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February 28, 2003

They Still Fund Orchestras In Northern Ireland While small North American orchestras seem to be shutting down left and right foir lack of funds, the Ulster Orchestra in Northern Ireland has come into something of a public windfall. The ensemble, which has been struggling financially, will receive a £1.69 million grant from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland to help in its efforts to secure more reliable "core funding." The grant is a 26% increase on what the orchestra had previously received from the council. Gramophone 02/27/03

February 27, 2003

Why Digital Downloading Is Bad For Music "The truth is that digital distribution is bad for artists for the same reason that it is bad for record companies (and good for fans): it makes too much music available. As content becomes increasingly ubiquitous, it loses value; just look at how few print publications are able to charge successfully for their online counterparts. While there are certainly some people who are willing to pay for digital music, few of them appear to be willing to pay that much for it." The Guardian (UK) 02/28/03

A New Way To Hear/Present Concerts The way that we go to the opera, the theatre and the concert has hardly changed for centuries. The great majority of such attendance takes place in venues conceived on the model of churches. The performers do their thing at one end. We, the audience, sit silently in rows in the rest of the building and look at them doing it. This can be a difficult and even intimidating experience for those who are not used to it, especially in badly designed or unsuitable spaces. But you have only to attend a performance in a different kind of venue to see at once the possibilities for addressing the access problem in a different way." The London Symphony has a new venue. "It is not just a huge step forward for this most dynamic of Britain's orchestras, consolidating the LSO's role in the vanguard of orchestral music in London. It is also a step down a path that other performing arts organisations of all kinds will surely have to follow eventually - if they have the funding - of changing the terms on which orchestras meet their audiences." The Guardian (UK) 02/28/03

Anonymous 4 Quits The popular early-music group Anonymous 4 have decided to pack it in after 17 years. "Since forming in 1986 in New York ‘as an experiment’ in response to the lack of opportunities for woman to sing early music repertoire, the group have gone on to achieve great commercial success, clocking up nearly 1000 concerts internationally and selling over 1 million discs." Gramophone 02/27/03

Music: Electronic Inroads Almost all popular music uses some form of electronic instrumentation. Not in classical music though. "The future of innovation in music seems almost surely to be in digitally created music whose origin is either purely electronic or in imitation of acoustical sounds, "rather than string instruments growing extra strings or things like that." Christian Science Monitor 02/28/03

Stravinsky's Mouthpiece? Robert Craft's relationship with Stravinsky draws fresh attention with the publication of a new Craft volume. Though the composer has been dead 30 years, the Craft continues to write of his friend, reviving old debates about where the composer ends and Craft begins..."The final Jamesian irony is that Robert Craft is able to write supremely well only as a ventriloquist, requiring no less than an authentic genius for his dummy." Weekly Standard 03/03/03

Savannah Symphony Folds The 49-year-old Savannah Symphony, stuck with a $1.3 million deficit, has canceled the rest of its season. "I think the community has spoken. Savannah residents desire a symphony orchestra, I think, but there's been too much history with this organization as it stands today. The community sent us signals that [an orchestra] should start again with a new slate." Atlanta Journal-Constitution 02/27/03

February 26, 2003

The Great CD Rebate (Hurry - Time Is Running Out Did you buy a CD between 1995 and 2000? Even one? "As part of a settlement in a huge price-fixing lawsuit, the major labels and a few record retailers are bankrolling a $67.4 million fund, to be split among all the people who bought an album between 1995 and 2000. Exactly how much money will be determined by the number of people who send in applications. So far, 2.8 million claimants across the country have signed up. At that rate, less administrative costs, everyone gets about $16 or $17 apiece." But time is running out... Washington Post 02/27/03

Prokofiev, Conflicted Prokofiev was unquestionably one of the great composers of the 20th Century. But "there is something profoundly suspect about Western attitudes to this composer. Instead of subjecting him to continuous critical assessment, we repeat favourite works and shun the rest. Prokofiev makes us uneasy in ways that Ravel does not. He reminds us of things we would prefer to forget - first and foremost of our obeisance to Stalin. Yes, ours, not his." London Evening Standard 02/26/03

San Antonio Symphony Too Broke To Pay Musicians The San Antonio Symphony is out of money and says it won't be able to pay musicians this week unless it raises $250,000 by Friday. "The 78-member orchestra was told during an emotional 10 a.m. meeting at the Majestic Theater that without private donations, paychecks won’t be issued Friday. The crisis could jeopardize future performances." San Antonio Express-News 02/26/03

San Antonio Symphony On The Brink The latest North American orchestra crisis appears to be heading for a flashpoint in south Texas, where the San Antonio Symphony board is preparing to make a presentation to its musicians today, laying out the cuts the board believes will be necessary to save the financially strapped ensemble. One board member insists that layoffs and payroll cuts are not on the table, but another is ominously quoted as saying, "I think there's some people who feel, 'Go ahead and let the symphony fail. It will come back as a smaller orchestra. San Antonio can't afford this full-service orchestra.'" San Antonio Express-News 02/26/03

Paying For Piracy in Canada A series of long-awaited and controversial payouts to musicians, composers, and music publishers has begun in Canada, using money generated by a tax on blank, recordable CDs. The tax was designed to provide a method for compensating music industry professionals for the effects of illegal music piracy. The payout began "right around the time the [industry] was appearing before the Canadian Copyright Board in Ottawa to ask for both significant increases in the levies it's already been charging and an extension of the levy to computer hard drives, MP3 players, mobile phones and other media." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 02/26/03

  • Previously: Canada's Crucial Year "There is general agreement that 2003 will be a watershed for the Canadian music industry -- a year that could either set the industry on a course of renewed viability, or make it as moribund as those dust-covered eight-track cartridges piled in the furnace room." From digital music to file-sharing, Canadian producers face all the challenges of their American counterparts, compounded by an abysmal exchange rate, and a controversial national tax on blank, recordable CDs. The Globe & Mail (Toronto) 01/15/03

Everybody Sing! Singing in choirs is the most popular performing arts activity in the U.S., according to a new study, with better than 28 million Americans (about 10% of the total population) singing in some sort of organized chorus. "The study found a link between early exposure to choral singing and adult participation in choruses. More than half of adult singers had grown up in a household that included a chorus member, and nearly 70 percent had first sung in elementary or middle school." Andante 02/26/03

February 25, 2003

San Francisco To Lose Last Jazz Club San Francisco is losing its last club dedicated to jazz. Jazz at Pearl's, home to local jazz musicians six nights a week for 13 years, has been unable to renew the lease and will shut its doors April 30. "People think this is a great cosmopolitan city. But it's not. It used to be hip." San Francisco Chronicle 02/25/03

Houston Symphony Players Set Strike Deadline Musicians of the Houston Symphony are pressing for a new contract and some serious changes in direction for the orchestra to put it on better financial ground. So Monday they voted to strike Sept. 1 if the orchestra is still playing under terms of the old contract that expired Oct. 5. Houston Chronicle 02/25/03

Life On The Street - Playing Music, Earning Money (At Least A Little...) How hard can it be, playing music in the streets for money. Some of the pros say they can earn £100 in a day. So seven Guardian journalists take to London streets to see what they could earn playing music. For some it was a humbling experience. But for a features assistant who played harp... The Guardian (UK) 02/26/03

