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December 30, 2002

Songs Of Protest "The venerable tradition of American protest music still generates heat on the rally circuit, as Dylan's constant reinvocation proves. Still, political music is marked by the same tension that always feeds pop music: the desire to connect to a legacy versus the impulse to try something new. The activist songbook includes major contributions from punk and hip-hop as well as folk-rock. Benefit concerts and albums have become part of the star-making machinery." The Nation 12/23/02

Penalties For Success The 7-year-old New West Symphony, which calls an LA suburb home, has an unusual problem - one fanned by its success. The orchestra has a budget of $2 million, and has run every year in the black. Its musicians are part-timers, professionals who for the most part make their livings playing in LA's recording studios. The problem? If the orchestra gets bigger, it'll lose its part-timers, and the quality of the players might decline. And yet, there is pressure to grow... Los Angeles Times 12/30/02

Disney Hall - Opening Times Three Los Angeles' dramatic new Disney Hall, scheduled to open next October, is opening in a flurry of gala fundraising benefits expected to earn $3 million for the LA Philharmonic. "On the first night they'll hear the tried-and-true classics. On the second, the new music of the 21st century. And on the third, we'll honor the European composers who fled Nazi Germany to come to Hollywood and were hired by the film industry." Los Angeles Times 12/30/02

Tune Smith San Francisco's Davies Hall is "tuned" for every performance. The computer-controlled acoustical canopy that dangles over the stage looks like some huge constructivist sculpture and reflects sound back to the musicians and out to the audience. It's composed of 59 slightly bowed 6-foot squares of Plexiglas - they collectively cover 3,400 square feet - whose height and angle are adjusted according to the size of the ensemble or to the piece being performed." San Francisco Chronicle 12/30/02

December 29, 2002

Rising Water Under La Scala The controversial renovation of La Scala Opera House has been further complicated by news that water under the theatre has risen 80 centimeters. "The proposed new stage tower will require foundations at least 18 metres deep, so the lowest four metres of the structure will be under water." Gramophone 12/28/02

Dumbing Down Music On TV Make classical music "relevant"? "Hip"? "Glamorous"? The new Classic FM TV packages classical music into three-minute MTV-style videos, but far from making it attractive, it succeeds in "creating bland 'easy listening' versions that are impossible for any serious musician to listen to." London Evening Standard 12/27/02

Latin Music's New Starmakers For years, Miami's Latin music scene was a one-man show. No longer. As Latin music has increasingly penetrated the mainstream US, a new generation of producers is wielding power. Los Angeles Times 12/29/02

Anyone Can Conduct, Right? Punk Rocker Leads Royal Philharmonic A British TV show called "Faking It" picked a punk rocker out of a pub and spent four weeks teaching him how to conduct a symphony orchestra - the Royal Philharmonic. "His first hurdle was learning to read music: 'I didn't do that well at school. So at first I just saw little black dots. The experts said, 'There's no right way to conduct but there's a wrong way.' I found it incredibly confusing." London Evening Standard 12/23/02

When Violins Are Played Only As "Investment Opportunities" Owners of a 1718 Stradivarius violin have loaned it to the concertmaster of the Detroit Symphony. But only for two-and-a-half weeks. Then it's back to the vault in which it lives. Why? The instrument is for sale, and it's good publicity to get it played. But the instruments are so expensive - this one valued at about $3 million - that very few musicians could ever afford to play, let alone own one. Detroit Free Press 12/29/02

Langston Hughes Opera Recovered A long lost blues opera by Lanston Hughes and James P. Johnson performed only three times in 1940 has been reconstructed and performed. "The music is a combination of jazz, swing, blues and ragtime, all set within a classical structure. At various points it recalls the work of Gershwin, Duke Ellington, Scott Joplin and Dvorak. Some of the numbers set spectators to tapping their fingers and toes in rhythm." The New York Times 12/28/02

December 27, 2002

Year Of The Blues The US Congress has declared 2003 the "Year of the Blues." "If hip-hop is 'the black CNN,' as Chuck D. famously suggested, blues music was a running news bulletin from the earliest days of radio. The blues, as the Congress noted, have documented the Great Depression, 'race relations, pop culture and the migration of the United States from a rural, agricultural society to an urban, industrialized nation'." San Francisco Chronicle 12/27/02

December 26, 2002

Vintage Sound On Vintage Machines Melbourne's Vintage Sound Association is into old recordings. Not CD's. Nopt even LP's. "The club, which has 20 members, meets once a month at the South Camberwell Tennis Club to play their old music on their old machines. Some use cylinders, which, before records, were the original sound source. Later examples, the gramophones, often feature the big conical horns, which in the vintage era acted as speakers. Some units have two horns as an early example of 'stereo'." The Age (Melbourne) 12/27/02

December 24, 2002

Classical Gas - Stuck In The Past? Why do people constantly dump on classical music? Justin Davidson writes that "those who are most passionate about the art are also people with a strong allegiance to the past - often stronger, in fact, than their affection for the present. Connoisseurs believe in a golden age, when composers really knew how to write, performers knew how to play and music lovers knew how to listen. To members of this cult of bygones, John Adams is a puny figure hopping alongside the colossus of Beethoven, and the violinist Maxim Vengerov a flickering shade in the brilliance of Nathan Milstein. The present is degraded precisely because it can never be the past." Chicago Tribune (Newsday) 12/24/02

"Silent Night" Restored to Original Version Think you know "Silent Night? You don't know the "real" "Silent Night." "The modern version comprises only the first two and the last of six original verses." And there has been a minor musical revision. Now "the Silent Night Association, an Austrian-based appreciation society, has now released a CD containing all the words, sung in 15 languages, in time for Christmas. The music differs subtly in two bars but the change is barely noticeable." The Telegraph (UK) 12/22/02

Explaining The Glenn Gould Phenomenon Glenn Gould was (and remains) a phenomenon of the music world - a figure taken up in the broader culture to a remarkable degree. Why?"What made Gould’s Goldbergs so popular that they could be plausibly incorporated into the cultural décor of The Silence of the Lambs? Why are they still so popular today? The answers, not surprisingly, have almost as much to do with extra-musical factors as with purely musical ones." Commentary 12/02

