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Week of  May 26 - June 1, 2001

1. Special Interest
2. Dance
3. Media
4. Music
5. People
6. Publishing
7. Theatre
8. Visual Arts
9. Arts Issues
10. For Fun


SO MUCH FOR REVOLUTION: Digital music on the net promised a new world for music fans. But "five years after it all started, the revolution is nowhere to be seen. The record labels, once railed against by those impertinent start-ups, now own their former enemies. Fiercely independent Internet companies have been picked off one by one by the same media conglomerates they once saw themselves as alternatives to. Through a brutal combination of business savvy, legal warfare and simple cartel power, the Big Five record labels have maneuvered the digital distribution industry into their control." Salon 06/31/01

DO BOOK CLUBS KILL FICTION? Blame the boring uniformity of today's fiction on the Book Club Phenomenon. So many "literary" books tend to look so alike because publishers are thinking about whether book clubs will buy them. The Independent (UK) 05/28/01

THE 1950s - AMERICA'S MOST MULTICULTURAL? "In the funhouse mirror of official history, the ’50s are seen as our most xenophobic decade. That is exactly wrong: then, the seemingly alien cultures of Europe and Asia held endless fascination for Americans who were either back from war service abroad, their aesthetic tastes spiced a bit, or simply tired of bland domestic fare." Movies, books, plays, music - art from abroad was more popular then than now. Time 05/18/01


DANCING FOR THEIR LIVES: Students in any branch of the performing arts know all about the stresses of auditions, of trying to secure one of the prestigious jobs available only to those at the very top of their class. But few disciplines force students to go through public trials the way the dance world does. This week, New York's School of American Ballet holds its annual workshop performances, heavily attended by talent scouts for the nation's major ballet companies. The New York Times 05/27/01 (one-time registration required for access)

THE ART OF BEING MISHA: Mikhail Baryshnikov has "sustained injuries, primarily to his knee, that render ballet's huge, abandoned jumps and turns impossible for him. But rather than slink off and rest on his substantial laurels, the artist who was perhaps the premier danseur of his generation has made a virtue of necessity. He's forged a new career as a dancer, producer, and promoter of the seminal experimental work created by American postmodern pioneers in the '60s and '70s, and of the pieces they're making now." Village Voice 05/30/01

LOOKING FOR LINEAGE: Why did Balanchine spawn no successful successors? Some say that those who worked with him absorbed his style to the point where "it became automatic. This was good if you wanted to perform his ballets, less good if you wanted to choreograph your own. The danger, always, was that you would simply recycle his style—speak the words without the meaning." But now, maybe a worthy successor. The New Yorker 05/28/01 [LINK GONE]

BUY ME A CAREER? Two years ago, Anthony Kerman, a rich British lawyer was smitten by 6-foot tall 22-year-old Russian dancer Anastasia Volochkova, and began trying to aid her career. Now he wants to pay to bring the Bolshoi Ballet to London for a season to have them dance with her. The deal's worth £4 million and the company could use the money, so... Sunday Times (UK) 05/27/01


WE'RE SHOCKED - THERE'S PAYOLA GOING ON? Federal agencies are investigating, and now a newspaper report details it: Radio stations are taking money to play recordings. But wait, says one promoter, you don't understand: "The support I get from labels has no effect whatsoever on the musical decisions of the program directors at my stations. [Besides], I didn't invent this thing. It's standard operating procedure in the promotion business." Los Angeles Times 05/29/01

SCREEN GAME: Movies released in America over the Memorial Day weekend took in more than $186 million. So business is good - except if you run a movie theatre. Because of overbuilding in the past few years, "we've estimated one-third of North American theaters or roughly 13,000 screens need to come off-line. The bankruptcy process is going to allow that to be expedited, but it does take time." Washington Post 05/30/01

ACTORS UNION SAGGING: While negotiations between the Screen Actors Guild and Hollywood producers seem well on the way to settlement on a new contract, peace within SAG ranks is remote. The union is torn between rival factions. 05/31/01

STILL A RECORD: Hollywood reports that Pearl Harbor took in $75 million over the Memorial Day weekend, making it the highest-grossing non-sequel for its first weekend. Los Angeles Times 05/29/01

  • BOMBING THE TRUTH: "Even viewed through that gaping and forgiving lens, the new breed of histortainment - pictures like last summer's The Patriot and now Pearl Harbor - invites just one appropriate response: jaw-dropping incredulity. The Pearl Harbor filmmakers claim they've been historically accurate, but they've done The Patriot one better: They've rendered accuracy beside the point." Salon 05/28/01

