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March 31, 2005

Will Muti Quit Music Over La Scala? Conductor Riccardo Muti is said to be so depressed by the debacle he's involved in at La Scala theatre that "he may give up music altogether, his wife was quoted as saying yesterday. Cristina Mazzavillani told an interviewer: 'I really don't know if he still has the will to work'." The Guardian (UK) 04/01/05

March 30, 2005

Battle Of The Orchestra Execs Two major British orchestral figures have engaged in a public argument. "John Summers, chief executive of the Hallé, accused Clive Gillinson, managing director of the LSO, of portraying orchestras as a 'bunch of complainers', when in fact 'government support for what we do has never, in recent times, been more sympathetic'." The Guardian (UK) 03/31/05

Budapest's Concert Hall: A New Model? Budapest has a brilliant new concert hall, and it was built in a novel way, writes Norman Lebrecht. "What the Hungarians have done is tear up the rulebook and build a hall on the never-never. A patch of industrialised riverbank beside the faux-bourgeois national theatre (opened in 2002) was turned over to a local developer who, with cash from Hungarian expats in Canada, knocked up the new Palace of Arts – 1,700-seat concert hall, art gallery, small theatre – for a mere 31.3 billion Forints. That, by my reckoning, is about £87 million, or rather less than it is costing to restore London’s main concert hall to a semblance of its original inadequacy." La Scena Musicale 03/30/05

Kosman To Modernists: Quit Blaming Everyone Else Joshua Kosman wasn't impressed with the bitter condemnations and whiny tone of conductor James Levine and composer Charles Wuorinen in last Sunday's New York Times concerning the failure of serialism and other complex forms of new music to engage the public. "Audiences couldn't care less. Wuorinen's music and that of other similarly oriented composers has yet to make a dent in the culture at large, or in the consciousness of music lovers. Hence the bitterness, the self-pity, the snarling at the listeners for whose benefit all this scribbling is ostensibly being undertaken." San Francisco Chronicle 03/30/05

Temple U Tops Big Names In Opera Competition Where can you find the top student opera theater program in the U.S.? Juilliard? Curtis? Not according to the annual competition sponsored by the National Opera Association. For the second year in a row, Philadelphia-based Temple University has taken top honors, a major boost for a program that sometimes struggles for national recognition. The Temple News (Philadelphia) 03/29/05

Nagano Announces Montreal New Music Prize As he prepares to take the reins of the Montreal Symphony in 2006, conductor Kent Nagano is giving indications of the direction he plans to take the orchestra, with the announcement of an annual composers' competition which will distribute cash prizes to three winning works of new music. "The arrival of the mystery maestro, along with his pianist wife, Mari Kodama, who lives in Paris, is likely to have a tonic effect on the MSO, which has been mired this season in protracted contract negotiations." Montreal Gazette 03/30/05

March 29, 2005

Rocky 2 Tops Classic FM List Again Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 has again topped UK listeners' list of favorite music in the annual Classic FM survey. "The concerto, which was used in the classic romance Brief Encounter, has now topped the Hall of Fame countdown for five years running. Vaughan Williams' A Lark Ascending came second, while Mozart's Clarinet Concerto in A was third." BBC 03/29/05

America's Band The Eagles haven't released a new album in 25 years, but they still pac arena, and their Greatest Hits has sold 28 million copies - the most of any recording in history. "It's almost as if what the band stands for has become more important than what it actually does. Somehow, quietly and gradually, the Eagles became America's band, representing the nation's aesthetic and sense of self in ways Bruce Springsteen or Lee Greenwood never could. It's not patriotism, exactly -- you'd be hard-pressed to find the words "America" or "U.S.A." in their lyrics -- but it speaks to the American identity on an almost subliminal level, evoking a psychic landscape far more immediate than the iconic purple mountains and amber waves of grain." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 03/29/05

Japanese Orchestra Reforms How It Pays Players One of Japan's top orchestras is restructuring and offering new contracts to players. "The two new contracts will have members choose between a fixed-term employment system and an annual contract system based on performance evaluation. This is the first time that a Japanese professional orchestra has decided to adopt a performance-based wage system comparable to that used by private-sector companies." Daily Yomiuri 03/29/05

The Precocious China Philharmonic The China Philharmonic Orchestra is only four years old, but already it is touring the world. "The 106-strong orchestra was founded in 2000 through a revamp of an old Beijing radio orchestra. Supporters say that the orchestra’s success is heralding a renaissance in classical music in China. Around 240 million Chinese children now learn the piano and the Pearl River Piano Group is now the second largest instrument manufacturer in the world." The Times (UK) 03/29/05

March 28, 2005

Peter Maxwell Davies On Demand Composer Peter Maxwell Davies has started his own recording company. But not just any company. "The solution was radical. Rather than simply reissue set-packaged discs, the decision was made to offer a much more flexible product through the medium of the internet. The formula they came up with does just that, and at remarkably low prices. There are two ways of obtaining your personalised disc. One is simply to download the required pieces, together with an "owner’s booklet", which will contain the required sleeve notes (including a libretto in the case of an opera), to your hard disc, then pay the appropriate money. The other is to choose your tracks, pay for them, and place a request for the disc to be compiled and posted out to you." The Scotsman 03/28/05

Big Mac: Product Placement In Rap Lyrics? McDonald's is "reported to be launching a campaign that will offer financial incentives to rap artists who mention its Big Mac burger in their lyrics. McDonald's will not pay an upfront fee, but intends to pay the artist between $1 and $5 (53p-£2.68) each time a track is played on the radio. It hopes to have several such songs on the airwaves by the summer." The Guardian (UK) 03/29/05

Youngstown Symphony Releases Music Director Why did the Youngstown [Ohio] Symphony part ways with music director Isaiah Jackson earlier this month? "Though some say Jackson lifted the orchestra during his nine years as director, confusion has superseded accomplishment since the Symphony Society made it appear nine days ago as if Jackson had made the decision to not renew his contract. It remains unclear why he was let go, who initiated the departure and why the board never discussed his contract with him." Youngstown Vindicator 03/27/05

Curtis Institute Chooses New Director Philadelphia's Curtis Institute has chosen Roberto Díaz, 44 - "principal violist of the Philadelphia Orchestra, active soloist, and Curtis faculty member" - to succeed Gary Graffman as director. "Díaz's candidacy was a late entry in the search process, but he was the unanimous choice of the 12-member search committee." Philadelphia Inquirer 03/27/05

March 27, 2005

The Orchestra, The Concertmaster, And His Tell-All Blog (Oh My...) When the Seattle Symphony fired longtime concertmaster Ilka Talvi last summer, he took the orchestra to arbitration. But this is the internet age, a time when the agrieved... write a blog. In the week since Talvi started Schmaltzuberalles he's dished deep and unflatteringly about his former orchestra and Gerard Schwarz, its music director. Sure names have been changed in the blog, but it's not difficult to figure out who's who. Word of the blog has spread like wildfire through the orchestra world, and evidently has even caught the attention of Seattle Symphony management. Talvi writes that a few days after the blog began, the orchestra called to fire his violinist wife from her contracted SSO work. The next day Talvi writes of getting a visit from Seattle police, acting on a complaint about the blog... Schmaltzuberalles 03/28/05

The Tribute Cover - As It Happens "For decades, rock bands have acknowledged their influences by reinterpreting the old guys' songs. It was a kind of Oedipal tribute: honor thy forebears by reinventing them. Our post-postmodern era of mash-ups, music blogs, file sharing and near-instantaneous distribution, however, has given rise to a new phenomenon: a certain species of indie bands is covering their peers' brand-new songs - in those first heady days of release when the songs seem to be playing in every cafe and club, or even earlier, before they've made an impression at all." The New York Times 03/27/05

How To Listen... Without A Roadmap "Your average newbie may not be sure why he or she should want to sit through a 30-minute symphony 200 years old, and the field devotes a lot of energy to trying to explain the reasons. Its methods include program notes, preconcert lectures and, increasingly, thematic programs that set out to illuminate the wonders of Beethoven or Charles Ives or Nordic music (whatever that is). But all of this runs counter to the way more and more people listen to music today. Witness the popularity of features like the iPod Shuffle, which yanks music out of context by randomly combining tracks into a musical stew. It's not about the idea; it's all about the sound." The New York Times 03/27/05

