As an admirer of both George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra, I eagerly awaited publication of this new book by Marcia Hansen Kraus It does not disappoint.
George Szell is quite unique, in that he was both one of the truly great conductors of the 20th century and possibly the greatest orchestra builder of that century transforming the Cleveland Orchestra from an essentially regional institution into one that was the equal of any in the world That this was accomplished on budgets that were far smaller those of other leading U.
S orchestras, and in an industrial city in the U.
S mid west with little pre existing cultural cachet , borders on the miraculous.
The fact that this orchestra retains a lofty global stature nearly half a century after Szell s death is a tribute not only to the ongoing commitment of Cleveland s musical community, but also to the enduring strength of the foundation that Szell set down To the present day, the Cleveland Orchestra plays like a super chamber ensemble , very much in keeping with Szell s vision for his orchestra This is especially evident when hearing the orchestra in concert.
Kraus s entry is a significant and welcome addition to the Szell Cleveland literature The spouse of the late Cleveland Orchestra oboist Felix Kraus who served for 7 years under Szell Kraus delivers a very well written, entertaining and convincing portrait of Szell from a working musicians perspective.
Kraus brings to her book a definite point of view, doubtless informed and influenced by the experiences of her husband as a player under Szell She does not, however, leave this reader with the impression of an agenda or any particular axe to grind, apart from expressing and expounding upon her obvious admiration of Szell s artistry and achievements in Cleveland.
I see on this website some critiques of Kraus s book, in matters of accuracy or fairness Having no personal connection to any of the principals but having read quite widely on most the subjects covered in Kraus s book these criticisms strike me as at least somewhat misplaced, if undoubtedly sincere What should be remembered is that Kraus s book provides the perspectives of a sample of players from the dwindling ranks of living Szell era Cleveland Orchestra musicians It does not purport to be a comprehensive biography, with all the additional obligations to balance that would imply Nevertheless, judging by her extensive endnotes, it seems to this reader that Kraus has made a good faith effort to draw upon available written sources of information, as complements to her own interviews with Cleveland Orchestra alumni.
With specific reference to principal oboist Marc Lifschey whose dramatic departure from the orchestra in 1965 is covered in this book I do not see Kraus s account as unfair or inconsistent with other accounts Kraus does, however, shed additional light on the effects which Lifschey s often difficult relationship with Szell had on at least some other players in the orchestra As in other accounts, Lifschey emerges from Kraus s book as a uniquely gifted musician and possibly the most important player in the orchestra Szell certainly seemed to think so but not always a team player in the Szell Cleveland mold The fact that Szell accommodated Lifschey s independent streak for so long speaks to his exceptionally high regard for Lifschey as an artist a regard which Kraus makes very clear in her book.
Ingeneral terms, what emerges most strongly from this book is Szell s profound and abiding sense of duty to both the great composers and to his Cleveland Orchestra musicians at least to those musicians who shared and met Szell s musical standards, his vision, and his sense of commitment.
Kraus paints a portrait of a conductor doing his best, within the realm of the possible, to improve economic conditions for his musicians She also provides many examples of Szell s concern for the well being of his players in non material matters, even if his methods driven by an apparent psychological need for control sometimes got in the way of his objectives These anecdotes are often funny, and sometimes quite touching.
Through her account, Kraus has added appreciably to my understanding of Szell, as both artist and human being his warts, insecurities, and obsessions, as well as his finer and nobler qualities, all of which found expression in the extraordinary music he made with his Cleveland Orchestra musicians After reading her book, I have a better understanding of how the Cleveland Orchestra came to be as Szell promised at the outset of his tenure second to none , and why many recordings from the Szell Cleveland partnership will be listened to, and treasured, by music lovers down the centuries.
This is a fairly short book, but an important one I am grateful to the author for her efforts in bringing this account of George Szell s Reign into print.
This week marks the 17th anniversary of his death, and surely the negative gossip andreports of his behavior pale in comparison to his musical legacy.