Ouch! Criticism for wealthy donor who conducts Mahler

December 18, 2008 at 07:36 PM ·

Here is a New York Times article about Gilbert E. Kaplan, the wealthy businessman who conducted the New York Phil Dec. 8 in a performance of Mahler's "Resurrection" Symphony (No. 2) Do the musicians like it? No, they do not. In the article Kaplan defends his conducting, saying, "I do get the results I want, and I did get the results I wanted that night." Yeah, he's conducting the New York Phil, HELLO!  Who couldn't, who wouldn't?

So should a group of supremely skilled, talented and hard-working musicians be used to bolster the delusions of an amateur?

Replies (53)

December 18, 2008 at 08:20 PM ·

Wow, what an interesting problem.  On the one hand the New York Philharmonic has a reputation to uphold.  On the other it seems as if there really was no harm done since the audience liked it and apparently none of the annual givers have stopped donating their money to the orchestra.  In my opinion it really isn't worth making a big stink and insulting the man.  I mean, though I have never been at the level these musicians are at, I have known plenty of people from the National Symphony who have told me horror stories of professional conductors who really didn't know what they were doing and so the orchestra more or less did the piece on their own.  Which situation is worse, a professed amateur taking the helm or a conductor who should know better but doesn't?  There comes a point where we have to ask ourselves whether we are trying to uphold our reputation or perhaps are we just thinking too highly of ourselves.   The fact that the concert went well despite his lack of skill I think speaks highly of that great reputation the New York Philharmonic has.  Berating the man publicly only serves to put a tarnish on it. 

December 18, 2008 at 08:42 PM ·

I'm amused by this story and the gravity that is given to the situation.  This man has devoted his whole life to studying this one piece, something that even most musicians have not done.  He is fortunate enough to have the right contacts in the right places to get what he wants.  He denies that he used his money to buy off this performance but I'm willing to bet that isn't the entire truth of it, however that doesn't bother me either.  I don't see any harm done, he's happy, the audience is happy, it's a form of marketing and pr, and I think it benefits everyone involved.  I don't see how the musicians could get so upset about this - the concert was a benefit for their pension fund after all!  It was a few hours out of their musical lives with a piece that should've been enjoyable to play regardless of the conductor, and a piece they will be playing again in the future possibly with an amazing conductor.  Why shouldn't they "spare a performance" so to say?  I've played under bad conductors loads of times and I understand the frustration, it is only natural that some will be good and some will be bad and none of us musicians should be exempt from a bad conductor.

I feel like a broken record sometimes as I am always advocating for the audience.  Classical musicians today seem to believe that the music belongs to them and that the audience is there for them and to support them but have no say.  I believe that we musicians are there for the audience to provide intellect, expression, and entertainment.

December 18, 2008 at 09:03 PM ·

I agree with Marina.  You don't want to go back to the old days when the Berlin Phil was available to anyone with a rental fee, but let's get real here.  Anyone with a grain of sense will know that Kaplan couldn't be especially great AS A CONDUCTOR.  After all, when your entire repertoire is only 6 movements of Mahler, how much musical growth can you really earn? 

The real key is that no lies are told and no unnecessary unkindnesses done.   Giving such an important event to a celebrated amateur, when his predecessors include Bernstein, Mitropoulos, Walter, Klemperer, and Mahler, skirts the limits of common sense.  But it was one night in an orchestra's life, and nobody was pretending it was a normal one.

December 18, 2008 at 09:05 PM ·

http://www.scena.org/columns/lebrecht/081210-NL-Mahler.html :   a dissenting opinion from British critic Norman LeBrecht.  Being someone who is not a great Mahler fan, I find this debate rather amusing. 



December 18, 2008 at 09:17 PM ·

This has been going on for years, if not decades.  Fine, someone has finally spoken out, it's about time.  Let the chips fall as they will, so long as the musicians are allowed to speak their view.

Laurie said   "So should a group of supremely skilled, talented and hard-working musicians be used to bolster the delusions of an amateur?"

Obviously not, but that's not the only possible equation here.  If he wants to pay vast money to stand in front of the Phil and (apparently) make conducting motions while they perform this piece for an audience, why not?