Playing Through The Pain "Until recently, musicians didn't talk about their ailments -- especially professionals, who feared losing their livelihood. Doctors weren't trained to deal with these specialties, but that's changing; clinics have sprung up. A recent survey of orchestra musicians found that 76 percent had suffered at least one playing-related injury serious enough to keep them from working for a period of time. An ear specialist in Texas, after screening Houston Symphony Orchestra members, found permanent hearing loss in some violinists' left ears, the left being the side exposed to continual sonic blasts from the rest of the orchestra. A 2001 survey revealed that 80 percent of female keyboard players ages 10 to 20 have a muscle-skeletal problem, although no one knows why it's worse for women." The Star-Tribune (Mpls) 03/27/05

Hinckley: Lay Off The Rappers Hip-hop music and culture has been taking a nasty beating in the wider culture in recent weeks, and David Hinckley says that all the brouhaha shows that the critics don't understand the genre, and aren't even trying to. "Much of the criticism indicts all rappers and further carries the insulting implication that rap fans take nothing from the music except swaggering self-promotion, derogatory slaps at women and verbal violence... From the ancient Greeks up through opera, folk songs, detective novels and television, entertainment media have focused on excess, that is, behavior beyond normal standards, as a way of making a point. Audiences get this. Rap audiences get this. If violent lyrics really had the direct impact its critics warn about, America's streets would be knee-deep in dead rap fans." New York Daily News 03/27/05

Return of the Chicago Ring Nine years after staging Wagner's complete Ring Cycle to international acclaim, Chicago Lyric Opera is reviving the production this week, and the team in charge of the staging is enjoying a rare opportunity in the opera world: the chance to review what does and doesn't work about a particular production, and actually make the show better. "The performances are musical marathons, the final three operas running for more than 5 hours including intermissions. But Lyric has the benefit of having already performed it as a complete cycle three times, and many of the staff members and orchestral musicians who made that 1996 "Ring" so successful are still with the company." Chicago Sun-Times 03/27/05

  • Opera's Answer To Trekkies "Some 10,500 Wagner lovers from 50 states and 27 foreign countries, along with a sizable contingent of international press, are making the pilgrimage to Chicago to catch the four-opera, 16-hour epic. Lyric is hawking Ring T-shirts, caps and socks in its lobby boutique to fan the flames of their enthusiasm. Such encouragement hardly seems necessary. Wagnerians are famously obsessive in their devotion to this marathon masterpiece, perhaps even more so than the Hobbit-ear-wearing Tolkienites who have made a cottage industry out of a certain other 'Ring'." Chicago Tribune 03/27/05

Aussie Orchestras Won't Be Scaled Back Australia's symphony orchestras have received official assurances from the government that their rosters of musicians will not be scaled back in the wake of a report which recommended severe cuts. Of course, that doesn't solve the problem of where the money to maintain the orchestras in their current form will come from, but with the downsizing issue behind them, all sides sound more amenable to compromise. Adelaide Advertiser (Australia) 03/25/05

Does 12-Tone Music Sound Better When The Critics Shut Up? More than a half-century after Arnold Schoenberg pioneered his twelve-tone system of composition, the world of classical music is still embroiled in a raging debate over the direction of compositional form, centered on the thorny question of just how much complexity audiences can and will tolerate. But two of America's leading composers point out that the debate may be less about music at this point than ideology. "Most of these perceptions [of serial vs. tonal music] come not from hearing or knowing the music but from reading what someone has written about it... the biggest problem with the perception about the 12-tone system is absolutely akin to the perception of Schoenberg - that it's become a journalistic cudgel." The New York Times 03/27/05

An Opera House Worth Staying In Your Seat For Copenhagen's new opera house may not be a universally acclaimed architectural hit, but there is no question that its opening has invigorated the city. Moreover, operagoing in Denmark is clearly an experience considered to be worth savoring, as "arriving early and lingering late seem to be part of the experience," a far cry from the dashes for the exits so common when the curtain rings down in New York and London. Could the jaded New Yorkers learn a thing or two from their Danish counterparts? "After a compelling performance at the Met, shouldn't there be a natural tendency to want to share the moment with the audience, to bond, to cheer, to let out the pent-up intensity you've experienced with some lusty bravos?" One can only hope... The New York Times 03/26/05

March 25, 2005

Small Jazz Label Signs Up To Save Detroit Jazz Festival A small jazz recording label has signed on to become the new sponsor of the annual Detroit Labor Day weekend jazz festival, which "found itself on the brink of extinction last month when Ford Motor Co. chose not to renew its title sponsorship for the first time in a decade." Detroit Free Press 03/25/05

Bolshoi Opera Scandal Really About Money And Power The protests and scandal over the Bolshoi's new opera isn't really about artistis values after all. "At the center of the silly protest swirling around "Rosenthal's Children," the new opera at the Bolshoi Theater, lies a billion-dollar question: Who gets to control the huge budget to renovate the aging building? The debate, alas, is not about cultural values, political ideologies or the preservation of Russia's artistic heritage." Moscow Times 03/25/05

  • Previously: Protesters Rally Against Bolshoi Opening "More than 200 protesters from the pro-Kremlin youth movement Moving Together gathered outside the theatre, shouting: 'Sorokin - out of the Bolshoi.' Vladimir Sorokin, the postmodernist author who wrote the libretto, has been accused of dragging the famous theatre's reputation into the mud. The opera features a scientist called Rosenthal, who creates clones of the famous composers Wagner, Tchaikovsky, Mozart, Mussorgsky and Verdi. After his death, the composers are forced to busk outside a train station and Mozart falls in love with a prostitute." The Guardian (UK) 03/24/05
March 24, 2005

Canton Symphony's Calendar Girls Women from the Canton [Ohio] Symphony have produced a provocative calendar. " 'More Than You Expect from an Orchestra' features 18 women from the symphony, its staff, board members and supporters in a number of risque poses. 'We need to change the symphony's image, to get it away from being stuffy'."
Akron Beacon-Journal (AP) 03/25/05

Copenhagen Gets A New Opera House "Copenhagen's is the very model of a modern major opera house. Its size is moderate (about 1,600 seats); the auditorium is tiered and horseshoe-shaped, with adaptable acoustics; and a flexible studio space is attached. Everything backstage is controlled by fingertip technology. The front of house is illuminated by three dazzling chandeliers designed by Olafur Eliasson, famous for his light installation at Tate Modern. It all symbolises openness and accessibility. As yet, the atmosphere in the place seems a bit sterile, more conference centre than fun palace." The Telegraph (UK) 03/25/05

Music Industry Woes - More Than Just Copyright The music industry is in court against p2p file-trading services. "But even if the entertainment business manages to coax more users into paying for legal downloads and succeeds in court against Grokster and StreamCast, its problems are unlikely to go away. True, a Supreme Court ruling in the industry’s favour would put paid to other P2P services. But it is not clear that curbing illegal downloading will translate into extra sales for the music business. A rush into legal downloading would hardly be good for sales of CDs: some cannibalisation is inevitable. And perhaps the decline in global sales is indicative of a far greater problem for the music industry—consumers simply think that many of its products are just not worth paying for." The Economist 03/24/05

An African "Carmen" From The Townships An film opera of "Carmen" had its birth in the townships of South Africa. "It is the first operatic film to be made in South Africa's Xhosa language, it is the first African film to win the coveted Golden Bear for best picture at the Berlin Film festival and it is the first mainstream film to use actors almost exclusively from the townships. They were brought together almost five years ago after extensive auditions held in the townships across South Africa." BBC 03/24/05

Girl, Interrupted: A Lolita That Never Was This week, the Boston Symphony will perform John Harbison's overture to his opera based on Vladimir Nabokov's groundbreaking and controversial novel, Lolita. What's that you say? You didn't know that Harbison had written an operatic version of the disturbing tale of teenage sexuality and seduction? Well, actually, he hasn't. He wanted to, you understand, and actually got as far as sketching out the form and writing the overture, but then, the Catholic church in Boston, where Mr. Harbison lives, exploded into chaos with the sexual abuse scandal involving priests, and the composer couldn't bring himself to finish the project as the dark comedy it is intended to be. Moreover, he concluded that Lolita simply cannot work in operatic form at all.

