orchestra emerged as a concert-giving entity with the development of the symphony in the early classical (rococo) and classical periods of the 18th century. In this program we’ll hear this musical form being born around 1750 and growing in scale and sophistication over the next half-century.

1-3 p.m. EST
1800-2000 UTC/GMT
WDCE, University of Richmond
90.1 FM

Giovanni Battista Sammartini: Sinfonia in A major, J-C 62
Aradia Ensemble/Kevin Mallon

C.P.E. Bach: Sinfonia in E flat major, Wq. 183, No. 2
Ensemble Resonanz/Riccardo Minasi

Haydn: Symphony No. 60 in C major (“Il distratto”)
Combattimento Consort Amsterdam/Jan Willem de Vriend

Mozart: Symphony No. 29 in A major, K. 201
Orpheus Chamber Orchestra
(Deutsche Grammophon)

Beethoven: Symphony No. 2 in D major
Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen/Paavo Järvi

Classical chart-toppers in 2022

Some surprises and unexpected high-flyers turn up in the latest yearly rankings by the British classical website Bachtrack of most-played works and top musicians, based on the programs of some 23,000 concert and opera performances listed on the site in 2022.

While the year saw more variety and novelty in recordings, and considerably more programming of works by female, Black, Latino and Asian composers, standard repertory (i.e., by dead male Europeans from the classical and romantic eras) still ruled onstage:

– Mozart was the composer most often played in concerts, although none of his concertos made top-10 lists. Richard Strauss was a leading choice; but, curiously, there were fewer performances of his orchestral works than of suite(s) from his opera “Der Rosenkavalier.” Other top composers were Beethoven, J.S. Bach, Brahms, Schubert, Schumann, Tchaikovsky, Chopin and Ravel (whose “La valse,” interestingly, was played more often than “Boléro”).

– Ravel topped the piano-concerto chart with his G major (the two-handed one). Rachmaninoff’s Second was in second place and his Third and “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini” also made the top 10. Concertos by Beethoven (Nos. 3, 4, 5), Brahms (No. 1), Schumann and Tchaikovsky rounded out the list.

– Among top-10 violin concertos, four may be surprises: Prokofiev’s First, Shostakovich’s First and those by Stravinsky and Erich Wolfgang Korngold. Otherwise, old favorites held sway, with Mendelssohn leading the pack, followed by Beethoven, Sibelius, Tchaikovsky, Bruch and Brahms.

– Among cello concertos, Elgar’s beat Dvořák’s, with Shostakovich’s First in third place. (There were no Nos. 4 to 10; once past the two by Haydn, Saint-Saëns’ First and the Schumann, the repertory crosses into sonus incognita.)

– Orchestral rankings were dominated by US ensembles (Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Los Angeles), along with the Berlin Philharmonic, Vienna Philharmonic, London Symphony Orchestra, and two seeming dark horses from Austria: the Vienna Symphony Orchestra and Tonkünstler Orchestra, which divides its time between Vienna and St. Pölten. Two usually rated among the world’s best, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra of Munich, did not make this top 10.

– The conductors’ list was topped by Andris Nelsons, maestro of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Gewandhaus Orchestra of Leipzig, followed by Yannick Nézet-Séguin, music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra and Metropolitan Opera. Veterans (Paavo Järvi, Simon Rattle, Manfred Honeck, Iván Fischer, Daniel Harding, Gustavo Dudamel) shared the top 10 with Klaus Mäkelä, the soon-to-be 27-year-old chief conductor of the Oslo Philharmonic and Orchestre de Paris and chief-designate of the Royal Concertgebouw, and Andrés Orozco-Estrada, 45, formerly music director in Houston and Frankfurt, now leading the Tonkünstler Orchestra. (The maestro and the band both scored – party time in St. Pölten?)

– Generational change among leading performers was most pronounced in soloists’ rankings. Among 30 names in three top tens, only nine were widely prominent a decade ago. Pianist Yuja Wang, violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja and cellist Gautier Capuçon took top spots in their instrumental categories.

– The most frequently staged opera composer was Mozart, with “The Marriage of Figaro,” “The Magic Flute,” “Don Giovanni” and (surprisingly?) “Così fan tutte” in the top 10, along with three Puccinis (“La Bohème,” “Tosca,” “Madame Butterfly”), two Verdis (“La Traviata,” “Rigoletto”) and a Bizet (“Carmen”).

– Arvo Pärt was the most frequently programmed contemporary composer, followed, in order, by John Williams, John Adams, Thomas Adès, Philip Glass, Jörg Widmann, Sofia Gubaidulina, Anna Clyne, Wolfgang Rihm and James MacMillan. Performances of contemporary works rose most over the past three years in the US, Austria, the Netherlands, Spain, Hungary and Switzerland.

