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Week of April 8-14, 2002

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


BUYING RESPECTABILITY (BUT AT WHAT COST?): "A handful of Russians have acquired fortunes of $1 billion and more in the decade following the collapse of the Soviet Union. While millions of their countrymen suffered collapsing living standards, declining health and increasing alcoholism, a few made enough money to join the ranks of the world's richest men. Now that these men have money, they seek recognition. They want access to western-dominated international business and international society [such as the boards of major arts institutions such as the Guggenheim] and are ready to pay for the privilege. But at what price and on what terms should western institutions open their doors?" Financial Times 04/08/02


TAKING CENTER STAGE: The rules of how dance and music interact may be changing. "Up through the 19th century, classical music composed for the concert hall remained off limits to ballet; instead, house composers supplied accompaniments to order." For much of the last century, the dancers were the sole focus, with the music predictably supplied from the pit, or even from a recording. Now, a new generation of choreographers are integrating sound and movement in a variety of ways that bring the music (and the musicians) to the fore. Los Angeles Times 04/14/02

FROM BALLET TO BROADWAY: Christopher Wheeldon is one of the hottest ballet choreographers in the world right now. But can he transfer his work to a Broadway stage? "I felt that some people were trying to frighten me, because they were saying how tough a Broadway show could be. I was told that when things got rough, it can be unpleasant; that it's very rare that a team stays intact, and [that] it ends up falling apart at the end." Christian Science Monitor 04/12/02

ROYAL BALLET'S DOWNTURN: Clement Crisp is depressed by recent turns at London's Royal Ballet. Ballet companies are born with a genetic make-up as potently formative as that of any human. The Royal Ballet was given beliefs by Ninette de Valois: about a school and a theatre, about roots in the nation's arts and in an older repertory, which would encourage choreography. The Royal Ballet conquered the world with a distinctive manner of dancing and dancemaking. It is increasingly difficult to reconcile today's Royal Ballet with its past. Is it, with preponderant foreign principals, still the Royal Ballet? Why has the company's school failed to produce talent as impressive as Tamara Rojo, Alina Cojocaru, Johan Kobborg, Ethan Stiefel? Why no house choreographer, no musical director?" Financial Times 04/12/02

  • BUT MAYBE IT'S TIME TO MOVE ON: The Royal's latest outing brings "a welcome sense that the company, after a long stagnation, is beginning to move forward." London Evening Standard 04/11/02

MIDDLE EAST DANCE: The Israel Ballet is celebrating its 35th birthday this year, a feat many supporters consider as miraculous. It was founded in 1967 by husband and wife team... Jerusalem Post 04/11/02


NPR REORGANIZES ITS CULTURAL COVERAGE: National Public Radio restructures, cuts 47 jobs and refocuses its cultural programming and arts coverage. Officials said the new approach would "break down barriers between arts staffers and the news division - a barrier that cultural staffers acknowledge existed within the NPR offices on Massachusetts Avenue. The new approach will also be more eclectic." Washington Post 04/12/02

ET GO HOME: The movie ET was the biggest hit of its day, breaking all box office records. But the rerelease of the movie, with new and reworked scenes has been a disappointment at the gate. "One possibility is that re-releases need to be cult films. You need an in-built fan base. Just being a massive hit is not enough." BBC 04/05/02

HEARING ALONG WITH THE ACTION: America's TV networks introduce new technology that allows blind people to follow along with action on the screen. "The technology allows the user to turn on a secondary audio channel, on which a narrator describes the action during pauses in the dialogue. (All televisions made in the United States since the early 1990's have such a channel.)" The New York Times 04/08/02 

RIO STRIKES BACK: Tourism officials of Rio de Janeiro plan to sue producers of The Simpsons for portraying their city in a bad way. "In the episode the Simpson father, Homer, is kidnapped by a taxi driver, the family is assaulted by begging Brazilian children on a beach, and the family visits Rio slums infested by violent monkeys." Houston Chronicle (Knight Ridder) 04/07/02