Hope The Concert Was Good How far would you walk to see a concert? Probably not as far as Hilde Binford, a music history professor at a Pennsylvania college, who just completed a 33-mile trek with several of her students, ending at New York's Lincoln Center, just in time for a performance of the Philharmonic. Why they did such a thing is a complicated question: suffice to say that it has to do with J.S. Bach's own 250-mile pilgrimage to hear an organ recital, but also a lot to do with simple intellectual curiosity and the love of a challenge. The New York Times 03/24/05

A Performance So Bad That People Noticed Composer James Dillon was very much looking forward to hearing one of his works performed in his hometown of Glasgow, by the renowned Royal Scottish National Orchestra. But at the performance, he was taken aback by what he says was the incredibly poor quality of the playing, as well as a palpable and aggressive disinterest on the part of the musicians and their conductor. The disengaged sound was also noted by both of Glasgow's daily newspapers, and the BBC, which had planned to broadcast the concert recording, has changed its mind. The Herald (UK) 03/24/05

March 23, 2005

Protesters Rally Against Bolshoi Opening "More than 200 protesters from the pro-Kremlin youth movement Moving Together gathered outside the theatre, shouting: 'Sorokin - out of the Bolshoi.' Vladimir Sorokin, the postmodernist author who wrote the libretto, has been accused of dragging the famous theatre's reputation into the mud. The opera features a scientist called Rosenthal, who creates clones of the famous composers Wagner, Tchaikovsky, Mozart, Mussorgsky and Verdi. After his death, the composers are forced to busk outside a train station and Mozart falls in love with a prostitute." The Guardian (UK) 03/24/05

Aussie Orchestras Meet To Plan Protest Representatives of Australia's national orchestras are meeting in Sydney to fight proposals to cut government orchestra funding. "The orchestras are fighting the recommendations of former Qantas chief James Strong to save money by cutting musician numbers in some ensembles by 25 per cent." ABCNews.com 03/23/05

Kicking Muti Out At La Scala One thing is clear about the La Scala mess, writes Norman Lebrecht: Riccasrdo Muti is out as music director. "Gradually, a realisation dawned that Muti's tyranny was at an end. The relief was spontaneous and universal. Milan, more with a whimper than a bang, had brought down a musical dictator who modelled himself on Arturo Toscanini, demanding fanatical fidelity to the score and throwing screaming fits when thwarted. Muti, now 64, is a self-made anachronism. A Neapolitan of modest origins, in ever-black designer hair and suits so sharp you can cut a finger on the crease, he tempers feral energy and vicious tantrums with a magnetic warmth that he switches on and off at will." La Scena Musicale 03/23/05

Jarvi Appointed Director Of Hague Orchestra Neeme Jarvi, 67, who steps down from 15 years leading the Detroit Symphony, has been appointed music director of The Hague Residentie Orchestra in the Netherlandsis. He's already scheduled to become music director of the New Jersey Symphony next fall. "Though not of the same size and stature of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam or the Rotterdam Philharmonic, the Residentie Orchestra is an important symphony in Dutch musical life." Detroit Free Press 03/23/05

Controversial Bolshoi Opera Opens Tonight The stage is set for the opening of the Bolshoi theater's first new opera for 30 years on Wednesday, but Russian critics are branding it pornographic and conservatives want it banned before the curtain even goes up... Reuters 03/23/05

Is Mariss Jansons The World's Best Conductor? "Everyone who has heard this burly Latvian conduct the two orchestras with whom he has spent the most time (the Oslo Philharmonic and the Pittsburgh Symphony) has witnessed that rare alchemy whereby a good ensemble—as if galvanized by a collective will the players didn’t know they had—becomes greater than the sum of its parts. In this regard, Mr. Jansons’ only peer may be Sir Simon Rattle, who brought his provincial City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra to New York a few years ago and played a Mahler Third Symphony that had the man sitting in the box next to me—the New York Philharmonic’s then music director, Kurt Masur—glowering in disbelief at the spell cast by these nobodies from the English Midlands." New York Observer 03/23/05

March 22, 2005

World Recording Sales Down, US Up "Worldwide sales of recorded music declined 1.3 percent to $33.6 billion last year as the U.S. market grew for the first time since 1999 and consumers bought more concert and video DVDs. The figures released on Tuesday, which reveal the fifth straight year of falling sales for the record industry, do not include digital downloads or mobile phone ringtones, which music companies say would have made 2004 sales flat against 2003." Yahoo! (AP) 03/22/05

Brits Top Music Consumers Brits buy more music than anyone else, according to new sales figures. "The UK music industry recorded an overall 3% increase in volume sales, mostly due to its robust albums market. However, world music sales declined by 1.3% to $33.6 billion (£17.7 billion). The UK CD albums market grew by 4.5% in 2004 with a record 174.6 million units sold. On average every Briton buys 3.2 CDs per person per year." BBC 03/22/05

March 21, 2005

Back To Vinyl Damian Thompson has abandoned digital music for the real vinyl experience. "After nearly 20 years of exclusive loyalty to compact discs, I have bought a record player - partly out of nostalgia, partly to test the theory that they produce a better sound than CD players, and partly out of irritation at the cult of the iPod. The experience has been ridiculously exciting." The Telegraph (UK) 03/22/05

Can La Scala Find Its Way Back From The Edge? A mediator is trying to resolve the out-of-control labor situation at La Scala. "While La Scala’s governors seek to emphasise that Muti is staying, it is difficult to foresee how the musical director can continue under the present circumstances. Several contenders have been touted as potential successors including Covent Garden's Antonio Pappano." Gramophone 03/21/05

Experience Music Project: The Promise Fades Five years ago, expectations for Seattle's Experience Music Project were high. But "as the museum's fifth anniversary approaches, things aren't going as planned: All rotating exhibits have been canceled or frozen, and of the roughly 250 people employed by EMP, 14 percent are temps who fear their contracts won't be renewed because attendance is half of what was expected. There's nothing to indicate that Seattle's interest in EMP is growing -- between 2001 and 2003, admission revenues were down 46 percent." Seattle Post-Intelligencer 03/21/05

  • EMP: Secrets Abound Seattle's Experience Music Project is one of the most secretive (some might say paranoid) arts organizations around. Employees aren't allowed to talk to reporters, and even the director has to be accompanied by a handler... Seattle Post-Intelligencer 03/21/05

SXSW: Music For Music Austin's SXSW Festival attracts 1,300 bands and 10,000 music industry people. "The conference makes clear that the music business is not just the recording business, and the recording business is not just the major labels. As the large music conglomerates bemoan a world of digital downloading, decreased sales and tight radio playlists, independent bands and labels have simply gone about making music. For musicians who don't expect their careers to rise and fall by radio hits and blockbuster albums, major labels have less and less to offer." The New York Times 03/21/05

Recreating Bach... A musicologist has receated the instrumental parts for a lost cantata by JS Bach. "The 1728 composition, called Wedding Cantata BWV 216, was found among the papers of Japanese pianist Chieko Hara, who died in Japan in 2001 aged 86. The work, written for the wedding of a daughter of a German customs official, was missing for 80 years." BBC 03/21/05

Parsifal In NY Doesn't Cut It With Berlin Opera Fans Director Bernd Eichinger's new production of Parsifal was booed at Berlin's Staatsoper this weekend. "Eichinger's version, conducted by Daniel Barenboim, is set in a landscape of buildings collapsing from fires and explosions and relies heavily on video. Mr Eichinger is an acclaimed German film-maker. He wrote and produced Downfall, about Hitler's final days, which was nominated for an Oscar this year." BBC 03/21/05

