Strauss from the Vienna Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall
Prudence has prevented me from being as withering as I could have been, but I have reviewed a Sunday matinée given by the Vienna Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall for Bachtrack, readable here. Briefly, it was pretty bad: a shapeless Tod und Verklärung that was heavy on the Tod and light on the Verklärung, and a quite exhaustingly gaudy Rosenkavalier Suite. Even the Johann Strauss II tidbits weren’t that well-played. As my companion noted, this music shouldn’t be so tiring. Nor, I would add, should it be played with so little technical precision. The conductor responsible: Maestro Maazel.
The audience, of course, went berserk. You would too if a pair of stalls seats had cost you $400 plus booking fees and an interval drink. For me, it served only to show how wide the gap has become between top-tier music assessed as a commercial showpiece and music viewed solely as music (or as near to solely as is possible). There was some yukky fawning in the programme note that showed what this was all about: the chairman of the VPO wrote a paean to Maazel – whom London critics in particular have rarely tolerated – which even quoted Fidelio, and Maazel wrote a statistic-laden one back.
Beyond a line that I’ve been hammering at for a while now, a further political word is also required, for this was not just a lovefest but a sausagefest. There were eight female members of the Philharmonic on stage (or at there were eight women on stage) throughout this concert, out of well over one hundred. I am not inclined to launch into yet another denunciation of gender relations at the Musikverein: we have the reasoned Zerbinetta and the rather less-so Norman Lebrecht for that. But I will say that I overheard several people – old ladies, actually – in the audience either counting the women as they came onto the stage or discussing the male bias during the interval. If even the relatively uninformed, normal concertgoer – the kind of concertgoer who thinks early Schoenberg is a bit risqué and certainly too modern – is talking about sexism in the Vienna Philharmonic, then it has long been past time for change.