Main | Misery loves company »

December 15, 2008


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


I have not read all the comments, but I will post my opinion. I think Finlayson is the one here with the "Everest-sized" ego.

You are a trombonist paid to play your instrument with the NY philharmonic. You receive a salary from the New York Philharmonic. Where does that salary come from? Ticket sales, donations to the orchestra's annual fund, and other places.

Kaplan sold out the house, thus providing ticket revenue to your employer.

Kaplan annually donates over $10,000 to the orchestra's annual fund.

Clearly Kaplan was a success as far as profits are concerned. Those profits are then used to pay your salary. While ideally, musicians and orchestras would never have to sacrifice the transcendent experience of playing emotionally moving music for mere profits, in some cases it is necessary.

If the Philharmonic were to base all its artistic decisions on some sense of vague musical idealism derived from the musicians' personal interests, the New York Philharmonic would not be a successful business and you would not be able to make a living.

Stephen Dunkel

Re: James Smithson's ignorant rant

Either this is a funny troll, or you are a complete moron. The NYP is a "mediocre" orchestra? Really? What US orchestra is better? You forgot to name one.

Each orchestra has strengths and weaknesses in different sections. What makes David's argument carry force is that the NYP's low brass is the best on the planet. I've studied with each of the trombonists, and because of their teaching, I am a tenured member of an ICSOM orchestra. They have a huge library of recordings that prove their musicianship.

Who is "everyone in the classical music world?" Your imaginary friends? The editors at Grammophone? Your local classical music DJ? The NYP is a first rate ensemble that may have equals in the US, but there are none better. I suggest you shut your mouth before more shit falls out of it.

Tom Baugh

The thing is, Frank Abagnale had real talent. Kaplan . . .

Heard the Philharmonic this fall with Maazel and the orchestra sounds like a million dollars.

roos hhee


James Smithson

No need to swear, Stephen Dunkel:

Personally, I roughly agree, although I'd rate NYP above Bavaria and Budapest. Still - that's dead average, within the so-called 'top division' international circuit

It's a running joke that the NYP *thinks* it's the best orchestra in the world. Its current attitude to contemporary music, for example, is just awful and insular.

The players themselves are absolutely fantastic, I know. But together they are not the sum of their parts.

Kaplan conducting the NYP doesn't bother me too much, seems like a match made in heaven. Average meets average.


I have never heard Kaplan conduct and I have a healthy skepticism of professional reviewers. Nevertheless, what do you make of the following quote from the review in the Times about the performance you denigrate?

"But [Kaplan's] efforts were evident throughout a performance of sharp definition and shattering power. From the acute punch of the opening notes, every detail of this huge, complex score came through with unusual clarity and impeccable balance. Every gesture had purpose and impact, and the performance as a whole had an inexorable sweep... To think there is nothing else to know of Mahler’s Second beyond what Mr. Kaplan has to show would be a mistake. But it seems likely that no one is better equipped to reveal the impact of precisely what Mahler put on the page."

I suspect that as professionals you are loathe to give Kaplan his due. As an scholar, I have similar feelings about his scholarship. But the proof of the pudding is in the eating... and at least one professional seems to have found this to have been a tasty performance indeed. I'm tasting sour grapes.

James Smithson

Correct link for above post:

James Smithson

This blog keeps cutting long links.


Jeff Davis

For the life of me, I cannot remember hearing of a single performance of the Resurrection by Arturo Toscanini. When? Where? With what orchestra?

I do know for a fact that Toscanini studied Mahler scores in great detail (there are scores carefully annotated in T's hand in the Toscanini archives), but he didn't really perform them, to my knowledge.

I just wrote to the Toscanini web about this.


I think the arguments on here are fundamentally flawed. The New York Phil will always play a beautiful Mahler 2 - it's not only "results" that matter.

Mr. Kaplan is a self-admitted non-musician who has an obsessive interest in this ONE piece. I find that, in itself, bizarre. Even though I happen to love this one piece too, I love many others as well.

Mr. Finlayson and his colleagues deserve to play under a musician who not only knows Mahler 2, but knows something - anything!- about music before or after it. Otherwise what kind of meaningful collaboration could this bring?

Would you take a literature class from a person who claimed to be ignorant of the structure, style, and meaning of all literature except Joyce's ULYSSES?