– Bach was the only top-10 composer active before the classical period. The lists include only two soloists (violinist Isabelle Faust and cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras), no period-instrument orchestras and no conductors more than peripherally associated with historical performance practice. (Many “modern” conductors and soloists, however, employ some historical techniques.)

In sum: Orchestras and opera companies still concentrate on composers whose busts you can set atop your piano. . . . Young and young-ish artists’ dominance in the soloists’ rankings explains the frequent programming of Rachmaninoff’s piano concertos (hot young virtuoso makes dazzling first impression), as well as the high rankings of less familiar violin and cello concertos (smart move: Save Beethoven, Brahms and Dvořák until you’re more seasoned). . . . For long-dead Europeans, you can’t beat opera: The most recently composed work in the top 10 was “Madame Butterfly,” which dates from 1904. . . . Older composers and works with lengthy performance histories are favored even in newer music – only two contemporary composers younger than 50 (Clyne, 42, and Widmann, 49) made the top 10. . . . It’s striking, probably revealing, to see the absence of some of the most accomplished and high-profile musicians – Riccardo Muti, Herbert Blomstedt, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Yo-Yo Ma, Joshua Bell, Marc-André Hamelin, among many others.

To access Bachtrack’s top tens and other rankings, start here:


Dingwall Fleary Jr. (1940-2022)

Dingwall Fleary Jr., longtime conductor of orchestras in Northern Virginia, died on New Year’s Eve at 82.

A native of St. Louis, Fleary was appointed in 1972 as the first conductor of the McLean Chamber Orchestra, now the McLean Symphony, and since 1996 had led the Reston Community Orchestra. A pianist, harpsichordist and organist, he was music director of Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Bethesda, MD.

A graduate of the University of Kansas and Northwestern University who also studied at L’Accademia Musicale di Chigiana in Siena, Italy, Fleary taught at Bennett and Vassar colleges in New York in the 1960s.

He was the playwright and star of “The Measure of a Man: the Life of Paul Robeson,” which was premiered in 1987 and subsequently staged on a US tour.

Fleary had served as music director and coordinator of the International Children’s Festival at Wolf Trap and as a four-term board member of the Virginia Commission for the Arts.

An obituary in the Tysons Reporter:

McLean Symphony founder and longtime conductor Dingwall Fleary dies

An Italian classic comes to the symphony

The Richmond Symphony’s concertmaster, Daisuke Yamamoto, will be playing a classic Italian violin in future concerts, thanks to a permanent loan from an unnamed investor, supporting what the orchestra describes as “Music Director Valentina Peleggi’s vision to develop the sound” of the ensemble.

The violin, labeled as having been made in 1705 by Giovanni Battista Rogeri, was selected by Yamamoto, Peleggi and Ellen Cockerham Riccio, the orchestra’s principal second violinist, from a group of instruments offered by international dealers and brought to Richmond for tryouts.

The Rogeri was selected for its “playability, depth, sound quality and resonance,” according to a news release from the symphony.

Rogeri (c. 1642-c. 1710) learned his craft from Nicolò Amati, one of the most influential luthiers in the violin-making center of Cremona, Italy. (Andrea Guarneri was among other apprentices of Amati’s; reputedly, he also taught Antonio Stradivari.) After his apprenticeship, Rogeri set up a workshop in Brescia, another northern Italian town famed for its stringed-instrument craftsmen. Rogeri’s finest instruments, like those of Guarneri and Stradivari, were based on “Amati style” design, construction and finish.

The monster conductor prowls once more

Richard Bratby, writing for The Spectator, mulls over the issue of bad behavior by prominent classical musicians. While there are plenty of horror stories about operatic divas and stellar instrumentalists, conductors have been exemplars, for intemperance (Arturo Toscanini), cruelty (Fritz Reiner) and sexual predation (James Levine).

Bratby writes that “the podium tyrant walks again in the person of Lydia Tár – the fictional conductor played by Cate Blanchett in Todd Field’s movie ‘Tár.’ ” (An updated tyrant, he notes, in that the character is an American woman.)

He traces the tradition of conductor as tyrant and orchestra musicians as lowly underlings to their respective status in the royal and aristocratic court orchestras and opera houses of pre-modern central Europe. For their conductors, “autocracy had been part of the job description,” Bratby writes:


I haven’t seen “Tár.” Even though it’s a film about classical music, and not many of those get made, fictional tyranny doesn’t seem enticing when there’s so much of the real thing around.