main: May 2007 Archives

Moog is still vogue
"The Asheville Symphony Orchestra will honor the late Moog synthesizer creator (and Asheville resident) Robert Moog in a performance Saturday of Gustav Holst's 'The Planets.' In the orchestra's final Masterworks concert of the season, music director Daniel Meyer will lead a performance that features six Moog 'Little Phatty' synthesizers, which will execute the choral harmonies in 'Neptune, the Mystic' typically performed by a six-woman choir."
Thanks to Paul Clark of the Asheville Citizen-Times)

A beautiful eulogy to a guitar god no one's heard of
"Some prayers never reach the sky. Some wounds never heal. Sometime Friday night, maybe early Saturday morning, the World's Fading Man, proudly unreconstructed, got caught in life's fading twilight. There was nothing left in his field of vision, no curtain to block out the storm that had been raging for years. He could no longer see the exceptionally long shadow that he cast. He had done his job for 40 years. He did it better than most, indeed, a master of his craft. And he had served well, a natural-born man of merit and cool, the quintessential desperado under the eaves. But he was tired. It was time to retire. A sunnier clime beckoned. Sam Moss, 54, died on the couch in his living room. He was surrounded by books, music, memorabilia, guitars - all the personal treasures and manifestos of an extraordinary life led with passion and taste."
(Special thanks to Ed Bumgardner of the Winston-Salem Journal)

Piercing the veil of bling-bling
"Who is Daniel Johnson? His MySpace bio reveals a 28-year-old Florence label owner and prolific rapper heavy on intelligence and light on frills. But Johnson's identity is more complicated than that. The intricately woven tales on 'In the Face of Danger,' Johnson's latest CD, invite listeners into the minds of dueling personalities, one -- called Danger -- acutely maniacal, the other -- Dan Johns -- as cool as a beach breeze. On the CD, which will be released Thursday with a show at Group Therapy, it seems Danger and Johns have shaken hands and agreed to co-exist. Because he's away from the chain popping, champagne drinking and arrests of mainstream hip-hop, all Johnson has is his identity. Let the introductions begin."
(Thanks to Otis R. Taylor Jr. of The State)

Spend a day with a bunch of harpists and learn something
"Since the (American Youth Harp Ensemble in Richmond, Va.) formed as a nonprofit entity in late 1999, these young musicians have seen the world. The list of venues in which they've played includes Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center and European equivalents in London, Paris and Rome. A trip to Japan is tentatively scheduled for next year. Graduates of the program have attended Peabody, Oberlin and Shenandoah conservatories, among other schools. Still, the harp? Isn't that what Harpo Marx would play during those musical interludes in Marx Brothers movies? 'It has the potential to be more expressive than people would think,' Ediger-Kordzaia says. 'It's a surprising instrument. People don't realize how powerful it is. They're not sweet and pretty.'"
(Thanks to Dean Hoffmeyer of the Richmond Times-Dispatch)

May 30, 2007 1:01 AM | | Comments (0)

Richard Schickel's recent condemnation of bloggers as critics/reviewers (L.A. Times, May 20) has certainly been raising the hackles of arts writers in the blogosphere. While his views are passionately held, I believe they're also misguided and don't take much note of the changing media landscape. Part of the reason arts criticism is winding up on the Web is decreased space in local papers. Those who have something to say are simply finding another way to do it, and many of them (contrary to Schickel's view) are highly qualified writers.

And frankly, there are several advantages to arts writing on the Web, namely the chance to have more (and better quality) images than you'll find on newsprint, and the increased interactivity allowed by commenting. I'm frequently lamenting how seldomly readers of print publications write a letter to the editor regarding arts coverage. With blogging and other Web coverage, there is more of a chance for that immediate back-of-forth of real conversation.

The best response to Schickel I've seen so far is by Jerome Weeks, who writes the book/daddy blog on ArtsJournal.com. Rather than reiterate many of his excellent points, I'd rather direct readers there (to the entry "Just who is this guy?"). It's worth the read.

May 29, 2007 6:00 AM | | Comments (1)

This past week, the Missoula Symphony Orchestra named its new music director after a two-year search that included a full season of auditions by five finalists for the position. Although commonplace among most American orchestras today, the search process was probably quite bizarre to locals, who had never before seen a full-time conductor vetted in such a way for the orchestra. (The last time a conductor was hired -- more than 20 years ago -- the job was still part of the duties of a professor at the University of Montana, who was hired through more traditional academic processes.)

The new conductor, Darko Butorac, is at 29 years old less than half the age of the previous conductor, Joseph Henry. He's also less than half the age of some of the members of the orchestra. The 6'4" conductor proudly notes he can dunk a basketball, and is a big fan of the Phoenix Suns.

This is, needless to say, a sea-change for the orchestra (the previous conductor once admitted to having heard OF the Rolling Stones, but was unable to name any of their songs).

