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Week of  December 3-9, 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


BIG FIVE BEHIND NEW TWO: America's Big Five orchestras haven't been so big for a long time. That's not to say there aren't plenty of good performances or that these orchestras aren't relevant anymore. But as they enter a new era - most of them with new leadership - they will need to reinvent. And for a model - why not look to the New Two - the Los Angeles Philharmonic and San Francisco Symphony? Los Angeles Times 12/09/01

THE POTENT FORCE OF MUSIC: So the Taliban banned music in Afghanistan. "Musicians caught in the act were beaten with their instruments and imprisoned for as many as 40 days." But throughout history, those in power have often sought to control music." Why? Because of "the all but irresistible kinesthetic response that music evokes that makes it such a potent influence on behavior, thence on morals and belief." The New York Times 12/09/01 (one-time registration required for access)

WHY THERE'S HOPE FOR CLASSICAL MUSIC: "The 'regression equation' - one of the preferred tools for understanding economies - shows that for classical orchestras, the likelihood of money being spent on orchestral music is linked to consumers’ increasing age, education, and income. Graying of classical music audiences is most often viewed as a serious problem rather than a valuable asset. Economic demographer David Foote offers telling arguments as to why aging baby-boomers are likely to increase the classical music market." La Scena Musicale 12/01/01


LOSING DANCE: "The issue of preservation is uniquely difficult for dance. A performance vanishes with the closing curtain. Afterwards it cannot comprehensively be recaptured either from notation or video. The camera often misses key detail, concentrating perhaps on the central action to the detriment of what may be happening elsewhere on stage. This is true even of companies' specially commissioned video-records, some of which fail woefully to document work properly. As a result, much still depends on dancers' memories; without them it is harder to make a piece come alive." Ballet.magazine 12/01

LOOKING FOR HOMEGROWN: "A quiet revolution is taking place in British ballet, a revolution that has seen the future of dance at the highest level entrusted – almost entirely – to overseas choreographers." Now, as another British company looks for a new artistic director, will the job be entrusted to a Briton? The Independent (UK) 12/06/01


ONE BILLION SERVED: "It is estimated that by the end of its cinema release more than one billion children will have seen Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. This is on top of the those who have read the books, which thus far have sold more than 160 million copies throughout the world." The Age (Melbourne) 12/08/01

LOWLY SCREENWRITERS REGAIN THEIR LOWLY PLACE: For a brief time in the mid-90s, screenwriters were pulling in multi-million-dollar contracts for scripts they hadn't even written yet. But after some high-profile flops, "screenwriters are back to being the bastard children of Hollywood. There was a bit of a backlash to all the big screenplay deals in the late 80's and early 90's. We're paying for it now." The New York Times 12/09/01 (one-time registration required for access)

TARGETING KIDS: Last year, the Federal Trade Commission reported that adult-rated movies, records, and electronic games were being marketed to children. This year, the FTC reports some improvement. "The movie and video game industries have largely stopped the direct targeting of adult-rated materials to children. The bad news is that the music industry has done little if anything to curb the marketing of inappropriate records to kids, or to provide parents with better information about lyrical content." Boston Globe 12/06/01

TRAILER TRASH: Is there a growing backlash against the pile-up of movie trailers theatres are forcing audiences to watch before the main attraction this holiday season? "Now, most moviegoers enjoy a trailer or two. But the half-dozen or more they get during the holiday season, when the studios trumpet new pictures, strikes some as too much of a good thing. Traffic in movie trailers has reached gridlock proportions." Philadelphia Inquirer 12/06/01


HOW CROSSOVER KILLED CLASSICAL: "This week's top-selling 'classical' album in the US is piano music composed by Billy Joel, a faded rock star. The top two albums in Britain are punched out by Russell Watson, an industrial-strength tenor who assaults football terraces with pop ballads and ice-cream arias in marshmallowy, Mantovani-like settings. These are the core of contemporary classics. Were the charts to be purged of such mongrelisms, there is little doubt that classical sales would fall below one per cent and the business would be shut down." And yet, maybe the efforts gone into promoting such crossovers is killing the legit classical biz. The Telegraph (UK) 12/05/01

WORDS OVER MUSIC: Supertitles at the opera have transformed the artform. Some believe it is the main reason why opera attendance has soared in recent years. But many stage directors and artists deplore them. "I have a terrible feeling that when you go to the opera now, reading the titles becomes the primary experience, followed by the music, followed by the visual [element], followed by the performance. Because words have an appearance of exact meaning, your mind gravitates to the specificity.... The opera becomes like text with background music." OperaNews 12/01