Martin McConnell

I attended a concert of the Mahler #2 by the Cincinnati Symphony with Kaplan on the podium earlier this fall. Great music, fine instrumentalists and vocalists, and a fraud on the podium.

Marty McConnell

H. Weinstein

A very impressive piece of self-righteousness. Let's see how the union protects you and your high-minded ideals to Art when the support of corporations and people like Kaplan dry up.

Just suck it up and sell yourself for a bit while forgetting how fortunate you are to be in the highest echelon of orchestras. I would love for our mid-sized city orchestra to have some benefactors like Kaplan so we could make a reasonable income.

Damn whore mistaking himself for a diva.

Horatio Blowhard

Mr. Finlayson,

Has no artist ever compromised himself for a quick buck? Did Mr. Pavarotti always produce his best or did he try to slip some by the paying audience while he took home their money?

To someone above: If Bill Gates wanted to play Hamlet in a performance that also happened to be a benefit for my organization and if people bought the tickets, so be it. That makes the world go round.


Thank you so much for exposé on this "conductor," whose motto seems to be "fake it 'til you make it." There are thousands upon thousands of brilliant conducting students and other gifted musicians who will never come close to having this sort of dazzling opportunity, and it is a shame that Mr. Kaplan's bucks and influence and persistence--for he certainly does not seem to be burdened with talent, shall we say--got him to such a position to lead a first-class group in a top-drawer piece. You and your fellow musicians are to be especially applauded for not sabotaging the work, for I'm sure that the beauty of Mahler's work was able to come through and inspire those audience members who hadn't heard the piece. Now they can study this masterwork and seek out performances with worthy conductors and really discover just how magnificent it can be.


Way to go, David!!

We're all cheering you on at ESM! Thank you for writing this.


People, people, people - make up your own mind...

London Symphony Orchestra/Kaplan on RCA:

Vienna Philharmonic/Kaplan on Deutsche Grammophon

And for fun, check out the current Mahler best-sellers list:

I somewhat agree with Mr Smithson above; The NYP is clearly a world-class orchestra. However the manner in which Mr Finlayson writes would lead one to think they have no peers in the USA or even worldwide. This is sadly not the case for me; they are merely 'decent' at the moment. I would not rate the NYP in the top ten orchestras worldwide, whereas I would certainly place Cleveland and Boston up there.

So, while the NYP are not playing at the top of their game at the moment - pretty far away from the top of their game, actually - I don't see the problem with having them pair up with a merely 'decent' conductor.

They might improve each other towards genuine excellence!

Ricky Irizarry (Hornist, Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra)

DEAR MR. FINLAYSON: Just came across the piece on today's NYT regarding this fascinating affaire, and got directed to your blog. I hope my contribution is up to par...

Well, well! The fertilizer seems to have hit the fan. (No pun intended!)

I have been aware of Mr. Kaplan's work for some time. His scholarship has indeed impressed me, but I have not had a chance to observe him "at play." All things being equal, let us summarize
his conducting ability thus: Mr Kaplan appears to conduct the assembled musicians, and the assembled musicians appear to play for him.

I see so much of that, so often, that frustration and despair are in indeed in danger of turning into apathy and resignation, a sad state of affairs.

I am glad that Mr. Finlayson found within himself the fortitude to come forward and speak his (very well informed) mind on this very real problem.

One last:

Those poor souls that believe the NYPO is a second class institution are evidently airing a degree of pettiness and mendacity that verges on the morally corrupt. I had like to encourage them to do what the late great Argentinian conductor Simon Blech used to demand of players that were too self-important or parochial while he rehearsed: "What was that you said? Get out and study music!"

R. Branton

Your arguments make sense to me, being a musician. There is no substitute for having a concept in the music and having the technique to execute it. You guys did right by performing, in spite of your misgivings, because you are professionals and, in the end, the integrity of what you do comes down to speaking the truth, first in the music and secondly, to the people that hire the musician.

Thanks for the commentary.

Elaine Meinel Supkis

Once upon a time, there were no conductors. The First Violinist started and stopped the music. It was only after the middle of the 19th century that 'conductors' began to appear and virtually all of them were composers like Wagner who was one of the very first.

Perhaps the Philharmonic Orchestra could try out that old tradition, to prove a point, perhaps? Big egos are not necessary to carry a musical score. I would also suggest, this way, people will be more 'on their toes' and pay closer attention to other musicians.