Rome's New Center For Music Rome's first new concert hall in 70 years opens. "Designed by Genoese architect Renzo Piano, who also worked on the Pompidou Centre in Paris, the three concert halls, open-air arena and recording studios in 20 acres of parkland replace the city's previous auditorium, the Augusteo, destroyed by dictator Benito Mussolini in 1934." Gramophone 12/23/02

December 23, 2002

We Dig World Music - Just One Question...What Is It? World Music is hot. Yet the genre is so broad, defining it leads to all sorts of disagreements. "Such acute diversity can be bewildering. If you’ve ever thought that the term 'world music' is one of convenience, you are right. It was, according to Radio 3’s most sturdily-accented presenter, Andy Kershaw, coined by 'six independent record companies in a room above a pub in Islington in 1986'." The Scotsman 12/24/02

December 22, 2002

Stuck In My Head And Driving Me Mad... What is it about some songs that makes them stick in your head? And why is it that those songs tend to be the worst kind of songs, those awful songs you'd never ever admit you liked... The Times (UK) 12/23/02

The Death Of Arena Rock Those giant arena-size rock concerts - did they ever make sense? Now they seem like dinosaurs from another age. "One pictures thousands of minions working in warehouses on computer run sets, and one wonders why. The technology involved is both mind boggling and useless - unless some other use can be found for giant human gerbil-balls, in much the same manner that cell phones came of astronautry. Arena rock seems cheesy now even at its best, but one reason for the obsolescence is simply that it outpriced itself." The Scotsman 12/22/02

Looking For Composers With Heart "American composers have long maintained an impersonal veneer." For much of the 20th Century they oozed technique - lots of grey matter spilled all over the pages of their scores. But "with compositional masks falling in recent years, there comes a crisis of style: What's the musical language of the 21st-century heart?" Philadelphia Inquirer 12/22/02

CD Sales Slide During Holidays "In the five weeks since mid-November, when the record labels began their biggest holiday blitz in recent memory, compact disc sales were down 12.9 percent compared to the period in 2001, according to data from Nielsen SoundScan, which tracks music sales." This despite some high-profile releases by some of music's biggest stars. The New York Times 12/23/02

Will Baz Boheme Spoil Opera For Those Who Already Love Opera? Anthony Tommasini is impressed by the glare and glitter of Baz Luhrmann's Broadway Boheme. "Yet from a musical perspective, many veteran opera buffs will be dismayed, as I was, by the compromises the production has made. Newcomers to opera who think they are experiencing the real thing are not. For all the dazzle and heart of this Broadway "Bohème," I sat through three shows (to see the three pairs of rotating leads) getting more and more glum about the future of opera. Will traditional companies that play by the rules be able to keep up as the public embraces amplified opera on Broadway?"
The New York Times 12/22/02

Do DVD's Threaten CD Sales? Let's Do The Numbers... "There's a growing sense in the music industry that DVD sales are surpassing those of CDs. In response, many music retailers have expanded their DVD selection, and even begun displaying hit movie titles along side the best-selling albums. In response, record companies have begun to rely on DVDs to assist their own marketing efforts -- not only by developing more features for music video releases, but by using DVDs to cross-promote tours and new releases, or as sales-boosting bonuses. The effort is beginning to pay off, too." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 12/22/02

Christmas Music...Looking For The Good Stuff "Christmas, like weddings, brings out people's worst tastes. Houses are bedizened with too many garish lights, lawns cluttered with blow-up Santas and snowmen. Mall Muzak drills "Jingle Bell Rock," perhaps the nadir of Western music, into our protesting brains. It's hard to know if the insult is greater to devout Christians or those of other beliefs." But there is great Christmas music... plenty of it... Dallas Morning News 12/22/02

The Anti-Music Of Phones Increasingly, our time in public is being interrrupted with music. Music? I guess that's what they call those customized ring tones that cell phones make. "The proliferation of cellular phones has put the power of automatic melody into the pockets of your friends and neighbours, and there's no freezer on Earth big enough to hide all the cheesy sounds they can produce." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 12/21/02

December 20, 2002

Dallas Opera Cancels "Tassie" The Dallas Opera has cancelled the North American premiere of Mark-Anthony Turnage's 'The Silver Tassie,' saying that "the cancellation of the antiwar opera was due to financial considerations and political sensitivities in the wake of the September 11th attack on the World Trade Center." Andante 12/19/02

The Right Version of "Correct" So what does "authentic" mean in music? When there are 14 manuscript versions of a Mahler score, what were the composer's final final thoughts? "Two years of note-picking research in Vienna have exposed almost 400 errors and oversights in the published score" of Mahler's Second Symphony. On the other hand, maybe all 14 versions are "correct" in their own way. "It's not wrong. In all 14 of Mahler's scores he wants it to sound that way." La Scena Musicale 12/19/02

December 19, 2002

Record-Buying Chic Buying a CD isn't just a simple matter of walking into a store. In Los Angeles, "where you buy your music also to some extent reflects one's beliefs about the nature of pop culture, who owns it, and how to live it. It's more than a battle for identity. It's a struggle for the control of L.A.'s entertainment culture." Los Angeles Times 12/19/02

Calgary Gets Some Civic Support The Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, which suspended operations two months ago in the face of overwhelming debt, is getting a bit of relief from the city government. Calgary's city council agreed this week to kick in $250,000 to help rescue the CPO, provided it can raise the remaining $1.25 million it needs from other sources. But a number of city officials were dismayed that public money could be spent on bailing out a private nonprofit. Calgary Herald 12/19/02

December 18, 2002

British Music Group Reports Piracy Up 36 Percent The British Phonographic Industry reports that piracy of music rose 36 percent in the past year. "The music industry watchdog said figures from 2001 showed a massive rise in the number of fake and pirated CDs seized in the UK. The figures are based on the number of seizures in the UK in 2001, and represent £27 million worth of music." BBC 12/18/02

Piano Recitals - M.I.A. Charles Michener laments the death of the piano recital. "For some time now, I have remarked on a development that, while less dramatic than the Bolsheviks’ overthrow of the Tsar, represents a considerable loss: the disappearance of the piano recital as a staple of New York’s concert scene. Among the world’s generous supply of first-class pianists, only a handful of the most famous ones are heard with anything like regularity in our major halls, and then generally not more than once a year. Piano competitions continue to turn out the next Horowitzes at an alarming rate, but how these prodigies manage to make careers is a mystery, given that virtually none of them are ever heard hereabouts." New York Observer 12/18/02

