ARTS BEAT NEWSLETTER - October 9-15, 2000

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  • IN SEARCH OF THE BIG BREAK: The Big Break - it's what performers live for. It's what makes their careers. But what about those very talented musicians whose Big Break never comes? What are the forces that conspire to be that Big Break? Philadelphia Inquirer 10/10/00 

  • THE DECLINING YEARS (EARLIER THAN YOU THINK?): Does intellectual ability decline with age? Does our brain begin to lose its tone after the age of 30? That's the age when physicists and mathematicians are thought to have passed their prime. On the other hand, historians often don't make their best contributions until they've reached their 60s. Feed 10/12/00

  • SAN JOSE DANCE IS BORN: From the ashes of failure in Cleveland, the Cleveland San Jose Ballet company is reborn this week as a new company in San Jose. "It is the latest and most important chapter in a tale of artistic integrity and civic pride, of all-American optimism and resourcefulness, of triumph. What could have been a major tragedy for dance in the Bay Area - and what in fact was a senseless loss for Cleveland - has been turned into a major victory for American culture." San Francisco Chronicle 10/08/00 

  • CORPORATE READ: "American life is affected by the seemingly never-ending growth of large corporations... Will it change fundamentally the way we read and what books are available to us? The big publishers, who comprise some eighty percent of all publishing volume, are largely owned by media conglomerates who are accustomed to earning profitability ratios of their other media holdings. Book publishing often disappoints those expectations and has to turn to a kind of publishing that will 'please their parents'." Feed 10/11/00

  • CLAP TRAP: Audiences are clapping more and more in the London Theatre. "It is common in the West End for audiences to applaud the first entrance of major stars, as if grateful that they bothered to show up at all. Elderly actors always get a particularly big hand. This has nothing to do with their acting ability and everything to do with their longevity. This applause does not mean 'You're marvellous' but 'Isn't it amazing that you aren't gaga and in a bathchair'?" The Guardian (London) 10/14/00

  • LIVING AROUND ART: Design is hot right now - it has a grip on the popular imagination in a way it hasn't since the 1960s. What does it mean for the way we think about the things around us? "As expressions of The New, these products have inherited the myth of progress, modernity's defining legend. This is not the first time design has embodied that myth... New York Times 10/15/00 (one-time registration required for entry) 


  • THE NEW CRITICS: "After more than a century of professional literary criticism, when the erudite few lorded over discussions of artistic merit, the rules have changed. Thanks to the Internet, anybody can now join ongoing - and very public - evaluations of books, recordings, films and many other materials, with a potential audience of millions of readers. Washington Post 10/15/00

  • ART OF BUILDING: "During the past decade, new American performing arts facilities have been popping up like mushrooms after a rain, but architecturally they've been a pusillanimous lot. When not actively nostalgic, as in Fort Worth's Bass Performance Hall, they've tended to favor a kind of buttoned-down corporate look, as in Seattle's Benaroya Hall, or shopping-mall lite, as in Fort Lauderdale's Broward Center and West Palm Beach's Kravis Center." Dallas Morning News 10/15/00

  • THE WAR IS OVER? Eight years ago Pat Buchanan was calling a "cultural war" in the United States. But this presidential campaign "the blistering cultural issues of the early '90s - federal funding of the arts, naughty pictures, tart-tongued, disrobed performers - are on today's back burners. The anti-arts, far-right-wing Buchanan voice lost. They thought it would be easy, the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts based on arguments of pornography and blasphemy. And they lost." Philadelphia Inquirer 10/15/00

  • So what experience does either of the US presidential candidates have in the arts? AL GORE "favors public funding for the arts, has a passion for van Gogh—and relaxes by painting abstractions." While GEORGE W. BUSH  "takes a moderate stance on government support and has a taste for American Western art." ARTNews 10/00

  • THE CHEAPENING OF APPLAUSE: "New inductees into the world of performing arts can't seem to differentiate between what is merely mediocre and what is truly exceptional. This is can be seen clearly at the end of every performance I have attended over the last 2 years. Every performance, good, bad, or ugly received a standing ovation from the audience. Every one. Ultimately, this cheapens the performance." *spark-online 10/00


  • TOUGH AS A LINEBACKER: New study says that the punishment ballet dancers inflict on their bodies is comparable to professional football players or wrestlers. "Ballet is physically grueling and the fact that other dancers are competing with them adds to the physical stress. They often perform hurt and are afraid someone will take their place. Many dancers have eating disorders and they lead very, very stressful lives. The level of precision required is comparable to that of an Olympic gymnast." Chicago Tribune 10/13/00

  • PAUL TAYLOR AND MERCE CUNNINGHAM: "One of these two men is 'the world's greatest living choreographer'. Or the other one is. They have both been called it, by rival camps. They are the twin faces of contemporary dance: the one experimental, abstract, visual; the other athletic, emotional, musical. The followers of dance divide fiercely on who is the master, with Taylor commanding delight from those who find Cunningham abstruse, and the Cunninghamites sometimes scorning Taylor for being too 'accessible'." The Telegraph (London) 10/10/00

PLUS: Bolshoi's artistic director is fired ~ Atlanta Ballet to produce a full-length version of "Gone with the Wind." ~ Australian Ballet has been losing dancers - is it time to panic? 