Then the next night they can perform it again with no conductor at all just to make their point.  ;-)

December 18, 2008 at 10:46 PM ·

A funny story with many funny aspects, including the reactions of some New York Philharmonic musicians. In my opinion Mr. Finlayson should consider whether only Kaplan, whose conducting (or however you call his movements) was obviously appreciated by the audience, is arrogant or whether this may be true for himself who wants to educate the audience and tell them the difference between good and bad. I would let them judge themselves. If they enjoyed the concert it's fine. They paid Mr. Finlayson, the keeper of the Grail, for this concert. However, I appreciate that he expresses how he personally felt about the conducting of Mr. Kaplan because I trust the musicians more than the audience. His mode of expression may have been intended to be thought- and attention-provoking.

December 18, 2008 at 10:28 PM ·

Interesting and timely question. I am an amateur of a little skill and ambition. I have a good friend, teacher, and mentor who plays the cello as his fourth instrument (very capably I might add including as a gig player in a large market.)

We have been working on a demanding string quartet. It is now time to add the inner voices and frankly there are no amateurs around to play it. (I am sure many could but aligning schedules. assuring the right level of skill etc. are too much hassle.)

So I will pay two professionals to sit in the group. If it goes well I will press forward to a performance. The only difference between me and Mr. Kaplan is scale.

I have felt some anguish over this. Should I pack it up and donate the money to the arts? Buy tickets to professional performances? Give it as a scholarship to young musicians? 

Can I ask people to endure my playing for pay?

The answer I believe is that I am entitled to buy what I want and anyone who would prefer not to play in the circumstances I am offering is free to turn down my offer of employment. Boring, painful and even enervating tasks have been a part of my work life for over 30 years. 

Perhaps hiring an entire organization is a little different but not much. I have been engaged through my employment to do many things that were stupid, inefficient and painful and I have always had the right to change my employment.

I certainly hope (fantasize?) that the musicians I hire are charmed by my playing or will at least acknowledge that it is not bad for an amateur but at the end of the evening they will be paid our agreed upon rate and that will be the minimum recompense for their efforts.

December 19, 2008 at 12:20 AM ·

I can think of a West Coast Big 10 six-figure-paying band that takes the big, big rubles from an a board member that is the heir to a breathtakingly large oil fortune.   Someone also manages to program this person's compositions on the orchestra's masterworks series. 


December 19, 2008 at 01:47 AM ·

The money politic is a force well beyond many imaginations. Idealistic preoccupations will not usually persist as compared to the monetary,sub-rosa,exchanges involved..

December 19, 2008 at 05:40 AM ·

"So should a group of supremely skilled, talented and hard-working musicians be used to bolster the delusions of an amateur?"

Wrong question. The valid question is "Should a group of supremely skilled and hard-working musicians be used to bolster the enjoyment of an audience?" and the answer is "Yes!". 

Apparently, the audience, paying the musicians, enjoyed the performance, so what is the problem here?

Also, the account by Norman Lebrecht paints a different picture of the conductor. Not only did he seriously study with the world's top conductors, but his recording has outsold any other Mahler recording ever made.

As if this wasn't recognition enough, he also appears to have become a recognised authority on this piece. It says that Edition Peters had to reprint the score with 400 corrections as a result of his research. Apparently, some of the professionals had not done their homework. He did.

I would think that a professional musician should be able to criticise a conductor in a constructive manner which wouldn't need to resort to cliche and ridicule. Those who do resort to that will only fuel the sentiment that classical musicians are arrogant.

December 19, 2008 at 12:31 PM ·

I don't think Mr. Kaplan has "delusions."  Based on those two articles anyway, he never says that he thinks he's a great conductor like Mehta or Maazel.  But I found aspects of his personal story compelling nonetheless; the way the piece changed his life, for example, and the hard work he and passion he put into analyzing the score.  He sounds like an amateur in the best sense of the word:  someone who conducts out of love.  What is contemptible about that?

December 19, 2008 at 02:52 PM ·

The first thing I thought of when I read this piece was Barry Targan's short story "Harry Belten and the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto", which I think was published first in Esquire in 1966, but republished as the title story to his anthology. Apparently, I was not the only one who had this thought about Mr. Kaplan - as far back as 1991

I agree with Marina, as usual, and for the first time perhaps I also agree with Corwin. I think he has every right as an amateur to pay a well-qualified ringer to bring his quartet to fruition.