I once played 17th-18th century music where the harpsichordist and the first violin led us as we played. I played 'continuo.' Ie: viola da gamba.

Heh. I just chugged along, merrily. We still made marvelous music.


Thank you for your courage, David. Those of us who have "been there" know what it is to have to perform with a substandard conductor. It is at the very least, a cause for stress, and at the most, a soul-killer. Conversely, to perform with a competent conductor is uplifting. Life is too short to sell out these experiences to the highest bidder. And what do we teach when we allow this? That money is everything, and art really doesn't matter. A person such as Kaplan (whom I perceive as an arrogant hack) should hire his own orchestra for a night, get a hall, and do what he wants - not sully the NY Phil with his shenanigans. And if he were really a worthy human being, he'd contribute to the orchestra without pre-conditions, as a true lover of art. But he's got an ego that won't quit.
Yes, we're in economically challenging times. This is precisely when we need beauty in our lives. Let the amateurs with money sit in their seats, contribute funds, and enjoy the performances of professionals who know what they're doing. There are amateur orchestras for them to join and lead - a little humility would be nice, please. Besides, it's downright embarrassing to watch an emperor shed clothes in public..don't subject the rest of us to that.
As for the rabbinic opinion, I would suggest that Mr. Kaplan has done a good job of humiliating himself, on enough occasions that he should stop already. I applaud David's comments,as well as some of the more educated opinions on these pages.

Sam Fanson

While I am loath to add to the vitriol in this post and in some of the comments, it does seem disappointing that the author would savage the conductor after taking both a paycheck and a contribution to his pension fund. Does he intend to return these monies, or donate his portion to an appropriate charity? If not, I would suggest an apology is in order.
Also, a bit of perspective: equally talented trombonists, playing jazz, the dreaded "avant-garde", or even pop music, are dragging their horns through the subway every night of the year hoping for a $100 gig, with no pension or health care.
In short, Mister Finlayson, you are blessed. Never forget there are hundreds waiting to take your place.

M. Powell

I can only agree with Mr. Finlayson, and point to an opinion I offered some years ago in a professional journal, that never saw the light of day:

Not only does money trump ability as Ms. Piket mentions above, but depending on the field, it can bring down an entire effort. Debutants in the US are common in many areas, particularly the arts, and yes, audiences in the US are usually not experienced enough to know whether or not the emperor has any clothes on. In fields where the outcome of professional review has some traction, as in medicine and law, fakery leads to felony. In the arts, which are fairly peripheral to American life, there are few consequences for the debutant.


I suppose Ms Piket (December 18, 2008 at 04:21 AM) does not consider her statements "Foisting a talentless hack on an unknowing public..." or "In response to the silly lady..." as ad hominem attacks. Could she please provide first hand evidence of all her insinuations. I find comments like hers offensive and, in the context of her post, hypocritical.

As to the outburst over Kaplan, it's not as if he has just appeared on the scene. Any musician unaware of his particular practice of conducting Mahler must be completely out of touch with the musical world. So why wait until after the event ?

The world has gone mad over the cult of celebrity, worshipping talentless people for little more than their looks, wealth or sex-appeal. Kaplan at least has a little more to offer. The orchestra played, did a good job regardless of who waved the stick, and the audience was appreciative. Move on.

William Osborne

Kaplan has recorded Mahler’s 2nd with two orchestras, the London Symphony and the Vienna Philharmonic. Both orchestras are anomalies because they are private institutions run by the players while almost all other orchestras in Europe are owned and operated by governments. Perhaps this is an indication of how funding systems can effect artistic integrity. When arts institutions must grovel for money from the wealthy, it’s fairly obvious what happens.

The worst example is the NY Phil’s concert hall itself. It is so bad acoustically that the orchestra’s work is strongly damaged. A new hall cannot be built because the Avery Fischer family has prevented it from being torn down, and Lincoln Center has blocked the orchestra’s attempts to move to Carnegie Hall. Plutocracy often damages artistic standards. As a couter-balance, we need more public funding for the arts.

Robert Holmén

Let's see... people in Zimbabwe are are having to drink sewage for water, people in Iraq are getting kidnapped and having holes drilled in their head, and trombonist in New York USA had to play the Mahler #2 under an inadequate conductor.

Yes, there's injustice and human suffering where ever we look, isn't there?

The comments to this entry are closed.