How low will the MSO go?

Discussion in 'Orchestra / Solo / Chamber Music' started by Anonymous, Dec 25, 2003.

  1. Anonymous

    Anonymous Forte User

    Oct 21, 2003
    How low will the MSO go?

    Christmas disc with bruno pelletier is selling like hotcakes - at expense of orchestra's reputation

    The Gazette

    Saturday, December 20, 2003

    How many recordings has the Montreal Symphony Orchestra made over the last 13 months? A classical fan will shrug and say: none.

    Would that it were so. But alas, the ensemble that was once the toast of the classical catalogue has made a Christmas disc. Not with Leontyne Price or Luciano Pavarotti, mind you, but with Quebec showman Bruno Pelletier.

    The release, on Les Disques Artistes - in essence Pelletier's personal label - is already the second-best seller in MSO history, after Ravel's Boléro. This is the natural deduction to make if, as Pelletier claims, the disc has gone platinum and sold more than 100,000 copies.

    Le Concert Noël, as it is simply titled, is a live recording of a performance last December in Notre Dame Basilica (marketed in English as A Holiday Sing-a-Long With Bruno Pelletier). There was a repeat this year, amply attended.

    Classical types view these events (along with regular-season pop concerts) as stray asteroids outside the orbit of the orchestra's true calling. Best to overlook them, or perhaps rationalize them as outreach to Montrealers who are indifferent to symphonic music.

    But this disc - packaged as a full-colour cutaway of the great downtown church - is in our face. It is clearly a five-star release: 41/2 stars for the striking booklet art and the balance for musical content.

    A former club-dater who made his name as Gringoire in Luc Plamondon's stage musical Notre-Dame de Paris, Pelletier is a voiceless wonder in the Helmut Lotti tradition. Splashy arrangements by Simon Leclerc cannot disguise the ghastly mediocrity of Pelletier's singing, which is not even reliably in tune. How sad to hear Minuit chrétien subjected to this indignity. If there is a musical equivalent of blasphemy in Quebec, this is surely it.

    Pelletier's involvement with the MSO is one of the fruits of the managing directorship of Madeleine Careau. It was obvious that this former Plamondon lieutenant was engaged in 2000 to build the orchestra's pop portfolio. The commercial success of Le Concert Noël suggests that she has done her job. Can 100,000 Quebecers be wrong?

    Well, yes. There is good pop and bad pop, and this is bad pop. "An orchestra of international reputation," Pelletier said about his first MSO engagement in 2002. "I was flattered."

    An orchestra of international reputation. I wonder for how long.

    - - -

    What a joy to see my perennial Christmas gift suggestion still on the shelves: Herbert von Karajan's 1963 Beethoven Symphony cycle on Deutsche Grammophon, handsomely repackaged in Canada more than 13 years ago (as Polygram 429036) and priced at not much more than $30.

    Now you have the option of paying over $100 for the same performances as rereleased in the Super Audio Compact Disc (SACD) format. Something for the collector who has everything, one supposes, although it is an interesting acknowledgement by DG that the 1963 analog version has more audio virtue than Karajan's analog and digital remakes of 1977 and 1985.

    Yet these versions coexist in the bins along with the 1963. Even the 1958 Philharmonia Orchestra cycle on EMI is not hard to find. There are also plenty of single and double-disc Beethoven/Karajan packagings.

    To which, of course, we must add innumerable other historical and semi-historical sets, by Bernstein, Schuricht (nice price for the EMI import of this underrated mono set), Szell, Klemperer and other worthies. How can a new version (like Simon Rattle's much-promoted Vienna Philharmonic cycle on EMI) sell in this back-catalogue jungle? A good question for 2004.

    - - -

    Perhaps it is not too early to look forward to the holiday season of 2004. Especially since musical activity in Montreal ends tomorrow and returns only in the new year.

    The pattern is familiar: dozens of choirs rushing to get their Christmas concerts out of the way in the first two weeks of December, leaving us with a musical ghost town in the five days leading up to Christmas. Yet the days before Christmas are probably those when the musical hunger of the public is keenest, and free time most abundant.

    I have long wished that Montreal had a musical director-general who could clear up traffic jams and decree concerts in unfortunate chasms such as this.

    Maybe some societies can take an initiative next year and present a Christmas concert a little closer to Christmas.

    © Copyright 2003 Montreal Gazette
  2. brian moon

    brian moon Forte User

    100, 000? Take the money and RUN!!
  3. Musician4077

    Musician4077 New Friend

    May 23, 2005
    Essexville, MI
    I fully agree with Brian. With all those CDs being sold, perhaps the orchestra can generate some much needed cash to put towards "real" music. Not saying, of course, that what they played is not real. I personally love Pops concerts as a way to enjoy all kinds of music, and many orchestras are and can be succesful at playing both Pops style and "serious". Take the Boston Pops. I have them on recording playing everything from Tchaikovsky's "1812" to Simon and Garfunkel's "America" to Bernstein's "West Side Story", and they play all of it well.

    By the way, Brian, do you know a Jennifer Spenner and/or Don Loomis? They live around you.
  4. brian moon

    brian moon Forte User

    I don't think that I do, although the name Don Loomis is seems vaguely familiar.
  5. Musician4077

    Musician4077 New Friend

    May 23, 2005
    Essexville, MI
    Well, Jen is my sister and Don's her husband. They're both band directors in Pontiac (Jefferson Whittier and Lincoln Middle Schools, respectively). I just saw Bloomfield and wondered if you knew them.

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