Arrogance is the death of classical music. 

December 19, 2008 at 04:28 PM ·

I do think he is delusionary to conduct NY Phil. If his intention is to achieve anything musically, he should conduct an amateur orchestra and make them sound decent.  NY Phil will sound good no thanks to himt. I don't see how that can be satisfying except in self deception.

I agree that Musicians can be arrogant in ignoring audience. After all the real reason of playing is to communicate with listeners, I would have thought. Having said that tho, I don't believe we can insist they have a choice in taking a job. Their position is different from an individual musician who can take it or leave it.

A prominent orchestra is a public institution. In my opinion, they have an obligation to the public at large not just a big donor. I don't know how much Mr Kaplan contributed over the years to gain his previlege to conduct,  However large that may be. I doubt it exceeds contributions from the public in many forms, waived tax, the land, the building as well as fund raising that is possible because of the general good will. If the public gets the notion that the Orchestra is for rent for a wealthy patron, will they continue to contribute?


December 19, 2008 at 05:16 PM ·

It looks like he has gained (bought?) a certain amount of credibility over the years by conducting this piece so many times, in so many places.  To give the NY Philharmonic management the benefit of the doubt, I will guess that they took a look at him, maybe listened to his recordings, and decided he was worth a try.  It was not a great success with the musicians.  Oh well, sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn't. 

If he really did buy the gig, then hopefully the orchestra management learned that sometimes the things you do for money just aren't worth it. 

In the meantime, keep in mind that an orchestra musician signs a contract.  You promise to play whatever music, and for whatever conductor, that you're assigned.  That's your job.  Of course you have the right to complain about it, but standards of professionalism don't give you the option of suddenly deciding that this or that concert is not worth doing & you aren't going to play it.

Something else I just thought of:  maybe Maazel agreed to let this guy conduct because he knew it would make him look good in comparison ;-)

December 19, 2008 at 05:27 PM ·

"To give the NY Philharmonic management the benefit of the doubt, I will guess that they took a look at him, maybe listened to his recordings, and decided he was worth a try."

Years ago, the NY Phil had turned down an offer by SONY's founder CEO to conduct the orchestra for cash. Their response then was that the orchestra was not for hire to amateur conductors. Either they have changed their mindset since then, or, which I believe is more likely, they have, as you suggested looked at Kaplan and decided that his background in relation to this particular piece made it worth a try, in other words it wasn't just the fact that he is a donor.

December 19, 2008 at 05:48 PM ·

I guess I'd compare it to a person who reads and studies one book in his whole life, say Moby Dick, studies it thoroughly, and then decides to teach college-level literature, without ever reading anything else. There's a certain cluelessness here, a rash disregard for the patient process of learning an art and for the other practitioners of this art.

It reminds me of a student (not a specific one but there is a type of student) who wants to simply skip over all that pain-in-the-neck beginning violin stuff and just play advanced pieces. Yeah, maybe they can do it, but that lack of foundation is ever-present and obvious and the teacher has to prop up the whole endeavor because it is quite beyond the student, with his or her level of knowledge and skill.

Also, it reminds me of my own nonexistent career on the piano, in which for a very long time I could play quite nicely a Chopin Waltz, and NOTHING ELSE. A fantastic pianist taught it to me. But playing one piece is not the same thing as being a pianist, at any level. Now I'm following along with my son's lessons and learning it from the beginning, over a period of years, and though I'm not ready for Chopin in general, I feel the foundation growing. The pieces I've learned along with him have full backing.

Who cares, right? I'm sure people can enjoy my one Chopin Waltz, when I play it. And they can enjoy this gentleman's Mahler.

It's a very interesting situation.

December 19, 2008 at 06:23 PM ·

And how do you know which materials Kaplan has studied? Just because his conducting repertoire extends to only two pieces, doesn't necessarily mean he has not studied any music theory and what else might be considered a foundation. Fact is that none of us knows the extend of his learning, all we can do is make wild guesses based on what we think we read between the lines of a few articles in newspapers and blogs.


