Friday, December 11, 2009

What Alec Baldwin Brings to the New York Philharmonic

It had to happen sooner or later. Today's Web edition of The New York Times has a piece by Daniel Wakin that will appear in the Arts and Leisure Section of this Sunday's paper edition. The subject is Alec Baldwin in his new role as the official announcer of the New York Philharmonic’s weekly radio broadcasts. On the surface this would seem like a follow-up to Wakin's piece last month about Gustavo Dudamel and the question of whether or not "we need glitz to save classical music." Those familiar with Baldwin's career might think that this was just a salvo from the New York Philharmonic in a Glitzkrieg waged against Los Angeles; and those who only know him by his 30 Rock persona would probably flash back to Andy Garcia having been drafted to host Dudamel's opening night with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and looking uncomfortably bored during an intermission feature while Dudamel went on with great enthusiasm about Gustav Mahler. However, if we are to believe Wakin, all this would be a mistaken representation of Baldwin, beginning with the facts that Baldwin not only likes classical music but also seems to be particularly enthusiastic about Mahler. Indeed, consider this particular item from Wakin's conversation with Baldwin:

Asked about his favorite performances, he rattled them off: "The Solti Mahler Ninth. Any Copland with Slatkin when he was in St. Louis. I like the Mahler cycle that Tilson Thomas did."

How can I argue with his preference for San Francisco Symphony recordings?

More seriously, thanks to the Symphony Hall channel on XM Satellite Radio, I am now listening to New York Philharmonic broadcasts far more regularly than I have done for more years than I can count. Admittedly, I am doing this primarily out of interest in Alan Gilbert and where he is now taking the ensemble; and I was particularly drawn to the broadcast of last month's performance of Neeme Jarvi (whose name Baldwin pronounced without the slightest difficulty) conducting the Lyric Symphony by Alexander Zemlinsky, which the San Francisco Symphony will be performing in April. However, I have been generally impressed by Baldwin's own contribution to the Philharmonic's radio presence. As an actor he understands the significance of clear diction; and, as a music lover himself, he understands the value of announcements that tell listeners what they want to know when they want to know it. This puts him on a caliber above at least one of the Symphony Hall regular announcers (Elena See, for those who absolutely must know my opinion in these matters). He also has provided informative accounts of background material; and, on the occasions when he has served as interviewer, I have found him more than effective. The most important part of his being interviewed by Wakin was his observation that his work with the New York Philharmonic is something that he genuinely wants to do. That counts for a lot, and it certainly means as much to me as does the quality of the Philharmonic performances.

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