IN: Reviews

Uchida and Bruckner: Attracting Opposites


Mitsuko Uchida (Winslow Townson photo)

Pianist Mitsuko Uchida delivered a sparkling Mozart Piano Concerto No. 20 in D Minor (K.466) with the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Andris Nelsons on Thursday, the eve of Easter weekend, to an enthusiastic full house at Symphony Hall. Uchida was the clear favorite of the program which also featured Anton Bruckner’s rather heavy Symphony No. 6 in A. It was a pairing of opposites.

Elegantly dressed in a gauzy golden cape, dark trousers and gold lame heels, Uchida reacted to her copious adulation with grace and modesty. Her playing was impeccable by any standard, highlighted with perfect trills, dizzying runs and precise Mozartean rhythms and dynamics. Program notes by Michael Steinberg noted the concerto’s “witty and serious play of conversation”. She understood that and blended her pianism with the orchestral parts, never striving to dominate. The concerto is an integral part of her highly-regarded Mozart repertoire; she often conducts from the keyboard, and even in this concert gestured out of habit to the players a few times.

The most exciting passages of her interpretation were the Beethoven cadenzas, which provided a rich and dramatic contrast to the relatively spare Mozart writing. Beethoven admired the concerto and played it regularly in Vienna. He wrote the two cadenzas from the heart, and they remain the most frequently performed of all those available to performers today.

The concerto is a staple at Symphony Hall, having been performed here previously by an A-list of piano masters: Myra Hess, Murray Perahia, Andras Schiff, Emanuel Ax, Alfred Brendel, Radu Lupu and Alicia de Larrocha, among others.

Bruckner’s Sixth, known as the “ugly duckling” of his 11, offered an occasion for Bruckner-doubters to revisit his oeuvre. The performance benefited from Nelsons’s attentions. He threw himself into the vague, romantic orchestral colorings, putting down his baton at one point to better shape the forward movement with his flowing arms and hands. One hour later, he had achieved a measure of coherence to this challenging work.

The opening movement, punctuated by blasts from the BSO’s impressive brass, is labeled “maestoso” and indeed it is magisterial. Some have compared it to the voice of God. The striking contrasts of brass and strings continue in the adagio, a sehr feierlich (very solemnly) movement that unites three themes constructed in sonata form. The scherzo is marked Nicht schnell (not fast) but Nelsons plunged into it with brio. I found it the most appealing movement.  Thomas May’s note rightly points out the “shadowy elfin touches in the winds … (that) collide against the juggernaut of the full orchestra tutti.” The brief trio movement is easy on the ears, with an extra bounce from pizzicato passages and beautiful trio of horns. More blasts from the brass punctuate the finale and brings the symphony to what May called a “joyous end”.

The Sixth had a difficult birth, and the self-deprecating composer, largely rejected by contemporaries, heard only two of the four movements at a concert in 1881, two years after finishing the score. Three years after Bruckner’s 1896 death, Gustav Mahler conducted a sharply cut “complete” version.. Erich Leinsdorf brought the authentic full version finally arrived here in 1969.

Michael Johnson is a former Moscow correspondent who has written on music for the International New York Times, Clavier Companion, and other publications. He divides his time between Bordeaux and Brookline.


36 Comments [leave a civil comment (others will be removed) and please disclose relevant affiliations]

  1. Kudos to Andris Nelsons, and especially the BSO, for a SUPERLATIVE Bruckner 6 Thursday night. I was riveted by the astonishing performance. Easily, it seems to me this is the best Bruckner we’ve heard yet from Nelsons, and it has my appetite whetted for what’s to come. My spouse said (and I concurred), “I heard things in that performance that I’ve never heard before.” Nelsons had the real measure of the work. If there are things I can quibble about in his interpretation, all I can say is that they didn’t detract from the overall performance. More so, he took real risks and it was not a “mainstream” reading (if there is such a thing), and they mostly worked.

    But special word needs to be said for the BSO. What magnificent playing! They really seemed to be at their very best last night, and I was struck by the incredible balances that were struck by the orchestra, the beautiful sonorities, the always-tasteful playing from the brass (who didn’t overdo it but were as present as the music required), and the incredible team effort. It was really special and not a routine effort at all. Were it not for the fact my schedule prevents it, I would want to hear this program again.