December 19, 2008 at 06:28 PM ·

It is a very interesting situation which raises many questions.

1. Why the NYPhil?  Why not hire a group of musicians together and do it without the labels of the big symphonies?

2. Who benefits from this?

3. Why limit it only to Mahler's 2nd?

4. Why are the musicians threatened and belittled by this experience?

5.  What makes a musician anyway?  Are the members of the Phil good musicians because they studied at the world's top conservatories and studied with legendary masters?  What about musicians that stir the soul without knowing how to read a stitch of music?

There should be enough room for every kind of musician in our cultural community.  Elitism will do nothing but harm classical music in the long run.... as it obviously already has.

December 19, 2008 at 06:35 PM ·

Marina, the answer to "Why the NY Phil?" and "Why Mahler #2?" is simple ... this event was the 100th anniversary of the American premiere of the same piece by the same orchestra and Kaplan has falsely or wrongly but evidently gained recognition as an authority on this piece. He's already conducted the piece with some 50 orchestras, so it's hardly a case of "it had to be the NY Phil" if it wasn't for the 100th anniversary thing.

December 19, 2008 at 07:35 PM ·

I think it's more like a person who studied Moby Dick his whole life and then gave a big lecture/seminar at Harvard on Moby Dick, with the invitation and blessing of the Harvard English department. The work Kaplan has done on the Mahler symphony doesn't sound too unlike what would be required for a PhD thesis, either in scope or focus.   It was one concert, not a regular job, and he didn't misrepresent himself as an expert on any other piece, or as a professional conductor.  

If he did buy his way in, that would be disturbing, but I didn't get the sense that was the case, at least not from reading those two articles.  I agree with Benjamin that it was an interesting management decision on the part of the NY Phil, and not necessarily one you have to believe was solely motivated by money.   I also agree with Marina and others who have said that the audience's opinion is important here, and it sounds to me as if the audience on the whole was reasonably well served by the decision.  

December 19, 2008 at 07:43 PM ·

PhD thesis, very good analogy, indeed.

December 19, 2008 at 07:52 PM ·

Sounds to me as though Mr Kaplan has paid some dues; he's not just a total amateur making a fool of himself and thje orchestra.

Beyond that, look at the cathartic effects:  First, the audience was treated to a exhibition of a normal human being doing a decent job of conducting, and for the most part they liked it. That's good.

Beyond that, a group of prideful toplofty musicians, many of whom have had LOTS to say, privately, to the detriment of their various conductors, get to relieve themselves publicly in a seris of snarky comments for which they'd be fired had it been one of the professional conducting gods whom they'd run down. This is good, too, if mean-spirited.

Finally, the reputation of the orchestra has not been tarnished in any way that I can see. They get money to play, they get to whine, Kaplan and the audience have a good time.

So what's the problem?

December 19, 2008 at 08:17 PM ·

That's part of the point, though, Bob: he didn't do a decent job of conducting. Standing on the podium, beating time, and giving cues is not conducting. It's standing on a podium, beating time, and giving cues. Anyone can learn to do that much -- look at the BBC's "Maestro" series...

The problem I see here is one of vanity on the part of Mr. Kaplan. If he has devoted his life to the study of Mahler 2 (which, I would argue, you can't truly do without becoming at least conversant with all of Mahler's symphonies), that's fine. If he is recognized by at least one publisher as an expert on the piece, that's fine too (although Renate Stark-Voit should get at least as much credit for the critical edition). But that doesn't mean that he has the tools necessary to stand in front of the world's great orchestras and conduct it.

 I had a wonderful professor as an undergrad, a man named J. Peter Burkholder. He is one of the world's authorities (possibly, the foremost authority) on the music of Charles Ives, and has had definitive editions of his music published. But no one would suggest that he should conduct "The Unanswered Question" with the NY Phil.

I guess I'm just trying to say that there's a lot more to conducting than knowing where and when everything happens in the score. It's just not that simple -- and to let it seem otherwise to the public by perpetuating this man's performances casts an aspersion on all of the truly gifted conductors out there.


December 19, 2008 at 09:02 PM ·

I appreciated David Finlayson's blog comments because I don't believe that orchestra musicians should be obliged to be silent.  Openness should be good for the music business - let people understand what goes on behind the scenes.  And it's useful for people to know that audiences and orchestra musicians don't always see conductors the same way; it's not obvious if you haven't played in an orchestra.