February 24, 2003

Music From A Political Time - Does It Work? Do symphonic music and politics mix? "To a great degree, the medium defeats itself. The sheer time, effort and expense required to compose, rehearse and perform a full-scale symphonic work militates against writing one as an immediate response to a specific political situation. Works assembled quickly to make a point tend to show it, and in the concert world ephemera — even well-meaning ephemera — slips into the mist moments after its premiere, taking its message with it." The New York Times 02/25/03

English National Opera Cancels Performances Because Of Strike London's English National Opera has had to start canceling performances after the company's chorus voted to strike. Chrous members are protesting a plan to lay off a third of their number. "The savings they will make by making 20 choristers redundant for the current season will be as little as £120,000, because they will have to hire freelancers to make up the numbers. We do not believe that £120,000 is a make or break sum for an organisation that has an annual turnover of more than £30m." BBC 02/25/03

What A Hit Band Earns So how much does a hot new band earn from a hit recording? Let's say this hypothetical hot band sells 500,000 albums at $16.98. That's gross sales of $8,490,000. [Remember, of course, that this is a very hot band - only 128 of more than 30,000 records sold half a million recordings in 2002.] Well - after all the fees, commissions, fees, percentages, charges and expenses are deducted, the band comes home with $161,909 - split however many ways by band mambers. For a hit. Is this any way to run a business? New York Daily News 02/24/03

Jones Dominates Grammys Twenty-three-year-old jazz vocalist Norah Jones surprised many Sunday night by dominating the Grammys' major awards, "capturing the marquee categories of year's best album, record and new artist. The surprise win for Jones has cemented the reputation for the Grammys as an unpredictable entertainment gala." Los Angeles Times 02/24/03

  • A Fun Show This Grammy production was actually fun to watch as entertainment. "The producers bucked conventional award show wisdom and dumped the host as an unnecessary element. They emphasized performance and kept the pace as frantic and energetic as the music being honored." New York Post 02/24/03

CD's: A "Business Without A Business Model" The music recording industry is in trouble. "The uncertainty facing the major recording labels has led a wave of others to seek new paths, either voluntarily or involuntarily. 'It's a business without a business model today because unfortunately it's predicated on people actually buying CDs. I don't know about you but my 12-year-old, he's burning them pretty fast. That's the reality and it was coming and everybody closed their eyes to it'."
Los Angeles Times 02/24/03

Music From Out Of This World The Kronos String Quartet has lately been preoccupied with sounds from out of this world - outer space. Sounds collected from the cosmos have been incorporated into the music. "What's amazing about the noises is how organic they are - sometimes you feel they could be the sounds of insects or whales. The visuals, too, make the universe seem conscious - the Sun close up seems like a living body, with a pulsing heart." The Telegraph (UK) 02/24/03

Re-Understanding Prokofiev Fifty years after Prokofiev’s death, his operas are taking on different meanings from when they were first created. “Perhaps the art of Soviet Russia will come to resemble the art of revolutionary France. For a while, for decades after the Terror, there were paintings of David's that caused such horror that they could scarcely be shown - for David was notorious as a supporter of terror. But then that part of their meaning drained away. For 50 years Prokofiev wrote operas. In the 50 years since his death, these works have begun to make their way. It's the slowness of the process that's impressive -the slowness and, to be sure, the sureness too.” The Guardian (UK) 02/23/03

Popularity – A Matter Of Volume? When a singer like Norah Jones has a big success – more than 4 million albums served – theories about why abound. “Overlooked in all this conjecture is the essential trait of Jones' music, the thing that makes it appeal to all those constituencies: It's quiet. Intimate. Drawn to human scale. Come Away is the first multi-platinum success in years to suggest that a singer doesn't have to shout, physically or metaphorically, to be heard. Now that is radical.” Philadelphia Inquirer 02/23/03

February 23, 2003

The Ever-Expanding, Never-Improving Grammys There are too many categories at the Grammys. Way too many. "This year, the 45th annual awards are up to 104 categories, including completely indistinguishable ones like best R & B album and best contemporary R & B album; more are doubtless on the way." So with all those statues waiting to be given out, why are the Grammys so singularly incapable of rewarding musicians who deserve it? The New York Times 02/23/03

  • Classical Grammy: Who Would Win If The Heathens Didn't Get a Vote? "A perennial anticlimax for classical fans is the fact that, although a blue-ribbon committee of classical specialists determines the Grammy nominees... the opportunity to cast votes for the winners is thrown open to all Recording Academy members, including many from nonclassical genres. In previous years, they appear to have picked classical winners on the basis of artist name recognition and weight, in tons, of marketing materials behind each album." Of course, since almost no one watches the Grammys to see who wins the classical awards, we might as well just decide now who ought to win. Gwendolyn Freed is up to the task. The Star Tribune (Minneapolis) 02/23/03

The Changing Face Of Music Sales "Like it or not, the music industry is in a free fall, and things are about to change. The very foundation on which the business is structured - selling music to stores - is eroding at an astonishing pace. Sales of recorded music have fallen about 16 percent over the last two years. By contrast, sales of blank CDs jumped 40 percent in 2002, and users of the biggest online file-trading service, Kazaa, outnumber what Napster ever had." So what's next? Well, that depends on how quickly the industry is willing to accept the move to digital music, and embrace new paradigms. So far, though, the big labels seem content to bitch and moan and watch their business go down the drain. Boston Globe 02/23/03

  • Music For The Modern Age The sooner the industry embraces digital technology, the better off we'll all be, says Don Tapscott. Not that internet audio is perfect - far from it. But unlike traditional media, the MP3 has created a world full of choice, and that's what modern society demands. "This is great news for budding musicians, since music isn't exclusionary in its use. In an increasingly hectic society, almost all of us have less time for the activities we enjoy, except listening to music. Music makes a good experience better." The Globe & Mail (Toronto) 02/22/03

  • Pirates With Principles What the anti-piracy forces in the recording industry may be missing in their quest to eradicate free download services is that their own refusal to lower CD prices despite indisuptable evidence that the cost of producing the discs is negligible has fueled such consumer mistrust that many reasonable people simply consider the free downloads to be a victimless crime. And the refusal of the industry to come up with a viable music download service of its own has merely added fuel to the fire. Lower the cost of music, say the pirates, and we'll happily rejoin the system. Boston Globe 02/23/03

Calgary Back On Stage Good news has been hard to come by in the orchestral world in the past year or two, and the sorry saga of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, which ceased playing concerts and filed for bankruptcy protection last October, was one of the hardest blows. But as of last week, the CPO is back in business, and out of debt. At the inaugural reopening concert, orchestra musicians greeted concertgoers at the door to the hall, shaking their hands and thanking them for their role in rescuing the ensemble. All told, the CPO raised better than $1.5 million over the months it was inactive to satisfy its creditors. Calgary Herald 02/20/03

February 21, 2003

Layoffs In St. Paul The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, America's only full-time professional chamber orchestra, has laid off ten administrative employees in an attempt to balance its books in the face of a shrinking endowment and below-average donations. Observers were surprised by the layoffs, since the SPCO finished last season in the black, one of only three American orchestras to do so. The ensemble survived a brush with bankruptcy a decade ago, but has operated without deficits for nine straight seasons. St. Paul Pioneer Press 02/21/03