LOOKING FOR THE 'P' IN PUBLIC RADIO: "Public radio, once the province of obscure college FM stations and grown to cultural prominence on the back of the National Public Radio network... remains for many a salutary oasis of non-hit parade music and intelligent talk in the mostly conglomerate-controlled wasteland that is radio in general." But is it even remotely public any more? Los Angeles Times 05/27/01

RIEFENSTAHL'S LEGACY: So who is the most influential filmmaker of the last hundred years? Spielberg? Nah. Hitchcock, Eisenstein, or Disney? Not a chance. "If the defining modes of the modern blockbuster are the romance of power and technology, and if its primary purpose is to overwhelm our senses into a state of rapturous submission to spectacle, no filmmaker laid more groundwork, nor groundwork that was more enduringly fertile, than the woman Adolf Hitler once engaged as his personal propagandist." Toronto Star 06/01/01


COMING TO TERMS: " 'Classical music' is a term, its composers and promoters and performers are beginning to fear, that may drive away as many potential listeners as it draws. The term presumes two unfortunately popular misconceptions: that music called 'classical' must depend entirely on its connection to the great (and thus, to some, hopelessly ancient) works of the Western tradition, and that listeners who want to enjoy new music should have extensive background knowledge of the canon." The New Republic 05/30/01

THE POT AND THE KETTLE WERE ARGUING... Recording artists claim that their industry "uses unconscionable contracts and corrupt accounting tactics to rob artists of their share of earnings." In reply, big companies claim that "Only one of 10 acts ever turns a profit... It costs about $2 to manufacture and distribute a CD, but marketing costs can run from $3 per hit CD to more than $10 for failed projects... Successful acts [refuse] to deliver follow-up albums until they extract additional advances." Los Angeles Times 05/31/01

A WEEK WITHOUT MUSIC: A critic proposes tuning out music for a week in July, refusing to listen to a single bar. "Our aim is to dismantle the apparatus for the music industry, to afford ourselves some peace and quiet, thus enabling us to rethink popular culture. This can only be done in total ascetic silence." The Guardian (UK) 05/31/01

MAAZEL CONFRONTS LEBRECHT: Lorin Maazel was going to retire, going to write an opera on Orwell's 1984, "play the violin and appear as a guest conductor when he pleased." Then the New York Philharmonic "drafted" him. He sits down with critic Norman Lebrecht and gets down to business: "Put yourself in my position and ask why I should be sitting down talking to you in view of the rather unpleasant things you have written about me and my earnings over the years." The Telegraph (UK) 05/30/01

CUTTING OFF AN ARM TO SAVE THE PATIENT: The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic - Britain's second oldest, has been addled by debt. Now its musicians have voted to accept a pay cut to keep the orchestra afloat. Other English regional orchestras may face the same prospect as orchestras try to become financially stable. The Guardian (UK) 05/30/01

SIGNIFICANT NEW HANDEL? A choral work by Handel, discovered earlier this year, has been recorded for release in June. "The choral work, which some scholars believe may come to be regarded as significant as Handel's Messiah, was discovered in the library of the Royal Academy of Music in March." The Age (AP) 05/29/01

UNDUE INFLUENCE: The only way to keep music fresh is to cross fertilize from other genres. "If both pop music and 'serious' music are to progress, rather than endlessly recycling themselves, such cross-fertilisation must be the way forward. On both sides of the fence, people must open their minds and their ears." The Times (UK) 05/29/01

FINALLY, ACCEPTANCE: The music world has spent much of the last century bemoaning the state of contemporary music, and blaming the decline of the industry on scapegoats like Schönberg and Boulez, whose music pushed the envelope farther than most audiences were willing to go. But the tide may finally be turning in favor of the innovators. Andante 05/28/01

CLIBURN COMMOTION: The Van Cliburn competition, currently ongoing in Fort Worth, is arguably the world's most prestigious piano competition, and inarguably the most exhaustively covered by the press. Everything from the contestants to the caterers gets a write-up, and the press keeps a close eye on past winners. One local favorite is fighting his way back from a stroke, as this year's hopefuls dive headlong into the fray. Dallas Morning News & Fort Worth Star-Telegram 05/27/01



PERLMAN FALLS: Violinist Itzhak Perlman falls onstage on his way to performing the Barber Concerto with the Minnesota Orchestra. "He landed hard. Face-down on the stage between his podium and the conductor's, his arms still in the crutches, the upturned soles of his shoes facing the audience. The applause stopped as if it'd been guillotined. And the sound—that's what I'll remember years from now—1,500 people in a choral gasp, then pin-drop silence." Minnesota Public Radio 05/23/01