March 20, 2005

Endangered Species: Famous Music Studios Legendary music studios are disappearing at an accelerating rate. "A recent roll call includes Cello and Royaltone Studios, both in Los Angeles, and New York's famed Hit Factory, and that's just in the past two months. Illegal downloading, which means less revenue for record companies and less money for recording budgets, is partly to blame. A much bigger factor, though, has been the rise of cheap digital recording equipment: A high-quality home studio system can be had for well under $50,000 -- about what it would cost to spend three weeks in a high-end studio like the Hit Factory." Washington Post 03/20/05

Who Will Speak For Opera? Finding someone with the skills to replace Beverly Sills as chair of the Metropolitan Opera will be a challenge, but a surmountable one. Finding someone to replace her as "the public face of opera and the performing arts" for a country increasingly saturated by pop culture and uninterested in more intellectual pursuits may well be impossible. The New York Times 03/20/05

New Contract in Utah, But Controversy Remains The musicians and management of the beleagured Utah Symphony & Opera have reached tentative agreement on a new contract, after spending the better part of the season in "play-and-talk" mode. The new contract is unlikely, however, to quiet the controversy surrounding the organization's business model, which has been under fire since the results of an independent study questioning the wisdom of merging Salt Lake City's symphony and opera company were made public a few weeks ago. Salt Lake Tribune 03/19/05

Did Muti Dig His Own Grave In Milan? Riccardo Muti is more than a larger-than-life character in the world of Italian opera. He is also a shrewd politician, and while he may have gotten himself into a world of trouble with his latest attempts to consolidate power around himself at La Scala, it would be a mistake to count him out just yet. Still, there is little question that Muti is losing this battle: "Talent or no talent, most people in the house have had enough of a regime where, as one described it, 'Supplicants gather outside his door like the Marschallin's levée.'" The Independent (UK) 03/20/05

Seattle's 16 Concertmasters The Seattle Symphony is in the market for a new concertmaster, following music director Gerard Schwarz's decision to fire Finnish violinist Ilkka Talvi, who had held the post for two decades, and a mind-boggling sixteen candidates have been invited to sit in the orchestra's first chair before a decision is made. But there's a lot more to winning the one of the more coveted positions in the orchestral business than just being a top-notch violinist... Seattle Times 03/20/05

March 18, 2005

La Scala Crisis Grips Italy The crisis at La Scala has escalated out of control, and Italy is fascinated. "The crisis has gripped Italy the way steroids in baseball have the United States and stunned many with its speedy onset, coming just three months after the giddy celebration of a three-year renovation of the 18th-century house. The crisis stemmed from the dismissal last month of the general manager, Carlo Fontana, whose relations with Mr. Muti were rocky." The New York Times 03/18/05

Critic Attack Scottish Opera's Return-From-The-Dead Choice Scottish Opera is to resume producing at the Edinburgh Festival with a production of John Adams' "The Death of Klinghoffer" But already, critics are attacking the company for its choice: "It is breaking into its "year of darkness" with an opera of such disputed taste that it will only confirm to critics that it is either out of control or in the grip of an incomprehensible death wish." The Scotsman 03/18/05

March 17, 2005

Why Attack ENO For Producing A Musical? English National Opera is producing "On the Town." "There is more to opera than Mozart and Wagner, and if Johann Strauss could upgrade from music hall to opera house then why not Oscar Hammerstein? La Scala, after all, is preparing to stage Lloyd Webber’s Phantom and, as for preserving the purity of the naked voice, it is an open secret that New York’s high-church Met has, on occasion, amplified a mezzo or two. Covent Garden took on Sondheim and the National Theatre has made Cole Porter core repertoire without anyone questioning their core purpose. Why, then, is ENO under fire when all it wants to do is reach a wider audience?" Well... La Scena Musicale 03/17/05

$6 Mil Windfall For Curtis Institute "Even before embarking upon its next endowment campaign, the Curtis Institute of Music has received a combined pledge of $6 million from two of [Philadelphia's] most generous philanthropists. The Annenberg and Lenfest foundations have offered the gift to Curtis - if the music conservatory on Rittenhouse Square can raise an additional $9 million by Dec. 31, 2006... The contract gives Curtis considerable freedom: It does not stipulate that the interest from the money be spent on establishing new programs (which foundations often require), and the principal will go toward the unrestricted portion of Curtis' endowment. It also asks Curtis to maintain a balanced budget; to encourage students, parents and graduates to make donations to the school; and to consider the implementation of an additional student-loan program for living expenses." Philadelphia Inquirer 03/17/05

Little Orchestra Comes To The Big City The Minnesota-based St. Paul Chamber Orchestra will mount a 3-week residency in Chicago's Hyde Park next season, in what the ensemble hopes will be the beginning of a new touring tradition. "The residency will consist of three concerts, a family-oriented program, music education activities in local public elementary schools and a series of master classes, composition readings and chamber music coaching for university students. It will be spread over separate weeks and a weekend in fall, winter and spring." Chicago Tribune 03/17/05

Adelaide Gets Creative, Vows To Fight Cuts The premier of South Australia has denounced plans to cut the Adelaide Symphony as a "trick" designed to shift the burden of funding orchestras from a national broadcaster (ABC) to state governments, and pledged to work with the federal government to preserve the orchestra in its current state. Meanwhile, the musicians of the ASO offered a protest of their own, performing quartets in an outdoor mall with one of the four players missing, to represent the proposed 25% cut in the orchestra's personnel. Adelaide Advertiser (Australia) 03/17/05

The Banged-Up BSO Asks Levine For Relief The musicians of the Boston Symphony are reportedly well pleased with James Levine as their new music director, but the maestro's predilection for over-long programs and extra rehearsals has some players begging for a break. The BSO agreed to several rules changes in order to secure Levine's services, among them an agreement that there could be more than the traditional 4 rehearsals for a given program. But that extra time on stage has apparently caused several minor injuries already within the orchestra's ranks, and others are concerned about nagging arm and shoulder pain, as well as simple fatigue. Levine has reportedly been responsive to the musicians' concerns, and has retooled a couple of programs as a result. Boston Globe 03/17/05

March 16, 2005

La Scala Musicians Vote To Oust Muti Musicians and other employees of La Scala have voted overwhelmingly for the resignation of musical director Riccardo Muti, and the entire governing board. "In a day of operatic drama, rumours swept Milan that 64-year-old Muti had agreed to go. But they were denied by theatre officials." The Guardian (UK) 03/17/05

Being Right Isn't As Good As Being Popular Riccardo Muti, who walked out on the La Scala orchestra this week, saying that he could not work with the current management team any longer, may be right that the world's most famous opera house is being run into the ground by arrogant men. But being right may not be enough to win this battle. "If there's one thing that doesn't bode well for Muti, it's that perception is defying facts. Whether or not Muti knows what's good for La Scala, a vocal sector of the public doesn't want to believe him... [T]he issue behind this gulf between perception and fact is that Muti's brand of operatic integrity is good for the art, but probably not what a large public wants. " Philadelphia Inquirer 03/16/05

Ultimatum In Salt Lake A former board Utah Symphony & Opera board chair has pulled his annual donation and canceled a major bequest to the struggling organization, offering to reinstate the pledges only if embattled CEO Anne Ewers and music director Keith Lockhart are ousted. The already-tense situation at US&O is growing more volatile by the day, with "supporters [wanting] to know why news of US&O's falling attendance, negative cash flow and declining annual donations since the merger was not made public. They want accountability from the volunteer board that governs US&O." Salt Lake Tribune 03/16/05

Funding Guarantee For Welsh Chamber Orchestra Pulled The Welsh Chamber Orchestra is accusing the Arts Council for Wales of reneging on a pledge to extend the ensemble's support funding through 2006. Instead of the WCO receiving its £52,500 with no questions asked, the group will now have to compete with six other ensembles for the money, potentially putting its 2005-06 season in jeopardy. For its part, the government says that no guarantees were ever given about the '05 funding, even though the Culture Minister called a press conference last year to announce that the WCO funding would continue through 2006. BBC 03/16/05