Dallas Symphony Raises $20 Million At a time when American orchestras are struggling to keep operating, the Dallas Symphony has made the acquaintance of a generous benefactor. Said anonymous foundation has given the orchestra $10 million for its endowment, and others have already matched the gift to bring the total to $20 million. That brings the orchestra's endowment to $86 million. Dallas Morning News 02/20/03

  • Houston Musicians Seize On Dallas Success In Houston, news of the Dallas Symphony's newfound endowment largesse has further exacerbated the tensions between the Houston Symphony musicians and management. Within hours of the Dallas announcement, Houston musicians had issued a press release demanding, for the umpteenth time, that the management embark immediately on an endowment drive. (Houston has the smallest standing endowment of any year-round American orchestra.) The Houston Symphony Society responded that such a drive would be impossible until the contract situation with the musicians is resolved. Houston Chronicle 02/21/03

Metzmacher Resigns In Hamburg "Conductor Ingo Metzmacher says he will step down when his contract as general music director in Hamburg expires in 2005 because he is disappointed with the attitude of city officials toward arts and culture... Metzmacher, who heads both the Staatsoper and Staatsorchester in Germany's second-largest city, told a newspaper that the city was unwilling to make adequate commitments toward the arts. He said that subsidies for the arts have remained stagnant for a decade while expenses have climbed." Andante (Deutsche Press-Agentur) 02/20/03

Yet Another Frickin' Napster Lawsuit Just when you thought you'd never have to hear the word Napster again, another lawsuit has been filed over the now-defunct song-swapping service which led the record industry on a merry chase through the courts over the past couple of years. Of course, Napster isn't around to be sued anymore, so this time, a coalition of songwriters, composers, and publishers are suing German media giant Bertelsmann for 'prolonging' the existence of Napster by investing $100 million in the company as it fought for survival. The suit is in US court, and the plaintiffs are asking for a whopping $17 billion in damages. BBC 02/21/03

February 20, 2003

A Cello's Tale Several cellists in the New York Philharmonic could have solo careers. Some have. But there's something special about being a member of an elite orchestra. "Ask cellists to define the part the cello plays in an orchestra, and they describe it as subtle but essential. 'It's a foundation role. It provides stability and structure." The New York Times 02/21/03

Dresden Cathedral Decides On Modern Organ, Purists Protest Music purists are protesting the decision at Dresden's famed Frauenkirche to replace the organ there with a more modern instrument. "The board of trustees of the foundation in charge of reconstructing the cathedral, which was destroyed at the end of World War II and left as a ruin during more than four decades of communist rule, decided on Monday to give the contract to an organ builder in Strasbourg. In doing so, they rejected a competing proposal for an exact reproduction of the original organ was described by a number of prominent supporters as 'historically correct'." Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 02/21/03

Danielpour, Morrison Team Up For Opera Poet Toni Morrison and composer Richard Danielpour have been commissioned to write a new opera by the Opera Company of Philadelphia, Detroit's Michigan Opera Theater and the Cincinnati Opera. Working title for the piece is "Margaret Garner", "the name of a pre-Civil War Kentucky slave. Forced to be the mistress of a plantation owner, Garner escaped with her children, but, when captured, attempted to murder them and herself rather than return to slavery." The premiere will be February 2006. Philadelphia Inquirer 02/20/03

Giving Russian Musicians A Reason To Stay The Russian government hs established a set of grants designed to provide incentive for the nation's top musicians to keep their talents in country, rather than seeking out higher-paying positions in Europe and America. The average Russian orchestra musician currently makes around US$120 a month. The grants, which will be doled out to seven musical organizations in Moscow and St. Petersburg, will be used principally to increase those salaries to as much as $1400 a month. The money is a welcome relief for cash-strapped orchestras and conservatories, but many fear the fix may be temporary. Gramophone 02/19/03

February 19, 2003

Houston Symphony Standoff The Houston Symphony and its musicians are locked in a contract dispute that threatens the future of the orchestra. The orchestra is carrying a big deficit, and management proposes cuts in musicians and musician salaries. The musicians, not surprisingly, have a different idea. How did the situation deteriorate to the point of work stoppages and accusations? Houston Press 02/19/03

Houston Musicians Get Some Support As the Houston Symphony Society continues to battle with its musicians over a plan to make up deficits by cutting orchestra personnel, slashing salaries, and cutting weeks from the season, the musicians have picked up some unexpected support from the executive director of the orchestra's summer facility. In an editorial, David Gottlieb describes the orchestra's board as being far too enamored of its own role in the organization, and writes that "the musicians have done all that has been asked of them, and they've asked for the opportunity to do more... To suggest that the musicians have been intransigent or uncooperative is absurd, insulting and not supported by the facts." Houston Chronicle 02/19/03

Come Hear The Propaganda! Just over a decade ago, no one in America would have dared mount a festival of music by Soviet composers who were compelled to write inane Socialist Realist glorifications of Josef Stalin and the Party. The backlash would have been tremendous. Now, with the Soviet Union more than ten years dead, its history is more easily examined without the bluster of American righteousness, and Vladimir Ashkenazy is seizing the moment. Ashkenazy is at Carnegie Hall this week, mounting a festival of music dedicated to works composed under duress by Soviet composers. Andante 02/19/03

One Way To Lower CD Costs A new study of the European music market indicates that a significant reduction of the Value Added Tax (VAT), which EU countries append to the price of goods for sale, would go a long way towards reducing the price of CDs and could dramatically expand how much music European consumers purchase. The VAT is unlike the American sales tax in that the rate of the tax varies with the type of item being sold. "VAT on sound recordings is set between 16% and 25% while other cultural products, including magazines and entrance to zoos, starts from 5%." BBC 02/18/03

February 18, 2003

Recording Companies Want Access To Student Computers Big recording companies have petitioned the Australian federal court to "allow their computer experts to scan all computers at the University of Melbourne for sound files and email accounts, so they can gather evidence of claimed widespread breaches of copyright." Sydney Morning Herald 02/19/03

Unfunding Scottish Music The Scottish Arts Council has come under fire for its funding intentions. But not much noticed was a decision to remove funding for two organizations that have been essential to the cause of new music in Scotland. How does this serve the cause of Scottish culture? Glasgow Herald 02/19/03

Chorus Strikes Troubled English National Opera Chorus members of the English National Opera have voted to strike next week, forcing the company to cancel performances of Berlioz's "Les Troyens." Cancellation of the epic choral-opera will cost the company more than £50,000 in box office income, plus thousands more in wages for front-of-house and production staff. The chorus voted unanimously for five strike actions throughout the season in protest at plans to make one third of them redundant when the Coliseum closes for refurbishment in June." The Guardian (UK) 02/19/03

Rethinking Opera In San Francisco A few weeks ago San Francisco Opera made some big cuts in its budget and schedule. SFO director Pamela Rosenberg says the cuts are an indication of the company's deire to rethink how it does opera. "The road to long-term vitality is not an easy one, but it provides a necessary opportunity to re-examine many aspects of how we do business, including how we might proceed more effectively and more efficiently." San Francisco Chronicle 02/18/03