DOWNLOADING HOLLYWOOD: Movie piracy is becoming a very big deal in the digital age. "According to the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the industry already loses more than $3 billion annually to the sale of illegally copied videotapes. Now, with an estimated 350,000 digital movie files being downloaded daily for free, and with that number expected to climb to a million by year's end, digital film piracy is Hollywood's next nightmare." Christian Science Monitor 04/12/02

THE MEANING OF DIGITAL: The digital movie revolution is racing along, with some predicting film will be obsolete by 2005. "The new technology will change the way movies are made and the way they look. The digital revolution will also alter programming at cinema complexes. As well as movies, complexes will be able to screen any event taking place around the world simultaneously - concerts in New York, the Olympic Games in Beijing or Oscar presentations." The Age (Melbourne) 04/11/02

IN GOVERNMENT WE TRUST? Judging by the TV schedule full of shows about government, American bureaucracy is popular again. "Cynics might note that these are basically the same dramas that used to happen in hospitals, or law firms, simply transferred to government settings. Throw up some columns, roll out some marble, drape a few flags, and "The West Wing" is basically L.A. Law in D.C. But that underestimates the power of setting. The government is not incidental to these programs, it is essential." Washington Post 04/07/02


AFTER HE'S GONE: Musicians of the Montreal Symphony seem unrepentant that they provoked music director Charles Dutoit to quit the orchestra. "In the past year or so it's become intolerable. The musicians are constantly berated or they're insulted or there are sarcastic comments."  So what comes now for Canada's top orchestra? "In terms of its international prestige, if it can't find a conductor of high quality to replace him, a period of decline will inevitably take place." (CP) 04/11/02

  • ONE LAST FUTILE PLEA: The Montreal Symphony is making a token effort to get Charles Dutoit to reconsider his resignation. "In a brief statement issued just after 8, the orchestra said it would contact the conductor today in Pittsburgh and ask him to reconsider the resignation he had tendered 24 hours earlier. Yet the statement appeared to concede the inevitability of his departure by expressing a desire to ensure 'a harmonious transition in the artistic direction of the orchestra.'" Montreal Gazette 04/12/02
  • SO WHOSE FAULT IS IT? Is Dutoit really the autocratic tyrant one union boss has made him out to be? Are the MSO musicians a bunch of thin-skinned crybabies who've dug themselves a hole and fallen into it? And ultimately, how did the situation ever get to this crisis point without someone, somewhere, noticing and doing something about it? One critic is ready to start assigning responsibility. Montreal Gazette 04/13/02

ANOTHER ORCHESTRA IN THE RED: The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra has become the latest in a long string of North American orchestras to annoucne massive operating losses. The BSO is running a $1 million deficit, and will be looking to make cuts, but will continue with plans for a tour of Japan this fall. Baltimore Sun 04/12/02

THE ACCIDENTAL CRITIC: Newsday's Justin Davidson hasn't been music critic for long - since 1995 - and fell into the business accidentally. But this week he won the Pulitzer for criticism. "The judges praised 'his crisp coverage of classical music that captures its essence.' Among the body of work receiving recognition were opera reviews and a series of long feature stories on recent developments in new music." Newsday 04/09/02

COMPETITION MESS: Pasadena's new Rachmaninoff International Piano Competition promised to be a different kind of competition, a competition free of controversy. But the jury disqualified the pianist who earlier in the week had been voted the audience favorite, and publicly humiliated him by declaring him unprepared. Los Angeles Times 04/08/02

  • RIPPING THE RACHMANINOFF: How much did Mark Swed dislike the new Rachmaninoff International Piano Competition in Pasadena? Let him count the ways. "What made me most uneasy Saturday, however, was not a vulgar pianist collaborating with a crude orchestra to produce studied excitement. After all, the Rachmaninoff prize is not likely to mean much, one way or another. Rather it was hard to respect any public presentation that demonstrated such disregard for the audience and performers alike." Los Angeles Times 04/08/02

