December 19, 2015

Good riddance


The conductor Kurt Masur died today.  Some will remember him because they own his mediocre recordings.  I will remember him as the pompous asshole who, in 1996, embarrassed the New York Philharmonic by stipulating that a work commissioned by the orchestra from Elliott Carter would be performed only if he (Masur) personally approves it.
Coming from a time-beater who, as far as I know, had conducted not a note of contemporary music more complex than the minimalist platitudes of John Adams or the numbing pieties of Sofia Gubaidulina, Masur's demand  was not just rude, it was grotesque.  Naturally Carter refused the commission on such insulting terms.  The cancelled commission was taken over by the Cleveland Orchestra which premiered the finished work, Allegro scorrevole, the following year under Christoph von Dohnanyi.  This composition later became the third movement of Carter's magnificent Symphonia.

2 comments:

Tassilo said...

I never thought Masur was any good, but I had never heard this story about the Carter commission. How dare any conductor treat any established composer in such a fashion. Carter was right to do the only thing possible under the circumstances. -dg

Boom said...

Tassilo,

This scandalous affair had been well described by Paul Griffiths in his NY Times piece "A Prophet Finds Honor in Cleveland":

http://www.nytimes.com/1997/06/29/arts/a-prophet-finds-honor-in-cleveland.html

I used to think that Carter's 1970 essay "An Orchestral Composer's Point of View" describing all sorts of indignities faced by orchestral composers in America was (at least in large part) a thing of the past. After reading Griffiths' sad article, however, I no longer think so.