Shaky Start For Welser-Möst The Cleveland Orchestra recently returned from its first domestic tour under new music director Franz Welser-Möst, and while the organization is calling the tour a smashing success, the critics appear to be taking a different view of the ensemble that many have considered to be America's best orchestra in recent years. Welser-Möst was fairly unknown when Cleveland chose him to succeed Christoph von Dohnanyi, and many arts writers appear to be unconvinced of his talents. While the tour garnered its share of praise, there were also stern reprimands from critics in New York, Boston, and London. Perhaps even more ominous is the fact that the orchestra's hometown critic seems to agree with the skeptics. The Plain Dealer (Cleveland) 02/16/03

For Canadians, By Canadians "Last March, Grant Dexter cheerfully stepped into the mess that is the North American recording industry to launch MapleMusic Recordings, an independent Toronto record label built on Dexter's successful music e-commerce portal, MapleMusic.com. At the time, Dexter declared that the label would promote great Canadian pop music to Canadians, and treat artists fairly, spending reasonable time and money developing their music - and their markets." The music industry was amused at Dexter's efforts. Now, they're amazed, after Maple successfully launched two top singers into the upper echelons of recording success in its first year alone. The Globe & Mail (Toronto) 02/18/03

Chicago Makes Some Subtle Cuts The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, trying to dig out from under a massive deficit, announced its plans for next season this week, and while there will be no ticket price hikes, there won't be much in the way of innovation or excitement either, says John van Rhein. "Like [Chicago] Lyric Opera, the CSO has had to forgo expensive operatic, as well as choral, projects until the bottom line gets stronger. The Symphony Center Presents vocal series has been suspended indefinitely. There are pockets of repertory adventure in the course of the 113th season, but a lot more that suggests the very thing music director Daniel Barenboim says he deplores -- 'falling into conventional solutions and programs when the financial situation is difficult.'" Chicago Tribune 02/18/03

Lower Ticket Prices - What A Concept! The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra is rolling back ticket prices to 1998 levels, and offering a new package of discounts and ticket deals in an effort to get more people into their hall for the coming season. Aside from being simply cheaper, the new ticket plans give subscribers more options to tailor the concert schedule to their own life, a strategy more and more orchestras are adopting. The PSO is running at a deficit, and is also searching for both a music director and a new chief executive. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 02/18/03

Why Orchestras? Philippe Herreweghe is a leader of the period instrument movement. But the conductor wonders about the use of tradional symphony orchesras. "Must we go on with these traditional orchestras? The ancient music movement is very strong. First they played Baroque music, and the attitude of the traditional orchestras was to say 'OK, it's not serious music. Let them do it, but they are not good enough to play real music.' But later, we played Mozart and Beethoven. We play Brahms, Schumann and Bruckner, and we noticed that there was an interest from the public and the press. And now, when there is a concert of Schubert symphonies on gut strings here in Antwerp, it attracts a full audience with young people, but when some local orchestras play the same symphonies of Schubert or Haydn in a traditional way the hall is half empty." The Telegraph (UK) 02/18/03

Music Man Raymond Gubbay is the kind of populist promoter who draws contempt from more traditional arts managers. "His success is based on providing what he has accepted is middle-brow populist material." But his shows consistently sell, and he prides himself on finding entertaining ways to present music and opera. The Guardian (UK) 02/18/03

February 17, 2003

Death Of The Blues? The US Congress declared 2003 the Year of the Blues. But the blues are in trouble. "When the blues tries to grab a mainstream crowd, it cleans up and cools down a genre that began as raw field songs and work hollers. Today's popular version reeks of facsimile, with theatricality replacing raw passion, and mimicry usurping originality. Rare is today's blues singer or guitarist who doesn't call to mind his biggest influences with familiar riffs first played with fire a half-century ago. Rarer still is the songwriter who can craft an inventive blues tune. It is as if imagination has been banned." OpinionJournal 02/18/03

Oslo Begins Construction Of New Opera House Construction began Monday on the Norwegian capital's new opera house. "The project, budgeted at NOK 3.3 billion (nearly USD 500 million), sparked years of political debate. Oslo's current opera house at the central square known as Youngstorget is well past its prime, but the sheer cost of a new opera, not to mention where it should be located, was the subject of seemingly endless argument." Aftenposten (Norway) 02/17/03

No "Oh Canada" For This Orchestra The Toronto Symphony touts next season's programming as "balanced." "You might think that an orchestra that's all ours would aim to be reflect where it lives; and that 'balanced' would imply some kind of symphonic variations on the old rhyme about something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue. But at the TSO next year, the old and the borrowed trump everything else. The new is hardly there, and as for the blue - well, that would describe the mood of anyone scanning the new schedule for music created in Canada." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 02/17/03

On Shaky Ground - Time To Ban Vibrato In Brahms? The early music movement changed the way we listened to msuci of the Baroque and earlier. "As audiences, we have already got used to the idea that the music of Monteverdi or Bach is normally played and sung with pure tone, without the use of steady vibrato, a minute fluctuation of pitch intended to make the sound more intense. With the aid of period orchestras we are gradually accustoming ourselves to the same sound for Haydn and Mozart — even, on occasion, for Beethoven. But surely here, on the threshold of the Romantic era, pure tone must be questionable." Should we ban vibrato in Brahms and Schumann and...? The New York Times 02/16/03

Discovering The Neglected Demographic (Surprise - Older People Buy CDs) The success of 23-year-old Norah Jones, singing a traditional mix of jazz, has piqued recording company interest. "Older listeners are gravitating to the authentic, organic sound of Norah's records. She speaks to a huge group of people that the music business has forgotten and declared irrelevant. The latest sales statistics confirm the relevance of that neglected group. According to the Recording Industry Association of America, consumers 45 years and older now constitute a quarter of the record market and are the fastest-growing group of music buyers." The New York Times 02/16/03

New Jersey - Orchestra Of Strads The New Jersey Symphony has pulled off a deal to buy 30 priceless string instruments - including 12 Stradivari violins - for $18 million. It "is believed by experts to be the first time in history that any ensemble has purchased so many instruments from Italy's Golden Age at one time - and that includes during the lifetime of Antonio Stradivari himself. Details of the deal are to be released at a press conference in Newark on Wednesday." New Jersey Star Ledger 02/16/03

February 16, 2003

Artistry For Sale? And The Grammys (Should) Go To... The Grammys are about artistic excellence, right? But some of this year's nominations are inexplicable. Greg Kot is discouraged. "So many worthy artists got the shaft this year that I now offer not only predictions on the winners in some key categories, but also the biggest oversights. One of these years, the Grammys really may be about "artistic excellence." Until then, let the griping continue . . . Chicago Tribune 02/16/03

The 21st Century Comes To The BSO The Boston Symphony Orchestra has launched what it is calling an online conservatory on its web site, with features designed to draw in tech-savvy younger audiences, and make the old music the BSO plays relevant to a modern audience. So how did they do? Three tech experts give the orchestra high marks for the effort, but say the content and style have a long way to go. Still, the project may be the beginning of a new movement designed to drag symphony orchestras into the Internet era. Boston Globe 02/16/03

