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August 31, 2003

Opera's Essential 25 Recordings? Tim Page ensures that his fall will start off with bags of vitriolic hate mail as he chooses 25 opera recordings meant to "give a novice listener an opportunity to explore the field." "The selection process was not easy. Operaphiles are an opinionated lot, and I can already anticipate some of the mail, both curious and furious, that I'll receive. A few sample heresies: Not one of the more than 60 operatic works by Gaetano Donizetti made the final cut. Virgil Thomson's "The Mother of Us All" is here, but George Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess," an infinitely more popular American opera, is not. Where are the works of Benjamin Britten? And how can such composers as Mozart, Verdi and Wagner be limited to two operas apiece?" Washington Post 08/31/03

Minnesota - New Baton In Town The Minnesota Orchestra is beginning life under new music director Osmo Vanska. "After seven years of flight and fancy under Eiji Oue and nine previous to him under the iron fist of Edo de Waart, the orchestra is banking on Vänskä as a happy balance — an elite, uncompromising musician of mild temperament, an A-list conductor for top orchestras in America and Europe, with expertise in a corner of Scandinavian repertoire the Minnesota Orchestra yearns to conquer. The stakes are high." St. Paul Pioneer-Press 08/31/03

Songs Without Words "Most singing that we hear has words, and, although the singer may depart from those words for bar after bar of vocal gymnastics (as in a bel canto aria, for instance), we know that in the end we shall be returned to the text. It doesn't matter that the text may be more of a pretext for music than a real text conveying important information. Nor does it seem to matter very much to many people if the text that is being sung happens to be in a language they do not understand. A song that has no text at all takes us into a different world." The Guardian (UK) 08/30/03

August 29, 2003

Music's Hot New Thing "In the generations of German composers younger than Wolfgang Rihm, Matthias Pintscher is the one with the most impressive track record. He is still in his early 30s, yet has been attracting international attention for a decade. He conducted his first stage work, a ballet called Gesprungene Glocken, at the Berlin Staatsoper at the age of 23, and his first opera, Thomas Chatterton, which was based on the life and mysterious death of the 18th-century English poet, was premiered in Dresden in 1998. Another opera has been commissioned for the Salzburg festival, provisionally titled Heliogabal, though at present that project seems to be on hold, while a third, L'Espace Dernier, will be premiered at the Opéra Bastille in Paris in February." The Guardian (UK) 08/29/03

August 28, 2003

Jazz's European Home "For the past ten years or so, Italy has been arguably the strongest jazz nation in Europe. One continues to discover major players who are almost unknown anywhere else. Although jazz is certainly historically American, its most current developments are no longer any one nation's monopoly." Culturekiosque 08/28/03

An Instrumental Loan The Canada Council holds a competition for musicians to borrow one of 11 string instruments the Council owns. Every three years, the council runs a competition to loan the instruments - collectively worth $21 million. "Musicians must audition before a jury that decides who will be granted one of the instruments. Halifax cellist Denise Djokic won the use of the 'Bonjour' Stradivarius cello three years ago and, next week, she will compete to keep it for another three because she feels the Strad has changed both her playing and her life." CBC 08/27/03

Insane, Murderous, and Pregnant! Must Be An Opera. This September, Jennifer Welch-Babidge will make her New York City Opera debut in a new production of Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, playing the title character who goes mad and kills her fiance because she loves his enemy. It's a heavy role for any young singer, but in Welch-Babidge's case, there is an added twist - she is very obviously pregnant. Rather than hide her condition, the director is using it to heighten the drama of the opera, with various characters discovering her bulging belly at key moments in the plot. The New York Times 08/28/03

The Orchestra As Business Model Orchestral musicians are not known for their love of corporate types, and the orchestra business itself has been in somewhat dire straits for a couple of years now. So there is unmistakable irony in what conductor Roger Nierenburg is doing under the heading The Music Paradigm. Nierenburg, music director of a small Connecticut orchestra, has been marketing the experience of leading an orchestra to big corporations as a management training seminar, with the orchestra serving as a visible (and audible) example of the necessity of competent, innovative leadership. The program is just one of many arts-based business training programs now popular with Fortune 500 types. Charleston Post & Courier (AP) 08/28/03

How To Catch A Pirate "The music industry's methods of tracking down suspected music pirates have been revealed for the first time. Using digital fingerprints, or 'hashes', investigators say they can tell if an MP3 file was downloaded from an unauthorised service. The industry also tracks 'metadata' tags, which provide hidden clues about how files were created." The methods of detection were revealed in the proceedings of an industry lawsuit against a file-trader known by her screenname, 'Nycfashiongirl,' who is accused of offering over 900 copyrighted and illegally obtained songs for free download. BBC 08/28/03

August 27, 2003

iTunes - Not Such A Good Deal After All People are raving about Apple's iTunes. But it's not a good deal for consumers, or for artists. "Apple takes a 35% cut from every song and every album sold, a huge amount considering how little they have to do. Record labels receive the other 65% of each sale. Of this, major label artists will end up with only 8 to 14 cents per song, depending on their contract. Many of them will never even see this paltry share because they have to pay for producers and recording costs, both of which can be enormous. Until the musician 'recoups' these costs, when you buy an iTunes song, the label gives them nothing." Downhillbattle 08/26/03

Austin Lyric Opera Gets Some New Leadership "The Austin Lyric Opera's 16-year history is melodramatic enough to be an opera itself." The company almost folded in its first year of existence, and has struggled periodically since, with financial hardship usually accompanied by Texas-sized power struggles at the top. Just last year, the board fired artistic director, Joseph McClain, claiming that his artistic desires were simply not financially achievable in Austin. Now, the Lyric has hired a new artistic director, Richard Buckley, whom they hope will bring a firm but even hand to their often-roiling ship. Austin American-Statesman 08/26/03