March 15, 2005

Montreal Orchestra Tensions Rise "The management of L'Orchestre symphonique de Montréal saw red over the weekend, saying that unless the players stop wearing red union T-shirts on stage, cancellation of four concerts with music director-designate Kent Nagano later this month "may be inevitable." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 03/15/05

Opera And The Newbies A group of people goes to the opera for the first time. And what do they think? A few don't make it past the intermission at Covent Garden. But one: "You can put this in your piece: I was moved to tears and I've just signed up to become a member. That should tell you how much I enjoyed it. It was the best thing I ever did." The Guardian (UK) 03/15/05

Mozart, The Bolshoi, And The Protests A new opera at the Bolshoi has roiled passions. "The demonstrations prompted a political debate over freedom of expression and censorship - historically hypersensitive subjects in Russia. The Kremlin distanced itself from the events, criticising the criminal investigation. Sales of Sorokin's books soared, and the Bolshoi's project received promotion nobody could have dreamed about." The Guardian (UK) 03/16/05

French Police Arresting Conductors French police are arresting conductors and breaking up tours of orchestras employing Eastern European musicians. "Of all the unsavory aspects of French police going around the country busting orchestras and locking up their conductors or managers, it is the notion that it's being done to protect these innocent violin-playing lambs from Sofia that drips heaviest with irony. In common with price-fixing cartels the world 'round, France and Germany's high-priced musicians have only one interest in this affair, and that is keeping low-priced competition off the market. That this means smallish French towns get no opera, or get it only when heavy public subsidies are made available for it, concerns them not at all." OpinionJournal.com 03/16/05

Enhancing That Old Music CD Fans have taken to the "extras" found on DVD's. Now recording companies are trying something similar with music. "DualDiscs are two-faced contraptions that feature a full CD on one side and a DVD packed with extra stuff on the other. They have begun to take off dramatically." New York Daily News 03/15/05

Aussie Government Might Not Reduce Orchestras The Australian government indicates it won't go along with key recommendations in a report that recommended downsizing several of the country's leading orchestras. "The Government is now negotiating with the states over funding so the current size of all three orchestras can be maintained." ABCNews.com 03/15/05

March 14, 2005

Report: Orchestra Pit Not Dangerous To Hearing Researchers have determined that noise levels in the typical orchestra pit are not dangerous to players' hearing. "The researchers found that the noise exposure of players of all of the instrument groups fell below acceptable 85 dBA (noise exposure level measured in decibels – dB, corrected to the frequency response of the human ear – A) for an eight-hour day recommended by institutions such as the U.S. National Institute of Safety and Health, the International Standard Organization (ISO) and also included in the Canadian Standards Association." EurekaAlert 03/14/05

Australian States Protest Orchestra Cuts Proposal Australia's state governments are recating angrily to proposed cuts in federal support for the countrey's orchestras. "The cuts would be made at the Tasmanian, South Australian and Queensland orchestras and the redundancies would cost $3 million. Governments in those states say they are appalled by the plan. They say the Federal Government will use the report's findings to centralise the nation's arts resources in Sydney and Melbourne." ABC.net 03/15/05

The Day Aussie Orchestras Died? A new Australian government report recommends reducing the number of musicians in the country's major orchestras. The author of the report "doesn't like to call them 'player cuts'. He refers to 'a reduction in the permanent establishment' of the Queensland Orchestra (from 89 to 74 musicians), Adelaide Symphony Orchestra (from 74 to 56) and Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra (from 47 to 38, or a large chamber orchestra). 'Any suggestion there be less players [will be] met with some emotion. But we've tried to be realistic and look at long-term viability'."
Sydney Morning Herald 03/14/05

Chicago And Music Make Up The City of Chicago and its musicians have been on uneasy terms for several years. But "a multifaceted dialogue involving city officials, club owners, record-company and studio owners and music-industry veterans has created the Chicago Music Commission, which aims to raise Chicago's profile internationally, turn its musical variety into a major tourist attraction and bring millions of additional dollars into city coffers and businesses. One city official called it the Chicago cultural equivalent of the Czech Republic's "velvet revolution," in which the communist regime quietly gave way to the coun-try's first free elections in 40 years." Chicago Tribune 03/13/05

Do Music And Images Really Belong Together? David Patrick Stearns doesn't think much of attempts to marry orchestra music with images. "My newest theory on the subject is this: Sight and sound are a perpetually uneasy marriage and always will be. So how about an annulment, or at least separate bedrooms - allowing cohabitation rights without the responsibility of mutual support? Even when video and music are successfully manipulated to work toward one goal, they just might compete for the same part of your brain and cancel each other out. Maybe sight and sound can happen simultaneously without everyone working so strenuously to achieve some unified statement. Maybe greater dividends arise from an un-unified statement." Philadelphia Inquirer 03/13/05

Music On The Brain Why does music sometimes get stuck in your head? "A team from Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, played music to volunteers while using a technique called functional magnetic resonance imagery to scan their brains. As the music was played, parts of the tune were cut. Researchers found volunteers mentally filled in the blanks if a familiar song was missing snippets, although the same effect was not seen with unfamiliar tunes. The brain activity was picked up by the scan and found to be centred in the auditory cortex." The Scotsman 03/10/05

March 13, 2005

Muti Refuses To Conduct La Scala Riccardo Muti has refused to conduct the La Scala orchestra, saying that the company is in crisis. "I believe that, at the moment, there are not the conditions for us to play music together." His announcement forced the theatre to scrap a concert by La Scala Philharmonic that was to have been performed on Friday, the latest in a string of cancellations pitching the house into financial crisis. The Guardian (UK) 03/14/05

Did Toscanini Kill Classical Music In America? When did classical music fall off the American cultural radar? Moreover, how did it get on the radar in the first place? Joseph Horowitz's newest tome tackles the full scope and history of classical music in the U.S., and comes to some fairly dark conclusions. "Horowitz partly blames the early 20th century 'Toscanini Cult,' devout worshipers of an imported Italian conductor, as one of the main catalysts for the demise. This was the Waterloo, the point at which, in the eyes of Americans, classical music went strictly European... It was also the point at which we became overzealously fascinated not with the music being played, but with the performers who played it, a shift the author views as an unhealthy offshoot of a market-driven culture." Newsday (New York) 03/13/05

Nothing Much Going Right In Salt Lake In the two years since the Utah Symphony & Opera merged to become one organization, ticket sales have declined and the ensemble has become alarmingly reliant on special contributions to stay afloat financially. The merger was supposed to cut overhead costs, but spending has actually increased instead, leading to accusations of mismanagement from the US&O's musicians. Lots of U.S. orchestras are struggling, of course, but the US&O's 2002-03 operating deficit was fully 10% of its total budget, an alarming figure that is causing some observers to question whether the merged organization can survive. Salt Lake Tribune 03/13/05

  • The Music's Not The Problem The Utah Symphony & Opera's financial problems stem in part from a busted marketing apparatus, according to concertgoers in Salt Lake City. Many in town still voice strong support for the quality of US&O performances, but have been put off by flippant marketing campaigns, nonsensical schedule changes, and other rankling inconveniences. Salt Lake Tribune 03/13/05

Levine in Boston: The First 100 Days It is foolish, of course, to try to judge a music director's tenure with an orchestra after only six months, but the immediate effects of a new arrival on both ensemble and audience can have a significant impact on the evolution of the relationship between maestro and musicians. In Boston, where James Levine is now firmly ensconced as music director, observers have begun to notice a distinct shift in how the orchestra is perceived. More young people have been showing up at concerts, and a number of musical heavyweights who couldn't be bothered with the waning years of the Ozawa era are back in the fold as well. "Clearly, Levine's programs are sparking all this interest. They are long; they are challenging. He is striving to create concerts that are at once provocative to the musically trained, yet not off-putting to the more casual concertgoer." The Christian Science Monitor (Boston) 03/11/05

Pols, Players Rally To Save Tasmanian Orchestra Australia's musicians' union is joining forces with politicians and members of the public to lobby the country's arts ministry to reject the proposal laid out in a new study which recommends downsizing the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra to a chamber ensemble. Union representatives accuse Australia's conservative ruling party of trying to "wreck" the orchestra more than once, and calls any plan which would redistribute funds from one ensemble to another unacceptable. Hobart Mercury (Australia) 03/14/05

