Aging Gen Xers Having Fun

As semi-lockdown, not quite normal, is still the way of the world, it can sometimes escape me that working from home (staying safe and employed) can be damn stressful. Yes, I am lucky to have that kind of stress. I am very aware of those who have been impacted by Covid in much more pressing ways. But all experience is relative, and sometimes I don’t know how stressed out I am.

It was against this backdrop that we recently had friends in town to stay for a long weekend. They are friends of mine from grad school who have, happily, also become good friends with John over the past 19 years. There was a time when they lived here in DC, about six blocks from us, and we would get together one or two times a week for dinner. Having them here for three days was like Christmas in November. All of the day-to-day crud just sloughed off my body. I could literally feel my blood pressure diminish.

So what did we do? We did go out and about on Saturday, but then on Sunday, rather than head off to the National Gallery like planned. We stayed home and did nothing. Well, not really nothing. We did taste tests. What? you say. Yes, we did taste tests. At some point as she emerged from lockdown, Jennifer decided she liked doing taste tests. And who are we to say no to something that includes food?

Jennifer is an ace amateur mixologist and kept us plied with fancy cocktails throughout the proceedings. I forget what this one is called, and we didn’t really rate them since we didn’t drink them side by side like we did with other items. In addition to cheese and pate (also not rated) you can see a whole lot of cornichon in the middle of the table. That was the first of our blind taste tests.
Everyone but me ended up choosing the cornichon from the Whole Foods Olive Bar as their favorite. And we all thought the oversized ones at the bottom were not good at all.
Jennifer adding the final touch to The Aviators she made for us. (That’s Crème de Violette she’s adding.)
I’m actually not a huge cocktail fan unless they have umbrellas. But everything she made was amazing.
Round Two in the blind taste tests consisted of six kinds of potato chips. John and I put all six of them in the same exact order of preference. Like he always says, we are MFEO (made for each other).
The score sheet became very confusing since we were putting numbered chips in numbered order of preference. More then once we got our axes mixed up.
I was responsible for this heat. I had numbered them in a way that even I didn’t know which was which once they were on the table. It was fun to do the reveal. There was definitely dissent around the table, but John and I easily settled on Cape Cod kettle style as our favorites.
General tasting mayhem.
The bar snack tasting. Everyone but me chose the corn nut mix at the bottom. I chose the spicy pistachios at left (and refused to even try the peanuts, which I will only eat on SE Asian food).
We were quite surprised by the results of the club soda test. John and I both put Navy Hill at number one and Fever Tree at number four. Among the cheaper brands we preferred the 365 over Canada Dry.

And then three hours later I was making tuna puttanesca over pasta. Fabulous way to spend a Sunday.

Non-fiction November?

As regular readers of Hoggletstock know, I can get pretty excited about a book challenge. Being an adult, I also love the fact that I can drop out of said challenge whenever I feel like it. But the other night, I was lazing about in my library poking about in my non-fiction section. So many things I never make time for because fiction is much more my bag. And then I thought, why not? Let’s give it a go. I can always drop out whenever I feel like it.

I tried to pull books that were varied enough to capture my mood at any given time. And I also tried to make sure that I had enough on the pile that aren’t too academic. (Although, I must say, almost none of my non-fiction collection could be classified as academic.) So this is what I came up with.

Here’s the whole stack. Have you read any of them? Any favorites? I have more I can pick from still on the shelves, but thought it would be fun to come up with a reading list for the month.
I doubt Dewey Decimal would put all these in the same area, but I’m roughly calling them the pastoral group.
A subtitle worth showing.
I’m not sure if this is going to be science or history. Maybe both.
Here is my literary group. Author focused on the bottom, books on books toward the top. After reading a bio of May Sarton where the author trashed her for 400 pages, I’m going to follow Nancy Pearl’s advice and never read bios of authors I love. I’m breaking that with the Trollope, but surely Glendinning can’t say too much about Anthony that will cause discomfort?
Also a subtitle worth seeing.
And how could I not show you this from the front of the Ambler autobiography.
My music stack is pretty small. I’ve already started The Ninth, its about the Beethoven and the world in 1824. The oral history of Charles Ives is the one I am most looking forward to. I know his music well, and I know he sold insurance for a living, but I don’t know much else.
This, along with the CIA book, is meant to slake my thirst if I get in a mood for Helen MacInnes or Ward Just.
Some illustrations will help break things up a bit.
Science and History? I listened to about 50% of a great recording of the Bryson several years ago. Might be time to actually start from the beginning and finish it. During lockdown I went through a bit of a archaeology/history phase that I’d like to continue. And then the stuff at the very top should be a little less serious.

We’ll see how all of this goes. I think I’ve chosen enough that I consider truly fun reads, so I shouldn’t find it too problematic. But the second something is expected of me (even by myself) I tend to rebel.

2021 Road Trip : Book Buying

Because our 17-day road trip was cut down to eight, I didn’t do as much book browsing as I anticipated doing. I was particularly looking forward to going to used book stores and just having a good rummage around. Prior to hitting the road, I think I had only been in two used bookstores since March 2020. Buying used books online is even less satisfying as buying new books online. Plus the I was hoping to come across some of the dusty old forgotten authors that aren’t desired enough for someone to put them for sale online. I was looking forward to the hunt.

As you may already have seen in an earlier post, I did have a good hour at the Book Barn of the Finger Lakes, but its so over filled that it was somewhat challenging.

Looking through my photos, I realize that I didn’t document things very well. It was nice to forget about the phone in my pocket, so I guess that was a good thing.

Yellow House Books in Great Barrington, MA
A great shop with really good stock.
The last time we went on a road trip like this I took a chance on a whole stack of May Sartons. I had never read her before, but thought, what if I like her, I’d kick myself for not buying all of them. I had the same experience this time with Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. She was a great collaborator of Merchant-Ivory. I’ve loved both novels I’ve read by Damon Galgut, so picking up this one was a no-brainer.
The Bookstore in Lenox, Massachusetts is a very nice new book store. The top book is a kind of social history of the life and times of Beethoven’s ninth symphony.
I was not a fan of the one Patrick Melrose novel I read, but I couldn’t resist this cover.
Two doors down from The Bookstore in Lenox was this used bookstore that was closing. It didn’t have a sign, I think it was a pop-up of sorts run by The Bookstore. This would have been a ton of fun, and it was right across from our hotel, but alas I never made it there when it was open.
Raven Books in Northampton, Massachusetts. Pretty fun place, but not as neglected as I would like.
Only found two things at Raven Books.
I wasn’t expecting to find any books at a home interiors/antique shop in New Preston, Connecticut. They had a lot of Mitford stuff and books about the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. And they also had these fabulous editions of Mrs Harris–they came home with me.
I bought a fourth book at Baldwin’s, but I have no recollection of what it was.