Philly's New Hall In The Red Philadelphia's huge new performing arts complex, the Kimmel Center, has finished its first year of operation with a deficit of nearly $4 million. But Kimmel management points out that it normally takes such massive organizations at least 5 years to turn a profit, and they insist that their hall is well ahead of schedule in the moneymaking department. Much of the first-year deficit reportedly had to do with start-up and hiring costs. The center is home to the Philadelphia Orchestra and several other arts groups, but is owned and run separately from any of its tenants. The Kimmel has an independent endowment of $20 million. Philadelphia Inquirer 08/26/03

Crunch Time In Pittsburgh The financially strapped Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra is trying some unconventional tactics to save money and get a new contract negotiated with its musicians. The PSO has asked a former board member to mediate this year's negotiations with the musicians - the current contract expires on September 21. Also, the orchestra has asked 7 older musicians to voluntarily take early retirement, presumably as a cost-cutting move. But none of the musicians have accepted, and the union says that any retiring musicians would have to be replaced, anyway. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 08/27/03

August 26, 2003

The Tools Of Music "There's definitely something science fiction-like about a lot of experimental musical instrument building, but perhaps that is because we still fully don't have a language to describe many of the new sonorities these instruments produce. When many of the instruments we're used to nowadays were brand new, they probably seemed just as incomprehensible. The reverse is also true. Playing on an older version of a familiar instrument can feel like being greeted by someone on the street in Anglo-Saxon..." NewMusicBox 08/03

Opera Boot Camp Eighty-six promising young opera singers gather in Israel for an opera boot camp. "Survival in the dicey world of opera — which can demand more years of preparation than brain surgery, without the guaranteed payoff — was a subtext during the 17th summer of the Israel Vocal Arts Institute's program. Participants have a four-week schedule of one-on-one voice, diction and role coaching, and almost nightly performances, with public master classes, concerts and eight fully staged productions." The New York Times 08/27/03

The Rock Star Countertenor? "In the past few weeks the charismatic American vocalist David Daniels - who has ridden the countertenor boom of the past decade to something like classical music rock star status - and his Perth-born accompanist, guitarist Craig Ogden, seem to have successfully co-opted Justin Timberlake's business plan. Just look at the cover of the album, A Quiet Thing, where the duo stare out moodily in casual shirts..." Sydney Morning Herald 08/27/03

August 25, 2003

The Old Blind Violin Side-By-Side Comparison Test Audience members at a concert will be asked to judge between a Strad and a modern instrument. "At the concert on 15 September, a Nagyvary violin, built in six weeks earlier this year, and the $4 million Rochester Stradivarius, built in 1720 by Antonio Stradivari, will each be played behind a screen by violinist Dalibor Karvay. Audience members will attempt to distinguish between the two, and at intermission their guesses will be tallied up." Andante 08/25/03

The Greatest Rock Guitarists Of All Time? Jimi Hendrix and Duane Allman have been named to the top a Rolling Stone list of the top 100 guitarists of all time. "B.B. King, who turns 78 next month, came in at No. 3. 'His string-bending and vibrato made his famous guitar, Lucille, weep like a woman,' the magazine said." Yahoo! (Reuters) 08/25/03

Demise Of The Record Store Clerk "Like their counterparts at book and video stores, record clerks shape our experience of culture as decidedly as any critic, curator or culture-industry executive. They're street-level tastemakers, part of a breed that's entered pop mythology. But despite these glamorous associations, serious clerks have become an endangered species. The Internet, with outfits like book and CD merchant Amazon and DVD service Netflix, is put- ting stores, which offer the joy of browsing, serendipity and human contact, out of business." Los Angeles Times 08/25/03

Florida Philharmonic - Autopsy For The Future Can the bankrupt Florida Philharmonic be restarted? Perhaps - but a new model is needed. "Clearly what we did did not work. A different business model needs to be considered. Whatever is decided to be done, you've got to be put on good financial footing to begin with, with the money down before you build anything. That was never done with this orchestra."
The Sun-Sentinel (Florida) 08/25/03

  • Florida Philharmonic - Anatomy Of A Dead Orchestra "It was never any secret the Philharmonic was staggering from one financial crisis to another, although most patrons and the public never realized how deep the problems ran. Since 1989, the Philharmonic burned through roughly $123 million, with yearly expenses soaring over $10 million, its financial records show. The orchestra's board and managers borrowed from its own foundation and endowment funds, which were supposed to guarantee its survival." The Sun-Sentinel (Florida) 08/24/03

  • Florida Phil Conductor Leaves Quietly Conductor James Judd left Florida last week without much of a sendoff from the orchestra he led for 16 years. "Recent circumstances make a festive send-off difficult. The Florida Philharmonic, which Judd helmed for 16 years and helped raise to its highest creative level, is in bankruptcy; with a reorganization effort floundering for lack of funds, the orchestra's demise appears all but certain. The conductor's abrupt resignation, following several dubious moves by an interim management team that left him out of the loop on key artistic decisions, widened the divide between himself and the organization into a gaping chasm. Still, it's an undeservedly quiet coda for the charismatic Englishman who built the Florida Philharmonic into a major regional arts institution and brought it international recognition." The Sun-Sentinel (Florida) 08/24/03

Is It Live Or Is It... "Auto-Tuned"? "Pop stars and punk bands alike are piping their voices through the hardware, which corrects and improves their vocal pitch during concerts and on records. With musicians on the road touring for weeks on end, the autotuner has become a safety net that catches the occasional clinker on days when their voices may be off. (In a nutshell, the autotuner is told what key the vocal is in and analyzes the wave form in real time. If the singer is off-key, it will adjust the pitch to the closest note in that key.)" The Globe & Mail (Canada) 08/25/03

CD's Are Forever? HA! So you're transferring your music to recordable CD's so you'll have them forever? Better think again. A Dutch magazine tested CD's that had been recorded less than two years ago and discovered many of them no longer play. "It is presumed that CD-Rs are good for at least 10 years. Some manufacturers even claim that their CD-Rs will last up to a century. From our tests it's concluded however that there is a lot of junk on the market. We came across CD-Rs that should never have been released to the market. It's completely unacceptable that CD-Rs become unusable in less than two years." CDFreaks 08/24/03