The Case Of The Disappearing Diva Sopranos are famous for their temperamental nature, of course, and these days, few are surprised when a big star storms off in a huff or refuses to take the stage until some detail or other is attended to. But soprano Sumi Jo managed to shock even the hardened pros at Opera Australia this week, when she left not only the company, but the continent, in the middle of a run of performances of Lucia di Lammermoor. The singer, who is pregnant, reportedly returned home to Rome on doctor's orders, but did so without informing the company, the director, or even her own manager. Opera Australia execs found out when Sumi Jo's hotel phoned up to tell them she'd checked out. The Age (Melbourne) 02/14/03

Scrapping Over Hector "The 200th anniversary of the birth of arguably France's greatest composer Hector Berlioz has sparked a row over his final resting place. His devotees are divided over whether his remains should be moved to the Pantheon in Paris. The committee organising a year of celebrations and concerts to mark the bicentenary wants the highpoint to be the transfer of his body in a state ceremony on 21 June - France's annual Fete de la Musique, or Music Day. But it is met with unexpectedly harsh opposition from many of the composer's own fans, as well as from critics who say Berlioz was a right-winger with no place in France's Republican Valhalla." BBC 02/16/03

Nouveau Riche or Never Better? Surprisingly, the Metropolitan Opera still holds a lowly position in the minds of many old-school European opera fans, who look at the New York institution as little more than a plaything for ultrarich Manhattanites. But if such views were once at least founded in truth, they have little to do with what the Met has become in modern times. True, money is still a big factor in its success, as it is for any opera company not subsidized by a government (as all those old-school European operations are,) but fiscal largesse aside, many critics now believe that the Met offers the best, most consistent operatic product to be found anywhere in the world. Toronto Star 02/15/03

February 15, 2003

Exodus In Colorado Soon, it seems, there will be nothing left of the Colorado Springs Symphony but the name, a board, and a whole lot of questions. In the last month, the symphony has filed for bankruptcy, seen its music director resign in protest of that action, and gotten a judge to void its contract with its musicians. Now, the CSS's associate conductor has resigned as well, taking some nasty shots at the board on his way out the door. Denver Post 02/15/03

  • Previously: Why The Colorado Springs Symphony Fell Apart How did the Colorado Springs Symphony get to the edge of bankrupcty and see its musicians revolt and start their own orchestra? Management of the orchestra says it was a "downturn in the economy, lack of a sustainable donor base and low market demand." Musicians say it's been poor management and a string of questionable decisions... Colordao Springs Independent 02/12/03
February 14, 2003

Orchestra Expenses too High? Here's A Plan - Dump Your Musicians (Now What?) The Colorado Springs Orchestra, which hasn't performed since December because of a million-dollar debt (and a filing for bankruptcy in January) petitioned a court to void its musicians' contracts, arguing that "the contract put an untenable financial burden on the organization." A judge voided it Thursday, and so now what happens? Maybe not much - without a contract the orchestra has no musicians. Without musicians, it'd difficult to play concerts. The orchestra's future is getting cloudier... Denver Post 02/14/03

February 13, 2003

Where Are The New Protest Songs? "Over a million Americans have already taken to the streets to protest President Bush's insane war on Iraq, so there's clearly an audience for musical dissent. It's not like there's a lack of other pressing issues to write about, either, with our civil liberties getting rolled back in the name of preserving freedom, and Bush and John Ashcroft attempting to return America to the God-fearing values of the '50s — the 1650s, that is." LAWeekly 02/13/03

The Case Of The Disappearing Diva Soprano Sumi Jo's reviews in Opera Australia's "Lucia" were good. She seemed happy, according to her New York agent. So why did she suddenly bolt from Australia before her final performance, without even telling the opera company's management? "The hotel staff told us about a change in her reservation; that's the first we heard of it. She didn't let us or her personal management know, but we gather she left for Rome on doctor's orders." The Age (Melbourne) 02/14/03

Famous Clarinet Factory Destroyed In Fire One of the world's best clarinet factories went up in flames this week. "The dawn blaze at the Leblanc factory in La Couture Boussey, in the Normandy region of France, incinerated 1,400 clarinets, along with the entire stock of spare clarinet fingering keys. The French factory, which has 37 employees, was founded under the name Ets. D. Noblet in 1750 when the flourishing of instrumental music at the court of King Louis XV created a demand for musical instruments." Edmonton Sun (AP) 02/13/03

Online Music Vendor Slashes Prices (Gotta Do Something To Get Customers) Downloading songs from pay services over the internet generally costs 99 cents or more. But though the sites have licenses to sell the music, and a way to get it to customers, there have been too few customers so far. So one of the services is slashing its prices to 49 centers per track. That's below cost, says the company - but you've got to get the customers somehow. Look for increasing competition in the next few months as more companies try to compete. Los Angeles Times 02/13/03

The Song Of Love... "Why is starry-eyed romance so tied to music? Nothing touches people like a good love song. The love theme has been around from the birth of music in general. 'It's a timeless kind of a medium. It runs the gamut of emotion. There's always a little sadness hidden in a love song because it reminds people of something that might not last'. The most-recorded song of all time, after all, is the lovelorn ode, 'Yesterday,' by Paul McCartney, reports the Guinness Book of World Records." Christian Science Monitor 02/14/03

The Piano Team The University of Indiana has long been known for its first-rate music school. Now it's being known for its "piano team. In 1991 pianist Alexander Toradze - the Tbilisi-born, Moscow-trained piano virtuoso - was appointed as professor and began building a studio of young student and professional pianists from all over the world. "The model for his program in Indiana, Toradze explains, was the 'class recitals' he heard as a student at a music school for gifted children in his native Tbilisi and later during his studies at the Moscow Conservatory." Chicago Tribune 02/13/03

February 12, 2003

You Send Me - The Top Ten Most Romantic Albums Just in time for Valentine's Day - What are the top ten most romantic albums ever recorded? The Telegraph's pop music critics have their say... (Roberta Flack? Really?) The Telegraph (UK) 02/13/03

Tale Of Two Opera Companies - With English National Opera The Loser While London's Royal Opera House seems to have steadied itself, The English National Opera is going in the other direction. Norman Lebrecht reports that dismay greeted ENO's choice of a new director last week. "The most dispiriting aspect of his appointment is its wilful myopia. Nothing about him inspires faith that Sean Doran will do better than any of the bathroom warblers who are lining up to try for an ENO role in Channel Four's gimmicky Operatunity contest. The idiocy of promoting an untested candidate from a provincial Australian ensemble was amply demonstrated by the fate of Ross Stretton at the ROH." La Scena Musicale 02/11/03

Big Score - Stadium Music Clones Why does music at sports stadiums all sound the same wherever you go? "Turns out that the folks who make decisions about stadium music are less interested in crafting a unique, venue-specific soundscape than in giving the people what they want—and they are not too proud to steal. If fans in Sports Market A love a given song, you can bet that it'll soon be pumping out of speakers in Sports Markets B, C, D, etc. Forget about regional music. These days, stadium music functions pretty much like mainstream radio—a combination of lowest common denominator hits and reliable standards, all played to death until they seem inescapable." Slate 02/12/03