San Jose Makes It Official In a foregone conclusion of events that began months ago, the San Jose Symphony has officially filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and gone out of business. The symphony had been unable to dig its way out of a massive financial hole, even after its struggles became a rallying point for musicians and music-lovers nationwide. But in the wake of the SJS's demise, a new orchestra has sprung up in the city, allied with the San Jose Ballet. Los Angeles Times 12/18/02

In The Red, And They Couldn't Be Happier "Optimism is running so thick at the Canadian Opera Company these days that not even a half-million-dollar deficit can dampen it. The COC announced Monday evening that it spent $476,000 more than it took it in 2002, snapping a five-year string of balanced budgets. Yet, with sod-turning for a Toronto opera house only months away, there was none of the chastened rhetoric usually heard when a company runs deep into the red." The Globe & Mail (Toronto) 12/18/02

  • Previously: Canadian Opera Company's Unpleasant News It's been a great year for the Canadian Opera Company. Artistically the company's on a high, and it finally got money to build a new home. But then there's a nasty deficit rearing up. "Ironically, the crisis in operating funding comes as the federal government is showering the arts with millions after ten years of devastating stinginess. Ottawa is contributing $25 million to building the opera house. But that's for a building. Operating money is something else." Toronto Star 12/16/02

A Thankless Job Ahead In Pittsburgh Whatever brave soul volunteers to replace Gideon Toeplitz as managing director of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra will have a massive rebuilding job ahead. What makes the PSO situation particularly tricky is that the city is not in the habit of supporting non-profits that don't support themselves, and that means that prospects are not good for an orchestra running a $7 million deficit with little in the way of reserves or a long-term plan. Pittsburgh Tribune-Review 12/15/02

  • Previously: Taking The Fall In Pittsburgh Gideon Toeplitz, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra executive who threatened a bankruptcy filing for his ensemble this past fall if contributions did not rise, has apparently been forced out of the organization. Toeplitz announced his resignation at a board meeting on Monday. The PSO is struggling under a multi-million dollar deficit, and is scheduled to lose popular music director Mariss Jansons at the conclusion of the 2003-04 season. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 12/10/02

Fire Threatens Moscow Conservatory A fire at the Moscow Conservatory forced the evacuation of the school and threatened the historic building. "The fire started on the second or third floor of the wing that includes the conservatory's small recital hall, library and several classrooms containing a collection of keyboard instruments, including pianos and an organ." Nando Times (AP) 12/18/02

Recently-Discovered Mahler Score May have Been Annotated By Another "A recently found score of Gustav Mahler's First Symphony, said to contain the composer's own handwritten revisions, actually may have been annotated by someone else, a scholar said Tuesday." Nando Times (AP) 12/17/02

December 17, 2002

Recording Industry To Go After Small Vendors "The Recording Industry Association of America said Monday it is demanding a halt to illegal music sales at gas stations, convenience stores, groceries and some small music stores that the group has identified as offering illegal copies of music recordings." Wired 12/17/02

Play It Baby One More Time Hmmmn... did Baz Luhrmann steal the pizzazz for his Broadway Boheme from his Movie Moulin Rouge? (or is it the other way around?) Stack up both productions side-by-side and "even the same small details (both feature little people and nuns in cameo roles)" are similar. "Shameless copycatting? Or a lesson from the if-it-works-once-try-it-again school? You decide." New York Daily News 12/17/02

Three Tremors Say what you will about the Three Tenors phenomenon (and critics have said plenty). But for legions of fans, the 3Ts have provided real thrills (how else do you explain tickets costing thousands?). But long after these weary voices ought to have packed it in, they're still at it, and in Minneapolis this week, even the diehard fans didn't seem impressed. "The whole feeling of the evening was stiff and uncomfortable. Audience response was relatively subdued until the end, the final medley. The only real ovation came after Pavarotti's signature 'Nessun Dorma' during which he delivered one good solid but very effortful high note, for him the only one of the evening." The Star-Tribune (Mpls) 12/17/02

December 16, 2002

Canadian Opera Company's Unpleasant News It's been a great year for the Canadian Opera Company. Artistically the company's on a high, and it finally got money to build a new home. But then there's a nasty deficit rearing up. "Ironically, the crisis in operating funding comes as the federal government is showering the arts with millions after ten years of devastating stinginess. Ottawa is contributing $25 million to building the opera house. But that's for a building. Operating money is something else." Toronto Star 12/16/02

Why Big-Name Orchestras Are A Tough Sell In Edinburgh Why are audiences staying away from big-name orchestra performances in Edinburgh? Oh, the annual festival is popular, but the rest of the year, first-rate orchestras play before half-empty halls... The Scotsman 12/17/02

Music 10, Words 0... Many an otherwise good opera has been ruined by a dreadful libretto. "Why do composers ever assume that they can write their own words? There's nothing which makes the heart sink, going into an opera, like the words 'Music and libretto by ...' Very few good operas have ever been written to a composer's own words..." The Independent (UK) 12/10/02

Havana's Capital Of Jazz "If the United Nations ever decided to put on a jazz festival, it might look something like the gloriously multicultural, border-defying event that shook this island for the past week."
Chicago Tribune 12/16/02

December 15, 2002

How Music Changes The Brain A new study measures the physical effect of studying music on the brain. "Among expert musicians, certain areas of the cortex are up to 5% larger than in people with little or no musical training, recent research shows. In musicians who started their training in early childhood, the neural bridge that links the brain's hemispheres, called the corpus callosum, is up to 15% larger. A professional musician's auditory cortex — the part of the brain associated with hearing — contains 130% more gray matter than that of non-musicians." Los Angeles Times 12/13/02

  • Playing On The Brain Composers had always known that some keys and combinations of notes can manipulate an audience. But now researchers are actively studying how that manipulation works. Take the key of a piece of music, for example. "One chunk of the brain was responding when the melody was in G major or E minor and another part of the circuit was responding when it was in E major." BBC 12/13/02