I read his comments, however intemperate, as being along the lines of his having been open to the possibility that Kaplan, while an amateur, had immersed himself in the Mahler 2nd and could deliver a credible interpretation.   And he was not only underwhelmed, but wonders why, in the 25 years Kaplan has been conducting this piece - often with very good orchestras - nobody has publicly said that he's not very good. 

I saw Mr. Kaplan conduct the National SO in 2004, and my impression was that he really knew the score and I heard a lot of details that I hadn't noticed before from recordings or previous live performances.  But it was utterly lacking in charisma.  I'll take a real conductor who uses inauthentic attacks, tempos and dynamics but can put across a compelling musical statement, which I didn't hear from Mr. Kaplan.

I also reject claims that Finlayson is being elitist.  He is saying that the audience is being cheated.  And while the Philharmonic booking Mr. Kaplan was in some respects an interesting idea, I would have thought it more appropriate, for a performance commemorating the 100th anniversary of the piece's U.S. premiere, that the Philharmonic engage an eminent conductor.  Daniel Barenboim and Seiji Ozawa were both in New York conducting at the MET.  Or maybe they could have lured Claudio Abbado.   So many options.



December 19, 2008 at 09:09 PM ·

A while ago, standing on the podium beating time and giving cues was, in fact, the job of the conductor. Kaplan just harks back to an earlier age. An age,  i hasten to point out, wherein this sort of music was much more appreciated by the masses than  might be the case today.

The old dichotomy between elitism and egalitarianism, which has driven many a poster here into rabid fits, again raises its head. As noted, the audience enjoyed the performance.

While this may well doom the modern audience in the eyes of the orchestra, let's not lose sight of who is paying, and who is being paid. I venture to suggest that badmouthing Kaplan, despite the warm satisfaction it may engender in the orchestra membership, was not particularly professional.

As often as I've seen, and felt a certain pity for, professional musicians playing their hearts out while the audience wanders about getting tanked and ignoring them, my inquiries have generally uncovered the fact that the musicians, for the most part, enjoyed making music. If the NYPhil is too far above that, maybe they should find something else to do to make money. Something that might give them pleasure rather than another ulcer.

At any rate, the audience liked it. Maybe the Phil should just sit there and think of England.

December 19, 2008 at 09:24 PM ·

The problem with the Ph.D. analogy is that Kaplan was not being asked to explain the piece but conduct it.  I have studied Beethoven's Waldstein Sonata measure by measure from a theory point of view.  But, I would never presume to be able to play it; I am not a pianist at all.   I know that there are actors who learn to play very difficult pieces for a movie by getting a sort of crash course in piano playing or whatever the instrument is.  They can do a creditable job.  Perhaps in some ways conducting is a bit easier, and maybe Kaplan is somewhat analogous to these folks but has been doing the equivalent of studying and playing the piece for many years.

One of the problems for the NY Phil players is that Bernstein was such a tremendous Mahler conductor.   He would be a hard act to follow for some of the older members.

December 20, 2008 at 04:22 AM ·

Wouldn't it be elitist to let it go without comment, to give him a pass, with no comment or critique?

December 20, 2008 at 09:25 AM ·

The PhD analogy was meant to illustrate the limited scope aspect, at least that's how understood it. In any event is a suitable analogy in that regard.

December 20, 2008 at 01:18 PM ·

Right, that's pretty much what I meant with the PhD analogy.  But Kaplan's not a real PhD either.  I think the best analogy is when they bring an outsider in to give a talk at an academic  symposium.  That is done occasionally:  for example, a wealthy computer scientist gave a keynote talk at a big neuroscience meeting last year.  The guy was not a neuroscientist.  He didn't have a Ph.D.  He'd made a lot of money by founding a software company.  He'd written a book on artificial intelligence.  That's what he talked about.