MIXED MESSAGES: Part of the trouble with the classical music profession is that the recording industry seems to have a profoundly different idea of what classical music is for than do its performers and advocates. "While live music goes on being promoted as a multicolored festoon of passion, thrills, bedazzlement and beauty, the marketing of recorded music at a certain level is more and more emphasizing the calming effect." In other words, orchestras want to be exciting, while record labels want to help people fall asleep. The New York Times 04/14/02

WHEN THE CHICKENS COME HOME: Pop music deserves its current dire straits. "Today's pop scene has very little to do with making music: music is simply one of the pegs on which the New Instant Celebrity is hung. All notions of quality and artistry seem to have gone out of the window. By concentrating on short-term profits from instant hit singles by a fast turnover of disposable pop stars who are little more than karaoke singers, and all the major labels trawling the same over-fished pool of international talent by splashing out obscene sums of money for those few artists who can notionally guarantee massive sales, the 'industry of human happiness' is ultimately digging its own grave. The music business has been cruising for this particular bruising for years." The Independent (UK) 04/11/02

A BEER AND A BUMP AND SOME BACH: There was a time when classical music was not the stuffy, formal, tuxedo-clad beast that it has become. Back in the day (the 18th century, actually,) classical music was, y'know, popular. A 31-year-old Israeli cellist is taking a stab at duplicating the effect, playing Bach in bars, clubs, and all sorts of other places you'd never think of. Baltimore Sun 04/13/02

THE MAKINGS OF A CAREER: "Why do some splendid performers enjoy major international careers and other equally splendid performers do not? And how to explain why certain flashy performers have thriving international careers, while more substantive performers never seem to break out of a regional success? It may come down to a certain temperament or drive that propels some artists to popular success. A marketable image, or just an inexplicable something that audiences connect with. The artist makes choices, too." New York Times 04/11/02


ATTACKING RALPH: Ralph Richardson's archive of personal letters includes evidence of a nasty fight with novelist Graham Greene. "The row was over Richardson's performance as a sculptor during rehearsals of Greene's 1964 play Carving a Statue. The play flopped, ending the novelist's 10 year run of successes in the West End. Even in rehearsals, the archive discloses, Greene blamed Richardson for not speaking the lines properly or understanding the part." The Guardian (UK) 04/09/02 

BETTER LATE THAN NEVER: "Montreal-born composer Henry Brant has some advice for young artists of all sorts. 'Take care of yourself until you're old enough to do your best work. That's when everything becomes clearer what's important and what's less important, and how to proceed.' Nobody could accuse him of failing to heed his own advice: At the age of 88 he's in good health and has just won a Pulitzer Prize for composition." The Globe & Mail (Toronto) 04/13/02

CONDUCTOR COLLAPSES, DIES ON THE JOB: "Leading Russian conductor Mark Ermler, 69, died in Seoul on Sunday after collapsing during a rehearsal for a concert by the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra, officials said. Ermler was associated with the Bolshoi Theatre and Opera throughout his career and was its musical director until 2000. He became chief conductor of the Seoul Philharmonic in May 2000." Andante (Agence France-Presse) 04/14/02

SAINTED BUILDER? Architect Antonio Gaudí is on the fast track for sainthood by the Vatican. He's "an architect for people who don't really like architecture. Gaudí too had a very long career - he was still working when in 1926 he was hit by a tram and died - and began with brilliantly inventive projects, but in later life his work became ever more grandiose as the original delicacy ripened and then finally curdled. But the truth is that the architect has been turned into a sacred monster, casting a darkening and ever kitscher shadow over the city he did so much to shape." The Observer (UK) 04/07/02


THE RIGHT TO A PRIVATE READ: The Colorado Supreme Court has ruled that a Denver bookstore (the Tattered Cover) owner does not have to provide police with a list of people who bought a book  on how to make illegal drugs. "The high court declared that the First Amendment and the Colorado Constitution protect an individual's fundamental right to purchase books anonymously, free from governmental interference." Wired 04/09/02