Why Can't Eschenbach Just Be Eschenbach? Philadelphia Orchestra music director Christoph Eschenbach, who has a passion for 20th-century music and is legendary for his fiery performances of Shostakovich, could not be much more different from the man he replaced, Wolfgang Sawallisch, a low-key European conductor of the old school, whose tastes ran more to German romantics. "So you have to wonder why [Eschenbach] has spent so much time in his first year and a half as music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra plowing through repertoire that was the specialty of his immediate predecessor. Comparisons are inevitable, and Eschenbach is not coming out on top." Philadelphia Inquirer 03/12/05

March 11, 2005

A Model Orchestra Built On The New You don't build an orchestra by playing contemporary music. Or do you? Michigan's Plymouth Symphony is "an orchestra on the make with a growing budget, expanding menu of concerts and education programs, bulging attendance and, significantly, the most progressive programming of any orchestra in southeastern Michigan, including the Detroit Symphony. No one locally does more to promote living composers, present thematic programs laced with intellectual pop and unusual repertoire and create a sense of adventure when the lights go down." Detroit Free Press 03/11/05

March 10, 2005

Auckland Orchestra Gets Reprieve Auckland's City Council has approved an emergency $200,000 "top-up" for the budget of the Auckland Philaharmonia. "The Government arts funding agency approved a six-month operational deficit budget until June 30, 2005, "on the basis that the philharmonia's structure would be reformed and other funding sources were secured, especially from territorial local authorities." The orchestra recently declared it would be unable to operate past June without help, and negotiations with local governments have ensued. New Zealand Herald 03/11/05

Music Of The People, By The People, And For The People Artist/musician Christopher Marclay went around Berlin posting music staff paper and inviting people to write on it. "My aim was to create a collective score made by the people of Berlin," he says. "Did many people actually write music? "Yes, surprisingly, perhaps because Berliners are so cultured musically. Of the 800 photographs of these posters I made a selection of 150, which make up the 'score'." Since then the score has been interpreted in vastly different ways, which is natural enough, given that the mixture of squiggles, images, notes and words is hardly precise." The Telegraph (UK) 03/11/05

A Concert Hall With Its Own Recording Label London's Wigmore Hall is "launching its own record label. In what is clearly becoming a significant industry trend it joins the likes of ensembles such as the London Symphony Orchestra and the Hallé, and artists as diverse as Sir John Eliot Gardiner and Michael Nyman, in taking recording work in-house. Uniquely, though, it is probably the first venue to take the step." Gramophone 03/10/05

Government Report To Recommend Slashing Adelaide Symphony A soon-to-be-released Australian government report on orchestras is said to call for a sharp reduction in the number of players in the Adelaide Symphony. The report "recommends slashing the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra from 74 to 56 full-time players – in what has been described as an "act of vandalism"." The Advertiser (Australia) 03/11/05

Backstage Chaos Hurting La Scala "This week, the culture commission of the Italian Senate in Rome began taking testimony from those involved in a long-brewing management crisis that led to the ousting last month of La Scala's general manager, Carlo Fontana, who had a strained relationship with the theater's music director and conductor, Riccardo Muti." Muti is accused of banning other prominent conductors from La Scala's podium, and he and other managers are reported to have kept their employees in the dark about important backstage changes. The controversy has grown so large that it threatens to eclipse the company's season. The New York Times 03/10/05

ENO's Chairman Puts His Foot In It Again When the English National Opera performed before 10,000 rock fans at last summer's Glastonbury Festival, it seemed to be that rarest of occasions: a coming together of high art and popular culture with no one getting so much as their feelings hurt. But ENO chairman Martin Smith may have rolled back much of the good will the performance built up with his recent comment that the concertgoers 'hardly knew how to spell opera'. "Mr Smith has made a number of gaffes during his tenure. He has often been regarded as the source of ENO's travails, accused of importing to the company a high-handed, bullish approach imported from banking, and appointing an artistic director too weak to stand up to him. The Guardian (UK) 03/10/05

  • Or Does He? The English National Opera is claiming that The Guardian has created a controversy out of nothing by taking Martin Smith's words out of context in a deliberate attempt to smear him. BBC 03/10/05

Has New Music Made Itself Irrelevant? Classical music devotees tend to be sharply split over the issue of contemporary music, to the extent that a conductor devoted to the work of, say, Elliott Carter may quickly find himself with a very small core audience. "The problem isn't just a decline in musical literacy. You don't have to be able to read a score to 'get' a piece by R. Murray Schafer or Einojuhani Rautavaara, just as you don't need a thorough basis in colour theory and composition to respond to a painting by Frank Stella or Joanne Tod. Without really thinking about it, the broad arts public has decided that the truth of our times is not to be found in contemporary music, or at least not to a degree to make the search worth while." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 03/10/05

March 9, 2005

Government Report To Recommend Downsizing Tasmanian Orchestra? A forthcoming Australian government report on orchestras is said to recommend downsizing the Tasmanian Symphony from a full orchestra to a chamber orchestra with just 38 full-time equivalent musicians.
"It further recommends that governments provide $1.1 million in one-off funding to assist the TSO to meet redundancy costs. The shock recommendations are contained in a national review of orchestras headed by former Qantas boss James Strong. The final report is due to be handed down in Canberra in two weeks."
The Mercury (Australia) 03/09/05

The New Jazz Labels (Musician-Led) More and more jazz artists are taking the recording business into their own hands. "Artist-run independent labels are nothing new, especially in jazz. (Decades ago, bassist Charles Mingus and drummer Max Roach formed Debut Records; singer Betty Carter once founded her own BetCar imprint.) But established jazz musicians are going their own way in surprising numbers today, touching on age-old and new business issues." Wall Street Journal 03/09/05

Music For All! (And Profits Too) A Canadian professor has an idea he thinks would breathe new life into the music business. He "proposes putting all recorded music on a robust search engine -- Google would be an ideal choice, but even iTunes might work -- and charging an insignificant fee of, say, five cents a song. In addition, a 1 per cent sales tax would be placed on Internet services and new computers -- two industries that many argue have profited enormously from rampant file-sharing, but haven't had to compensate artists. The assumption is that if songs cost only 5 cents, people would download exponentially more music. The extra windfall for musicians and those who own the publishing rights to the songs could be in the hundreds of millions of dollars, or more, Pearlman." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 03/09/05

March 8, 2005

Recording Company And Scholar Clash Over Old Music A recording company (Hyperion) wants to record ancient music. A scholar claims copyright on his work recreating them. Impass. "What are the consequences? The gloomiest scenario doing the arty rounds is that, since most old musical compositions and stage works have been edited in some way, thousands of scholars will now claim millions of pounds in royalties, destroying the finances of performing organisations already operating on the most precarious budgets. The Times (UK) 03/07/05

When The Downloader Is Sued... "Of the millions of people who illegally download free music using various peer-to-peer (P2P) networks, only about 8,400 have been sued by the recording industry—including, last month, an 83-year-old dead woman from West Virginia. Those odds seem pretty good, until it happens to you..." Village Voice 03/08/05

Muti Speaks out On La Scala Strife Riccardo Muti speaks out about the labor strife that has thrown La Scala into chaos. "Today, I am accused of not wishing to be just musical director, but artistic director as well, and perhaps also superintendent, or even of influencing the candidature for the next mayor. I would have to smile, if the spectacle were not so depressing. However, I was prompted by the serious concern of many people who with me perceived the slow but inexorable decline of La Scala’s artistic programme, in stark contrast to the improvement in the quality of artistic production. At a certain point, I decided to protest to the board, and to the mayor, about a situation that was threatening La Scala’s image, and before which I felt impotent." Corriere Della Sera 03/08/05

March 7, 2005

Showdown At Guarantee Corral Pop concert promoters run a risky business. They have to judge demand and specify guarantees. Often the two don't meet. "Ticket prices have spiraled out of control as artists demand higher guarantees. Every year promoters pledge to say "no" to those acts, but they never do. This year might be different." Rocky Mountain News 03/07/05