Road Trip 2021 : Art Saves Us Again

As I mentioned in an earlier post, with lots of mid-week closures throughout western MA we had a day to kill and weren’t quite sure how we were going to do it. Doing my research the night before really narrowed down the choices. It seems like the only thing open on this particular day was The Springfield Museums in Springfield, Massachusetts. It’s a series of four buildings, one for science, one for history, and two for art. In the end we only had time for the art buildings.

Historical Monument of the American Republic
Erastus Salisbury Field
This rather large painting is what you see when you walk into the main gallery space in one of the buildings. Look at the train tracks in the sky!
View of the Marketplace with the Great Church at Haarlem
Gerrit Adriaensz Berckheyde
Study for a fresco at the federal courthouse in Pittsburgh (1936)
Howard Cook
I might not have been thinking of art when I failed to note the artist or title of this work. (detail)
Church Supper (1933)
Paul Sample
I love this for so many reasons. Don’t you think it would make a good novel?
The Net Mender (c. 1870s)
George Newell Bowers
You know I love lots of domestic details in my novels. Not to mention how perfect the room is.
The Newsboy (1889)
George Newell Bowers
The subject is a little too “Newsies” for me to covet this one for my own walls, but I love all the background detail. I’m particularly taken with the glimpse of the hallway. As a historic preservationist by training, it is fascinating to see the vernacular detail in what is a rather simple, but probably fancy for where and what it was, hallway. Paintings of this period are more often filled with images of rooms like the one in the foreground, but not the circulation space beyond. Photos from the time similarly tend to overlook documenting something as mundane as a hallway, and even if they do, we don’t get to see them rendered in color like this.
Sixth Avenue (1940)
Andrée Ruellan
This one I do covet for my own on so many levels. I’m always a sucker for urban scenes and domestic detail. It also stokes my desire to travel in time. And again, I’m realizing as I do this post, how most of the art I am drawn to and tack pictures of could be turned into novels. Not a novel of the painting, but what is happening in the painting. I’m going to say that little boy is with his grandmother.

2021 Road Trip : Birthday Bust?

It’s always nice to be on vacation for your birthday, but that doesn’t always guarantee a great time. Since we had exhausted most of what we wanted to do in the lower Berkshires–I might have just made that up, I guess we would probably say the southern Berkshires here in the US, but ‘the lower Berkshires’ makes it sound like I’m in rural England–anyhoo, since we had kind of run out of things to do and so many shops are closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, we decided we needed to go further afield for our day’s adventures.

One of the beauties of a road trip is you can be spontaneous. The night before my birthday, I looked at a map and decided we could drive north with Bennington, VT as our main destination with the idea of being in Troy, NY for my birthday meal. In doing so I broke the the cardinal rule of any good trip–Always do your research. But more on that later in this post.

On the drive up to Bennington, which I quickly realized we had started on too early in the morning, we came to Williamstown, MA the home of both Williams College and the Clark Art Institute. We hadn’t intended on going to the Clark because we had been there on our previous trip to the Berkshires and I knew that they had implemented timed entry tickets due to Covid, and we didn’t have a timed ticket. But since we had plenty of time we decided to take a chance on being able to get in. I’m so glad we did. Having expanded since 2008, the Clark is even more amazing than before and it provided a really nice way to spend a couple of hours.

The Clark’s most recent addition includes this wonderfully peaceful plaza and fountain with views of the expansive grounds.
You’ll forgive me if I thought this looked like a character in a Margaret Atwood dystopia.
Choupatte (Cabbagefeet) (2017)
Claude Lalanne
The Messenger (detail) (1815)
Martin Drölling
One of those moments where you think “That’s where this painting is…” The bib and metal attachments always reminds me of being at the dentist.
Fumée d’amgre gris (Smoke of Ambergris) (1880)
John Singer Sargent
Portrait of Madame Lemasson (1891)
Émile Henri Bernard
Interior Still Life: Christmas Morning (1926-27)
Nikolai Astrup
By the Open Door (before 1911)
Visions of Norway, the extensive retrospective the Clark was having on the work of artist Nikolai Astrup has me wanting to visit the tiny villages around Lake Jølster, northeast of Bergen, Norway.
From one of the galleries I spotted this mezzanine of books that were faced on the shelves to perfection and a serene research library.
Happily, the library was not off limits to rank and file museum goers, so I could get closer to the two mezzanines of perfectly faced books. But as I stood there I realized there was no access to either wall of books. What a horror. What was going on?
Inaccessible, but very pleasing to the eye.
Photos rarely do justice to meadows, so this close-up of clover (I think) will have to suffice for the lovely grounds that surrounded the Clark.

After the Clark we continued our path north by zigging over to North Adams the home of MassMOCA, another art museum we had been to in 2008. I opted out of going there this time because the art tends to be room-size conceptual kind of stuff, or other things that are somewhat lost on me. I mean how long can you stare at a Dan Flavin. (Look it up, not long.) And because we had Bennington to look forward to, we didn’t bother to poke around the former mill town.

Now, when I picked Bennington as our destination, I had visions in my head of another serendipitous stop we had made in Vermont on our previous road trip in 2008 in which we stayed the night in the very charming town of Woodstock where there was one of my favorite used bookstores of all time (and the place where I first discovered the work of May Sarton).

But Bennington is no Woodstock. While the town has some very nice architectural bones, there was a lot of empty retail space that appears to have been vacant prior to Covid. Half of the shops that were closed that day and not very interesting to start with. This town could use about 100 LGBTQ families to fill up the great old buildings with shops you actually want to visit.