There has been much attendant excitement throughout the interviewing and audition process, with good attendance at concerts and much media coverage. The orchestra has sounded markedly better, playing with an intensity and unity that wasn't previously the norm.

On Thursday, I attended an event welcoming our new conductor to the community. The mayor passed him a "baton" to the city, more than 100 people showed up (pretty good for a midweek morning in this small town), and the sense of a New Era for Missoula was palpable.

After the welcoming event, I walked to a nearby coffeeshop with a friend who plays in the orchestra. As we chatted, it emerged that he was preoccupied with a question that has likely crossed the minds of many in this town: What is the real potential for change, now that this new conductor is here?

Ostensibly, theoretically, the sky is the limit. But more realistically, there are issues both practical and philosophical that limit the local orchestra's ability to rise to world-class artistic status.

Like every small-town orchestra today, the first of these issues is the size of the orchestra's budget. Though I've never heard a member of the MSO complain seriously about the pay they receive -- which, in most cases, is less than minimum wage -- it's clear enough that the orchestra is unable to attract professional musicians to this town based on its compensation package; it must instead rely on the charity of whatever players are available and willing. Fortunately, the the University of Montana has a strong music faculty, stacked with pro-level players who are willing to play in the orchestra simply for the experience. However, that faculty can't fill an entire string section -- or even a flute section.

The bigger issue, however, is philosophical. The MSO remains fundamentally a community orchestra, meaning that part of its goal is to provide members of the community with an opportunity to play orchestral music. There are players in the orchestra who likely could pass no professional audition; but they are provided with the priceless opportunity to participate in the glorious experience of playing great classics of the repertoire through their participation in the MSO. These are our doctors and receptionists, our busboys and businesswomen. Some make up in extra effort and preparation what they lack in professional training and experience; but some simply can't.

Thus it's safe to say that, in the foreseeable future, the Missoula Symphony Orchestra will not rival the Berlin Philharmonic on purely artistic standards.

My friend in the orchestra wasn't frustrated by this limited potential of the orchestra. Rather, he seemed more worried about the unrealistic expectations of members of the community who might suddenly lose sight of what the orchestra is really about. He worried that a coinciding push for a new, multimillion-dollar performing arts center in Missoula might further feed the fervor.

He has a point. The value and success of this orchestra to this city cannot -- SHOULD not -- be gauged solely on its ability to play music flawlessly. Rather, its most important role is to engage the community in great music, draw it into interaction with the artistic process, and provide a forum for townspeople to share as actors and audience in the sacred social ritual of performance.

The Missoula Symphony Orchestra has a new leader. I just hope that boosters of the orchestra don't allow the buzz to obscure the true value of this band to this town.

May 28, 2007 11:53 PM | | Comments (0)

When Lansing, Michigan's resident professional theater company, BoarsHead, faced the loss of state budget money, donor money from the death of a patron, and other unexpected revenue losses, it was forced to change its season mid-year. Their final show originally featured a guest director and a larger cast. Instead, that show was replaced with a one-man show called Underneath the Lintel and was directed in-house by the Artistic Director.

The resulting show is a fascinating one that certainly stands up to the rest of the season's offerings. While it was brought in as a cost-saving measure, it is still an outstanding production.

What's interesting, though, is the number of people calling in for reservations who then decide not to reserve when they learn that the show has changed. Given that neither show was particularly well-known or famous, it surprises me that so many people would decide not to come.

Perhaps it is the reservations about a one-hander. While many one-person shows can be entertaining, they are also hit or miss as they rely so heavily on the talents of one actor--an actor who then has no one to feed off. It's a type of show that audiences are likely to see a whole lot more of as arts budgets tighten and theaters are forced to look everywhere they can to save a dollar.

Down the road from BoarsHead, Williamston Theatre has been forced to cut short the run of its final show in the season. Money that they were promised was frozen along with all other arts money in the state.

Given the ongoing budget crisis in Michigan and in other states--and the general mood of the populace which is a hostility toward any taxes--arts organizations may need to start finding ways to survive without public money.

May 24, 2007 11:51 AM | | Comments (1)

The underbelly of an opera house
A writer finds there's more to this venue than music. "The Wortham Theater Center in Houston has a few quirks . . . The three-hour opera ("Aida"), featuring sets and costumes by British fashion designer Zandra Rhodes, was riveting. But it can be a little seat-numbing. So midway through the first act, I removed the thick wallet from my back pocket, placed it on the floor of the center's Brown Theater and settled in for the rest of the performance. At intermission, I reached down to retrieve the wallet and accidentally pushed it through an air vent in the floor. While it was a stupid thing to do, it helped to discover I'm not alone."
(Thanks to Clifford Pugh who wrote this for the Houston Chronicle)