I'LL BE SAD FOR CHRISTMAS: Some of the best Christmas songs are sad, even mournful. And a great many of them are written by Jewish composers. "Why are there so many Jewish Christmas songs and so few for Chanukah? Chanukah is a minor holiday that has been artificially inflated to keep up with Christmas. Accordingly, the music trails in its wake." The Observer 12/09/01

NOT THE WRITE STUFF: What's wrong with music these days? Try what's wrong with music writers. A new book takes a hard look at the history of pop music critics, and finds...a lot of bores and backstabbing. The Guardian (UK) 12/08/01

MUSIC AS KEY TO THE UNIVERSE: "The very idea of a 'key to the universe' today seems as quaint as the belief that the Earth is flat. We are more familiar with concepts such as Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, or chaos theory, or irrational numbers that can be calculated to an infinite and patternless number of decimal places. Even if a key to the universe could be discovered, the lock that it fits long ago disappeared. But for thousands of years, from the ancient Greeks to the Church fathers to the Enlightenment, the existence of such a key was not a fantasy but a premise of intellectual life, and the key was situated at the intersection of music, science, and religion." The New Republic 12/04/01

THE URBAN COWGIRL RIDES OFF: Few North American orchestras can boast truly outstanding management these days - stunning incompetence is much more common. But the San Francisco Symphony has been flourishing over the last decade, thanks in large part to its dynamic president, Nancy Bechtle. Bechtle, who is stepping down after a 14-year reign, was feted this week at Davies Symphony Hall, even as more good news about the state of the SFS was released: "The Symphony ended its fiscal year with a $48.7 million budget, retired its accumulated deficit of $597,000, [and] presented 237 concerts attended by nearly 600,000 people." San Francisco Chronicle 12/05/01

AVANT GARDE - MISSING IN ACTION: What happened to the opera avant garde? Twenty-five years ago Philip Glass's Einstein on the Beach promised to energize and change the world of contemporary opera. But that promise was never fulfilled and today's operas act as if the avant garde never happened. Financial Times 12/05/01

LA SCALA'S RISKY RENOVATION: "On Friday, Milan's opera season will open in Teatro alla Scala, as it has done for 223 years, but will then move for two years to a newly-built auditorium in an industrial suburb. No one knows if audiences will follow. In the superstitious art world there are fears La Scala's rebuilding may be as cursed as that of the Royal Opera House in London, La Fenice in Venice and Teatro Massimo in Palermo. If the bureaucratic bungling, mafia infiltration and bad luck of these other renovations afflicts La Scala, its reopening in June 2004 could be delayed by years." The Guardian 12/02/01

WHO LEARNS MUSIC ANYMORE? What's happened to arts education? "There simply isn't time in our culture to take music seriously. Mothers who might once have encouraged their children to take piano lessons or study the violin in order to expand their minds and acquire the fundamentals of good discipline are now often forced to tackle two jobs just to make ends meet, leaving their kids in after-school or day-care programs. That luxury we used to call 'spare time' is so diminished that families don't regularly get together at the kitchen table; they now consider a quick meal at McDonald's a sit-down dinner." Opera News 12/01


WALT'S CENTENARY: "Hollywood is celebrating the life and career of one of entertainment's most influential figures. Walt Disney, who would have been 100 years old on Wednesday, played a pivotal role in developing family entertainment - most significantly as a pioneering animator. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the organisation which stages the Oscars, is presenting a special tribute at its Samuel Goldwyn Theatre in Beverly Hills." BBC 12/05/01

  • HATING DISNEY: What could be more American than the love of that creator of Snow White, that father of The Mouse, that delighter of children worldwise, Walter E. Disney? Um, despising him, actually. Washington Post 12/05/01

HOSTILE WITNESSES: The trial of Sotheby's chairman Al Taubman is the stuff Hollywood dreams are made of. (In fact, HBO is already planning a movie about the trial.) Character assassination, barely veiled threats, and repeated assertions that Taubman is a brainless idiot who "couldn't read a balance sheet if his last million depended on it" are par for the course in a trial that was supposed to be about price-fixing in America's auction houses. Chicago Tribune 12/03/01

  • NOTHING NEW HERE: The Taubman trial is just the latest in a long line of Love-Money-Betrayal in New York stories stretching back to America's Gilded Age. Chicago Tribune 12/03/01