August 24, 2003

Orchestra Musicians In Danger Of Hearing Loss Orchestra musicians are said to be at risk of hearing damage. "The legal limit of sound exposure is 90 decibels in the UK but the sound of a symphony orchestra playing a big classical piece at treble forte has been measured at 98dB. Orchestras are now preparing for an EU directive which will reduce the maximum sound level to 85dB, a drop of 20%. A report from the Association of British Orchestras showed that as well as deafness, players could suffer from damaged frequency discrimination, tinnitus or diplacusis (in which the pitch of a single tone is heard as two different pitches by the two ears)." The Guardian (UK) 08/23/03

Building A Better Jazz Festival As Chicago looks to building a better jazz festival, it could do worse than look to Montreal for a blueprint. "Twenty-four years ago, a small group of intrepid Canadian jazz promoters took a chance on staging a weekend-long mini-fest, hoping that a few listeners might show up. Approximately 12,000 did, and today the Montreal International Jazz Festival has grown into the largest, most intelligently programmed jazz soiree in the world. Its $12.7 million (U.S.) budget and 500-concert lineup easily outpace any American counterpart." Chicago Tribune 08/24/03

Endangered Species - Dallas Classical Music Radio Times are bad at Dallas-Fort Worth's only classical music station. "Ratings have dropped to the point where WRR is no longer among Dallas-Fort Worth's top 20 stations. 'We've hit a wall in the last 18 months'." Dallas Morning News 08/24/03

  • What's Wrong At Dallas' WRR "Much as local listeners may grouse, some of the problems are built into WRR's commercial format, which has to make room for the advertisements that pay the bills. Similar artistic concerns can be raised with classical-music stations in plenty of other markets. From coast to coast, classical broadcasting just isn't what it was 30 years ago, in what now looks like a golden age. Classical radio has been hit by the double whammy of a general economic slowdown and a major rewrite of the laws governing the U.S. radio industry." Dallas Morning News 08/24/03

Music - Best Of Times, Worst Of Times "For the past few years, the music industry has been awash in gloom and doom. The grim chorus is now as familiar to the public as any top 40 hit: Piracy has gutted profits, CD sales are going steadily south for the first time since the format was introduced in the 1980s, corporate conglomeration has stultified any art in the business of recording and concerts. All of that is true, and in private even the titans of the business express fears that probably echo the anxious mutterings of railroad barons in the days when Model T's began rolling down the line. But here is the funny thing lost in the histrionics: Today may be the very best time to be a music fan, especially one looking for a connection to a favorite artist or guidance and access to the exotic or rare." Fort Worth Star-Telegram (LATimes) 08/24/03

Don't Dump On Disco "Disco helped transform the DJ into a creative personality, and seeded the recombinant mentality that runs riot through hip-hop. It shifted hit-making power away from radio, and participated in the advent of technologies that have since invaded almost all forms of popular music, such as drum machines and audio loops. History is written by the victors, and the popular image of disco has been shaped by those who hated everything it stood for." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 08/23/03

How To Grow Opera Addicts In Canada there are several self-taught opera gurus who specialize in igniting a passion for the grand art in their audiences. "What these men have in common, besides an encyclopedic knowledge of opera, is a seemingly insatiable urge to communicate their passion to others. They all talk as persuasively as the proverbial refrigerator salesman in the High Arctic. It hardly seems necessary, since there appears to be no shortage of applicants for their courses and guided tours." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 08/23/03

The New Dissonance Gone are the days of experimenting with sound just for its own sake and calling it music. Now dissonance has to mean something. "Our generation was made to feel we had to come to grips with 12-tone music. We had a psychic investment in it. I have to say my students today don't feel any such obligation. Back then we would have considered them yahoos. But my students have a lot of honesty." The New York Times 08/24/03

Arena Shows Shrinking The big arena pop music shows are dwindling. Rather, the number of bands that can fill an arena are shrinking. So "arenas around the country are reacting to a changing marketplace by shrinking themselves into more intimate, theater-style setups while hoping to lure the plethora of midsized acts who can only draw between 5,000 and 8,000 spectators per show." St. Paul Pioneer-Press 08/24/03

Australian Court Fines Big Music Companies Music giants Warner and Universal have been fined $2 million in Australia for trying to coerce retailers into not selling budget CD's. "The commission originally launched legal action after the companies first threatened then refused to supply four Australian retailers that stocked so-called parallel-imported CDs." The Age (Melbourne) 08/23/03

August 21, 2003

San Antonio Symphony - Take The Year Off A San Antonio mayor's task force is recommending that the San Antonio Symphony take a year off to get its finances straight. "Mayor Ed Garza said he would urge the council to heed the task force's recommendation that next year's $339,500 city grant for the symphony be given instead to the oversight committee, which would hire an expert in transforming arts organizations." San Antonio Express-News 08/20/03

  • Play On, Says Orchestra The San Antonio Symphony still hopes to perform this season. "We were a little surprised by that. I'm not sure we'd support taking it totally down. I'd like to work at keeping a few concerts. It is important to keep some music out there, keep some musicians at least partly compensated." San Antonio Express-News 08/21/03

Sydney Symphony - Going For The Personal Connection The Sydney Symphony Orchestra's new music director is rethinking how the orchestra operates. "Gianluigi Gelmetti is determined to strengthen the orchestra's links with its community by taking a personal interest in relationships with sponsors, governments and funding bodies, actively helping the careers of young conductors and instrumentalists, and electing to lead SSO touring in his first year to Lismore, Armidale and Newcastle." Sydney Morning Herald 08/22/03