There are a couple of museums that we might have enjoyed in town, but as I mentioned, I hadn’t done my research, and I didn’t know they existed.

And I hate to say it, but the indie bookstore that was there had recently moved locations and was not even remotely conducive to browsing. I’m sure my mood had something to do with it, but the store felt very suburban and not at all cozy. I literally spent less than a minute inside and turned around and left without even touching a book. Back out on the street I saw one of those “open” flags that seem to be all over the place in vacationland to draw attention to shops that visitors might be interested in. We crossed the street and walked a bit to go see what we could see only to find a vape shop. Time to leave Bennington.

When we go on a road trip we go to to see what delicious local food we can find along the way. In 2008 we made a slight detour to go to Famous Lunch in Troy, NY. I’ve literally been thinking about going back to this place ever since. Although I may not have done my research on Bennington, I knew that Famous Lunch was only about an hour from where we were staying in Lenox. It seemed to me the perfect place for my birthday dinner.
The house specialty, and, although it would probably be good, I wouldn’t even think of ordering anything else. These are the most amazing chili dogs you will ever have in your life. They are only about the length of a credit card and each one only costs $1.11. When we were here in 2008, John didn’t know how small they were and somehow talked me into only getting two of them. I never quite forgave him for that. This time we each got three and I ate one of John’s. Perfect. I think we also got some fries, but the star were these lovely jewels of greasy perfection. And did I mention they have RC cola and Diet Rite? Who knew they even still made RC and Diet Rite.
After our dogs in Troy, we headed about 35 minutes south to get to the Dairy Queen in Ghent, NY which was the closest DQ to Lenox. It was the perfect birthday desert. I love DQ and we don’t have any in DC. Perfect way to end the day. But by the time we got back to Lenox, I wanted another one.

Although my birthday felt like a bust at times because of Bennington, if we had only planned to go to the Clark, Famous Lunch, and the DQ, I would have considered it a fantastic day. I guess it is all about setting expectations.

2021 Road Trip : Tanglewood!

The last time I was at an orchestra concert was in Bologna in February 2020 just as Covid-19 was taking hold in Italy. A few weeks later I saw my last opera just days before Washington locked down. We planned to make the Berkshires in western Massachusetts a stop on our trip, but then I discovered that the Tanglewood Festival was actually and the two days I had planned expanded to four.


Tanglewood wasn’t the only reason we wanted to go to the Berkshires (more on that in the next installment), but once I realized I could hear three orchestra concerts and two chamber concerts in a three-day span, it did become a bit of an organizing framework for everything else. For those who may not know, the Tanglewood Festival has its roots in a series of concerts the Boston Symphony Orchestra gave in the Berkshire in August 1936. Not long after, they built the “Shed” that is still used today. And not long after that, the Tanglewood Music Center was created to offer advanced musical study to young musicians, composers, and conductors. Essentially a summer camp for musicians.

Having played such a central role in the lives and careers of so many musicians in the U.S., I’ve read about Tanglewood since I was 18 and plowing my way through musical biographies. The idea of a bunch of musicians hanging out in the idyllic Berkshire Hills with Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Copland was always very compelling for me. And having once sung in the chorus of an outdoor performance Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 with the Minnesota Orchestra and the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, I knew there was something magical about classical music outdoors on a warm summer evening.

We heard two concerts by the BSO and one by the orchestra of TMC Fellows. The first and last concert consisted of a fantastic mix of repertoire including newer pieces by women and composer of color as well as the dead white guys. And then there was one intensely boring all-Brahms concert which solidified my dislike for single-composer concerts as well as a growing disinterest in the orchestral music of Brahms. I should note that the Brahms concert certainly had the crowd excited. As soon as the applause started we headed out and the crowd went crazy the whole time we walked to our car. (For those who care, I will list out the programs we attended at the end of this post.)

The beautiful Berkshire Hills from the grounds of the Tanglewood Music Center. Many parts of the campus were not in use this summer due to Covid, but the essence of the place seemed to be intact.
Our first glimpse of the Shed. Wide open on three sides with wooded slat seats, it definitely felt like summer camp. For our first concert it was lovely and cool with a breeze that had us reaching for our sweaters. A nice change from summer in DC.
No, the audience isn’t ignoring the BSO. This was before the concert with some in the orchestra warming up. The Shed was at about 50% capacity because of Covid. This was kind of fabulous because it meant we had lots of room to spread out, but it also meant that a father and daughter were too far away to be effectively shushed as they talked endessly during the music.
At full capacity the Shed seats about 6,000 with another 18,000 on the lawn. They also have the orchestra on big screens for the lawn dwellers.
One person’s solution to the mosquitos. We only noticed them in Shed at the final concert when there was very little breeze.
Perhaps the most magical concert for me was the chamber concert on Sunday morning. It is free and general admission, so I got there an hour early to make sure I had the seat I wanted. This video gives a good overview of what the Shed looks like. These concerts are performed by the TMC Fellows and are a delight.
Where we spent our time in between concerts.

It is hard to put in to words why Tanglewood was so special. Certainly, some of it had to do with getting to hear live music for the first time in 16 months. But there is something about having crickets accompany the music and the summer air, and the sense of something out of the ordinary that also makes it magical.

For my own satisfaction, I doubt I will ever be a lawn person. Too far removed from the music surrounded by folks that might be more interested in a picnic than the music. (I know that is an overgeneralization, but true enough that it would annoy me.) Even within the Shed, I now know to keep my seat choice in the first two sections. The back section of the Shed was too far removed–the music just sounds too far away.

Concert One

Saturday 8:00 p.m.
Boston Symphony Orchestra
Anna Rakitina, conductor
Jean-Yves Thibaudet, piano

Elena LANGER – Figaro Gets a Divorce, Orchestral Suite
Maurice RAVEL – Piano Concerto in G
Edward ELGAR – Variations on an Original Theme, Enigma

Everything about this concert was a delight. The weather was breezy and cool, it was great to see a female conductor, and the program was great. The Langer piece was fantastic, kind of Bernsteinesque and with a great part for accordion. It’s so nice to hear ‘new’ music that is consonant. I wasn’t a fan of the Ravel previously, but I am now. I’ve heard the Elgar a million times on CD and three times now in concert. I think it gets better every time I hear it.