THE CRITIC THEY LOVED TO HATE: Joan Altabe was an award-winning architecture and visual art critic for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, and the newspaper's most controversial writer. But her acid word processor won her lots of enemies, and after she was laid off last month, many wondered if her foes had finally got her fired. St. Petersburg Times 05/31/01

MY NEW ARTISTIC LIFE: Michael Stone was "one of the most notorious terrorists in Northern Ireland." But since getting out of jail he says he's become an artist. His supporters are threatening to demonstrate against a Belfast gallery if it won't show Stone's work. Sunday Times (UK) 05/27/01

HARRY'S WORLD: Harry Partch has always been one of those composers whom philosophers adore and musicians fear. First of all, he insists that there are 43 distinct pitches in a single octave (rather than the standard 12.) Furthermore, he finds traditional instruments sadly lacking in the sound quality his works demand, and so he invents new ones. Constantly. Los Angeles Times 05/28/01


DOING AN END-RUN ON AMAZON: As bookselling continues to become a business of megastores and online behemoths, Oregon's famous independent bookseller, Powell's, has been a beacon for those retailers struggling against the big chains. Now, Powell's online counterpart has struck a major deal with several national magazines which will give the store much-needed exclusive exposure on the mags' heavily-travelled web sites. National Post (Canada) 06/01/01

BOOK E-WARDS: Surprising some, administrators of the National Book Awards say e-books will now be considered prizes. "The new rules will mean that any book published exclusively as an e-book can be considered by judges in the categories of fiction, nonfiction, poetry and young people's literature on its 'literary merit' just like any other book." 06/01/01

ENVISIONING THE E-LIBRARY: Representatives from countless U.S. public libraries met in Chicago this week to discuss everything from funding to PR. But the hottest topic was technology, and the expected rise of the e-book. "Few conclusions were reached, but that wasn't the point. Tuesday's meeting was much more than an example of how libraries, particularly public libraries, are willing to go to the mat to bring the newest of digital technologies to the widest of audiences." Chicago Tribune 06/01/01

WRITERS' SANCTUARY: Nigeria has offered itself up as a sanctuary for writers in trouble. "To date, it has offered asylum to 32 international authors, filmmakers, composers and journalists." CBC 05/29/01

WANT TO COLLABORATE WITH MARK TWAIN? Like most writers, Mark Twain left unpublished work. One piece is a story intended as a collaborative experiment with other writers. It went nowhere. Now the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library, which owns rights to the story, has renewed the experiment, with cash prizes for those who come up with the best ending to Twain's story. CBC 05/29/01

BOOKS HOLDING STEADY: Compared to newspaper and magazine publishing, the book-selling business seems to be weathering the economic downturn in pretty good shape. In the first quarter of this year "bookstore sales at Barnes & Noble increased 4.3%, to $807.9 million. At Books-a-Million, total revenues rose 4.7%, to $97.5 million, but comparable-store sales were down 6.8% in the quarter, largely due to the strong performance of Pokémon products last year." Publishers Weekly 05/28/01

WHAT THEY'RE READING IN AUSTRALIA: In book sales for the past year, it's just like everywhere else - Harry Potter. JK Rowling's Harry sagas took the top four places on the bestseller list. The Age (Melbourne) 05/28/01


ANOTHER BROADWAY RECORD: Broadway had another record year at the box office. "The take for the current season was $665 million, up from the running total of $603 million for the 1999-2000 season (which itself was up from $588 for the 1998-1999 season). Attendance is also up, with paid attendance increasing from 11.4 million for the 1999-2000 season to 11.9 million for the 2000-2001 season." 05/31/01

STAGE PRESENCE: A sure winner at Sunday's Tony awards will be Betty Corwin. More than 30 years ago she thought it would be a good idea to make videotapes of stage performances, which otherwise would be lost when the show ended. Now, 4500 tapes later, she's getting a special Tony for excellence. Boston Globe 05/31/01

DENUDING THE RSC? There are at least a couple of things wrong with the Royal Shakespeare's plans to restructure. "One is that the RSC may become so little a company, let alone an ensemble, that it will end up with no distinct identity at all. By renouncing its regular six months a year at the Barbican, the RSC will now have no firm London home. RSC could become a mere trademark, one that will sporadically appear on the front of the Young Vic, the Round House, a West End theatre, or even the Barbican, giving spurious credibility to what may be little more than an ad-hoc cast or summer-stock touring troupe." The Times (UK) 05/30/01

