The Oslo Philharmonic’s outstanding Rachmaninov Symphony No. 2 in e minor

This performance was recorded before the COVID pandemic. 15th October 2019 in Hamburg, Deutschland.

The Oslo Philharmonic is one of the finest orchestras I’ve heard — they were a pleasure to watch in this performance — and they have many women musicians. Normally I wouldn’t say anything about the gender of the orchestral musicians but I bring that up in this case because of the conductor, Vasily Petrenko, in this performance. Vasily has expressed some rather sexist views in the past about women musicians being inferior to men. For example, he said, “orchestras react better when they have a man in front of them” (really?) and “a sweet girl on the podium can make one’s thoughts drift towards something else.” And what might that “something else” be, Vasily? Do tell, mi amor! Why so vague? Spill it! What about a “sour girl” on the podium, is the same true about her? He later clarified his statement — although really made it worse — and said he was talking about in Russia, as if that makes any difference what-so-ever or makes his sexism any better! Does it matter what country he was talking about? No. I shouldn’t think so. Sexism is sexism regardless of where it exists on the planet. One should expect the conservatives will rush to defend his sexism because all of these negative “isms” in our society are so engrained in the conservatives, including the (conservative) classical music audience and conservative orchestral management, with few exceptions to that. I read that the orchestras that Vasily was connected with at the time — when he made his sexist comments — made very mealy-mouthed, timid responses. They felt afraid of being critical of their conductor? Who knew that this sexist boy had so much power over orchestral management? So, they sort of serve as accomplices and enablers to his sexism. That’s the bottom line. The classical music genre is a very conservative and traditionalist genre, which I have many problems with as a Conservatory-trained classical musician. I mean look at their stuffy/formal performance attire that they are required to wear. Who can relate to that? And they wonder why classical music is dying? Fortunately, I’ve seen some Orchestras and Choruses in Amsterdam with a bit more informal (non-black suits as opposed to tuxes) and colourful performance attire, such as the men wearing all different coloured ties. They (the conservatives) were brainwashed with these negative “isms” early on, sex-ism being one of them. As for Vasily’s comment about “a sweet girl on the podium can make one’s thoughts drift towards something else,” care to speak for yourself and your own hormones, mi amor? What a stupid and heteronormative thing to say. He’s implying that heterosexuals can’t control their hormones from overriding their professionalism as musicians. So all the straight guys in the Orchestra will stand with raging erections when they take their bows because “a sweet girl” was on the podium and conducted the performance? I’ve never seen any guys in orchestras with erections whether there’s a man or woman on the podium. Their mind is on their music. Although I have to say that his sexist comments remind me of the many sexist and misogynistic comments I’ve read from guys with their juvenile jock locker room mentality who have written comments under classical music U-toob videos where the piano soloist or principal of a section was a female. One orchestra comes to mind and one of their principal flautists is a female. Well, I can’t count the number of times guys have made tacky sexual comments about her and gushed over her and how “beautiful” she is and how they would like to “do” her and “will you marry me?” even though they know absolutely nothing about her or her sexual orientation. Again, they just make baseless assumptions about her and other female musicians. Or if the piano soloist in a concerto performance is a female, these guys have to gush over her boobs, her cleavage, her legs, her face and ask for a date with her. Tacky. They give the impression they had intended to go to a porn video and somehow ended up there at a classical music performance. I haven’t seen female commenters doing the same over male soloists or male principal musicians. It’s just immature guys who do this stuff.

And I guess there are no Queer musicians in Vasily’s world. What a shame. Even though my reliable gaydar sees many gay guys in Orchestras (and Orchestra Choruses as well). Queer boys have no interest in female conductors or females, period, Vasily! So Queer boys would have no hormonal reaction to a “sweet girl” woman conductor, Vasily. By comparison, I’ve never seen the Queer boy musicians with a raging erection when they stand with the Orchestra to bow when the performance has been conducted by a “sweet boy” (or even macho) male conductor no matter how “hot” he was/is. Vasily seems a bit outdated and ignorant in his views. Well, he’s somewhat young (another Millennial; what is it with that generation?) so perhaps that explains it. He’s 44, as of this writing. One might think that for his age, Vasily would know better. But no, not necessarily. Age has nothing to do with it. Sexism, prejudice and bigotry and other negative “isms” know no age boundaries.