Classical Music Radio Decline Says Something About The Taste-Makers So Washington DC loses another classical music radio station. "Once upon a time and long ago, bringing classical music to the airwaves was an image-enhancing operation, a programming decision, in the words of music historian Russell Sanjek, to "win over the custodians of public taste and appease the Federal Communications Commission." These days, it's bad taste even to mention public taste, and the FCC is appeased just by keeping a wardrobe functioning. What the classical fade-out tells us more than anything is that the "custodians of public taste" have left the building. Washington Times 03/07/05

The Bagpipes And The Library (A Story) "Susan Stafford decided she needed to practice her bagpipes outside her Lake Elmo home after her veterinarian warned her the high-pitched tones could affect the hearing of her two parrots. She didn't want to give up the birds or the instrument. But she was worried about the birds, her diabetic cat, the multitude of distractions at her house and, finally, that neighbors might complain. Bagpipes, after all, are loud. So a few weeks ago, she called City Hall in hopes that someone might suggest places she could practice without interruptions and without disrupting others..." St. Paul Pioneer-Press 03/07/05

UK Musicians Protest US Visa Fees UK musicians are protesting what they claim are outrageous visa fees for visiting the US. "A singer hoping to perform in the US can expect to pay $1,300 (£680) simply for obtaining a visa. Groups including the Musicians' Union are calling for an end to the "raw deal" faced by British performers. US acts are not faced with comparable expense and bureaucracy when visiting the UK for promotional purposes." BBC 03/07/05

Pulitzer From Beyond: Psychics Look At The Music Prize The rules for this year's Pulitzer in music have changed. What does it mean? Marc Geelhoed visits a group of clairvoyants, plays them some new music, and asks their advice. "According to the assembled clairvoyants, this year's committee is not going to be a happy one. "The judges are concerned with the competition between them," said Castro. Klobucnar saw "dueling factions, one of which sees serious music as being about complexity, about structure. For them to agree to give it to someone who's not really complex, it has to be a small move, incremental, having some of the attributes they like, but maybe not all of them. They like that they can apply some of their criteria to jazz." NewMusicBox 03/05

Andre Previn, Composer Andre Previn is better-known as a conductor than a composer. But he's working on changing that. "Temperamentally, Previn is probably unique among American composers in that he has nothing to prove. Thanks to all those years on the Hollywood treadmill, he writes with speed and fluency. Whatever the reason, some of Previn's music is wonderful, and some of it meanders. You could wonder to what extent Previn knows the difference - or if he takes his composing life seriously enough to revise more rigorously." Philadelphia Inquirer 03/06/05

Musical Archaeology - Getting The Music Out Music of the past is full of recorded gems that get lost in history. A small recording label called Arbiter makes the case for forgotten masters - some are familiar names, but others... The New York Times 03/06/05

March 6, 2005

Low-Carb Opera It's called the "Atkins Diet Opera." ""Opening in Oxford on Friday, the production - which extols in rhyming couplets the virtues of avoiding carbohydrates - is one of the high-spots of an annual tour of Ig Nobel award-winners, given as ironic counters to Nobel prizes for those who carry out research 'that should never be repeated'. The Guardian (UK) 03/06/05

SF Classical Station - Success Among The Critics San Francisco critics have been complaining about classical station KDFC. But the station seems to be a hit with listeners. "The station is advertised with such slogans as 'Relax. You feel different here.' KDFC has been the top-rated music station in the Bay Area several times in recent years, and the most successful classical station in the country. No other major-market classical station reaches even the Top 20. Listenership, has increased from about 300,000 a week in 1997 to almost double that number today. So, are the letter-writing critics just a snobbish, demanding minority?" San Francisco Chronicle 03/06/05

Does New Have To Mean Noise? When the Boston Symphony hired James Levine as music director, it knew that its audiences would be in for a healthy dose of modern music amid the Sibelius and Beethoven. But less than a year into Levine's tenure, some are beginning to ask why the maestro seems to go out of his way to select the most tiresome, unlistenable examples of 20th and 21st-century music. "Most of those contemporary composers favored by Levine, such as Elliott Carter and Milton Babbitt, have little patience with anything that smacks of tonality or emotional catharsis. These sons of Schoenberg... also could not care less about music that could rebuild an audience for classical music." Boston Globe 03/06/05

Learning To Reach Out Studying music in a conservatory is very different from being a professional musician, as graduates of such cloistered institutions as Juilliard and Curtis quickly discover. But an innovative outreach program at Boston's New England Conservatory is aiming to prepare its young participants for the work they will be expected to do as professionals, as well as bringing high-quality, low-cost music to underprivileged corners of the community. Boston Globe 03/06/05

Chicago's Other Top Conductor Even as the Chicago Symphony prepares to usher in a new era with the departure of music director Daniel Barenboim, one familiar face at Orchestra Hall won't be going anywhere. Pierre Boulez, the onetime enfant terrible of contemporary music, has made a home for himself in Chicago as the CSO's principal guest conductor, and some would argue that his effect on the orchestra has been more profound than even the music director's. "His presence has enlivened the contemporary music scene throughout the city. Some listeners who hear his lucid, highly honed performances of new music with the CSO have been tempted to seek it out elsewhere." Chicago Sun-Times 03/06/05

Milwaukee Hopes For An About-Face Even by today's low standards, the Milwaukee Symphony is struggling mightily at the box office and on the ledger sheet. A new management team has garnered early praise, but the coming season will represent a watershed moment for the orchestra, as it attempts to recoup recent sales losses and reconnect with the city. The desperation for a quick turnaround has led the MSO to program a season made up almost entirely of guaranteed classical hits like Beethoven's 9th and "Carmina Burana," to introduce "subtle theatrical elements" to the concert experience, and even to experiment with a video component. On top of all that, the orchestra is cutting ticket prices on a wide variety of concerts. Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel 03/05/05

The Problem With Porgy George Gershwin's Porgy & Bess is arguably the greatest American opera ever composed. But despite its popularity, the opera is rarely staged, either in the US or in Europe. The sticking point is the Gershwin estate's insistence that all the roles in any production of the work must be filled by black singers. "At a time of widespread discrimination, the socially conscious Gershwins had no intention of undermining Porgy's credibility by parading before their audience a white cast crudely disguised in blackface. Admirable as their attitude may have been, it has necessarily slowed down the entry of Porgy and Bess into the standard repertory. Though the situation is changing for the better, most opera companies still have limited access to black singers. Producing Porgy effectively means hiring a second company." Toronto Star 03/05/05

March 3, 2005

Bolshoi Slammed For "Pornographic" Opera An opera scheduled to produced by the Bolshoi Theatre has caught the ire of "pro-Kremlin MPs", who have branded the piece "vulgar and pornographic". Scandal to follow. The opera is Rosenthal's Children, which "features a godlike figure who creates clones of famous composers, and was to open later this month. The libretto was written by Vladimir Sorokin, a controversial postmodernist author." The Guardian (UK) 03/04/05

Queuing For Valkyries... That line over there? Yes that one. What are they waiting for in the cold. At 6 AM? Hundreds of them? Tickets for Wagner. Think you'd see this in a US city? "I was there at 6am. The box office opened at 10. There were people queueing before me. I had no thermals, but cut a dash with pyjama bottoms under my jeans and a borrowed Cossack hat. I am no wimp, and have been called brave by dentists, but it really was stark-bollock freezing." The Guardian (UK) 03/04/05

How Is It "World" Music If World Doesn't Listen? As musicians and music execs gather in Gateshead for this year's World Music Awards, one wonders: the "world" music celebrated in the West isn't necissarily the music played in the countries of origin. So do the nominations "represent the cream of the world's music or simply the tastes and interests of a group of self-appointed Western experts?" And does it matter? The Telegraph (UK) 03/04/05

Does "Popularity" Disqualify New Music From Concert Halls? Why is it that new music that gets to be popular with audiences is so seldom programmed in concert halls, asks Julian Lloyd-Webber. "Sadly, the impression persists that new compositions which have proved attractive to audiences are considered too populist by certain powerful figures in the classical music world." The Telegraph (UK) 03/04/05