    With regards to the Mozart, what can be further said about Mitsuko Uchida? She’s the real deal and it’s always a pleasure to hear her. Yet I’m probably in the minority in saying that I did not enjoy the overall performance, as it was giving us a HIPster reading (historically-informed performance) of Mozart’s stormy, violent, and powerful creation, but in a neutered presentation. Unfortunately it seems that Andris Nelsons has been infected with the HIPster virus too. But in his defense, he is HIPster-Lite (as compared to, say, Claudio Abbado’s Mozart), and is not as extreme in his imposition of the HIPster approach as others can be. Where the concerto is stormy and surging, I heard instead a drizzle that intensified at its most to modest rain. Where the music seems to be roaring, I heard the orchestra carefully speak louder. I’m sure there are people who love this, but I’m just not one of them. I don’t care about what the scholarship says, I’ll trust my ears, and music of EVERY era needs to be played with passion and real emotions, not turned into porcelain that is going to break at the first sign of any real intensity.

    I’ll go back to an interview with Colin Davis a few years before his death, when he was asked what he thought of the HIPster approach. He said (in almost these exact words): “Rubbish! That’s not the music that I know and love.”

    I just think Mozart and classical-era music in general deserves a lot better than a rigid under-nourished, under-fed, under-achieving treatment. I realize I’m in the minority these days, and have resigned myself to knowing that in my lifetime this is what we are going to hear. But some day in the future, some young iconoclast conductor is going to dare to play this music with real passion and emotion, and defy the HIP Taliban. Maybe I won’t be there to see it, but I am sure it will come.

    Comment by Mogulmeister — April 14, 2017 at 1:48 pm

  2. I suppose if one had never eaten a crust of bread that was not smeared with a paste of lard, salt, and marmalade, one might find even the best loaf bland and tasteless without that sickly grease. One might even find oneself inventing pejoratives to describe those who know what bread really tastes like, and like it plain.

    If Mogulmeister persists in using the grotesque and contemptible epithet “HIPster”, I am going to start referring to him and his cohort as “Bruckner Bros”. Things will only degenerate from there.

    Comment by SamW — April 14, 2017 at 6:40 pm

  3. Well Sam, let me ask you then, how should I refer to those HIP proponents if not by HIPster?

    At the end of the day, I just feel the music deserves to be in a lot more than an emotional straitjacket. Playing a work within a pre-defined range (sonically, emotionally) for ideological reasons seems to me to do a disservice to the entire concept of what music and the expressivity of orchestral performers is supposed to be about. I’m not an ideologue on the other side. I’ll listen to anything and assess it on its own merits. It’s just that I have yet to hear a *single* HIP performance that to me spoke to the soul of the music better than a well-performed traditional “big band” approach.

    I found the Mozart D-Minor concerto the other night so un-engaging (and it’s my favorite of the Mozart piano concertos) that my mind couldn’t help but wander and think about a scheduled call the next day, how many hours our dog would go without relief, and other life issues that normally stay outside Symphony Hall when I’m hearing a concert that really engages me. Needless to say, the dog didn’t even exist during the Bruckner 6.

    Comment by Mogulmeister — April 15, 2017 at 6:30 am

  4. HIP approach has absolutely nothing to do with taking passion out of the music. It’s about a different approach to sound. HIP performances can and should have just as much “passion and emotions” as a modern performance. Listen to John Eliot Gardiner’s Beethoven and tell me it’s not performed with passion and emotion!

    Comment by Josh — April 15, 2017 at 7:22 am

  5. “Traditional” is an interesting word. Tradition is essential to music, as it is to all the arts and all of human culture. Music that entirely escapes tradition ceases to be music (though it can be fascinating, and sublimely beautiful, when it lingers on the edge of dissolution). But there are many traditions, and all of them are volatile and ephemeral. Practices which seem dictated by the strictures of nature, like the diatonic scale, are really one tradition’s manner of submission to those strictures. In the 13th and 14th centuries the perfect 4th was a consonance, but in the 15th it became a dissonance, and has remained one ever since (perhaps this should be referred to as “emancipation of the consonance”). The music of a confirmed reactionary like Bruckner (the Music of the Future was very reactionary in its principles, if not in its practices) would have been incomprehensible to those past masters that he most admired. The style of Palestrina was the center of “the tradition” for Bruckner and composers of his time, but that style was itself a transformation of, and retreat from, the earlier and more innovative tradition of Josquin and Ockeghem. There is no single Tradition, nor does one tradition succeed another in inevitable sequence. Many traditions coexist, and they are often inextricably intertwined, and the boundaries between them artificial or incoherent. Bruckner and Brahms revered the same predecessors, but thought themselves in profound opposition.