Music and Race In Annapolis The Annapolis (Maryland) City Council is considering a resolution which would chastise the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra for its dismissal last fall of music director Leslie Dunner. The firing made waves among musicians in the ASO, and the orchestra management never made public the reason behind it, leading to no small amount of speculation in the community. The issue that bothers the city council is that Dunner is black, and while no one is overtly crying racism, a number of councilors are hinting at it, much to the ASO's dismay. Baltimore Sun 02/09/03

  • Previously: Big Times In A Small Town In Annapolis, Maryland, a drama is unfolding surrounding the local symphony orchestra, and while the ensemble may be small, the intrigue is worthy of a much larger organization. It all began when Annapolis music director Leslie Dunner’s contract was not renewed last fall, sparking protests from the orchestra’s musicians, and shock from donors and concertgoers. At the time, the board cited declining ticket sales as the reason for the change. Speculation has been growing that there may have been other, darker reasons for the dismissal. Baltimore Sun 01/15/03

Digital Music Gets A Bar Code It's so basic, you wonder why no one thought of it earlier. The recording industry has unveiled a system it says will make it easier for artists and record companies to be compensated for digital music purchased online. The system is called GRid (Global Release Identifier,) and it works much like a UPC code attached to each song, allowing the seller to track songs sold. All sides seem to be guardedly optimistic about the system, although privacy advocates worry that the GRid could be used to pursue consumers who buy a tagged song and then allow it to be traded on a song-swapping site. Wired 02/12/03

February 11, 2003

Opera - MIA On PBS? Opera is disappearing from American television. "The prospect is not a pretty one for full-length opera on PBS. Shadowed by ever-diminishing ratings, opera telecasts are being chased even from the not-for-profit airwaves. This coming season, the most familiar, and once constant, 'content providers' - the Metropolitan and New York City Operas, respectively - find their programming plans in disarray. After twenty-five years of televising three to four operas a year, the Met has only one scheduled for 2002-2003." Opera News 02/03

February 10, 2003

One Work Wonder Gilbert Kaplan is a former economist who conducts one symphony. Ane he does it very well. His second career "has to be one of the strangest acts of wish fulfillment in musical history, not quite on a par in historical importance with Gustav Mahler's becoming conductor of the Vienna State Opera in 1897, but possessing its own odd grandeur. Mr. Kaplan is doing what he regards as the definitive "Resurrection" Symphony with the orchestra that Mahler conducted when the work was first performed 108 years ago. But the Vienna Philharmonic is one of about 50 orchestras that Mr. Kaplan, who is not a professional musician, has conducted in the Mahler Second Symphony." The New York Times 02/11/03

Big Decline In UK Recordings Sales Sales of recordings are way down in the UK. "Figures out this week will show sales of CDs and other recorded music were down almost 4% last year, says the British Phonographic Industry (BPI). It is understood the figures will reveal the biggest downturn in a single year since the birth of the CD market in the early 1980s." BBC 02/10/03

  • Recording Industry Contracting Warn Industry Analysts Stock analysts are warning that the recording business is a fading one. "We believe the structural issue of piracy and weak pricing power will continue, and predict that the industry will continue to contract through 2006." The Guardian (UK) 02/11/03

Pop Criticism, Served Fresh Daily How do you stay fresh if you're a popular music critic? NYT critic Ben Ratliff says it's the most difficult thing: "The real challenge of the job - and particularly in writing for a daily - is to keep in motion, always putting more distance between you and what you thought was cool when you were in your early 20s. (You can always admire the old favourites again, but carefully: you must meet them on new ground, as a more developed person.) You have to keep going against assumptions, especially your own. Hipness is a disease, it really is. It freezes thought." Rockcritics.com 02/03

Minority Report - Competition Tries To Encourage Young Musicians Blacks and Latinos make up just 3 percent of the musicians in American orchestras. And though some attempts have been made to try to help diversify, the number of minority classical musicians is still small. So in Detroit, "for six years, the Sphinx Competition for young minority string players has been on the front lines of rewriting the odds. Prizes include more than $100,000 in cash and scholarships to top summer music camps. Winners also receive recital opportunities and solo appearances with major orchestras..." Detroit Free Press 02/09/03

February 9, 2003

English National Opera Chooses New Director English National Opera has chosen Sean Doran - currently heading the Perth Arts Festival in Australia - as the beleaguered company's new artistic director. It will be a tough job. "By the time he arrives in April, the result of the strike ballot among the 68 members of the chorus, faced with one in three redundancies to reduce the company's deficit, will be known, and the Musicians' Union will have decided whether to initiate grievance procedures over the treatment of the orchestra." The Guardian (UK) 02/08/03

How About A Seat Sale? UK business leaders came to talk to orchestra managers this week about ways to market and sell tickets. One idea, popular in the airline business, is "yield management", where "tickets become more expensive as departure dates approach. Concert-goers who book their tickets well in advance might pay £10 for the best seat while those who turn up at the box office on the day could pay up to £30." The Guardian (UK) 02/10/03

Classic Music At Fire Sale Prices Prices for classical recordings have never been better. "Several factors have brought prices to this nadir. Contrary to any number of reports, the classical recording industry isn't dying. But it's definitely contracting. Far fewer new recordings are being made, so to keep market share, major labels are reissuing older titles when they aren't even old." Some of the deals n classic recordings are amazing... Philadelphia Inquirer 02/09/03

San Francisco Opera's New Tune - A Good One No one likes cutting back, but San Francsico Opera is making the right move in scaling back its budget for the next few seasons. "The courageous decision by General Director Pamela Rosenberg and the board to finally get real about the company's perennial financial difficulties represents that classic first step in the breaking of any bad habit - admitting you have a problem." San Francisco Chronicle 02/09/03

Why The Colorado Springs Symphony Fell Apart How did the Colorado Springs Symphony get to the edge of bankrupcty and see its musicians revolt and start their own orchestra? Management of the orchestra says it was a "downturn in the economy, lack of a sustainable donor base and low market demand." Musicians say it's been poor management and a string of questionable decisions... Colordao Springs Independent 02/12/03

  • Previously: Colorado Springs Cancels Concerts The Colorado Springs Symphony has canceled upcoming performances in a dispute with its musicians. "A spokesman for the symphony musicians and their union local, said they view the postponement as a lockout, a description the orchestra's management rejects." Denver Post 01/21/03
February 7, 2003

Pop Goes The Jingle "With traditional sources of revenue falling, the music industry is now desperate to get advertisers to use original pop songs to sell everything from handbags to hamburgers. This trend, which media types call 'synchronisation', is leading to another: the decline of the jingle. Once pop songs in their own right (America's first radio jingle, Pepsi's “hits the spot”, became a jukebox hit in 1939) catchy jingles are being discarded. Despite the $90,000-plus cost to license a pop song (compared with $15,000 for a customised jingle), advertisers, especially those aiming at younger consumers, think it money well spent." The Economist 02/07/03

February 6, 2003

Opera Australia Survey: Old Audiences Are Different From New Audiences After Opera Australia ran up a $2 million debt and botched the PR over not renewing director Simone Young's contract, the company commissioned a study of audience concerns. Among the findings: "The subscriber's enthusiasm to "frock up" to go to the opera creates problems. 'It is about a sense of occasion, as well as going to the theatre. But this cuts across new audience members who might feel intimidated because they can't pronounce the titles and are not sure how to dress." The Age (Melbourne) 02/07/03