OPEN LETTER TO OPRAH: "Naturally, I have heard a variety of cynical theories about the real reason you're downsizing your book club: Ratings for the book-themed shows are abysmally low. Many authors - after months of isolation in dark garrets, scribbling away - don't make scintillating guests. Or maybe you're just sick and tired of the whole literature thing. If that was it, I wish you'd simply leveled with us. Had you said, 'Look, folks, I'm sick of reading novels all the time. I want a life. I want to veg out and watch TV and paint my toenails, OK? Give me a break. I'm not in high school anymore and there isn't a crabby old English teacher breathing down my neck for me to finish `Silas Marner,' OK?' I could've respected that." Chicago Tribune 04/10/02

  • OUT OF BOOKS/OUT OF IDEAS: So Oprah's run out of books that meet the test of quality for her book club. "There seems something churlish and—dare I say it?—elitist about this majestic dismissal. True, trendy academics have been issuing gnomic declarations about the death of the novel for the last 30 years or so. But Oprah? How could she and her staff have exhausted the range of existing share-worthy fiction (including backlists!) in a mere five years? One answer, of course, is that Oprah was selecting a very special kind of fiction." Slate 04/10/02

FLEETING FAME: "The curious thing about bestsellers: their popularity is often shorter than the span of their readers' lives. As Germaine Greer rather sourly remarks of Lolita: 'Bestsellers are never bestsellers for the right reasons.' In the end, though, it's the ephemerality of the bestseller that's so fascinating. They are such fragile flowers: the merest waft from a passing new trend consigns them to outer darkness." The Telegraph (UK) 04/10/02 

DE-LINKING AMAZON: Thousands of websites link to promoting sales of books they care about. Now, to protest Amazon selling used books alongside new ones, the Authors Guild is urging webmasters to take down their Amazon links. "We believe it is in our members' best interests to de-link their websites from Amazon. There's no good reason for authors to be complicit in undermining their own sales. It just takes a minute, and it's the right thing to do." Wired 04/09/02

WHEN CRITICS COLLIDE: Critics disagree all the time, of course. But rarely has opinion diverged so completely over Richard Flanagan's Gould's Book of Fish. According to the New York Times' Michiko Kakutani, this is "an enthralling story", a "remarkable" and "astonishing" book, "a wondrous, phantasmagorical meditation on art and history and nature". Peter Craven's review in The Age, on the other hand called it "a monstrosity of a book. I cannot believe that a novel like this has been put before the public with such a mishmash of verbal collisions, such lapses of judgment and such evasions of pace". At least they have opinions? The Age (Melbourne) 04/09/02


A LAW TO HELP PLAYWRIGHTS: A law is being proposed in the US Congress that would give playwrights greater bargaining rights with producers. Currently, "playwrights must negotiate for themselves with unions or other groups to get plays produced. They commonly are offered take-it-or-leave-it contracts. Because playwrights own copyrights to their work, they have been considered since the 1940s independent contractors to producers instead of employees with collective bargaining rights. The new legislation would allow them to negotiate and enforce contracts with producers collectively." Nando Times (AP) 01/10/02

MAY WE SUGGEST 'THE PANIC ROOM'? "Great composers are in short supply. Top-flight lyricists are an endangered species. Male singing stars are as elusive as four-leaf clovers. But even in a challenging age for new talent, the Broadway musical can still count on one endlessly renewable resource: the movies." The New York Times 04/14/02

WHEN ROBERT ASKED LARRY: Robert Brustein asked his friend Larry Gelbart to write a new adaptation of Lysistrata. Gelbart agreed, but in the script he delivered "the sexual references were so voluminous and repetitious that they put off several of the participants" so Brustein pulled the script . "Gelbart declared himself a victim of political correctness, and now, amid bruised feelings on all sides, there are two competing musical adaptations of Lysistrata moving ahead, one by Mr. Brustein in Cambridge and one by Mr. Gelbart in New York." The New York Times 04/11/02 

BROADWAY REVIVAL: By most accounts, it's been a pretty lackluster season on Broadway. But heading into the home stretch, a new group of plays has just opened and things are suddenly looking up. Newsday 04/12/02

ACTORS UNION URGES BOYCOTT: Actors Equity union has asked its members to boycott the annual National Broadway Touring Awards this year. "The union has indicated it is unhappy with the league's policy of not differentiating between Equity and non-Equity productions on the road," and non-union touring productions are particularly rankling the union this year. Backstage 04/10/02