    There are many traditions, but the word “traditional” is usually used in a sense that implies that there is only one, or that there is a central tradition that subsumes all others. This is the way that politicians use it: the way we have always done things, which is the right way, the best way, just as we are the best people. Those who deviate from this are at best foolish and at worst depraved, with the latter explanation generally favored (Mogulmeister is generous and leans towards the former). The “traditional” approach to playing Mozart that Mogulmeister refers to developed late in the nineteenth century and had begun to die by the middle of the twentieth. It may, of course, be revived, but if so it will be a new tradition, an imitation of the old one, not a resuscitation. Traditions have no essential essence, no permanence. They are expressions of human nature, and incorporate its most fundamental trait, which is mortality.

    Tradition has a special importance, and is consequentially a special grounds of contention, in the world of classical music, because the main practice of that world is the continued performance of works composed over the course of hundreds of years. Thus classical musicians are always making choices about how to perform such music, and such choices are informed by tradition by definition, because the works themselves are tradition. But tradition is not the past itself, it is our current perception of it, and our current choices about what parts of that perception to imitate and retain. The founders of the Early Music movement in the 1950’s were unsatisfied with recent perceptions of older music, and decided to bypass them and try to understand more about what was fundamental to the music itself, by examining what was known of the practices and attitudes of its composers and early practitioners. They were not, as usually characterized, soulless academics in pursuit of some meaningless rectitude. They were dedicated musicians in pursuit of beauties that they thought had been lost, but could be recovered. They made mistakes, and fought among themselves, and some wandered down peculiar or fruitless paths, but their efforts were rewarded beyond imagining. They did not recreate an old tradition, they created a new one, and the world of music has been immeasurably enriched by it.

    One cannot live in every tradition simultaneously, and many are not comfortable except within what they regard as clear boundaries. There are people who, while enjoying a song on the radio, will suddenly realize that it does not really qualify as Country Music, and shudder and turn it off. Everyone has preferences, but it is illusion to think that those preferences are founded on fundamental and immutable principles, and have no basis in habit and familiarity. Anyone who cannot hear passion and emotion in HIP performances of Mozart, and Beethoven, and even Bruckner, is a victim of their own narrowness of range and comprehension. Those things are not missing in the music, but in the listener who is unable to hear them.

    Comment by SamW — April 15, 2017 at 11:26 am

  6. SamW’s last post is my nomination for BMI’s “Comment Of The Year.”

    Comment by Jonathan Brodie — April 15, 2017 at 1:39 pm

  7. Does Sam agree that HIP and quotidian performances come in as many styles as there are interpreters? It’s no less certain that there are emotionally generous and avid performances as well as metrically correct but frigid ones in both categories?.

    And the early music revival on period instruments probably started with Arnold Dolmetsch around 1900.

    Comment by Lee Eiseman — April 15, 2017 at 2:14 pm

  8. I had a reverse experience from Mogulmeister at Thursday’s concert. I am not a particular fan of piano music or of Mozart, but I found Uchida’s performance totally involving and emotionally satisfying. I had heard the Bruckner only once before, a decade ago when Metzmacher conducted it at the BSO, and another decade will be soon enough for me to rehear it. It seemed endless. My mind wandered throughout it & despite the expert playing of the orchestra it left me cold.

    Comment by Dennis M — April 15, 2017 at 10:10 pm

  9. Listened to Sat PM on radio. Uchida truly great. Unmannered and vivid. Bruckner 6th well played, but it simply doesn’t come up to the level of his greatest works.
    Not a Uchida groupie btw, but this outing was superb

    Comment by rlhevinne — April 15, 2017 at 10:28 pm

  10. Whispered about 10 years ago during a B6 at the BSO–

    10-year-old daughter, a few minutes into the first movement: “Is this really the composer Mom hates? This sounds good!”

    Daughter, 10 minutes later: “Are we still in the first movement?”