Bay Area Early Music Fest Canceled Cal Performances has dropped its biennial early-music festival, the Berkeley Festival & Exhibition, scheduled for next summer, citing lack of funds and a weak economy. "Begun in 1990, the festival produced 15 to 35 concerts every other year featuring early-music artists from around the world. The cost of producing it ranged from $250,000 to $750,000." San Francisco Chronicle 08/21/03

August 20, 2003

Taking A Harder Listen At Bard When Bard College's new performing arts center opened last April, it got admiring reviews from critics, both for its looks and its acoustics. "Now, after a fuller range of musical and dramatic events at the just-completed annual Bard Music Festival and the new Bard SummerScape, one can better judge those acoustics — along with the aesthetics of the interiors and the prospects for how the center will be used year-round." The New York Times 08/21/03

Swimming Alone In A Five-Hour Korean Opera In Edinburgh this summer, you can see a five-hour Korean opera. Maybe it's good. But without some help, how are audiences supposed to figure it out? "How was the audience, unguided, supposed to navigate this terra incognita? It was not surprising that on my visit the Reid Concert Hall was half empty, with at least a dozen leaving at the first pause and more at the interval." The Guardian (UK) 08/21/03

Opera For The Short Attention Span Is opera too long? Does it require too much attention? "Opera North, based in Leeds, will stage eight one-act operas in four varying double bills next spring as part of its 25th birthday celebrations. The cautious and the initiated alike will be able to buy tickets for either or both shows on any night." The Guardian (UK) 08/21/03

A Disney Spectacular The hottest ticket in LA this fall is the opening of the Frank Gehry-designed Disney Hall, new home to the LA Philharmonic. "What does this do for the city? I'm quite amused by the fact that the hottest ticket in L.A. is a classical music/architectural event, not some Hollywood thing. I'm going to enjoy that. It won't happen again." The New York Times 08/21/03

Getting Behind A Chinese Turandot A new documentary by the maker of From Mao To Mozart details the making of an opulent production of "Turandot" in China. "The project was an extravagant collaboration created at the Florence Opera and taken to Beijing a year later in 1997, with a budget of $18-23 million for the Chinese leg alone." Sydney Morning Herald 08/21/03

Downloaders: What Constitutes "Light" Use? The recording industry says it will only prosecute "light" users of music file-trading services. But what does that mean? "Because the RIAA has refused to quantify what constitutes a 'substantial' amount of file sharing, file sharers are left to wonder whether they are vulnerable to litigation." Wired 08/20/03

  • Previously: Recording Industry: We Won't Pursue Little Guys The recording industry tells a US Congressional committee that it isn't pursuing small-time music downloaders to prosecute them. "RIAA is gathering evidence and preparing lawsuits only against individual computer users who are illegally distributing a substantial amount of copyrighted music." Wired 08/19/03

SF Opera - A Season Of Negotiation San Francisco Opera is heading into its fall season with contract negotiations for many of its artists and production crews as yet unresolved. The company's orchestra is currently negotiating, with chorus, dancers and production staff next up... "The labor negotiations, like everything else at San Francisco Opera, are shadowed by the company's financial troubles. A 2002 operating deficit of $7.6 million forced substantial cutbacks. Two productions were eliminated from the 2003-04 season, and the annual operating budget was slashed by 25 percent." San Francisco Chronicle 08/20/03

August 19, 2003

Opera House In The Maine A couple from the big city moves up to Maine, buy a dilapidated old opera house and set about restoring it. "While residents here are typically skeptical of newcomers, this village has welcomed the restoration. Last year contributions and revenues totaled more than $200,000, nearly double the income in the first year. Almost all the performances have been sellouts this summer." The New York Times 08/20/03

Recording Industry: We Won't Pursue Little Guys The recording industry tells a US Congressional committee that it isn't pursuing small-time music downloaders to prosecute them. "RIAA is gathering evidence and preparing lawsuits only against individual computer users who are illegally distributing a substantial amount of copyrighted music." Wired 08/19/03

Arab-Israeli Orchestra To Perform In Morocco Daniel Barenboim is bringing his orchestra made up of Jewish and Arab musicians to Morocco - the orchestra's first performance in an Arab country. "Barenboim will conduct the 80-strong group in the city's Mohamed V Theatre as they perform Beethoven's Third Symphony and Mozart's Concerto for Three Pianos." BBC 08/19/03

New Without Experiment Opera Australia's new director in Melbourne is comitted to new opera. But the commissions he's interested in won't be "experimental"... "We can't afford trial and error. It is very expensive and often nothing comes of it." The Age (Melbourne) 08/20/03

Scottish Opera's Ringing Money Woes Scottish Opera is getting admiring reviews for its new production of Wagner's "Ring" cycle this summer. But the company is in financial difficulty again. "The company is understood to have already spent its public funds for 2003-2004, despite an additional grant of £750,000 from the Scottish Arts Council Lottery Fund (SACLF) which made its Ring Cycle possible. Twice in the last four years, Scottish Opera has gone to government and left with extraordinary grants of £2.1 million in 1999 and £1.9 million in 2001 to bail it out. However, if the company faces a difficult future, its fate also presents a defining issue for the Scottish Executive’s cultural policy." The Scotsman 08/19/03

August 18, 2003

Is The English Symphony Dead? "The British symphony is dead, its life support system switched off some years ago by concert managements and public indifference. No active British composer has achieved 12 symphonies. The few who have struggled over decades to maintain the heritage - chiefly Sir Malcolm Arnold and Sir Peter Maxwell Davies - have been cruelly sidelined by administrators who prefer minimalisms and classipops to daunting works of real substance." La Scena Musicale 08/18/03

NY City Opera For WTC - It Makes Sense Developers of the proposed World Trade Center project are trying to decide which arts company ought to anchor its performing arts center. "The developers would be wise to court a major institution with a strong identity, one that would bring credibility and potentially a devoted audience base to the new complex. That institution is the New York City Opera, dubbed the 'people's opera' by Fiorello La Guardia, one of its founders." The New York Times 08/19/03