Annapolis Symphony Chooses New Music Director After considering 200 applicants over two years, the Annapolis Symphony has chosen Jose-Luis Novo as its new music director. Novo "currently serves as music director and conductor of the Binghamton (New York) Philharmonic. He'll keep that post, along with the Annapolis job." The Capital (Annapolis) 03/03/05

Perhaps They're All A Bunch Of Godless Heathens Christian rock is hot these days, with touring bands strumming for Jesus at sold-out arenas and stadiums across the US. But in San Francisco, the country's fourth-largest city, the audience for Christian rock is so small that the tours don't even bother to stop there. This is a city that is not used to being ignored by any slice of the American culture pie, even if the values of said slice seem a bit at odds with San Francisco's classically leftist vibe. The irony is that the Bay Area actually helped jumpstart the Christian music revolution a couple of decades back. San Francisco Chronicle 03/03/05

And Coming Soon, The NY Phil Plays Ringtones! Movie music has long been featured in the concert hall, with the lush scores of John Williams and the jazzy instrumentals of Henry Mancini dovetailing nicely with much of the classical repertoire. But video game scores? Believe it or not, game companies are hiring composers to write serious music for their epic adventures, and orchestras are beginning to program them. Is it a gimmick designed to attract new audiences? Sure. Does the score to Final Fantasy VI stack up to Beethoven? No. But the concerts have been a hit, especially with young people, and no one needs to tell American orchestras how hard it is to snare that particular demographic... San Jose Mercury News 03/03/05

C-sharp Minor: Looks Like Red, But Tastes Like Ice Cream "A Swiss musician sees colours when she hears music, and experiences tastes ranging from sour and bitter to low-fat cream and mown grass, astounded scientists say. Zurich University neuropsychologists were so intrigued by the case of ES, a 27-year-old professional musician whose full name has been withheld, that they recruited her for a year-long inquiry. They say she is the world's most extreme known case of synaesthesia, the phenomenon whereby hearing music triggers a response in other sensory organs." Hindustan Times (Agence France-Presse) 03/02/05

March 2, 2005

Queen Announces New Music Prize Quen Elizabeth believes her musical tastes have been unfairly disparaged. "We are not philistines. Philip and I are interested in music and we've had this terrible press," she says. So she's announced a new music prize: the Queen's Medal for Music. "To be awarded on St Cecilia's day, November 22, the winner will be someone who has had a "major influence on the musical life of the nation", and may be of any nationality. St Cecilia is the patron saint of music." The Guardian (UK) 03/03/05

Yet Another Musician Starts His Own Label "Composer Michael Nyman is mounting a challenge to the record industry with the launch next month of his own label, MN Records. Citing frustration with the major labels that have released his work, Nyman will inaugurate the imprint with a solo piano album." The Guardian (UK) 03/03/05

La Scala's Woes Deepen (Why, It's Operatic!) "La Scala is being paralysed by a crisis of Verdian theatricality that has led to rebellion and strikes, and is now prompting a head on clash between two of the titans of contemporary opera.
From his tranquil villa-cum-studio near Rome, Franco Zeffirelli has watched the goings-on in Milan with growing alarm..."
The Guardian (UK) 03/03/05

Euopean Musicians Want US Royalties Paid "According to the European Commission, musicians are losing up to $25 million a year in revenue as a result of the USA’s ongoing failure to comply with copyright obligations established with fellow members of the World Trade Organisation. Now British Music Rights, the national umbrella group representing composers, songwriters and publishers, has begun lobbying the UK government to ensure that British artists receive a fair deal when their music is played across the Atlantic." Stakes (UK) 03/02/05

Auckland Orchestra's Dire Straits The Auckland (NZ) Philharmonia is in terrible shape. And the woes don't just extend to funding. "According to a consultant's report, it is wracked by internal conflict "verging on dysfunctionality". All in all, the Philharmonia's 25th year has become far from the celebratory occasion it should be. It need not have been this way. The orchestra's funding difficulties can be laid, in large part, at the door of miserly local authorities." New Zealand Herald 03/02/05

Dont Have A Conservatory? Import One. Washington, D.C. is one of America's legitimate centers of classical music, with excellent venues, a top-ten orchestra, a major opera company, and countless smaller ensembles. But the nation's capital is missing one crucial element of a thriving classical scene: music students. "Most of the country's great orchestras draw enormous energy from their close relationships with nearby world-class schools, and eager concertgoers can engorge themselves on their endless stream of open recitals." The District's Kennedy Center is attempting to fill the void with a series of recitals put on by top music schools from around the country, and so far, the results have been impressive. Washington Post 03/02/05

St. Louis Musicians Ratify Contract, But Take One Last Shot The musicians of the St. Louis Symphony have ratified a new contract with a 56-36 vote following a bitter 8-week work stoppage which was settled only after a local office of the National Labor Relations Board declared it an illegal strike. The new contract, which runs for 3-1/2 years, calls for modest pay raises, and also contains unusual signing bonuses for the players in place of more significant pay hikes. However, the conflict may not be over yet: at the same meeting in which they ratified the contract, the musicians overwhelmingly approved a vote of no confidence in SLSO President Randy Adams. St. Louis Post-Dispatch 03/02/05

Cincinnati To Build On Recent Fiscal Success Months after announcing that it had paid off all its debt and balanced its annual budget, the Cincinnati Symphony is preparing to launch a major capital campaign which could reach $60 million. The CSO's recent budgetary success has come at a cost - the cancellation of a popular summer festival - and balance was only achieved through extraordinary donations from an anonymlous supporter. The money raised in the campaign will go to bolster the orchestra's endowment, which currently stands at $67 million. Cincinnati Enquirer 03/02/05

March 1, 2005

Musicians Support Overhaul Of Failing Utah Symphony and Opera Musicians of the combined Utah Symphony and Opera have voted 63-1 to endorse a consultant's report on how to turn around the financially ailing organization. The report is critical of executive director Anne Ewers, who has overseen the controversial merger of the opera and symhony. "There is no question that we had deficits far larger than I ever would have hoped," Ewers said. "I take full responsibility for the fact that we struggled to put a staff in place and restructure. There is no question that it took away from the fund-raising effort." Salt Lake Tribune 02/28/05

La Scala's Winter Of Discontent La Scala has been wracked with dissent - strikes, resignations, a firing. "Last week staff at La Scala staged strikes and demonstrations in protest over the theatre’s management. A banner suspended from the top of the building read ‘Tradesmen out of the Temple of Opera’ – a protest at the perceived market-driven running of the theatre." Gramophone 02/28/05

Judge: Rachmaninoff Manuscript Case Goes Forward A judge has ruled that a challenge to the ownership and sale of a Rachmaninoff manuscript can go ahead. "The Russian composer's score for his Second Symphony was expected to fetch around £500,000 at the Sotheby's sale. But the 300-page work was withdrawn after members of Rachmaninov's family claimed to be the true owners. Sotheby's sought to have the case dismissed but a judge ruled both sides could win so the case must proceed." BBC 03/01/05

Musicians Lobby Supreme Court To Spare File-Sharing Services A group of prominent musicians is urging the US Supreme Court not to crack down on file-sharing services. "Musicians are not universally united in opposition to peer-to-peer file sharing as the major records companies claim. To the contrary, many musicians find peer-to-peer technology . . . allows them easily to reach a worldwide online audience. And to many musicians, the benefits of this . . . strongly outweigh the risks of copyright infringement." BizReport 03/01/05

Clear Channel Hopes To Boost Its Ailing Concert Business When Clear Channel Communications Inc. dropped $4.5 billion five years ago for SFX, the giant concert promoter, the idea was to boost growth in fast-growing entertainment while the company's core radio audience matured. Instead, the once-promising acquisition has become Clear Channel's problem child, with consumers expressing dismay -- and staying away -- because of high ticket prices and poor service." Now the company hopes it has found its turn-around artist... Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (WSJ) 03/01/05

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