FALLING STARS: The theatre world continues to wonder if anyone can save the musical. The Producers may have reinvigorated the form somewhat, but, by and large, there's not a lot going on that we haven't seen a hundred times before. The new breed of musicals aren't being written for already-popular stars the way the classics were, and the dearth of quality productions has started to affect not only the Broadway stage, but the nation's regional theatres as well. Hartford Courant 05/27/01

HARDEST JOB IN SHOW BIZ: You're standing in the wings as the theatre darkens, and the voice of the stage manager comes over the PA, informing the audience that you will be taking the stage shortly. The audience erupts in boos. Welcome to the world of the Broadway understudy. New York Post 05/27/01



INSURING PROBLEMS: It's getting more difficult to borrow major works of art for exhibitions. The Australian government has a program to help insure loaned art in Australia, but even that program is becoming problematic. Sydney Morning Herald 06/01/01

IT'S ALL ABOUT PRIORITIES: The spotlight-loving director of Canada's National Gallery was awarded the prestigious Order of Canada recently, and his employees are pretty steamed about it. Why? They've all been on strike for three weeks. The Globe & Mail (Toronto) 06/01/01

IS THE SMITHSONIAN FALLING APART? Robert Fri runs the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. Its attendance has jumped 50 percent since he arrived five years ago, and with 9 million annual visitors, it's the most-visited museum in the world. But Fri has become the fourth Smithsonian museum director to resign this year; he says he's uncomfortable with Smithsonian Secretary Lawrence Small's controversial reorganization. Washington Post 05/30/01

  • WILL EXHIBIT FOR MONEY? Smithsonian director Lawrence Small is in trouble again. A group of scholars at the National Museum of American History has written to the Smithsonian's board of regents to complain that Small has made questionable deals with donors that compromise the integrity of the institution. They charge that Small has allowed donors to determine content in return for money. Washington Post 05/26/01
  • THE (GIFT)(TROJAN) HORSE SYNDROME: The Smithsonian is probably not going to turn down a $38 million gift to finance a special exhibit. On the other hand, "is this the kind of exhibit that the Smithsonian's professional staff would have chosen if the gift had come with no strings attached? If not, what is the curatorial rationale for a permanent exhibit that seems to open the door for commercial and corporate influence at one of the capital's keystone institutions?" The New York Times 05/31/01 (one-time registration required for access)

COMPLAINING FOR SUCCESS: The short list for the Turner Prize has been announced, but "complaints about short lists and form only serve to confirm the larger truth ­ that the debate is fully engaged. Modern art and artists are widely discussed, in a way that they were not 20 years ago. The shock value is reduced ­ but the huge success of, say, the Tate Modern is a tribute to the success of the prize. Modern art, with all its disputed warts and lumps, is on the map. The Turner Prize has helped to put it there. The Independent (UK) 05/31/01

THE NEW MUSEUM: "Museums have traditionally trafficked in the economy of objects. But now, like everyone else, these institutions traffic in the economy of attention, an inevitable step in their evolution from respected repositories of prized objects to entertainment centers and contested social engines. In the process, museums compete for our divided interest and must persuade us of their relevance. They have become political entities. How can they not be political today?" The New York Times 05/31/01 (one-time registration required for access)

A RECORD CANADIAN: A painting by Group of Seven Canadian Lawren Harris has fetched a record price for a Canadian painting. "Baffin Island, painted circa 1930, sold for a hammer price of $2.2-million after a dramatic volley of bids that raised the price from its conservative preauction estimate of between $600,000 and $700,000." Globe & Mail (Canada) 05/30/01

A BIENNALE THAT MEANT SOMETHING: Last winter's Shanghai Biennale was not, by international standards, cutting-edge. "But in a country where contemporary art continually struggles against the public's indifference and a restrictive government, the exhibition was an important marker." It indicates a new openness to contemporary art in China. The New York Times 05/30/01 (one-time registration required for access)

DIS-COLLECT: Did the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art offer Heinz Berggruen $400 million for his Picasso-rich collection of modern and Post-Impressionist art? Berggruen says so, but "museum director David Ross vehemently denied the museum had made any offer at all. And Ross said it was a self-aggrandizing statement on Berggruen's part. 'He threw out such a high figure in hope of getting more for the work he put up at auction'." San Francisco Chronicle 05/29/01