Concert Two

Sunday 10 a.m.
Tanglewood Music Center Fellows

Benjamin BRITTEN – Russian Funeral Music
Paul TERRACINI – Gegensätze
Max BRUCH – Octet for Strings in B-flat
Johannes BRAHMS – Piano Quartet No. 3 in C minor

As I mentioned earlier, this was a really special experience. I would love to hear more of these chamber concerts. The first two pieces were for brass ensemble. There aren’t that many opportunities to hear this kind of rep, so it was quite nice. I loved the Britten, but I loved the Terracini even more. So much so that I found the need to listen to it a few more times later that day and wrote the Australian composer a fan email. He wrote me back with a link to really great performance of the piece by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. I was surprised how much I liked the Bruch. Normally I find his stuff a bit too virtuosic just for the sake of it. This however, was lovely.

Concert Three

Sunday 2:30 p.m.
Boston Symphony Orchestra
Herbert Blomstedt, conductor
Leonidas Kvakos, violin

Johannes BRAHMS – Violin Concerto in D
Johannes BRAHMS – Symphony No. 4 in E minor

This just wasn’t for me. Too much of one thing, not the biggest fan of Brahms orchestral output, and we were just one click too far back in the Shed. Oh, we also fought sleep like crazy at this time of day. I don’t think I would have enjoyed it more if I had been wider awake, but I sure wanted a hammock during this one. The audience gave a rapturous ovation. Probably because it was Blomstedt and because it was Brahms. Meh.

Concert Four

Monday 8:00 p.m.
Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra
Stefan Asbury, conductor (Dvořák)
TMC Fellow Kevin Fitzgerald (Nabors, Smetana)
TMC Fellow Adam Hickox (Vaughn Williams)

Brian Raphael NABORS – lubilo
Bedřich SMETANA – The High Castle from Má vlast 
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS – Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis
Antonín DVOŘÁK – Symphony No. 7 in D minor

After the Brahms bust the day before, it was nice to get back to a program with more variety. And what a delight it was. Except for three BSO musicians and three “guest” musicians, the TMC orchestra is made up of TMC fellows studying for the summer. The quality of their playing was fantastic. Everything on this program was interesting, it’s hard to pick a favorite. I had a really hard time walking away from this concert. Not only was it our final concert at Tanglewood this season, but it was also the final festival concert at Tanglewood this season. And seeing classical music concerts three days in a row, I had some serious withdrawal in the days that followed. Now that I have finally been to Tanglewood, I will definitely be going back in the future.

2021 Road Trip : On our way

I can’t remember why we opted for a domestic trip for our summer vacation…oh that’s right, Covid. And because we spent 16 months in splendid isolation with the cutest dog on the planet, we decided that maybe we didn’t need two weeks in splendid isolation with Lucy in Maine this summer. Instead we opted for a Northeast road trip like one we took back in 2008 before we were dog parents. After all that time at home shopping online and not really interacting with humans, we thought that something that gave us the chance to be out and about and go antiquing and used bookstore hopping, and restaurant eating, and museum gazing, seemed like just the ticket.

I had meticulously planned and replanned our itinerary until I had something that ticked a lot of boxes.

Washington, DC to Ithaca, NY

When we go on a road trip I can never wait until Saturday morning to pack the car and get going. Originally we were going to head out on Friday after work and spend the night in Harrisburg, PA just so we could be that much closer to our vacation when we woke up on Saturday morning. But then the Boston Symphony Orchestra announced they were going to actually have a Tanglewood season this summer, and I realized we needed to get out butts up to the Berkshires sooner than I had planned. So instead of leaving DC after work on Friday we left at 9:39 AM so we could comfortably drive up to Ithaca to see friends for dinner and stay the night.

The dog we left at home. (Very happy and comfortable with her Aunt Sarah.)
Trunk kit. So much easier to pack than a carry-on. Empty book bag? Check. Silverware in case we get take out food with crappy plasticware? Check. Juicy Fruit, extra masks, measuring tape, headphones, etc.
I am nothing if not organized. I even did turn-by-turn directions for some days so we could take the back roads instead of the way Waze or Google would take us. (And lest you think I am still on vacation, we had to cut the trip short for reasons that will be explained in future posts.)
Always nice to wander around Cornell where I spent two great years in grad school.
The peaceful Cornell Arboretum pond was teeming with turtles.
I was hoping to find more dusty old hard covers of forgotten authors, but had to settle for oldish trade paperbacks. I should say, I wanted the HCs not for the sake of having HCs, but because I was looking titles that hadn’t had a revival.

Next Stop: The Berkshires and Tanglewood

Crunching the Musical Numbers Part II

I love classical music and I love a good spreadsheet. And I can’t wait to hear live music next season. Perhaps not surprisingly, I’ve discovered that most orchestras stuck pretty close to the tried and true for the upcoming season. Instead of leveraging pent up demand and slipping in more new or diverse works, they seem to be dying to trot out the old warhorses after the year without music. But, since I don’t have historical data, I don’t know if that is really the case. What I do know is that the data sure seems to indicate that they are playing it safer than they need to.

The following data is based on published seasons for 19 major U.S. orchestras. If you want to know more about that, click here. Keep in mind that when I talk about a “work”, I’m not talking about a unique work. When it shows below that Beethoven has 77 works programmed, that’s not 77 different works. If you want to read more about the data, click here.

Composer Jessie Montgomery. With 10 works programmed she ties for most works for a woman and most for a composer of color. She also ties for 2nd for American composer and living composer, second only to John Adams.
Warhorses Dominate the Top 42

Since there was an 11-way tie for number 17, I couldn’t cut the list off at 20. And because there was a 15-way tie for number 28, I couldn’t stop at 30, and because there was a 44-way tie for 43, couldn’t stop at 50. So, behold the top 42 works programmed next season. (The first number indicates the number of times programmed.)

Perhaps not surprisingly, but also surprisingly, Samuel Barber is the only American to make it into the top 42. In fact, the top 42 spots representing 233 concert slots are shared by only 18 composers. That’s 21% of 1,105 works. Even if you only wanted to stick to dead Europeans, surely there could be more diversity at the top? Wouldn’t it be more interesting?