    Comment by Camilli — April 15, 2017 at 11:30 pm

  11. Astounding, fantastic, wonderful ! I admit that I am an Uchida groupie; she;’s probably my favorite living pianist. Well, not exactly a groupie, I don’t actually follow her around, but I probably would if I could. Tonight she was at her best. She was both lyrical and fierce; many pianists can make the instrument sing, and many can make it shout, and some can do both, but how many can make it sing and shout at the same time ? Nelsons and the orchestra were brilliant too, dramatic, powerful, and still nimble and clear, matching their own virtuosity to that of the soloist. There was a moment at the thunderous conclusion of the piano’s opening statement when the emphatic roars in the bass became roars in the orchestra, but in the same voice, the exchange invisible, a flawless piece of sleight-of-hand. I don’t agree that the piano blended with the orchestra; they were in perfect understanding, but both distinct, independent and clear. i don’t think I’ve heard a better performance of this work.
    Well, I was wrong to say she was at her best; she’s at her best when she’s alone on stage. A couple of years ago I heard her at Carnegie (I don’t follow her around the world, but I will go as far as New York) playing the Schubert G major sonata and the Diabelli Variations, a concert that is unsurpassed by anything in my memory.

    Comment by SamW — April 15, 2017 at 11:52 pm

  12. Camilli: I am glad to be in the company of such a distinguished commentator. I had both of those reactions.

    Lee: You seem to suggest that schools of thought are irrelevant, that only the personal traits of individual interpreters matter. Certainly much of what goes into a performance is personal and individual; mere competence, for example, varies enormously between individuals, and is of very great importance. Different approaches change the music, though, no matter the individuals involved. A B-minor Mass with a chorus of over 100 is a different work than one with a chorus of 20 or 30, no matter what the level of musical competence, emotional engagement, or spiritual development of the musicians involved.

    I admire your use of “quotidian”, though, which I suspect was a last-minute substitution for “traditional”. Adroitly managed.

    Comment by SamW — April 16, 2017 at 12:28 pm

  13. Camilli and Sam, you should like any music you respond to or not force yourself to sit through anything you really don’t, be it Bruckner, Bach, Beethoven, or any other composer. Whether you (or anyone) likes or dislikes Bruckner has no bearing on me or anyone other than yourself, and it’s your own business. But with regards to Bruckner, I just feel sad that you’re missing out on what I and so many others get to experience, the joy, the beauty, and a powerful vision that is tremendously life-affirming, uplifting, and profoundly moving. Rather than scorn or laugh at it, maybe you might instead try to understand how it is that there’s something rather dramatic that others seem to be getting out of it yet which eludes you.

    Sam, I’ll take issue with your characterization of my dislike of HIP performances. I’m not an ideologue, period. If I heard a SINGLE HIP performance over the many years I’ve been hearing them that moved me emotionally–which for me is all that matters when it comes to music, I’d be cheering HIP from the rafters. If I don’t have an emotional response at some level to a piece of music or a performance, or the prospect of it, it’s probably not something I’ll be listening to by choice in the future.

    Having heard many HIP performances, it just seems to me that HIP puts music in an emotional straitjacket to satisfy some arbitrary regime of rules, which may or may not exist for good reason. Call it the musical version of “Dogma 95,” the film-making philosophy promoted by Lars von Trier and others, which defined a set of principles by which filmmakers should aim to live by to make better films (which produced some good films on occasion but far more which were not–which was probably not about Dogma 95 but instead the filmmakers themselves). I’m open to anything new or different, but if it doesn’t register at some emotional level, then it’s not something I’ll be spending a lot of time with.

    I find HIP performances stunningly unconvincing. And not to say every “big band” Mozart performance works for me (there have been plenty that haven’t). But when I have experienced something thrilling in Mozart, it was always in a “big band” performance from the likes of someone like Colin Davis. So on the day I hear a HIP performance that actually touches me, then maybe I’ll feel differently.

    But so far, all I hear in HIP performances are notes that conform to rules and regulations, but are shorn of real meaning–or at least any real meaning that registers with me. I take my own advice, and do wonder, what is it that others are getting out of HIP that eludes me? I’ve come to realize there are three possible answers. First, in someone else’s words (who I can’t credit because I don’t remember who stated it), HIP has been a remarkable career pathway for musicians and conductors who otherwise would not be playing on the stages they get to perform on. Second, I just lack something that makes it possible for others to enjoy this stuff. And the third has something to do with emperors and clothes.