  • WHY ARE MOVIE PRODUCTIONS LEAVING HOLLYWOOD FOR OTHER COUNTRIES? "These countries are offering an ever-growing list of financial incentives to U.S. producers in an effort to build their own production capacity and increase their share of the worldwide production industry. There is no "free market" at work here. Other countries, recognizing the value of film and television production to their future economic health, are virtually bribing U.S. producers to make their films and TV series outside the United States." Los Angeles Times 10/09/00

  • WHY BAD MOVIES GET MADE: What's wrong with Hollywood? The stars. "What does it say of a culture that prominent among its most rewarded are those born with high cheekbones and capable of superficial imitation? This isn't to say, of course, that there are not actors who work away at the dramatic art as truly and as dedicatedly as any other artist - but one could be forgiven for thinking they are thin on the ground in Hollywood." Sydney Morning Herald 10/10/00

  • WHAT MAKES A MOVIE AUDIENCE? Given the high stakes of making movies, the movie-makers want to know what it is that makes an audience willing to see movies. "Who is this audience, and what kind of influence do they have on filmmaking? What kind of influence should they have? Can the audience even be considered 'the audience', as opposed to just lots of people with widely diverging tastes?" Chicago Tribune 10/15/00 

PLUS: Marshall Mcluhan has been adopted as an icon of the new digital age by the digerati ~ Movie studios trying to avoid bad reviews are keeping critics away from advance screenings ~ Toronto mayor wants to build an enormous "film city" production center to service Toronto's $1.2 billion movie business ~ FCC chairman  slams American TV networks for dragging their feet over getting into digital television and "ignoring the public interest".


  • THE HIGH COST OF BEING GOOD: The St. Louis Symphony has achieved a great measure of artistic success. But its bank balance seems to slip a bit further with each season. "Over the last 17 or 18 years, the orchestra has accumulated a potentially crippling deficit of $7 million. (Its annual budget is now $26 million for the orchestra itself with an additional $3 million for its music school.)" New York Times 10/15/00 (one-time registration required for entry) 

  • ET TU, SHOSTAKOVICH? In London, an attempt to discredit Shostakovich. "The essence of the attack is that Shostakovich is unfit to stand comparison with Beethoven, and that placing them side by side merely emphasises Shostakovich's shortcomings. But the campaign runs deeper than that, for what is being claimed is that few of Shostakovich's works are worth performing at all, and that recent attempts to find coded anti-Stalinist messages in them - thereby making them seem emotionally ambiguous and thus more 'interesting' - are simply a waste of time." The Herald (Glasgow) 10/15/00

  • ART OF BUILDING: "During the past decade, new American performing arts facilities have been popping up like mushrooms after a rain, but architecturally they've been a pusillanimous lot. When not actively nostalgic, as in Fort Worth's Bass Performance Hall, they've tended to favor a kind of buttoned-down corporate look, as in Seattle's Benaroya Hall, or shopping-mall lite, as in Fort Lauderdale's Broward Center and West Palm Beach's Kravis Center." Dallas Morning News 10/15/00

  • Reviews of San Francisco Opera's premiere of "Dead Man Walking:" 
    • HOW TO SELL A NEW OPERA: "The puzzle of how to produce a new opera that will not tank at the box office, and that may even last as long as a Volvo (to borrow a phrase from Leonard Cohen), has become a minor fixation of opera companies all over North America, including the San Francisco Opera, which on Saturday raised the curtain on an adaptation of 'Dead Man Walking'. In many ways, the opera is a textbook example of current received wisdom on how to introduce new work into the deeply conservative opera world." The Globe and Mail (Toronto) 10/10/00
    • "The music is rich and emotionally charged, betraying varied influences from Mussorgsky to Britten and Ravel, and carries enormous atmospheric power." The Guardian (London) 10/10/00
    • "A triumph beyond what even its most optimistic boosters could have predicted. San Francisco Chronicle 10/10/00
    • "We feel worse when we leave "Dead Man" because misery has been hammered home with music, and a point is made, unmusically." Orange County Register 10/09/00
    • "For a first opera Heggie has done much right. His bitter-sweet music puts him in the line of happy-to-please American opera composers such as Menotti and Barber, which will not delight hardline critics, but he knows how to tell a story, how to hold the audience's interest and rouse its emotions." Financial Times 10/10/00
    • "This retelling is really a shrewd, highly marketable product: a love story with unlikely protagonists. It was composer Jake Heggie's music and playwright Terrence McNally's libretto, however, that accounted for its uproarious success with the opening-night audience." Atlanta Journal-Constitution 10/10/00
    • "A crowd pleaser created by artists who are also crowd pleasers in all that they do." Los Angeles Times 10/09/00
    • Musically, Heggie's 'Dead Man Walking' is an impressive piece of work. Morally, it's a washout. Washington Post 10/09/00
    • DEAD OPERA, BALKING: San Francisco Opera premiered its new opera "Dead Man Walking" this weekend. "There is nothing musically offensive about 'Dead Man Walking', but to paraphrase Gertrude Stein, there's not much there there. The aesthetics of ingratiation take an artist only so far, and this is subject matter with far greater needs." New York Times 10/09/00 (one-time registration required for entry)