PROTECTING ENDANGERED WRITERS: Salman Rushdie is the most famous, but there are many writers living under death sentences. To try to help protect them, The International Parliament of Writers was set up in 1993, "in the wake of the Rushdie fatwa and the growing incidence of similar attacks on writers. It aims to protect not only freedom of speech and publication but also the physical safety of writers. In its early days, the IPW (or PIE, as it is known abroad) came up with the idea of providing cities of refuge for writers forced to live in exile. There is now a flourishing network, hosting writers from many countries, writing in many languages." The Guardian (UK) 12/08/01

OPRAH THE GOOD: At first look, the highbrow literary book clubs of yesterday might seem not to have much in common with today's Oprah Book Club. But "their respective goals are similar: to enlighten and to instruct and, importantly, to somehow elevate their audience in so doing." The Atlantic 12/01

CANADA'S WELL-READ GIRLS: A new international test measuring the reading ability of kids, shows that Canada ranks high in the world, second only to Finland. But the terrific showing was due entirely to Canada's girls, who scored well . Canada's boys scored significantly lower - an average of 30 points lower - causing some to call for a plan to raise boys' literacy. National Post 12/06/01

THE POWER OF AN UNREAD BOOK: Recently, Canada's largest bookseller announced that it would not carry, or place orders for, Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler's infamous manifesto. The announcement caused much discussion of the dangers of censorship, but, asks one critic, do you know anyone who has read Mein Kampf? Assuming not, isn't the real power of the work its very existence, rather than its availability? The Globe & Mail (Toronto) 12/05/01


OUT OF WORK AGAIN: You're an actor and your show has come to an end. When are you officially unemployed? "Is it when your final curtain falls? The next morning? Or the start of the following week? If you finish on a Saturday night, as I've just done, you should at least be able to afford yourself a Sunday without anxiety, but some actors I know are making frantic phone calls to friends and contacts even before the Sunday omnibus of The Archers has started." The Guardian (UK) 12/05/01

SUN SETTING ON LLOYD-WEBBER? "For the first time in many years, there is not a single Lloyd Webber musical touring. His latest musical, "The Beautiful Game," never made it to the United States, while its predecessor, "Whistle Down the Wind," had its world premiere in Washington, D.C., but folded before getting to Broadway. Are we approaching the final curtain of the Lloyd Webber saga? Don't bet on it just yet." The New York Post 12/09/01

THEATRE CRASH: Losses to New York theatres since September 11 have been substantial, says a new study. And with an economic slowdown, things aren't likely to get better soon. "Using the information supplied by the 101 companies who participated in the survey, the report estimates that the direct loss of income for these groups was nearly $4.8 million through Oct. 31." Backstage 12/05/01

CRITICAL DIRECTIONS: Eight Toronto theatre critics changed roles last weekend, leaving the audience to direct short scenes from Canadian plays. "The theatre provided the venue and technical support. The would-be directors had final say over casting. In the interest of justice for all the poor, victimized theatre folk whose livelihoods and careers have been tragically affected by unfeeling pundits, it would be fun to report that the critics failed miserably at their new tasks. But the evening was both fun and enlightening." National Post 12/06/01


CREED WINS TURNER: Scottish artist Martin Creed has won this year's Turner Prize, presented Sunday night in London by Madonna. Creed's minimalist installation that consisted of an empty room with a light flashing on and off, had drawn the most controversy of this year's finalists. The Scotsman 12/10/01

  • WHY CARE ABOUT THE TURNER? Is there really any point to being interested in the Turner Prize? It's become so much more about the "idea" than anything visual. "There are still plenty of painters. There are still plenty of paintings which cannot be described because they are indescribably dreadful. And there are plenty of conceptual works which make a powerful visual impact. But when 'the idea' has become so dominant that it ousts the image from art, and when all the candidates selected for Britain’s premier prize represent one particular trend of thought, you do have to wonder why." And yet there is a bigger idea behind it all... The Times (UK) 12/08/01
  • THERE'LL ALWAYS BE A TURNER: People get in a huff about the controversial Turner Prize and decry the aesthetic that it pushes. But this is nothing new. "The Turner Prize is our modern-day equivalent" of the great historic salons and annual official art shows of the past "in that it creates a moment when art becomes fully public. The prize is sometimes talked about as if it had no historical precedents, but in fact it fits into a history of exhibitions - more common in the 19th century than the 20th - that gave contemporary art a high public profile. In Turner's Britain the Royal Academy show was just as popular and contentious as the prize that now bears his name." The Guardian (UK) 12/08/01