    Comment by Mogulmeister — April 16, 2017 at 8:22 pm

  14. That’s enough. There’s no point in spending any more effort in defending HIP performers against these feeble calumnies. I will defend myself, though, against the charge of being a Bruckner-hater. i like his music well enough from time to time. Last night wasn’t one of those times, and rather confirmed what I had heard, that the 6th isn’t one of his best.

    In the middle of the first movement, I found myself thinking of a famous quotation. In the interest of keeping the peace I won’t repeat it, but for those with a love of the obscure, it was originally said by Comte Gérard de Reyneval to the Abbé Pradt, on a winter’s night in Warsaw in 1812.

    Comment by SamW — April 16, 2017 at 10:50 pm

  15. I don’t think anybody would disagree that Bruckner was the main event…

    BSO players demonstrated that they really don’t like Bruckner (however occasionally human beings do like things they don’t understand), based on what ears can hear with good intentions on Thursday night. One should be slightly more prudent to reach that conclusion on Saturday night tho.

    I was in the force of constructing Valhalla, nothing intelligent, only laborious work. They needed a substitute man servant, so I stayed after the hero’s temple was built. Before long, the great master Bruckner arrived and the great genius Wagner welcomed him warmly in person. I washed the master’s feet. The master was kind, he talked to me and mentioned the last day judgement and his sixth symphony. His voice was humble, just like his music….

    It is sad to report that very few people can establish the right music image for a great work. When I was a teenager, I read (I thought I read) that B6 is the most pastoral piece of all his works. Just because of some early woodwind? The booklet says B6 is not as bombastic as his other symphonies. What is the expression of the 1st movement? Majestoso.

    Nelsons would tell you a Bruckner symphony is a great journey whenever he has a chance. But where does he lead the audience to? (Not to bore the readers, I am not listing all the wonky brass moments) I am giving two examples, where the music was conducted in the complete wrong directions of the music image.

    1st mov. phrase E. kl, 2nd vl and vc are asked to play sehr ruhig/very clamly, not to disturb the triplets of fl, 1st vl and br. After this point, Nelsons slowed down the tempo abruptly. The pace was much slower than ‘very calm’ (that is not speed tho). The music was approaching F, solemn statement formed by the entire ensemble. There was NO reason to slow down to show hesitation and destroy the calmness achieved previously. That was a very bad purposeless contrast, while the real contrast was on the expression of the 1st vl, which was reinforced by the horn expressively, just before E.

    2nd mov. phrase C. Nelsons raised the tempo here. This phrase really is the continuation of the previous sublime/emotional intertwine of the strings and woodwinds. It is a passage that clam things down. Later in C, the score does ask for sehr ruhig again. The raise of pace totally killed the beauty residual left on one’s mind. Everyone pretends to know that Bruckner asks for long line. What is the next music image? the formidable phrase D is approaching. Unlike the first movement, here it should be calmly facing the massive/lamenting thing that is coming. Raising the tempo at C is completely against Bruckner’s sublime music idea.

    How could anyone with any sense of music/beauty say that this music is too long too boring. It is so timeless and beautiful (albeit formidable). Only the music god Beethoven has ever created sth like this, and the great genius Wagner. It is one’s own flaw and weakness that he is not capable of receive such great work. I can’t keep up with the technology. Sometime I wonder if some comments are made by heartless robots.

    Comment by Thorsten — April 17, 2017 at 4:24 pm

  16. “I don’t think anybody would disagree that Bruckner was the main event…”

    You would be wrong about that.

    Comment by SamW — April 17, 2017 at 4:47 pm

  17. I think Bruckner, a good Catholic and a humble one, would be shocked to find himself in Valhalla, and appalled to be numbered among its residents. It’s all beside the point, though; those gods are dead, and a good thing, too. They were mostly pretty incompetent. Thor, the best of them, couldn’t even tell a drinking horn from the sea itself, or a cat from the Midgard Serpent ! He would have know what to do with Wagner, though. Probably would have used him for a footstool.

    Comment by SamW — April 17, 2017 at 7:51 pm

  18. >> would be shocked

    yup, posterity often has its surprises:

    Comment by david moran — April 18, 2017 at 1:52 am

  19. Victor Hugo is regarded as a divine being by the Cao Dai sect of Vietnam, as are Shakespeare, Sun Yat-sen, Lenin, and Joan of Arc, among many others. You can’t choose your admirers.