Lectures at symposia are the academic scientist's performance art.  They are a world in and of themselves.  There is, generally, an accepted format to these talks that people in the field do not stray too far from.  But the format is different for business leaders and politicians and people in other fields.  Their talks are different.  The talks from these outsiders usually get a good reception.  They are regarded by most as a breath of fresh air, something different from the same-old same-old.  But they are not regarded as the same thing as a keynote speech from a Nobel Laureate in the field.  People who are interested go to both and get different things out of them.  Sometimes the talk is bad or weird, and it generates interesting and/or critical commentary.  But talks by Nobel Laureates can be weird too (ask anyone who has attended a more recent talk by Kary Mullis). And they're not hiring that person as a professor, which in my opinion would be irresponsible, just like hiring Kaplan as a regular conductor would be. 

I feel more, rather than less, inclined to go hear Mahler #2 conducted by Kaplan after reading this thread.  I'm not particularly a Mahler fan, and probably wouldn't have been interested in Mahler #2 at all, but I'm curious now.  I went to see the computer science guy at the neuroscience meeting too. 

December 20, 2008 at 06:40 PM ·

A few quotes occur to me after reading all this:

Anonymous: "Life is too short for Mahler."

A former violin teacher of mine: "Many conductors are much more impressive from the back (when you are in the audience) than from the front (when you have to follow their beat)."

Jimmy Durante: "I hate music, especially when it's played."

Bill Clinton: "Never pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel."

Feruccio Busoni (in a note to a newspaper critic's column on one of Busoni's concerts): "I am sitting in the smallest room in my house, and I have your review before me. Soon it will be behind me."

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, and Happy New Year.

December 21, 2008 at 05:30 AM ·

At least one thing is undisputable about Kaplan and his performance: If indeed it was bad, then it was not bad enough for any musician or anyone in the audience to decide to throw their shoes at him ;-)

December 21, 2008 at 06:26 AM ·

I love Mahler symphonies!

December 21, 2008 at 04:10 PM ·

...and his Second in particular.

Does it not rekindle that glimpse of hope in a resurrection sparked by the Lord while on earth so that (Mr. Anonymous) one might truely live long enough for Mahler...and Bach and...and...

Hansjürgen, going to listen to the 1980 reading of Solti and Chicago SO. in a moment.

December 21, 2008 at 08:07 PM ·

December 22, 2008 at 04:06 AM ·

"which makes it very different from hiring a 2nd violin and viola to play a string quartet"

Nice try but not convincing at all. A professional musician hired to play in return for payment of a fee is a musician hired to play in return for payment of a fee, no matter how you try to spin it. The members of the NY Phil all had a choice to sign their employment contract or not sign it. They receive a salary from that employment and that involves at times to do things for their pay that they may not like. That's what every employee on the planet has to do. Musician or not. Welcome to the world of employment. Don't like it? Then don't choose employment, choose self-employment for your career.

"Audience members paid to attend a performance by the NY Phil, NOT a performance by the NY Phil being conducted by an amateur."

Utter Nonsense!!!

The concert was without any shred of a doubt advertised as a performance by the NY Phil with a guest conductor who is well known as an amateur. There was no deception. None whatsoever.

December 22, 2008 at 03:15 PM ·

Corwin: hiring a 2nd violinist and violist? No issue at all. I would think almost every violinist on this site has paid a professional to perform with them at a concert or recital. Didn't we all pay accompanists at some point?

That story that E Smith posted about harry belten and the Mendelssohn is fascinating. I was resigned to know that even if I learned the Mendelssohn I'd never in my life be able to perform it with an orchestra... but now I'm not so sure ;). Of course, in my case it'd be the Sibelius...


December 22, 2008 at 05:53 PM ·

If he was a teen, the same people would be calling him a genius.  To be real, it's not him who's the naked emporer.  The fact that they're actually threated by it speaks volumes.  Shelves and shelves of volumes. 

December 22, 2008 at 08:28 PM ·

We all have to do things in our jobs that we might not prefer to do.  Xeroxing for example... hate it!  But it can't be avoided.

December 24, 2008 at 08:48 PM ·

It is inspiring to see an amateur conductor infatuated with a piece and following their dream.  Come on you Americans, what happened to dreams!  Don't get all cynical on us.  Norman Lebrecht's article was very illuminating.  Read it and catch the dream.  Kaplan has had a serious effect on Mahler research.  As a professional violinist I know what performance I would enjoy more.  Give me a passionate ( and serious) amateur every time over a bored & miserable pro!