Chill Out Dude Classical chillout albums are a curious phenomenon. The numerous albums that visit this territory do very well: Virgin's Classical Chillout was the bestselling classical compilation of 2001, shifting 400,000 units, and those who bought it were younger than the usual classical fans. Chillout as an idea has become as good as a brand. And, as EMI's research shows, many potential customers associate classical music with, above all, relaxation. More stimulating compilations, such as Euphoric Classics, sell less well." The Guardian (UK) 02/06/03

Calgary, From The Ashes "The Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra's creditors agreed Wednesday to a repayment plan that will give them half of what they're owed. It puts the orchestra one step closer to being able to perform again, which they haven't done since mid-October when they asked the courts for bankruptcy protection... The CPO has developed a restructuring plan that required $1.5 million in new money, and that those they owed money to accepted 50 cents on the dollar. With the creditors unanimous agreement and the city and province kicking in $250,000 each, the orchestra is close to re-opening." CBC Calgary 02/05/03

  • Calgary - What About The Musicians? The Calgary Phil hasn't performed in close to four months. So are there any musicians left to play once the orchestra reopens? Well, yes, but it hasn't been easy. Some of the Philharmonic's players have left town, in search of other employment, but many have stuck around, making ends meet by teaching and playing gigs, and hoping that the orchestra that brought them together wasn't gone forever. CBC Calgary 01/28/03 (RealAudio Player required)

A Broken Industry In the U.S., orchestras are in fiscal trouble. In Canada, it's a full-blown crisis. Orchestras in Calgary, Winnipeg, and Edmonton are all facing uncertain futures, and Toronto narrowly avoided financial catastrophe last year. Robert Everett-Green finds much irony in the dichotomy between orchestras which continue to perform at an admirably high level, and a system of arts funding so inadequate that it might as well not exist at all. "What needs fixing is the whole system, including the relationship between arts groups in the same community, and the chain of responsibility that governs the individual organizations." The Globe & Mail (Toronto) 02/06/03

Classical Figures The marketers of classical music have increasingly embraced the 'sex-sells' notion that the rest of the music industry bowed to long ago. These days, it's not just a few crossover artists using their looks to sell their non-visual product, but an industry-wide trend which is dividing musicians and fans down the middle. "It feels increasingly desperate," says one talent booker, but a publicist points out that "this is one of those issues that seems only to trouble people in classical music... You have to play by the rules of pop culture, to go with the visual orientation of the culture right now." Chicago Tribune 02/06/03

  • Doing Britney One Better Meanwhile, over in the world of pop music, the marketing of sex has never been questioned as a way to sell records, and a new teen-pop act from Russia is provoking howls the likes of which haven't been heard since Britney Spears first donned a schoolgirl outfit to pout and kick at the camera. But really, hasn't pop pushed teen sexuality as far as it can go? What's left to shock us? Well, meet Tatu, the teenage exhibitionist lesbian pop duo. Oh, and they sing, too. The Globe & Mail (Toronto) 02/06/03

February 5, 2003

Three Prokofiev Works Performed For The First Time Three pieces by Prokofiev are being performed for the first time, 50 years after the composer died. "They include a Soviet anthem, a march and two movements from a ballet score which have been unearthed by a musicologist working at Goldsmiths College, London." The Guardian (UK) 02/06/03

As Slow As It Gets - The World's Slowest Piece Of Music The first three notes of the slowest/longest piece ever written was being played on a German organ this week. It's written to last 639 years. "The three notes, which will last for a year-and-a-half, are just the start of the piece, called As Slow As Possible. Composed by late avant-garde composer John Cage, the performance has already been going for 17 months - although all that has been heard so far is the sound of the organ's bellows being inflated." BBC 02/05/03

Now What? In Montreal, where the media had Kent Nagano all but appointed as the new music director of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, shock and dismay have greeted news of Nagano's appointment to the Bavarian State Opera in Munich. The MSO itself never even acknowledged that Nagano was its top choice, but this may be a case where perception is more important than reality. "While other conductors, such as Eliahu Inbal, Yakov Kreizberg and Emmanuel Villaume, have been mentioned as possible successors to Charles Dutoit, none has created interest to compare with the public frenzy that greeted Nagano." Montreal Gazette 02/04/03

How Do You Beat Piracy? Go Analog. Record companies have been known to become apoplectic when advance copies of new releases given to critics wind up in the hands (and computers and MP3 players) of the public. Many companies have resorted to handing out self-destructing CDs and threatening critics with legal action if they distribute the music early. But the V2 label has come up with a unique way to prevent advance copies of the highly anticipated new White Stripes album from being converted to tradable computer files: they put it on vinyl. Detroit News 02/05/03

The Promoter Who Couldn't Pay "For 75 years, Community Concerts has brought the arts and such luminaries as Beverly Sills and Isaac Stern to small-town America... But now the whole enterprise is in jeopardy, with Community Concerts dismissing employees and leaving a trail of bounced checks, unpaid performers and dissatisfied presenters in its wake." Fingers are pointing, and most of them are aiming squarely at the company's owner and chief executive, Brenda Trawick. St. Louis Post-Dispatch 02/02/03

Calgary Phil To Get City Money, After All The Calgary city council has overwhelmingly defeated a proposal to force the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra to repay a $250,000 bailout once the orchestra emerges from bankruptcy. The proposal was brought to the floor by two aldermen who have consistently sought ways to scuttle the bailout, and who conceived of the plan to attach conditions to the money after it was learned that the Alberta provincial government's matching contribution to the CPO was more of a loan than a gift. Calgary Herald 02/04/03

  • Previously: Kickin' 'Em When They're Down Calgary's city council is not doing much to dispel the popular notion that the city is an uncultured cowboy town. Less than a week after trying to renege on a $250,000 contribution to the bankrupt Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra because of a technicality, aldermen opposed to the bailout are pushing a plan that would force the CPO to repay the entire amount to the city if the ensemble eventually makes it back out of bankruptcy. One alderman called the proposal "a win-win-win situation." Orchestra officials presumably call it something else. Calgary Herald 01/29/03

The Woman Who Was Already There A flurry of media interest greeted the news in January that the notoriously exclusive Vienna Philharmonic had finally hired its first female musician, a violist named Ursula Plaichinger. The strange thing is, Plaichinger has actually been a member of the orchestra for nearly two years, a fact which no English-language publication known to ArtsJournal bothered to mention. The media blitz came after the worldwide broadcast of the Vienna Phil's famous New Year's concert showed a brief glimpse of Plaichinger as she played with her section, the first time the orchestra had ever allowed a woman to be shown on its television broadcasts. Andante 02/05/03

  • Previously: Vienna Philharmonic Hires Its First Woman Player The Vienna Philharmonic has hired its first-ever female member, after decades of refusing. "Ursula Plaichinger, a 27-year-old viola player, has caused a sensation in artistic circles by appearing unannounced at the 158-year-old Philharmonic's traditional new year's concert in Vienna. The performance was seen by millions around the world and a recording has already sold out in Austria." The Guardian (UK) 01/10/03