The article I’ve linked to up above mentions conductor Marin Alsop. A commenter under one video where Marin was conductor referred to her as “Mrs Alsop.” (roll eyes). Where did they get that? How conservative and outdated! See what I mean about the conservative classical music audience, with few exceptions? I thought most women today — whether married or single — preferred to be known as Ms. It’s the equivalent to Mr. (Mister). Mr is used for guys where the marital status of the guy is unknown and unimportant. Ms is used for women where the marital status of the woman is unknown and unimportant. And why do people make baseless assumptions about people they know nothing about? Marin is not “Mrs Alsop” which, per conservative silly tradition based in the conservative Institution of Marriage, implies she’s married to a man whose surname is Alsop. Marin is married to a fellow female musician. Marin’s partner is a French Horn musician. Alsop is Marin’s birth name. Her partner’s name is Kristin Jurkscheit. Marin and Kristin live in Baltimore and they have a teenage son. Yes, for the slow and thick people: Marin is a lesbian. GASP! Shocking to you, huh? Only for the anti-Queer bigots who wrongly assumed that Marin is straight, the same way they assume the entire world is straight. No Queer people in their world. Marin is music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra. I’ve read that Marin has done a wonderful job with the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra. That’s in Brazil for the stupid-is-in people in the non-United States — especially the flat-Earther cultists of the Bronze Führer (the current white house occupant) — who don’t know any geography and couldn’t find their own country on a map, if they even know what a map is!

I’ve seen conductors of both genders who annoy me. Not that often, but it has happened. I saw an Asian woman conductor recently and she seemed to be trying too hard to “win people over” since women Asian conductors are rare in such a conservative genre. I’d never seen her before. Her conducting gestures were overly rather exaggerated with lots of head movements and wide arm gestures. She was the opposite of the late Margaret Hillis (Founder and Director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Chorus), for example, who conducted in a very refined manner, similar to the conducting style of the late Robert Shaw (Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus). Ms Hillis’s conducting style was the same way I was trained to conduct at the Conservatory where I trained. There’s no need for wild, drastic conducting movements and waving one’s arms all around rather than mostly conducting within the frame of the body and not making the performance all about oneself. As violinist Nigel Kennedy has said (and I agree with him): Conductors are so over-rated to begin with, with few exceptions. One conductor I saw recently was Andrien Perruchon as seen in this performance of the Brahms First. I’m very impressed with his conducting style and he seems like such a down-to-Earth guy, a pleasure to work with. And very attentive to the pianist soloist in a piano concerto performance.

I have my own thoughts about Vasily having to do with his sexual orientation. He lives the heteronormative straight life with the perfunctory and ubiquitous “wife and kid(s),” routine which gives the appearance that he’s straight, even if he’s not perhaps. There are thousands of closet cases around the world pretending to be straight living with females and with children.

The Oslo Philharmonic’s First Concertmaster, Principal Violist, and Principal Cellist are women. Do women orchestral musicians bother Vasily too or just women conductors? I’d like to ask him: The orchestral women musicians don’t “make one’s thoughts drift to something else?” especially when they are sharing a desk/music stand with one in such close proximity (pre-COVID health guidelines).

This performance took place in Hamburg. They were a very quiet audience. I’m curious as to why the audience applauded after each movement. Is that a Hamburg thing? Vasily ignored the applause and was probably thinking: What’s wrong with these people? Where’d they come from?

This performance was extremely well recorded, both visually and sound-wise.

The Concert Hall, Elbphilharmonie, is new (completed in 2017). At first I didn’t think they installed a pipe organ — how could they not? — but they did. The organ pipes are not exposed. They’re behind those drapes — or whatever they are over there — but they look like drapes from the camera views. We never got a close view of them because the pipe organ was not part of the instrumentation for this piece.

In this performance, just like the BBC do at the Proms, production was quite big on showing viewers the ceiling. There was nothing special about the ceiling in this Concert Hall. I don’t know what it is about ceilings that camera crews seem ab-so-lute-ly obsessed with whether it is a Concert Hall or a parish or cathedral church. It’s good to show a panoramic view of the stage maybe once or twice or give the ceiling at glance once (that’s all that’s necessary; ceiling-obsessed viewers can pause the video and stare at the ceiling as long as they want), but the BBC seem absolutely obsessed with the ceiling in the Royal Albert Hall. “Back up to the ceiling they go” I often think when watching a performance from the Proms. It’s predictable. In this performance, we got to see a view of the violin’s score at that particularly place in the piece. That was interesting, but then back up to the ceiling. Ridiculous!