December 24, 2008 at 11:02 PM ·


Jim, glad your still around.

BTW some of us find xeroxing quite erotic.



December 26, 2008 at 08:10 AM ·

Isn't it part of the territory of a major orchestra to deal graciously with those less skilled than themselves?  They must have to do it a lot.  Maestro Maazel, a prodigy who conducted (I think; correct me if I'm wrong) every major American orchestra by the age of 14, is far from the norm.

If only Mr. Kaplan's generosity translated into conducting success. ..I once had the dubious honor of playing for a certain celebrated composer conducting a program that included one of his own works, and sadly, that didn't translate either.

Benjamin and Bob raise a valid point: too often, criticism is practiced as a blood sport.

December 26, 2008 at 09:37 AM ·

Jim's note on naked emperor is sharp but perfectly in tune to my ear. 

Excuse my ignorance and please correct me if I'm wrong, and I understand the great value of conducting during rehearsal, but I don't always see so much value-added activity provided by a conductor during a performance played by professional musicians.  More than once I had to chuckle when I saw the conductor's choreography wasn't quite in sync with the music and the audience gave them a standing ovation in the end anyway. Some conductors talk/lecture a lot on stage, as though the audience need such fillers... I guess that's value-added.

December 26, 2008 at 10:55 AM ·

And how would you possibly know that there was no value added during rehearsals? Have you been there during the rehearsals or do you base your conclusion on speculation?

December 26, 2008 at 06:23 PM ·

I don't think that is what Yixi said, if you re-read.

January 3, 2009 at 04:21 PM ·

 More on the subject. Terry Teachout in the Wall Street Journal

January 3, 2009 at 05:24 PM ·

Buri, it just felt a little pointless.  But mainly, these days I turned into a motorcycle bum and don't have internet.  Can't be a good bum with internet.  It's in the rule book.  Stay well.


January 21, 2009 at 04:04 AM ·

Regardless of whatever were written on papers and here, I know that Gilbert Kaplan's first recording with London Symphony has been my all time favorite version of the so-called Ressurection Symphony since it first came out many years ago. His absolute dedication to this particular music is clearly felt throughout and every time I listen to it it leads to a most moving and shattering experience. His second try with Vienna Philharmonic is less successful to me but still above average. If both stories are true, New York Phil musicians' sour reaction and Vienna Phil brass section wanting to try 11th time on its own volition to get a certain passage absolutely right, you know which orchestra has the right attitude toward the music and the performing.

January 22, 2009 at 09:30 PM ·

If he contributed $12,000pa to the Phil, was he not doubling that on this occasion by relieving them of the need to hire a professional conductor?

January 28, 2009 at 06:49 PM ·

I agree with a lot of the first posts. I found it amusing when this all came out, because I had just played Mahler 2 with Kaplan here with the Cincinnati Symphony about a month before.

He struck me as a nice, well-meaning guy who really loved the piece and was living out his retirement doing what he wanted to do. As to the actual conducting....well.... I have seen worse from 'professional conductors' (who also by the way often contribute to orchestras they conduct.) I doubt they'd be as easy to write about so openly, and I have no plans to do so ;)

I though he was reasonably humble about his abilities. The one major point I found that really didn't agree with my experience was that some in NY called him 'arrogant'. I didn't have that impression at all.

There are plenty of other people we should be talking about as well if we're going to have a truly honest conversation about the role of money and connections in our business. Probably we don't want to lol

He seems to be singled out because of his unusual biography, which is a legitimate conversation, but I feel on the issue of money and influence, he's being scapegoated for what is really not so rare at all.

The audience seemed to enjoy the concert.




January 28, 2009 at 10:40 PM ·

That's a great point Scott, thanks for sharing.  I've often wondered how others navigate their careers through connections and bribing.  It's part of what we do in one way or another but it's fascinating to me.

January 28, 2009 at 11:09 PM ·


incidentally, if you go to Scott`s website he has wnat may be the best  colelction of viola jokes in the world . Awesome.



January 29, 2009 at 04:18 AM ·

These jokes are brutal!

January 29, 2009 at 04:30 AM ·

you`re not kidding!

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