ANOTHER SCOTTISH THEATRE DOWN: Glasgow has seen its third theatre company close this year because of lack of money. Whose fault is it? Maybe the Scottish Arts Council. "All three companies were losers in the most recent round of three-year funding applications, making their positions unsustainable in a market-place allegedly controlled not by the work produced, but by boxes ticked." Glasgow Herald 04/09/02

GOING YOUNG: London's National Theatre has been slammed for not appealing to younger audiences. To address the charge, the theatre is "staging 13 world premieres, building a studio theatre, converting conventional auditoriums, and giving permission to take a beer into the show." The Guardian (UK) 04/10/02

PARKS' EXCELLENT YEAR: As Suzan-Lori Parks’ Topdog/Underdog wins this year's Pulitzer for drama, the play opens on Broadway. It's been a good year for Parks. She won the 2001 MacArthur Fellowship, known by many as a “genius grant,” and the 2000 Guggenheim Fellowship. 04/08/02 


NEW TWIST ON THE TURNER: "The Turner prize. It's hard to think of anything more of our cultural time in its capacity to inspire vitriol and curiosity, each condemnation generating new publicity, another twist to the spectacle, more people who want to go and see for themselves. This year, there's something new. For the first time, a nomination form for the Turner prize is being published in a national newspaper. The Guardian (UK) 04/10/02

THE BMA'S DIRECTOR SPEAKS: The British Museum is an unwieldy institution to try to run. "No issue is clear cut, every one compressed into a gritty snowball of money, art, politics and ethics, tossed between governments, curators, media and sometimes the public. Cup of tea too pricy? Great Court stone the wrong colour? Galleries closed (though each is open part of every day and any can be opened on request)? Blame the director." London Evening Standard 04/11/02

WHAT HATH GUGGENHEIM WROUGHT? When the Guggenheim launched not one but two satellite museums in the cultural wasteland of Las Vegas, critics clucked, art aficionados rolled their eyes, and everyone agreed that the project was doomed. Unfortunately for the Guggenheim, which is facing severe financial shortages, the naysayers appear, so far, at least, to be correct. "Far from 'bringing art to the masses,' the Guggenheim has brought corporate branding to an anticipated public that has thus far failed to show up." The New York Times 04/14/02

SELLING TO THE MASSES: The Glasgow Art Fair is "about to invite the public, and their wallets, inside. The Art Fair, now in its seventh year, is hugely significant for raising awareness of art and, more importantly, selling it. Last year a record 15,000 visitors came through the doors, and takings came in at more than £500,000, an average of £13,300 each for the 40 galleries represented. While this is encouraging for Scotland’s art economy, it is tempered by the fact that the highest prices are generally commanded by artists who are, not to put too fine a point on it, dead." The Scotsman 04/10/02

A BIENNIAL THAT SHOULD KNOW BETTER: Art biennials are everywhere these says. But "in the process, the exhibitions themselves, once key cultural events, have become almost routine, with the same cast of star artists featuring again and again like players on the tennis circuit. The Sao Paulo biennale is old enough to know better. Modelled on that of Venice, the first and oldest in the world, it was the brain child of Italian immigrant turned business man and patron of the arts." Financial Times 04/11/02

WHERE WILL THE CRITICS GO? America has a strong tradition of art criticism. But "few institutional structures have existed, however, to support and legitimize the profession. The number of publications critics can write for has decreased along with pay, which has declined from a onetime industry standard of $1 per word. At the same time, the Internet has not proven to be a significant new space for independent art criticism." American Art 04/02

WHAT AILS THE NATIONAL: One critic sees disturbing signs of London's National Gallery in a steep decline. "The National Gallery is beginning to die, and the tragedy is that it is being killed off. It began to ail in 1998, when it was decided, without any public airing of the consequences, that the gallery's collection would no longer grow as the art of painting itself grew, but would be terminated at 1900." New Statesman 04/08/02