Why "White Christmas" Is The Most Popular Song Of All Time The most-recorded song of all-time? The biggest-selling? That would be Irving Berlin's "White Christmas." "It has been recorded in Dutch, Yiddish, Japanese and - perhaps most surreal of all - Swahili. Its sales have topped 125 million worldwide and its place as the all-time top single has been challenged only once, not by the Beatles, not by Presley nor Sinatra, but by Elton John's 'Candle in the Wind 97' tribute to Princess Diana." The Observer (UK) 12/15/02

Recording Sales Down Bigtime People ar still buying music. But sales are down this year. "Buyers have snatched up 597.4 million albums this year, compared with 669.7 million in the same period in 2001. The 11% drop follows last year's dip of 2.5%, the first no-growth year since Nielsen SoundScan began tabulating sales data in 1991. After enjoying a decade of climbing sales, retailers were alarmed by the 2001 decrease and hoped the drop was temporary fallout from 9/11 and a weakening economy. Today they'd welcome such a benign stumble over this year's sizable plunge, which can't be dismissed as a fluke. The culprit?" USAToday 12/13/02

December 14, 2002

The Kimmel Center, One Year In One year after Philadelphia's dramatic new Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts made its debut, the jury is still out on whether it's a success. On the plus side, attendance is generally good, and acoustic improvements are being gradually made. On the other hand, the acoustics are hardly what they should be, there are cosmetic problems everywhere, public access is much more limited than promised, and who could forget the sprinkler-system malfunction which doused the Philadelphia Orchestra with dirty water two weeks ago? Philadelphia Inquirer 12/15/02

The Rodney Dangerfield Of Opera Composers If there are two undeniable truths in the world of opera, they are: 1) Audiences can never get enough Puccini; and 2) Musicologists have had just about enough of him. Even as scholars began to (finally) embrace other Italian opera composers like Verdi and Donizetti a few decades back, Puccini was left behind, an afterthought in the study of "serious" opera. Now, a new study of the man and his work may finally drag the musicological community into line with the people who pack opera houses for the latest production of Tosca. The New York Times 12/15/02

We Want Our (ClassicF)MTV! Next week, England's ClassicFM, the station that proved that classical music can still draw huge listenership, launches a TV channel devoted to classical music videos. And while the channel is sure to draw fire for its reliance on short, lightweight works, the simple fact is that ClassicFM is the only current model for successful marketing of classical music on-air. So it probably wouldn't hurt to trust them. The Telegraph (UK) 12/14/02

Struggling To Stay On Top The Houston Symphony musicians have fired another public shot at their management, warning that if proposed cuts to the orchestra's schedule and compensation package are implemented, it would mean the effective end of a major orchestral presence in the nation's fourth-largest city: "The success of any campaign for the sustenance of this orchestra depends not in part, but entirely on the ongoing preservation of the symphony's artistic stature." Houston Chronicle 12/15/02

  • Oh, Grow Up And Negotiate! The Houston Symphony's management and musicians appear to be moving ever closer to a work stoppage, at least if the shots being exchanged in the pages of the local paper are any measure. Music critic Charles Ward has had about enough of the negotiations by press release - he worries that the musicians may be twisting numbers, and that the management doesn't seem to know a whole heck of a lot about classical music. Houston Chronicle 12/13/02

The Merger That Almost Was Ten years ago, the musicians of the BBC Scottish Symphony and the Scottish Opera were ambushed by the announcement that the managements of the two organizations had agreed to merge, and to form a single orchestra to do the work of two. What followed was years of legal battles, terse negotiations, and - astonishingly - unprecedented success for each of the two distinct orchestras. These days, to eliminate either of the two would be unthinkable, and most observers agree that it should never have been considered in the first place. The Herald (Glasgow) 12/11/02

The Hometown Boy Nobody Knows The struggle of American conductors to be taken seriously in America is well-documented, but what about British-born maestros looking for work at home? Meet Donald Runnicles: orchestras and critics in Europe and North America rave about him, and yet few British orchestras have ever worked under him. A crash course may be in order, however, as Runnicles is widely rumored to be a finalist to succeed Leonard Slatkin at the head of the BBC Symphony. The Guardian (UK) 12/11/02

What Went Wrong With 'Sophie'? Nicholas Maw's much-hyped new opera based on the Holocaust novel Sophie's Choice is one of the hottest tickets on the London scene, but critical reaction has been less than stellar. "Sophie's Choice ultimately... founders on gaping disparities between subject, score and production. It raises issues that take us into territory where music and theatre struggle to cope." The Guardian (UK) 12/14/02

  • Previously: Sophie - A Surprise Choice Nicholas Maw's new opera Sophie's Choice has a star cast: "Sir Trevor Nunn to direct. Sir Simon Rattle to conduct. The dazzling Austrian mezzo Angelika Kirchschlager making her long-awaited London opera debut in the title role. Oh, and tickets so massively subsidised that the best seats in the house cost only £50." Still, no one expected Sophie to be a hit, so it's only playing five nights. And it's become one of the season's hottest tickets. The Telegraph (UK) 11/27/02

  • It's Not One Thing, It's Everything So what exactly is wrong with Nicholas Maw's adaptation of Sophie's Choice? What isn't? "The opera's novel-like narrative plays badly onstage. None of the three main characters - the refugee Sophie, her charismatic but mentally ill Brooklyn boyfriend Nathan, and the bystanding narrator Stingo - has a strong entrance. Character expositions are antitheatrical, dispersed rather than concentrated. The first two acts don't end so much as they stop. Scene after scene lacks a context that might infuse the mundane hi-how-are-you moments in the libretto with significance." Philadelphia Inquirer 12/15/02

For Whom The Cell Tolls This week, as conductor Sakari Oramo, in his New York Philharmonic debut, was wowing a Lincoln Center crowd with Nielsen's 4th Symphony, a cell phone went off in the balcony, breaking the breathless silence that follows the second movement. Such an event is, of course, all too common these days, but Oramo's reaction was not: he refused to continue the performance until silence had been fully restored. Justin Davidson wishes more conductors were possessed of such temerity. Newsday (Long Island, NY) 12/14/02

And The Meek Shall Inherit The Record Business "Once again this year there was much gnashing of teeth throughout the music business about the ongoing 'demise' of classical recording. But... while classical Goliaths like BMG, Decca and Philips have cut back on the number of releases, this has had the positive result of halting much wasteful duplication of repertory. The fact remains that 2002 still brought plenty of important and interesting classical releases, many of them from smaller independent companiesthat are now the shining hope of a battered industry."
Chicago Tribune 12/15/02

