Holoman is the author of an excellent recent biography of the conductor Charles Munch, Koussevitzky's successor at the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and several other books. Distinguished Professor of Music at the University of California at Davis, he is also Conductor Emeritus of the UC-Davis Symphony Orchestra. Clearly, he writes authoritatively about orchestras.
This little book is part of a series of over three hundred very short introductions to a great variety of subjects. The size of a mass market paperback, it is printed clearly on heavy stock, very white, acid-free paper. The writing style is that of serious journalism, like that of The New Yorker or Atlantic, and can be read in an evening by those with good attention span, or chapter by chapter. The author takes for granted that the reader wants to know about classical music. There is barely more than casual mention of crossover or other kinds of music. He does give some attention to "the death of classical music" claims.
Beginning with an abbreviated history of orchestras from the time of Bach and Vivaldi up to the present – and later in the book up to the Venezuelan Sistema and Barenboim's West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, which includes both Israeli and Palestinian players, Holoman includes a table showing the founding dates and current venues of 26 orchestras. Another chart shows the construction dates and costs, architects or acousticians, and seating capacities, of a dozen halls currently in use.
Separate chapters speak about players, conductors and agents, in both artistic and financial terms. In brief but highly apt words, Holoman makes clear more than one difference between the conductors Furtwängler and Toscanini, just to mention two. He also writes concisely about the history of recording, and the history of musical journalism ("Commentary"). No doubt many writers could have written informatively, and even thoroughly, about these matters, but in chapters on Repertoire, "Peace," and "Civics," Holoman includes some informed personal views. For the most part, I tend to agree with him, though I do take exception to what he says about single-composer concerts and about traditional tempos in Beethoven (though I should not get started on that).
Recommended even for those who think they may know all about this already. Holoman manages to include a remarkable number of interesting facts in this "introduction."
Copyright © 2012, R. James Tobin