August 17, 2003

Could NY Phil's Lincoln Center Obligations Derail Carnegie Merger? The Carnegie Hall/New York Philharmonic merger deal is encountering some expensive resistance from Lincoln Center. "The Philharmonic's lease at Avery Fisher Hall runs through 2011 and provides Lincoln Center with $2.5 million to $3 million a year. To cover potential losses from the orchestra's planned departure in 2006, Lincoln Center is seeking damages on several fronts. Most controversially perhaps, said the official involved in the discussions, Lincoln Center now maintains that the Philharmonic must help cover the expense of creating a new orchestra, which could cost more than $100 million. Lincoln Center executives deny this, however." The New York Times 08/18/03

The Fantasy Musician Circuit There are fantasy baseball camps, fantasy auto-racing camps, even fantasy Broadway camps. Now there's fantasy rock star camp. "Through Weekend Warriors, retailers around the country seek out and connect wannabe rock musicians in their area, provide them with gear and rehearsal space, and eventually help them put on a live performance at a local venue. The five-week program costs $95 per person and attracts as many as a hundred musicians a year. 'What we give them is the equivalent of a catered experience of being in a band'." Ventura County Star (AP) 08/17/03

Album Sales Hit Record Level In UK Deflating the recording industry's claims that downloading is killing their business, recording sales in the UK have scored a record high. "After a dip in the first quarter of the year, sales hit a new peak of 228.3m at the end of June, almost 3% up on last year. The figure published yesterday by the British Phonographic Industry marks the fifth consecutive year that album sales have topped 200m." The Guardian (UK) 08/18/03

  • Lower Prices And They Will Buy "For years record buyers have complained that CDs are overpriced and the music industry has responded by saying, as politely as possible, put up or shut up. Now, panicked by the pirates, they've finally been compelled to slash prices to a reasonable level and sales have reached an all-time high. Profits are down but that's what happens when you stop charging £16.99 for an item that costs 50p to manufacture." The Guardian (UK) 08/18/03

Chopin As Jazz A Chopin festival in Warsaw experiments with connections between the great Polish composer and jazz. "Because Polish musicians live and breathe Chopin's music practically from the moment they first place their fingers on a piano or a fiddle, jazz artists such as violinist Maciej Strzelczyk and pianist Filip Wojciechowski were well equipped to radically reconceive themes from Chopin's preludes, waltzes and etudes. To these artists, reworking a motif from a classic Chopin piano piece is akin to an American player riffing on the chord changes of George Gershwin's "I Got Rhythm" -- this indigenous music courses through their veins." Chicago Tribune 08/17/03

Novice Creates Brass Fest Geoff Collinson is a French Horn player in Melbourne who had an idea to stage an international brass festival. With no experience running an organization, a tiny budget, and an artistic director who lives across the world in Switzerland, he managed to pull it all together. The Age (Melbourne) 08/18/03

August 16, 2003

US Senate To Investigate Recording Industry Tactics A US Senate subcommittee will investigate the tactics of the Recording Industry Association of America's to go after music downloaders. The committe will "look at not just the scope of that campaign but also the dangers that downloaders face by making their personal information available to others. Senator Norm Coleman said he would review legislation that would expand criminal penalties for downloading music." Wired 08/15/03

Your Music Future - Coming Soon The way we get and consume music is changing. Fast. "We are now on the edge of an entertainment revolution. It's all driven by technology, like the Internet 2.0. First, it established new ways of communication - e-mail and Web sites. The next wave will be about entertainment and its distribution. By year-end, it will be here." Newsday 08/16/03

August 15, 2003

Festival Music As Badge Of Honor The core audience at the BBC's Proms concerts come for reasons other than the music. "The origin of these summer traditions is a primal herd instinct, the urge to join with others in a festive act. When asked in a 2001 BBC survey why they chose to stand, most Prommers (38%) replied 'because of who I was with.' Others cited the 'atmosphere'. These are herd reactions, innocent as chewing cud. But mass ritual can turn sinister when combined with feats of endurance that engender a sense of superiority - of being part of an elite that embraces pain." La Scena Musicale 08/06/03

August 14, 2003

Orchestra Joke Has Audience Running For The Exits The audience for a Sydney Symphony concert was clapping between every movement of a Tchaikovsky symphony. As a joke, the conductor also began applauding, then bade the orchestra rise for a bow. "But rather than creating an embarrassed silence for Tchaikovsky's tragic finale, the cheers swelled, the bravos grew, some took their coats and ran for trains, and it looked for a moment as though Tchaikovsky's most tragic work had become his most optimistic, its hidden program, of which he spoke but which he never revealed, rewritten with a happy ending..." Sydney Morning Herald 08/15/03

All Your Music, All Online Microsoft announces a new deal that will allow computer users to download music from all five major recording companies. "The new venture will be accessed through Microsoft's Windows Media Player software and will allow users to download songs from a choice of more than 200,000 by major artists." The Guardian (UK) 08/15/03

Indian Music Scores - But Can It Keep Its Soul? This summer music from rural India is scoring big audiences in Britain. "The buzz in the music industry is that bhangra and indeed other forms of Asian music are hot, and, at last, record executives and non-Asian music fans are waking up to the potential of the music." But as the music transfers to the West, can it keep its soul? The Guardian (UK) 08/15/03

Why Doesn't Classical Music Appeal? (Don't We Get It?) "While today’s iconoclastic visual artists like Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin are hotly debated among art aficionados, in the world of music, contemporary classical composers inhabit a dissonant ghetto all their own. Few people listen to them, few critics review them and few people understand them. Western classical music as a whole makes up only 3.5 percent of the world’s total music market (contemporary works aren’t broken out separately). In 2002, classical-album sales were down 17 percent. Orchestras rarely feature contemporary works." Newsweek International 08/18/03