December 13, 2002

Calgary Phil Needs Emergency Cash To Survive The Calgary Philharmonic, which shut down this winter because of money problems, has proposed cutting its season and musicians' salaries to survive. But it also needs $1.5 million. "I must make it very clear. Our next step is to secure funding to implement this plan. Without funded support, we will not be able to return to the stage.' The CPO suspended operations Oct. 15 when it filed for bankruptcy protection in an attempt to restructure its way out of a $1.2-million deficit, dwindling ticket sales and falling corporate donations." The Globe & Mail 12/13/02

Music Go Boom? John Adams has been commissioned by the San Francisco Opera to write an opera about the deveopment of the atom bomb. "It involves what I call American mythology. That was what drew me to the `Nixon in China' story as well. I grew up in the late 1950s and '60s, the worst part of the cold war, and these images are planted in my consciousness."
backstage 12/12/02

December 12, 2002

Brain Songs Why does music provoke such powerful emotions and memories? Turns out that part of the brain right behind our foreheads might contain the secret. "The rostromedial prefrontal cortex - has complex functions relating to the link between data and the emotions, and, say the scientists, it may be the reason why melodies evoke memories." The Guardian (UK) 12/13/02

Scottish Opera Could Be Reduced To Part-Time Despite numerous bailouts over the years, the critically acclaimed Scottish Opera is in another crisis. Without a big increase in public subsidies, the company will have to slash its season next year. Doing that would "inevitably" mean that the company would become a part-time operation... The Scotsman 12/12/02

MetManiac Back On The Web In November the Metropolitan Opera tried to shut down John Patterson's website devoted to all things Metropolitan Opera. The opera company accused the fan site (www.metmaniac.com) of violating its copyrights and trademarks. An uproar of protest caused the Met to rethink its position, and the site is back in business. The deal: "Mr. Patterson would have the name of his site back for a dollar a year. No video clips, except with permission. And no indication of trading or even any indication that he has a broadcast collection at all. According to Mr. Patterson: 'I told them, 'That's OK. I already have everything I can get. My collection's more comprehensive than yours!' He has long stated that he intends to donate his collection to the Met upon his demise. Wall Street Journal 12/06/02

  • Previously: Met Opera Attacks Web Fan Metropolitan Opera fan John Patterson started a website called Metmaniac.com to "celebrate and annotate nearly 70 years of Metropolitan Opera broadcasts. It featured nearly complete lists of broadcasts from the 1930s to the present, but the lists were not linked to anything. It also provided a message board for opera lovers to discuss shows and buy, sell and trade tickets." But last week, the Met sent Patterson a cease-and-desist order, which shut the site down. The company claims "the name MetManiac and the contents of the site violated their trademarks and copyrights." Wired 11/22/02

Radiohead Fanatic Pianist Christopher O'Riley has a passion for the guitar band Radiohead. He's been arranging about a dozen of the band's songs and performing them in his otherwise classical concerts and playing them during the intermission of "From the Top," his public radio music show. "Both classical musicians and Radiohead enthusiasts have taken note of O'Riley's obsession; his work is drawing notice from concert promoters and it's won him a following via the Internet among rock fans who normally would never set foot in a recital hall." Andante 12/11/02

December 11, 2002

Koko The Musical Gorilla Koko, the 31-year-old talking gorilla, knows 1000 words in sign language. Koko's also got musical taste, say her friends, and they've recorded a 9-song cd based on her language. "Koko's opinion was weighed in the final selection of reggae, rap, blues, rock and Celtic tunes..." Toronto Star 12/12/02

Taking The Fall In Pittsburgh Gideon Toeplitz, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra executive who threatened a bankruptcy filing for his ensemble this past fall if contributions did not rise, has apparently been forced out of the organization. Toeplitz announced his resignation at a board meeting on Monday. The PSO is struggling under a multi-million dollar deficit, and is scheduled to lose popular music director Mariss Jansons at the conclusion of the 2003-04 season. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 12/10/02

La Scala Construction On Hold Cultural protesters and a collection of politicians have managed to bring the renovation of the La Scala opera house in Milan to a halt, at least temporarily. The official line is that the plans were not properly approved by the city council, but opponents' actual concerns range from acoustics to historic preservation to simple dislike of any sort of change to the hall. BBC 12/10/02

  • Are They Wrecking La Scala? Members of Italy's "cultural elite" held a press conference this week to denounce the renovations currently underway on the La Scala opera house. They claim "the work would seriously damage the theatre's appearance and acoustics. It was also illegal, they told a press conference in Rome, because the project had not been properly approved by the city council. 'They have even destroyed the orchestra pit'." The Guardian (UK) 12/10/02

December 10, 2002

Mostly Mozart Names New Leader Last summer, Lincoln Center canceled all of its Mostly Mozart Festival orchestra concerts after a labor dispute with musicians. Some thought the festival might be canceled or radically remade. Now a new director has been named. Louis Longrée, 41, "recently completed a stint as music director of Glyndebourne Touring Opera and regularly conducts at Glyndebourne Festival Opera in England." The New York Times 12/11/02

SF Symphony In The Black Though orchestras across America are reporting financial troubles, the San Francisco Symphony says it posted a small surplus for 2002 - $112,000 on a budget of more than $45 million. Income was almost evenly split between earned income and contributions. San Francisco Chronicle 12/10/02

December 9, 2002

Berlin's Battling Opera Houses Berlin's three opera houses are scrapping with one another to survive. "Does a city really need three opera houses? Probably not, but Berlin has long taken pride in its embarrassment of operatic riches. If one house closes, the city will end up with the same eminently sensible—and thus eminently predictable—arrangement that applies in New York, Paris, and London. There will be the "big" house, like the Met or Covent Garden, presenting de-luxe productions with international stars; and there will be the "alternative" house, like New York City Opera or English National Opera, staking out slightly more adventurous repertory. With three companies, you never quite know what you're going to get." The New Yorker 12/09/02

More On Baz's Boheme "Given his bad-boy reputation and hipness quotient, one might expect Baz Luhrmann's late 1950s-set "La Boheme" to, in effect, go nuts. It doesn't. Based on his 1990 Australian Opera production, it's a surprisingly straightforward, generously entertaining, ravishingly designed accomplishment. Few will find it truly moving." Chicago Tribune 12/09/02