Who’s a maestro?

Someone might want to ask me, “Why don’t you refer to Vasily as maestro?” Because I can’t stand that word to tell you the truth. I never use the word maestro. I don’t like it. I didn’t hear the word maestro used at the Conservatory where I trained. None of the Conservatory students I knew or worked with were maestro-obsessed. In fact, the conductor for the Conservatory Symphony Orchestra was referred to as Dr [last name] and not maestro. To me maestro sounds snooty and pretentious the way it’s overused for every conductor that steps on a podium. The classical music armchair critics mindlessly use it. I think it’s the only musical term they know quite frankly so they use it as often as possible to give the appearance that they know something about music, when they’re name-dropping their favourite celebrity conductor. Well, they also use the word “sublime” to describe any performance. Sublime seems to be the only adjective they know as well. Yes, with the classical music armchair critics everything is sublime. I’ve been called maestro on occasion but not liking the word and its over-usage for conductors, I felt uncomfortable with it, but I knew the person meant well so I didn’t say anything. Maestro means teacher, a master musician, a virtuoso, an expert, and so on. As you can see, maestro has multiple meanings. Well, all that applies to any well-trained and proficient musicians whether they conduct or not, but they are usually not called “maestro.” The word maestro should not be reserved for a person who stands on a podium and “waves his/her arms around.” Just because someone is called a conductor and waves his arms around in a flailing style (with or without a baton), doesn’t at all mean that he knows how to conduct. He’s merely relying on the immense skills of the musicians sitting before him to get through the piece. For example, in this performance, because of their skill level and artistry, I think the Oslo Philharmonic could have performed this piece just as well as they did without Vasily. The musicians don’t necessarily need dynamic indications from the conductor because volume indications are indicated in their scores, in their parts. And I didn’t see any of these musicians staring at him other than when absolutely necessary to follow exactly his (uncertain) tempo instructions. Musicians of this caliber don’t need to stare at a conductor. They were closely watching their scores and either playing or counting. They see him in their peripheral vision, but they’re relying on their own artistry as well, even for interpretation. How much rehearsal time did this piece get? Mi amigo/my friend said: It sounds like they rehearsed it a lot. I said: Perhaps, or they spot checked it in rehearsal. If it didn’t get any more rehearsal time than the average piano concerto gets in rehearsal, they didn’t spend that much time on it in full Orchestra. Sometimes the slow movement of a piano concerto is not rehearsed at all with the full Orchestra. The fact is: These musicians understand and know Rachmaninov. Vasily wasn’t really needed which will cause some readers to bristle who have been brainwashed with conductor-worshipping. Again, these are highly-skilled and trained orchestral musicians. Yet the classical music armchair critics think it’s all about the celebrity conductor as if he’s the only musician on stage. As some guy in one of the comments wrote: the conductor didn’t play a note! True.

I’ve seen some conductor-less performances — here’s one here (Boris Berezovsky plays the First Piano Concerto of Brahms, in d minor Op.15) without a conductor and with the “Evgueny Svetlanov” Russian State Symphony Orchestra) — where either the First Concertmaster served as the “conductor” (remaining seated) or the piano soloist in a concerto did very minimal conducting from the piano and relied on the principals of each section to “conduct” and keep the piece together. Because most people have been brainwashed with the thinking that a performance must have a conductor, they can’t conceive of anything but that. But I’d like to point out in some chamber music (such as a Piano Quartet or Piano Quintet) there is no conductors. So if they can perform splendidly without a conductor, why can’t other highly-skilled musicians? These performances without a conductor were superb; just as good as performances with a conducting. And again, that’s in part, because when you’re working with stellar musicians this is indeed possible. I think some conductors who are not stuck on themselves are well aware of this. Their demeanor at the podium gives the impression that the conductor is thinking, “Okay Orchestra, I’ll stand up here and wave my arms around and give the necessary cues, but you and I both know that I’m not really needed. You could play this piece expertly without me. And after the performance, much of the public — who often know nothing about music — have been brainwashed to gush and scream over me and make it all about me, rather than you fine musicians seated before me.”

The musicians of the Oslo Philharmonic should be quite pleased with their performance. These musicians are genuine artists and of the highest caliber. I don’t think this piece could have been played better and the recording was excellent as well to the production crew who pulled that off. Muchas gracias to them all for this performance. It’s a gift to the world. Chau.—el barrio rosa