So here's to the girls on the go -
Look into their eyes
And you'll see what they know:
A toast to that invincible bunch,
The dinosaurs surviving the crunch -
Let's hear it for the ladies who lunch!
Everybody rise! Rise!
Rise! Rise! Rise! Rise! Rise! Rise! Rise!
Sondheim composed that mighty song in Company for Elaine Stritch, specifically for her 'acerbic delivery of self-assessment', just as he wrote Gypsy's 'Everything's Coming Up Roses' for Ethel Merman and A Little Night Music's eleven-o-clock number 'Send in the Clowns' for the inimitable short-windedness of Glynis Johns. I posted one of Lainey's many versions of 'The Ladies Who Lunch' back in 2010 here.
Now Stritch has joined Ethel in a heavenly Broadway, having lived to the age of 89 still a trouper despite four decades of heavy drinking and the rest living with diabetes. David Benedict has written a wonderful reminiscence of significant meetings with this straight-talking dame on The Arts Desk, and I hope others will come up with their Stritchstories too. But no obituary is going to match the life history, at least up to 2002, of the one-woman show Elaine Stritch At Liberty, which I count myself hugely fortunate to have seen at the Old Vic. Nothing, I think, can beat the work you have to do to visualise and keep up with her on the two-CD set of that event, so having said, buy it, I shoot myself in the foot by putting up the entire film as it appears on YouTube.
One bonus of the CD set is John Lahr's brilliant essay about working on a show which ended up 'Constructed by John Lahr, Reconstructed by Elaine Stritch' (we both laughed out loud at what he reports she said to him when he handed her an autographed copy of one of his books: 'John, you gotta stop givin' me these books with your signature. I can't give 'em away'). I think he sums it all up when he writes: 'By revealing conflict, failure, and the emotional price of Broadway survival, the show could generate that ozone of anger and anxiety which is, finally, the Stritch climate'.
Yet let's not forget the laughs won by perfect timing, the impeccable cadencing of a very distinctive language. She's irreplaceable, but we will continue to rise for this very human legend. To complete the Liberty life story with a perfect epilogue offering some overlap, it's vital to watch this New York Times film. Only Stritch, perhaps, could back up her thoughts on the possibility of an afterlife with lines from The Sound of Music's 'Something Good'.
The other big death this week left me oddly unmoved: could I honestly recall any concert of Lorin Maazel's which has stayed with me, or even - despite praise for his early Sibelius and Tchaikovsky - any one recording? Well, maybe the Teatro alla Scala performance I saw of Puccini's La fanciulla del West, when I found him in enthusiastic mode for the interview (for Manon Lescaut the following year he was just jaded and downright rude). When J told me the news of his death, my first thought was, phew, didn't write the Guardian obit, won't have to update - and then a lady from the obits desk rang and asked me to do just that; I'd completely forgotten. So I added a paragraph and the results are here.
Would I have forgotten the labours of love for Mackerras or Abbado? I hope not. I happened to be in Berlin in June en route for Dresden, catching an all-Strauss concert for which, I must be honest, I was pleased to find Semyon Bychkov had replaced him (with a better programme, too - out with the tacky music-minus-three Rosenkavalier Suite, in with an ineffable Schubert Nine). It was a beautiful summer evening with the moon rising over the Scharoun-designed Philharmonie in the interval.
I come to love the building, especially its foyers and auditorium, the more I visit it.
Inside the first face to greet me was Abbado's: nowhere except perhaps Lucerne reveres his memory more than the Berlin Phil, so this little exhibition of some wonderful photos
and many of his best musical observations held pride of place.
A shame there's no English tome on him comparable to the several in German and Italian. Give it time.