Disney Hall - Sounding Good "Disney Hall will finally open this fall—16 tortured years after the late Lillian Disney, Walt’s widow, instigated the project with a $50 million gift. The ultimate verdict on its acoustics will come from music critics after the gala first concert on Oct. 23. But if the building does sound as good as it looks—and early reports are enthusiastic—it will be a masterpiece, even greater than the spectacular Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, which made Gehry an international star in 1997." MSNBC 08/18/03

Internet Providers Protest Recording Industry Tactics A coalition of 100 internet service providers is protesting against the Recording Industry Association of America's tactics trying to force ISP's to turn over names of customers the RIAA suspects of downloading music. The group "contends the RIAA's enforcement tactics would essentially force its members, such as EarthLink and America Online, to act as the 'police of the Internet' for the recording industry's interests." The NewsHour 08/13/03

Florida Phil Rescue Plan Abandoned Supporters of the Florida Philharmonic working to revive the bankrupt orchestra announced they are abandoning their efforts. "The Philharmonic reorganization team, unable to raise enough money to save the symphony, will try instead to purchase the orchestra's music library in the hope that it will provide the seed for a future Philharmonic in South Florida. But assembling a new orchestra will take more than a music library and may be more difficult than the fundraising effort the group abandoned." Miami Herald 08/13/03

August 13, 2003

Music Giants To Merge? Two of the big five music recording companies - Warner and BMG - are in final negotiations to merge. "The industry heavyweights are negotiating the nuts and bolts of combining their recorded music empires but are closing in on an agreement that would create the world's second-biggest music company, the sources said." Toronto Star (Reuters) 08/13/03

See The Concert, Buy The Music "Throughout this event-heavy summer, live concerts are being recorded onto discs and sold shortly after the performances. Post-concert CDs are typically two- or three-disc sets that sell for about $20 each. Few major acts have agreed to participate in this new concert merchandising segment, and most of the activity is taking place at small venues. Revenue has been modest. Still, two high-profile concert-CD startup companies believe they can eventually win the faith of the industry's biggest names." Toronto Star 08/13/03

August 12, 2003

The Basis Of Music? "The chromatic scale — the musical scale that follows the notes of the piano and of which the Western seven-tone do-re-mi scale is a subset — may not be based on number ratios, as many physicists and mathematicians have proposed, but rather on human speech, according to a study published Wednesday in the Journal of Neuroscience..." Los Angeles Times 08/12/03

I Just Called To Hear That Pop Song... In the UK, consumers are buying songs for the ringers of their mobile phones. The tones generate huge profits for recording companies. "An estimated £70m of ringtones will be sold in 2003 - up from £40m in 2002. Most pop hits are available to buy as mobile phone rings - as are other popular tunes such as TV themes - for between £1.50 and £3.50. Many young mobile phone-owners change their ringtones regularly to keep up with the latest songs." BBC 08/12/03

Virtual Orchestra Makes Opera Debut The Opera Company of Brooklyn staged its "Magic Flute" over the weekend with a virtual orchestra instead of live musicians. How did it sound? "The Virtual Orchestra, developed by Realtime Music Solutions, which donated the hall and its services, behaved well. It allowed for pauses and shifts in tempo, thanks to the real-time control of an assistant at the synthesizer, and its surround loudspeakers (nearly 30 of them) created a sense of space. It sounded a little thin and tinny in the overture, but it never overpowered the singers and they appeared comfortable with their high-tech partner." New York Post 08/12/03

Warning The Kids On File-Sharing College students will be getting a warning this fall when they return to school. "Specifically they'll be warned they can lose their Internet access or get slapped with a costly copyright infringement lawsuit if they aren't careful about uploading and downloading files using programs like Kazaa." San Francisco Chronicle 08/11/03

The 50 Worst Artists In Music History? Blender magazine takes a stab at a list, and some A-list musicians take some abuse. "Along with expected names like Celine Dion and Vanilla Ice are legends like The Doors and Mick Jagger. Even current top-selling acts, such as the Goo Goo Dolls, Creed and the Gipsy Kings, get savaged." New York Post 08/11/03

Warning Scottish Opera The financially troubled Scottish Opera has been told that it may have to drastically scale back its operations if it wants to survive. "The company’s acclaimed run of Wagner’s Ring Cycle starts today, but observers warn the funding problems are getting so bad that it may not be able to continue in its present form." The Scotsman 08/12/03

August 11, 2003

When You Can't Even Give Away The Opera Tickets... "Scottish Opera's ambitious complete Ring cycle at this summer's Edinburgh Festival sold out as long ago as October, but the organisers of the Festival held back one performance of Götterdämmerung for people under 27. Faced with frequent attacks that it was elitist, "out of touch", and aimed only at the "middle-aged upper middle class audience", the heavily subsidised Festival hoped that the free ticket offer would help to reverse its demographic. But only 237 young people turned up for the performance on Friday, leaving a staggering 1,660 seats empty in the flagship Festival Theatre." The Guardian (UK) 08/10/03

August 10, 2003

Better In Boston While other American orchestras struggle mightily to survive, the Boston Symphony sails along. "The BSO audience is larger than those of other orchestras, and its subscriber base loyal. On top of that, the BSO's endowment portfolio is outperforming others in its field, whose dwindling returns have forced orchestras to downsize. Meanwhile, BSO Inc. has balanced its budget, even running a few six-figure surpluses over the past five years." Boston Globe 08/10/03

Music Technology - Problem Or Solution? Recording companies blame file-sharing for much of their current woes, and they're getting increasingly aggressive about going after file traders. "Yet no matter what the label lawyers say, technology itself isn't the problem. The problem is how the technology is used, and how copyrights are protected with those new uses. Along with that comes the challenge of rebuilding relationships with consumers who are increasingly treated like criminals. Sooner or later, companies will have to shift their emphasis from policing and throwing up roadblocks to their exclusive material and move toward inspiring listeners, engaging them, bringing them into more active modes of listening and interacting with music." Philadelphia Inquirer 08/10/03