DEREGULATED BUT HARDLY FREE (THE MARKET, THAT IS): The French art market has been opened up to international auction houses. But so far the biggest change has been an increase in fees the French auctioneers charge. "In the short term this situation is resulting in a massive transfer of value from collectors and dealers to the auction houses." The Art Newspaper 04/05/02

SUNSET FOR THE PAINTER OF LIGHT? "Thomas Kinkade's annual meeting with the men and woman who have invested heavily to open Thomas Kinkade Signature Galleries nationwide is supposed to be a feel- good affair, with the millionaire artist outlining his plans for new works and Kinkade-themed projects. But this year, according to gallery owners and insiders at Kinkade's Morgan Hill company, Media Arts Group, the focus will be on increasingly slack demand for Kinkade's output and persistent rumors that Kinkade is angling to take publicly held Media Arts private." San Francisco Chronicle 04/07/02


THIS YEAR'S ARTS PULITZERS: Newsday classical music critic Justin Davidson wins this year's criticism Pulitzer. Henry Brant wins the music Pulitzer, Carl Dennis wins for poetry, and Suzan-Lori Parks wins the drama award for Topdog/Underdog. The New York Times has a good collection of background links on the winners. 04/08/02

GLOBAL DOMINATION? WHAT GLOBAL DOMINATION? "We have been hearing a good deal about how American mass culture inspires resentment and sometimes violent reactions, not just in the Middle East but all over the world. They continue to insist that Hollywood, McDonald's, and Disneyland are eradicating regional and local eccentricities - disseminating images and subliminal messages so beguiling as to drown out competing voices in other lands. Yet the discomfort with American cultural dominance is not new. On the contrary, the United States was, and continues to be, as much a consumer of foreign intellectual and artistic influences as it has been a shaper of the world's entertainment and tastes." Chronicle of Higher Education 04/08/02

MYTHS OF THE WIRED EDUCATION: Does technology improve the quality of higher education? That's been the theory. But "recent surveys of the instructional use of information technology in higher education clearly indicate that there have been no significant gains in pedagogical enhancement." The Nation 04/11/02

COPYRIGHT GRAB: Proposed legislation in the US Senate would regulate the ability to copy and distribute anything digitally. The legislation is backed by large media companies like Disney, but opposed by consumer groups and the open source community. "This represents an incremental power grab on the part of these media companies. It threatens to make all free and open-source software efforts criminal." San Francisco Chronicle 04/08/02

FRESH BLOOD: With the European Union making migation between European countries easier, there is some trepidation in the UK. But the last great influx of foreign artists had an enormous, positive impact on the country. "Our most cherished institutions, even the culture that some people believe to be under threat, would not be as robust or as worth preserving if Britain had not opened its borders to foreign artists and arts administrators 60 years ago." London Evening Standard 04/08/02

10. FOR FUN 

LITERARY PRODUCT PLACEMENT: Writer Jim Munroe has a new book. In it, he mentions a number of corporations. So he decided to bill the companies he names $10 each for "product placement," just as they do in the movies. So far no takers. "A lot of people think it was this big promotional thing, and it obviously brings attention to the book and the issues in the book, but for me, it was a pretty natural thing. When I was going through the manuscript, to edit and revise it and stuff, I was like 'Man, I wish I didn't have to mention all these corporations.' It sort of bugged me that I was mentioning them ... But the whole point of the book is to draw attention to the fact that we're totally corporatized, but at the same time I'm also mentioning all these corporations." Ottawa Citizen 04/07/02

ELVIS HAS LEFT THE BUILDING: UCLA is close to Hollywood, so you'd maybe expect when the school reached out to name an "artist in residence" it might turn in a pop culture direction. But Elvis Costello's artist-in-residence gig hasn't exactly paid off for the university. Barely in to the job, Costello has left to work on an album, and the residency has been put on hold. "A ballet based on Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream with orchestral music composed by Costello for the Italian dance company Aterballeto, originally planned for this summer, is probably not going to happen at all because of scheduling conflicts, though the music may be performed in another context." Los Angeles Times 04/10/02