BUT IT'S JUST NOT DONE... "The auction market has had its share of corruption and dishonesty in the past - the Sevso silver scandal, fakes galore, the selling of Nazi loot - but no one ever imagined in their most cynical dreams that the very pinnacles of the establishment, the chairmen of Sotheby's and Christie's, could take it upon themselves to filch millions of dollars from their wealthy customers." And yet they did... The Guardian (UK) 12/07/01

AFTER ELI'S ART: Eli Broad is "possibly the richest man in Los Angeles and one of California’s heavyweight power brokers. Broad has purchased more than a thousand works of art since 1972, either personally or through his eponymous foundation. Broad’s the largest single charitable donor in the U.S. after Bill Gates, and gave away some $137 million last year." Who will get his art when he's ready to give it away? He's being coy, and three museums across the country are hosting exhibitions from his collection. A tryout perhaps? New York Press 12/05/01

PROPOSED CUTS TO SMITHSONIAN: The Bush administration is proposing big budget cuts for the Smithsonian, including transferring $35 million from the Smithsonian's research offices, stopping restoration of the Old Patent Office building and taking $20 million from the institution's budget to pay for security. "A congressional source familiar with the proposals said the OMB plan essentially cuts the Smithsonian's mission in half because its scientific research programs would be decimated. 'They could go down the tubes,' he said." Washington Post 12/06/01

STAR SEARCH: Dallas wanted a star to design its new performing arts center. Instead it got two, and they're two of the hottest architects working today - Norman Foster and Rem Koolhaas. The question is - can they work together in a city that's known for the generic modernism of its buildings? "Generic modernism is never more generic than it is in Dallas," says Koolhaas. "There is a way of building here that is so typical and so featureless that it creates an opening for something really interesting." Dallas Morning News 12/08/01

UNDER THE BIGTOP: The Los Angeles County Museum of Art is a jumble of rundown buildings. In reimagining what it might be, Rem Koolhaas, who won the competition for a new design this week, has "literally wiped away the past, obliterating almost all of the existing LACMA campus. It is a brazen move that transforms a muddled collection of undistinguished buildings into a cohesive architectural statement of piercing clarity. The entire complex is reconceived as a system of horizontal layers, with the exhibition spaces stacked above an open-air plaza and offices." The entire complex will be covered by "an organic, tent-like roof." Los Angeles Times 12/07/01

THE REAL PROBLEM WITH THE BRITISH MUSEUM: "The British Museum's difficulties are not just the well-reported cock-ups - the debts, the confusion about the Portland stone that has dogged the otherwise successful Great Court. The museum's real problem is that it has no brain, just diverse limbs, flopping about. It doesn't seem to know who it is for, or why, and is run by scholars and marketing people, two groups that often seem to regard the general public as idiots. The Guardian (UK) 12/06/01

OUTLAWING TECHNOLOGY IN THE MUSEUM: Simon Thurley is director of the Museum of London and a young rising star. But he's banning technology that has become commonplace in museums. "He claims that the gadgetry so many museums have invested millions in during the past decade is 'nonsense... A lot of it is rubbish and doesn't work anyway. You press the buttons too hard and you break it'." The Guardian (UK) 12/06/01

NEW GERMAN LAW FOILS STOLEN ART RECOVERY: A new German law applies a statute of limitations of 30 years on property claims. "Among the big implications is on artwork seized by the Nazis. "Among other implications for the art trade, this would make it impossible for works stolen by the Nazis to be returned to claimants, despite repeated declarations by German governments that they will do anything to achieve a just and fair solution in such cases. The German museums association issued a press release deploring the new law." The Art Newspaper 12/05/01

LET'S GET REAL: When the National Gallery of Australia and a major bank announced a new $50,000 National Sculpture Prize, it was widely assumed that many of the entries would be abstract and conceptual. Surprise - most of the work is decidedly realist. The show "could have been designed as an argument for the resurgence of anatomical concerns in contemporary object-making, or at least as proof of sculpture's traditional obligation to represent things." Sydney Morning Herald 12/05/01

PRADO DIRECTOR QUITS: Fernando Checa has resigned as director of The Prado Museum, Spain's most visible and visited art museum. The resignation appears to be the culmination of a long-running feud with the president of the museum's oversight board. BBC 12/04/01

BERLIN MUSEUM REOPENS: Berlin's Old National Gallery has reopened after a £50 million renovation to "erase some of the scars of World War II and the communist era behind the Berlin Wall. The ornate, neoclassical building houses about 500 of the most important German paintings and sculptures of the 19th Century." BBC 12/04/01