If I had pulled the list down to three works programmed, that list of 44 at least gets us five composers who are still alive, not to mention some composers of color and some women. The living, composers of color, and women do fare much better in my break down of composers.

10 – TCHAIKOVSKY Symphony No. 5
08 – BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No. 3
08 – BRAHMS Symphony No. 1
08 – SIBELIUS Symphony No. 5
08 – SIBELIUS Violin Concerto
07 – BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No. 4
07 – BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 5
07 – BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 9
07 – DEBUSSY La mer
07 – PROKOFIEV Symphony No. 5
07 – TCHAIKOVSKY Symphony No. 6
06 – MAHLER Symphony No. 1
06 – RAVEL La valse
06 – RAVEL Piano Concerto in G major
06 – TCHAIKOVSKY Piano Concerto No. 1
05 – BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No. 5
05 – BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 7
05 – BEETHOVEN Violin Concerto
05 – BRAHMS Serenade No. 2
05 – DEBUSSY Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune
05 – Dvořák  Symphony No. 7
05 – Dvořák  Symphony No. 8
05 – Dvořák  Symphony No. 9
05 – NIELSEN Symphony No. 4
05 – RACHMANINOFF Piano Concerto No. 3
05 – RACHMANINOFF Symphonic Dances
05 – RIMSKY-KORSAKOV Scheherazade
05 – SHOSTAKOVICH Symphony No. 10
04 – BARBER Symphony No. 1
04 – BEETHOVEN Leonore Overture No. 3
04 – BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 4
04 – BERLIOZ Symphonie fantastique
04 – BRAHMS Symphony No. 4
04 – Dvořák Symphony No. 6
04 – GRIEG Piano Concerto
04 – MAHLER Symphony No. 4
04 – MENDELSSOHN Violin Concerto
04 – PROKOFIEV Romeo and Juliet Suite
04 – RACHMANINOFF Piano Concerto No. 2
04 – RAVEL Bolero
04 – SHOSTAKOVICH Violin Concerto No. 1
04 – STRAVINSKY Pulcinella Suite

Samuel Barber, the only American in the top 42
If you want to succeed as a composer you need to be dead and European

As with the most programmed works, this list of most programmed composers is not too surprising. Our first American and first living composer clocks in at 14, and our first composers of color and women come in at 10. It is also kind of interesting that it takes until the nine spot for a British composer to appear.

36 – STRAUSS, Richard
33 – RAVEL
29 – Dvořák 
16 – HAYDN
15 – SCHUMANN, Robert
14 – ADAMS, John – first living, first American
12 – Bartók 
10 – ELLINGTON – first composer of color (tie)
10 – MONTGOMERY, Jessie – first woman (tie), first composer of color (tie)
10 – PRICE, Florence – first woman (tie), first composer of color (tie)
09 – ELGAR – first British
09 – STILL, William Grant
09 – WALKER, George
08 – TOWER, Joan

07 – 7 composers
06 – 8 composers
05 – 6 composers
04 – 12 composers
03 – 24 composers
02 – 44 composers
01 – 150 composers

I’ve known the name Joan Tower for many years, but only listened to her for the first time while I was doing all this number crunching. I really like her work and can’t wait to see some live this year.
Composers I’m surprised only have one work programmed

Bernstein, Bizet, Holst, Janáček, Kodály, and Martinů.

Are there only two French composers?

Out of 81 works by French composers programmed, 33 are by Ravel, and 14 are by Debussy. The remaining 34 are shared by 20 others.

Works by composers born after 1960 that are getting the most play

Some of these composers are getting more play than what you see below. These are just the works that are programmed multiple times.

3 – Wynton MARSALIS, Fanfare
3 – Missy MAZZOLI, Sinfonia (for Orbiting Spheres)
3 – Jessie, MONTGOMERY, Banner
3 – Jessie, MONTGOMERY, Strum
3 – Carlos SIMON, Fate Now Conquers
3 – Joel THOMPSON, New Work (assuming these are all the same)
2 – Thomas ADES, Piano Concerto
2 – Kishi BASHI, Improvisations on EO9066 (being improv, not sure if this counts)
2 – Unsuk CHIN, Frontispiece
2 – Unsuk CHIN, Subito con Forza
2 – Anna CLYNE, Sound and Fury
2 – Valerie COLEMAN, Phenomenal Women
2 – Bryce DESSNER, Concerto for Two Pianos
2 – Missy MAZZOLI, Violin Concerto
2 – Brian NABORS, Pulse
2 – Nokuthula NGWENYAMA, Primal Message
2 – Kevin PUTS, The Brightness of Light

Famous Fives

Tchaikovsky x 10
Sibelius x 8
Beethoven x 7
Prokofiev x 7
Shostakovish x 3
Schubert x 2
Dvořák x 1
Mahler x 1
Mendelssohn x 1

Can I see all Mahler symphonies next year?

No. But close.

1 – Atlanta, Boston, Cleveland, Detroit, Pittsburgh, San Francisco
2 – National
3 – Atlanta
4 – Cincinnati, Los Angeles, National, Philadelphia
5 – San Francisco
6 – Seattle
7 – Los Angeles
8 – Minnesota
9 – Minnesota

Das Land ohne Musik?

Out of 51 works (only 4.6% of all works), the list of British composers is dominated by Elgar with nine works, followed by Britten, Anna Clyne, and Coleridge-Taylor with seven works each. With four works Thomas Ades beats out Vaughan Williams who ties with Hannah Kendall with three works. Elgar’s numbers are helped by his two concertos–three cello and two violin. The remaining four pieces are one each of Enigma, Sea Pictures, Serenade, and Symphony No. 1. The tragedy of Vaughan Williams low numbers is made worse by the fact that none of his symphonies are programmed just two Tallis Fantasia and one Lark. He needs a better publicist.

Sibelius gets a workout

Out of the 44 pieces by Finnish composers programmed, 32 of them (73%) are by Sibelius. This is helped out by the fact that the Minnesota Orchestra is having a bit of a Sibelius Festival in January and accounts for 13 of those 32. Saariaho makes a good showing at five works and Salonen comes in at two.