    Comment by SamW — April 18, 2017 at 8:50 am

  20. Thorsten: “BSO players demonstrated that they really don’t like Bruckner (however occasionally human beings do like things they don’t understand), based on what ears can hear with good intentions on Thursday night. One should be slightly more prudent to reach that conclusion on Saturday night tho.”

    Rubbish. They demonstrated the opposite: many of the players were visibly and audibly thrilled to be building Bruckner’s towering edifice, and gratified by the results.

    However, the extent to which a listener could ever gauge the players’ various understandings of any music they’re asked to play is limited by the scope of their specific roles, vis-à-vis deference to score, conductor, and the unpredictable way collective performances unfold. So, I take Thorsten’s pompous speculation about their understanding as nothing more than the usual grandiosity.

    Comment by nimitta — April 18, 2017 at 12:30 pm

  21. Sam, I was just teasing the music vegetarianists (a word I invented many years ago). You may like it better than HIPster, because it is broader.

    I don’t dislike the pairing but I dislike the marketing department’s insisting on putting B and M together. After all, it is d minor … I know sth about the bostonian audience. There must be someones who see Uchida as the main event. I don’t care much about her. Haven’t listen to any her recording for years. I attended her concert abroad once and her Beethoven was terrible.

    her pc 20 was however very satisfying. (I really don’t expect a lot, as I do from romantic era). The orchestra was somewhat unprepared at the beginning. She might be too brisky in the development. But one’s momentary feeling is always uncertain. If I may, I’d like MM to describe the HIP tendency in more details. (Id I missed them, pls point to them). I only remember audience being so excited when Kissin finished his performance. Anyway, people who are more serious would fine-tune their concentration level for Bruckner 6.

    I clocked the time of B6 2nd mov. Did not see such surprise. not sure anyone has any opinion on that. Come on, Brucknerians. stop the hijacking. you are giving away comment space to the non-believers, such as Sam and c***…

    David M’s comment really depicts the vast ‘educated’ audience very well. They tend to be drawn to the ‘interesting’ stories, rather than the music it self. Well, I sort of questioned the popularity of Shostakovich. Can I see this comment as a side proof? Even though Sam was not all serious, but he is quite right. You can’t choose your admirers.

    Comment by Thorsten — April 18, 2017 at 1:18 pm

  22. Mr. nimitta, I studied rhetoric in the past, only to find I could manage the skills very poorly. The quoted line only said the Thursday performance had many more wonky brass moments than the Saturday one. It might not be a solid evidence. I heard more than one players practicing their lines at jokingly fast pace. Perhaps I was too sensitive? Am I fair? if you read the anti-Bruckner comments here. I am offsetting those at most.

    I probably should not joke on the payers’ seriousness. but this is still true: however occasionally human beings do like things they don’t understand.

    I think we should focus more on the music, rather than a composer’s story, his admirers or a silly commentator who lives outside the kingdom of music PC.

    Comment by Thorsten — April 18, 2017 at 1:39 pm

  23. It’s very interesting to see the differing reactions to Bruckner’s Sixth Symphony. As a listener who who actually dislikes the composer’s two most frequently played symphonies, the Fourth and the Seventh, I’ve thought for a long time that the Sixth is one of the composer’s most brilliant works. This may be because it doesn’t fit the “musical cathedral” image that is so often atrributed to Bruckner’s works. For example, there is not the usual tremolo beginning, but rather an actual rhythmic figure that propels the music forward in a symphonic manner. However, trying to persuade someone to like something that he doesn’t like is usually futile. Nevertheless, I do suggest reading Tovey’s wonderful analysis of the work, even if you end up disagreeing with his opinion. I especially love his description of the coda to the first movement: “The first theme mounts slowly in Bruckner’s favorite simultaneous direct-inverted combination, passing from key to key beneath a tumultuous surface sparkling like the Homeric seas.”

    I seem to remember the orchestra’s previous performance of about ten years ago (on a program with Bartok!) as being more successful that the one I heard on the radio on Saturday, but I’m happy that Maestro Nelsons decided to program the piece.