MAKERS BEHIND THE ART: So you think artists actually make their own big-scale works? "A lot of people don't get it, because they still think that artists make their own work. They imagine that Damien Hirst is welding and grinding, when actually he's off on a four-day bender." Meet the man and his crew who fabricate some of the art world's most famous sculptures. London Evening Standard 12/03/01 '

SFMOMA STILL HEADLESS: "David Ross' abrupt departure from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art has left the director's position at the high-profile local institution empty for more than three months now. But in an interview last week, SFMOMA chairwoman Elaine McKeon said the search for his successor proceeds at full speed." Still, the museum has had three directors in the last three years, and some wonder about the intraoffice politics. San Francisco Chronicle 12/04/01

WHITNEY MAKES CUTS: New York's Whitney Museum has seen its attendance fall by more than 25 percent since September 11. So the museum is moving to cut $1 million from this year's budget. "The 70-year-old facility will trim 14 workers from its 210-person staff and cut back on its scheduled roster of 2002 exhibitions." Nando Times (AP) 12/01/01

PRIVATIZING A HERITAGE: Watching over the cultural and artistic riches of Italy is a massive job, and prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, Rome's answer to Rupert Murdoch, says the government just isn't up to the task anymore. Accordingly, Italy's 3,000 state-run museums will be at least partially turned over to private management in the near future, with the government maintaining only a cursory oversight role. The New York Times 12/03/01 (one-time registration required for access)

RUNNING OUT OF ART: Even though London's auction houses hailed last week's sales as including "important English art," there wasn't much important up for bid. "With so many pictures in museums, supplies of great British art are gradually drying up." The Telegraph (UK) 12/03/01


NEA CHAIRMAN HOLDS UP GRANTS: The acting chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts has delayed awarding two grants recommended by Endowment panels and the National Council on the Arts. One grant was for $100,000 to Berkley Repertory Theatre for production of a new Tony Kushner play. The New York Times 12/04/01 (one-time registration required for access)

THE LINCOLN CENTER MESS: "Lincoln Center's constituents are bound together by architecture, and that architecture is in need of repair. They are not bound together artistically and never have been. The redevelopment proposal, now projected at $1.2 billion, seems focused on initiatives that have little direct relation to their artistic mission. Making the public space more attractive and accessible is a worthy goal but not the most important. The project should be a visionary effort, a chance for each organization to address longstanding issues that have affected its artistic growth. The problem is that each organization has its own agenda." The New York Times 12/04/01 (one-time registration required for access)

THE IMPOSSIBLE FUNDING GAME: The Ontario government has made $300 million available for arts projects in the province. But $1.2 billion in requests has come in. And, in order to navigate the politics and rules for getting the money, you have to turn yourself in knots. Is this any way to run a lottery? Toronto Star 12/02/01

THE ART OF SCIENCE? Art has long been influenced by science. But science has rarely taken inspiration from art. "When an artist walks into a lab and sees equations written on the board, his usual response is to say, 'I don't understand any of this - it must be brilliant,' But when an engineer wanders into an art gallery and sees stuffed animals, he's very likely to say, 'I don't understand any of this - it must be garbage.'" Wired 12/04/01

10. FOR FUN 

CUTTING UP FOR JACK THE RIPPER: American novelist Patricia Cornwell has gone on an elaborate (and expensive) campaign to prove that Victorian painter Walter Sickert was Jack the Ripper. "Even in the context of the crackpot conspiracy theories, elaborate frauds and career-destroying obsessions that London's most grisly whodunnit has spawned, Cornwell's investigation is extreme. Not only did she have one canvas cut up in the vain hope of finding a clue to link Sickert to the murder and mutilation of five prostitutes, she spent £2m buying up 31 more of his paintings, some of his letters and even his writing desk." The Guardian (UK) 12/07/01

BET THE NY PHIL THINKS THIS IS HILARIOUS: In what may be the strangest development to come out of the current world tensions, renowned French conductor/composer Pierre Boulez was detained by Swiss authorities, and informed that he was on their list of potential terrorists. Apparently, back in his impetuous youth in the 1960s, Boulez publicly declared that opera houses should be blown up. BBC 12/04/01

THE MUSICAL PSYCHIC: Psychic Rosemary Isabel Brown has died at the age of 85. "She claimed to have been in touch with Beethoven, Liszt, Chopin and some 20 other composers who had employed her as their contact on earth to receive their latest compositions. How was it that a woman apparently of little musical ability had one day sat at a piano and had begun to play Chopin with ease, and Chopin music that no one had heard before?" The Economist 11/30/01