Opera without sets

I kind of like it when orchestras do concert versions of operas. I’m not a big fan of how orchestras sound in the pit. Then tend to come off as tinny. Maybe it’s the scaled down size that contributes to this. But up on stage with a full symphony orchestra? Better eat your Wheaties singers.

BEETHOVEN, Fidelio – Los Angeles Philharmonic
BERG, Wozzeck – Boston Symphony Orchestra
STRAVINSKY, Oedipus Rex – San Francisco Symphony
TCHAIKOVSKY, Eugene Onegin (complete) – Dallas Symphony Orchestra
VERDI, Aida (Act III) – Atlanta Symphony Orchestra
VERDI, Otello (complete) – Cleveland Orchestra
VERDI, Requiem – Seattle Symphony (I mean c’mon, how is it not an opera?)
WAGNER, Die Walküre (final scene) – Baltimore Symphony Orchestra

Works I’m looking forward to most

These are the pieces that I am highly likely to hear next season that I am most excited about. In some cases it is purely about the work, in other cases it is the combo of the work and orchestra. (In alphabetical order by composer.)

Samuel BARBER, Toccata Festiva – Cleveland Orchestra
Ludwig von BEETHOVEN – Symphony No. 3 – Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra
Benjamin BRITTEN, Violin Concerto, National Symphony Orchestra
Anna CLYNE, Sound and Fury – San Francisco Symphony
Bryce DESSNER, Concerto for Two Pianos – National Symphony Orchestra
Charles IVES, From the Steeples and the Mountains – Cleveland Orchestra
Wynton MARSALIS, Violin Concerto – Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Jessie MONTGOMERY, Shift, Change, Turn and Variations – Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra
Arvo PART, Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten – National Symphony Orchestra
Charles RUGGLES, Angels – National Symphony Orchestra
Dimitri SHOSTAKOVICH – Symphony No. 15 – Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Gabriela SMITH, Organ Concerto – Los Angeles Philharmonic
William Grant STILL, Patterns – San Francisco Symphony
Richard STRAUSS – Also Sprach Zarathustra – Los Angeles Philharmonic
Joan TOWER – Cello Concerto – National Symphony Orchestra

These aren’t the only things I am hearing next season. Just the ones I am most looking forward to. If I made a wish list of concerts I would love to travel to but probably won’t be able to, that would be a whole ‘nother ballgame as they say.

Crunching the Musical Numbers

Gemma New
One of the increasing number of women guest conducting US orchestras

As we have been emerging from Covid lockdown, one of the things I have been most interested in is what kind of classical music options I will have next season (Fall ’21 to Spring ’22). Even prior to Covid, I eagerly awaited spring when orchestras published their upcoming seasons. I’d start a spreadsheet with possible concerts to go to, both here in DC and around the country.

Pent Up Demand

Not having been to a live performance since March 2020 had me particularly eager to see what we might hope for in the 2021-22 season. Not surprisingly, most orchestras were much later in publishing their seasons this spring with a few pushing it well into July (hence the lateness of this post).


When the schedules first started coming out I stuck to my usual list of orchestras I would travel for. But as I started to make my spreadsheet, I became more and more curious about programming decisions. On the one hand, the repertoire seemed far more diverse in terms of age, ethnicity, and gender. On the other hand, the old warhorses seemed to be out in force. And while curiosity may not always kill the cat, it can lead one into a data entry loop that hovers on the edge of ridiculous. And since I wanted to see if my perceptions were borne out by the data I decided to go for it.

Building the list

I thought the analysis would be more interesting and more meaningful if I extended it to include enough orchestras so that I could reasonably say things like “Among major US orchestras…”

Although I wasn’t scientific about deciding which orchestras made the list, I’m fairly confident that my choices would stand up to just about any metric you cared to apply to make such a list. For better or worse, this is the list I came up with (in alphabetical order):

  • Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (Robert Spano, American)
  • Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (Marin Alsop, American)
  • Boston Symphony Orchestra (Andris Nelsons, Latvian)
  • Chicago Symphony Orchestra (Riccardo Muti, Italian)
  • Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (Louis Langrée, French)
  • Cleveland Orchestra (Franz Wesler-Möst, Austrian)
  • Dallas Symphony Orchestra (Fabio Luisi, Italian)
  • Detroit Symphony Orchestra (Jader Bignamini, Italian)
  • Los Angeles Philharmonic (Gustavo Dudamel, Venezuelan)
  • Minnesota Orchestra (Osmo Vänskä, Finnish)
  • Nashville Symphony (Giancarlo Guerrero, Costa Rican)
  • National Symphony Orchestra (Gianandrea Noseda, Italian)
  • New York Philharmonic (Jaap van Zweden, Dutch)
  • Philadelphia Orchestra (Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Canadian)
  • Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (Manfred Honeck, Austrian)
  • St. Louis Symphony Orchestra (Stéphane Denève, French)
  • St. Paul Chamber Orchestra (Various Artistic Partners)
  • San Francisco Symphony Orchestra (Esa-Pekka Salonen, Finnish)
  • Seattle Symphony (Thomas Dausgaard, Danish)

I’m a little biased to include the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra on this list since it isn’t a symphony orchestra like all the others, but their seasons, their audiences, and their hall, all stand up to the big boys. Plus I love going back to Minnesota to hear them and the Minnesota Orchestra in the same weekend, so of course I’m going to include the SPCO in my spreadsheet.

I should also note that Chicago, Philadelphia and St. Louis only published half seasons.

What’s in a Music Director?

You can see from the list above that music directors (or equivalent) are very white and very male. It’s particularly disheartening to see American orchestras not trust homegrown talent with the baton. Even more disheartening is that after this next season none of these orchestras will be headed by a woman. (As I’ve tweeted previously, I hope the Minnesota Orchestra can see their way to hiring a woman to replace Vänskä.)