Disney Hall - Hopes Of A City Los Angelinos are counting on their new Disney concert hall for a lot more than just a home for the Los Angeles Philharmonic. "When the $274 million, Frank Gehry-designed building opens in October, government and business leaders are counting on it to be the signature of the downtown skyline and an impetus for revitalizing the area." Philadelphia Inquirer (AP) 08/10/03

August 8, 2003

Are Music Pulitzers Getting Better? The music Pulitzer has long been derided for its lack of insight into the best of American music. But, writes Dean Suzuki, "perhaps real change is afoot in the Pulitzer music category, first awarded in 1943. You can, as I did, go on the Pulitzer website and find a list of all winners, as well as nominees (the latter for each year dating back only to 1980). And while it has been slow in coming, there is a perceivable transformation that is taking place. Not only has the past few years seen prizes awarded to composers who would not even have been nominated ten years ago, the stylistic range of nominees has expanded." NewMusicBox 08/03

August 7, 2003

The CD DJ DJs perform by spinning vinyl records to get the sounds they're after. Now a new spinnable CD player offers DJs the opportunity to go digital. "The key to the system - which resembles a small version of a vinyl deck - is a grooved, touch-sensitive jog wheel, which allows records to be stopped and scratched at any time. Until now, the inability to do this was one of the key reasons DJs had shunned performing with CD decks. Deck has a memory card that recalls edit points for tracks. Additionally, the system has an internal memory that can remember cue and loop points, and allows tracks to be remixed live." BBC 08/07/03

Tiny Charleston Symphony Asks Musicians For Pay Cut The 46-member Charleston Symphony is facing money problems like every other orchestra in America. So the orchestra is asking its musicians to take an 18 percent pay cut. "The musicians make $21,000 a year on average. An 18-percent reduction would bring that figure down to $17,220." Charleston Post & Courier 08/07/03

The Searchable Composer A new web site based in Canada is attempting to provide a much-needed resource for the classical music world: "a fully searchable Web site of home grown contemporary music. The slick, bilingual site, www.musiccentre.ca, includes comprehensive biographies and sound samples of about 580 composers, living and dead... Holding the country's largest collection of Canadian classical works, the Toronto-based centre, around since 1959, has re-organized its library resources so the general public can access the materials. Previously the centre's 15,000 scores were only available through five regional lending libraries." Canada.com (CP) 08/07/03

Moving Fast In Colorado Less than a year after the Colorado Springs Symphony folded up shop and joined the ranks of defunct North American orchestras, a new ensemble made up of the same musicians has risen from the ashes and announced its first season. The Colorado Springs Philharmonic will play ten sets of classical concerts, and four sets of pops in 2003-04, and will perform under the baton of Lawrence Leighton Smith, the same conductor who led the old symphony. In another interesting twist, Philharmonic executive director Susan Greene is the same manager who was unceremoniously dismissed by the symphony board a year before its demise. Denver Post 08/07/03

August 6, 2003

Opera Returns To The Baths "After a hiatus of exactly 10 years, full-scale opera returned late last month to the Baths of Caracalla. The cream of Roman society put on their best suits and gowns for the occasion on July 24, reveling in the soft orange light that bathes the third-century baths after dusk, making the ruins one of opera's most striking theaters." The New York Times 08/07/03

The DNA Song A Thai geneticist, a computer programmer and a composer have "written" a piece of music based on DNA genetic sequencing. "When I first heard my hepatitis song, all my hairs stood up. The song was amazingly beautiful and it perfectly fit with my (play about DNA)." Discovery 08/06/03

Classical Music Recordings Share Dips A new study of recording sales in the UK indicates that sales of classical music are falling as a percentage of total music sales. "More than a decade after the heyday of the Three Tenors, the new survey, compiled by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI), appears to prove that the public's brief 1990s flirtation with orchestral music is over. It found that classical CDs accounted for barely one in 20 of all the albums sold in the UK last year - compared to a high of one in 10 in 1990." The Independent (UK) 08/03/03

'Virtual' Orchestra Debate Heats Up For the Brooklyn-based opera company which found itself in a hurricane of bad publicity last week after announcing that it would use a computerized orchestra for an upcoming production of Mozart's Magic Flute, things just keep getting worse. At least one singer has quit the production for fear of being blacklisted in the opera world, and an e-mail campaign by the American Federation of Musicians is causing untold headaches. But the opera's director insists that he would hire a real orchestra if he had the budget, and can't understand why the musicians' union would stand in the way of the development of young opera singers. New Orleans Times-Picayune (AP) 08/06/03

  • Previously: Brooklyn Opera Revolt Over Use Of "Virtual" Orchestra Prominent board members of the three-year-old Opera Company of Brooklyn are resigning over the company's plans to use a virtual orchestra to accompany a performance of "The Magic Flute". "The one-night-only production is being presented by the Opera Company of Brooklyn, started just three years ago to help foster the careers of rising opera talent. The company is using the virtual orchestra because it cannot afford a live one," says the company, which has accumulated a deficit in its short lifetime. The New York Times 08/04/03

Good News/Bad News For German Orchestras In Germany, where orchestras are largely financed by public dollars, many orchestras are reeling from unprecedented budget cuts imposed by their host cities. "Thousands of towns and cities across Germany have been slashing discretionary spending as tax revenues have shrunk. Many are facing their worst financial crisis in 50 years. Relief could be at hand, however, in the shape of a tax reform package unveiled by Germany's ruling coalition yesterday... The core of the reform is a recasting of the Gewerbesteuer, a tax on corporate profit set and levied by Germany's 13,800 municipalities, and which, in most cases, constitutes their largest source of revenues." Financial Times (UK) 08/06/03