Avant-garde opera is popular in Augusta, Ga.?
Innovative productions of familiar operas are fueling an uptick in attendance, said Les Reagan, artistic director of the Augusta Opera, before a performance of "La Boheme." "The National Endowment for the Arts most recent survey of public participation said that opera audiences grew by 46.6 percent between 1982 and 2002. That's 20 years of growth, and Les credits innovators in the field. Theater and opera companies aren't modernizing the productions, like producers did when they based the hit Broadway musical 'Rent' on the centuries-old storyline and music. They're simply presenting them in new ways or making them more accessible for modern audiences."
(Thanks to Stacey Hudson of the Augusta Metro Spirit)

The case for negative thinking
A psychologist debunks the so-called law of attraction recently embraced by the likes of Oprah Winfrey. "According to this made-up law, your thoughts attract whatever they focus on - literally. Focus on Britney Spears' thong, feel what it would be like to have it tied around your face, prepare to receive it - and it will soon be smothering you! . . . Indeed, one could reasonably argue that it was George Bush's blind optimism and reliance on his 'gut' that allowed him to invade Iraq without listening to those who anticipated failure. The refusal to consider the negative has mired us more deeply than ever in the negative."
(Thanks to Cliff Bostock, columnist for Creative Loafing Atlanta)

What audiences really think
The Birmingham News conducted a poll of regular attendees to the Alabama Symphony Orchestra to see how its new maestro, Justin Brown, fared by the end of his debut season. "Superlatives being relative, it's safe to say that a mutual admiration society has sprung up between Brown and our panelists, all of whom are regular concertgoers and none of whom have a stake in the ASO as staff or board members."
(Thanks to Michael Huebner of the Birmingham News)

May 23, 2007 1:01 AM | | Comments (0)

Madison, Wis., is one of those places that, for better or worse (mostly worse in my jaundiced view) finds its way onto many a list. From Richard Florida's "creative class" list of the best smaller cities in which to live, to the Money magazine rankings that put Madison #1 in America in 1996 to the current Forbes magazine list that dubs us one of the best cities for empty nesters, there's a lot of Madison hype out there.

Although Madison is not my original hometown and I had lived in a bigger city immediately before coming here, it's grown on me. Having lived here a dozen years now, I can see ways in which it's grown and improved. One example: when I came here in 1995 there was a dearth of independent and foreign films, something I'd come to take for granted in Minneapolis. Since then, a top-notch film festival has been established and will celebrate its tenth year in 2008, the UW Cinematheque brings fabulous and rare finds to the community and shows them for free, and several commercial theaters are also regularly programming art-house fare, including the splashy new Sundance 608 theater.


Although I will never be a native Madisonian and there are many ways this city can be self-congratulatory and grating, I've become a bit of a Madison defender, much to my surprise.


In recent months and years, two well-known writers/consultants on workplace issues and shifting demographics have moved here: Rebecca Ryan (of the forthcoming book Live First, Work Second) and Penelope Trunk (of the Web site Brazen Careerist and the new book of the same name). Ryan is a Wisconsin (but not Madison) native; Trunk is not.


I realized I'd become a touch defensive about Madison when I read this on Trunk's blog: "I'm not going to tell you that Madison is a bastion of culture and innovation. It's not." What rubs me the wrong way is that it's the limited perspective of someone who's barely acquainted with her new city. I, too, was a little underwhelmed when I came here. But that's the catch of local culture, I think, especially in smaller cities: you've got to know what's there and--this is the crucial part, folks--GET OUT THERE AND EXPERIENCE IT.


And Madison's culture is hardly secret: we've got an alternative weekly (the paper I contribute to), plus two dailies and countless blogs and Web sites to keep one informed. Theater runs the gamut from professional companies to a funky, $8-a-seat hole in the wall (and I mean that affectionately) that only produces new, original work. There are two art museums, local galleries, restaurants from Indonesian to Nepali to Peruvian. In the sciences, we're home to Jamie Thomson (the world-renowned stem cell researcher) and Richard Davidson, who is doing groundbreaking research on the brain science of happiness. Internationally acclaimed conductor Edo de Waart lives here, and the Dalai Lama spoke here earlier this month.


I could go on, but I won't. My point is simply that, if you can't find culture and innovation here, you're not tryin' - and the same can be said of many, many small cities around the country.

May 22, 2007 6:00 AM | | Comments (3)

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About Last Night
Terry Teachout on the arts in New York City
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Dalouge Smith advocates for the Arts
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No genre is the new genre
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David Jays on theatre and dance
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Apollinaire Scherr talks about dance
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Kyle Gann on music after the fact
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Greg Sandow on the future of Classical Music
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Norman Lebrecht on Shifting Sound Worlds

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Jerome Weeks on Books
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Wendy Rosenfield: covering drama, onstage and off
lies like truth
Chloe Veltman on how culture will save the world

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Regina Hackett takes her Art To Go
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