What I mean when I say diversity

Although increasing representation of women and people of color is something I would like to see as a matter of equity and inclusion, my interests in diversity have much more to do with not wanting to be bored. When I see nothing but European chestnuts on concert programs I sometimes have a hard time getting excited enough to buy tickets, let alone put clothes on and make it to the concert hall. Don’t get me wrong, I love the European chestnuts, but there is so, so much room to include other pieces that don’t fall into that category. I know, the chestnuts sell tickets for most everybody else, but good God I know orchestras are capable of slipping more into that diet. Even within the reliance on European composers there is room for more diversity. Just think of all those European composers that can’t get any air because we seem to need 47 Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 5s. I don’t really cover that kind of diversity in this post–I will have much more to say on that front when I take a deeper dive into specific repertoire in the coming weeks.

General Comments on My Data

General Disclaimer: I strove for accuracy, but I also made lots of judgement calls about just about every category of data. The result is that the overall picture I paint is correct, but no one should use these numbers to do anything official.

Source: I looked at whatever information was available on each orchestra’s website. Some made it really easy with all information in one scrollable page or document. Others made it hard, making me click on multiple buttons to see what was on each concert. Others made it even harder by making me go through multiple subscription packages to make sure all concerts were accounted for.

By the numbers: I looked at 19 different orchestras who will be playing a total of 1,105 works next season. Bear in mind, these are not 1,105 unique works and there are many duplicates. In fact, the duplication is one of the things I was interested in exploring.

What kind of concerts I included: For the most part I only included concerts that were a part of subscription seasons, although one or two others may have slipped through. I did not include any pops or holiday concerts, recitals, chamber concerts by members of the orchestra. I also skipped any concert with artists where the programs were either TBA or some sort of improv/collaboration.

Some of you will hate me for not including conductors and artists: I wish my data included conductor and artist information for each program, but I had to draw the line somewhere when doing the data entry and that seemed like a bridge too far. There certainly seem to be more female guest conductors than ever before but that won’t show in my data. The only instance where a guest conductor seemed to have a noticeable impact on the data was Herbert Blomstedt who is going on a bit of a mini-tour with Nielsen 4 and Beethoven 5 in at least three cities. After I started seeing duplicates of certain concertos (I just can’t use concerti in English) I took a peek to see if artists were driving the duplication, but from what I could see, artists are not one-trick ponies.

Analysis is based on number of works, not minutes on stage: I’ve based all my analysis on number of works, not amount of stage time. This means that all data about new music, music by women composers, and music by minority composers has to be taken with a grain of salt. In terms of minutes on stage, the old white boys are getting even more exposure than the numbers below will suggest. I didn’t keep track of length of pieces, but I did keep track of concert program order, which is pretty good approximation for piece length for concerts in the U.S.


Not surprisingly, 72% of works programmed by 19 major U.S. orchestras (see I told you I wanted to say that) are by composers identified as European. Out of the remaining 28%, about 23% are works by U.S. American composers, which leaves only 5% for the rest of the world. Perhaps more interesting than this rather crude breakdown, is the list that follows.

In total 33 countries were represented. Some judgement calls had to be made when it came to a composer’s nationality. In general I called them whatever Wikipedia called them with a few adjustments to suit myself (e.g., Percy Grainger = British, Handel = German).

For anyone who pays attention to orchestral music, this list won’t be remotely surprising. On the spectrum between old world fetishists and new world evangelists, I am somewhere in the middle. I do think, however, that the second two columns of this table are a bit tragic. Do we really believe that none of those countries deserve at least 1% of the programming pie– not to mention countries that aren’t represented?

American Heroes (and Zeros)

It is nice to see that a decent amount of U.S. American music is being programmed. Given the dearth of American music directors, I’m actually kind of chuffed that we see as much American programming as we do. Age of music director seems to be more of an indicator than nationality when it comes to programming American music. The top five orchestras have an average music director age of 50 years old, while the bottom five have an average age of 62.6. But that doesn’t explain why Andris Nelsons (42) in Boston was worse than Riccardo Muti (79) in Chicago.

Philadelphia’s fantastically strong showing in this category might be skewed by the fact that they only published a half season. But look at Seattle, with a full season published nipping at Philly’s heels. I must admit, I was a bit disappointed that Minnesota’s number was so low. I wonder if it was always this low during Vänskä’s tenure. As much as I like him, I hope his replacement plays and records, not only more American music, but more eclectic repertoire in general. So much great under-recorded music to explore. Given their discography on Naxos, I’m not surprised that Nashville is as close to the top as it is. I wonder if St. Louis’s strong showing is still part of Leonard Slatkin’s legacy there? I’m a little surprised that Baltimore is as far down the list as it is–Marin Alsop always seems like a champion of American music to me. And what in the hell is up with Pittsburgh? Yikes.

Breakthrough for Diversity?

This is the point where my OCD kicks in and I want to get historical data for all the same orchestras so I can see just how much (or little) progress has been made in programming works by diverse composers. But I do have a day job and a husband and other interests so I am going to try and avoid falling down that rabbit hole.

I find it very interesting to see the most programmed composers of color are a real mix of the new and the historic.

You’ll see that Philadelphia maintains the top spot for both works by Americans and works by composers of color. Yannick Nézet-Séguin seems to be steering Philadelphia in interesting ways. You’ll also note that other fine Pennsylvania orchestra, is at the bottom of the list in both these categories. What is Manfred Honeck up to in Pittsburgh? It certainly is nice to see Minnesota redeem itself a bit with composers of color since they fared so poorly in the American music category.

Women are inching forward

And once again Philadelphia takes the top spot, Pittsburgh manages to move itself out of bottom place, and New York finally starts to look less backward than it does in the first two categories. Not only is Minnesota starting to look bad again, but a whole bunch of orchestras plunge down below 10%. Detroit’s leadership in American music and music by composers of colors fades quite a bit when it comes to women. The penises in charge need to step up their game or step aside.

So who has the most diverse Program for next Season?

You will notice in the table below I have two additional categories by which I have gauged diversity.

Works by non-European and non-USA composers: If you pop back up towards the top of his post you will see how U.S.- and Euro-centric next season is. Only Los Angeles and San Francisco manage to get above the 10% mark. Minnesota finally manages a respectable place in the diversity stakes. And Pittsburgh, that denizen of the bottom of my lists, manages to fly up to fifth place. And, hello, what’s that, look at diversity stalwarts Philadelphia and Detroit tie for last place for zero, nil, nada, in this category.