Another Executive Departure The president of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra has announced that he is stepping down from his position and leaving the organization, effective the end of this month. The quick timetable makes the unknown reason behind Steven Ovitsky's departure of interest, but the board insists he was not forced out. However, it may be significant that Ovitsky was a very popular executive with the MSO's musicians: "He brought musicians into the governing and planning structures of the orchestra, and his palpable love of music impressed them." Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 02/04/03

February 4, 2003

Clinton & Gorbachev And Peter & The Wolf Bill Clinton and Mikhail Gorbachev are narrating a new recording of "Peter and the Wolf." "The last leader of the Soviet Union will join the former US president in a special performance of Prokofiev's work by the Russian National Orchestra under the command of the Grammy-winning conductor Kent Nagano. The recording will be Mr Gorbachev's English language debut." The Guardian (UK) 02/05/03

Berlin To Keep Staatsoper Independent? For two years cash-strapped Berlin has been trying to decide what to do ith its three opera houses. Proposals were made to merge operations, but that plan was vigorously opposed by Staatsoper director Daniel Barenboim. Now it looks like the companies may be saved. "Under proposals announced by the city's arts chief, the Staatsoper and its renowned orchestra, the Staatskapelle, would retain their independence. But the three opera houses would pool a wide range of technical and administrative facilities and their ballet companies." The Guardian (UK) 02/05/03

Beethoven Is Best - But Why? "Beethoven’s audience is so all-encompassing as to include those whose familiarity with his work is limited at best. Indeed, he is the only classical composer whose name is generally known to people who do not listen to classical music. It is as revealing that the cartoonist Charles Schulz chose Beethoven as the favorite composer of one of the characters in Peanuts as it is that Lorin Maazel chose the Ninth Symphony to perform last fall at his inaugural concerts as music director of the New York Philharmonic. What is striking about this mass popularity, though, is that it has not diminished in the slightest the respect in which Beethoven is held by musicians." Commentary 02/03

Something About Puccini In America the business of opera is built on Puccini, and on a mere handful of his works, at that. "Puccini, of course, isn't responsible for the lack of artistic diversity in American opera houses, but a mere trio of his works are so fundamental to the financial stability of American opera that they have had a stultifying effect." Yet in the history of music, Puccini has not been accorded the respect that his popularity suggests. New books re-evaluate... Chronicle of Higher Education 01/24/03

February 3, 2003

Nagano Gets Munich Opera Job Kent Nagano has been appointed director of the Bavarian State Opera in Munich, succeeding Zubin Mehta. Nagano had been widely touted as the next music director of the Montreal Symphony, and the Munich appointment likely kills that possibility. "Canadian journalists had whipped the public into a frenzy of anticipation, praising the 51-year old Nagano’s musicianship, his ability to speak French and his 'cool' image." La Scena Musicale 02/03/03

Coming Home - Folk Music Takes To People's Houses Folk music has its roots in small intimate places. But now, "with few venues willing to hire folk acts and few middle-class suburbanites willing to make the schlep downtown, search out parking and elbow other patrons to get the bartender's attention, folk house concerts are quietly spreading like wildfire with the help of e-mail and Internet advertising." Wired 02/04/03

Revising Stravinsky David Schiff tries to sort out what's Stravinsky and what's Robert Craft in Craft's revisionist history of his time with the composer. It's a daunting task. "Are Stravinsky’s ventings on contemporary music, delicious to read but often spiteful and self-serving, omitted here, because, as Craft says, the musical scene has changed beyond recognition – wouldn’t that make them all the more interesting? – or because Stravinsky’s judgements have not stood the test of time, certainly not his dismissals of Britten and Messiaen and the plaudits for Stockhausen? Or because the stinging verdicts were not actually Stravinsky’s?" Times Literary Supplement 02/04/03

The Internet: Friend To Musicians Who Aren't Stars One musician is angry about the recording industry's attempts to shut down music file-trading. "The Internet means exposure, and these days, unless you're in the Top 40, you're not getting on the radio. The Internet is the only outlet for many artists to be heard by an audience bigger than whoever shows up at a local coffeehouse. The Internet allows people like me to gain new fans; if only 10% of those downloading my music buy my records or come to my shows, I've just gained enough fans to fill Carnegie Hall twice over." Los Angeles Times 02/03/03

LA Opera - Pulling Into The Passing Lane It's been a rough year for the Los Angeles Opera. But the company has announced a bold next season, and seems to be moving into the passing lane. Mark Swed suggests the company is on the road to becoming a major force in American opera. "Five years ago, no operaphile would think to mention Los Angeles in the same breath as San Francisco and Chicago, American's second and third opera cities, after New York. But compared with San Francisco Opera's upcoming 81st season and Lyric Opera's 49th season, our 17-year-old company looks to become not only their artistic equal next season, but perhaps even a leader." Los Angeles Times 02/02/03

La Scala Renovation Passes One-Year, Picks Up More Protests Restoration of the La Scala opera house has now been going on a year. The anniversary has been marked with court challenges, filed by preservationists arguing that "the new designs were ugly and the contracting for the work was flawed." The city briefly opened the building to allay fears, and city officials defended the project against court challenges. Miami Herald (AP) 02/02/03

February 2, 2003

Even Threat Of Jail For Music Pirates Doesn't Satisfy Recording Industry Last week the European Commission issued a draft directive to try to discourage music file traders. The directive "called for counterfeiters to be jailed and their bank accounts frozen." Evidently even the threat of jail isn't enough for the big recording companies. "The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry said the measures failed to introduce 'urgently needed measures to hold back the epidemic of counterfeiting'." BBC 02/02/03

Cuba - Capital Of Jazz "Cuba is producing musicians of Herculean technique, many of whom have applied their intensive classical training to the art of jazz - and thus have come to tower over their counterparts around the world. The last two generations have yielded larger-than-life jazz players whose mastery of their instruments and exalted level of musicianship enables them to conquer audiences wherever jazz is played. Exactly why Cuban jazz musicians sound consistently brilliant may be a mystery to the outside world, but in Havana it is no secret..." Chicago Tribune 02/02/03

Today Vs. Yesterday - Are Symphony Orchestras Better? Are today's symphony orchestras better or worse than the orchestras of yesterday? The technical level of the players is better, but is the way they play together superior? The Boston Globe asked five prominent conductors to make comparisons. Boston Globe 02/02/03

February 1, 2003

A Grand Night For Booing Does an audience have the right to boo? Certainly there's a long tradition of it (and some would say not enough booing goes on) at the opera. But "at some point, doesn't loud booing cross the line from an expression of displeasure to a disruption of the performance? The issue was raised recently at the Metropolitan Opera during the season's first performance of Mozart's 'Entführung aus dem Serail'..." The New York Times 02/01/03

Oundjian - A Star Is Born? None of this waiting for years between appointing a new music director and the time he starts conducting your orchestra. The Toronto Symphony announced Peter Oundjian as its music director only last month. This week he gave his first concert. Were people excited? You bet. "Torontonians who, for the most part, have acted with severe ennui to the recent decline in fortunes of the Toronto Symphony" showed up in droves. "Roy Thomson Hall, which has often been half-empty for some of the greatest performers in classical music, was filled to overflowing for the free concert. The place was stuffed to the rafters, with lineups outside the hall and hundreds of people turned away. Hundreds turned away. When's the last time that happened for a TSO concert? Answer: never." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 02/01/03

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