Vienna Philharmonic to Bring Maazel’s 70-Minute 'Ring' to Carnegie Hall

Thursday, March 01, 2012 - 12:04 PM

Lorin Maazel Lorin Maazel (Chris Lee)

Plenty of conductors lead concert programs featuring the standard orchestral excerpts from Wagner's Ring Cycle but Lorin Maazel went a good deal further with his symphonic synthesis “The Ring Without Words.”

Maazel assembled a 70-minute distillation of Wagner's four-opera, 17-hour cycle at the request of Telarc Records, which recorded it in 1987 with the conductor and the Berlin Philharmonic. It has since taken on a life of its own, and Maazel has performed it in New York with the Pittsburgh Symphony (in 1990) and the New York Philharmonic (during his days as music director, in 2000 and 2008). He’ll conduct it again on Saturday at 8 pm with the Vienna Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall, which WQXR will broadcast live. (The program also features Mozart's Symphony No. 40.)

In his notes for the recording, Maazel expressed the hope that his labors might “bring some of the magic of this monumental work a mite closer…to a new audience of music-sensitive people.” Certainly, removing the vocal parts from Wagner is asking for a fight and some listeners have taken issue with Maazel’s “cut and paste” approach. Still, the former New York Times classical music critic Donal Henahan took a less purist view in 1990, arguing that “there is good musical logic for preferring such a treatment over the ill-assorted chunks of Wagner that make up most orchestral programs.”

“The Ring Without Words” is also a fantastic playground for a virtuoso orchestra, and this is where the Vienna Philharmonic comes into the picture. This group has a 170-year heritage and an intimate association with some of classical music's most revered repertoire. Tradition is serious business in the orchestra. It has one of the world's most glorious musical homes -- the gilded Musikverein in the Austrian capital. The orchestra takes no chances with its distinctively warm sound, going so far as to have extra violins hanging on some stands, just in case a string breaks.

The self-governing ensemble's supposed stubbornness in maintaining an unbroken link with its history has also focused attention on its hiring policies over the years. In 1997, after international protests and negative media coverage, the orchestra ended its policy of excluding women from its ranks. The orchestra’s critics and its supporters continue to debate whether equality has since been achieved quickly enough, a complex issue that can’t be given due justice in this space. (For those keeping score, of 130 members of the Vienna Philharmonic, the orchestra says there are currently eight women, six of whom are permanent members, and two of whom are in a probationary hiring period.)

If one thing is for certain, Vienna continues to promote its brand around the globe, touring this season on four continents (plus a summer cruise in the Baltic Sea), and broadcasting its famous New Year's Concert in over 70 countries. This week, Sony announced that the concert’s recording has sold over 150,000 copies, going double platinum in Austria and hitting the pop charts in France. Not too many other orchestras can enjoy such claims.

Watch an excerpt from "The Ring Without Words" and tell us what you think in the comments below:


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Comments [11]

Sig Rosen

Repeating my comment to programming:

You play too much Wagner. It's one thing to go and spend your resources to go after him if that's your thing, after all, folks need their gigs, but to squander your precious air-time on his bombast just because of his rich heirs is an imposition to many of us, when there are so many more worthies without hearings.
Please , rachmanus.

Mar. 06 2012 04:17 PM

As a great fan of the Vienna Philharmonic I "tuned in" to the WQXR live stream on the internet to listen to the concert.

I was extremely disappointed with the poor quality of the audio which sounded more like an AM radio broadcast than
the decent quality I expect from WQXR, as evidenced in the preceeding live broadcast of AIDA from the Met.

I wonder what is causing the low quality of the stream? Is it a technical issue at the venue, i.e. less than optimum placement
of the microphones or poor choice of the codec used?

I regularly listen to the live broadcasts of the Berlin Philharmonic over the internet. Transmitted in a 320 kbps stream,
it has a very decent quality when played through my Martin Logan electrostatic speakers ( which are very revealing of
any artifacts in the audio stream).

Mar. 04 2012 01:12 PM
RP from New York City

I have often spent summers in rehearsals and performances at the Wagner Music Festivals in Bayreuth, as well as years with Maazel in Munich with the Sinfonieorcheser des Bayrischen Rundfunks, and all of his years with The New York Philharmonic, so I have some idea of how Wagner is supposed to sound. I must say I was dreadfully disappointed with this most boring evening at Carnegie Hall. Sadly the audience has been taught when to applaud, so they do even when they have no idea whether what they are applauding is mediocre or wonderful. Since they assume it must be wonderful, they applaud. What a disappointment this evening was in comparison with the absolute perfection of Sir Simon Rattle's evening with the Berlin Philharmonic last week.

Mar. 03 2012 11:23 PM

I was fortunate to see a few of Russell's farewell concerts. She sometimes sounds better than certain singers of Wagner we have today. Al least she knew the material thru & thru.

Mar. 03 2012 12:49 PM
Teddy from Manhattan NYC

I never heard of this, but, to me Wagner music with out words, reminds me my childhood watching cartoons, lot's of then have the Ride of the Walkure,neverthelesss. I'll listen to it tough. I'm a hard die fan of the voice. You'll never know right?

Mar. 03 2012 12:43 PM

What's old is new again. Did anyone have the Stokowski Ring highlights with some vocals including a fantastic Wotan's Abschied sung by LAWRENCE TIBBETT?? !!! It was recorded between 1933-34 with one exerpt from 1927 with Agnes Davies & Frederick Jagel. Now that's great music. But Wagner without words has been around for years. It serves a purpose ONLY if it draws the listener to the real thing. (and not necessarily the Met's current Ring).

Mar. 02 2012 06:55 PM

Anna Russell! Anna Russell! Yes! A reference to one of the greatest Wagnerians ever. This has made my day. I've only heard her recordings, I never saw her live in performance, but I heard her Ring Cycle 'narrative' from LP's and CD's. She ranks right up there Birgit Nilsson, Helen Traubel and Kirsten Flagstad. "I'm not making this up, you know!"

Mar. 02 2012 01:01 PM
Michael Meltzer

With music, the more words needed to explain it, the more pessimistic the outlook. But, here's hoping!

Mar. 02 2012 03:17 AM
Shepsl Topaz from Jackson Hts., NY

Obviously Brian Wise never heard Anna Russell's Ring Cycle -- the real shortest on record. Not a tasteless pastiche, but a 25-minute or so true distillation -- complete with Ms. Russell's expertly-played piano reduction (completely from memory), singing key parts, no matter the voice range. Her Rhine Maidens warbled, her Faffner menaced. A wonderful musician and superb humorist, she delivered the salient points with wit, bravado, and musicianship. Hers was a true Wagnerian appreciation lesson, not a pastiche. And I loved her punch line: "And do you know, after 20 hours ... you're right back where you started!"

Mar. 01 2012 10:29 PM
Carl Schwartz from Paterson, New Jersey

I won't be listening to this--I heard it already as Maazel's try-out piece with the New York Philharmonic. I found it a distasteful pastiche, and hoped the Philharmonic wouldn't hire Maazel. Unfortunately, they did, and I was tempted to discontinue a 50+ year subscription because of butchered music, especially a Mahler's Seventh that caused me and my spouse to boo.

Mar. 01 2012 05:41 PM

I will stay on topic, be civil, and be brief.


Mar. 01 2012 03:58 PM

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