Fleming’s Composers Redux

Having previously written with some questions about Renée Fleming and her composers, I was interested and pleased to read that Ms. Fleming, who has taken a position with the Lyric Opera of Chicago, wants that company to do a new opera in coming years. According to the New York Times:

Ms. Fleming said she brought a number of ideas to the table, including the programming of a new opera for the 2015-16 season. She said she is working on identifying a composer. “I have a spreadsheet of 100 composers,” she said.

This is welcome news. 100 composers is a pretty big number – can you think of 100 composers who would be plausible candidates for a Lyric Opera commission? It is a lot easier to think about the implausible ones, of course.

More about Ms. Fleming here and here. (picture: M. Spencer Green/Associated Press)

Mehldau at Carnegie

Except in the few movements where the strings hold the spotlight, or where the woodwinds and horns elaborate briefly on a theme, the orchestral scoring is secondary, and for long stretches the St. Paul musicians sat silently.

-Allen Kozinn in the New York Times on the premiere of Brad Mehldau’s Highway Rider for jazz ensemble and orchestra.

I am quite certain that Brad Mehldau is one of the very top jazz pianists active today. I am less certain that he is the very top choice of composer to be given opportunities to write for Renee Fleming, Anne Sophie von Otter, or the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, and to be composer-in-residence at Carnegie Hall. It’s not that jazz artists shouldn’t be allowed sully the holy institution of The Orchestra with their grimy hands. That’s just dumb. But it does seem odd for Mehldau to have opportunities of this stature.

I look forward to, say, John Harbison, or Augusta Read Thomas being offered a commission by Jazz at Lincoln Center. More about Renee Fleming here.

Fleming’s composers

The New York Times has now devoted three articles (1, 2, 3) to the “controversial” Renée Fleming “indie rock” album. (Whew, gotta be careful, I might use up my monthly irony quotes quota on the first day of the month.) Why this record deserves so many column inches is a mystery. (Surely there were albums by composers of “non-pop” released in the last month that deserve to be mentioned in the Times.) Who cares if Fleming has done a pop album? She is a superb artist of historic stature, I’m sure the new record is fine. Isn’t what she has not done more strange, and disturbing: she has not recorded an album of music by living composers of concert music – apart from the opera André Previn wrote for her? (And why was that piece – oh, never mind.) If she really idolizes the late Jan de Gaetani, as she seems to in her book, then why doesn’t she emulate her? Why not a disc with Fleming doing something by Crumb, or Harbison? Why not something new by a composer of her own generation? Why is Fleming doing Death Cab for Cutie considered interesting enough to occupy not just one but two Times critics over three articles, including two in the Sunday Arts and Leisure? Yet neither Fleming, nor her handlers, nor the Times consider the idea of her (not) doing the work of living composers of interest?