Composers born 1960 or later: I wasn’t about to look up the publish dates for every piece of music being played next year, but I did want to have some sort of metric that would capture “new” music, so I decided to go with composer’s year of birth. Being born in 1969, I didn’t want to include any composers who were too much older than me. If you think about the fact the youngest composer programmed next season was born in 2000 (Tyson Davis with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra in September), 1960 seems a bit like ancient history. But they wouldn’t have published until the mid-1970s at the earliest so that seems less ancient. Incidentally, the SPCO also has the oldest composer programmed (William Lawes born in 1602). That’s over 400 years of rep.

So who wins?

When you average out these five categories, it’s not surprising that Philadelphia took the top spot. Even with a whopping zero in the non-Euro/US category, their strong showing in the first three categories made them hard to beat. As I mentioned earlier, they only published a half season so who knows if they will keep up the good work in the Spring. They are a reasonable distance from DC. I will have to see what I can get to in the Fall.

Yannick Nézet-Séguin doing something right in Philly.
(Photo: Tom Gralish/Philadelphia Inquirer)

The lovely St. Paul Chamber Orchestra comes in at number two. Couldn’t happen to a more interesting band. When I lived in (and near) the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul for about 10 concert-going years, I didn’t bother much with the SPCO. I equated them with music of a vintage earlier than I typically enjoy. These were the Christopher Hogwood, Hugh Wolfe days, so maybe they were less adventurous in the old days. All I know is that I rediscovered them about four years ago when I booked a double header on a weekend trip back to Minnesota, with the Minnesota Orchestra on one night and the SPCO on another. Besides being blown away by their new purpose-built concert hall, I was also blown away by the SPCO’s repertoire. In one concert we got Barber’s Knoxville, Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5, and Terry Riley’s In C. Excuse my French, but it was fucking fantastic. I soon made additional trips for things like Lembit Beecher’s Conference of the Birds, Schoenberg, Vaughan Williams, Dvorak, Gounod, and others. It must be the fact that the group is more democratic than any symphonic orchestra and has what they call artistic partner’s instead of a single music director. I really urge you to try a classical double header in the Twin Cities some time. Even though Minnesota didn’t do so hot on the diversity front for next season, they are such a good orchestra and hearing them in the same weekend as the highly engaging SPCO is well worth the trip. Just make sure they are playing at their Ordway Concert Hall. They have lots of other interesting venues in which they regularly play, but the hall is so perfect for them.

The SPCO in their purpose-built hall. (Photo: Nate Ryan/MPR)

The rest of the top five are not so surprising either. The Los Angeles Philharmonic has the young and energetic Gustavo Dudamel keeping it young and energetic. St. Louis has something (the Slatkin legacy I suggested earlier?) going on that is good, and Seattle always seems to be happy to not be like every other orchestra.

But what the hell is up with the rest of the “Big 5”? Although Philly tops the list, the other four didn’t even make it into the top ten. Out of these, New York came in at 11, Chicago at 15, Cleveland at 16, and Boston at an abysmal 18. Cleveland has the smallest concert going population base, I can kind of forgive them (although St. Louis and Nashville are probably in similar situations and that doesn’t stop them). All of them have so much cachet it is hard to believe they are so incapable of leading their audiences down more interesting paths. Is it their need to have old white Europeans at their helms that causes them such programming perplexities? Are they so far up their own prestigious butts that they don’t see the world moving on? I know that doesn’t entirely explain it, but I think it really is time to let some light in at the top.

Next Time

Although this was super fun and hopefully interesting for you, I’ve very excited for my next (and probably final) installment where I am going to dive deep into specific repertoire.

Things like: Whose 5th is getting played the most next year?

And: Does France only have two composers?

And: Can I see all 10 Mahler symphonies next year in the US?

Somewhere between tedium and rage

I love the novels of Barbara Pym immensely. Barbara Pym could make mundane things endlessly fascinating. The author of this bio could not. It was rather a bit of a snooze.

The ‘Miss Pym’ construction was used far too frequently and was cutesy in a way that diminishes the subject. From the title, to the text, to chapter titles, to photo captions. It was too much.

That Pym had Nazi sympathies is a fact that the author justly writes about. However, the way she writes about Pym’s Nazi boyfriend and her infatuation with Nazi Germany was also a little too cute and casual than is seemly in the 21st century.

“Pym was mesmerized by the handsome blackshirt…” Not sure that adjective is called for unless clearly qualified as being Pym’s perception, which is borne out by the block quote that follows it. Why did Byrne call him handsome?

“Barbara was…swept up in the excitement of the Third Reich…” Maybe swap out excitement for propaganda.

A chapter title: “In which Fraulein Pym falls for a Handsome Nazi” Perhaps the author doesn’t need to excoriate Pym on every page for being a Nazi sympathizer, but she also doesn’t have to make light of it either.

“It was a spectacular event, the Nazi Party had pulled out all the stops.” Did they really Paula? We must find out who their party planner is.

Another chapter title: “In which our Heroine goes to Germany for the third time and sleeps with her Nazi” Oh how cute! He’s her Nazi.

And then in describing the douchebaggery of Pym’s English love interests Byrne writes this: “…she was headed back to Germany, where she was sure of receiving better treatment at the hands of her blackshirt boyfriend.” Really?

When it comes to Pym’s penchant for falling in love with gay men, I don’t know how annoyed I should be with Pym or with Byrne for making it seem like Pym’s driving force was simply to move from one infatuation to another. I’d like to think that Pym had more going on in her life than just that. Maybe it was the author’s over reliance on personal journals that makes Pym seem like an emotional simpleton who couldn’t pass the Bechdel Test if her life depended on it.

Pym’s life was Pym’s life, if that’s who she was, so be it. But Byrne’s way of writing about ‘homosexuals’ got to be annoying in the extreme. Try this one: “She was especially interested in his homosexual relationship with Eric Oliver.” Guess what Miss Byrne, it’s just a relationship. Maybe you meant to say romantic or sexual or something else. Pym can use antiquated language, she’s dead, and she wrote those lines 60 years ago. But Byrne is only two years older than I am. Too young to be that oblivious. You’d think she was 107.

I will end this where I started it, Pym’s bio didn’t have to be this boring.