  • All In The Casting "To assist with the overhaul, Baz casts luscious twentysomethings in the four romantic leads, bringing cheer to those of us who feel that attractive people have always been an oppressed and ignored minority in the performing arts." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 12/09/02

  • Somewhere Between Pop And... "Luhrmann maintains his exotic persona by keeping the Italian original and using slangy, conversational, occasionally silly hep-cat-man supertitles, undertitles and side titles with contrasting type fonts - including script for romantic arias and even a "KA-POW" in the struggling-artist horseplay - as part of the multitasking collage sensibility. This can be amusing. It can also be self-conscious." Newsday 12/09/02

  • A Treat As A Musical "The total result is a very special and very appealing style somewhere between romance and chic, that actually is new on Broadway." New York Post 12/09/02

  • Rejoicing In Live Theatre "Whether you queue up for the cheap seats or splurge on the more expensive ones, Luhrmann's paean to love and death is worth experiencing at least once." Hartford Courant 12/09/02

Toronto Symphony To Pick Oundjian? Top candidate to take over as music director of the Toronto Symphony is former Tokyo String Quartet violinist Peter Oundjian. Oundjian retired from playing the violin in the mid-90s after an injury and made his conducting debut in summer 1995, replacing an ailing André Previn at the Caramoor festival. The TSO has been without a music director since June 2001. Toronto Star 12/09/02

December 8, 2002

SF Opera - Best Of The Rest? Of course the Metropolitan Opera is America's best - and biggest. But San Francisco is surely second (or third?) best? San Francisco Chronicle 12/08/02

Celebrating Boheme Baz Luhrmann's "La Boheme" opens in a flash of color on Broadway. "The show is far more respectful of its sentimental operatic essence than many of the lugubrious, experimental productions of old war horses at the Met. (Think 'Lucia di Lammermoor' or 'Il Trovatore.') What Mr. Luhrmann and his extraordinary production designer (and wife), Catherine Martin, have done is find the visual equivalent of the sensual beauty and vigor of the score." The New York Times 12/09/02

  • Youth Appeal "Luhrmann does not so much reinvent 'La Boheme' as repackage it. He makes a powerful case for wresting it out of the exclusive control of highbrow culture and into the realm of mainstream musical theater. Washington Post 12/09/02

  • Baz's Boheme - Surprisingly Flat Does opera really belong on Broadway? "Opera lovers needn't fear. Luhrmann hasn't gone too far. A young, handsome cast sings the opera in Italian as written. The amplification is far subtler than the miserable Broadway norm and almost pleasurable. To compensate for singing that is not of a particularly high standard - though, for the most part, OK -- there is a sense of intimacy and detailed bits of characterization that are hard to equal in a large opera house." Los Angeles Times 12/09/02

The Increasingly Blurry Lines Between Opera And Broadway Opera companies producing Broadway musicals. Broadway taking on opera classics. What's going on? "There are two main reasons for this sudden fusion, neither of which originate in artistic concerns." Chicago Tribune 12/08/02

Mahler Manuscript Means Much So what difference does the discovery last month of a new manuscript of Mahler's First Symphony make? "It changes not the substance of the symphony but its sound: its orchestration and how, by means of stress and rhythmic detail, its ideas are articulated — how, in a word, it speaks." The New York Times 12/08/02

Isn't Payola Illegal? Er, yes...but if you're a Latin music artist and want to get airplay on the radio, you've got to pay. "Because payola adds so much to the cost of promoting a recording - between 20 percent and 30 percent, according to former major-label employees - it cuts out most smaller, independent labels, typical sources for new genres and artists." Miami Herald 12/08/02

Ticket Prices On The Way Down In recent years concert ticket prices have spiraled up. But in the past six months the concert industry has discovered consumer resistance to the high cost, and finally, prices are staring to decline. One promoter predicts ticket prices will be down 15 percent from last year. Rocky Mountain News 12/08/02

La Scala Opens In An Away Game For the first time in 224 years, La Scala opened its season outside of its own theatre. "The newly built, 2,400-seat Arcimboldi, in a former industrial area, will host La Scala's full program of operas, ballets and concerts through December 2004 while La Scala Theater, the company's venerable temple of bel canto, undergoes a $56 million renovation." Nando Times (AP) 12/09/02

Answering A Complaining Critic Last week the Chicago Tribune published a damning series of criticisms about the acoustics in Chicago's Orchestra Hall. This week, the orchestra's president responds to music critic John von Rhein's complaints. "What confused us was not so much that Mr. von Rhein reversed the opinion that he had stated at the opening of the refurbished Orchestra Hall in 1997 - that the renovation brought "marked improvement" in the area of sound - but that he reversed views that he has been expressing consistently since. Chicago Tribune 12/08/02

December 7, 2002

After The Rain The damage is being toted up after the sprinklers went off during a Philadelphia Orchestra rehearsall. "A second Steinway grand piano was damaged in Tuesday morning's deluge at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, some warping has begun to appear in the floor of Verizon Hall, and 11 orchestra musicians are reporting damaged instruments." Philadelphia Inquirer 12/06/02

  • Previously: DOWNPOUR IN PHILLY: The Philadelphia Orchestra was rehearsing Stravinsky's Rite of Spring with incoming music director Christoph Eschenbach yesterday in its beautiful new concert hall, when strobe lights began to flash and dust started to drift down from above. Then, the downpour began. A high-powered sprinkler system, set off by construction work elsewhere in the building, engaged, and showered the musicians, their instruments (many valued at hundreds of thousands of dollars,) and the new stage with enough water to fill the $75,000 Steinway grand that sat on the stage. The extent of the damage is not yet known, but most musicians managed to shield their instruments from severe damage. Philadelphia Inquirer 12/04/02

Singer Sues Over Fog A singer is suing San Francisco Opera over the company's use of stage fog. "The lawsuit, filed in San Francisco Superior Court, is the latest twist in a fight between the city's opera and several singers who claim the fake fog is damaging their health." Yahoo! (Reuters) 12/06/02