    • "An opera by a composer of great musical heart." Boston Herald 10/09/00

PLUS: Canadian Opera Company is promised $20 million to help the build a new opera house in Toronto ~ Bank in Singapore awards $250,000 to a young Singaporean violinist to further her career ~ Is Boston's Symphony Hall the best concert hall in America?


  • RAGE AGAINST THE DUMBING DOWN: For years, British composer Harrison Birtwistle lived as a recluse on a remote French hillside. Now, at 66, he's moved back to britain, with some strong ideas about English culture. "I believe we have in this country the best musicians in the world, but we don't have the best orchestras because we don't give them the money to rehearse. It's spread too thin. So second-rate becomes good enough, and we don't know the difference any more." The Telegraph (London) 10/14/00

  • WORD MACHINE: Stephen King is a writing industry. He writes 2,000 words a day and churns out a new book every three months or so. "According to Forbes magazine, he makes in excess of $50,000,000 a year (and I didn't accidentally add a few zeros)." The Age (Melbourne) 10/10/00

PLUS: Sidney Yates the US Congress' champion of government funding for the arts, died at age 91 ~ Keith Jarrett's return to the concert hall after a debilitating illness feeds his cult status.


  • CHINESE DISSIDENT WINS NOBEL: Gao Xingjian, an exiled dissident author whose works are banned in his native China, won the Nobel Prize in literature on Thursday - the first Chinese to win the award in its 100-year history. Ottawa Citizen (AP) 10/12/00
  • BIG NAMES FOR NATIONAL BOOK AWARD: The 20 nominees. Washington Post 10/12/00
  • LITERARY DETECTIVE: John Sutherland is a detective of literature. He examines, "with forensic precision, neglected details and apparent anomalies in classic novels and plays," wondering - was Heathcliff a murderer? Or, posing a full evidenciary hearing about whether or not Shakespeare's Henry V, was a war criminal? His books have become best sellers. The Age (Melbourne) 10/14/00

  • THE NEW NEW YORKER: Editor David Remnick says the magazine is becoming more focused on New York, that it doesn't yet make money but will someday, and that the New Yorker will soon be available on the web. 10/12/00

  • THE 60s IN POETRY: An upcoming academic conference on poetry in the 1960s gives one of the first glimpses at "how the academy - or at least the progressive/experimental poetry wing of the academy - will be canonizing the period." Accordingly of the 200 papers to be presented, "there were 151 US poets in the 1960's who are now worthy of study. Twenty-seven are the subjects of multiple papers." Exquisite Corpse 10/00


  • THE ART OF LISTENING: "Having problems hearing the play these days? You are not alone. Directors of Canada's larger theatres say their audiences increasingly complain they just can't hear the actors speaking. Is it a case of collective deafness? Are modern theatres poorly designed for acoustics? Have actors lost the art of projecting a whisper back to the rear balcony? Or have theatregoers lost the art of listening?" The Globe and Mail 10/12/00

  • HOW THE WEB IS CHANGING THEATRE: Theatre productions heading to Broadway used to be able to open quietly out of town and work the kinks out. No longer. The web has changed it all. "This torrent of gossip, news, amusing tidbits, and reviews - most of them unfiltered, unverifiable, and true - in chat rooms and on bulletin boards at sites such as,, and, is throwing producers and the reporters covering them for a loop. Why? For the same reason the Web has turned every other industry inside out: It's democratized something that used to be the exclusive purview of an entrenched elite, and the entrenched elite ain't happy." New York Magazine 10/09/00

  • CREATING A NEW MUSICAL THEATRE: "While many on the West Coast see Broadway as a monolithic entity 3,000 miles away, "Broadway" is really about the people who create the shows - and it's those creators who came to Los Angeles at their own expense because they wanted to be part of this conference. Their presence wasn't simply to share anecdotes and professional expertise, but to stimulate West Coast musical theater writers and encourage us to keep creating new shows." Los Angeles Times 10/09/00

PLUS: London's National Theatre boss Trevor Nunn is under fire for the way he's running the company ~ Elton John "Aida" is a surprising hit of Broadway despite bad critical reception ~ Broadway producer Jujamcyn ordered by arbitrator to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in back royalties to choreographers and directors ~ Is Jeffrey Hatcher America's Most Prolific Playwright?