    (Tovey also has a persuasive analysis of another under-appreciated sixth symphony, that by Dvorak (labeled as Number One in his book)

    Comment by George Hungerford — April 18, 2017 at 1:50 pm

  24. I just listened to the WCRB Monday-night reprise of the Uchida performance (which I loved). Why can’t Ron della Chiesa learn how to say the names of the performers he announces? He shouted “Mit-SOO-ko U-CHEE-da six or seven times before and after her performance. (Last week he shouted GU-bai-du LEE-na, for God’s sake!) Why can’t WCRB clue him in? The woman in the advertising blurb for the concert, on WGBH 89.7, pronounced Uchida’s name perfectly. Della Chiesa is an embarrassment. He doesn’t seem to care. But a national audience must find it inexcusable, rude and ignorant–a bad reflection of Boston’s otherwise musical sophistication.

    Comment by Alan Levitan — April 24, 2017 at 8:57 pm

  25. My Japan-born and -reared and Japanese-fluent father always explained to Americans (including of course us kids) about the generally equal stressing of Japanese syllables, e.g., o za wa, to yo da, yo ko ha ma, while acknowledging that the rest of the world liked to find a somewhat more familiar way.
    So please inform all how you advise ‘Mitsuko Uchida’ should be said over the US airwaves.
    Also Gubaidulina, for that matter.

    Comment by david moran — April 25, 2017 at 1:02 am

  26. Here’s the advice:

    For Mitsuko Uchida: The ‘u’ in ‘Mitsuko’ is nearly silent and must never be stressed (‘Meets’ko’), giving the other syllables equal stress (for Americans, this can be approximated by slightly stressing the first syllable). Even overstressing that first syllable is better than stressing the second syllable. The same goes for ‘Uchida’: the ‘chi’ in ‘Uchida’ is never stressed; easiest approximation to even stress would be to slightly stress the first syllable (OO-chee-da). This same rule applies to French pronunciation: even syllabic stress is the rule, and can be approximated by slightly stressing the first syllable of a multi-syllable word.

    As for ‘Gubaidulina’, the proper pronunciation is ‘Goo-bai-DU-lee-na.’

    These names are not difficult to say properly.

    Comment by Alan Levitan — April 25, 2017 at 10:09 am

  27. So strict.

    When I worked with Japanese engineers from Matsushita, my father asked if any of them said it mott-soosh-tah. I had to report that none did, not really; they had adapted, a little.

    See also MĒTS-ə-kō

    ‘Well-Tempered Announcer’ reference advises SOH-fyuh, while she says so-FEE-uh.

    Comment by david moran — April 25, 2017 at 1:47 pm

  28. I doubt he remembers me, but I met Ron Della Chiesa 40 years ago, and he was terrific to work with on our live performance on WGBH. Personally, I really enjoy the spirited way he announces the BSO, even though he’s not primarily a ‘classical’ guy, and I’m sure he’d be mortified to learn that he murdered ‘Gubaidulina’ and ‘Mitsuko Uchida’.

    Alan’s right, though: Ron should have been able to get them right. After all, he does perfectly well with VOGG-ner and SHOW-pahn, and he nailed VINE-berg on January 21st.

    Comment by nimitta — April 25, 2017 at 4:40 pm

  29. Even sports announcers got “Daisuke” more or less correct.

    Comment by Camilli — April 25, 2017 at 8:22 pm

  30. To David Moran, on “So strict”: I don’t like it when people call me “Mr. Le-VEE-tan,” “Mr. Le-VYE-tan, or—worst of all—“Mr. Levittown” (as happened frequently in the ’50s and ’60s). Come on, David, you wouldn’t want to be called “Mr. MOR-on,” would you—especially on air? WCRB is a classical music station; isn’t there someone at WCRB who can oversee such things and recommend proper pronunciation of performers’ names? Think of all the young people (hey, even three or four young people) listening nationally who will assume that Mit-SOO-ko U-CHEE-da is the way to say the pianist’s (or should I say PEE-a-nist’s?) name because a classical music announcer said it that way in Boston.

    In California once, an announcer for a recording of Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin” pronounced it “Eugene One-Gin” (as opposed to Two-Vodkas?). A newspaper in Florida noted that the tenor being reviewed “had recently sung, to great acclaim, the role of Lenski in Eugene, Oregon.” As for one of the composers mentioned at the end of nimitta’s post, there is a famous riddle: To what question is “9W” the answer? (New Yorkers always think it must refer to Route 9W leading west of the city.) The correct answer is the question: “Do you spell your name with a V, Herr Vagner?”