December 6, 2002

Orchestra Shutdowns Come To The Holyland The increased violence and tension in the Middle East may now have killed off a beloved local institution: the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra has announced that it will shut down this weekend as a result of nonpayment of promised funds from the city and the Israel Broadcast Authority. JSO officials also accuse the IBA and municipal authorities of wanting to turn the orchestra into a political pawn. Jerusalem Post 11/5/02

No Shortage Of Cash In Boston Chicago may be struggling, St. Louis and Toronto may have had near-death experiences, and Houston may be on the verge of an all-out labor war, but things are just dandy at the Boston Symphony Orchestra. As the BSO prepares to kick off its holiday pops season, it is pulling in the kind of ticket revenue which would be enough to fund some orchestras for a year without a single dollar donated. Never an organization to underestimate its own importance, the BSO's managing director brags, "There are (smaller) orchestras that for the entire 52-week year will have not even $10 million of sales, We do almost half of that in basically three weeks. We are the biggest orchestra operation in the world by a big margin." Boston Herald 12/06/02

  • So Much for Greedy American Musicians The musicians of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra have taken an unprecedented step in an effort to help the organization stay fiscally solvent, offering up $100,000 of matching money to be applied against donations from orchestra subscribers. The musicians originally had planned to donate the money to the PSO outright, but agreed with management that a challenge grant would offer greater opportunity to involve the public. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 12/05/02

La Boheme Meets Moulin Rouge If anyone can make a 19th-century opera relevant to young 21st-century audiences, you can bet it's Baz Luhrmann. The Australian director behind Moulin Rouge, is using many of the same pyrotechnics and storytelling techniques of that movie in his new Broadway production of Puccini's La Boheme. But Luhrmann insists that, despite the updated look of the show, he is against modernizing a classic operatic plot just to "be groovy." The Christian Science Monitor 12/06/02

December 5, 2002

How Do You Build An Orchestra When The Top Guy Doesn't Stay? The Melbourne Orchestra has had something of an indifferent past, attended to by a series of guest conductors and maestros who never seemed to stay for long. The absence of a continuous guiding hand made for years of rough and unsteady concerts. All the same, this turnover of visitors kept audience numbers high, and supplemented a sense of cultural inferiority." Now the orchestra has appointed a new chief conductor. "Oleg Caetani will take over the chief conductor's position in 2005 and should make a significant impact on the city's musical life." The Age (Melbourne) 12/06/02

Celestial Sounds (As Music) When the Voyager space probes shot past Saturn, Uranus and Neptune on their 25-year journey into deep space, machines in the probe captured the whistles and chirrups the probes encountered, and transmitted them back to earth. Now composer Terry Riley has written a piece incorporating the sounds into a piece for the Kronos String Quartet and a 60-voice choir. "The string quartet was NASA's idea, the product of an arts programme that, over the past 30 years, has commissioned work from artists including Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg." The Guardian (UK) 12/06/02

A Remaster On The Future The hot new trend for recording buyers this Holiday season? "Music marketers are using new technology to remaster albums to their original form after selling us sonically sweetened versions for ages. With the success of historical and theme compilations, they've figured out these carefully made reproductions - with a few add-ons - will entice us anew." Christian Science Monitor 12/06/02

How To Stand Out In A Crowd (Maybe): "I have heard estimates that there are over 10,000 living composers in the United States today, which is ironically a number larger than most audiences for the majority of new music concerts and recordings. So, how to stand out from the crowd and be noticed? A good start is to be included in a book." The question is - which book, and where does it count? NewMusicBox 12/02

December 4, 2002

Downpour In Philly The Philadelphia Orchestra was rehearsing Stravinsky's Rite of Spring with incoming music director Christoph Eschenbach yesterday in its beautiful new concert hall, when strobe lights began to flash and dust started to drift down from above. Then, the downpour began. A high-powered sprinkler system, set off by construction work elsewhere in the building, engaged, and showered the musicians, their instruments (many valued at hundreds of thousands of dollars,) and the new stage with enough water to fill the $75,000 Steinway grand that sat on the stage. The extent of the damage is not yet known, but most musicians managed to shield their instruments from severe damage. Philadelphia Inquirer 12/04/02

Headed For A Showdown In Houston It simply is not possible to be further apart in negotiating stands than the musicians and management of the Houston Symphony are at the moment. Musicians want a five-year-deal, a salary jump to the level of the nation's major orchestras, and more benefits, while management wants to cut 6 or 7 weeks off the season in order to bring costs under control. The scene is familiar to orchestras across the country, but unlike most symphonic negotiations, which take place under closely guarded secrecy, this conflict has exploded into the open. Houston Chronicle 12/03/02

And The Survey Says... We Like Music Britons are big music consumers, says a new poll of more than 10,000 people by the digital music channel Music Choice. The average respondant in the poll spends "three hours 11 minutes and 55 seconds a day - or 48 days a year - listening to our music collections." The poll also indicates sizeable investments in music. "The average Briton owns 100 CDs, 51 records, 50 cassettes, 28 MP3 files and eight minidiscs worth more than £3,000." The Guardian (UK) 12/04/02

New Opera Company In Sydney A new opera company debuts in Sydney. It's called the Pinchgut Opera, named after the old convicts' name for Fort Denison in Port Jackson. With a startup budget of $500,000 and ambitions to produce chamber opera, the name was chosen "partly as a reminder of the company's humble beginnings." Sydney Morning Herald 12/04/02

December 3, 2002

Classical Critical List From the Bay Area to Boston, America's opera companies orchestras and classical music presenters are facing a downturn that has many worried for their survival. Here's a scorecard of who's at risk... CBSNews.com (AP) 12/02/02

Canceled, But Not For The Usual Reason The Los Angeles Opera is canceling a major production for the second time this season, but this time, its the fault of a virus, rather than the economy. "Italian composer Luciano Berio's new orchestration of Monteverdi's 'The Coronation of Poppea' -- slated for Jan. 11-19 with L.A. Opera artistic director Plácido Domingo and Frederica von Stade performing -- is off the schedule because the composer is ill and the new version of the opera has not been completed." The new Poppea was highly anticipated, and LA Opera plans to present it at some later date. Los Angeles Times 12/03/02

Calgary Cancels Christmas Something short of a massive, wailing public outcry greeted September's news that the Calgary Philharmonic was suspending operations, and efforts since the shutdown to revive the troubled orchestra have achieved mixed results. Now, the CPO is being forced to cancel four of its five holiday concerts, traditionally some of the ensemble's biggest money-makers of the year. On the plus side, officials expect to unveil a full scale restructuring plan tomorrow. Calgary Herald 12/01/02