  • SEATTLE ART MUSEUM SETTLES CLAIMS: The Seattle Art Museum has settled with New York's Knoedler Gallery over a Matisse stolen by the Nazis, and sold by Knoedler to collectors who later donated it to the museum (follow all that?). The Seattle Museum sued Knoedler after returning the painting to heirs of the original owner. "We can't specify a dollar amount but we are being reimbursed for our legal fees, research and travel costs as well as the loss of the painting." That will include the museum choosing a piece of artwork from Knoedler's collection. Seattle Post-Intelligencer 10/13/00

  • WHAT'S WITH ALL THIS TEPID NEW PUBLIC ART? "The distinctions that have been made between art in architecture, art as decoration, outdoor sculpture and public art still have not fully entered the consciousness of the visual-art community. Many find it easier to blame local authorities for their highly compromised, so-called public art schemes, but perhaps it is time to point the finger closer to home." Sunday Times (London) 10/15/00

  • SHOULD ALL ARTWORK BE RETURNED? At a time when returning cultural artifacts to their countries of origin has become a goal, "the most distinguished specialist on Nigerian antiquities is now urging that looted and stolen artifacts should no longer be returned to Nigeria, because of endemic corruption in the country." The Art Newspaper 10/12/00

  • A TRUST BETRAYED? When Rev. William Wolcott died in 1911 he donated his art collection - including a Monet and two Pissarros - to Boston's Museum of Fine Art. Though three of the paintings have been on continuous display in the museum ever since, much of the rest of the collection has lived in storage. So the trustees of Wolcott's trust sued the museum to get the paintings back so they could sell them and establish education projects in Wolcott's home town. Yesterday a judge said no. Boston Herald 10/12/00

  • SHOCK OF THE SAME OLD SAME OLD: A new book charges that the contemporary art world has become far too narrow-minded. "Shock art is the safest kind of art that an artist can go into the business of making today. The real mavericks of our time have been working quietly and carefully for years in their studios producing wonderful work few people have seen. And that even though the NEA is not the cause of the various ills we've seen, it is to a great degree an embodiment of the problem." Salon 10/12/00

  • HOW I SNOOKERED SOTHEBY'S: Michel Van Rijn, infamous art dealer, smuggler, and author is full of stories about his dealings with the auction house, including a claim he faked artwork that Sotheby's then sold. Are the stories true? Who knows, but they're entertaining reading. 10/11/00

PLUS: A previously-unknown 500-year-old Michelangelo drawing valued at up to £8 million is discovered during a routine insurance visit to an estate in North Yorkshire ~ Pompeii gets a $5 million lighting project, and the city's stone amphitheaters will once again host performances ~ Stolen paintings believed to be by Picasso are recovered in Turkey ~ Many of Russia's 90,000 official architectural landmarks are in danger of extinction ~  Ontario's McMichael Gallery is about to be forced to return control of its collection over to the original founders by government order ~ New Technologies are putting 


  • LIFE-SIZE CRITIC: Artists create a life-size wax statue of London Evening Standard art critic Brian Sewell and put it in a show. Sewell is depicted staring at a wall label which explains what the artwork is. Sewell is not amused. "I can tell you that they have been desperately trying to get me there to do the boring thing of photographing us together. It means I shall not be going to the exhibition." London Evening Standard 10/12/00

  • THE WRITING ON THE WALL: Two New York graffiti artists getting ready to open a gallery show of their work are arrested. "These individuals have been long known to the police department, and they have a history of damaging property. It has nothing to do with the show." Nando Times (AP) 10/10/00
  • ART OF CONVERSATION IN CANADA: "What I've been thinking - just to while away the gaps in the dinner banter about Toronto real-estate prices - is that there can't be many other nationalities that can devote three hours to watching an opera and then, by way of commenting on the experience, step amid the throng of fellow opera-lovers from the theatre foyer into the crisp, clear air, and, pondering the immensities of beauty and life and death that are still swirling around the memories of so stunning a performance, ask what parking level the car is on." The Globe and Mail (Toronto) 10/09/00
  • LAS VEGAS, CITY OF EXILES? Las Vegas, hungry to prove that it has a sophisticated side, is the first American city to join an international program for writers escaping terror or turmoil. Los Angeles Times 10/12/00