Louisville Orchestra Exec Trades Beethoven For Bulbs The executive director of the Louisville Orchestra has announced his resignation, just one month after the orchestra ended a bitter stalemate with its musicians and settled on a plan to avert bankruptcy. Tim King, a 44-year-old who has worked in the arts since 1981, insists that the decision to leave is his own, and came only in response to a job offer he couldn't refuse. "A self-described passionate gardener, he'll be going into sales at a nursery and landscaping company operated by former orchestra development director Michael Oppelt." Louisville Courier-Journal 08/06/03

Reinventing The Calgary Phil The beleaguered Calgary Philharmonic, which very nearly became part of the list of defunct North American orchestras last year, is back in business, with a tough new CEO at the helm and a professed commitment to financial responsibility above all. In addition to hiring retired oil executive Mike Bregazzi to run the organization, the CPO is dramatically restructuring the role of its board, increasing its regional visibility, and introducing a flexible ticket-pricing plan which it hopes will draw new audience. Calgary Herald 08/01/03

August 5, 2003

A New Old Take On Beethoven Twenty years ago Early Music specialists bringing their aesthetic to Beethoven were a threat to modern orchestras. But modern orchestras continue to perform Beethoven, many of them incorporating the Early Music ideals fo conductors such as Roger Norrington. "To the extent that other conductors have reconsidered issues like balance, articulation, tempos and the use of string and wind vibrato, he has a point. He is taking the view that these interpretive issues are far more crucial than the use of old or new instruments, and he is proving it by spending much of his time with modern orchestras, including the Camerata Salzburg, which he brought to Lincoln Center for these concerts." The New York Times 08/06/03

San Antonio Symphony Tries To Dig Out Of Bankruptcy The San Antonio Symphony has only $20,000 in its bank account. And it is meeting with creditors as it tried to reorganize in bankruptcy court. "The symphony hopes to be back in operation as early as November, December or January, and people who bought tickets for the 2003-2004 season will see those tickets honored. But first, the symphony and its musicians must settle on an employment contract. The symphony owes $228,000, or about three weeks’ worth of payroll, to its musicians under the old contract, which expired at the end of last season." San Antonio Express-News 08/04/03

Are Recording Labels Irrelevant These Days? "Record labels these days are the stuff of great melodrama in the decline-of-Rome battles between petulant artists and the fading major brand names that print their work onto CDs. But music lovers these days know more about who built the blank CDs stacked in their ripping rooms than the name of the record company that puts out Queens of the Stone Age or Ashanti." Denver Post 08/05/03

Seattle's New Opera House When it looked like it was going to cost $99 million to upgrade Seattle's Opera House just to make it earthquake-ready, the city decided to build a new one around the bones of the old. Now the new $127 million house has debuted... San Francisco Chronicle 08/05/03

  • Seattle - Sounding Good The most important verdict: Acoustics in the new hall are "excellent." "Though the seating capacity declined only to 2,890 from 3,017, the hall seems much more intimate. The side walls were narrowed, the balconies were extended and the proscenium was made higher. In a visually striking innovation, the side sections of orchestra seats slope upward so they connect with the first balcony." The New York Times 08/05/03

August 4, 2003

Death Of The Single? Is the record single a dead item? "High promotional costs mean the industry doesn't make much money from the sale of a single. But singles attract new consumers (teenagers buy more singles than any other age group) and drive album sales. Singles also generate valuable media interest - for instance, Blur v Oasis in the 90s. Britpop aside, the singles charts have not been much fun for many years." The Guardian (UK) 08/05/03

Brooklyn Opera Revolt Over Use Of "Virtual" Orchestra Prominent board members of the three-year-old Opera Company of Brooklyn are resigning over the company's plans to use a virtual orchestra to accompany a performance of "The Magic Flute". "The one-night-only production is being presented by the Opera Company of Brooklyn, started just three years ago to help foster the careers of rising opera talent. The company is using the virtual orchestra because it cannot afford a live one," says the company, which has accumulated a deficit in its short lifetime. The New York Times 08/04/03

Cremona da New Jersey Evelyn and Herbert Axelrod could have given the 30 rare Cremonese string instruments they owned to the Vienna Philharmonic (which reportedly offered $55 million for the lot). Or they could have sold them to the New York Philharmonic, which also came a'calling. Instead they gave them to the tiny New Jersey Symphony for the bargain-basement price of $18 million. It's a remarkable thing to do... New York Times Magazine 08/03/03

August 3, 2003

Designer Muzak... For the most part, background music played in elevators, stores and other public spaces is an irritation of modern life. But it's not going to ever go away. Now some designers are using background music as a branding opportunity. Designers try to match music to the brand image a store wants to project... Toronto Star 08/03/03

Lies, Damned Lies, And Statistics A new study suggests that more American adults listen to classical music than conventional wisdom would lead you to believe. Peter Dobrin points out that every piece of reliable evidence about classical audiences points to a larger audience. "While skepticism about any survey is a good thing (after all, what qualifies as classical these days, the Three Tenors?), the fact is that Americans clearly like classical music and they're willing to admit it - in large numbers." Philadelphia Inquirer 08/03/03

The Model Of Orchestral Success With dismal news floating out of orchestral offices across North America, aren't there any major orchestras out there that can offer a proven strategy for the future? The answer, says William Littler, is yes, and one need look no further than the San Francisco Symphony. In the early 1990s, the orchestra found itself in an artistic rut, a fiscal mess, and a managerial malaise. Fifteen years later, the SFS is a model of both financial sanity and artistic integrity, and the ensemble is now regularly grouped together in print with the traditional "Big Five" orchestras. There were no miracles in San Francisco, just hard work by dedicated individuals in all parts of the organization, and there's no reason why other orchestras can't follow the same model. Toronto Star 08/02/03

Unrepentant Pirates A new survey estimates that more than 35 million adults spend at least some amount of time downloading copyrighted material online without paying for it. The vast majority of these amateur pirates also claim to be indifferent to copyright law, saying that the legality of file-sharing 'doesn't concern them.' But the recording industry points out that the study was conducted before the industry announced plans to sue individuals found to be illegally downloading. BBC 08/01/03

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