The Nutcracker Factor Few would deny that the popularity of Pyotr Tchaikovsky's music in the US is predicated largely on the approximately 18,763,594 stagings of The Nutcracker which occur around the country every December. But even leaving Drosselmayer's brood aside, the Russian master can be counted as possibly the most listened to composer in America, even if many Americans probably couldn't tell you who he was. So what is it about Tchaikovsky that attracts the American ear? San Jose Mercury News 12/03/02

Quartet Quota The St. Lawrence String Quartet may be Canada's best-known international chamber music ensemble. Certainly no other group has done as much to promote Canadian composers as the Stanford-based foursome. But when the group's cellist decided to step aside last year, the St. Lawrence faced the decision that every string quartet dreads most - how to replace a musician, a partner, and a friend. First decision for the remaining members: should Canadian citizenship continue to be a requirement for admission? Denver Post 12/03/02

December 2, 2002

Do Dumbed-Down Audiences Require Dumbed-Down Opera? Opera audiences have grown, sure, but are they any smarter? No one would agree with that. So "does deepening musical illiteracy really affect the health of opera?" Matthew Gurewitsch talks with four of America's top opera managers about the problems of having to pay attention to audiences that may not know much about your art... Opera News 12/02

Police Bust Pirate Ring Police bust a New York-area pirate CD operation which turned out 10,000 bootlegged CD's a week. The operation was run out of a strip mall, and the family, (with mob ties) "sold rows of the CD's at the store and also delivered about $50,000 of pirated goods each month to various sites in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, making about $2.5 million a year in profits. The New York Times 12/02/02

Lyric Opera Drops Two Productions Chicago Lyric Opera isn't in a financial emergency like some of America's other big opera companies. But it doesn't want to get their either. So the company has dropped two expensive productions for next season. "With tickets harder to sell, donations more difficult to find and solid institutions like the Chicago Symphony Orchestra reporting sizable deficits, Lyric officials decided they had little choice about changing their plans for 2003-04." Chicago Sun-Times 11/29/02

Redoing Boston's Opera House The Boston Opera House, fallen into disrepair since closing in the early-90s, is getting a $31 million makeover. "It's a pet project of Mayor Thomas Menino, who has been pushing for the renovation since 1996 as part of his effort to revitalize the old theater district along Washington Street in the heart of downtown Boston, just a few blocks north from what used to be the 'Combat Zone,'a once sleazy collection of sex-oriented shops, bars and porno movie houses." Nando Times (AP) 12/01/02

Mother Sues Harlem Boys Choir The mother of a former student at the Boys Choir of Harlem is suing the organization, claiming one of the choir's counselors "had an improper relationship with her teenage son and at least one other student." She says the school did nothing to stop it. Chicago Tribune (AP) 12/01/02

Finding A Way Through Music Matt Savage is 10 years old, and he plays the piano well enough that he turns heads in New Orleans, where he lives. He's playing jazz in concerts around the world. But he isn't just a prodigy, he's also autistic, and "when he was younger, had great difficulty communicating, did not like to be touched and - most incredibly for a musician - couldn’t stand the sound of music or of household noises like a blender or a vacuum cleaner" Jerusalem Report 11/02

December 1, 2002

Blessed With Success What's the fastest growing segment of the US recording market? Contemporary Christian music, "or in the land of acronyms, CCM. It generates $800 million a year in album sales, more than jazz and classical combined." The most successful bands sell out arenas and sell millions of recordings... The Telegraph (UK) 11/29/02

When Good Concert Halls Go Bad Since Chicago's Orchestra Hall was retooled in 1997 there have been compaints, lots of them about the sound. Now the orchestra has hired another acoustics expert to see about fixing the sound. Chicago Tribune critics weigh in with their concerns. "In the discussions here, which also include CSO officials, sound consultants and performers, we tried to find out why the sound at Orchestra Hall has gotten worse since the 1997 renovation. Exactly how bad and why was at the core of our conversations." Chicago Tribune 12/01/02

Bocelli Spawn There are those who think that one Andrea Bocelli is one to many. And then there is the music industry. "While the Tuscan tenor has inspired a following so devoted that it borders on being monotheistic, his success has sired a new musical genre and a host of fresh faces." They're known as "pop tenors, PBS tenors or Baby Bocellis," and they're selling millions and millions of recordings. "Bocelli and his brood have awakened the sleeping giant of the recording industry: devoted adult fans." Philadelphia Inquirer 12/01/02

A Vinyl Thing - Still Spinning "Consumers who swear by LPs and their warm, analog sound have to search harder to find them, but thanks to the efforts of a small community of music lovers, even smaller record stores, and a handful of specialized record labels, the LP is still breathing. In fact, the cottage industry is thriving. According to the Consumer Electronics Association, manufacturers sold 177,000 (non-deejay) turntables to dealers, totaling $28 million in sales in 2001 alone." Chicago Tribune 12/01/02

Tower Records' Struggle Music store giant Tower Records is struggling to get out of bankruptcy. "As 2002's countdown to Christmas began, the family-held chain of 113 stores in 21 states - known for its steep prices, deep selection, and store band appearances - is in the hands of a corporate restructurer. The company recently cut 90 jobs and sold 51 profitable stores in Japan. More closings are imminent." Philadelpia Inquirer (AP) 12/01/02

My First Year At San Francisco Opera Pamela Rosenberg's first season as director San Francisco Opera has been marked by two things. "One is the theatrical style she has imported from her previous job at the Stuttgart Opera, marked by elaborately intellectual and sometimes baffling directorial conceits, as well as an unprecedented degree of theatrical commitment. The other is her ability to bring in gifted young singers to share the company's roster with the big-name stars." San Francisco Chronicle 12/01/02

The Sexualization Of Britten Is it necessary that we know a composer's sexual orientation to really appreciate his music? "The public sexualization of Benjamin Britten by scholars represents a nightmare come true for those who have spent decades grooming the composer's image as an Everyman sort of genius. It has also shredded the genteel tissue of euphemism that allowed even the frankly homoerotic lust of Death in Venice to be described in asexual ("Dionysian") terms only." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 11/30/02

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