ARTISTS - WHAT AILS YE? Australia is embarking on a study of the state of the country's visual arts. "Increasingly the sector is just stretched to breaking point, both in terms of infrastructure and in working conditions for artists." Sydney Morning Herald 05/29/01

NOT JUST ANOTHER TEAR-DOWN: The United Nations has criticized Spain for its "£45 million plan to extend its most famous museum, the Prado, by tearing down 17th century cloisters." The Telegraph (UK) 05/29/01



BUSH REPLACES NEH CHIEF: President George Bush has decided to replace National Endowment for the Humanities chairman William Ferris, and will nominate Bruce Cole, a "professor of fine arts and comparative literature at the Hope School of Fine Arts at Indiana University, to a four-year term." The New York Times 06/01/01 (one-time registration required for access)

GIVING TO THE ARTS: Americans donated $11.5 billion to the arts last year, an almost 4 percent increase over the previous year. The number of major mega-gifts has increased too. The reason? The economic boom of the 90s, and a slew of dot-com billionaires. "Arts institutions haven't seen anything like this since the robber barons of the 19th century poured money into museums and libraries." Washington Post 05/30/01

DEFENDING THE GIFTS: Embattled Smithsonian chief Lawrence Small defends his position on accepting large donations with strings attached: "As a nation, our lives are enriched by the generosity of others. It is difficult to imagine a United States of America without the great private gifts that have helped create distinguished universities, museums and libraries. We live in an era, however, in which some regard these donations with a curious mixture of indifference and skepticism..." Washington Post 05/31/01

DEFENDING THE TRADITIONAL FESTIVAL: Is the traditional model of the big Australian arts festival outmoded, as some critics charge? Not at all, says one festival veteran. "Unless Australian audiences repeatedly travel across the world, and are in the right place at the right time, they will never have these artistic experiences. That is, unless they are presented with them by their local festival." Sydney Morning Herald 05/29/01

ENVISIONING THE E-LIBRARY: Representatives from countless U.S. public libraries met in Chicago this week to discuss everything from funding to PR. But the hottest topic was technology, and the expected rise of the e-book. "Few conclusions were reached, but that wasn't the point. Tuesday's meeting was much more than an example of how libraries, particularly public libraries, are willing to go to the mat to bring the newest of digital technologies to the widest of audiences." Chicago Tribune 06/01/01

BERLIN BASHING: Doesn't matter how you want to describe the state of Berlin these days - it's bad, and no solutions are in sight. "The capital is impoverished and deindustrialized, completely denuded of the economic basis it once possessed, the motor of all those metropolitan dreams. Since the fall of the Wall, Berlin has forfeited almost 300,000 industrial jobs. It is the seat of a mere five corporations listed in the major stock market indexes." Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 05/29/01

MOVING FORWARD IN PHILLY: Philadelphia's ambitious Regional Performing Arts Center is the most-anticipated new concert hall of the last two decades, but the project has been plagued by management turnover, financial questions, and conflict between RPAC's planners and its primary tenant, the Philadelphia Orchestra. Now, with everyone concerned facing the deadline of this fall's planned opening, things are finally starting to run smoother, but many issues remain unresolved. Philadelphia Inquirer 05/27/01


PROTESTING PENISES: Protesters in Wales have "demanded the banning of a sold-out Australian stage show in which two men manipulate their genitalia into various shapes from a hamburger to sea anemone." The show is in the middle of a two-month tour, and ran for five months last year in London's West End. The Age (Melbourne) 05/30/01

EVER WANTED A MUPPET OF YOUR OWN? "Two years ago, EM.TV paid $680 million for the characters. But the German company's stock has collapsed in recent weeks, and its assets have been going on the block. The Germans already sold several Muppets characters to Sesame Street Television for $180 million." But Miss Piggy and Kermit the Frog are still available, if you're interested. New York Post 05/31/01

CAN YOU GET ROYALTIES FROM A DICTATOR? Canadian artist Jonathon Bowser was shocked to learn that one of his paintings was used for the cover of a romantic allegory written by Saddam Hussein. In it, Hussein "portrays himself as a benevolent king bestowing love on his people." Says Bowser: "Where are my royalties, that's what I want to know. A romantic allegory isn't necessarily bad, I just would have chosen a different author." National Post (Canada) 05/30/01

SAYING IT RIGHT... "I must tell you how to pronounce the name of our most famous painter, the one the English call 'Van Goff' or 'Van Go'. That is not how we say it and it is not how he said it either. The correct Dutch way to say it is..." The Independent (UK) 05/28/01