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December 18, 2008


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It's not only that Toscanini never recorded the Mahler Second, it's highly doubtful that he ever conducted anything composed by Mahler. There is nothing in any of the AT books -- particularly his published letters -- to indicate that.

Stephen Chakwin

Toscanini was professional rival of Mahler's and came at music from a very different direction. He allegedly realized Mahler's composing genius late in life and is supposed to have attended a rehearsal of Das Lied von der Erde at La Scala in tears at the beauty of the music. He never performed M2 but, whatever his shortcomings as a musician (and they are many), he was a pro. he knew what he wanted. He had his reasons. He had the ability - to an astounding degree even on records - to control his musicians and get the performances he wanted. No comparison between him and Kaplan, at least none that redounds to the latter's credit.


To Mr. Finlayson: I think that you can go back and edit your original blog post, with a footnote to acknowledge the correction about Toscanini.

Emil Subirana

Why is it that trombonists are always the ones to stick their necks out and tell it like it is? As a fellow trombonist with considerable experience in conductor-musician conflict, I say: Bravo Mr. Finlayson! Most orchestral musicians consider even good conductors as necessary evils. It is therefore doubly insulting to the fine musicians of the NYP to have a complete dilettante imposed upon them, no matter how many scores he owns. It is also yet another example of how little understood and/or appreciated, even by such outstanding managers as Zarin, is the professional orchestral musician's high level of artistic standards that he/she sets for him/herself every single day, every single note. Musicians and conductors that do not equal or (rarely) surpass this standard are not just out of place, they are supremely insulting.

Speaking of conductors, my favorite performance of the Mahler 2nd was as principal trombonist with Zubin in Montreal in the 70s. So what if he gets lost occasionally? Typical Zubin, he rehearsed so little that the performance was electrifying for both audience and orchestra.

Bill Blytheman

It's all well and good that you've addressed the issue of the Toscanini recording that wasn't.

However, I don't think I'm alone in assuming that more readers would be interested in a thoughtful response to the much larger elephant(s) that have been let in the room by your post.
1. A response to the large volume of people (from my observation, a fair amount of these appear to be musicians) that are now accusing you of being a crybaby.
2. The sad but true fact that orchestras today must be innovative in the way they raise the necessary dollars to pay your salary...keeping in mind that this concert was a benefit for YOUR pension, not a subscription concert. Doesn't it seem a bit like biting the hands that are desperately trying to feed you?
3. Was one week of poor leadership on the podium really that big a deal in the greater scheme of things? It's not as though you're doomed to live out your days performing under rubbish. This was one week, and you have plenty of great performances ahead of you.

This isn't necessarily an attack on you. I just think that there are plenty who would like to hear a convincing defense from the one in the thick of it all.


You really should write more entries. You have a rather enjoyable voice in your prose.

David A. Hollingsworth

Hello Mr. Finlayson,

I came across an interesting article of the New York Times entitled “Mahler Fan with Baton Cues Unrest in the Ranks”, which describes a rather profound discomfort among members of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra (NYPO) in not only Kaplan’s view of Mahler’s Second Symphony, with which he performed it on December 8th, but also with his conducting. Your blog is included in that article: a rather scathing essay attacking Kaplan, calling him, among other things, an imposter. Some may find it pernicious. But the underlying argument is that inviting a musician who is not a professionally trained conductor to direct a Mahler symphony with a first-tier orchestra is an insult to those who earned the right to do so through merits, training, sacrifice, etc (like Leonard Bernstein, Klemperer, and others). I tend to agree with that argument. But let’s consider the following.

In using that underlying argument, would the same level of objections be made if Kaplan conducted a less than first rate piece with a second or third tier orchestra, or whatever? This is important because it goes to the same status and ranking problems that irk the music world for centuries.

Secondly, Kaplan, although a trained economist and the founder of the magazine Institutional Investor, managed to conduct the Resurrection symphony with over fifty orchestras since 1982, and won praises by top critics and magazines. He knows his music, although his seemingly knowledge of it and not much else seems to suggest his one-dimensionalism as a musician (how much of a musician he is depends on who you’re asking). Nevertheless, his recordings of the Resurrection with both the Vienna Philharmonic and the London Symphony (by themselves remarkable achievements), won acclamations left and right. And although reservations and protests still linger, audience in particular still praise him: he was given a standing ovation at the end of that December 8th performance. Obviously, he does know what he’s doing, enough so that he managed to record the work with even the Vienna Philharmonic under the Deutsche Grammophon label (another remarkable achievement). And yes, although his conducting has its own limitations, how do you make of the fact that he was able to do all these things in the past twenty-eight years?

Thirdly, look at Rostropovich. He was a great musician and a great symbol for change and artistic freedom: An extraordinary cellist but an okay conductor. He himself was not a professionally-trained conductor and it shows. But made a number of very fine recordings (his Tchaikovsky symphony cycle with the London Philharmonic for instance, despite less than ideal tempo choices at places). Some will argue, though, that most of the success of his performances on the podium were attributable to the orchestras themselves (almost all of them in the front rank) and not on the interpretative skills his possessed, whether one was fully at home with them or not. And yet he conducted world class orchestras throughout his career.

So, here are the following foods for thought. Is it enough to just know the score and have a good idea of how to convey it effectively on the podium, or must the musician be fully trained (especially in techniques)? Besides, a number of composers had successes on the podium without being trained as conductors. Had standards lowered to worrisome levels that by knowing the score may be enough to direct an ensemble and performing it (like the Kaplan/Vienna Philharmonic example)? Is there too much politics to the point of distortions of merits, priorities, and common sense? Like I said, I think David Finlayson has a very valid point indeed. But with Kaplan being so largely approved by audience and critics alike, could it be that he’s just a product of his environment, the environment where, admittedly, clarity and direction are often muddled and ill-defined? Or could it be that Kaplan, however flawed and limited, merited enough of a right to perform a masterpiece with a world class ensemble? And besides, other than the Rostropovich example, how much of the Kaplan news is in fact something that was not seen in past generations?

Just a thought. Thank you.

Mark Yarry

I have known Gilbert Kaplan for over forty years. I'm sorry I don't recognize the person in your blog.

Kaplan has spent thirty years studying a single piece of music, approached his subject as a student, focused and intense.

He has never claimed to be anything other than what he is. A very
gifted amateur performing one piece of music with great love and intensity.

More importantly, he has attracted a new and vibrant audience to
to music. He didn't keep his cd of the second at the top of the
classical music charts. It was audiences who plunked down the fifteen dollars to enjoy a wonderful performance.

The problem with professionals, and certainly not the majority
criticize his performances, is they are in many ways envious of
the broad success of others who have the time and resources to pursue an interest totally outside the area of expertise that allowed them to achieve their dream.

Snobs are snobs, be it in music or in finance. Gil Kaplan is no
Frank Abignale. It seems the only poseur on this page is.....


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