    Comment by Alan Levitan — April 25, 2017 at 11:00 pm

  31. A preposterous response. Overreaction and overstatement appear the order of the day, quite as in politics. None of Della Chiesa’s accused (‘murdered’!) mispronunciations is anything close to One-Gin or Levittown. MORE-un is a completely common and acceptable pronunciation, on a par with Merr-ANNE, around the world, but even that is not what is being mooted here really. Oh, the damage done nationwide by young’uns hearing U-CHEE-da. Come on. I guarantee there are some native speakers on the planet who say Ooch-da. Perhaps I ought to have corrected those Matsushita engineers who put the tiny ‘ih’ into mott-soosh-tah. As if RDC is like some Californian who says Eugene, Oregon. Get a grip, people, and go look up the ‘original’ pronunciations of grimace, vagary, and flaccid, all now murdered. RDC also says Gubaidulina like 90% of all FM announcers. Please.

    Comment by david moran — April 26, 2017 at 2:46 am

  32. Of course the real solution would be to convey these names written out in English alphabet properly in the first place, instead of being so horrifyingly misleading. What a thought. How are my very young grandchildren supposed to know to properly drop the middle vowel in a word to be sounded out like Mitsuko. What a pickle. I wonder how it could have become so wrongly ‘translated’ in the first place. Hmm. Let us start a respelling name campaign for classical music.

    Comment by david moran — April 26, 2017 at 2:51 am

  33. David, any mispronunciation of a name when there is no excuse for it (i.e., when one is working for an organization peopled by a musically sophisticated staff who can help out in guiding an announcer’s pronunciation) is a sign, no matter how slight, of disrespect to the person named. The pianist-in-question’s last name often comes out accusatorily, especially in Boston, as You Cheater. I have less objection to pronouncing the ‘u’ in ‘Mitsuko’ as long as it isn’t accented. Aren’t you tired of hearing newscasters refer to the former country of Burma as ‘MEE-an-mar’? Will the official name of our country soon be pronounced by foreign speakers as ‘the Untied States of America’? (Probably, now that I think of it.)

    I know perfectly well about the ‘MOR-an’ version of Moran, David; I was asking how you’d feel about a foreign speaker announcing you on international airwaves, with punctilious accent and enunciation, as “Mister MORon.” As a Jew, I cringe at hearing the almost simian term “antisimetic,” even though I know perfectly well what the speaker means. But I think the mispronunciation of the names of people by professional announcers who can easily check is more egregious.

    Comment by Alan Levitan — April 26, 2017 at 10:13 am

  34. No excuse, huh, and disrespect, no less. I guess one can always go to that huge LoC pronunciation reference site as well, although it does not list Gubaidulina. But I rather have some non-strictness sympathy for FM announcers, the same as I would for a professor confronted with (much less ‘correcting’) students named Weinstein, Fierstein, Weiner, d’Angelo, del Giudice, Gagliano, Benes, or a building named Bernstein-Marcus (not pronounced by most like the composer-conductor), or even a work named Don Juan. Indeed, by the strictest standards no nonnative has ever pronounced Ozawa perfectly ‘correctly’, much less Toyota (originally Toyoda). Idiom. I wonder if Ozawa took offense or just got used to it. I just am finding charges of egregiousness tiresome, I suppose.
    As for my own name, I am long used to about anything:

    Comment by david moran — April 26, 2017 at 11:07 am

  35. Ron della Chiesa does try to get name pronunciations right, asking the person directly if that’s possible. The broadcast producer (usually Brian McCreath) also attempts to check pronunciations and convey them to Ron.

    When my late friend Andrew Kazdin produced the New York Philharmonic’s concert broadcasts, announced by Martin Bookspan, he was often amused by Mr. Bookspan’s “rules” for foreign names: if the first name was identical with an English name, he spoke it as if it were in English, which made Richard Wagner a bit odd and Walter Weller even odder (a “w” sound to start his first name and a “v” sound to begin the last). There’s no absolute way to get these things “right.”

    The Iowa Public Radio website has a lengthy pronouncing dictionary for musical names and terms ( Some radio announcers rely on this, and it can be a good resource. Interestingly, though they list Sofia Gubaidulina, they don’t show a pronunciation for her last name! For the pianist, they show “meet-s’kaw oo-chee-dah.”

    Comment by Stephen H. Owades — April 27, 2017 at 2:41 am

  36. >> ‘Well-Tempered Announcer’ reference advises SOH-fyuh, while she says so-FEE-uh.

    Comment by david moran — April 27, 2017 at 2:03 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, this comment forum is now closed.