On which note, I turn sourly to a conductor who could sometimes be almost as great in performance as Abbado - possibly still can be - but whose pact with the Putin devil must surely end his career in the west. If anyone still has any doubts about the unworkability of Valery Gergiev conducting the World Orchestra for Peace at the Proms this evening - performances in Aix and Munich have already been cancelled - watch this interview in English by a Helsinki journalist (a minute or so of Finnish precedes it). My thanks to 'Boulezian' Mark Berry for drawing my attention to it.
If you can't be bothered to sit through the rather grim spectacle, I've jotted down a few choice phrases: [Eastern Ukraine] 'is not a problem of Russia - Ukrainian people kill each other'. On Crimea: 'it was not annexation, people were voting to leave Ukraine. There were too many Nazi elements...Those who killed so many people in Kiev and burnt so many people in Odessa, the east calls them Fascists, we don't want to stay with the Fascists.' Mattila, who stated that she would not work with Gergiev again, 'doesn't understand anything in politics, she has absolutely no idea what is happening in Ukraine...how she will look into the eyes of mothers who had children killed - there are many children killed'.
He is entitled to believe all this if he wants - though of course war quickly spawns atrocity on both sides, and no doubt there are refugees pouring into Russia - and if there were no political or humanitarian aspect to his work, we could note it and move on. But following his unequivocal support of Putin's re-election campaign and his jumping to be included on a list of signatures approving the Crimean occupation, a slightly more objective stance than this would be needed to justify his post at the head of a 'Peace' Orchestra (which has suffered already from scandals of funding in the recent past). I state this here because the driving force of The Arts Desk thinks I just want to 'pick a fight' with a conductor I used to respect, and always enjoyed meeting. So no more space to sound off there. (Update, Monday: photo by Chris Christodoulou from last night. No kerfuffles have been reported so far, more shame on the British public).
I do think a valid comparison is to be made with Vladimir Jurowski. No, he isn't living in Russia and he doesn't have to work with the regime. But it was still courageous of him to address a Moscow audience back in May about the gay aspect of Britten's War Requiem, how Britten and Pears were officially criminals for many years, how even Wilfred Owen was gay. No doubt which of those two conductors these two composers, snapped after a Moscow Conservatory performance of Britten's works in 1966, would applaud. One only has to remember Shostakovich's setting of Yevtushenko's 'A Career' at the end of his Thirteenth Symphony to know what he might be thinking of Gergiev were he still alive.
My thanks to Gavin Dixon for drawing my attention to the film of Jurowski's speech (in Russian, linked on Gavin's blog entry), and also most recently for a description of a Socialist-Realist style reworking of a dodgy opera as Crimea in St Petersburg, which would be funny if it weren't so ominous a sign of history repeating itself.
On a less heinous scale, Long Yu, the conductor of last night's China Philharmonic Prom which I didn't hear, is a party apparatchik who even if he were a decent conductor already holds more prominent posts than is healthy for a man in his position. That he's atrociously poor I can attest from the worst conducted performance I've ever heard, a spectacularly testudinal Elgar Cockaigne Overture with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. I have it from the horse's mouth that the players themselves stopped the whole thing falling apart as early as the tenuto in the second full bar. The orchestra petitioned their general manager to make sure they never worked with him again, but he said he couldn't guarantee it where big bucks from China were concerned.
Heigh ho, things at the Proms, which began well enough on Friday night, should start looking up again from tomorrow onwards. On Tuesday I'll be chatting with Sara Mohr-Pietsch and Hugo Shirley in the Proms Plus Intro, 4.45pm at the Royal College of Music down the steps from the Albert Hall, before Glyndebourne presents its Rosenkavalier semi-staged to the South Ken colosseum (I doubt if Richard Jones will have much to do with it; he was disappointed in what he felt were the singers overdoing his WNO Meistersinger at the Proms). I postponed a work trip to Italy by a day in order to take part, and much as I keep moaning that the Proms should have done Strauss proud with more arcane semi-staged operas like the fabulous Feuersnot, of course I'm pleased to be able to hear Rosenkavalier live for a fourth time this year.